In an age of information, the consumer is more clued up that ever. We know that not all that glitters is gold. All of the industries that govern our daily lives – nutrition, fashion, health and beauty – have been rejuvenated with a cleaner approach. We scrutinise our food labels, shop for ethical and sustainable fashion, and cleared out our bathroom cabinets to make way for the natural beauty movement.
We are surrounded by clean, green and natural beauty without ever defining it and they are used interchangeably by many. Misinformation and ‘greenwashing’ has become widespread, so it is of utmost importance that we distinguish between clean, green and natural beauty and what they stand for. In the upcoming blog posts we will look at each movement in greater detail. These terms, unlike organic, are not regulated so the specifics may vary, but most retailers, brands and even consumers agree on the key principles of each movement.
Decoding natural beauty
The most common perception of natural, raw materials is that it is only natural if it is plant based and does not include any synthetic materials. With a divided crowd, the word natural is often the cause of fierce debates within the cosmetic industry as there are different shades of natural. In order to decide which approach fits your philosophy best and in order to clear up confusion, we’ll discuss the differences between a purist approach and a pragmatic approach and the area in between, with the addition of a controversial, but innovative, new category as well.
The purist approach is to use ingredients that are obtained from natural resources and it maintains its original chemical structure. Vegetable oils, butters and waxes fall into this category as only physical processing is applied, but no chemical reactions used.
The following category is where your ingredients are naturally sourced but undergoes a chemical reaction such as fermentation or hydrolysis. These include the functional ingredients such as emulsifiers, surfactants or preservatives. Although the INCI name usually sounds very chemical, it is in fact still naturally derived. Lotions, creams and body washes will contain these ingredients and they often contain water.
Many brands will argue that water is used purely as a filler and to make a product cheaper. This is misinformation as these formulations often contain water soluble active ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, that need a hydrophilic (water loving) carrier to offer benefits to the skin. Many active ingredients are extremely expensive and concentrated, so only small amounts are needed to be effective. As the product contains water, you will need an effective preservation system to ensure the product remains safe from microbial growth for the duration of its shelf life.
Nature identical ingredients are synthetically processed but remain identical in its chemical structure to the natural source. This is usually the area where a more pragmatic approach comes into play as it creates an interesting conversation about sustainability. An example of this is citric acid which is synthesised in a lab. It is naturally derived from lemon peel but the amount of citric acid that is used across many industries in the world would not be feasible or sustainable to produce at such a large scale.
A new, controversial and innovative addition to the natural equation involves mimicking synthetic molecules while using natural derivatives. Over the years, many synthetic molecules have been developed in chemistry to use across a range of industries. One of these synthetic molecules is mineral based glycols. As a chemical group, glycols lie between alcohols and glycerol (glycerine). In contrast to alcohol and glycerine, glycols are not found in nature. Glycols have a huge consumption rate and a very broad spectrum for application - from food beverages such as ice-creams to producing anti-freeze. With the growth of the natural movement, scientists have started creating natural glycols derived from sugarcane and maize, such as Pentylene Glycol or Propanediol. (Both are COSMOS approved.)
One of the most commonly used glycols in the cosmetic industry, although frowned upon in natural formulations, are PEG –derivatives. On their own they are safe and harmless but the problem with PEG-derivatives are the contamination with 1,4-dioxane. It is not deliberately added but is an impurity by-product when PEG-derivatives are produced via ethoxylation.
Stem cells in plants help stimulate regeneration. This unique process has recently been an area of interest with a focus on developing new green technologies for the cosmetic industry. A plant with beneficial properties is studied and the active stem cells isolated and replicated in a lab. These potent extracts are then added to either water soluble or oil soluble carriers to use as active ingredients with high efficacy at very low and safe dosage.
Natural is generally perceived as safe and simple but some natural ingredients are extremely powerful and complex in their actions. Essential oils are a prime example; they have fantastic therapeutic properties but the dermal limits of allergens needs to be within legal limit. On the other hand, we often associate synthetic with dangerous, but many synthetic ingredients are more predictable or sustainable versions of natural ingredients.
Our perspective is that the first priority is to create a product that is safe and sustainable, rather than 100% all natural. At florian Botanicals we respect those with a purist approach but we embrace a more pragmatic approach and welcome new innovation on the condition that has a natural connection and does not harm our environment.