Organic, Natural and Vegan and Similar Terms in Skincare: Definitions and Comparisons

Making the switch to a more sustainable lifestyle does not happen overnight. Not only because we are living in mysophobic times, but also because it requires a lot of practice and there will always be new information to obtain. Especially if:

  • It is your first time making the switch after several years of using products from the mainstream market.
  • You have recently discovered that unnatural, man-made trigger negative responses from your body. (making you sick or giving you allergic reactions) 
  • You aim to reduce your carbon footprint.

An extremely important part of living sustainably is knowing what goes into the products you consume. This goes for everything such as your food, the products you use in your home, and your body.  The terms you are about to learn in this section will help you fully understand what you need, beyond the labels. 

Know the difference between organic, vegan, and natural products and learn how to spot ingredients or oils that are particular to your skin type and problems. Knowing the definitions can help you prevent common rookie mistakes. Of course, it is absolutely normal to make those, and even with this guide, it could take you a while to find the product that is perfect for your skin, body, and hair needs. The good news is, there are a lot of sustainable products in the market for every gender, skin type, and price range. Remember, the sooner you start to heal the earth, the sooner you will heal yourself as well. Welcome to the world of Dreamface, where we aim to normalize naturally made and ethically produced products. 

What Exactly Is Sustainability?

The most stripped-down definition of sustainability is “the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.” In this context, we are talking about maximizing the use of natural resources, recycling, and reproducing these through natural methods and avoiding its depletion to maintain ecological and environmental balance. 

The only problem is, it seems our modern world is producing too many unsustainable products laden with harmful chemicals that take several human lifetimes to disappear from the earth. The most common example of this is single-use plastic. 

 These are evident with the food, gadget, and fashion industries. In fact, textile dyeing is the 2nd largest polluter of water in a global scale, with the fashion industry as a whole producing at least  20% of global wastewater and 10% of the whole world’s carbon emissions – That’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping. These are unnecessary, take up too much space and the earth is suffering in turn. The goal of a sustainable switch is to stop supporting these industries, to start recycling and repurposing, and to be a mindful consumer. In skin and body care, the long term effects won’t only take its toll on the earth. Rather, it hits closer to home as studies have found that using products with harmful chemicals on our skin and body can lead to unwanted illness and dramatic changes in our hormones and body chemistry.

Moving forward, it is useful to know that there are no fixed or legal criteria in the entire world to label a product in the market natural, organic, and surprisingly so, even vegan. According to the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI), the requirements are as follows: (1) List ingredients from highest to lowest percentage, and (2), list ingredients below 1% content in any order.

 If you are here to make better choices and eventually make a sustainable switch, keep reading as these definitions will help you identify words and terminologies you often encounter in a product label. Here are the basics and their corresponding meanings. To learn more about essential oils, visit’s Essential Oil Guide. Most ingredients are listed using its scientific name which can make it confusing. To navigate more efficiently around for information on specific ingredients found on our featured products, check out the Dreamface Glossary. Now, let’s get started on the basics.

What makes a product "natural"?

According to the Soil Association, a natural product cannot contain harsh chemicals, parabens, phthalates, genetically modified substances, and synthetic dyes or fragrances.

Unfortunately, there is a loophole to this that has been a source of countless discrepancies when finding all-natural products in the market.  The term “natural” is overused and sadly, not a reliable sign when shopping. As a product only needs to contain 1% of plant-based ingredients to be labeled as such. 

Help yourself by finding reliable brands who practice transparency and show the actual percentage of natural ingredients used (such as 80% Natural or 98.8% Natural), or for beginner shoppers, it is always a good sign if you find products with fewer ingredients. For more information, check out the Dreamface Glossary.

What makes a product "organic"?

The basic requirement of a product to be considered organic is to use only sustainably produced and organically farmed materials that are not tested on animals. That means, even simple and harmless ingredients such as water or salt CANNOT be called organic as it is not in any way, farmed. Note that animal-derived products such as cow or goat milk and animal fat can be called organic as long as the animals are grass-fed. 

Sadly, there is still a loophole to this. Just like the word natural, products only need 1% of organic ingredients to declare their products as organic.

What makes a product "vegan"?

To consider a product vegan, it must pass these two criteria. First, it must not contain any animal-derived extracts or by-products both in the list of ingredients and the manufacturing process which means products and ingredients have never been tested on animals.

It is still best to thoroughly read the ingredients before buying a product. Here are some tips:

  •  By law, China requires all productions to be tested on animals, so any products made in China have most likely gone through animal testing, which is a big red flag if you are shopping for vegan ingredients. Although 
  • Vegan has very few restrictions and it takes a very small percentage of plant-based content for a product to call itself vegan. This can include “plant-based” ingredients artificially synthesized in a laboratory.

What Is a "clean" product?

A product can be considered clean by definition if it contains NONE of the following:  will silicone, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, pesticides, petroleum derivatives, synthetic dyes, and fragrances. Surprisingly, there is one thing this list does not include, and that is animal-derived products. 

What Is a "fair trade" product?

Fairtrade is a bit different from the first four definitions tackled in this article, as it has everything to do with the fairness practiced in the ingredient’s production, price, and welfare of its producers. Common fair trade products are plant extracts such as shea butter, coconut oil, and argan oil. A fair trade seal gives buyers assurance that the ingredients were bought fairly and proper wages are given to the small scale farmers who grow them. 

What Is a "cruelty-free" product?

What is a “cruelty-free” product The cruelty-free seal, commonly referred to as the bunny seal is to certify that no animals were harmed, used, or tested on throughout the entire process of production.  List of Institutions And Certifications Learn more about these institutions and associations by clicking on the links below Created by the Soil Association to create a European standard for cosmetics.
Dreamface Definitions (2)

Remember, there is no easy way to tell if a product is all-natural, all-organic, vegan, and so on. Although they are tasked to list down every ingredient, there are ways to make the not so good stuff less noticeable, especially as they are listed in their scientific names. Information really is power in making the switch to a more sustainable lifestyle. Here are some no-fail, helpful tips to follow:

  • Strive to make a conscious effort and read about the products before purchasing them. Just like the saying “you are what you eat”, anything you put inside or in this case, on your body affects the way you feel. By educating yourself, you will soon recognize the ingredients you need and the products that work for you.
  •  Be patient. The switch to natural is a journey and does not happen overnight. Do not beat yourself up if you accidentally buy a product containing ingredients or implementing practices not in line with your own personal beliefs. Try again and be patient. It will all be worth it. 
  •  Help others on their journey. Reach out to your favorite brands, write a review or blog on your social media accounts about what works for you. It might help other people along the way.
  • In the same way, do not hold grudges against those who do not share your beliefs. At the end of the day, all our bodies are different, which means our needs are also different, and we are all living in different paces.