Shades of Natural
Having been in the beauty industry for a while, owning a natural beauty brand, and making my own products in my own lab in small batches, one thing I always ask people who step in my Palo Alto boutique is what natural haircare or skincare means to them. What do they expect from a natural beauty brand?
You might be surprised by how everyone has their own different perception of natural beauty products and different ideas of what they are trying to avoid by turning into natural beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is totally ok. In cosmetics, there is a spectrum of what natural means. Not all products you see on a natural cosmetic shelf of a beauty store are equal. And since cosmetics are not considered drugs there are no FDA guidelines defining natural cosmetics. Here, I would like to explore the spectrum of the various definitions of natural so that you can decide for yourself what natural means to you in cosmetics. If you are opting for natural beauty products it is essential to take time and think about what you are really seeking. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer; it is a matter of preference and how you perceive natural.
1- Natural and raw picked directly from nature:
These are things like cucumber slices you put on your eyes to minimize eye bags or dark circles! This is obviously not super practical in modern life and rarely usable in cosmetic formulations.
2- Natural with some physical process:
These ingredients are truly natural, harvested from nature with only minimal processing. They are usually treated only physically, so their chemical structure hasn’t changed.
Essential oils and Hydrosols are examples of natural ingredients which are obtained through distillation, when steam is used to extract volatile constituents of a plant, resulting in the formation of essential oils and the byproduct, hydrosols.
Cold pressed oils are another example. Essentially a very simple process: seed, friction press, no heat, no chemical, no additive and straight out the other end to be filtered, the most natural process you will get when you are producing carrier oils. This way you are maintaining the inherent benefits of the raw material.
Cocoa butter is also obtained through physical processing without any chemical treatment.
Cocoa Butter is extracted from the whole cocoa beans. They are roasted and separated from the husks, leaving behind the cocoa nibs. The nibs are ground and melted, and then the cocoa solids and the oil are separated. The oil is then left to cool, leaving a solid pale yellow block of cocoa butter.
Fruit powder is another example. Pumpkin Powder is dehydrated pumpkin that has been ground into a fine orange powder that smells exactly like pumpkin. Pumpkin Powder is commonly used in formulations for facial masks, bath bombs, soaps and body polishes.
3- Naturally derived:
These ingredients are obtained from nature but then undergo a series of chemical processes, the degree of which depends on the ingredient.
CBD Isolate oil is naturally derived and produced from CO2 extracted industrial hemp plants, through a process that involves filtering plants through a series of chambers that control temperature and pressure.
Sodium methyl cocoyl taurate is a mild surfactant (meaning that it can allow oil and water to mix, making it an effective cleansing agent) derived from coconuts. It is produced by reacting N-methyltaurine with coconut fatty acids followed by neutralization with sodium hydroxide.
Hydrolyzed proteins derived from plants such as wheat, corn, and soybeans are another example of naturally derived ingredients. The highly proteinaceous nature of both the skin and the hair allows for extensive protein use in a wide variety of cosmetic applications. Because of their poor water solubility, most proteins are unsuitable for use in cosmetics. In order to be incorporated into cosmetic applications, proteins must undergo hydrolysis–the process by which proteins are cleaved into small peptide chains called hydrolysates or cleaved further into amino acid molecules. In this form, they can enhance the moisturization and conditioning properties of a wide variety of skin care and hair care applications.
4- Biotechnologically derived from nature
These ingredients are derived in a lab or green house using natural reagents and ingredients. For example, plant based stem cells such as Orchid stem cells obtained from a Japanese orchid flower or Orange stem cells that are undifferentiated cells with the capacity to regenerate the whole plant.
Another example is some Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) that are biotechnologically derived using E. coli; other barley-based EGF using biotech stress technology and practice of co-culturing. They are uniquely pure and grown in an ecologically-engineered greenhouse.
5- Nature identical:
These ingredients are synthesized in the lab but are chemically identical to the same compound found in nature: at a chemical level, there is no difference between the natural and the synthetic versions, the only difference is how it is synthesized.
For example, Citric Acid was first isolated from lemon juice. It is an organic carboxylic acid and can be extracted from the juice of citrus fruits by adding calcium oxide to form calcium citrate, which is an insoluble precipitate that can be collected by filtration; then citric acid can be recovered from its calcium salt by adding sulfuric acid. But nowaday it is chemically synthesized and is chemically identical to the citric acid derived from citrus trees.
Another example is Allantoin, a popular anti-aging ingredient that occurs naturally in plants such as sugar beet, comfrey, tobacco seed and chamomile or wheat sprouts. It can also be synthetically produced from uric acid by action of urate oxidase. You may have noticed some products that say on their label naturally derived allantoin to make it clear that it is not from a synthetic version.
6- Nature identical – more potent or allegedly better performance:
These ingredients are also synthesized in the lab to mimic natural ingredients, but are slightly different in order to make them more powerful.
Some collagen peptides are synthesized and identical to natural peptides in our skin and in some cases because of their smaller size it allows better penetration, resulting in increased synthesis of Collagen.
Green tea extract and its lab-derived potent form, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) with its skin soothing and antioxidant properties.
Hopefully this has shed light on how natural is perceived in the cosmetic industry, and helps you to decide how you define natural, so next time you can pick your skin and hair care product from a more educated place.
So, what is your version of natural?