What are the Differences and Similarities Between Organic, Non-GMO, Natural, and Wildcrafted Ingredients? And What are the Benefits of Each for Skincare?
There are many terminologies thrown around in reference to ingredients that are in skin care products. If you are confused by the words ‘organic’, ‘non-GMO’, ‘natural’, and ‘wildcrafted’, then you are not alone and this is the perfect intro blog post for you. With such a barrage of product claims in the beauty industry, it is wise to understand the exact meanings of these terms to help you navigate your way to truly natural, safe, and nontoxic beauty products. Here are some of the fundamental similarities and differences between plant-derived ingredients:
Organic ingredients are derived from plants that are farm-grown and raised without chemicals. Unlike non-organic planting practices, organic plants are fed on animal or plant-based manure, not synthetic chemical fertilizers. They are not sprayed with ‘poisonous’ insecticides, because farmers use plant-based methods to repel and remove bugs. Examples may include incorporating herbs that repel certain insects into crops; or spraying crops with organically made insecticides. Organic plants are not sprayed with synthetic herbicides, so weeding is always necessary. For organic crops, they are allowed to ripen naturally without spraying them with artificial chemicals.
The advantage of organic ingredients is that they have high-quality, naturally concentrated nutrition that are beneficial for your skin and hair. They have efficacious properties that have been tried and true for centuries, and are thankfully resurfacing in the organic beauty movement today. Best of all, they do not contain harmful synthetic chemicals, so when formulated and used properly, it’s more than likely they will not cause many of the harmful long-term and short-term effects that are seen in synthetics or even non-organically derived ingredients.
GMO refers to genetically modified plants. A lot of ingredients used in beauty products, such as wheat, corn, soy, fruits, natural plant oils, etc. are more often than not genetically modified, even though they are technically all-natural. That means the original seeds were modified at a genetic level in order to develop properties that are desirable such as not breaking down during transportation, resisting drought, and being less likely to be destroyed by insects, to name a few. While the safety and effects on the human body of GMOs are debated, it is known that the nutritional value is reduced (this is also because of the unsustainable farming methods that are often used to yield GMO crops) and that can translate to loss of nutrient-density and effectiveness in skincare products.
In comparison, non-GMO plants have not been modified at the genetic level. This means they still usually contain the higher amount of nutrients and have their more potent natural properties. If an ingredient says non-GMO, it means the ingredient that you are looking at comes from plants that have not been modified as explained above. This is why non-GMO ingredients are preferred in high-performing natural beauty products over GMO ingredients. Whenever possible, seek out non-GMO ingredients.
If an ingredient is natural, it means that it has been derived from plants. Yet, there are a lot of different definitions for ‘natural’, thus, depending on who you ask, a naturally derived ingredient may actually be considered a synthetic, even though it is made from a natural source. A lot of ingredients, such as certain kinds of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, etc. that are found in commercial products are all synthetic by this definition. They may be similar in properties to the natural ingredient, but they are made in methods by humans that are different than the methods nature uses. For example, retinol that you find in anti-aging and acne products is the synthetic version of vitamin A. It can cause irritation and inflammation, and it makes the skin more sensitive to UV light. To protect your skin, look for natural vitamin A in the form of rosehip seed oil or other botanicals high in this great source of trans-retinoic acid that will not irritate your skin.
Some synthetic ingredients may be similar in structure and properties to natural ingredients, but still aren’t researched enough to know exactly how they are accepted by the body, or whether or not they are causing harm. It’s important to note that just because an ingredient is considered to be natural, doesn’t automatically categorize it to be non-toxic or “safe”. That’s why it’s important to choose a trusted source for your skincare needs with natural ingredients that also formulates safely, scientifically, and with proper natural preservation methods.
Please know that natural can also be genetically modified and/or non-organic. Whenever you buy a natural product, it’s a good idea to emphasize seeking ones out that have ingredient lists that are certified non-GMO and/or certified organic.
When plants are grown commercially, humans tend to interfere with the natural way that the plants grow — even when it comes to commercial organic and non-GMO crops. They add fertilizers, often harvest crops too early for transportation, and even spray the plants with chemicals (whether organic compounds or synthetic) to make them ripen when required. You find that a blueberry grown commercially has different properties from the blueberry that grows in the wild. The same applies to all plants that are domesticated.
Wildcrafted ingredients are the opposite! They are ingredients that are derived from plants grown in the wild. Plants that grow in the wild are the closest to freely growing the way nature intended as you can get (because let’s be honest, indirect human interference is still happening in other ways via our global environmental impacts). These wildcrafted plants even choose the best places to grow that provide the right amount of rain, sunshine and the right soil conditions. They do all of this without direct human interference.
Wildcrafted ingredients are inherently non-GMO and organic. Because they grow under ideal natural conditions, they contain all the nutrients that nature bestowed on them originally and humans can benefit from those properties. They are some of the best ingredients, and they are becoming more and more popular as consumers become more aware of their enriching health and skin benefits.
Now that you have a basic understand of the differences between natural ingredients in your skin care products, do some more research! This is a very generalized, overly-simplified synopsis of the differences between various levels/categories of “natural” ingredients, but it’s an important place to start or refresh the delineations between them to make informed decisions. You’ll discover that there are actually imperfections to each of these cultivation methods, and being able to weigh out pros and cons will allow you to flex your consumer power and even push for more stringent, ethical methods of obtaining purely natural skincare. Now go forth, make an effort to read labels so that you know what is contained in your products, and be choosy about the ones you put on (and in) your body!