Natural, Herbal, Organic? What’s the difference?

difference between organic and natural products

If you are looking for eco-friendly products, get prepared to be confused. You’ll see all sorts of  labels – ‘100% natural’, ‘all-natural’, ‘Organic‘, ‘100% Organic’, ‘Herbal’, ‘made from Herbal extracts’, etc.

We’ve put together a quick primer that will help you understand what these terms mean, and aid your decision making as you start buying eco-friendly products – especially in skin care.

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Let’s start with the basic definition of an eco-friendly product. While the degree of eco-friendliness (don’t mind us using this term) may vary, and it is largely believed that nothing today can be 100% eco-friendly, an eco-friendly product is one that does minimal harm to the environment. These products are usually made of natural non toxic ingredients (do not pollute the air or groundwater), highly renewable resources (such as Bamboo which grows much faster than any other Wood), and do not create additional waste (either made of recycled materials including recycled plastic, or durable, non-plastic packaging that can be used for other purposes).

Now let’s look at the commonly used terms with this in mind: 

  1. Made with natural ingredients: This basically means something made from naturally occurring raw materials. The catch is, that it doesn’t have to be 100% natural. Even if it’s only 1%, ‘made with natural ingredients’ would still apply.  In addition, while the raw materials may be natural the product may include chemical preservatives, colorants or fragrances. So, when you see natural shampoo and conditioners, read a bit more closely.
  2. 100% Organic: The term ‘Organic’ means that a product is made using natural ingredients that have been produced without the use of chemical additives such as pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically modified substances. While there should be no reason to state 100% Organic, this is often done to reiterate that everything in the product is Organic.
  3. Organic: This could mean that the product is made using some Organic ingredients, or is also that it is completely Organic. It’s best to clarify with the seller.
  4. Herbal: Products made from plant extracts and herbs, and mostly used for their medicinal properties. The herbal products may be Chemical free (if no preservatives have been added), but pesticides may have been used in growing them. It’s common to find products that are labelled Herbal but are largely chemical and only include some Herbs.
  5. Ayurvedic: Derived from the Sanskrit words “Ayur” meaning “life” and “veda” meaning “knowledge or science”, Ayuerveda is a system of alternative medicine with its origins in India. Ayurvedic medicine involves the use of herbal compounds, special diets and health practices. Ayurvedic products make use of natural herbs along with animal extracts, and heavy metals such as gold, silver, copper, tin, mercury, and sulphur. They can be harmful and toxic if the amount of metals is beyond acceptable limits. It’s important to use Ayurvedic medicines only after proper consultation with a trained practitioner.

While there are some certifications such as Agmark India Organic (and more) that exist, they are complex to execute, and expensive. Thus they are usually only applied for by big brands or by those exporting products. The domestic manufacturers especially some of the newer start up brands that are seeing success through word of mouth, skip this step. This is likely to change in the near future, as demand for eco-friendly products goes up, and consumers become more discerning. Standardization in benchmarks and certifications will follow.

However, until then, and in our opinion, even after there are certifications available, nothing is better than knowing how to tell the difference yourself. Before you buy something, Read the Label to understand what exactly goes into a product. If you’re looking for a natural product, make sure that the label also says ‘100% natural, with no added chemicals’. Also remember, something may be Herbal or 100% natural, but not Organic. Knowing the difference between organic and herbal products is essential for you to make the most of them that are being put out there.

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