Are natural cosmetics better than synthetic ones (and what does “natural” mean)?
I’ve often wondered what makes “natural” cosmetics natural, and since there are no regulations regarding natural products (for example I could package something as natural, even though it might not be), what are we actually getting, and how do we even know what we’re getting?
Enter Conny Oberrauter, who has been in research and development, and formulation development. She is a qualified cosmetic chef, with a marketing degree too. She makes products and sells kits on her site The Cosmetics Chef so that you can make your own products at home, using her recipes.
She’s also releasing a book next month, with recipes for natural products. I asked Conny more about her products “natural” cosmetics.
What are natural cosmetics?
This is a very difficult question to answer in a short paragraph. Natural cosmetics should be cosmetic products that have been made with natural ingredients. One of the big issues in the market is that many companies have jumped on the natural bandwagon.
There are natural claims all over the packaging, but often when you look at the ingredients you will see that less than 5% is natural. This is called greenwashing, and this has made it more difficult for consumers to tell which are really natural and which are not. You can also get certification for natural products, but for South African companies this is very costly as the most charge in Euros or US dollars.
In real terms, no cosmetic can be natural as all the ingredients even if sourced from nature have undergone some process to ensure the highest quality and safety for use. But some processes are considered as acceptable in natural terms.
What consumers need to be most careful about is safety. Natural does not equal safe – some of the deadliest things such as cyanide, mercury, lead, etc are all natural. This is not a concern for most cosmetics, but consumers need to be careful with products claiming natural, home-made etc. Some natural ingredients have not been certified for safe use in cosmetics.
How do you know if a product is natural?
Read between the lines. Carefully read what the label is actually saying, not what the marketer wants you to think it says. If a product says anti-aging, we immediately think, wow, my wrinkles are going to disappear. Then we are disappointed when they don’t disappear. The label probably says, reduces the appearance of wrinkles. So, the appearance is less, but that doesn’t make the actual wrinkle less. It’s a simple example but I think you get what I mean.
If you look at the ingredient listing on the label, the ingredient must be listed from most to least. Preservatives, fragrance, and color are usually last on the list and usually less than 1%. So anything around that section of the list is very low. If the only natural ingredients are very low on the list, the product probably isn’t fully natural. Although, as I said, some natural ingredients have very chemical sounding names.
You also kind of have to rely on the ethical marketing of the brand, which is another difficult one.