What is “natural” skincare? We all know, it’s like, you know, natural skincare, right? However, judging by many of the “natural” products people use, we don’t really know.
We conducted a survey with 64 people to ask three simple questions: “What is natural skincare?” “Should a product be 100% natural to be called natural?” “Name a natural skincare brand?” The results showed us that even people that know don’t know.
- 84% of people agreed that products termed “natural” should mean 100% natural.
- 24% of respondents couldn’t name a natural brand (thanks for your honesty).
- 77% of respondents who agreed natural skincare means 100% natural, and named a “natural” brand, actually named a brand that was not 100% natural.
The truth is, it could easily be said that the FDA don’t really know what natural is either. They do not legally define natural, so the term is wide open to interpretation. Furthermore, in the US products labeled “organic” (as classified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)), are only required to contain 95% organic ingredients (unless labeled 100% organic). Worse still, products that are labeled “contains organic ingredients” can contain as few as 70% organic ingredients. What’s the point in that? It’s like having a vegan sandwich with one streak of bacon in it, and as long as the bacon doesn’t make up more than 30%, it’s still a vegan sandwich.
Somewhere in our collective journey for cleaner, more effective skincare, the world turned down a path of what we call “nature natural,” where plant-based ingredients reign supreme. The more natural, the less altered, the better, is the consensus of those inclined to follow this path. This is a great skincare strategy, to a point, but skincare science has now taken the possibilities of skincare far beyond adding cold pressed oils to your skin, a practice dating back over 5,000 years to the Egyptians.
The point is, organic- and natural-labeled products do not mean they are safer, nor does it mean they do not contain synthetic ingredients in all cases (unless labeled “100%” organic or natural), including thickeners, colors, fragrance, and preservatives.
Now we understand what goes on below the skin’s surface. We know the wonders of fibroblasts and how they can produce proteins, from thin air, that in turn build collagen and elastin (which are essentially protein structures). We know how hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid in your body) is formed, and scientifically how we can influence all of these processes to help reinforce the structure of the skin. More importantly, we know how to extract or create, from green biotechnology, these molecules that are molecularly identical to that in our bodies. Are these 100% natural? Well to our skin they are, but you won’t be able to scrape them off the skin of a leaf, or from a tree.
There is so much more we can be doing for our skin than adding organic pressed oils which may act as great emollients (by mimicking the moisturizing work done by our body’s natural oils and waxes) and may also be a source of nutrients and antioxidants. We can be helping to reinforce the natural skin-making machine that exists below the skin. This can be done with molecules that our skin recognizes as being natural to skin. Either way, we now know that a “nature natural”-only skincare regime will never be as effective as one that also contains “skin natural” ingredients.
So, what do we mean by “skin natural?” Well, take hyaluronic acid for example. Hyaluronic acid cannot be cold pressed from a fruit or tree, but it is a naturally occurring substance found in all humans. It’s in our joints, it’s in our eyeballs, and of course, it’s in our skin. It’s the magical water sponge that integrates with all the strands of collagen and elastin, holding in moisture and plumping our skin. Given that our skin is made up of about 60% water, we all must agree that hyaluronic acid is one of the most important components of the skin. Without it, your plump skin would turn to prune skin. Can you squeeze hyaluronic acid out of a freshly picked leaf or seed? No. Can molecularly identical, “skin natural” HA be created using green biotechnology? Yes, it can.
The natural skincare identity crisis as we see it is driven by strong consumer demand for safer, cleaner products, which is amazing, but clashing with a very opaque and diluted definition of what natural skincare is. The result is confusion, misrepresentation, misinterpretation, and what we see as a lack of transparency. People see on the front of packaging “contains natural cold pressed X oil” or “contains organic botanicals” and just grab it, no doubt believing that the onus is on the skincare company to fully disclose, in a transparent way, that this product may also contain many synthetic ingredients.
So many so-called natural products may contain naturally derived ingredients, but they’re often a small percentage of the total ingredients, many of which are synthetic. The good news is you can check to see how many of your product ingredients are natural. You can do this by reading the small print ingredients, not on the website or the front of the packaging, but the small print, where skincare companies must list, by law, the ingredients in what is called the INCI (International Nomenclature of Chemical Ingredients). This is the only place you will find the real ingredients. If it’s not on the actual bottle or jar, it will have been on the external packaging it came with.
Furthermore, so many of these so-called natural products will still contain synthetic thickeners, colors, fragrance, shimmer, and other potentially harmful chemicals linked to health concerns. These ingredients do nothing for your skin. They’re aesthetic modifiers added to make the experience of applying the useful ingredients more enjoyable, but they just at best, dilute the effective ingredients, and at worst, leave you more susceptible to more reactions from ingredients that serve no purpose to the well-being of your skin.
Skincare for us, has its clue in the name. It’s about caring for the skin. Caring is not adding 40-99 ingredients at a time in one application, followed by two to ten other products with up to 99 ingredients each. Caring is not taking great ingredients and diluting them to the point of being ineffective, and then adding a bunch of thickeners, shimmer, texture modifiers, colors and fragrance. This isn’t skincare. This is makeup. As far as we’re concerned, any ingredient that does not directly impact the well-being of the skin, doesn’t belong in skincare. We don’t just have a natural skincare identity crisis. We have a skincare identity crisis. Makeup and cosmetics are there to beautify and enhance our appearance. Skincare should be exclusively about caring for the skin—its moisture, its hydration, its structural integrity, and its safety and protection.
Skinega is pioneering a new category of ingredient-centric skincare, redefining natural in a very transparent way, where we don’t claim to be “all natural” and instead focus on safety, concentration, and minimal ingredients which are either naturally derived or bio-identical ingredients (except preservatives) meeting four strict but simple criteria. Firstly, our ingredients will always be naturally derived from nature, or molecules naturally found in your skin (bio-identical). Secondly, natural in that there are no synthetic thickeners, colors, fragrances, or ingredients linked to health concerns. Thirdly, a natural number of ingredients per product, all at maximum concentration. And finally, our products are 100% vegan and never tested on animals.
So how do you define natural? A good practice to get into is to compare the ingredients listed “on the front” with those listed in the small print. Start asking yourself, “How many ingredients does this really contain, and how many are actually natural?” Be prepared—you may be shocked to find as many as 99 in a one-ounce bottle, and 30+ is “normal.” Just because it’s normal, it doesn’t make it right.
What’s the highest number of ingredients you’ve found in one product?
Photo credit: Fraser Hill
The views expressed in opinion pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BeautyMatter.