How do you know if a skincare product is natural? Understanding the word ‘natural’ is one of the hardest tasks of all in the skincare & green beauty business. Here is some practical advice on how to research ingredients and decide what natural means to you.
With global organic beauty market trends showing the green beauty sector reaching $22bn by 2024 with yearly growth of 8-10%, it is little wonder that the word ‘natural’ has serious marketing power. Browse cosmetics’ products anywhere from supermarket aisles to niche beauty stores and you’ll see terms like ‘natural’, ‘100% natural’ and ‘all-natural’ liberally applied to product labels.
The beauty industry is using them as shorthand to imply that the product has attributes we would associate with nature. That single word can evoke a product packed with fresh botanical ingredients virtually untampered with by chemical labs and manufacturing processes. Of course, that’s often far from the case.
As you train in organic skincare formulation, you soon realise that natural is a very complex word and, even more frustratingly, that it has no legal definition. A cosmetic product may say it is natural even if it contains only a small percentage of what consumers and natural skincare formulators would deem truly natural ingredients. For example, a product can be described as natural even if it has just 1% naturally-sourced, plant-based or natural mineral ingredients.
However, the lack of legal definition does not mean that skincare brands are immune to prosecution for misleading uses of ‘natural’ in their marketing and on labels. Some skincare brands, mostly in the United States so far, have faced legal suits as a result of using the terms ‘all-natural’ and 100% natural’. Soon, there may be little wriggle room between using the vaguer, standalone word ‘natural’ and claiming your product is 100% natural.
The fact that natural is coming under such intense scrutiny is at the same time both worrying and reassuring for the green skincare entrepreneur. It might pressurise those brands who are being less than transparent about their ingredients’ origins to remove misleading labeling and make only bona fide claims. If you are starting out on a skincare brand journey or already selling your cosmetics’ products, we recommend you read up on why 100% natural claims could get you into trouble.
However, we shouldn’t rush to judge companies that label products 100% natural when their products aren’t. There are more sides to the naturals story.
This is because what is considered ‘natural’ to one skincare formulator or brand might not be to another. Natural has nuances which, depending on your approach to formulating and your ethos and mission, could all be considered ‘natural’. For example, would you consider a lab-synthesised ingredient that mimics the chemical structure of a natural ingredient to be natural? Some might.
Four Shades of natural
Depending on who you are talking to and what your own stance is natural takes on one or more of these shades. It is good to be armed with the knowledge to make your own decisions making sound choices when it comes to buying products that purport to be 'natural' as well as examining the labels.
Manufacturers of course rely on suppliers to tell them about the provenance and chemical makeup of their ingredients. Having open, clear lines of communication with suppliers is paramount in defining their products’ shade of natural.
Reputable suppliers have trusted third-parties, including growers and wholesalers, across the world and they do their utmost to track and trace the ingredients they sell. They should be able to provide you with Certificates of Analysis (COAs) and MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) to ensure you have full, transparent information on the chemical components in the ingredients you buy as well as their source of origin.
While cold-pressed carrier oils qualify as the most natural of ingredients, others in the formulators’ kit such as natural emulsifiers, preservatives, chelators and solubilisers need more research including the information on sourcing sustainable botanical ingredients.
Natural is just one such vague term you’ll find used liberally on labels and in skincare marketing. Pure, clean, ethical and sustainable are some of the other trending words you’ll need to unpack and take a stance on in your skincare formulating journey.
To find out if an ingredient is natural, it is recommend you do some research on the ingredients, and then deciding on your corner of the naturals’ world. Whether a skincare product is natural or not may still be a grey area, but the legal landscape is changing as we write.
WHAT DOES NATURAL SKINCARE MEAN?
The word “natural” is used a lot in the green beauty movement. But what does it really mean in relation to cosmetic ingredients? What is the difference between natural and naturally derived? What is “nature identical”? When is an ingredient seen to be synthetic?
- The word ‘natural’ means different things to different people.
- Some cosmetic ingredients can be picked from a tree, while others have to undergo a degree of synthesis in the lab.
- You must choose what ‘natural’ means to you when you start formulating or buying green, clean and organic beauty products.
- This topic has often divides a crowd.
- What one person defines as natural is very different to what another person defines as natural. This is OK, after all we all have differing opinions and scales by which we judge certain terms.
- But where does this leave the people who are new to natural and organic skincare or haircare? Where do you start figuring out what natural might mean to you and which ingredients you would consider acceptable in your skincare and haircare?