What Does "Natural" Mean?

Consumers are spending more than $600 million dollars annually on hair and skin care products marketed as “natural.”  This trend will likely continue as researchers discover indisputable links between the ingredients used in personal care products and a wide range of health issues. 

In response to the increased availability of reliable data, consumers are evaluating their options and many are transitioning to healthier shampoos, baby products and cleansers.  Brands marketed as healthier, more natural, pure, green – the list of buyer-friendly terms is extensive – are flying off retailer shelves.  Unfortunately, most consumers do not realize that none of these terms are defined by any regulatory body.  Manufacturers may use them without the burden of meeting any criteria.  They are not terms selected for the purpose of describing the product, rather they are chosen by marketing executives in response to consumer trends.  They are not intended to represent the safety of the ingredients used or the omission of ingredients identified as hazardous or harmful.  These pseudo-natural products have few and in some cases no distinguishing characteristics from their mainstream counterparts.

Those skeptical about the actual seriousness of this issue often rely on a belief that government agencies such as the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) would intervene if a genuine health threat existed.  While the FDA is the official agency responsible for the cosmetics industry, the only actual authority it has is in terms of labeling requirements.  As long as manufacturers disclose their ingredients on the label according to FDA guidelines, they are in full and complete compliance with all federal regulations. 

While the FDA carefully evaluates, regulates and reviews the safety of food and drugs, their involvement in the safety of the cosmetics industry is virtually non-existent.  Not only do they fail to conduct pre-market assessments of ingredient safety, they do not possess the authority to do so.  In fact, there is no publicly accountable organization that does.  A group called the Cosmetics Ingredients Review (CIR) was created in 1976 by manufacturers in the personal care industry.  As such, the companies profiting from the sale of hair and skin care products are solely responsible for establishing and maintaining the standards to which they are held.  The CIR states that its primary objective is assessing the safety of ingredients used within their industry.  Yet in the almost thirty-five years since their formation they have reviewed the safety of only 11% of the ingredients most commonly used in personal care products.  Furthermore, a total of only nine ingredients have been banned for use in America due to safety or health concerns.  This number becomes very meaningful when compared to the more than 1,100 ingredients that have been banned in Europe.

Consumers committed to eliminating toxic, harmful, damaging or unsafe products from their shopping list must become self-reliant in their pursuit.  Until terms such as “natural,” “pure,” and “for sensitive skin” have enforceable definitions, they must be treated as nothing more than marketing terminology used to present a more appealing product.  Buyers must rely on the information provided on the back label only and educate themselves on the safety-related characteristics of each ingredient listed. 

Such information is becoming more widely available through a number of reliable organizations.  The Environmental Working Group has created an extensive database of ingredients and each has been assigned a safety rating.  Consumers need only enter the name of the ingredient they want to research and they are given immediate access to very thorough safety and health information.  The website requires no registration and access to the database is free.  Until Congress changes the current regulatory laws or until states draft laws of their own, such independent research will be necessary to ensure any legitimate level of consumer confidence in the products they use.

Visit the “Learn More” page at salonnaturalsonline.com to access the EWG’s ingredient database.

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