The Green Lingo

We all want to go all-natural now. With people getting more eco-conscious, companies too are making more natural products. But what really is the difference between natural, organic, vegan, and cruelty-free? Spoiler alert: natural doesn't actually mean anything. 


The term ‘natural’ is not regulated by the US FDA and therefore has frequently been used by many brands to be misleading. Natural products normally contain lesser amounts of synthetic ingredients. The confusing part is that ingredients sourced naturally are usually written in their scientific names and can somewhat sound synthetic, such as sodium chloride, which is just sea salt. What makes it even more confusing is that some chemicals are often times naturally-derived anyway. Ethanol for example is made from fermented sugars of corn, wheat, or sugarcane. So technically, you could say it is natural or naturally-derived.


Unlike ‘natural’, ‘organic’ is actually regulated by the US FDA. Organic means that the ingredients are organically farmed, meaning they are produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. A product only has to contain a certain percentage of organic matter to be declared “organic” on its label. A minimum of 95% organic is needed by The Soil Association to label something as organic. Looking for these certifications can guarantee actual organic ingredients are used in the product.

Synthetic-free or chemical-free

Synthetic-free or chemical-free means that the product contains no synthetic or man-made ingredients. Although it may contain chemical compounds, they are made of naturally occurring elements or compounds. With it being synthetic-free or chemical-free, it would not mean that the ingredients used are organic, the same way that vegetables are not always organic unless stated otherwise.


Cruelty-free means that none of the product’s ingredients were tested on animals. The Leaping Bunny gives cruelty-free certifications and is the industry’s trusted certifier. However, it does not mean that they have to have this certification to be cruelty-free. A lot of indie or smaller brands tend to create cruelty-free products without having the certification on them. In 2013, Europe banned animal testing on all cosmetics manufactured and sold in the region, however, all cosmetic companies that sell in China are required to test on animals according to the country’s laws.


Vegan cosmetics, like the lifestyle, contains no animal products or byproducts whatsoever. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from animal products. However, this means that a product that does not contain animal byproducts or made without harming animals but is laden with synthetic chemicals can still be classified as vegan. I'd say even Doritos can be classified as vegan since the things inside are mostly synthetic anyway.