Marketing Terms in Skincare: Deciphered

Deciphered terms in skincare products

If you’re like me, then you do your research before you purchase any skincare product. I can’t stress how important it is to “turn and learn” your labels. The most confusing part of it all is trying to decode the many marketing and advertising terms and understanding what they mean. Here are a few of the most popular terms.

Woman consults a tech about the nutrition label on a supplement bottle.

Natural & All Natural: This is one of the most loosely used terms out there. There are a lot of consumers that specifically look for products comprised of natural ingredients for many reasons. Why is this? First, is the stigma and confusion around the word chemicals. As an herbalist, I hear more often than not, that my clients are looking for “chemical-free” ingredients, but this term simply doesn’t exist. Water itself is comprised of two chemical ingredients, hydrogen and oxygen. I believe the confusion most consumers have is that they believe that the word chemical is associated with the word toxic; let me shed some light on this common misconception. Toxic ingredients in general can come from both natural and synthetic forms and the best thing you can do if you are interested in the toxicity of a skin care ingredient is to look at an online database like In any case, a product can be made from all natural ingredients, but that does not make it chemical free or better than any synthetic ingredients, it simply means it is derived from natural sources.

Natural vs. Synthetic Sourcing: After becoming more educated on what ingredients I was putting onto my skin (and into my body, but that’s a rant for a different day), I started getting interested on where the ingredients were sourced. This seemed like a natural progression in my conscious consumerism. We want to make sure the products that we purchase provide results, are healthy for us, and have the lowest ecological footprint. The truth is, synthetic ingredients are just as effective and some even have advantages over their nature derived counterparts. Synthetic ingredients do not leave an ecological footprint and do not require the use of pesticides. Synthetic versions of ingredients, like hyaluronic acid for example, are more stable and have more effective water binding properties than the naturally sourced ingredients.

Organic: This term describes agricultural products that are grown without the use of pesticides and is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, the FDA or USDA do not regulate the term organic when it comes to the use of cosmetics. The National Organic Program regulates and makes eligible certain cosmetics that contain agricultural ingredients if they can meet certain standards.

Cruelty-Free: A must have for products, in my opinion, is to be cruelty-free. This means that the product has not been tested on animals at any stage in the manufacturing and production process, including the ingredients sourced.

Vegan: Vegan products cannot contain any animal ingredients or animal by-products. This means ingredients like honey, wax, and collagen need to be sourced from non-animal ingredients. This can be confusing to consumers because some manufacturers choose to note “product does not contain animal ingredients.” This is a red flag for me, the safest thing to do is to look for the vegan symbol.

Gluten Free: Recently, celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and gluten sensitivity are on the rise. This has prompted manufacturers to go gluten free, opting out of using wheat, rye, and a mixture of wheat and rye known as triticale. There isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to prove that if you have a gluten related issue that you should stay away from topical products, it is up to the individual’s experiences. If you are looking to go gluten free in your products as well as your diet, be on the lookout for ingredients like wheat amino acids, wheat germ oil (triticum vulgare), or hydrolyzed wheat protein. Most manufacturers that intend the product to be gluten free will place a symbol on their packaging.

A picture of ingredient labels.

Fragrance Free: This is most commonly confused with “unscented”. Products that are fragrance free are not necessarily devoid of smell. It just means that the product has no fragrances added into it. For example, if a product uses lavender, this is an ingredient and not a fragrance, therefore the product may smell like lavender and be fragrance free.

Unscented: This means that the product has been formulated to have no smell. Because most ingredients to have an odor, manufacturers will add in more ingredients to neutralize it.

A woman books a facial at Oasis Skin Studio on her mobile phone.

It is always important to know what ingredients you are putting on and into your body. My best advice from one conscious consumer to another is to support your local businesses, consult your esthetician for any of your skincare product questions, and to think of our planet when you purchase! I hope that these commonly confusing marketing terms help you when choosing your products in the future. Happy Shopping!

If you have any questions regarding your skincare routine and products, send me a message below!