The Difference Between Natural, Organic, Vegan, Gluten-Free & Anti-Pollution Skincare Products

Organic, Vegan, Gluten-free . . . You might feel virtuous buying products bearing these buzzwords, but what do they even mean? When it comes to skincare and beauty, it’s estimated that the average female puts 515 synthetic chemicals on her body every day! Yikes! Synthetic skincare products can entice us with promises of radical results, but at an unknown cost to our health.

Now, plant-based products don’t just compete with the rest of the market — they’re coveted and often even more effective, thanks to superfood ingredients that do wonders for our complexions, as well as fewer chemicals, which can be drying and cause wear on skin.

The Environmental Working Group confirms that we absorb much of what we put on our largest organ, our skin! Being smart with your skin means to know that the products you are using are both safe and deliver the best results.

But now that going green is hotter than ever, it’s important to be wary of products that appear to be good for you and the planet, but actually aren’t.

For example, did you know that the term ‘natural’ is completely unregulated by the FDA? Any company can stamp the word on a label, even if the product in question is chock-full of synthetic chemicals. Not to mention that ingredients like petroleum, while potentially harmful, are technically natural.

Feeling overwhelmed? Not to worry! With a little but of know-how, it’s not at all difficult to discern the difference between a truly natural product from one that just claims to be.

Keep scrolling to find out what terms like “organic” and “gluten-free” really mean—as well as the 100% natural beauty products we recommend.

5 Skincare Product Ingredients & What They Mean

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‘Natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the purity of a product. While the term isn’t regulated at all, not all products with the word on their labels are frauds. To determine what’s actually in a product, your best bet is to study the ingredients. They’re listed from highest percentage to lowest, so aim to pick a product where synthetic ingredients are mainly at the bottom of the list, if included at all. How many can you pronounce? If they sound like a list of chemicals, chances are, they’re chemicals. But should you care?

Here’s where it gets a little confusing: The scientific names of some naturally occurring ingredients might sound synthetic. Sodium chloride is just sea salt, for example. And citric acid is a compound found in lemons and other citrus fruits. Not to fear — you’ll begin to recognize these with practice. Plus, as you’ll find out, there are other ways to ensure your product is green.

Try: Purity Hydrating Tonique, $85; 100% Pure


The FDA doesn’t define the term ‘organic,’ but the USDA does — and certifies products containing argicultural ingredients (like Shea butter or pomegranate) that have met the agency’s standards for organic production.

To carry the USDA Organic seal, a product must be certified “100 percent organic” (containing only organically produced ingredients) or “organic” (consisting of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients; the remaining 5 percent must be approved non-agricultural or non-organically produced agricultural substances), says Sam Jones-Ellard, public affairs specialist at the USDA.


‘Vegan’ and ‘cruelty-free’ are often used interchangeably, but they don’t technically mean the same thing. Whereas cruelty-free is a way to guarantee that no animals were harmed, vegan is meant to indicate that a product hasn’t been tested on animals and does not contain animal products or by-products (like beeswax or dairy).

Check out this post from Hello Glow on shopping for the best Vegan Skincare Products

While there are no federal regulations for either label, it’s more likely that a product is vegan or cruelty-free if it has a certification seal from an organization like the Vegan Awareness Foundation, PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies program, or Leaping Bunny.

Try: Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lotion, $10; Dr Bronner 


Unlike foods, cosmetics labeled ‘gluten-free’ aren’t regulated by the FDA. But, do you even need gluten-free beauty products? Maybe, if you’re gluten-sensitive and it’s a lipstick, glass or balm, which you could ingest in tiny amounts. Otherwise, don’t bother.

“I’ve seen no evidence that a cream or lotion containing gluten is harmful,” says John Zone, MD, chairman of the department of dermatology at the University of Utah School of Medicine. If you are gluten-sensitive, make sure your ingredients labels don’t list wheat, rye or barley.

Try: RMS Beauty Lip Shine, $25; RMS Beauty


Two types of pollution dominate the United States: Ozone (a mix of sunlight and chemical emitted by cars, power plants, and other sources) and partical (tiny pieces of solids or liquids in the air). Both can result in skin-damaging free radicals, says Tanzi. A recent study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology linked the formation of dark spots —known as lentigenes—with traffic-related air pollution.

Antioxidants are very effective for protecting the skin from free radicals, so look for a formula that includes vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid or resveratrol.

Try: Cilantro & Orange Extract Pollutant Defending Masque, $32; Kiehl’s

How can you learn what to look out for when making your personal care purchases? Become a more conscientious, eco-friendly personal care shopper by learning what to look and changing your purchasing habits. This Spring, resolve to detox your beauty game by swapping out synthetic ingredients for naturally, organically potent skin care products. Go green with your beauty routine!

+What are your favorite skin care products that you use? Do your prefer organic over natural? Or do you go for vegan certified beauty products? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!