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3 Common Misconceptions of “Natural Beauty” Products

by Emily Linehan on October 05, 2020
Is Natural Always Better? Let’s talk about it!

While natural and clean beauty products have become quite the trend, are they really better for your skin and health? The answer may surprise you!

It sounds so lovely to use products on your skin that you can eat, too! It also sounds reasonable that you should be able to pronounce all the ingredients printed on the bottles of your skin care products. I mean, who wants to put scary sounding chemicals on their skin, right?

However, these marketing methods have created quite a stir to make us believe that if we are using chemicals on our skin, not only is it harmful, but even dangerous. Because this is such a hot topic, my goal is to share another perspective that might be eye opening.

Chemicals in Natural Beauty?

First, EVERYTHING is made of chemicals…literally, everything! Even puppies! However, we have been taught and conditioned to believe that chemicals are man-made, toxic substances that can be harmful or even cause cancer.

So, let’s take a look at a chemical you are ingesting daily: water. We know that water is H2O which is the chemical structure of two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom. But it is also known as Dihydrogen Monoxide (now that sounds scary, doesn’t it!)

Next take for example the “ingredients” of an organic blueberry:

Ingredients: Aqua (84%), Sugars (10%) (Fructose (48%) Glucose (40%), Sucrose (2%)), Fiber e460 (2.4%), Amino Acids (<1%) (Glutamic Acid (23%), Aspartic Acid (18%), Leucine (17%), Arginine (8%), Alanine (4%), Valine (4%), Glycine (4%), Proline (4%), Isoleucine (3%), Serine (3%), Threonine (3%), Phenylalanine (2%), Lysine (2%), Methionine (2%), Tyrosine (1%), Histidine (1%), Cystine (1%), Tryptophan (<1%)), Fatty Acids (<1%) (Omega-6 Fatty Acid: Linoleic Acid (30%), Omega-3 Fatty Acid: Linolenic Acid (19%), Oleic Acid (18%), Palmitic Acid (6%), Stearic Acid (25), Palmitoleic Acid (<1%)), Ash (<1%), Phytosterols, Oxalic Acid, E300, E306 (Tocopherol), Thiamin, Colors (E163a, E163b, E163e, E163f, E160a), Flavors (Ethyl Ethanoate, 3-Methyl Butyraldehyde, 2-Methyl Butyraldehyde, Pentanal, Methylburtyrate, Octene, Hexanal, Decanal, 3-Carene, Limonene, Styrene, Nonane, Ethyl-3-Methylbutanoate, Non-1-Ene, Hexan-2-One, Hydroxylinalool, Linalool, Terpinyl Acetate, Caryophyllene, Alpha-Terpineol, Alpha-Terpinene, 1,8-Cineole, Citral, Benzaldehyde), Methylparaben, 1510, E300, E440, E421, E941, E948, E290.

We all know that blueberries are not only very healthy (and of course natural) but are also known as a superfood! However, as you can see, blueberries have their own chemical composition with a lot of scary names (including Methylparaben, which is considered hazardous on many clean beauty websites).

If blueberries are used in a skin care product, it could simply be written as “blueberry” on the ingredient list (which we are all familiar and comfortable with). But if we start listing the chemical composition of a blueberry, based on the “clean beauty” guidelines, it sounds like something that we should avoid at all costs.

It should be noted that there are a lot of ingredients in their natural state that are harmful and dangerous. Take for example castor oil, which has become trendy as a natural treatment for hair growth. However, to make castor oil safe to use it must be purified, refined, processed and neutralized since the naturally occurring (and very dangerous) enzyme, called ricin, is one of the most toxic chemicals on earth. So, as you can see, truly “natural” is not safe in this case.

On that same note, petroleum jelly (which has gotten a bad rap from the natural beauty community) is quite similar to castor oil in the sense that the naturally occurring petroleum is purified to remove all the harmful substances making it not only safe to use, but also beneficial like castor oil.  

In some cases, the synthetic version of an ingredient is actually much safer than the natural form. For example, mandelic acid, which is an incredible clarifying, anti-aging and brightening ingredient, is naturally sourced from bitter almonds. As you can imagine, this ingredient could be life threatening to someone who has a tree nut allergy. This is why most sources of mandelic acid (including Emme Diane Clarifying Serum) are synthetically produced to eliminate this potential risk and ensure safety. Therefore, by synthetically producing mandelic acid, we are able to keep all the beneficial aspects of these ingredients while eliminating all the potentially harmful aspects. This is a great example of beauty made better by science!

This is not to say that all-natural ingredients are bad. There are many, when used properly, are amazing in skin care such as: aloe vera, safflower oil, bentonite and kaolin clay, allantoin, pumpkin, honey, and so many more. And there are many bio-identical ingredients that are also incredible such as: hyaluronic acid, glycerin, lactic acid, vitamin c, peptides and countless others.

Consistency is Key

When it comes to skin care, natural ingredients can be far less effective than ingredients synthesized in a lab. Think back to the last time you ate an apple…maybe it was the crispest and juiciest apple you have ever had. But have you also had an apple that wasn’t as crisp or juicy? In fact, isn’t it true that every time you eat an apple, it is a bit different than the last one? This is because, in nature, each crop can be quite different from the last. This also means that the quality of one apple is not the same as another. There are so many varying factors such as:

  • How nutrient dense was the soil?
  • Did the crop get enough sunlight and water to grow to its optimum?
  • What season was it grown in?
  • How was it stored after harvesting? And how long was it stored for? (natural ingredients lose nutrients after harvesting)
  • How is it being preserved? (because natural ingredients do rot or go rancid quickly!)
  • How did they decontaminate/clean the ingredient before use?

This can even be true of an apple growing right next to another. In nature, while it is very beautiful, it is quite inconsistent. This means that if you are purchasing truly natural products, the chemical makeup of the product will always vary; sometimes it could be stronger and other times weaker. When dealing with natural acids (like from citrus), this can become quite problematic and potentially harmful or burn the skin.

In a lab, ingredients are synthesized to be the precise chemical makeup which can be replicated with zero error. This means it is controlled and you can always expect the same result and benefit.  

What is really interesting to note is that many companies will claim their product is 100% natural even though they are using bio-identical ingredients that are synthesized in a lab. The biggest reason for using these man-made ingredients is that it’s not sustainable to cultivate enough “natural” ingredients for the current demand (e.g. the toll on the environment, exploitation of workers and overharvesting land). Since a synthetic ingredient that is safely produced in a laboratory with no environmental impact is definitely better than an unsustainably sourced natural ingredient, it is actually very responsible for companies to use these resources (although it is not exactly “natural”).

It's All About Marketing
“Natural” and “clean beauty” are simply unregulated terms companies use to market and promote their products. As you can see, this claim does not necessarily mean a “natural” product is safer and that a “chemical” is harmful. And while there are definitely harmful chemicals in our world, you can rest assured that it’s actually against the law in the US for skin care products to contain any ingredient that is harmful to the consumer.

Hopefully this gives you a new perspective on the marketing claim of natural beauty, how every beauty product you own does contain chemicals and how skin care can truly be made better (and safer) through science.  

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