In today’s cosmetics world, natural is nirvana. It can be dressed up inside fancier names like green, clean, or conscious beauty, but things are not as they seem. However you phrase it, there are a few things you should know about this natural option. In fact, natural isn’t always the best option for your skin, or for nature itself.
Firstly, nature, by its nature, tries to protect itself from its own demise. Meaning it has many ways to fight threats, and avoid being killed. It irritates, it stings, it gives you a rash, it makes you sneeze, it causes allergies. In many cases, it’s actually highly toxic. So much so, that EU legislation has identified many common, naturally occurring substances — such as the essential oil that we all love, as potential CMR’s (Carcinogenic, Mutagenic, or toxic for Reproduction). Plus, when natural things die, they tend to decompose. Fast. Just think of your fruit bowl at home.
So a natural product needs to be very carefully put together. With the expertise of human chemistry. And often with added, safe, synthetic ingredients. To help protect the wearer from the risk of nature’s harm. Or to make the cosmetic product last longer than a month-old banana. Or both. Or perhaps more importantly, to protect nature from the rampant demands of humanity’s ego.
Allow me to explain.
We all tend to like the idea of exotic ingredients in our products. They sound cooler, more credible. It makes us feel good. But do we really stop to think if this is such a good thing? Do we ever ask:
‘Where do they come from?’
‘How are they farmed?’
‘How far are they transported? And by which method?’
‘Could the land be put to better use for the locals?’
What’s more, nature is also dependent on a lot of other external factors. Like the weather. Like harvests. Pollution. Politics. Pandemics. Even, war. When these events do occur, ingredient suppliers will just make sure they source their ingredients from somewhere else. And not always with thought for the environmental impact. It’s what’s called the ‘global supply chain’.
This means, with natural ingredients, location, quality and costs are all variable, and protection of that very nature can be bottom of the list of priorities. Plus, if it’s not organic, it might be farmed using dangerous pesticides, or dangerous fertilisers. Which may result in water pollution or monoculture agriculture, or worse, stuff that you may never willingly contribute to if given the option.
And we can’t always rely on industry regulation either. While EU regulators set very strict criteria for the safety of every raw material on all skin types. Which actually makes it one of the strictest set of rules and guidelines in the world. There is still one big question left unanswered:
What about regulating for the ongoing safety of nature before humans start using it for cosmetics?
It’s not easy. And here’s the thing, the environmental issues we all face are not that simple, yet part of the danger is that we seek simplistic answers in solving them. Like ‘100% natural’.
Well, don’t fall for simplistic promises. Look for evidence. Consider buying local. Consider the ratio of organic to natural ingredients. And in our case, that’s typically more than half. And remember, human chemistry is not all bad.
If you’re not confident with your own detective work, then check for credible, independent certifiers. Like B Corps, Cradle to Cradle, or One Percent for The Planet. Or ingredient certifications, like COSMOS, Vegan Society, Nordic Swan, and find the one that best matches your values. Then, check the packaging that surrounds the formula to see if it also is responsibly produced. Is it also certified? Is it recycled? Is it replanted? Is it recyclable?
If we are all so in love with nature to keep our skin healthy, let’s learn to better keep nature healthy as well.