Without strict definitions, you’re largely on your own to research which products are “natural” — depending on what it means to you. Luckily, this article can help.

Here are a few things to consider when deciding on a new product.

What is the product derived from?

This is the first question to ask yourself.

In other words, what’s in it, and where does it come from? Is it a natural source, like plants, animals, minerals, and marine sources? Or is it derived from petrochemicals?

  • Naturally-occurring: Ingredients in these products are used in their natural, unprocessed state. Examples of naturally-occurring ingredients include raw honey and crushed flowers.
  • Nature-identical: Ingredients in nature-identical products are produced in a lab and are chemically identical to those that occur in nature. An example is sorbic acid. Originally derived from rowan berries, sorbic acid is now commonly included as a nature-identical ingredient.
  • Synthetic: This term sits on the far end of the spectrum and includes ingredients that were created and processed in a lab. An example of this is parabens, which are common preservatives found in cosmetics and skin care products.

How is it processed?

Just because ingredients are derived naturally doesn’t mean they’re processed naturally.

Ingredients can be processed physically or chemically.

  • Processed physically means the molecular composition or structure stays the same.
  • Processed chemically means the molecular composition or structure changes.

Examples of naturally derived but physically processed ingredients include raw, unrefined oils and butters. These are processed through means like cold-pressing or filtration.

An example of a naturally derived but chemically processed ingredient can include castor wax. It’s a vegetable wax derived from the castor bean. It’s produced by adding hydrogen to pure castor oil, a process called hydrogenation.

Know your labels

There are various certifications and marketing words under the umbrella of “natural” products. Some are regulated and some aren’t.


Companies can have their products certified organic.

They can also label their products as organic to indicate that all the ingredients are derived from organic sources. This means the product itself may not be certified, but all the ingredients are certified organic.


This unregulated term refers to environmental impact and sustainability.

“Green” products are usually produced with the intention of limiting environmental impact.

For example, a green product may contain raw materials that are harvested in a way to support the environment rather than harming it. Because this term is unregulated, it may mean different things for different brands.


This unregulated term describes products that typically focus on being nontoxic.

Note that this term may mean different things to different brands as there is no federal regulation surrounding it.


These products are created without animal by-products.


The term “cruelty-free” means that the finished product hasn’t been tested on animals. However, keep in mind that individual ingredients may still be tested on animals.

It’s also important to note that, while vegan products are almost always cruelty-free, cruelty-free products are not always vegan. An example would be an organic lip balm that contains beeswax.

Brands can claim these terms without being certified, as there is currently no regulation for such terms. But, if brands want to ensure it, several organizations certify vegan and cruelty-free products.


This regulated descriptor focuses on sourcing, ensuring that ingredients are sourced ethically in terms of the planet, people, or environment.

By Hà Phương

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