In the past years we’ve come across many (marketing) claims that natural cosmetics are better, non- toxic and super safe compared to »chemical«. It has come to a point where some »natural« cosmetic companies claim that ordinary cosmetic products are so full of chemicals (i.e. poison) that you’ll most certainly wind up in an early grave if you’re using them. As always, the truth is somewhere in between and most definitely is not just black and white. There’s just a a ton of fear-mongering in such statements with the goal to scare people into buying their »natural« products.
Did you notice that I’ve put natural in quotation marks? This is because it turns out, that the loudest mostly have the lower percentage of natural ingredients in their supernatural products. In many cases is just a marketing strategy – not the real deal! We’ve come to a point where natural became a marketing buzzword loosing its real meaning and that’s why I decided to share my views on this important topic.
Natural here, natural there, natural everywhere. But is it really natural?
Everything is a Chemical
First, everything is a chemical. When I hear »don’t put chemicals on your skin, they’re toxic« I break out in hives. Every compound either of natural origin or lab-made is a chemical. Our food, plants, water, clothes and every cosmetic product regardless of its origin is made of chemicals.
Check out how many chemicals a very natural egg contains compared to two cosmetic products:
Natural is ... safer?
Now that this is clear, we can divide chemicals by their origin – in our case in natural and synthetic chemical compounds. The first are from natural origin, the second are made in a lab. This is where some marketers twist the truth in their favor by claiming that natural compounds are safe and synthetic are ALL toxic. But this is definitely not a black and white topic. The most powerful poisons and toxic compounds on earth are not made in a lab! We cannot define the safety of a chemical by its origin, we have »bad« an »good« chemicals regardless of that and at the end the most important is the concentration. The dose makes the poison!
Specifically in cosmetics, If you have a product that contains too much (concentration!) of natural essential oils it will very likely harm you skin – even by causing severe chemical burns. In general, many natural compounds used in cosmetics can be irritating for the skin because they can’t be altered and stripped of any possible irritants. With synthetic ingredients everything is under control. In the lab everything can be altered by removing irritants and sensitizing compounds. Especially for sensitive skin, natural in general is not the best option – been there done that. So, the origin really doesn’t matter in terms of safety – only the type of and concentration of chemical does, regardless of it’s basic origin. Scientist can basically make a synthetic chemical for about everything (even water), then why should something be toxic or bad, just because it was made in a lab? Your skin actually can’t differentiate between a lab-made and natural compound of the same type. And why should everything natural be absolutely good? You wouldn’t make yourself a face mask out of a poisonous mushroom, would you?
So, don’t get caught in this kind of marketing witch hunt against all synthetic chemicals just because we are all biased in terms of »natural is better« and because marketers know this and exploit it big time on our expense. Think out of the box and do your research. You can start by taking a look at this video made by Labmuffin, which I used as a source for this two chapters: Labmuffin – Are Natural Beauty Products Better?
Now, let’s take a dive into natural.
Natural doesn’t mean safe and synthetic isn’t harmful in general
Natural is ... better?
Personally I’m fond of natural products and very fond of companies that put effort in making them while respecting the environment. If you’ve got the impression I’m against natural you couldn’t be more wrong, I’m just really against fear-mongering, marketing exploitation and half-truths. It turns out I’m »biased« too and whenever possible I pick natural products as I pick organic food to eat. I do believe in the power of nature and I feel better if I use quality natural products especially on larger skin surfaces. Not always of course. I’ll always pick the product I deem better for my skin concerns. I’ll never ditch products that contain quality lab-made ingredients and I’ll always choose my products by its quality and effects, regardless of its ingredients origin. Anyway, whenever I can, I’ll opt out for quality with natural ingredients.
Why is that?
- Cosmetic products in general contain lots of different ingredients, some safer than the other and many of them are there because of the product proprieties (texture, scent, preservation etc.), not because our skin needs them. Among all the ingredients that keep the products safe and nice to use, I rather see if they are of natural origin.
- I use different cosmetic products every day on my whole body. I just feel better if I put natural ingredients on larger portions of my skin as much as I feel better if I eat organic food. While I have some ingredient knowledge is not even closely good enough for me to be certain that all that accumulation of different cocktails of synthetic ingredients on larger skin areas is completely safe. How is my skin processing all that? Are there any ingredients that accumulate in my skin? From this point of view I feel that natural can be safer. Is this science-based? Not exactly, it is just a hunch.
A few of my natural products I love to use
Ok, what then?
In the end It looks like I think that natural products in general are indeed safer and I would use them full time if I would find natural alternatives to my awesome staple products. Well, that is quite true. But that doesn’t mean that I think synthetic products and ingredients are bad and neither that all natural products and ingredients are good. It is not that simple! We could generally say that natural might be better and safer but this largely depends on:
- Is the product really natural? The word »natural« is so abused in the cosmetic industry that it is really hard to be sure if you’re getting what you’re think you’re getting. This area is very shady in legal terms. Your so called »natural« product can have just about 2% of ingredients that have natural origins and it is perfectly legal if the manufacturer claims it is a natural product. But of course it isn’t and you’re being scammed big time. It is quite rare to find a quality 100% natural product actually. As said, the label »natural« means shit, and even trustworthy certificates don’t require 100% natural ingredients, but at least they guarantee that the product is made by certain standards and it contains mainly natural ingredients. Certificates are actually a good tool for orientation when buying natural products.
- Is the product really safe? We went through this but let’s repeat, natural doesn’t mean safer per se – 100% essential oils are not safe for your skin. Natural ingredients can contain more irritating agents that can’t be altered as opposed to synthetic ingredients. So you shall choose wisely you natural products. In general all your products regardless of the ingredient origin are safe due to strict regulations (depending on the country) but general safety doesn’t guarantee that a specific product will be safe and will not irritate your skin specifically.
- Is this a quality and effective natural product? Last but definitely not least. Natural products can be as crappy as any other products. Natural doesn’t guarantee quality or effectiveness, this depends solely on the selection of ingredients and the formulations, the same as with synthetic products. Natural also doesn’t necessarily meet all your skincare expectations in terms of effectiveness. Despite the claims, synthetic formulas are more effective when it comes to targeting specific skin concerns (aging, hyperpigmentations, acne, sensitive and sensitized skin etc.) and this makes it hard do ditch them totally in favor of natural products.
I’ll continue with this topic in my next post. I’ll write something more about certificates and some other buzzwords like organic, bio and ecological cosmetics and how this impacts the natural cosmetics world. Stay tuned!
Certified cosmetics – what is the role od certificates in natural and ecological cosmetics? Next time!
As always, if you have any questions – shoot!