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Natural Vs. Organic Vs. Clean—What Does It All Mean?

The words “clean,” “organic,” and “natural” are tossed around so often in the beauty industry that they almost lose meaning after a while. These words are plastered across almost every product we pass, and it’s dizzying. The worst part is that no one seems to have a straightforward definition for any of them. Seriously, what does natural really mean? Sorting through the jargon to find products that check off whatever boxes are important to you is murky at best and daunting at worst. We want—no, we need—products that are safe and effective. We don’t have the time, patience, or conscience for anything less than that, which is why it’s time to shed a little light on the subject and define each buzzword for what it really means (because, no, they’re not interchangeable).


According to esthetician and founder of StackedSkincare Kerry Benjamin, the word “natural” isn’t regulated—like at all. “Any company can say natural on its label,” she says. This means that no matter how many potentially harmful or—at the very least—questionable ingredients are found inside a skincare formula, its brand can technically still call it a natural product. Because of this, the word doesn’t carry much weight when it comes to beauty. In fact, it can pretty much be outright ignored.


While the word “clean” isn’t strictly regulated either, it does carry more weight than natural. Many equate the term clean with safe cosmetics. Typically, clean beauty includes a long list of “free from” ingredients, toxins and questionable ingredients the products are formulated without, like sulfates and parabens. Unlike natural and organic beauty, clean beauty doesn’t shy away from synthetic (or lab-created) ingredients, like hyaluronic acid—as long as those synthetic ingredients are safe. And since the FDA has only banned 11 chemicals in cosmetics, it’s up to brands (and consumers) to define clean for themselves.

Here at Versed, we’re committed to formulating every single product to the highest standard, the European Union standard. That means we use natural and synthetic ingredients (remember, not all natural ingredients are good, and not all synthetic ingredients are bad). We keep the good, cut the bad, and focus on what works. Each Versed product is vegan and cruelty-free, as well as free from fragrances and dyes and a long list of toxins. For more on our clean philosophy and our No List of ingredients, check out our About page.


“Organic” can be a dicey word to define, but it’s the most regulated certification of them all. “The FDA regulates cosmetics under the authority of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA),” Benjamin explains. However, she says, “The term ‘organic’ is not defined in either of these laws or the regulations that FDA enforces under their authority.”

To make a long and very confusing story short, USDA-certified organic beauty products have to be certified by an accredited agent, meaning any product with that certification is made from ingredients that were produced, handled, and packaged to the proper standards. Like we said before, “organic” is the word that carries the most meaning, however that’s only when it comes with an official certification.

So, how do you know the products you’re using are safe, effective, and sustainable? Unfortunately, most of the legwork is left up to the consumer. If you’re unfamiliar with a brand or product, it’s worth doing some research. Look at the brand’s website, read the ingredients label, and check out any certifications it might have.

Purchase from brands that are trustworthy and have experience in skincare to ensure they are using quality ingredients,” Benjamin says. “Just because it is organic doesn’t mean it is good for you, or perhaps more importantly, effective. Synthetic ingredients in most cases are not only going to be more effective and completely safe for your skin, but they are actually better for the environment. Put it this way: Your skin doesn’t know if the lactic acid came from a cow or from the lab; it is just getting the benefits of it without using the natural resources.”

If you want to do an even deeper dive into what many ingredients actually mean, check out our glossary.