When trawling through various discussion groups, especially on LinkedIn, one of the most common claims companies make for their products is “all – natural” or “100% natural”. Depending upon my mood at the time of reading, I am sometimes moved to visit the web site and check out the ingredients in these “100% natural” products. It is no exaggeration so state that they are NOT 100% natural in well over 90% of cases. Whilst I must admit that I am talking about a fairly small sample size (tens, rather than thousands), it is clear that a large proportion of one sector of the market are making inaccurate claims. Is this serious? The answer depends upon whether or not you feel the consumer should be given the truth. Does it have an impact on safety? Not directly, but it is still misleading consumers.

I have seen it written that there is no clear definition of “natural” and, also, that there are many interpretations of “natural”, but I believe that this is being confused with “organic”, and that a definition of “natural” is both clear and simple. Only two questions need to be asked:

1) Does the substance exist in nature?

2) Is the substance extracted from nature without any chemical modification?

Only if the answer to both questions is yes, can the substance be truly described as “natural”.

If the substance does not exist in nature, it cannot be described as “natural”, even if natural substances have been used exclusively in its manufacture. This can only be described as “nature-derived”. However, taking the definition of “nature-derived” to its logical conclusion, unless you actually create new matter, everything is “nature-derived”; the only question is to how many stages of processing has the substance been exposed. This introduces the concept of “degrees of processing”. Given that so few cosmetic ingredients are truly natural, how many degrees of processing are acceptable to keep the ingredient as close to “natural” as possible? This is where it becomes entirely subjective, and crosses over into the realm of “organic” criteria, where there is an increasing number of different commercial organisations each promoting their own (subjective) view of what constitutes “organic” for cosmetics. This creates confusion for consumers on two levels. The profusion of different standards is an obvious source of confusion, but it seems to me that many people confuse “organic” and “natural” – a situation not discouraged by those involved in the market sector. These terms are NOT interchangeable. A high proportion of ingredients certified as “organic” (by one or more certification bodies) are NOT natural, as they don’t exist in nature and, therefore, a certified “organic” product cannot automatically be promoted as “all-natural”, unless it truly is, of course!

Another trap for the unwary claimant is the use of “nature-identical” substances. Can a “nature-identical” substance be described as 100% natural? I think that this is, at best, debatable. Part of the consideration here should be the source of the raw materials used to manufacture the “nature-identical” moiety. There are two common examples of the use of “nature-identical” ingredients – potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate. As far as I am aware, there is no natural source of these ingredients and all the usage in cosmetics is from synthetic production. Moreover, both are manufactured from unequivocally petrochemical sources and, despite petroleum/oil being entirely natural, many companies using these ingredients also claim “no petrochemicals”. The use of petrochemically-derived substances invalidates such claims.

I have absolutely no personal bias/preference for natural, nature-identical or nature-derived ingredients, but I do have issues with misleading and false claims made for those ingredients, and products containing them.

If you see a claim for “all-natural” cosmetics, the chances are that it’s not true, unless you are VERY forgiving in your definition of “natural”.

Author

Dene Godfrey has been involved with preservatives for cosmetics since 1981, from both technical and commercial angles and has a degree in chemistry. Dene worked for one of the largest manufacturers of parabens from 1992 – 2002, and currently works for a UK company involved in the distribution of ingredients for cosmetics, health care and food. The Boots Company, 1973 – 92, Dene spent 11 years working with bronopol, although he was also involved in the initial development of Myavert C, now known as Biovert – a well-known “non-preservative”. Latterly was responsible (as Technical Manager) for the operation of the Formulation Laboratory and the Microbiology Laboratory. As Technical Manager when at Nipa Laboratories, Dene was responsible for development and sales of new preservative products, mainly into personal care. Developed the Nipaguard range of preservatives and co-patented a preservative system based on phenoxyethanol and IPBC. In 2002, Dene founded MGS MicroPure (as Technical & Sales Director) to compete with the giants of preservation, establishing the Paratexin brand name in the UK and several other markets (EU/ global). MGS MicroPure ceased trading in 2005. Since 2005, Dene has been employed by a major UK distributor of personal care ingredients, with his focus primarily on preservation systems. Dene’s articles are based solely on his personal opinions, observations and research, and are not intended to represent any official position of the part of his employer. Dene obtained a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry from the Open University in 1996. He also obtained the Professional Certificate in Management from the Open University in 1997. He has been an active member of the UK Society of Cosmetic Scientists since 1992, and has served 4 terms on the SCS Council, and is involved with the SCS Social Committee from 1993 to date; from 2004 – 7 as Social Secretary. Dene has presented papers at many SCS meetings and was President of the SCS (2009/10)

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