Natural cosmetics are no longer a niche industry. They have evolved to stand proudly as a synonym for the highest level of environmental friendliness. However, natural cosmetics are not yet officially regulated, and there are no unified criteria or recommendations that products must meet to be labelled as natural. That is why a wave of different views on naturalness has washed over the users and manufacturers of natural cosmetics in recent years.
The concept of natural can be understood in very different ways and has no generally accepted (legal) definition. Simply put, natural cosmetics represent an alternative to conventional cosmetic products, in which completely synthetic ingredients typically prevail. Ingredients of natural origin have proven physiological and cosmetic effects. However, generalising the concept that natural ingredients are better for the skin simply because they come from nature has no scientific rationale.
One of the most common examples of such misconceptions is soda or, in chemical terms, sodium hydrogen carbonate. It is a cosmetic ingredient widely used in (natural) cosmetics to achieve deodorant action, as well as for skin and hear cleansing, for the care of acne skin, etc. Soda is indeed a naturally occurring substance, however, it creates an unnatural, even damaging environment when applied on the skin or hair, i.e. a pH value of about 8 to 9, while the physiological pH of the skin is from 4.7 to 5.5. A soda-based deodorant applied on a sensitive skin may cause a burning sensation, pain and redness, and such use cannot be considered natural, skin friendly.
Progress in natural cosmetics is moving in the direction of scientific approaches and evidence-based products known as so-called active cosmetics. Active cosmetic products have an added value: they target the specific needs or conditions of the skin and therefore place priority on individuals’ needs and preferences. That level of advancement in knowledge, technological innovations and new or improved cosmetic ingredients has led to a shift from conventional to high-performance cosmetic activity.
Cosmetically active ingredients of natural origin have undoubtedly become the cornerstone of science-based formulating in terms of cosmetic effects and marketing. For example, glycerol is one of the most effective moisturisers, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, vegetable oils as emollients, etc. However, many aspects of quality must be considered to achieve high-performing cosmetics, including incorporation of quality raw materials at active concentrations. Without a suitable, i.e. sufficient concentration no significant cosmetic effects can be expected. For example, high molecular weight hyaluronic acid is an excellent moisturising ingredient at about 0.1 to 0.5%. However, if we add it significantly less (which is an example of empty advertising claims) we cannot claim that hyaluronic acid in our product expresses excellent hydrating activity. On the other hand, formulating active cosmetics should not mean putting more and more into the bottle to satisfy the almost endless and insatiable desire for eternal youth. In contrast, excessive ingredients should be considered a burden to the skin or hair (and the environment). Even antioxidants with proven effects can turn into pro-oxidants when their concentration is increased. Indeed, rational formulating with ingredients of natural origin, following the less is more principle, is a challenging task and requires a great deal of research and experience. Constantly gaining knowledge and building an objective and critical approach is therefore of the greatest importance.
Building and promotion of the culture of natural, ethical and cosmetically active products is the mission of Modern CosmEthics – an association of international scientists and experts. Modern CosmEthics provides evidence-based information and educate publicity about cosmetic ingredients of natural origin as well as honour companies developing natural skincare that really work with the Cosmethically ACTIVE certificate in order to protect consumers from false claims and empty promises.
Modern CosmEthics association is inviting you to attend a free live webinar entitled ‘Contradictory aspects of natural in cosmetics’, in which the aforementioned challenges will be covered, with the focus on:
- Different criteria for defining natural cosmetics;
- Basic physiology of the skin;
- Examples of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ natural ingredients from our skin’s point of view;
- Examples of appropriately and poorly used cosmetically active ingredients in formulations.
Nina Kocevar Glavac, PhD
Modern CosmEthics is an association that builds and promotes natural, ethical and cosmetically active products through the CosmEthically ACTIVE certificate. The association also provides evidence-based information and educates users about cosmetic ingredients of natural origin through the Modern Cosmetics book.