You can’t step into a beauty boutique or pick up a magazine without seeing it: words like “paraben free” or “cruelty free”—terminology that, in some way or another, feeds into the ever-climbing popularity of organic skincare and beauty. The words sound fancy, but in the context of personal care goods, what does ‘organic’ really mean, and how is it regulated?

In reality certain buzzwords carry little meaning beyond their initial shelf appeal. One of the biggest culprits: “all-natural.” Though it may sound impressive, the term is completely unregulated, allowing cosmetic companies to slap it on a label for a product that was completely constructed in a lab. Luckily, with a little bit of vigilance, the offenders are easy to spot. The next time that you see a product labeled as being any amount “all-natural,” read the ingredients list—if they sound like chemicals, they probably are chemicals.

On the other hand, the term “organic” undergoes a much more thorough vetting process. In the last few years, the US government has cracked down to regulate what can and can’t be considered an “organic” product, so be on the lookout for the USDA’s ‘Certified Organic’ logo when shopping. This guarantees that all ingredients are free of pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals and are safe for use.

In-depth research and poring over labels every time you want to try a new facial cream or serum might sound exhausting, but with the rise in popularity of all-natural ingredients and organic beauty, there is more transparency than ever before. But if you want to simplify things even more, start your shopping in the beauty section of your local organic grocer and test drive some of those brands—some of our favorite include Tatcha, goop by Juice Beauty, Weleda, and Tata Harper. Start small and replace your beauty cabinet over time—your skin (and the planet!) will thank you.

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