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Natural Skin and Personal Care Products: How Natural Are They Really

Posted Jan 26 2009 5:11pm

You may have realised that recently more and more skin care, personal care, cosmetics and similar products are claiming to be 'Natural', but what is natural? Does it referrer to everything contained in the product? Does it just referre to some of the ingredients only, or is a single ingredient, which was isolated from an originally natural source, the only thing that is natural about the product?

These are just some of the questions that are confusing customers today and in many cases claims by some manufacturers that their products are natural, are misleading, if not totally false.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Natural is defined as:

1. existing in or derived from nature; not made, caused by, or processed by humankind.

2. in accordance with nature.

The use of the word ''Natural'' as used on a product's lable is designed to engender an image of nature, a natural scene, nature's playground such as the beach, the mountains, virgin woods and forests, beautiful lakes and similar scenes. The word natural also reminds us of natural substances such as the perfume of flowers, the fresh smell of the air just after rain, and so on.

Natural also infers harmless, non-toxic, free of pollutants or artificial chemicals. However, just because something is natural, does not mean it is non-toxic or harmless - arsenic is hardly non-toxic or harmless, but is certainly natural.

In the food industry, we tend to think of natural flavours as opposed to artificial flavouring, natural preservatives and wholesome ingredients, not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. However, when it comes to skin and personal care products, the word ''natural'' often seems to be misused.

Idealy, Natural skin care products should be just that, natural. A product that containes only natural substances and does not contain synthetic or modified chemicals of any kind.

Here is where things start to become a little murky, because there are many ways we can think of a substance as being natural. For example - Aspirin ( Salicylic acid ) is the active ingredient in Aspirin tables. Salicylic acid is naturally found in the bark of the White Willow tree and many other plants. Thus, Salicylic acid is a naturally occuring substance and if extracted from a plant, rather than recreated synthetically in a laboratory, it is a natural product. Or is it?

Salicylic acid is just one, isolated ingredient found in the bark of the White Willow tree, which happens to have the therapeutic effect of numbing pain. Strictly speaking a liquid made from say water and Salicylic acid, would be natural and fit the definition of 'as found in nature', however, let's look at another way to get the same therapeutic effect from the properties of the White Willow bark.

In the practice of herbal medicine, small pieces of bark placed in alcohol, which over time will extract all (or at least most) of the constituence from the bark (The British Pharmaceutical Codex, 1934). One of these ingredients is the Salicylic acid, but it's just one of the ingredients. There are many more. Some of the substances in the bark do not help to numb pain or do very much to help relieve pain, but they do work on balancing/modifying the effects of Salicylic acid.

We know that this acid can and does irritate the lining of the Stomach and that is why many of the companies making Aspirin will put warnings on the labels that suggest taking Aspirin with food. Using the whole extract however, will include the modifying, mucilaginous ingredients from the bark, which will protect the Stomach's lining and yet the Salicylic acid will still work on reducing the pain.

Now, which of the two end products is the 'natural' one? Both have had human processing imposed on the naturally occuring bark, both use naturally occuring substances and neither is found laying around in nature.

One could argue and debate over the 'naturalness' of the two products and not reach a conclusion, however, reviewing the Oxford Dictionary definition of 'Natural', i.e.: "existing in or derived from nature; not made, caused by, or processed by humankind", demands that the product with the single isolated ingredient, is less natural because it is highly processed by humankind and thus misses many of the naturally contained substances that form part of the bark of the White Willow, which are not missed by the extraction method used in herbal medicine.

With natural skin care products, similar methods are being used to add ingredients to products in order for them to effectively live up to the claimes being made. Extraction of isolated, naturally occuring substances are being used in such products which are then deemed natural.

Examples of such ingredients are AHA's (Alpha-hydroxy-acids) and BHA's (Beta-hydroxy-acids). These acids are often used in creams to help remove dead skin cells located on the surface of the skin and thus smoothes the skin, making it appear younger and less wrinkled. Salicilic acid is one such AHA.

Similarly, papaya fruit extract also contains AHA's and when used in a cream, has the same effect as the Salicilic acid. The difference is, that the use of the isolated and often concentrated Salicilic acid in creams can cause burning of the skin, itching, pain, and possibly scarring ( University Meryland Medical Center ) - not a desired effect. Rarely does this however happen with creams utilising glycetracts made from Papaya fruit.

In conclusion, natural products, be they for your skin, make-up or personal care, should not contain isolated naturally occuring ingredients or synthetic, man-made substances. They should also not utilise artificial colours or synthetic preservatives, nor should they use a combination of natural ingredients together with synthetic ones and maintain that the product is 'natural'. This unfortunately is a very common practice and should be discouraged.

Danny Siegenthaler is a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and together with his wife Susan, a medical herbalist and Aromatherapist, they have created Natural Skin Care Products by Wildcrafted Herbal Products to share their 40 years of combined expertise with you.

They practice Herbal and Chinese medicine at their Wildcrafted Cottage Clinic.

© Wildcrafted Herbal Products 2008

 

 

 

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