Parabens, Phthalates, Natural, Organic.. What Does it Mean?

I wanted to break down the labeling on your cosmetics to let you know what it all means, so here we go!

Parabens: When a product touts itself as ‘natural’ these are usually the first to go. Parabens (Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben) are preservatives put into cosmetics to keep bacteria away and lengthen their shelf life. Some studies have shown a correlation between breast cancer and parabens which may be why I’ve heard time and again from women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, their doctors urge them to stay away from paraben-laden products. The evidence isn’t conclusive, and there are now more natural alternatives to preservatives.

Fragrance and Phthalates: If you have allergies or sensitive skin, look for fragrance-free. Not only will the absence of the fragrance itself be a plus, but the product will be free of phthalates, man-made particles that help the fragrance to last longer and have shown to be an immune system toxin.

Natural: Something we’re seeing more and more of that really doesn’t mean much. It’s supposed to signify that the company used fewer chemicals and more plants, but there aren’t any FDA regulations on using the term so it’s basically a free-for-all.

Allergy Tested: It’s nice that companies try to eliminate the known allergens to cut down on reactions, but the fact remains that my allergies aren’t the same as yours. It could have something with wheat protein in it instead of soy, which is great if you’re allergic to soy, but if you have Celiac it doesn’t matter. If you have allergies, comb the ingredient listing to see if it’s something you can use and don’t rely on the company to tell you if it’s safe.

Dermatologist Tested & Approved: There isn’t a specific ‘test’ a derm would have to perform to approve something. In fact, if your aunt was a dermatologist, she would just have to say ‘yup, I approve’ and you’d be all set for labeling. Don’t hang your hopes on it being well-loved by tons of derms, that isn’t the way it works.

Non Irritating:  To whose skin? Again, it’s all about what works for you so this is a pretty general statement.

Non Comedogenic or Non Acnegenic: Also not FDA defined, but there are products that are known to be heavy on the skin and cause blackheads and breakouts. Check out the comedogenicity scale over at DERMAdoctor to see what you should stay away from if your skin is troubled.

Petrochemical Free: Meaning free from anything petroleum based (ethylene and propylene are most common). The jury is still out as far as how petrochemicals affect your health, but I try to stay away from them just because they aren’t great for the skin.

Cruelty Free:  No animal testing, just look for the little jumping bunny symbol or go here to to see if what you’re using is being tested on animals.

Synthetics: There are a whole list of ‘synthetic’ ingredeints, so when you see something that’s listed free of them, it’s a safe bet that they’re doing a pretty good job of making a ‘clean’ product. Suki is free of synthetics and has a great listing of them HERE.

USDA Organic: To have the USDA Organic labeling means that company has undergone specific criteria and meets their standards. To learn more about that, click HERE. There are a few different classifications within the umbrella to consider;

- 100% USDA Organic, means that all of the ingredients are organically produced (even the water and salt).

- USDA Organic 95% of the ingredients are organic, remaining ingredients must meet certain criteria as well.

- Made with organic ingredients 70% (excluding water and salt).

- Anything with fewer than 70% organic ingredients can’t be labeled USDA organic.

Soil Association:  This is the European equivalent to USDA Organic, it’s a little more strict so this stamp of approval is only given when 95% organic materials are used. You can find more info on their website HERE.

For more information on chemicals in cosmetics, check out the Black List from, a beautiful site that’s been touted a ‘Natural Sephora.’

Of course the biggest authority on the web for researching the safety of cosmetics is still

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I'm trying to buy more natural things too. Very helpful

  2. Hell Notes for Beauty says:

    Great and very useful post

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