By Naume Guveya
Many people are opting for organic and natural beauty products.
In the beginning, the belief that human skin absorbs 60-70% of everything we put on it fuelled much of this development.
However, it didn’t take long for people to deduce that while the body does absorb some ingredients, most ingredients don’t end up in our bodies.
Still, organic and natural beauty products have retained their popularity because people are choosing to be safe.
The idea is that it’s better to play it safe if there’s even a remote chance that something toxic may end up in your body? This is especially important when you consider that some chemicals in skin products are causing serious health concerns.
On another level, what you put on your skin is no longer just a matter of your personal health. The health of the planet is at stake too. A lot of people see natural and organic products as a way to play a part in saving the planet.
But just how good are these products? Are they the amazing solution they are made out to be or they leave a lot to be desired? In this guide, we’ll break down organic and natural beauty products and see exactly what they mean for your body and the planet.
Natural and Organic. What’s in the words?
An important aspect of understanding natural and organic beauty products is defining what the words mean. Some people use the terms organic and natural interchangeably, but the two are not the same thing.
Although there is no legal definition for the term natural, it’s generally accepted that natural products are those that are obtained from natural sources and have no synthetic compounds added to them. Common natural ingredients include water, berries, herbs, botanical plants, clay, and salt.
Note: Water (aqua) is always classified as a natural ingredient.
The general definition of natural products may seem straightforward, but the use of the term in industry is subjective. Although there is now some natural product certification, in most cases, the term ‘natural’ is unregulated. What it means to one person is not necessarily what it means to the next person.
This brings us to the important issue of safety.
Many people associate natural products with safety and health. But the lack of robust regulation means that natural products are not necessarily safe. In most cases, there is no one to determine acceptable natural ingredients. This is why it’s always important to read the ingredients list and to know what the ingredients are.
There’s also the issue of natural products being perceived as vegan. This perception is false. For example, animal-derived ingredients including honey and beeswax are natural. Natural is not always equal to vegan, period.
Whereas the term natural is largely unregulated, the term organic has a stricter definition and significant regulation.
For example, a product certified as organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is made of 95% or more plant-derived organic ingredients. For the ingredients to qualify as organic they must be grown with overall environment protection in mind and without petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, and bioengineered genes (i.e. they are not GMO).
The USDA has four certification levels for organic products.
- Less than 70% Organic Ingredients
Products with less than 70% organically produced ingredients cannot display the organic seal and they are disallowed from using the term ‘organic’ anywhere on their packaging. However, they can identify the individual organic ingredients on the ingredient list.
2. Made with Organic Ingredients
‘Made with organic ingredients’ products have at least 70% organically produced ingredients. They can list the organic ingredients but they are also not allowed to display the organic seal.
Products classified as organic contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients. Although they are not completely organic, these products display the organic seal.
4. 100% Organic
100% organic products are made wholly of organically produced ingredients. These products also have an organic seal.
While the USDA is widely known when it comes to organic certifications, there is a growing number of certifications worldwide. Some of the top ones include the Cosmos, NaTrue, and Ecocert.
So is organic better than natural because of the more robust regulation?
Natural is not automatically inferior to organic. In fact, a combination of both elements usually creates the perfect balance, hence people tend to love natural AND organic beauty products.
Natural and Organic Beauty Products = better beauty?
Many people are devout believers of natural and organic beauty products. A lot of them are under the impression that anything that combines natural and organic is best. Nonetheless, this belief has no robust scientific legitimacy and it’s a misguided notion.
Let’s set the record straight.
The fact is that not all synthetic or inorganic ingredients are bad for the skin and not all natural and organic ones are good.
As a consumer, you should not take natural and organic to mean inherent safety and goodness. You should always be thorough with your beauty product selection. Selecting natural and organic beauty products is no different from finding the right food. You need to sort through the good and the bad to find what’s best for you.
Natural and Organic Beauty Products – The Good
There’s no denying that natural and organic beauty products have their merits.
For one, they avoid synthetics and chemicals.
Exposure to synthetics is manifesting as many ugly health issues. From minor skin irritation to chronic headaches, hormone disruption, respiratory complications, and even cancer. Some synthetic chemicals also increase the skin’s photosensitivity and they dehydrate and asphyxiate the skin.
This is where natural and organic products are coming in to save the day. The good natural and organic products provide skin protection without all the harsh elements that threaten to destroy your health.
Nonetheless, things are not that simple. Natural and organic beauty products are not the answer to all our beauty product problems?
Natural and Organic – The Bad
If you are a natural and organic beauty products fanatic you may not like the following fact.
Some organic and natural ingredients used in beauty products build up skin sensitivities over time.
Organic and natural ingredients are not created equal. Some of the ingredients are a far cry from the beautiful picture of organic and natural beauty you may have in your head. Numerous ingredients are harsh on the skin and some are outright toxic.
Take talcum powder for example. The powder comes from naturally-occurring talc rocks, but it’s been linked to ovarian cancer and respiratory problems.
Using natural and organic beauty products because they are the hype and not because you understand your skin’s needs is a big no-no. Even if a product is organic and natural it can cause your skin to fall apart if it contains skin-aggravating ingredients. A classic example of this is sensitivity-causing fragrances which are often misleadingly classified as essential oils.
Just because you cannot see the damage being done by using incorrect organic and natural products doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t there. It simply means that the problem will probably surface when your skin’s ability to defend itself from damage has diminished greatly.
Sorting through the choices
The tricky aspect of numerous organic or natural ingredients is that they have both beneficial and negative properties.
For example, some citrus ingredients have antioxidant compounds but they also enhance the sun’s negative impact on the skin. Alcohol can help vitamins A and C to penetrate the skin, but in the long run, it destroys the elements that maintain skin health.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of natural and organic ingredients whose benefits far outweigh the negatives (if the negative even exist) e.g. honey, olive oil, and oats.
More things to look out for
To make sure that you are protected from the adverse effects of bad beauty products, you need to look past the product’s pretty name and convincing marketing campaign. Brands need the sales to stay in business, and unfortunately, being completely transparent may not be at the top of their list when financial gain is.
Here are some additional elements you can look at to get more information on your beauty products.
The labels on natural and organic beauty products
This is a big one. Even if the product label declares that the product is natural and organic, you should always scrutinise the ingredients.
The beauty and cosmetics industry has some dirty players who green-wash products that are not natural and organic. Adding a tiny amount of natural and organic ingredients so that the product carries a natural and organic label is not unheard of. You can buy a product thinking that it’s beneficial when in actual fact, it’s full of toxic ingredients.
It’s also important to read the labels because you always want to be on the lookout for any asterisks. You never know what the little * will reveal. It can be the difference between damaged skin and truly amazing skin.
Standards and Certifications
You can, to a large degree, ensure the safety of what you are putting onto your skin is by looking out for certifications. Although it’s highly unlikely that you will find some certification for products that are both natural and organic, respective natural and organic certifications should suffice. It’s a good idea to familiarise with the top certification bodies.
Additionally, you should always check the proportion of natural and organic ingredients to see if that tallies up with how organic and natural you would like to go.
You may be under the impression that you are using 100% organic and natural ingredients when the numbers are not quite that high. Companies do not always have to be 100% on the ingredients side to fulfil certain certification criteria and so you should check to see if you are getting what you want.
When all is said and done it’s not just about the healthy, glowing skin
So the ingredients list looks good and you are loving your beauty products.
It’s all great, BUT is that all that matters?
In addition to being good for your skin, your natural and organic beauty products should also be sustainable.
Because sustainability is our present and future. The ingredients may all be organically produced and good for the environment but what about the rest of the crucial elements? The people involved, the packaging, the ethics, the values…
Familiarize yourself with your beauty products’ brand.
How does the brand source its ingredients? What goes into each product and why? How does the brand support the communities from which it sources its products? Are the ingredient providers treated fairly? Are the brand’s actions and products sustainable? How transparent is the brand?
These are some of the questions you should be asking as you get to know the brand behind your products. Do some research and get to know a brand’s philosophies and ethical stance.
Note: A lack of transparency on a brand’s part is a big red flag.
Natural and Organic Products that are Cruelty-Free
It’s shocking just how many brands are still testing their products on animals. And it’s not just the small brands; some big players are also guilty. It’s prudent to support ‘Cruelty-Free’ brands that care about the welfare of animals.
Packaging matters too
Lastly, when you have your amazing natural and organic beauty products, never forget that packaging is an extremely important issue. What good are natural and organic contents when the packaging offsets all the good?
- The wrong type of packaging may break down natural ingredients and render them useless. For example, exposing non-opaque product bottles to light tends to break down the natural ingredients in the product.
- Packaging that is not eco-friendly or biodegradable is a bad idea. The environment is already under a lot of strain from the non-biodegradable packaging that is piling up. Adding to this is awful.
Safe and Effective – The key to good natural and organic beauty products
By all means, use natural and organic beauty products, but only if they are effective, safe, and good for the environment. Remember, just because a beauty product is natural and organic does not mean that it is good for you. Poison ivy is natural but will you go on and rub it all over your body?
Rather than hinging your product selection on the organic and natural vs. unnatural premise, research your beauty products based on your personal beauty needs and the need for sustainable product choices. The last thing you want is to fall for a good marketing campaign, pretty labels, unsubstantiated hypes, or unsustainable products.
You owe the best products not only to your skin but the environment and everyone involved in the product’s production and distribution chain.