Natural Cosmetics: Top 3 Questions Answered

By Ayren Jackson-Cannady
WebMD Health Feature

Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD

The natural cosmetics market is growing by leaps and bounds. Here's what you should know before diving in, skin first.

1. If a product says it's "natural" on the label, does that mean it does not contain any synthetic chemicals?

The U.S. government hasn't defined the use of the term "natural."

"This means that while products may claim to be 'all-natural' it's hard to know how to interpret the claim," says Jessica Krant, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York. "Presumably, natural cosmetics are ones that contain only, or largely, ingredients like mica, silica and clay, that are found in nature and used directly in the product without altering them with chemical processes."

Your best bet is to inform yourself by reading the ingredients. "If the words are outside your vocabulary, take that as a red flag," says Sally Biondo, a New York makeup artist and organic beauty expert. You can also look up any ingredients on Skin Deep's Cosmetic Database (www.ewg.org/skindeep).

2. If natural cosmetics are supposedly better for skin, why aren't all cosmetics natural?

Cost is one reason. "Talc, mineral oil, phthalates, and composed chemicals are all much less expensive than organic ingredients," Biondo says.

The claim that natural cosmetics are "better" or "healthier" for skin hasn't been proven in studies, Krant says. "But it does appear on the surface to make sense," she says. "One reason that more cosmetics aren't all natural is that it is difficult to create products that will stay blended and preserved without using proven chemicals to maintain emulsified and bacteria-free products."