What Do Natural Ingredients Mean? How to Read Labels

By Bridget M. Burns in Natural Products

Using natural products is a great step toward living a healthier and more sustainable life. But what do natural ingredients mean, really? And how do you know if a product contains natural ingredients?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are no current regulations around use of the word "natural" when it comes to personal care products or cosmetics. Instead, companies define "natural" for their purposes and label their products accordingly. As a consumer, it is up to you to read ingredient labels thoughtfully before you buy. Here are some tips to keep in mind the next time you're shopping for products for your family.

Do Your Research

Going shopping without first doing some research could leave you feeling confused and frustrated in the personal care aisle. Spend a little time learning about what ingredients you want to avoid and why. That way, you'll feel informed and empowered to choose products you feel comfortable using and that will serve your personal needs.

Decide what you care about when it comes to your products. Is it most important to find products without artificial dyes? Artificial sweeteners? Artificial preservatives? Do you need a product free of certain allergens? It'll be easier to find what you need once you've considered these factors.

If you are trying a natural product for the very first time, you might want to read about the experiences of other people to help you decide what is most important to you. Luckily, there are plenty of people online who love sharing their stories! It may take a few tries before you find your favorite product, but making that first purchase is easy when you are armed with helpful information.

Tom's of Maine deodorant ingredient list

Don't Be Scared of Active Ingredients

When a product contains active ingredients—the ingredients that work to serve the product's biological purpose—its label might automatically look a little bit scary. Why? The drug facts box. It is important to understand that even a natural product can have a drug facts box on its label.

Any time a product claims a medical benefit, that claim must be backed up by the FDA. This includes an underarm product that claims to be an antiperspirant and a toothpaste that claims to help prevent cavities. Did you know fluoride is an ingredient that requires a drug facts box? You'll find natural toothpastes that contain fluoride and ones that don't. No matter which you choose, try not to assume that a drug facts box means the product contains unsafe ingredients.

Don't Be Scared of Ingredients You Can't Pronounce

It is commonly said that as long as you can pronounce every ingredient, the product is natural and safe. Unfortunately, it does not always work that way. Most people can pronounce Red Dye #40, after all!

This is when research comes in handy. Once you learn about different ingredients, you can make decisions about what you'd like your product to contain. For example, you may choose to avoid:

  • phthalates (plasticizers)
  • parabens (types of artificial preservatives)
  • phenoxyethanol (another type of artificial preservative)

On the other hand, there are many natural ingredients that may appear unfamiliar on the label. Companies often list their ingredients using their Latin, scientific names. Did you know that helianthus annuus seed oil is just sunflower seed oil?

Check for Third-Party Certifications

Sometimes a good way to decide if you can trust a product is to see if others do! Especially if the others are credible, third-party organizations.

Some certifications you might see on natural products include Leaping Bunny and Rainforest Alliance. You might also see kosher and halal symbols on products. Other certifications to learn about include Fair Trade, Certified B Corporations, and Made Safe.

Back of Tom's of Maine soap with list of ingredients

Learning how to read labels can prevent a situation where you feel frozen and confused in the personal care aisle. How do you define "natural" when shopping for your family's personal care products? Let us know on Twitter!

Image Source: Bridget M. Burns | Bridget M. Burns | Bridget M. Burns

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

You want your family to use products made with natural ingredients. But what do natural ingredients mean? Learn how to arm yourself with helpful information so you can enter the store feeling educated and ready to buy the best products to meet your family's needs.