Natural by Name, Not by Nature …

What actually is natural? When it comes to natural skincare, it’s a question that labelling regulations have no real answer for yet — and a question which typically incites a lot of passionate debate amongst those who take pride in producing cosmetics based entirely on pure plant materials, and those who love to use them.

But hold on — is natural skincare entirely plant based (and mineral based) anyway? One could argue dairy products are perfectly natural, but we also know from experience that many of our readers — and indeed many of those who visited our stand at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show this year — may be vegan, or have milk allergy concerns — and don’t really consider applying dairy products to your skin particularly ‘natural’.

What about petrochemicals? It may seem a sacrilige to even suggest it, but petrochemicals do occur ‘naturally’ — they are not man-made, after all, even though it may be their by-products from processing that end up in some products. How natural are they? And are they more or less natural than, say, a nature-identical but synthesised ingredient?

And what about ingredients produced solely from plant extracts — but transformed into other chemicals or ingredients in the laboratory? How ‘natural’ are they? Does it depend on the amount of processing and change they go through?

It’s not that easy is it? Although we’d obviously rather see an ingredient synthesised from (sustainable) plants than from petrochemical sources, sometimes we wonder whether the whole ‘natural’ argument and discussion is actually worth having, and that each particular ingredient should be evaluated and taken on its own terms … I know I’d rather apply synthetic water to my skin than natural ivy juice, for instance, to give an extreme and obviously unrealistic example … but different consumers will have different preferences — some will be concerned with the allergenic potential of ingredients, some will be concerned with the environmental aspects, some will be concerned with the organic percentage, and others will be concerned with the lack of artificial / synthetic ingredients — and many will be concerned with all, or just some, but to varying degrees. It’s a difficult mix, and tough to keep everyone both informed and happy. But we think most people would agree that the thing they appreciate most is honesty and transparency …

To Dye For … 

All these thoughts went through our minds when we wrote our recent two articles on hair dyes for SkinsMatter.com. Michelle investigated allergies to hair dye — specifically and mainly to the ingredient PPD, which has caused some extreme reactions in the past — and I looked into PPD-free alternatives — and indeed natural alternatives.

My surprise was two-fold. The first was the lack of readily available truly natural hair dye options. The best stockist of these proved to be Suvarna, whose site is well worth a look, but we also found some natural hair dyes being produced by Lush: we know, because they sometimes use parabens, Lush don’t always have the greatest reputation among natural and organic devotees, but their hair dye products seem to have very natural ingredients.

The second surprise really was more of a shock, and it concerned the names of some ranges of hair dyes whose dyeing agents were clearly artificial. These included Tints of Nature, Herbatint, Naturtint and Nature’s Grey Busters. Sadly, there is no tinting from natural herbs or grey-busting by nature on offer from these products … the colouring ingredients are synthetic in all.

We can’t pretend not to be disappointed at this. We know the word ‘nature’ or ‘natural’ is difficult to pin down, and may be open to interpretation depending on individuals’ viewpoints, but are the names of these brands pushing the boundaries of what’s reasonable? Are they misleading?

As ever, we look forward to your thoughts.

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