“Is it natural?” If you make soap or body products, you’ve probably been asked this question numerous times. How do you answer?
This question is much more difficult than people often realize. The average consumer is used to seeing the term, “natural,” several times each day, and seldom knows how to determine whether the product is truly natural or not. In fact, they most often take it for granted that the natural product they’re buying is indeed, natural.
Those of us in the industry take a harder look at the issue, but may come away as confused as the average consumer.
Why is this? It’s a simple answer to a difficult concept. We have in the USA, no formal, uniform definition for the term, “natural,” where it applies to soap and body products. Therefore, companies are in full compliance with FDA regulations when they call their products natural, no matter what is in them. Yes, you read that right. You may be appalled at what you suppose to be an oversight of government, but actually defining natural is harder than it appears on the surface. Sure, we all think we know what natural is. We may be hard-pressed to define it, but we have a “know it when we see it” idea of natural–except that it’s not that simple.
For instance, seeing dimethicone on an ingredient label, most of us would agree that it isn’t a natural ingredient. Nevertheless, it began as a silica and is mixed with oxygen, carbon and hydrogen to get dimethicone. If it is made from natural ingredients (albeit not plant-based), is it natural?
Let’s take a look at di-propylene glycol. It began as crude oil, which is natural, but through many processes, becomes a clear, odorless liquid which is listed as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) and is used by the food industry? Is it natural?
You might use cornstarch or its more processed cousin, modified corn starch or modified tapioca starch. Some consider cornstarch to be natural, but not modified cornstarch; however, good old cornstarch is a processed product. Are either of them natural?
How about fractionated coconut oil? Some consider it natural, while others do not, citing the processing necessary to separate the long chain fatty acids from the short ones. What’s your opinion?
Some believe that even essential oils are not natural, due to the efforts involved to distill or otherwise obtain the essence of the plant.
Confused? The subject is confusing, for sure. Given the complexities, which I believe shall prove to be more common as science and cosmetics develop, discerning natural will only become more difficult.
It is true that a few organizations for natural products do exist and that they have set down standards to which their members adhere, but the organizations are entirely voluntary and hold no power of regulation. You may even find, if you were search them out and read their standards, that you may or may not agree with them.
So, what is natural? I think I’ll leave that to you to decide!
Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles & wax.
Beth Byrne for the Saponifier
I was thinking recently about all the types of soapmakers and candlemakers out there.
Some like to keep things as basic and natural as possible. In fact, if it were possible to make soap without lye, these individuals would do it. These candlemakers use natural waxes as opposed to using paraffin wax.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we know soapmakers who are concerned only with the process or the art of soapmaking and are willing to use whatever resources are at their disposal to make the soap they love. The same is true for some chandlers whose main goal is either production or beauty. It’s not that this group of crafters don’t care if their products are safe, they just believe that the legal ingredients they use are safe for their customers so they are free to use them as they desire.
Most of us, however, fall somewhere between the two extremes. Some of us insist on organic carrier oils, but scent with fragrance oils. Others use only essential oils, but use synthetic or nature identical colorants. Still others use no soy or no animal products or no palm oil. Moreover, good share of cosmetic makers are searching for effective natural preservatives.
The choices are nearly limitless and may cause confusion for both newbies and the experienced alike. What’s really natural or acceptable? How much not-so-natural is acceptable? If I make products without regard to their naturalness or acceptability to various groups, are my products inferior? Add to that other concerns such as moral ones or sustainabililty and you have an entirely new set of questions.
With this vast array, we might believe that life would be much easier if we weren’t offered so many possibilities. What does it gain us? Quite a bit, actually. First of all, it causes us to do research, the result being more knowledgeable artisans. Secondly, it provides us with niche markets. We can sell to vegans or vegetarians, to those looking for a more natural way of life, customers who avoid certain groups of ingredients or those who are seeking products they like the looks, scent, and performance of. It really does take all kinds!
Where in this wide spectrum do you find yourself?
Until next time, may you happily wade in bubbles & wax.
By now, I’m sure most of you have read your July/August 2011 issue cover-to-cover and packed with helpful articles and ideas to implement in your business.
Are you a maker of natural products? The term, “natural” is extremely popular right now, embodying products full of synthetic ingredients to those made with entirely earth-based ingredients. With the marketplace saturated with natural, how can you promote yours? Erica Pence details the difficulty of defining natural in her article, Promoting Your Natural Products,” as well as properly labeling your product so that it will stand out. You will gain confidence in marketing once you understand the ins and outs.
Interested in perfumery? Read, Perfume Oil Blending 101 – The Fragrant Body, by Sherri Reehil-Welser, to learn fragrance notes, blending mediums, and even a blend recipe for a “Daily Devotional” blend. Go ahead, try it.
If you have thus far resisted the temptation to make candles, beware that reading Erica Pence’s, Marbling: Torching, Hammering, and Painting Your Candles, may just change your mind! She explains the various techniques in detail, so if you’ve been thinking that your candles are a bit on the boring side, you can remedy things.
Are your marketing strategies less effective than you would like them to be? Perhaps you’re struggling with determining the best way to turn interest into dollars. Tamara Dourney explains the kind of demand that customers display will decide the type of marketing you choose in order to convert more “maybe” into “yes.”
Have you thought about or implemented any of the business actions outlined in this issue? Have you made the booth bunting? What do you think?
If you’re participating in or gearing up for fall craft shows, and want to set your booth apart from the competition, you’ll need something unique. To the rescue comes Rachel Wolf with Creating Your Own Booth Bunting. With just a little time, a bit of fabric, and a dose of creativity, you too, will create a bunting worthy of your product line.