Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How natural are 'natural' cosmetics?

Recently the world has seen an increased focus on natural cosmetics. The natural is becoming the trend as we strive to safeguard our health and, at some instances, even protect the nature. We find natural products at health food stores, pharmacies, "drogeries" but even at the supermarkets. So how should we chose our natural products?

There is no straightforward answer, however, one thing is clear. Products labeled as "natural" are not often as natural as we may think. In the previous post I mentioned the term 'green-washing'. Some companies are evoking the feeling of "nature/ natural" when labeling their products while using toxic ingredients in the same. In short, a shampoo containing avocado extract together with conventional preservatives, sulfates, petrochemicals or other synthetics cannot be perceived as natural. So how should we know that a so called natural product is safe for us? 

Many people who already orient themselves in the natural cosmetics offer, look for a certifying logo when choosing their products. As of today, there is no global certification and those issuing guidelines for organic or bio products have not agreed one standard. While certified cosmetics and beauty products will be decorated with the USDA logo in the US, Europe has larger diversity, a thing that is of a little understanding in the times of the European Union. Many countries created their own logos, such as Czech republic (CPK) or Italy (ICEA), France (Cosmebio and Ecocert), UK (Soil Association), Germany (BDIH) and Belgium (Ecogarantie). COSMOS and NATRUE have made an attempt towards standardization.  

Seems like a headache? Well, after studying criteria of those certifying organizations, I just made my personal choice for BDHI and NATRUE which are both rather stringent.

Everyone should know that it is hard to produce 100% natural product for some product categories and maintain the product efficacy. While there are natural substitutes for some harsh ingredients, others are to be yet discovered.

Transparency as a guarantee
So while the above mentioned logos are used as a guarantee of natural product authenticity and certain quality standards, other companies will state what ingredients they use and avoid. Until recently, one of the "greenest"and best selling US natural brands Burt's Bees, has not used a certificate. Their transparent communication with their clients has been one of the keys for success.

Ingredients that are typically avoided in natural certified products are:
    • Harsh surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate used in shampoos 
    • Chemical sunscreens
    • Parabens—used as preservatives 
    • Petrolatum/ mineral oil used in lip products for emollient properties
    • Propylene glycol—used as moisturizing agents
    • Phthalates—efficient solvents 
    • Silicones
    • Synthetic colors and fragrances                                                     
One can therefore look for a certifying logo on a product or check the product's ingredients. The former is, however, a more complicated task as the ingredients are often described with many different names. In the future posts, we will try to list more specific ingredients that are to be avoided.


  1. This is great article. Very usefull, keep this way. PvM

  2. Ciao, I agree!!! Good luck!!!