Natural vs. Organic vs. Non-Toxic: What Do They Mean?

Natural vs. Organic vs. Non-Toxic: What Do They Mean?

Do you want natural? Organic? Non-toxic? Is there a difference?…

Once upon a time, in days of yore, finding plant-based skincare and beauty products that actually did what they promised they would was about as difficult as pretending to like a kale-celery-jalapeno juice. But times have changed and not only are gorgeous plant-based products as effective as ever, they’re easy to come by.

As great as it is that these better-for-you formulas are easily accessible, there’s still quite a bit of confusion around the language used to describe them. Do you want natural? Organic? Non-toxic? Is there a difference?

You know reading the ingredient portion of a label is important, but it’s equally crucial that you read — and understand — other parts of a product label as well, namely the adjectives it touts. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by insider-seeming jargon but a little information can be extremely powerful in your quest to decipher the real stuff from the imposters. Ready to get your learning on? Keep reading.


Highly-regulated by the the USDA, “organic” is one of the only claims you can really be 100% sure about when it comes to skincare and beauty products. (Caveat: While a label can claim a product is organic, if it also doesn’t feature this symbol, that label is LYING TO YOU and the maker is likely in for a world of trouble when the USDA gets wind of their false advertising.) For makers to claim a product as organic, they need to apply for organic certification with the USDA, have an agent come check their ingredients and facilities, and only after all this are they awarded the distinction.

So what does organic mean? Simply put, all or almost all of the ingredients have been grown and processed under very strict conditions. If the product is “100% organic,” everything in that product was grown the good old (old) fashioned way: no pesticides, no fertilizers, no herbicides, no antibiotics, no growth hormones, no GMOs.

An “organic” product means that 95% of the ingredients meet the criteria. One thing to note, however, is that the percentage of ingredients that need to be produced in these conditions to qualify something as organic varies from state to state. In California, for example, only 70% of ingredients are needed for something to qualify.


At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the “natural” claim — there are virtually zero regulations around this claim, meaning you should proceed with caution when considering a product that claims to be “natural” or “all-natural.”

Yes, some “natural” formulas are just that: they may contain plant-based natural ingredients that just aren’t organic and so can’t sport that nifty USDA seal of approval. But there are also plenty of products touted as natural that contain highly processed, potentially harmful plant-derived ingredients.

Coconut oil and its labeling is a great example of this issue. You know the product in your hands comes from coconuts, but unless that jar says “organic,” you have no way of knowing if you’re getting the real, raw stuff or if what they’re claiming as “natural” is actually rotten, dried, chemically-treated, dyed and deodorized coconut byproduct.

The best way to figure out if a “natural” claim is legit is to read the ingredient list very, very carefully. Remember that ingredient decks list ingredients in order of highest percentage to least, so if the first 10 ingredients in something “natural” are organic or plants you recognize, you’re probably safe if you’re not overly concerned about something being 100% organic. Many green products contain a boatload of  organic ingredients without the whole thing being certified as organic, so do your research.


Though “non-toxic” is another claim with almost no regulation — aka it’s mostly a marketing tool — it’s not necessarily a harmful claim. You see, “non-toxic” just means the product doesn’t contain ingredients that have been linked to toxic responses (like hormone disruption, cancer, etc.) in humans.

So while you should absolutely still be reading the ingredient list on “non-toxic” products, know that ingredients like phthalates, parabens, lead acetate, formaldehyde, petroleum and coal tar likely won’t be listed…and that’s never a bad thing.

If you want to take classifications one step further, you can also consider whether something is vegan, cruelty-free and plant-based.

For a primer on all things vegan beauty, check out this post. It covers everything from the non-vegan ingredients that might be hiding in your jars and bottles to the symbols you should know to look for.

As far as plant-based beauty goes, you’ll want to check to make sure your product is “synthetic-free,” which quite literally means it contains zero man-made ingredients; 100% of what you’re slathering on your face occurs naturally in the world. “Plant-based” means roughly the same thing — the ingredients are botanical — but it’s important to remember that just because something is plant-based or synthetic-free does not mean it’s organic, and vice-versa. If you want to your products to be uber-clean, make sure all the right boxes are checked.

+ Want to learn more about organic beauty? Read more here

Free People Blog

3 Ways Fig & Yarrow Can Help You Stay Cool and Fresh

3 Ways Fig & Yarrow Can Help You Stay Cool and Fresh

Toothpaste, deodorant and mouth wash like you’ve never seen ‘em before…

How you start your morning inevitably sets the pace for the rest of your day. If you’re like us, you prefer to begin the a.m. with a bright, healthy, clean outlook — which means reaching for nontoxic beauty basics. And the most “basic” of these items is often your toothpaste, deodorant and mouth wash, which form the essential cornerstone of your getting-ready-for-the-day routine. But until recently, it was pretty hard to find alternative, chemical-free options.

That’s what makes Fig + Yarrow’s new Health + Hygiene collection so relevant and necessary right now. Specifically, we’re obsessed with three items that deserve a spot on your bathroom counter this second:

First, the Tooth Powder.

Yes, that’s right tooth powder. What is this? Exactly as the name implies, it’s a powder — not a paste — that scrubs and cleans your teeth. Composed of a “delightfully vigorous” blend of white clay, sea salt, baking soda and other botanicals, the fine dust comes in a small glass bottle that you shake out on your dampened toothbrush. Then rub over your teeth, spit and repeat. It definitely has a salty clay taste and slightly gritty texture that takes some getting used to, but afterward your teeth feel remarkably polished and fresh (#win).

Next up, the Oral Hygiene Rinse.

Think of this as a healthier version of your mainstream mouthwash. The clear liquid is spiked with aloe to support oral microflora, plaque-fighting and breath-freshening green tea extract, antiseptic witch hazel, antimicrobial essential oils and xylitol — a sweet-tasting ingredient from birch trees that reduces plaque build-up. The rinse has a pleasantly cool flavor (i.e. it won’t make your eyes burn). Just swish for 60 seconds before brushing, after meals and any time you need to freshen up.

Lastly, the Underarm Lotion.

This is the botanical brand’s answer to how to stay cool and dry during these sweltering times (yes, girl). Infused with sage and witch hazel to temper perspiration and odor, along with antibacterial aloe, detoxifying zinc, and sodium bicarbonate to balance your pH and nix bacteria, this silky lotion glides on your skin and stays put. You have to be OK with rubbing on your deodorant in liquid — as opposed to stick — form with your fingers but once it’s on, it does the job (this product is already super beloved by Fig + Yarrow fans). Like any natural deo, you’ll need to reapply it after an intense sweat session or on really hot, active days. But that’s a minor inconvenience to deal with in order to get a healthy, safely formulated product in our opinion.

+ Now tell us: how else do you stay cool and dry on super hot days?

Photo by Jana Kirn.

Free People Blog