Today there is no legal definition of natural cosmetics. The naturalness of a cosmetic is therefore assessed mainly based on the origin of its ingredients, which can be natural, natural, or synthetic – obtained by chemical synthesis. It is worth saying clearly: natural cosmetics are neither better nor worse than traditional ones. The naturalness of the cosmetic also does not affect its safety. In practice, most cosmetics contain both natural and synthetic (unnatural) ingredients.
What is naturalness?
A natural component is a compound derived from the kingdom of plants, minerals, animals, or microbes. It is obtained by physical processes, e.g. pressurized pressing. Physical processes do not modify components. For example, sunflower oil or olive oil is obtained by pressing. These oils are commonly used in cosmetic products. In turn, ingredients of natural origin have undergone processes that changed their original composition. Such ingredients are derived from nature, but they are no longer identical to those found in it.
To obtain an ingredient of natural origin, methods of so-called green chemistry can be used. Green chemistry is the concept of designing and conducting chemical processes in such a way as to reduce the use and formation of harmful substances. Green chemistry is environmentally friendly, consumes a minimum amount of energy, and reduces the percentage of waste generated. Thanks to green chemistry, modern ingredients of natural origin can be created. They can be used in a variety of products and improve their original operation.
Unnatural, that is, chemical
The chemical component is usually obtained by synthesis, that is, a specific chemical reaction. It has a strict composition and high purity. The process of its formation is well understood and takes place under control.
In the cosmetic industry, chemical reactions can be used to produce active ingredients. Often identical to natural. It happens that the natural resources of certain substances are small and difficult to obtain. The use of chemically processed or manufactured ingredients, therefore, preserves biodiversity. Natural ingredients are replicated chemically instead of extracted from already small natural resources.
Are natural ingredients safer than synthetic ingredients?
Chemistry is commonly associated with artificial or synthetic things. This association reinforces the common notion that chemicals are harmful and that natural ingredients are good and harmless. However, in life everything is chemistry, all materials and substances are chemicals! Natural ingredients are no exception. In fact, regardless of whether the ingredient is natural or not, it consists of one or more molecules identified by the chemical name. For example, vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and table salt is sodium chloride. Naturalness is not synonymous with health or safety, on the contrary. In fact, the most dangerous poisons occur in nature, e.g. animal venom, fodder, or hemlock (poisonous plants). The components produced by the chemical process are characterized by better quality, repeatability, and fewer impurities. In nature, the quality of natural ingredients vary depending on the climate, the condition of the soil, the surrounding fields, and even the impurities that may have sneaked in there.
The naturalness of the product has nothing to do with its safety! Natural cosmetics are subject to the same legal requirements as all other cosmetic products, i.e. regulation 1223/2009. It requires that all cosmetic products, whether natural or synthetic, be safe for human health when used for their intended purpose or under reasonably foreseeable conditions. Natural cosmetics are no more safe than cosmetics containing synthetic ingredients.
Is natural cosmetics better than ordinary cosmetics?
Cosmetic products cannot be judged as 'better' or 'inferior' solely by the prism of the origin of the ingredients. The performance of the products is evaluated and proven by the manufacturer. Every cosmetic should act according to what its manufacturer declares. Consumers, on the other hand, have very individual needs. For one person, natural cosmetics will be suitable, and for the other not. For example, people with atopic dermatitis can tolerate them badly, and allergy sufferers observe allergic reactions at home. Natural components sometimes contain more substances that can provoke an allergic reaction. Synthetic components are more predictable in this aspect, their composition is constant and well understood.
Natural cosmetics and the law
Natural cosmetics indeed have no legal definition. But it is not true that the naturalness of products is not subject to any laws. Naturalness should be treated like any other property of the product. This is a marketing declaration. All cosmetic declarations are regulated by law. They are subject to Eu Regulation (655/2013). It requires all manufacturers to ensure that declarations comply with the law, true, evidence-based, factual, fair, and enabling an informed purchasing decision to be made to the consumer.
A key requirement is proof of naturalness. Every manufacturer of natural cosmetics or natural origin must prove that the product meets certain criteria.
What should be the proof of naturalness?
The naturalness of cosmetics is assessed by analyzing each ingredient individually. Definitions of the natural ingredient, ingredient of natural and synthetic origin can be found in the special international standard ISO 16128.
ISO is an independent, non-governmental standardization organization. He is the world's largest creator of voluntary international standards. It has set standards in many areas. For the cosmetic sector, there are already ISO standards for many areas, including production, sunscreen efficiency, and a whole package of microbiological standards. ISO standards are developed based on a globally recognized, reliable process.
ISO 16128 defines the natural ingredient and its natural origin.
Natural ingredient – it is obtained exclusively from plants, animals, microorganisms, and minerals. By the use of physical processes (e.g. grinding), fermentation (process and product to be created must occur in nature) or other, but without chemical modification.
An ingredient of natural origin is an ingredient that more than 50% comes from natural sources, obtained by chemical or biological methods with the intention of chemical modification.
Note that components from fossil fuels, e.g. petroleum, are not considered natural according to the ISO standard.
These definitions can be used to calculate the so-called naturalness index. Thanks to it, we will receive proof that, for example, a given product contains 90% of natural ingredients or 99% of ingredients of natural origin. ATTENTION – it's not the same!
Natural cosmetics – ingredients
Cosmetic products may consist wholly or partly of natural ingredients. It is well known that individual ingredients are rarely suitable for use in cosmetic products without a certain degree of processing.
Except for several categories of products, such as flower waters, it is very difficult to get a 100% natural cosmetic product. Most often, products are based on natural ingredients and natural origin. Increasingly, this value is given on the packaging in the form of percentages, e.g. 90% of ingredients of natural origin.
Natural and organic cosmetics – is and what are the differences?
The organicity of the cosmetic, like naturalness, is assessed through the prism of its ingredients. Every organic cosmetic will also be natural, while not every natural cosmetic will be organic.
So what is the organicity of an ingredient?
The definition may be re-defined by ISO 16128. Organic ingredients are natural ingredients derived from organic or wild harvesting by national law or equivalent international standards. Similarly to natural ingredients, we can also distinguish ingredients of organic origin. These are ingredients derived from organic or mixed organic and natural sources obtained by chemical or biological methods in which chemical modifications have taken place.
Put simply, organic and organic ingredients are derived from organically grown plants. How organic cultivation is cultivated is regulated by law.
For organic cosmetics, you can also calculate an index of organicity or organic origin. These percentages are increasingly appearing on product packaging.
Certified natural and organic cosmetics – an additional guarantee? Some cosmetics are certified for naturalness and/or organicity, e.g. EcoCert, BDIH, NaTrue. What does that mean? That the product has been checked by a private certification company. Such a service is payable. Each certification body shall have its own criteria to which the product must be adapted to obtain such a certificate. They may go beyond the composition of the product and may also apply to packaging and the production process, for example. Such certification is not mandatory.
To harmonize the designations, some certification organizations agreed on common standards and created a globally recognized COSMOS standard. Standard Cosmos is managed by an international and independent non-profit association, the Brussels-based AISBL COSMOS-standard. The founding members (BDIH – Germany, Cosmebio – France, Ecocert – France, ICEA – Italy, and soil association – United Kingdom) jointly manage the standard and work together to continuously develop it. COSMOS Natural and COSMOS Organic certifications can be awarded as part of cosmos certification.
According to COSMOS Organic, there must be at least 95% of organic ingredients in the cosmetic. There are a lot of guidelines for both certificates. The criteria for granting them may differ from those set out in ISO 16128.
Cosmetic ingredients and finished products can be certified, so it is worth paying attention to this when buying cosmetics.
In conclusion, a natural or organic cosmetic cannot be equated with a product that is safer, better, or more effective than another product. The origin of its constituents is not related to any of these aspects. Naturalness is undoubtedly a strongly developing trend. The cosmetics industry has been growing for several years now, but recently it has gained a lot of strength. The choice of natural cosmetics is very often associated with lifestyle. Sometimes, however, it is dictated by fear of chemical components. However, this fear is unjustified. Whether natural or synthetic – each cosmetic is subject to the same legal requirements, each subject to the same safety assessment and the effectiveness of both must be confirmed by appropriate tests.