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Mom's Guide to Organic Beauty

What's the difference between "natural," and "organic" beauty products? Are they worth buying? And if a product isn't labeled as either, is it bad for you? Since there are few federal regulations for what appears on labels of beauty products (SPF and some prescription strength items), it's hard to know. To help you sort out the facts and be a smart shopper, read on.

Natural: There's no official definition for cosmetics, but products labeled "natural" are typically made with plants, minerals, or algae. That said, most of them do rely on at least some preservatives and synthetic chemicals to create lather.

Organic: Again, there's no standard for this word on the label, but it should contain mainly certified organic ingredients that have been harvested without the use of chemical pesticides. These products also claim to be free of synthetics purported to have health risks including parabens and phthalates, which are banned in Europe. In general, "organic" describes how crops must be grown, handled, and processed to qualify for USDA certification (the same goes for food products).

Certified organic: This means the ingredients have actually been inspected by accredited certifying agents of the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP). For a product to bear the "Certified Organic" seal, at least 95% of ingredients that make up the formula must be certified.

So should you seek these products out?

Yes:

* Organic ingredients contain 40 percent more antioxidants by weight and volume than their synthetic competitors

* Your skin absorbs 87 percent of what you put on it, sending the ingredients straight into the bloodstream. By using naturals and/or organics, you're feeding your body fewer processed synthetics.

* Buying natural and organic products supports more environmentally friendly agriculture.

No:

* Some natural ingredients can be irritating. Common irritants include rosemary, mint, lemon oil, bergamot oil, lavender, and cinnamon.

* Without preservatives, or with less potent nonsynthetic ones, natural and organic products may degrade more quickly.

* Depending on the brand, there's often a tradeoff in efficacy without synthetics.

If you're interested in learning more about what's happening in the cosmetics industry, the following sites are reliable resources:

cosmeticsinfo.org
cosmeticsdatabase.com
cir-safety.org/alerts.shtml

Making the switch

More than 450 companies have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to remove hazardous chemicals from their beauty products and replace them with safe alternatives within three years. Visit safecosmetics.org/companies to find brands who have signed, and when.

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