The Truth On 'Natural'
I get asked this all the time. What exactly is natural skin care? Is
it the same as chemical-free? Does it have any bearing on organic or
pure skin care? Do companies have to display or demonstrate their
meaning of natural, organic and pure?

It is one of the most confusing and scary things to question, and sadly it is not that easy to decipher.

Believe it or not one of the first popular skincare treatments was a
mixture of bullock’s bile, whipped ostrich eggs, olive oil, dough, resin
and milk; this was thought to be beneficial for dry skin. It did not
take long for someone to derive a more pleasant mixture for the face!
Pure skin care was first recorded in Egypt in 1000BC. Plant oils and
herbal tinctures, and readily available ingredients such as honey and
milk and fruits were used. Cold cream developed by the Greek physician
Galen was a great success. Made from olive oil, beeswax, water and rose
petals, it was said to have a cooling effect on the skin.

Today, thankfully no whipped ostrich eggs or bullocks bile in sight,
truly natural skin care using essential oils, herbs, roots, flowers,
clays, honey, and combining them with naturally occurring carrier agents
and preservatives is still, for me, the best skincare option. This is
because products using ingredients derived from nature and produced for
use with as little human interference as possible are kinder to your
skin. However, in the last 100 years human interference has become the
norm in skincare products.

As the industrial revolution took shape, it became a lot cheaper and
easier to synthesize ingredients found in nature. For example, the
vegetable oil in cold cream was replaced with mineral oil. Synthetic
ingredients don’t spoil like their natural counterparts, giving them a
longer shelf-life and making the manufacture of beauty products a much
more profitable venture. Synthetic ingredients also allow for a
multitude of new concoctions to be added to the market with ease. During
the nineteenth century the tide turned – beauty products became cash
cows. As natural went out ‘scientific’ skin care came in. Women were
impressed with the amazing claims that they would look younger and more
beautiful than ever. The products available were endless, with lovely
textures, smells and colours. It was exciting times as the industry

Nowadays it is more like buyer beware – all is not ‘green’ that
claims to be green, or organic, or natural. Take herbal extracts. The
old-fashioned way of extracting the essence from a herb was to boil it,
or to soak it in alcohol (a tincture), or to soak it in water or in
vegetable oil for a month or so (an oil infusion).

Today when we’re all in such a hurry, the essence of a herb can be
extracted much more quickly using carbon dioxide, proplylene glycol and
hexane – but no one needs to tell you that. Nor do they need to tell you
that chemical preservatives have been used in an otherwise ‘natural’
product. And the advertising industry, well aware that ‘natural’ is
important to a big slice of the market, is free to use the word on
products and double sales. There’s a vested interest in the word
‘natural’.  But no legal requirement to provide a truly natural product.
The advertisers are pretty sure we’ll collude in this deceit by buying
‘natural’ products, because they know how our insecurities, our intense
desires to be sexy, delicious and cool, desirable and smart will tempt
us to believe that the product they call natural, is indeed natural and
will as is promised deliver to us the elixir of youth.

Some of us have always questioned this industry, because unlike a new
drug which has to go through rather extensive testing before it can be
used on the public, cosmetic ingredients are virtually unregulated.
Contrary to popular belief the United States Food and Drug
Administration (the FDA) does not regulate skincare and cosmetic
products before they are sold. Generally, the FDA will only regulate a
product once it has been released to the marketplace when and if they
receive a complaint or a query from the public. Manufacturers may use
any ingredient or raw material with the exception of colour additives
and a few prohibited substances in a product without government review
or approval. Australia and New Zealand are no exception to this
worldwide situation.

Increasingly aware of this, the general public has called for more
natural products. But here is the all elusive question… what exactly
do you mean when you say something is ‘natural’? The FDA and most other
regulatory bodies have no actual definition of ’natural’. All
ingredients are chemicals by definition. However, the term ’natural‘ has
considerable market value in promoting skincare cosmetic products to
consumers and, despite pressure from advocacy groups such as The
Environmental Working Group (EWG), the FDA has not defined what
’natural‘ is or how to achieve it. In the market today we see thousands
of skincare products claiming their ingredients are the best. Many are
marketed using the natural angle, claiming they contain active
botanicals and plant extracts. We are bombarded by hundreds of plant
images and the promise of plant extracts to solve every beauty problem.
Unfortunately when these extracts are extracted or suspended in a
chemical synthetic base, as they are in most cosmetic products, any real
enzyme activity the plant extract had is totally lost. To add to this,
consumers are exposing themselves to harmful ingredients in the form of
the synthetic base itself. Yet these products still claim that they are
truly natural.

So how does the consumer navigate the shelves of the average pharmacy or
beauty therapist? For the purist, there are some regulatory bodies.
Many will only certify products which have ingredients they consider to
be safe. These are mainly natural ingredients though a few do allow some
synthetics. So even regulatory bodies can be confusing. Then there are
words like ‘organic’ and ‘pure’. These words are bandied around often
with no real intention or meaning. It is one of the hardest industries
to believe and understand.

For most of us then, it comes down to a case of trust. Getting to know
companies’ philosophies, personal integrity and understanding of their
interpretation of what is ‘natural’ is the key. With a growing, though
still small number of companies committed to a holistic and ethical
approach to skin, we can, if we are able to understand and navigate the
market successfully, see and use the best of both science and nature.

It is so hard not knowing who to believe or what it all actually means.
And although it took over ten years to create – this is why I do what I
do… Twenty8 was born in 2009, and I can honestly say we are all
incredibly proud and in awe of it. We hope you are too!