I get asked a lot of questions about natural products, in Austin it was a question of where they were in the store, in Dallas it’s more  a question of what they are. In both places there’s some confusion from time to time about the naturals, which is understandable. There are an overwhelming amount of products on the market right now that claim to be “natural” and there’s a lot of liberty taken with what actually defines what natural  means.

Because of the overwhelming nature of this topic, I want to try to keep this as simple as possible, and address somethings that are particularly important to me personally, and hopefully you can consider this a jumping off point if natural cosmetics and skin care are something that you’re interested in.

In my opinion it’s important to enter the world of naturals by determining what your priorities are; are you more interested in using products made of natural ingredients,  or in using products that are environmentally friendly? These two things are often lumped together but are not mutually exclusive. That’s not to say that they can’t go hand-in-hand, but I believe the first step is understanding that natural ingredients do not necessarily mean that a product is also environmentally friendly and deciding what your priority is will narrow your search drastically.

Oldest living oak tree

On the environmentally friendly side, packaging is going to be the biggest issue, especially with cosmetics, but stands true with almost all natural products. A friend of mine recently told me a story about purchasing a natural brand of cookies, only to open them and find that the plastic tray holding the cookies inside was made from #6 plastic (the only non-recyclable plastic). Not mention that in an average size cookie container he was getting half the cookies and paying twice as much for them! Especially true with cosmetics, you cannot assume that just because a line uses natural ingredients that their packaging will be environmentally friendly, in fact, due to fewer preservatives and fillers used in natural products the packing is often thick opaque plastic to protect the product from light and air exposure (obviously glass or aluminum could be used but that would drive the price of the products up considerably). If you are concerned with being environmentally conscious, check the packing to see what type of plastic it’s made of (if it’s made out of plastic), ask about the recycling practices of the individual companies, and your best bet is to purchase products from lines who offer incentives for your participation in recycling. For example, 70% of Lush products are made without packaging at all, for what must come in a package they use post-consumer recycled, recyclable and biodegradable materials where ever it’s possible, and they encourage their clients to bring back their empty black pots (for every 5 you get a free mask!). Another thing I like to consider is what the line does to replenish the resources they use, an example I love to use is Korres (because I ❤ Korres).  Certainly, most all natural ingredients are going to be farmed, otherwise they would have no hope of any type of product longevity, but personally I like to know for sure where the ingredients come from. Not only does Korres list all of their ingredient AND packing facts right on the box of their products, they put a lot of thought and action behind sustaining the resources they use. For example, in their Quercetin and Oak products they harvest the oak from the bark of trees from a tree farm to insure that no trees are harmed.

If your main concern is with only natural ingredients, or you want to insure that the products you’re using are both environmentally friendly and the ingredients are really natural, your next step is to ask a lot of questions about what is actually considered natural and what isn’t.  This is like the difference between buying whole wheat bread, and 100% whole wheat bread.  When it comes to claiming a product is natural there can be a lot of wiggle room, and you can’t always count on brands to be completely honest. You can save yourself some frustration by starting with a retailer that has standards or requirements for brands to be considered natural. Sephora requires a minimum of 90% of a brands assortment to be made with high concentrations of antioxidants, botanicals, essential oils, fruit extracts, marine bioactives, minerals, and vitamins; and must be formulated to exclude a minimum of six of these ingredients: GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms), parabens, petrochemicals, phthalates, sulfates, synthetic fragrances, synthetic dyes,  and triclosan.

You can also look for labels that identify products that have met certain natural requirements and are regulated by organizations that are devoted to insuring the quality of natural products such as ECOCERT or USDA Organic. These certifications (especially ECOCERT) are not easy to acquire, which means in most cases they can be trusted.  Keep in mind that lack of certification doesn’t necessarily compromise the natural integrity of a line, it just means that you should probably do some research before you invest.

Last, but certainly not least, using natural products requires a certain level of commitment and understanding. You must consider that it might take some time to find natural products that work for your skin, when you get into botanicals, and plant extracts, you might find that there are some you are sensitive to. If your skin reacts the first time, don’t despair, it might only need some time to adjust, or you just might want to try a different line using different products. There’s no need to toss the baby with the bath water!

Also, you must be prepared for the fact that natural products may vary in color and scent due to things like the condition of a crop, or the time of year it’s harvested. There may also be certain products that there are lower quantities of or that you have to go without certain times of year depending on resource availability. Finally and most importantly, natural products will expire more quickly than products that are full of fillers and preservatives. Don’t buy in bulk and be prepared to use your products consistently and as the label suggests.  =)

Identify your priorities, do a little research, and I promise the natural path becomes a lot clearer.

Image Credit:

Image: hannah corbett / FreeDigitalPhotos.net