What Does “Natural” Mean in the Cosmetic and Home Care Products Industry?

Over the last decade, there is increasing consumer demand for natural and organic products, particularly in the food, personal care, and household product categories.  While there is no government or legal definition of the word “natural” for food and consumer products, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) follows a policy that was established in 1993. In short, that policy states that the term ‘natural’ can be used on food labels as long as it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic ingredients. Further, the use of the term natural may not be used in the ingredient list except when it is used as ‘natural flavorings’.

Enter the Natural Products Association (NPA), the oldest and largest non-profit organization representing manufacturers and retailers of the natural products industry including organic, health foods, dietary supplements, and natural ingredient cosmetics. Founded in 1936, the NPA requires that certified products in the personal care and home care sector, the only type of products than can be certified, be at least 95% natural ingredients or ingredients from natural sources, excluding water. In order to get the NPA certification, the list of ingredients must be natural, not pose any health risks, don’t include animal testing, and include biodegradable or recyclable packaging material. The Natural Seal, launched by the NPA in 2008, is the most predominantly used natural certification for personal care products. In 2010, the NPA introduced a certification for home care products as well.

NPA Standard for Personal Care and Home Care Products

The NPA Standard for personal care and home care products consists of four tenets and for personal care products includes those regulated by the FDA.    

  • Natural Ingredients:  A product labeled natural should be made up of only, or at least only, natural ingredients and be manufactured with appropriate processes to maintain ingredient purity
  • Safety:  A product labeled natural should avoid any ingredient with a human health risk or environmental risk
  • Responsibility:  A product labeled natural should use no animal testing in its development except where it is required by law
  • Sustainability:  A product labeled natural should use biodegradable and environmental-friendly ingredients

Resources to determine if your product meets the requirements to be considered Natural

For more information on the NPA and the NPA Certification requirements, click here to go directly to the NPA’s website. If you are a small business or make homemade cosmetics, the FDA has a concise fact sheet that will help you with many aspects of cosmetics including cosmetic regulations, determining the safety of your product, and labeling in terms of the use of natural or organic. Go to the FDA’s “Small Businesses & Homemade Cosmetics Fact Sheet”.