How natural does your soap, shampoo, or lipstick have to be to call itself "natural"? Turns out, not very. The FDA doesn't regulate cosmetics and personal-care products, and many that claim to be natural actually contain potentially harmful chemicals and nonrenewable petroleum by-products. "The truth is, there are different levels of natural, and there is a lot of misinformation out there," says Mike Indursky, chief marketing officer of Burt's Bees, which has sold exclusively natural products since its founding in 1984. Companies, like Burt's Bees, that make products that truly are natural see this as a serious problem, especially for consumers who assume the "natural" face lotion or sunscreen they're buying is safe for them, their children, and the environment.

There is a lot of misinformation about cosmetics and what the word "natural" really means.
Soon, however, "natural" will mean something again—and, even better, we consumers won't have to endure eyestrain from reading the fine print on the back of hand-cream tubes. Burt's Bees, in partnership with the Natural Products Association, is spearheading an effort to create guidelines for calling personal-care products natural. Only companies that adhere to the guidelines will be able to label their products with an official seal signifying compliance. "We're paving the road for consumers," says Indursky. "It's an inclusive effort. We're working side by side with our competitors [including Aubrey Organics and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, among others] to help the consumer—to help all of us, actually."

This new standard defines a natural product as one that must be made with at least 95 percent ingredients that come from a "purposeful, renewable, plentiful source found in nature"(flora, fauna, mineral); must not contain ingredients with any suspected health risks; and must not use processes that alter the purity or effect of the natural ingredients. The guidelines will permit using a synthetic ingredient only when there is no viable natural alternative and when there are absolutely no potential health risks. The guidelines will also include a list of no-no ingredients, such as parabens, sulfates, petrochemicals, phthalates, chemical sunscreens, and glycols.

Look for the certifying seal starting early next year. In the meantime, you can learn more about the natural standards and see what other companies and products are joining this effort at www.burtsbees.com/thegreatergood.