Glossary


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Acid-free

Paper and paper products that have been treated with calcium or magnesium bicarbonate to neutralize the natural acids in their wood-pulp base are called acid-free. This process not only keeps paper from yellowing for at least 100 years, but also uses chalk instead of clay as a filler in the pulp, resulting in fewer corrosive chemicals in the paper factory and its wastewater. Creating paper conventionally requires a significant amount of water, and the acid-free process allows the same water to be treated and reused repeatedly.


Alcohol-free

This indicates that a beauty product does not contain any alcohol-based ingredients, such as ethyl alcohol (also known as ethanol) and isopropyl alcohol, which are commonly used as preservatives and/or solvents in a wide range of conventional beauty products, including cleansers, toners, moisturizers, and skin treatments. Alcohol, especially ethyl alcohol, can be drying and cause irritation—especially for people with delicate, dry, or sensitive skin—because it strips away the healthy oils on the surface of the skin.


Bamboo

Bamboo’s quick growth (up to 3 to 4 feet a day) and resistance to pests and disease make it an ideal eco-crop that doesn’t require fertilizers or pesticides. Fabric made from bamboo-pulp fiber is naturally antibacterial and “breathes” more easily, making it cooler than cotton. It feels like a cross between cashmere and silk.


Beauty without Bunnies

A symbol from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ensures that companies have signed PETA’s statement of assurance, verifying that neither they nor their ingredient suppliers conduct, commission, or pay for tests on animals at any stage in or after the production process.


Biodynamic

Like organic growers, biodynamic farmers don’t use pesticides, growth hormones, or genetic modifications. The aim of biodynamic farmers is to improve food quality through careful soil enrichment, increased biodiversity, natural pest prevention and control, and beneficial integration of crops and animals, following the earth’s natural cycles.


Biodegradable

A biodegradable product is one made of natural raw materials that will decompose relatively quickly without having a negative effect on the environment.


Demeter Biodynamic® Certification

Like organic farming, Biodynamic farming eschews the use of pesticides, growth hormones, or genetic modifications. It seeks to improve food quality through careful soil enrichment, increased biodiversity, natural pest prevention and control, and beneficial integration of crops and animals, following the earth’s natural cycles. Products carrying the Demeter seal are created with Biodynamic ingredients and produced to the Biodynamic Processing Standard, whose intent is to allow the integrity of the ingredients to define the finished product.


Ecocert

This is the first certification body to develop standards for natural and organic cosmetics. It bans synthetic perfumes and dyes, prohibits animal-derived ingredients (unless naturally produced, like milk, honey, etc.), and requires biodegradable or recyclable packaging. For the “Natural and Organic” label, at least 95% of the ingredients must be plant-based, and at least 10% of all ingredients (by weight) must come from organic farming. For the “Natural” label, at least 50% of the ingredients must be plant-based, and at least 5% of all ingredients (by weight) must be organically grown.


Essential oils

These are concentrated plant extracts—derived from plants’ leaves, roots, stems, or blossoms—that capture their active ingredients through steam distillation or mechanical expression. (Those that are produced with chemical solvents, in contrast, are not considered true essential oils, according to the National Cancer Institute.) Most essential oils are colorless, but some, like orange or lemongrass, can be amber or yellow. Pure essential oils can be costly, as it takes several hundred—or in some cases, several thousand—pounds of a plant to create just one pound of a pure essential oil. In addition to being beautifully fragrant, these oils have been used throughout history in many cultures for their medicinal and therapeutic benefits. They are not the same as perfume or fragrance oils, which are created artificially or contain substances that are artificial.


EU Organic Certification

This seal is overseen by the European Union and has the same basic tenets as USDA Organic: strict limits on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, livestock antibiotics, and food additives, plus a ban on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Just like with a USDA Organic seal, when a product carries the EU Organic seal, at least 95% of its ingredients have been organically produced.


Fair/Ethical Trade

These companies support human rights, reasonable work hours, the right to unionize, a fair living wage, no child labor, and higher social and environmental standards that have an impact on people in the workplace.


Fairtrade International

This is an ethical trade system that puts farmers first and focuses on combatting poverty. Most commonly seen on items sold in Europe, its mark ensures that farmers and workers who produce agricultural goods are justly compensated and enjoy safe working conditions. The Fairtrade International mark on products represents world class standards including robust mechanisms for monitoring and restricting child and forced labor and chemical use during the production of Fairtrade goods.


Fair Trade Certified™

This seal, most commonly seen on goods sold in the US, has very similar standards to the European-based Fairtrade International. Both ensure ethical practices for producers and handlers of agricultural products from developing countries, including produce, honey, cocoa, coffee and tea, cotton, nuts and oil, seeds, grains, spices, sugar, and wine. The main difference between the two certifications is that Fair Trade Certified is not limited to small farm co-ops. Because Fair Trade Certified standards restrict the chemicals that can be used during growing and/or production, the products it certifies are often organic, but not always. A Fair Trade product that is also organic will carry the “Organic” label as well.


Formaldehyde-free

This label indicates that a product does not contain any formaldehyde, a preservative commonly found in conventional nail polish, some hair-styling products, particle-board furniture, and “wrinkle-free” treated fabrics. Formaldehyde is considered to be cancer causing by the International Agency on Research on Cancer.


Free of Synthetic Fragrance

This phrase indicates that a product does not contain chemical fragrances, which can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world. Recent research from the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 conventional name-brand fragrance products, none of them listed on the label (which is not required by federal law). Products scented exclusively with all-natural essential oils or herbal extracts are considered to be a much safer, healthier option.


GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)/GEOs (Genetically Engineered Organisms)

These are plants or animals created through experimental biotechnology (also called genetic engineering or GE), which merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.


Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

This label unifies standards in eco-textile processing and defines worldwide requirements. Only textile products that contain a minimum of 70% organically grown fibers can become GOTS certified. Chemical inputs such as dyes and any notions used (think zippers and buttons) must meet certain environmental and ecological criteria.


Green-e® Energy

This is the most rigorous and widely used Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) program in the US. One renewable energy credit is created for each megawatt-hour (1 MWh) of renewable electricity (think wind, solar, biomass, hydro, and geothermal). Each MWh of this clean energy helps reduce the need for one MWh of conventional electricity—and its associated greenhouse gas emissions. When you see the Green-e® Energy logo on a product, you can trust that the company behind it has contributed to the development of clean energy.


Green Seal™

Green Seal certified products do not contain known carcinogens, mutagens, or reproductive toxins, and the certification covers the product, manufacturing process, and packaging. Green Seal is a nonprofit organization that certifies everything from paper and paints to hotels and cleaning services. Products with the Green Seal have been proven safer, more healthful, and environmentally preferable through a rigorous certification process that includes annual on-site audits. Check out Green Seal’s environmental standards for each product at greenseal.org to learn more.


Hemp

Grown naturally without pesticides, hemp is one of nature’s strongest sustainable fibers. Fabric made from hemp is excellent for moisture absorption, anti-bacterial properties, ventilation, and UV protection. Growing hemp in the United States is legal, but producers are required to obtain a special permit through the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.


Hypoallergenic

This means a product that is less likely to cause allergic reactions, making it gentler on sensitive skin.


ICEA Organic Certification

This is Italy’s organic seal. The standards of the Italian government-regulated Ethical and Environmental Certification Institute are very similar to both USDA Organic and EU Organic: limits on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, livestock antibiotics, and food additives, plus a ban on GMOs.


International Organic and Natural Cosmetics Corporation (BDIH) Standard

This label appears on health care products, food supplements, and personal products, including cosmetics. To gain BDIH certification, brands must use natural—not synthetic—raw materials (plant oils, herbal extracts, essential oils, fats, and waxes), as well as demonstrate environmentally friendly manufacturing processes that do not harm animals.


Jute

A vegetable fiber produced primarily from plant material and wood fiber, jute is 100% bio-degradable and is the second-most produced vegetable fiber after cotton.


Leaping Bunny Cruelty Free Logo

This logo guarantees no animal tests were used at any stage in the development of cosmetics, pet care products, household cleansers, and personal care products, including all ingredients, formulations, and finished products.


Low-Impact Dye

These textile dyes don’t contain toxic chemicals and usually have a higher absorption rate into fabric, which creates less wastewater.


Lyocell

Lyocell is a natural fiber engineered from the wood pulp of the eucalyptus tree that is soft, absorbent, strong when wet or dry, and resistant to wrinkles. Tencel® is a registered trademark for Lyocell.


Modal

A cottonlike fabric made of fibers spun from beech tree cellulose, modal is very soft, which makes it popular for both clothing and household textiles such as bedding and towels.


Natrue-Label

This seal is found on cosmetics that use only natural and organic ingredients and environmentally friendly practices. It ensures that these products are made without synthetic fragrances or colors, petroleum-derived additives, silicone oils and derivatives, GMOs, radiation, or animal testing.


The NPA Natural Products Association Certified Seal

The NPA Certified Seal is the first and only US certification for natural personal care products. A certified product must be made of at least 95% natural ingredients, be manufactured to maintain ingredient purity, and must not contain any ingredients that are suspected to pose a risk to human health. Prohibited ingredients include parabens, glycols, the preservative EDTA, formaldehyde donors, phthalates, petroleum, and PEG. Animal testing is not allowed in product development, and the use of recyclable packaging is encouraged. For more information on the Natural Seal, please visit www.thenaturalseal.org


Non-GMO Project Verified

This seal means that best practices for avoiding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been used. Experimental biotechnology—which merges DNA from different species—creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. This seal verifies that ingredients are regularly tested for cross-contamination—a natural process that is too common to avoid completely—and are as close to GMO-free as possible.


OEKO-TEX® Standard 100

Certified products with this label are painstakingly tested (including every button and zipper) for more than 300 substances that can be harmful to humans—including those that are legally regulated, as well as non-regulated chemicals that are legal, but have been linked to health concerns.


Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is grown from plants that are not genetically modified and is grown using crop rotation and biological pest control, instead of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Conventional cotton production uses 10% of the world’s pesticides and 25% of all insecticides. USDA-accredited certification organizations verify that organic producers use only permissible methods and materials in organic production.


Organic Fiber

This includes cotton, wool, hemp, flax (linen), and other natural fibers grown according to national organic standards without the use of toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetic engineering. USDA-accredited certification organizations verify that organic producers use only permissible methods and materials in organic production.


Organic Linen

Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, which is eco-friendly because it requires no irrigation, herbicides, or pesticides to grow. USDA-accredited certification organizations verify that organic producers use only permissible methods and materials in organic production. Linen is valued for its supple feel and coolness in hot weather.


Organic Merino Wool

Merino wool comes from a breed of sheep prized for the softness and flexible characteristics of its wool. Because it also draws moisture away from your skin, repels external moisture, and is antibacterial and lightweight, Merino wool is often used in high-end performance athletic wear. USDA-accredited certification organizations verify that organic producers use only permissible methods and materials in organic production.


Paraben-free

This label indicates that a product does not contain any parabens, which are preservatives— commonly found in conventional beauty and personal-care products—that have been linked to cancer. According to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, longer-chain parabens like propyl and butyl paraben (and their cousins, isopropyl and isobutylparabens) may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders.


Peace Silk, Cruelty-Free Silk, Ahimsa

Unlike conventional silk, which requires killing the silkworms by boiling their cocoons, Peace Silk allows the silkworm to emerge from its cocoon to live out its full life cycle. The silk is spun like other fiber, instead of being reeled like traditional silk, resulting in a soft, fluffy yarn.


Phthalate-free

This label indicates that a product does not contain any phthalates (pronounced f-THAL-lates), which are commonly used to make plastics more flexible and are also used as lubricants in conventional cosmetics. You’ll find phthalates in many conventional products, including perfume, hair spray, deodorant, almost anything fragranced (from shampoo to air fresheners to laundry detergent), nail polish, insect repellent, carpeting, vinyl flooring, the coating on wires and cables, shower curtains, raincoats, plastic toys, and your car’s steering wheel, dashboard, and gearshift. (When you sniff that “new car” smell, you’re smelling phthalates). A growing number of studies link phthalates to male reproductive system disorders as well as to birth defects when women are exposed while pregnant.


Post-Consumer

This term describes a product or material that has been recycled or reused after its original purpose has been completed. For example, a product “made with post-consumer paper” was made from paper products that were recycled after consumer use.


The Rainforest Alliance Certification™ Seal

This certification helps protect the future of the rainforest and its people. The seal can be found on an array of farm goods—from coffee, chocolate, and bananas to flowers—as well as on timber and paper. To qualify, farmers, forest managers, and tourism businesses must meet rigorous standards for maintaining the ecosystems within and around their operations, and show that their workers enjoy fair wages, safe conditions, proper health care, and housing.


Reclaimed

This term describes items made from existing waste products or by-products, such as accessories made from used clothing or furnishings made of wood reclaimed from demolished buildings.


Recycled

This term describes products made from materials that have been processed from a previous use to a new one, such as fibers from pre-existing fabric that are re-spun and used for new garments.


Soil Association Organic Standard

This is the UK’s most rigorous organic certification. Its requirements go above and beyond the EU’s organic standards in several areas such as animal welfare and nature conservation. This association has also developed environmentally friendly standards for practices and products not covered by government or EU regulations, including fish farming, textiles, and health and beauty care products.


Sulfate-free

This label indicates that a product does not contain sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate (both commonly referred to simply as sulfate). These ingredients are used as foaming agents in conventional shampoos and face washes (to help them lather better) or as emulsifiers in conventional lotions and other cosmetics (to help bind ingredients together and suspend them in a creamy base for even absorption). Sulfates can be irritating to our skin and scalp, because they strip away natural oils. Sulfates can even be damaging to our hair follicles, causing weak hair that is prone to breakage, split ends, and thinning. Sulfates have also been linked to cancer.


Sustainable

A sustainable practice means that it’s capable of being continued with minimal negative long-term effect on the environment and also that it has a positive social impact. This means it’s safe for both the planet and for us, because it maintains ecological balance by protecting the earth’s natural resources (fresh water, clean air, and living organisms) while also maintaining economic balance. In the case of agriculture, sustainability integrates environmental stewardship, farm profitability, and maintaining prosperous farming communities to ensure long-term success.


Tencel®/Lyocell

Lyocell is a natural fiber engineered from the wood pulp of the eucalyptus tree. It's soft, absorbent, strong when wet or dry, and resistant to wrinkles. Tencel® is a registered trademark for Lyocell.


Triclosan & Triclocarban

These are common antimicrobial agents found in antibacterial liquid soaps (which contain triclosan) and soap bars (which contain triclocarban). These agents have been shown to disrupt thyroid function and reproductive hormones in humans, and there is concern that they may also disrupt aquatic wildlife when soaps containing them make their way into waterways. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Microbiology say that simple, old-fashioned soap and water prevent the spread of infections and reduce bacteria on the skin just as well as antibacterial soaps do. Additionally, overuse of these antimicrobials may promote the development of bacterial resistance.


Upcycled

Like recycled products, upcycled products are made from materials that have been processed from a previous use to a new one, but in this case, the new materials are of better quality or environmental value, such as textiles made from discarded plastics.


USDA Organic

This is a seal from the United States Department of Agriculture that guarantees a production process absent of synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, sewage sludge, radiation exposure, and genetic engineering, in order to promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. The seal applies to fruits and veggies, livestock products like meat and eggs, and other agricultural products like honey. Products made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods can be labeled "100% Organic," while only products with at least 95% organic ingredients may be labeled "Organic." Both may also be stamped with the USDA Organic seal.