Are ‘natural’ beauty products better?

What are ‘natural’ beauty products?

First off, let’s talk about what ‘natural’ actually means when it comes to beauty products; does ‘natural’ mean a product is chemical-free? No, since every compound or ingredient is technically a chemical (whether it is extracted from nature, or synthetically derived), despite connotations that chemicals are only compounds that are artificially prepared. So, what does natural mean if it doesn’t mean chemical-free? Are they using ‘natural’ chemicals they’ve extracted from flowers and other natural sources? Sometimes, although the product might only contain 1% of a chemical extracted from nature. There aren’t enough flowers in the world for everybody’s beauty products to be made from a 100% naturally-derived chemicals (neither is it convenient).

Often the phrase ‘chemical-free’ or ‘all-natural ingredients’ is just a marketing strategy companies use, and let me tell you, it has worked on my grandmother as I recall her raving about a chemical-free cleanser she had been using. Since neither the synthetic, or natural status of a chemical make them better or worse (we’ll explore this shortly), it can be problematic for businesses to use ‘natural/chemical-free’ phrases since this has several positive associations which are usually misleading/just not true.

Scrabble pieces displaying the world natural.

Does natural mean non-toxic?

If a chemical is extracted from nature does that make it non-toxic? And if a chemical is man-made is it then toxic? Simply, no. It is evident that the terms ‘chemical’ and ‘poison’ are interchangeable in many people’s minds…yet it is not whether a chemical was synthesised or dug up from the ground that makes it toxic. The truth is, whether compound X was extracted from a tree, or it was made in a pilot plant, it is still compound X, which still has the same effect on the human body, no matter if it came from the tree or the pilot plant.

Many chemicals (natural or synthetic) in our products are toxic and since the beauty industry lacks regulation it can be a difficult field to navigate unless you’re a trained chemist. There are often carcinogens, irritants, hormone disruptors and many more naughties in our products. However, it’s not as black and white as ‘well this is a carcinogen so I am doomed’, dose and frequency of exposure also play a role in whether something is truly toxic.

So the main piece of advice I can give, is to limit how many products you use on a daily basis. Be selective. Use only what is really necessary, many products are gimmicks that are actually pretty useless and serve no purpose. If you’re conscious about the ingredients in the products you use, make sure to do adequate ingredient research before purchasing. There are plenty of science-based blogs out there that discuss common beauty product ingredients in great detail.

Misinformation in the ‘natural’ beauty space

We’ve already brushed over the fact that companies want to take advantage of consumers who believe chemicals=poison; they will happily market their product so that you believe it is good for you, obviously, since it has no chemicals! Always be cautious and do your research before purchasing products with claims such as:

  • All-natural
  • Chemical-free
  • No harmful chemicals
  • Organic
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Naturally-derived

Key takeaways

  • All compounds are chemicals
  • Synthetic or natural chemicals can be toxic
  • ‘Chemical-free’ labels are just a marketing strategy
  • Do your research – don’t take a label at face value
  • Check out the European Chemicals Agency for information on specific chemicals: