We can find just about anything in our stores’ cosmetic aisles, from traditional beauty products to their organic and natural counterparts. Although we know that chemical products are often manufactured from synthetic components, many of us have a difficult time providing a precise definition of a natural product, and we don’t know how to distinguish between a natural product and an organic one.
In an era when we have long since recognized the harmful effects of chemical products on the environment and human health, we may be easily reassured when we read the label “100% natural” on a cream, gel, lotion or shampoo bottle. But have you ever actually taken the time to ask yourself what a natural product really is? After all, don’t aluminum, arsenic, lead, mercury and petroleum qualify as natural elements? And do cosmetics derived from natural ingredients need to meet any specific requirements?
First off, referring to a cosmetic product as natural is in itself inaccurate since the product is not found in nature in its current state. Unfortunately, we cannot directly harvest bottles of shampoo from a tree, though this would certainly make for a dream come true. At this point, we have no precise term for characterizing a natural product. The requirement is simply that all ingredients, including the excipient (water, oil), active ingredients, and additives (preservatives, dyes and fragrances) are derived from nature, and treated through simple physical processes such as cold pressing, steam distillation, soaking, or freezing. To provide an example, natural cosmetic products can be composed of plant oils extracted through the crushing and pressing of nuts and fruit like avocados and jojoba nuts: whereas, natural essential oils are distilled from plants. Animal substances are acceptable as long as they are produced naturally. This means that milk, honey, wax and gelatin are all considered to be natural ingredients. Natural skin care products may also contain mineral substances such as clay or magnesium.
The confusion between natural and organic skincare products stems from the fact that both are created out of natural ingredients (plant oils, plant extracts, etc.). However, unlike the term “natural”, the term “organic” can only be used “for a product that adheres to strict and highly precise regulations, indicated in a list of specifications that is monitored and enforced by a certifying body*”. As such, a certain percentage of a beauty product’s natural raw materials must be derived through organic farming, meaning without chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMOs. There are also restrictions regarding the use of raw materials such as mineral oils that are derived from the oil industry, synthetic ingredients, silicone, or that use artificial fragrances.
Depending on the certifying body, restrictions can vary in scope. In most cases, organic cosmetic products display the logo of the certifying body on their labels. Among several organizations, we recognize organic products that have been certified by Ecocert, BDIH, Canada Organic, USDA Organic and the Soil Association for example.
*Definition derived from the Conseil des appellations réservées et les termes valorisants (CARTV) [Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims] https://www.cartv.gouv.qc.ca
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