We cannot deny the huge shift in peoples awareness to live healthier lifestyles, the global organic cosmetic industry is growing rapidly in its response. Consumers are looking for skincare that meets their natural, organic, green beauty requirements, and they are turning to smaller companies that can fill that niche.
However, there is still a lot of confusion about the difference between naturals and synthetics. The two are so fundamentally different that it is important to understand what sets them apart.
When these are discussed there seems to be a debate where the virtues of naturals are pitched against the ease and cheapness of synthetics. Some traditional mainstream cosmetic formulators seem to look down upon those people who want to use natural ingredients. The change in consumer habits is challenging the old fashioned views that have created the mainstream cosmetic industry and traditional formulators are struggling to break away from their mindset. They still want to add synthetic fragrances to natural oils, and blend petroleum derived products with natural emulsifiers. They want to create products that have 3 year shelf lives, by which point most of the active ingredients are no longer active. Meanwhile, us natural formulators make products that are fresh and have a shelf life of a year or less. Then there is a term called “greenwashing”, this is when you create a marketing story around your brand and your products to create an illusion that your product is natural when in fact it may contain over 90% synthetics! Some claim this is an acceptable way to make natural skincare but I think we can all agree it is not.
The mainstream cosmetic industry has one goal in mind, that is to keep their costs as low as possible in order to gain the highest possible profit margin, this is what drives them to synthetics. Consider that a natural ingredient might cost $500 per kilo while its synthetic counterpart might cost as little as $50 per kilo. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because natural ingredients need to be harvested, pressed, extracted, heated, processed, etc. and all of this takes time and effort, while lab synthesis can be far more cost effective. Most commercial skincare manufacturers also keep their costs low by using cheap ingredients such as water, which generally make up the bulk of the product, i.e. many shampoos contain 70%-90% water. Other forms of cheap ingredients are known irritants on the skin when used in high enough quantities, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Many of the people who have turned to natural skincare have had a bad reaction to some of these irritants.
As natural skincare formulators, we incorporate gentle, simple botanical extracts that work together to create harmonious beautiful products.
Mineral oil is a good example of a boring chemical that offers virtually nothing in terms of therapeutic benefits and is used by the mainstream industry. It contains no active compounds, works as a cheap moisturizing and effective occlusive agent with high stability against oxygen, water and microbial degradation. This would be the primary reason that the mainstream industry uses it, not because it offers any exciting compounds for the skin. On the other hand, take Borage Seed Oil, used by natural skincare formulators. This oil is cold pressed from the seed of the star flower, it offers one of the highest known levels of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) found in nature. GLA is a high performance anti-aging compound. This is the case with many plant oils, they contain important compounds that can be metabolized by the skin, such as triglycerides, tocopherols or flavonoids. You generally won’t find these compounds in synthetic ingredients.
So now you know why mainstream cosmetic products use synthetic ingredients, and I suggest that you take a look at the labels of these products to see for yourself how widely they are used.
The love for using botanicals to create formulations that are not driven by cost or outdated views on what a skincare product should look and feel like is what sets artisan skincare makers apart.