Non-Toxic vs. Natural vs. Organic: What Do These Terms Really Mean?

As consumers looking to make better choices for ourselves and our families, it’s not always easy to decipher all of the marketing lingo brands are throwing at us these days.

What makes matters worse is that many terms aren’t 100% reliable—they’re unregulated, meaning companies can throw them in their marketing and on the products themselves to trick you.

Greenwashing (the act of deceiving consumers into thinking products or brands are more eco-friendly or natural than they really are) is at an all-time high.

Learn what the difference is between organic, non-toxic and natural, and how you can be a well-informed shopper and avoid toxic ingredients.

Organic—The Most Reliable (But Don’t Blindly Trust It)

The term “organic” is highly regulated in the USA. A product cannot claim to be “organic” without being certified as such, and the federal government isn’t too happy when that happens.

Take for example the brand “Truly Organic Inc.” In 2019, they were ordered to pay $1.76 million in fines because they falsely claimed their products were organic. The FTC doesn’t mess around with these types of false claims.

In the USA, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) controls the labeling of organic products.

A product that has the USDA logo is certified organic. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is 100% organic.

There are several certifications you’ll find on organic foods. They are as follows:

  • 100% Organic: Completely free of all chemical fertilizers, hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and genetic modification. You won’t find any baby food labeled 100% organic.
  • USDA Organic: This label can be used on any product that contains at least 95% organic ingredients. The 5% non-organic ingredients must either be unavailable commercially in organic form.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: If a product is labelled “made with organic ingredients”, it must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

Natural—Sounds Good, But Doesn’t Mean Anything

On the opposite end of the spectrum is “natural”—a completely unregulated term.

For that reason you should be skeptical when you come across a product or brand that claims to be natural. A product could be full of synthetic or even toxic ingredients and still call itself “natural” because the term isn’t regulated.

Take petroleum as an example. Did you know that it’s technically a natural ingredient, but if you’re a fan of natural products, you’d probably want it nowhere near you.

We recommend ignoring the term “natural” when you see them on products, specially beauty products.

Non-Toxic—Better Than Many Claims, But Be Careful

Unfortunately, the term “non-toxic” is another iffy one.

Since it’s also unregulated, we need to be careful when a brand or product advertises itself as non-toxic.

However, unlike the term “natural”, manufacturers are generally pretty good about using the term non-toxic. Typically, they’ll use the term to indicate that the product is free of the usual known toxic ingredients like parabens, petroleum, formaldehyde, and others which are known to cause negative effects in humans, like hormone disruption or cancer.

We urge you to be cautious when it comes to products that claim to be non-toxic.

To be truly safe from toxic ingredients, it’s important to do your own research on products and their ingredients.

Hypoallergenic—Don’t Assume This Won’t Cause a Reaction

When you see the term “hypoallergenic” on a product, it simply means that the manufacturer is claiming their product causes less allergic reactions than others.

Be careful with this term, too—it’s unregulated, and doesn’t mean the product won’t cause an allergic reaction.

Manufacturers can put the term “hypoallergenic” on their product without testing it at all. Therefore, it’s best to be cautious with products that claim to be hypoallergenic.

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