The cosmetics world is OBSESSED with measuring naturalness. In fact, it is so obsessed that it is bordering on being quite…….well, un-natural and definitely unhealthy and that is because of our desire to fit a simple solution to what turns out to be a complex situation.

It is easy to come up with a headline grabbing, feel good definition of the word natural when it comes to cosmetics – Naturally beautiful, a natural looking finish, naturally smooth,  natural coverage all seem to be completely acceptable when applied to a particular cosmetic product.  Naturally pure, natural SPF, naturally safe, made with natural plant extracts,  100% natural again sound reasonable and very desirable when applied to a brands philosophy BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Well, that is where it all gets a bit weird, knotty and complicated.  You see, while we can all pretty much agree on what the word natural should ‘LOOK’ like when a product is applied to the face ie:  like you but better – so that people think you have no make-up on…….  However, when it comes to the chemistry part we all turn to jelly.

“Oh No”  you scream, “that is not true, we have rules, regulations, certifications and logic on our side”  you argue and I have to agree, at least I agree up to a point.

We are not used to thinking from first principles any more because we don’t often have to do it.  How many of us bake our own bread?  Wash our dishes with a cloth?  Dry our clothes on a line?  Grow and pick our own veggies?  Don’t think I’m sitting here all smug because I don’t do all of the above either………….

First principals thinking involves leaving nothing open to interpretation. Every aspect should be clearly defined, every term logically reasoned and every forseeable scenario should be able to fit into the process.  This is hard. Very hard and we are not very good at it.

Examples of not doing this:

  • Natural means ingredients that aren’t  synthetic.

Great, so now can you please tell me what synthetic means, in detail so that I could easily put my ingredients into each box.

  • Natural is safe.

Safe for what?  Where? When and how long?

Examples of where this has been applied (theoretical).

  • Natural cosmetics are those where 100% of ingredients used to create the product exist in nature either directly (such as aloe vera juice) or indirectly via physical or chemical extraction using approved processes (eg: hydrogenation, expression, distillation, fractionation – such as vegetable oil fractions, numerous essential oils, herbal extracts etc).

This description would have to come with definitions of what is a cosmetic (taken from existing legislation),  what is an ingredient (are catalysts or process aids ingredients?)

I am sure that there are better examples out there but as you can see, one question leads to another and another and another and before you know it, you have got yourself into all sorts of unchartered waters.  The people behind the various certifications that exist have spent years and lots of money getting to their definitions but that doesn’t mean to say that what they think is what you believe you are buying into. This isn’t because these people are evil and trying to trick you, it is because they have pulled their thoughts, knowledge, biases, market knowledge and realities into the mix and compromised as there is no point in having a standard that can’t be implemented safely.

Natural Cosmetics are a matter of perspective so don’t get angry, get thinking and maybe you will see something really eye-opening!

Happy musings.