With the sustainability movement being more and more important, several natural cosmetic products and brands appeared on the market. But what exactly is natural cosmetic and why do some of them carry certification labels and others don’t? In this post, I would like to give you an overview about natural cosmetics and the definition behind.
What exactly do we mean, when we say something is “natural”? Some people define this by “not being chemical” or “not being made by people”. But it is a bit more complex than that. As everything in this world including us is made out of chemical molecules, the description “not being chemical” isn’t really suitable to describe a degree of naturalism. Also “not being made by people” still leaves some questions unanswered. What about if we would say that natural means that it derives from plants? Well, do we consider GMO altered plants as natural? Or do we consider a modified coconut oil to be natural?
Additionally, to natural cosmetic formulations, some products even offer a sustainable packaging option or use less water in production or when used at home. You see, it is not very easy to find a general definition of natural cosmetics. What is not helping as well, is, that there is no official definition in the Cosmetic Regulation. But as with everything, this comes with pros and cons.
You decide yourself what you define as “natural”. You decide yourself how serious you want to follow the “natural path” and for almost all those paths there is a product or a brand available, covering your level of naturalism. So you’ve got it in your hands, girl!
Because of this ocean of different products and brands with their own degree of naturalism, it is quite hard to decide with which product you’ll want to go. As not all of us are experts in label reading and identifying the ingredients, the choice can be quite hard. Some brands have a very “green” marketing campaign and you would expect them to also formulate rather “natural”. But if you have a closer look, you would be surprised…
Here are some easy steps to identify how natural the product is
Step 1 – Certification Labels
As also the industry sees the problem of the consumers being overwhelmed with this topic, different certification labels were created. Each label has their own definition of naturalism and what the expect and allow in the products carrying the label. If you would like to read more about the standards of each label, I’ve added some links to the label names)
Step 2 – Claims
Look out for specific claims on your product, stating how this brand defines “natural”. As an example this could be:
– 95% natural ingredients
– Not processed in ways that significantly or adversely alter the purity of
– Include ingredients derived from a purposeful, renewable source found in
– Be minimally processed and avoid the use of synthetic or harsh chemicals so
as not to dilute the materials’ purity
– Certified Organic
Step 3 – Ingredients
It will be very hard to give you a quick guide on what to look out for in the ingredients list. Some ingredients sound very unnatural or even dangerous but are in reality quite okay. On the other hand, there are some ingredients hiding behind INCI names and you won’t be able to identify them with one look. I will give you just a brief overview of some of the most discussed ingredients when it comes to natural cosmetics. Please feel free to ask about a specific ingredient, which is not covered here, in the comment section.
e.g. water free cosmetic
Silicones are oils derived from petroleum. They are usually used to formulate because of the nice skin feel or hair conditioning effect they create. If you, for example, have a rather tacky sunscreen you can get rid of the tackiness through adding silicone to your formulation. But because of its origins and the environment problematic, many customers don’t want silicones to be included in their natural skin care. Another concern is, that cyclic silicones have recently stirred some health concerns. You will recognize silicones in the ingredients list of your product under following names:
– Dimethicone (linear silicone oil)
– Pentasiloxane (linear silicone oil)
– Cyclopentasiloxane (cyclic silicone oil)
These are just three examples though and there are many more. But very often the name ends with -thicone or -siloxane. Please don’t confuse silicone oils with the INCI silica – silica is something different!
Preservatives are also a highly discussed topic in natural cosmetics. All the registered preservatives are tested on their safety for us. Nevertheless, many customers prefer a formulation with no or natural preservatives. Spoiler alarm!! I’m sorry to burst your bubble but there is no cosmetic product that doesn’t contain preservatives, except products with no water content or products which you have to use within a couple of days. All other products do contain preservatives – for our safety. If our cosmetic products wouldn’t contain preservatives the formulation would go bad within days and we would apply unhealthy bacteria or mould onto our skin, which is the opposite of healthy. What you can do is choose between more good-natured preservatives and standard preservatives (which is not necessarily a bad option!). Preservatives are usually listed at the rather end of the INCI list.
Some of the most common listed preservatives are:
– Sodium Benzoate
– Benzyl Alcohol
Some of the most common unlisted preservatives are:
– Propylene Glycol
– Butylene Glycol
– Phenyl Alcohol
– Phenethyl Alcohol
– organic Acids like Citric Acid
– Alcohol (Ethanol)
– Potassium Sorbate
– Sodium Levulinate
Most people would consider products with listed preservatives as “unnatural”. How you feel about this is of course up to you.
e.g. for a natural product with phenoxyethanol.
In order for an emulsion to be stable or a gel to get its gelly texture, thickeners are used. Thickeners are split into two categories. Natural ones (funny right), which would be Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum etc., and synthetic thickeners, which would be carbomers, acrylate crosspolymers, polyacrylates etc. Because of environmental concerns many customers prefer their natural cosmetic being without synthetic thickeners.
A very nice overview with a quick explanation of the ingredients does credo beauty provide. You find it here!