Natural Skin Care Products

What is a natural product?

The subject runs deep and often leads to more questions than answers, so I will do my best to help shed some light on topics often discussed.

Many products contain “natural” ingredients although they are not comprised entirely of them.  So one may find the word natural on the packaging or labeling of skin care products and this is neither correct nor incorrect.  The Canada Cosmetic Regulations do not define a “natural product” as such, but speak to the ingredients.  For example a Botanical is defined as “an ingredient that is directly derived from a plant and that has not been chemically modified before it is used in the preparation of a cosmetic” (Chapter 869, Section 2(1)).  So this is a product that is in its natural, un-altered state. 

This is important to understand as it helps with clarity in a world full of “natural” products; products with “natural active ingredients” and products that contain “naturally derived” ingredients.  This list is seemingly endless, and thus can be confusing, to say the least.

A product that is presented as having “natural active ingredients” will typically contain some ingredients that are natural and others that are not.  However, in the cosmetic industry the term “active ingredients” has become a marketing term only as these types of ingredients are found in the pharmaceutical industry. They are simply the ingredients that make a product perform a certain function.  For example, Ibuprofen is the active ingredient in many pain relievers.  This applies because it is scientifically proven that the active ingredient performs a specific function or set of functions and therefore is a drug by definition.

That’s where the difference is.  Cosmetics cannot contain naturally active ingredients by law or they would be a drug.  It’s a term used in the cosmetic industry to describe an ingredient that is thought to have some effect but is not scientifically proven to, thus rendering it a cosmetic and not a drug.  One example that comes to mind is some lotions that contain oatmeal as an “active ingredient”.  It’s not to say that oatmeal doesn’t have positive effects for skin, it is simply not proven as a drug.

Before you jump up or bang your fist on the desk…..

This is not to say that there are not benefits from natural ingredients.  I whole heartedly believe that nature in its raw form has many, many health benefits.   The terminology and the associated rulings and laws are what I am highlighting in this very broad topic.

Naturally derived is another marketing term that can be misleading as it implies natural.  What it does mean is that a natural ingredient was used to create something artificially. If we studied the chemical composition of Aloe Vera and used that formulation to create and entirely artificial compound that performed just like Aloe Vera in its natural state, we would have “Naturally derived from Aloe Vera”.

This is just a small sampling of some of the terminology used in the cosmetic industry, but I feel it represents some of the more popular wording seen in some of today’s popular products.  Consumers are looking for more natural products and no one knows this, more than marketing firms that can help clients build sales with mere wording. 

I’m not implying that any of these products or types of products are harmful to people in any way, rather highlighting their actual meaning versus marketing terms.

It truly comes down to the discretion of the end user.  What is acceptable to you is what is most important. 


“Chemicals” vs. “Natural Products”

On average, most people in this day and age are much more aware of what they put into, and onto their bodies.  Good news, right?  Well, yes it is but like anything, interpretation of information is as important as the information itself.  What I mean by that statement is that you can often hear a person say, “I’m not using that, it’s full of chemicals!” I can’t think of a more accurate statement as we as humans are comprised of many chemicals. 

Any substance on Earth or around it can be broken down into chemical elements and or chemical compounds.  So not only are we made of chemicals but we eat, sleep and breathe them.  As such we should not be scared of using “chemicals” but rather be aware of what they are and what they are comprised of.  After all, it’s very vast subject that is generalized with one word that is often used in a negative connotation. 

Acetic Acid comes to mind.  If one is not familiar with this terminology it may sound a little intimidating or even harmful, but in fact, it’s plain old vinegar.  Typically less than 4% solution in water, but it’s still vinegar.


Enter INCI

INCI or the International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient was formed sometime in the early 1970’s and is an internationally recognized system of names to identify cosmetic ingredients.  This was brought on as a need for the scientific community to be able to easily identify ingredients globally.  Perhaps this helps us understand why this confusing language is on the label in the first place, as one may ask themselves why this terminology would ever be used for the consumer. 

The cosmetic industry is required by law to list all ingredients in cosmetics in INCI terms thus avoiding confusion between different countries and languages. 

That’s the good news.  The other news is that it’s usually clear as mud to the average consumer.  So you pick up a handmade soap and the first ingredient is Olea europaea  Oil, probably not the most enlightening information.  Conversely, a label reading Olive Oil would be incorrect.  When labeling our handmade products we add English terminology as an aid, such as “Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil.  This is not required but can be somewhat helpful.

On the other hand some ingredients become easier to understand with the use of INCI, such as the vinegar example above.  Vinegar in INCI terminology is vinegar, not Acetic acid.  Like most things, they are some benefits and some drawbacks to the system.

When registering our products with Health Canada we must submit a cosmetic notification form for each product we make.  On this form we must list the ingredients, in INCI terminology, for review before the product can be approved for sale to the public.  It is important to understand just because an ingredient has an INCI name, does not make it approved for use in cosmetics. 

Fortunately most handmade skin care products do not have extensive lists of ingredients and if the subject is near and dear to your heart, most of the ingredients will soon look familiar to you after reviewing product labels. 

As previously mentioned, a quick search on the internet will help immensely in determining or translating ingredient names.


Additives and Preservatives

On the quest to find a natural or handmade type skin care product, this subject will no doubt come into play.

Additives are usually ingredients that help improve or boost performance of a given product.  For example one may find licorice root in a shave balm. Its anti inflammatory properties would make it a great candidate for a soothing shave balm by nature.  They are other alternatives, but if natural is what you’re looking for this would be a great example.

Preservatives are essential to products that contain water and are capable of producing bacteria, yeast or mold.  Although we may be searching for products that do not contain them, they really are there for our own good. 

One can find conflicting information on the use of “natural” preservatives such as Grapefruit seed extract.  Some information may state that it is indeed a natural preservative, while other information dismisses it entirely.  Be aware, like many other ingredients the extraction methods may be far from natural.  For example some processes include the use of Ammonium Chloride and Hydrochloric Acid to aid in extraction.  I’m not here to tell that this type of extraction is going to hurt you, I’m simply highlighting that one’s perception of something may be entirely different from the reality.   Again, do your research and gain an understanding of the facts prior to making choices.  It really comes down to one’s comfort level and beliefs.

In Summary

I’ve attempted to lay out some thought provoking material for you to process and ultimately lead you on your own quest for information.  The challenge, in my opinion, is to set aside any pre-conceived ideas and truly look at things from a learning perspective.  After all, if we look hard enough we can always find information to prove that we are “right” in our thought process. 

I hope you have found some of this information useful.  There truly is a mountain of information to sift through when looking for definitions or an answer to one’s questions in selecting a suitable product.  Don’t let one ingredient on a list throw you off course.  It may be the best product you’ve ever experienced, so take the time to evaluate things for what they truly are.

Treat Yourself Well!

All our best

Chris and Mary