Navigating the beauty counters can be overwhelming, even more so when you’re questioning the contents of the products. Here, the experts cast light on the natural beauty movement, help us to decipher the lingo, and reveal the benefits for your skin.
An emerging trend
The natural beauty industry has been growing steadily in popularity—and it’s not surprising. With so many women embracing a wholesome diet and choosing to shop organic, it was only a matter of time before they took a magnifying glass to their beauty regimen, too. That is, specifically: the products they are using, what kind of ingredients they contain, and the overall effect on their skin.
The good news is that the days when the only natural products on the market imparted a persistent herb-like odour, or offered less-than-desirable textures and results, are over.
The not-so-good news? While the natural beauty industry has progressed significantly in recent years, the products haven’t necessarily become easier to comprehend, leaving budding eco-beauty enthusiasts poring over labels.
According to the Green Beauty Barometer survey into natural beauty products conducted in 2015, nearly one in four women deemed it very important for their skin care products to be natural, and 63 per cent of millennials said they were looking for natural skin care buys to include in their regimen. With statistics like these, it was only a matter of time before global skin care organisations took notice, including New York-based Kiehl’s.
“At Kiehl’s, ingredients are the single most important component of our products,” says Roberta Weiss, senior vice president of innovation and product development. “Only ingredients that we can demonstrate are truly beneficial to the skin are selected. And, in addition to efficacy, every ingredient is tested for safety.”
So why aren’t more brands utilising natural and certified organic ingredients? Proven results are crucial when formulating with natural ingredients, says Weiss. “It can be challenging because the removal of synthetic ingredients limits the ‘palette’ of active ingredients we can work with. In addition, the effectiveness of natural ingredients can be more challenging to validate due to the active components within them, whereas synthetic ingredients typically contain only one active component. Finally, the aesthetics of a formula are often compromised if we eliminate synthetic ingredients.” It took over 12 months and 68 trials for Kiehl’s to get the balance of each ingredient in its Pure Vitality Cream correct, while also
What’s the difference between natural and certified organic?
The difference lies in the certification, says Andrew Monk, Chairman of Australian Organic. Certified organic products are free of harsh synthetic pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, plus are cruelty-free and socially responsible. In order to obtain the certification, the organisation undergoes an annual on-site inspection, says Monk. “They are required to submit an organic plan, which details how they will manage their operation in accordance with the requirements in the organic standard. Then, they need to provide a detailed list of the products, ingredients, suppliers and any other information that is required for the certification team to prove its eligibility.”
When it comes to accreditation, there isn’t just one generic form of “organic”—there are three different types, all of which carry their own logo. 100 per cent organic signifies that all ingredients, excluding water and salt, are certified organic. Certified organic is when the product contains a minimum of 95 per cent certified organic ingredients, while products labelled ‘made with organic ingredients’ contain 70 to 95 per cent certified organic ingredients.
There are no official guidelines, however, that quantify a product as “natural”. Unless a product is certified, says Monk, be cautious of its claims, as the product doesn’t “undergo testing or follow specific requirements, and is not approved by a third party”. This doesn’t mean that products claiming to be natural don’t contain natural or naturally derived ingredients, but if you’re concerned about the authenticity it may be wise to check the ingredients list and delve deeper into those that you haven’t heard of or previously used. “Ingredients that make up over one per cent of the overall content [of a product] should be listed in descending order of concentration,” says Monk. If the product contains certified ingredients, “they will be marked to differentiate them from the non-organic ingredients, and it will be explained on the packaging”.
A simple transition to a natural skin care routine
It’s important to remember that your skin is your body’s largest organ, and it does absorb what you slather on it. If you’re considering trying certified organic or natural skin care, as with any new product, it’s best to incorporate it gradually to allow your skin to adjust.
Are synthetic skin care ingredients safe?
Dermatologist Dr. Nicholas Stewart from The Skin Hospital in Sydney gives us the lowdown on four common synthetic ingredients found in beauty products—and whether they’re safe or suspect.
“These are a group of preservatives added to topical products to decrease the growth of microorganisms, which can cause them to spoil,” says Dr. Stewart. In general they are well tolerated, however concerns have cropped up about their links to serious health concerns. “There is little evidence for these claims—and lots of evidence that they are safe—which is why regulatory bodies allow their current use,” Dr. Stewart explains.
“Found in food packaging as well as cosmetics, these are a group of compounds added to plastic to make it more flexible and durable,” says Dr. Stewart. “The safety of some phthalates has come into question—in those where there is strong evidence they cause harm, the use has been banned by regulatory bodies. Luckily [those phthalates] were not commonly used in cosmetics; diethyl phthalate, used as an emulsifier in beauty products, is thought to have low toxic potential.”
“They’re usually included in products for their cleansing properties, and are found in soaps and facial cleansers to form a lather. Without sulfates, or similar compounds, cleansing products wouldn’t be as effective,” Dr. Stewart explains. He adds that these ingredients can cause irritant dermatitis—redness, itching and inflammation— which is the result of the physical properties of the compound, but it generally occurs in people who already have skin concerns like eczema.
“These compounds, most notably aluminium chlorohydrate, are the most common active ingredients in antiperspirants, and they work by physically blocking the sweat duct to decrease the amount of moisture available for bacteria growth,” says Dr. Stewart. They can cause skin sensitivity and irritant dermatitis in people who have prior inflamed skin, and they have been linked to health concerns, but according to Dr. Stewart, “no substantial evidence exists to support these claims”.
Keen to green your kit? We’ve rounded up some of our go-to certified organic and natural beauty buys, from a nourishing vegan face serum to a bamboo-based dry shampoo and liquid mineral foundation to soothe sensitive skin.