Woman washing up her face with a sponge and a cleanser
Image: Shutterstock/ Tinatin

If you’re looking to do some natural beauty product shopping, you’ll quickly realize you’re drowning in random labels and emotionally validating statements like “cruelty-free.” So which ones are useful and which are pure nonsense? Below is your guide to beauty product ecolabels.

The main ecolabels to watch out for

There are tons of ecolabels and statements out there. Some are legit, some less so. So below is a list of some of the more trustworthy, popular labels.

EWG Verified: New as of November 2015, this label is the official stamp of approval of the Environmental Working Group. Products must meet stringent environmental criteria to boast this label. The products are assessed across metrics like which ingredients they contain, transparency and manufacturing practices.

USDA Organic: A really big time ecolabel on the list, this means a product is certified to be organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Natural Products Association Certified (AKA the NPA Natural Seal): Products with this seal must use at least 95 percent natural ingredients excluding water and meet certain processing requirements.

Design for the Environment (DfE) / Safer Choice: This is a group that uses EPA knowledge about chemicals to assess a product. If it bears the seal, it carries certain safer guidelines. It has been rebranded to the Safer Choice label.

Non-GMO Project Verified: If GMOs are a concern of yours, this label makes sure the product has been formulated in avoidance of genetically modified organisms.

These are just some of the most common labels you’ll see. If you have a question about a label you’ve seen, there’s a large index of ecolabels here with detailed descriptions.

Watch out for greenwashing

Greenwashing has been a problem with natural products for several years now. Ever since going green became a hit, there have been tons of companies trying to pass off random products as “green” in an effort to boost sales.

If you’re looking to buy true green products, watch out for vague wording. Two of the biggest culprits are “natural” or “all-natural,” which have no unified, agreed on definition and aren’t regulated by any independent body. Another favorite is to label something as “organic” after including a drop or two of essential oil, along with a host of non-organic substances.

Another huge controversy is the wording “Cruelty Free”/”Not Tested on Animals.” The FDA warns that these are not enforceable terms, since there are no hard and fast legal definitions on them.

Many times, these terms will be applied to the finished products, while raw materials could be tested on animals. Or a raw material could have been tested on animals when it was being developed, but it isn’t now, so the phrase will be added to the product.

To find products that are cruelty-free, look at sites like leapingbunny.org that assess for animal-friendly products and search their product guides.