You see the word “natural” in personal care/beauty advertising and on product packaging everyday. What does it mean? Merriam Webster defines “natural” as something “existing in or produced by nature: not artificial.” But when it comes to describing today’s skincare products, it’s a misnomer, a designation that is seriously under-regulated by the government, overused and misused by cosmetic companies, and just downright confusing to consumers looking for safer products.
Skin is the body’s largest organ and protective barrier to outside toxins. While the FDA and the USDA monitor what we put into our bodies, government agencies are far less vigilant in overseeing what we put on our bodies.
The global organic personal care market is expected to reach over $25.11 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc. In addition, the Statistic Portal website claims the global market value for natural cosmetics increased from almost $7 billion in 2007 to roughly $15 billion expected in 2017. This data proves the growing importance of the natural and organic cosmetics market.
Claims a recent report on the Statista.com, the stats-packed website for over a million statistics and facts, “Cosmetics are considered natural with respect to two important dimensions: ingredients and processing. However, the absence of specific regulation on the topic and the disparity between private standards and administrative interpretations on natural cosmetics generates insecurity in the cosmetic industry.”
Pioneer natural beauty companies like Burt’s Bees, Aveda, Origins and The Body Shop have been around for decades. There are legitimate newcomers, too, like Skin & Bones, Juice Beauty, Beautycounter, 100% Pure, and True Botanicals. There are also many companies that “claim” to make natural cosmetics and skincare. It’s become a flashy way to attract health/wellness-oriented customers who are interested in reducing toxic ingredients in their personal products.
“Some companies, in an attempt to have broader appeal to the growing number of consumers who are concerned about chemical-laden products, will opportunistically use the word ‘natural’ on their labeling. Products advertised as natural — due to a lack of government regulation — can mean that all or maybe even just one or two ingredients are actually of natural origin. Many ‘natural’ products can also contain synthetic ingredients that are potentially harmful,” writes Dr. Hal Simeroth, founder of Stemology, the first skincare brand to combine human and plant stem cell technologies.
You can only be assured that a product is natural if it’s labeled “organic.” Organic products are highly regulated under the USDA National Organic Program. When certified organic, a product guarantees that 95% of ingredients have been organically produced without the use of chemicals, pesticides or hormones.
Former marketing executive Hillary Peterson created True Botanicals, a collection of concentrated, bioactive formulations for hair and skin, after cancer prompted her to eliminate harmful products from her routine. Launched in 2014, her California-based company rigorously evaluates each ingredient for safety before including it in the line.
Ms. Peterson exposed the myths and marketing hype of natural skincare in 2015 for The Huffington Post. “Skincare brands and their marketing teams correctly assume that if consumers think natural is good, then all-natural and 100% natural must be even better. So they over promise … and under deliver. Here’s the scientific truth: water-based skincare products like cleansers, mists, serums, and shampoos are almost never 100% natural because they need preservatives … to last more than a few days on the shelf. Oil-based products can use natural preservatives like Vitamin E, but most are not 100% natural,” writes Ms. Peterson.
“Few, if any, 100% natural skincare lines exist,” writes Ms. Peterson. She believes the concern should be with the safety of ingredients you’re putting on your skin. “Every brand has a responsibility to tell their consumers the truth about the safety of the ingredients they’re using. If they don’t, then don’t use them. And remember, natural is not a synonym for safe. One of the most respected and clinically tested anti-aging ingredients, l-ascorbic acid, while perfectly safe, is most definitely synthetic.”
Since 2014, the European Union has banned more than a thousand chemicals from being used in consumer products, including cosmetics and food. Many of these chemicals are still being used in the manufacturing of products sold here in the United States.
After ingesting all these stats and statements — and if they haven’t scared you off — how do you find beauty products that that are safer and made of more naturally-oriented ingredients? The answer is simple. Before you buy, read the labels and look for products with fewer chemicals and are paraben-free, sulfate-free, and phthalate-free. And if you can’t pronounce the stuff, it’s possible you shouldn’t be using it on your face and body.
A Consumer’s Dictioary of Cosmetic Ingredients
by Ruth Winter
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