Is natural beauty really better? We think so!
Is natural really better?
That seems to be the million dollar question, I guess mostly because a millions-of-dollars industry is so heavily invested in ensuring the answer is no. But I tend to disagree – for me, and my family, natural is better.
When I started on my natural beauty journey roughly 8 years ago people looked at me funny whenever it came up in conversation that I make my own skincare products. Up until that point I used Avon, even sold it for more than a decade. So to go from being the person with a cream for every part of her body, and drawers full of perfume and makeup, to being the ‘green-lover, single cream for everything and only natural makeup’ was a huge shift for everyone around me. But I held vast, and have not been sorry one single moment. My skin is better than it ever was, I have very little fine lines and sun spots, and my breakouts are solely tied to hormone functioning and my cycle. Not only did I save my skin, but I managed to save loads of cash in the process as well.
Back then I was the odd one out, the one going against the science, the one making so much work for herself while you can buy a better product from the shelf. Yes, I was weird, but today many can say I was something of a pioneer. The narrative has changed so much the last couple of years that people like me, who write their own stories, make their own products and decide on their own path, are no longer the exception. We are becoming the norm.
The consumer is gravitating towards natural
There has been a huge turn towards more natural products, especially in the last 2 years. Consumers are becoming more conscious of what they are putting on their bodies, at long last understanding that everything that comes into contact with your body gets absorbed, ingested or taken into your body. Smear toxins on your skin, don’t be surprised if they pop up in your blood, your liver, your brain. Not only are consumers gravitating towards more natural, ethical and clean products, but there is also a major shift in the number of products that consumers deem necessary. No longer do you need a cream for all major parts of your body – if you can find two or three that does the work, then that is all that you will use. Minimalism as a movement has swept through beauty and hygiene. We want fewer products, and the products should contain fewer ingredients. The consensus? Don’t just add ingredients for the sake of listing them – if they are not effective in the amounts that you will be adding them in, then leave them out. We are no longer impressed by labels.
Now the questions remain – am I right to say that natural is better?
I love my home-made, natural products. If I make some for my friends and family, they are generally happy and get great results. I assume the secret is that I can tailor each product to suit their specific skin-type, lifestyle, and need. From my own, small experiments with friends and family, I can say that I have experienced first-hand that consumers are becoming more aware and conscious. To support this, the NPD Group released their Women’s Facial Skincare Consumer Report in late 2017, which showed that 40 to 50 per cent of women buying skin care products actively seek ones that contain natural or organic ingredients. The takeaway? That there is a widespread perception that natural beauty products are somehow fundamentally better and more efficient than the synthetically made ingredients found in more conventional products. And, in some cases, this is the truth.
So natural is better?
Although I want to shout from the rooftops “YES!” the answer is a lot more complicated than that. If you make your own products, and you understand the concepts of solvents and emollients and emulsifiers and preservatives and antioxidants and antimicrobial agents etc. then you are able to make a product that ticks all the right boxes while also being safe to use. Unfortunately, when you buy a product that simply states “natural” on the label, you still stand the chance that nothing in that product is actually natural, let alone organic, fair trade or ethical. In most countries, there has been minor or even no legislative movement toward creating more regulations regarding the ingredients cosmetic brands are using, and there's currently not a solid rule that can stop any brand from slapping some green-looking design and the word natural on their label, as long as they can claim it's not "misleading."
To complicate even further
What makes this discussion even more difficult to resort to black and white is the fact that many natural products are extremely volatile, making it short of impossible to standardise and guarantee that a product will work consistently and effectively. Sometimes, synthetic ingredients are needed to ensure the quality of a product, and I find it necessary to point out this very important fact: synthetic does not absolutely translate to toxic, or bad, just like natural doesn’t mean safe, non-toxic and harmless (just think arsenic, lead, botulism, and more).
But don’t be discouraged!
There are a few pointers and things I would deem “non-negotiables” that you can use to navigate your beauty routine. Before you dump all of your beauty products, here is everything that you need to bring into consideration:
1. Natural doesn’t always mean safe
There are a few things that you need to take into consideration. The first, natural doesn’t necessarily mean chemical-free. Unfortunately, these ingredients are not closely monitored or researched, so your chamomile flowers might have pesticide residue, not even to mention the fact that “natural” is not regulated making it even more important to actually read the ingredients list and not just rely on the front of a label. Secondly, very little research has been done on the effects that different compounds or ingredients have on each other. When we discuss cannabis, this is referred to as the entourage effect – “The entourage effect is a proposed mechanism by which compounds present in cannabis which are largely non-psychoactive by themselves modulate the overall psychoactive effects of the plant (these resulting principally from the action of the main psychoactive component of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)”. In short, it steals from the systems theory that states that the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts. Ingredients that are unresponsive or ineffective alone is activated or amplified when used in conjunction with other ingredients.
2. Less isn’t always more
If you are looking for the shortest ingredient list, you are walking smack-bang into the biggest contradiction of the natural beauty movement. This statement will make a bit more sense once you read no. 3, but until then: while it is true that a long list of ingredients that you probably cannot even pronounce isn’t preferable, the fact is that many organic and natural ingredients require additives and preservatives to ensure they are effective and safe. This increases the ingredient list substantially, and many of these preservatives etc. also have unpronounceable names (especially if the scientific or botanical name is given). Even something as simple as rosehip tonic will need an ingredient list longer than merely rosehip hydrosol. In order for that tonic to work its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory magic, it needs to be absorbable through the skin. That will only happen if it is encapsulated or emulsified into an oil base. But since the rosehip hydrosol is water based, it will also need a preservative to keep it safe for use. So for a simple tonic that is 90% made up of rosehip you already have an ingredient list of at least 5 ingredients.
3. Organic products need to be preserved
True organic products have a very short shelf life – at the most, you are looking at 3 months from date of manufacture. Although this is not inherently a bad thing, it does make the logistics process a nightmare. If you make your own products then fine – you have control. You can date mark and discard when you near the “expiration date” or extend the shelf life a bit by keeping the products in the fridge. But if you manufacture for customers or retail, you have no control over the transportation (temperature changes, even extremes), storage (can be weeks or months) or usage. Shelves might not be restocked quick enough, customers might not replace after 3 months (which might be way too long if the product was transported and moved and stored and then stood on the shelf for a total of a few weeks) or they might not handle the product in optimal conditions. Because you are not there overseeing every step and second, this can lead to very bad scenarios and situations.
4. Parabens should be weighed up for every application
I am not a fan of parabens. I avoid them as far as possible, but I am also informed enough to understand that there are times that call for their use. If I have to use a product that contains parabens I will ask myself: how will I apply this product? If the application will only be topical, then I can get away with a small concentration of parabens. They are very large molecules, so they tend to sit on top of the skin and not get absorbed. There are few preservatives as effective, therefore their widespread use. What you also need to remember is that although parabens have been researched a bit, that is probably more than what the substitutes have been researched. So my takeaway? I will accept them in very tiny amounts, and only in products that I apply topically, but not in the ones that I use daily.
5. Natural does not mean free-from sulfates or fragrances
Seen by many as skin irritants, unfortunately, the word “natural” doesn’t guarantee the product doesn’t contain sulfates or fragrances. Sulfates are a group of inexpensive detergents often found in beauty products and identified on ingredient labels as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). They’re also seen by some as a skin irritant, and for some, with allergies or skin conditions they can be extremely aggravating.
6. Playing it by ear, or lending out your ears to anybody, can be deadly
Misinformation can be dangerous. When in doubt, ask a specialist and not professor Google. My favourite miss-used fact? That sunscreen is dangerous. This I need to clarify on a few levels – 1. I don’t believe in widespread or daily use. I apply sunscreen when I am going to be in the sun for the whole day. Most days, I might be in the sun a total of 20min, spread out throughout the day. Because so many of us sit with a Vit D deficiency I made the conscious decision to not screen or block the little sun I do get during the day. 2. Sunscreen in itself is not dangerous. Some of the chemicals that they use might be. So if that is your concern, then choose a more natural sunscreen BUT don’t fall for those “reports” that claim things like that coconut oil has an SPF of 4-5, red raspberry oil has an SPF of 25-50 or carrot seed oil has an SPF of 35-40. Rather don’t try making your own, and ask the right questions when buying a natural sunscreen from a small batch producer.
7. Allergies and sensitivities are a real cause for concern
There is a large percentage of consumers who suffer from allergies, sensitivities and other conditions that can be aggravated by the wrong ingredients. If you have a history of allergies, you have an increased chance of reacting to natural products, even if they are organic. Synthetic ingredients and commercial products have been formulated to accommodate those suffering from allergies. With this, I am not saying that you should steer clear of natural products if you struggle with allergies or sensitivities. I am saying that you should approach with caution and care. Always do a patch test before committing to use, and be open enough to know when to stop.
8. Some ingredients are very powerful – know the good from the bad
There are a few ingredients so powerful, and proven scientifically to work, that even the commercial beauty industry use them. Think about the natural ingredients that are touted as superfoods or super-ingredients: avocado, goji berries, coconut oil, etc. Using them in your own hand-made products, or buying natural products that contain them, will almost guarantee that the products will work. An added benefit? Most of these ingredients are available at your local supermarket or farmer’s market.
For me, and my lifestyle, natural beauty is better. I treat my eczema and breakouts with natural ingredients, and since going 100% natural have not had an eczema episode. That is now more than 2 years, after struggling for years. But it is not on this, nor my smooth face and fading stretch-marks, that I am basing my opinion on. Since starting making my own products I have a more intense appreciation for everything my skin, hair, nails and body, in general, goes through. I enjoy formulating and working out how to better serve my body’s needs, and the self-care rituals that I have developed as part of this process serves me much better than any grand face cream would. That is why, for me, natural is better.