To most of us, the word "organic" on a label means the product is better for you. And every year the availability and quality of organic beauty products grows, offering a variety of options in every price range. So should you switch to organic cosmetics? Will they be better for your skin? Read on to see what "organic" really means when it comes to makeup.

Organic Doesn't Necessarily Mean Better for Your Skin

"If you like organic, then I say, use it," declares dermatologist Rebecca Baxt, MD. However, "Organic products are not necessarily gentler to the skin. There are plenty of organic products and chemicals that are irritating. Just because they are organic or natural doesn't mean they are good." Any makeup, natural or not, can cause contact dermatitis (rashes), photosensitivity (increased sensitivity to the sun), or hives. Many organic ingredients, including citrus, herbs, and botanicals, can irritate the skin.

What Do the Labels Mean?

USDA's National Organic Program sets these labeling guidelines:

  • "Made with organic ingredients" means that at least 70 percent of the product's ingredients are organic.
  • "Organic" products contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients (excluding water and salt).
  • "100 percent organic" means the product contains no chemical ingredients.

These various terms can make it challenging for consumers to decode organic labels!

The Limitations of the Organic Label

Many companies that manufacture organic products do strive to omit common irritants like parabens (antifungal agents used as preservatives), mineral oil, and lanolin (wool grease). However, manufacturers do run into challenges when trying to create long-lasting products without using chemical preservatives. Additionally, the Organic Consumers Association, an advocacy group, asserts that the standards for regulating organic cosmetics are not as rigorous as those for organic foods, and that the term "organic" is too often used as a marketing ploy rather than an accurate description.

Best Practices for Better Skin

If you have sensitive skin, the best thing to do is to read all product labels and familiarize yourself with ingredients that may trigger skin reactions-your dermatologist can help you identify potential irritants. And if you're happy with your current cosmetics, think twice before switching to organic-it may just introduce a problem rather than bring any benefits to your skin.

Craig Kaffert, MD, reviewed this article.



Baxt, Rebecca, MD. Board Certified Dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at New York University.  "'Organic' Cosmetics." US Food and Drug Administration. Web. Updated 15 September, 2010. Accessed 6 June 2013.

Phillabaum, Lacey. "Organic Beauty Is Only Skin Deep." Organic Consumers Association. Web. 2012. Accessed 6 June 2013.

St. Aubyn Crump, Vincent, MD. "Cosmetic Allergy." Allergy New Zealand. Web. 2010. Accessed 6 June 2013.