Can We Talk About Natural Beauty?


To be clear, I mean natural beauty products; not really, really, really ridiculously good looking people.

There’s not a makeup shop or drugstore in the nation that isn’t inundated with natural alternatives to our favorite beauty products. But as the options increase, so does the confusion. What is natural makeup, and is it really what we need?

Driving the perplexing element of the natural question are the groups that establish natural standards as diverse as the products they review. A few of these organizations include the Natural Products Association, OASIS, Whole Foods, BDIH, and the FDA (USDA Organic). Their guidelines for natural products vary so much it’s like looking up one word in two dictionaries and finding two very different definitions. And with no government oversight (except for organic products), it’s very possible (though hopefully rare) to find a 100% synthetic product marketed as natural.

Generally, natural ratings are based on the amount of synthetic ingredients present. Some organizations allow a few synthetic ingredients, others consider the ingredients’ potential toxicity, and a few prohibit the addition of petrochemicals (e.g. mineral oil). USDA Organic products must be 95% organic (no genetic engineering and synthetic pesticide and preservative-free) to be considered as such, or at least 70% organic to warrant a “made with organic ingredients” claim.

When gauging a product’s natural content, decide what’s important to you. Organic items meet the strictest of standards. Those approved by the Natural Products Association contain minimal amounts of synthetic preservatives (find a searchable list here). Whole Foods allows synthetic ingredients but prohibits products that contain potentially toxic elements. As a rule when reading ingredients, know that the harder to pronounce words tend to be synthetic (and when in doubt there’s always Google).

The synthetic ingredients receiving the brunt of scorn are called parabens. Parabens are preservatives that some believe contribute to cancer growth and fertility issues. This was fueled by a 2004 study that found parabens in breast tumors.  After the study, the FDA acknowledged the correlation between tumors and parabens, but emphasized the findings didn’t prove causation. A later inquiry led by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products stated that while “methyl paraben and ethyl paraben are not subjects of concern… the safety assessment of propyl and butyl paraben cannot be finalized yet” (Source).

Parabens or not, some natural cosmetics carry unintended consequences. Irritating essential oils can lead to a mountain of regret for sensitive skin folks. The natural varieties also carry a higher price tag and a shorter shelf-life than their synthetic counterparts. Check labels for expiration dates; those without preservatives allow bacteria to grow at a quicker pace.

It’s safe to say that the natural question will persist for a while. And while we toss the definition of natural back and forth, here are some of my natural favorites:




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