With sales of organic beauty and body care products increasing by 20 percent each year, legions of mainstream brands are trying to get in on the action by marketing “natural” products. Meanwhile, truly natural companies are incorporating more humane production methods and clean, conscientious ingredients. So how do you separate the plain truth from the puffery? Aside from booming industry growth, which is the major development in natural personal care, here are five legit trends to look for.

USDA Organic

Just because that shampoo you bought claims to give you “A Totally Organic Experience” doesn't mean it is organic at all. In fact, until recently, the word organic didn't really mean anything when it came to personal care products. That changed in 2005, when the USDA's National Organics Program (NOP) reversed an earlier decision and decided that personal care products can carry the USDA Organic seal, assuming they meet the same NOP standards as food. “Today, more and more natural care brands are seeking certification, but there is no USDA oversight or official enforcement, so theoretically you can still get away with using the word organic,” says Barbara Haumann, a spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association. If a product displays the USDA Organic seal, however, you can feel confident that it is in fact organic (at least 95 percent of the ingredients must be certified, excluding water and salt).

PRODUCTS TO LOOK FOR

Dr. Bronner's & Sun Dog's Magic Orange Lavender Organic Lotion, ErbaOrganics Mommy-to-be Massage Oil, Origins Organics, and Teressentials Flower Therapy Replenishing Facial Cream.

Vegan

Testing cosmetics on animals has always been controversial and is banned in several countries, including the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. And when a long-awaited EU animal-testing ban goes into effect in 2009, you can add at least 27 more countries to that list. Although animal testing is still legal here, most natural beauty companies have taken stands against it. Some are even moving beyond cruelty free and are seeking vegan certification — that means no beeswax, royal jelly (a honeybee secretion touted for its antioxidants), or lanolin. Several groups certify vegan products, including Vegan Action and PETA.

PRODUCTS TO LOOK FOR

Beauty Without Cruelty's (BWC) complete line, Derma E Melon and Ginger Ultimate Moisture Hand & Body Lotion, Fresh Body Market Q-Cumber Facial Soap, and Max Green Alchemy Scalp Rescue Shampoo. Ecco Bella's skin care and cosmetics are vegan except for several lipsticks and blushes that contain carmine, a colorant made from beetles.

Fair trade

Ever since The Body Shop created a market for fairly traded Brazil nuts in the early 1990s, fair trade's popularity has exploded as more and more consumers show they care about the lives of marginalized people in developing countries. By providing a living wage and establishing stronger social and environmental standards, the strategic design of fair trade means your purchasing power can help these workers move from vulnerability to self-sufficiency. BioDynamica's Organic Fair Trade Shea Butter, for instance, is bought directly from a widow's group and supports an entire village in northern Ghana.

MORE PRODUCTS TO LOOK FOR

Alaffia's Shea Butter & Red Palm Lip Balm, Queen Helene Organic Fair Trade Certified Cocoa Butter Cream, Purely Shea Lavender Organic Shea Butter.

Ecofriendly packaging

The truth — inconvenient for sure — is that just about everything you buy, even if it's organic, vegan, or fair trade, requires energy to produce and ultimately becomes waste. Short of refillable containers, which can harbor bacteria, ecoconscious consumers are demanding minimalist, recycled, and biodegradable packaging. And manufacturers are responding with truly innovative solutions. Pangea Organics now uses 100 percent postconsumer paper boxes with organic seeds embedded in the material — just remove the label, soak the box in water, and plant some sweet basil or amaranth. All of Nude Skin-care's new-to-this-country natural products come in sleek sheaths made from biodegradable cornstarch plastic. Also, look for 100 percent postconsumer recycled plastic, like that used by Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

MORE PRODUCTS TO LOOK FOR

Kiss My Face Tea Tree Moisture Soap and Tom's of Maine Natural Moisturizing Body Bar.

SUPERFRUITS

First there were the superfoods — those nutrient-rich “functional foods,” such as broccoli, wild salmon, walnuts, and blueberries, we should all eat more of if we want to stay healthy and live longer. Next came the superfruits — exotic plants, such as pomegranate, açai, goji berries, and sea buckthorn — that are exceptionally high in antioxidants. It was just a matter of time before they made their way from smoothies and supplements to skin care formulas. “Antioxidants are wonderful for skin,” says Camille Capone, a licensed aesthetician in Boulder, Colorado. “Beauty might start from within, but it's at least 10 percent topical, and these products fight damaging free radicals [from the sun and pollution] that constantly bombard us.”

PRODUCTS TO LOOK FOR

Burt's Bees Replenishing Lip Balm with Pomegranate Oil, Dessert Essence Organics Age Reversal Pomegranate Facial Cleansing Gel, MyChelle Tropical Skin Smoother with açai oil, and Weleda Sea Buckthorn Hand Cream.—B.W.