Is it Natural?

“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

Comments

One Response to “Is it Natural?”
  1. Jenn says:

    We have made a commitment to keep our products all natural, and I agree, the term is subjective and up for much debate.

    The thing that bothers me the most is those companies who throw out the term “natural” when their products are anything but. I think they do a disservice to those of us trying to put out a safe and natural product.

    Thank you for bring up this topic. Hopefully it will lead to further discussion on what is natural.

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