There is a big debate about natural or not natural cosmetics. This is something that I am very passionate about. I specialize in formulating natural and organic products. I also strongly believe in living a green and eco-friendly life, but I also believe in balance.
I get concerned when people swing to extremes either way. The marketing tactic of natural product makers is often extreme. They highlight the supposed bad about synthetic products and how these are so bad for you. I like to remind people that there are deadly natural things too, like mercury, cyanide, anthrax, I think you get the picture.
The other thing is that most common allergies are against natural proteins. Lactose intolerance is against something natural. Being allergic to bees is also natural.
I know this is possibly an extreme argument but it does put into perspective about how many people become very emotional about this topic and forget about the basic facts.
One example is the thing about mineral oil being bad for you. Mineral oil is actually natural, it is a by-product from refining crude oil. This is mined from the Earth. My main issue against it is that it is not renewable, but the marketing around it does not focus on this. But in the same line most natural ingredient have concerns around being renewable, like palm oil.
The other focus on mineral oil is where the claims are that it clogs pores, but it doesn’t. The purpose of mineral oil is to sit on the skin, not penetrate. It helps form a barrier, which for some products, is exactly what you want it to. Like for a baby product where their own barrier function hasn’t formed and formed a barrier with mineral oil protects their skin.
Unfortunately, people will believe what they want and will not think about the factual information and get overwhelmed with the emotive marketing many brands are using.
I believe a balance between synthetics and natural makes the best sense.
When something is synthetically made, it is made with the key concern being consumer safety. So many synthetic cosmetic materials are more safe for use on skin than many natural products. These products have been designed to be the perfect fit for the skin. Synthetics are also renewable. These are made on demand in quality controlled environments and with the strictest safety criteria.
Apart from naturals not being renewable, the quality can change between harvests. The changes in the quality may impact how it works. As I’ve said, most allergic responses are to natural proteins, so what if this year’s crop of a natural ingredient has a change in its composition that may result in triggering an allergic reaction.
There is the argument about sustainable sources and where some products are farmed, like lavender fields for essential oil. This is true and many producers of naturals are doing that. The issue though is that in some cases doing this has an impact on the natural environment. The example of palm oil is a good one again. The land being taken by palm plantations has a huge impact on the natural habitat for orangutans. Where is the balance for this?
Then comes the next thing. People get so focused on that it must be natural, but by the time it actually goes into the cosmetic product, it has undergone just as many processes as a synthetic, if not more, to make it suitable for use in cosmetics. It has been extracted, distilled, centrifuged or other processes to make sure it meets a target set of values each time. Sometimes these targets are wide to accommodate changes in seasonal harvesting or different plant species. Colour and odor can change between batches.
I think there are wonderful natural ingredients that often work far better than synthetics for some purposes, but at the same time, there are some synthetics that cannot be replaced by naturals. Finding the optimal balance between the two will give the best cosmetic products.