It would be hard to ignore the discussion that’s been going on for some time now around whether ‘natural’ products are better for you and the environment. Generally they cost more and advertising would have you believe this is justified because they are ‘clearly better’ in every way, but what does natural really mean?
Does it mean: organic, of plant origin, unprocessed, green, not synthetic, safer, fresher?
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Natural’ as:
Existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind:
‘carrots contain a natural antiseptic’
‘natural disasters such as earthquakes’
- 1.1 Having had a minimum of processing or preservative treatment:
‘our nutritional products are completely natural’………..
To read more of this entry click on the link https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/natural
Natural compounds can be toxic
People tend to forget that plants eg poison ivy, types of mushrooms etc., and other naturally occurring compounds eg uranium, sugar etc., can also be toxic or processed into forms you wouldn’t want to ingest or smear on your face for fear of poisoning ones self or initiating an allergic reaction. There are also issues of renewability and sustainability with natural compounds. Some naturally occurring compounds eg petroleum, whales, are finite in supply and of course the use of animals for the development and testing of cosmetics that always been questionable. This has meant that cosmetic companies have had to develop alternative formulations and establish new methods for testing the safety of their products for human use.
Given that man-made/synthetic compounds will be available in unlimited supply (in theory) and no animals are harmed or in danger of becoming extinct as a consequence of their production, why are these compounds viewed less favorably?
- There’s the perception that man-made versions of natural compounds are not as effective/potent.
- The components tend to be called chemicals, a term which has negative connotations for many people, i.e. chemical is equivalent to toxic.
- Energy and resources required to manufacture compounds have environmental impacts. I’m not aware of too many natural products that come straight from nature into a jar for sale; some form of processing/extraction is usually required.
- They contain preservatives. In todays busy world it’s simply not practical to make every product you use fresh each time, so it’s essential to have your products preserved to ensure a decent shelf life. The fact is that where there is water there is life and in relation to skin care products we should add ‘and there is a preservative’. Anhydrous products (those that do not contain water) such as balms do not require a preservative. Of course the reality is that even natural and organic cosmetics/skin care products must contain preservatives, although some types appear more acceptable than others to consumers.
- Successful advertising campaigns and/or vocal lobby groups can taint how we view a product. Mineral oil is a classic example. A by-product of petroleum distillation, mineral oil is a very effective moisturizer but in recent times it has been shunned because of misconceptions surrounding it’s origins and false claims that it contains contaminants and is carcinogenic. Mineral oil is not found in the ground, it arises during petroleum distillation. The mineral oil produced is of different grades but cosmetic grade mineral oil is non-toxic, odourless and hypoallergenic. The supply of mineral oil is clearly linked to the supply of petroleum which of course is non-renewable, but given that it will be produced because petroleum distillation is not going to be stopped any time soon, not while cars are still using petrol, isn’t it better to utilise the mineral oil produced? Now the issue becomes that if mineral oil isn’t mined from the ground it’s not natural, it’s manufactured.
There is no doubt that humans are complex beings, but I still find the inconsistencies in the choices people make perplexing. Smokers for example, have no problem inhaling carcinogens and other toxic compounds into their bodies, but for many it seems that when it comes to cosmetics and skin care ‘natural’ is best even if there is no rational basis for their choice. Lets hope that those who choose ‘natural’ are aware that regulations governing cosmetic manufacture and testing are not nearly as stringent as those for food.
My personal view is that ingredients, compounds or chemicals, should be assessed on their individual merits. They should be safe and bring to your products the qualities you consider to be important eg slip and glide to hair care products, anti-aging or hydrating properties to face creams. It’s your decision as to what you put on your face and body or ingest, but don’t exclude a product because it contains ‘unnatural’ ingredients. Read the labels, do a bit of research, make an informed decision. If an ingredient is safe and effective does it matter whether it came from nature or a laboratory?
The extent of the debate over the term ‘natural’ last year led to the United States Food and Drug Administration initiating public consultations to identify which foods should be allowed to use the “natural” label and to determine what ‘natural’ actually meant. The report will no doubt make fascinating reading when it becomes available.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting tutorials/recipes for a moisturising non-greasy hand cream, a delicate eye cream, an effective deodorant, a clay-based toothpaste and various face masks and foot soaks. The first post in this series is for a simple, but exceptional cuticle balm, which has done wonders for my thin peeling nails and dry cuticles. Two readers who sign up for my newsletter will win a pot of their own cuticle balm made by me, posted to any location in the world.
Karina Bray, 2015. Natural Beauty. https://www.choice.com.au/health-and-body/beauty-and-personal-care/skin-care-and-cosmetics/articles/natural-and-organic-cosmetics
Dorea Reeser, 2013. Natural versus Synthetic Chemicals Is a Gray Matter. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/natural-vs-synthetic-chemicals-is-a-gray-matter/
Michelle Skelly, 2015. Are Organic and Natural Skin Care Products Really Better? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/organic-natural-skin-care-products-really-better-michelle-skelly