Since I started making skincare products I have become more familiar with the minefield of ingredients listed on the skincare products found on the local High Street. But, still, I struggle to remember/recognise many of the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) names listed in the ingredients section of a skincare label. As I gradually increase the number of ingredients I use in my own products, I gradually increase my knowledge-base.
But one area of knowledge that has really interested me is that of 100% natural products. I have often heard, predominantly when I work at markets, customers saying “I will only use 100% natural products on my skin” and no doubt you, like me, have noticed that more and more quality companies are striving to use natural ingredients in their products.
And whilst I agree that it is better to strive towards 100% natural products, I also acknowledge that just because a product is 100% natural, it does not mean that it is 100% safe for everyone to use.
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When I say this, two ingredients immediately pop into my head: preservatives and essential oils.
Preservatives are a necessary ingredient where water (aqua) is present in a product as water attracts bacteria. Unless you plan to keep your product refrigerated and use it within two weeks, you need to make sure it contains an ingredient which can fight off bacteria i.e a preservative. And water is a necessary ingredient in many products such as creams, lotions and surfactants (such as shower gel and shampoos).
One of the most common preservatives used in the past was Parabens. Parabens are derived from benzoic acid which is a chemical commonly found in plants and Parabens are, therefore, classified as one of the most naturally-derived, effective preservatives available.
However, in more recent times, Parabens have received a lot of negative press and, indeed, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that Parabens displayed estrogenic activity in several tests i.e. they mimic the body’s hormones and had an endocrine-disrupting action when rubbed onto the body. For a more detailed insight into Parabens, please refer to my earlier blog from March 20th, 2012 “Cosmetic Preservatives & the Paraben Debate”.
So this highlights that, whilst we should continue to strive towards 100% natural products, not everything that is natural is necessarily safe for us to use so we should also use the ingredients that nature so generously supplies for us with respect and a degree of care and caution.
The other natural ingredients that need to be treated with the utmost of respect are essential oils.
Essential oils are organic compounds derived from plant sources such as roots, barks, flowers and seeds. They are most often used for Aromatherapy and massage purposes but are also increasingly being used in general bath and body products because people are showing a preference towards the use of 100% natural skincare products which also smell enjoyable.
However the most dangerous thing about essential oils is the misconception that if something is natural, it is safe. This is simply not true. There are many toxins found in nature and, whilst essential oils can be effective remedies for a variety of ills, they should always be used with caution.
In relation to bath and body products, the European Commission has provided a list of 26 allergens which are found both in essential oils and synthetic-based oils. Where these allergens are present in a leave-on product (e.g. body butter) at a concentration greater than or equal to 0.001%, they must be declared on the product’s ingredients label. For wash-off products (e.g. shower ice cream) this percentage increases to 0.01%. All the popular/primary essential oils (e.g. Lavender, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Sweet Orange, Tea Tree to name but a few) contain at least one or more of these allergens.
So whilst you may seek a product which is 100% natural, if it contains a natural essential oil it will also, most likely, contain one or more allergens. The only alternative is to buy 100% natural and ‘unscented’ or ‘unperfumed’ products.... though bear in mind that few natural ingredients will have a neutral scent. Again – just because it’s natural doesn’t mean to say you will find its natural scent attractive and inviting.
So what is the alternative? Indeed is there an alternative?
Yes – there is. More manufacturers are creating synthetic scents that come allergen-free. And, indeed, if you look at my webshop you will see I have an allergen-free category.
When I first started learning how to make bath and body products I was keen to keep everything 100% natural and I had great plans to only have an 100% natural range. But since experimenting and making products I have grown to realise that there can be a place for synthetic-based products also. My preference and goal is to strive towards a range dominated by 100% natural products. However I do not think I shall ever produce a range that is totally 100% natural. I have customers who have sensitivities and, for them, I want to produce allergen-free products. I also have found a very gentle base for my Facial Cleansers and Shower Ice Cream about which I have received glowing reports from my customers – this base is not 100% natural and yet it has worked very successfully on very sensitive skin.
I admit I have had doubts and quarrels in my mind in the past and did try to source an alternative base which is 100% natural but then I realised that my true goal is to produce high-quality products containing only the necessary ingredients for my customers. And I simply could not source a base which was a gentle as the one I have found.
So, in summary, I admire and respect the ethos of those customers who will only purchase 100% natural products but I also respect the dangers associated with some ingredients that are 100% natural and the needs of customers who are sensitive to allergens.
My quest to constantly improve my product range shall continue but I hope to open my eyes and mind to all the options available to me and to weigh up all the research in my goal to produce the very best products I can for my customers.
So next time you hear someone say “I will only use 100% natural products” remember that, whilst admirable, 100% natural does not mean 100% safe to everyone.