I have many customers asking me what is natural skincare, what does it do for their skin and why they should buy these products over conventional skincare with predominantly synthetic ingredients. I will do my best to help you understand this niche and growing market better. Disclaimer: there is no bad or good ingredients (natural or synthetic). The dose is the poison.
I am sure many of you are still very confused about what makes a natural and/or organic skincare. It's no wonder consumers are confused about natural skincare when there is so much Greenwashing in Asia. Or even worse, you can't even see any list of ingredients on their labels and have no way to find out what ingredients are in the products except the common "No parabens, No SLS, No EDTA, etc". (It's against the cosmetics regulations not to list ingredients on product labels according to ASEAN Cosmetics Directives).
According to Greenwashing index: "It’s greenwashing when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimise environmental impact." (source)
Natural, naturel, organics
You may find personal care products that are labelled as natural, naturel, au naturel, naturals, organic, organics, etc under the brand name. Technically speaking, it does not mean much especially if it is used mainly for marketing and sales purposes. Most often, you will find there are only a few natural or organic ingredients on the label and the entire product or brand will claim that it is a natural and organic brand.
Natural can mean using ingredients that are obtained from nature, naturally derived (such as an emulsifier that is derived from Olive oil, Sugar, Coconut oil, Palm oil, Rapeseed oil, etc) or nature-identical (chemical structure similar to those found in nature). Organic includes those raw cosmetic ingredients that are certified organic by various organic certifying bodies such as ACO (Australian Certified Organic), USDA Organic (United States Department of Agriculture), Soil Association (UK), ECOCERT (EU), COSMOS (EU), etc or the brand has obtained organic certifications. To add to the confusion, these organic certifying bodies have their own sets of accepted raw cosmetic ingredients.
A personal care brand can claim to be certified organic only when they have obtained certification by these various certifying bodies (listed above). Otherwise using certified ingredients in the products do not make the brand a certified organic brand. (At Balm Botanique, we use certified organic ingredients but we do not claim we are a certified organic brand as we did not pay for those licenses). Also if businesses claiming they are an organic brand without license can get themselves into deep trouble with the relevant certifying organic bodies or cosmetic regulatory bodies.
Percentage of natural ingredients
One way to select more natural ingredients in a product is by looking at the overall percentage (if it's stated on the product or website). Let's look at the Argan hair oil treatment as an example.
You can see from the chart that the natural organic Argan hair oil treatment only comprises of botanical oils, vitamin and essential oils which would be 100% natural ingredients. On the other hand, the conventional product has synthetic ingredients at the top of the list which usually make up bulk of the product (most often more than 70%). The top three ingredients are synthetic silicones and silicon based polymer. They coat the hair shaft and make the hair feels smooth. You will also find these synthetic ingredients in many shampoos. That is why when you use hair products loaded with synthetic silicones or polymers, you will have 'perfect hair' that falls flat and feels smooth and silky to the touch.
The difference between natural organic ingredients such as using just botanical oils in a hair oil treatment is that the ingredients not only provide moisturisation and hair smoothing properties to the hair shafts, the oils contain vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fatty acids. These properties will not be found in synthetic ingredients such as silicones, polymers or mineral oils.
[ How to read a product label: The percentage of ingredients are written on product labels with the highest at the top to the lowest at the bottom. ]
Most often, you will also find brands stating their products are natural or even organic but the products contain ingredients that are not accepted in organic skincare (some ingredients are accepted in natural skincare).
Take a body shower gel for example, the word natural, organic is displayed prominently on the label and it caught your attention and you picked up the item. When you turned the product around to look at the list of ingredients and you see: "Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Glycol Distearate, Propylene glycol, PEG-7, Phenoxyethanol, Ceteareth-20, methylchloroisothiazolinone, PEG-40 Hydrogenated castor oil, Polysorbates 20/80, etc, these ingredients certainly are not natural nor organic. These ingredients are not accepted in organic skincare formulations by the organic certifying bodies because these synthetics are derived from petroleum (Propylene glycols), toxic method of manufacturing is used to process the raw ingredient (PEGs, Polysorbates), and can cause allergic reactions for sensitive skin (methylchloroisothiazolinone - banned in Europe). However some of these ingredients can be found in natural skincare and that is due to the fact that natural have 50 shades of gray. Some brands claim that Polysorbates are derived from natural ingredients but the process of manufacturing does not make it all that natural (PEGs are byproducts of the ethoxylation process, "1,4-Dioxane" which is a known carcinogen. They are usually filtered out of the final product during the ethoxylation process).
Whether you are looking for natural or organic skincare, do take a closer look at the list of ingredients the next time you pick up the product and you may try to identify if the above ingredients are in them which can tell what type of product it is.
The decision to switch to natural personal care products is usually a conscious choice in wanting to harness the power of botanical ingredients to beautify and improve our skin health.
We do hope that more natural skincare brands would declare the list of ingredients on the product labels (not only necessary for the consumers but also a legal requirement) and also not use fear mongering tactics such as 'No chemicals in our products' when everything is a chemical whether it is made synthetically or from nature ( do read our earlier blog post on Chemophobia). Join us in our journey to help spread natural beauty to everyone and share the benefits of using natural skincare to maintain healthy skin barrier.
Have you made your switch to natural skincare yet? We would love to hear your experiences.