Natural beauty is a total minefield. Let’s start with the term itself: ‘Natural beauty’ (as well as ‘clean’) is not strictly regulated in the US or UK— meaning there’s absolutely no rules as to what can be labelled natural. It’s also totally subjective, and can mean a thousand different things to different people.
From your understanding, what is ‘natural’? Is it something that’s made completely from plants? Is it a product that has zero synthetic ingredients? Or is it something that mainly originates from plants— with a little help from science? Ask three different people and you’re likely to get three different answers.
The thing is, natural beauty encompasses all of the above— plus many, many more definitions. Which is why it’s so tricky to a) recommend natural products – as one person’s grasp on what’s natural, might be totally different to another… and b) discuss ‘natural’ beauty in general.
In fact, a lot of the marketing around natural beauty often perpetuates the idea that all chemicals are harmful, and anything synthetic should be avoided at all costs. It propagates the notion that natural and clean ingredients are inherently ‘good’, and those that are not are ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’, and somehow less virtuous.
The reality is: botanical ingredients can be great. Synthetic ingredients can also be great. And actually, a lot of natural ingredients have little effect on the skin without some synthetic intervention, while others can actually be more harmful to the skin than man-made ingredients.
But, what about hormone disruptors?
If you’re not confused already, then let’s talk about hormone disruptors. Over the past few years there’s been a lot of conversation about hormone disruptors in beauty— specifically how some chemicals such as parabens (a common preservative) phthalates and BPAs might mimic, disrupt or alter our body’s natural hormones.
It’s a tricky subject to try and unpick because the answer depends on who you ask.
The general consensus is that the actual amount of hormone mimicking or disrupting ingredients used within our beauty products is so small, they have zero negative effect on our body— and some of these synthetic ingredients are actually required to keep our products from going off after a matter of days.
What’s actually the case is that scaremongering and misinformation of these ingredients (often in the way of marketing that then gets filtered down into #fakenews) has pushed the consumer into believing that they need a natural alternative— when in fact, what they have is perfectly fine.
But it still remains true that some people working in the beauty industry still choose to avoid these ingredients in their products and that’s also fair enough.
Whilst a lot of the evidence that found parabens to be harmful has been discredited, it comes down to personal preference on this one. However it is worth remembering that these ingredients go through rigorous testing before being allowed to be sold (or used within products) in the UK market.
Natural beauty: allergies and irritation
Many people opting to go ‘all natural’ in their skincare do so after having a skin reaction. Conditions like eczema can be flared up by the presence of parabens and SLS (a surfactant that helps to remove oils and cleanse— it’s also responsible for creating foamy products) so it’s a good idea to try and avoid these if you do suffer from a damaged skin barrier.
As these ingredients are used so much (in everything from shampoos to toothpastes) irritation can occur — but that’s not to say that everyone will and/or does react to their presence.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that natural ingredients can also cause irritation. If you suffer from eczema or sensitive skin, you should avoid essential oils— and of course, if you suffer from nut allergies you’ll need to carefully read the label to make sure there are no nut oils present. Just because something is plant derived, does not mean that it’s safe to use on your skin.
Whilst synthetic ingredients can be more carefully formulated with skin sensitivities in mind— it’s important to do a patch test if you’re worried about reactions.
What’s more sustainable?
Next comes the subject of sustainability. We’re all fighting to try and live more sustainably, and many natural beauty brands also have ethical and eco-friendly commitments at their core.
From less packaging to refillable beauty products— shopping more sustainably is thankfully becoming easier.
But it’s not just packaging where sustainability needs to be addressed. How ingredients are sourced is still a huge (often unspoken) issue.
Take palm oil— this is an ingredient that’s commonly found in many natural beauty products. But the methods used to harvest palm oil often strip the land, leaving destruction behind.
So what can you do? Look for companies who have NDPE policies (no deforestation, no peat development, and no exploitation).
Whilst no beauty brand is perfect, in the end it comes down to supporting those brands that you trust are trying to make a difference, offer efficacious ingredients and be as sustainable as possible.
If you are looking for botanically rich, sustainable buys— we recommend the following: