Green Beauty Buzzwords: the Difference Between Clean, Natural, Organic, Sustainable, and Vegan

People these days are taking beauty and skincare seriously. Some are turning to permanent beauty solutions, such as scalp micropigmentation, cosmetic surgery, and eyebrow tattoos. Having more time indoors during the pandemic gave people extra time to scrutinize their skincare routine and how it’s affecting the way they feel and look. They are also becoming more conscious of the products they apply in and on their bodies.

Sustainability is a serious issue in the skincare market. As consumers become widely informed about product ingredients and their impact on the environment, it’s apparent that the skincare industry is under a watchful eye. This encourages beauty brands to shift their focus toward becoming more socially responsible in incorporating ingredients into their skincare products.

Today, skincare companies are tossing new beauty buzzwords that left many consumers confused. The words “natural,” “organic,” and “clean” are present on almost every beauty aisle and skincare product that they’re starting to lose meaning over time. In this article, we’ll put an end to the ongoing confusion about the difference between natural, clean, organic, sustainable, and vegan beauty products.


Clean beauty products refer to non-toxic ingredients, whether natural or man-made. It’s completely free of toxins, synthetic chemistry, or other substances that harm a person’s overall health.

Since the Food and Drug Administration has banned a few ingredients in product formulations, brands took it upon themselves to stop using questionable compounds and chemicals, such as talc, paragons, formaldehyde, and phthalates. Clean beauty products usually come from transparent, ethical brands that ensure safe and responsible sourcing of their ingredients.

Social media plays an important role in the popularity of clean beauty. Skincare talks have amplified the fear of questionable ingredients, urging consumers to be particular with the products they purchase.


A beauty product labeled “natural” means the ingredients used came from nature (e.g., essential oils). The only problem is there are no regulations on what kind of product passes as “natural.” As a result, any company can label their products as “natural” when they’re actually not. This marketing spin is known as “greenwashing” by tricking customers into thinking the product they purchase isn’t what exactly they thought it would be.

Any brand claiming their product is “natural” doesn’t mean that it only contains natural ingredients, and it also doesn’t mean they tested, inspected, or certified the product in a natural way. For instance, a brand can call a product “natural” by simply including water on its ingredients despite other chemicals added to the formula.

Also, a product containing natural ingredients doesn’t mean it’s good for the body or the environment. On the contrary, any lab-created, synthetic ingredient isn’t always toxic. One example is hyaluronic acid from the umbilical cords of horses and cows. But its vegan version has a lesser environmental impact and is just as effective as the natural one.


Organic directly refers to ingredients cultivated according to organic farming standards.
This means the product doesn’t include chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, and genetic modification.

Among all beauty labels, organic ones are more regulated. The FDA highly regulates the use of the term “organic” under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Only an accredited agent can certify a product to be USDA-certified. This means the company produced, packaged, and handled the product according to the agency’s standards.


Most beauty brands have been using the terms “green” and “sustainable” interchangeably. In fact, the two terms actually go hand in hand. It refers to products whose ingredients have no negative impacts on the environment. In the same way, the packaging should be eco-friendly, recyclable, biodegradable, or manufactured from recycled materials.

Truly sustainable products came from ethically sourced ingredients and are proven safe for humans, animals, and the environment.


Cruelty-free refers to any product that wasn’t tested on animals, while vegan refers to the absence of animal ingredients. It’s also worth noting that a cruelty-free product might not be vegan. This is because cruelty-free products may consist of animal byproducts.

Vegan beauty has similar associations with green beauty. In general, vegan beauty focus on whether a particular brand tested or sourced their ingredients from animals. Non-vegan beauty products often include tallow, lanolin, honey, glycerin, and beeswax.

Everybody needs skincare that’s completely safe for the body and the environment. Simply scanning the labels on every packaging isn’t enough. Learn about the brand by doing research and familiarizing yourself with ingredient labels. Whatever information you obtain will help you make the right decision not only for your skin but for your overall wellbeing.

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