What Makes a Product “Natural” in the Eyes of the Beauty Industry?

Posted March 19, 2022 by in Beauty

Plenty of beauty products make claims about being made with ‘natural’ ingredients, and while this seems like a simple statement, it packs the potential to be confusing.

As a consumer, it makes sense to find out exactly what ‘natural’ means in the beauty industry, so that you can make informed decisions when you buy products to use yourself:

Crop of woman's hand holding an open container of face cream

The Chemical Element

The rise of natural skin care has been relatively rapid, and has shaken the traditional pillars of the beauty industry, to the point that natural skincare products for acne, as well as those for everyday use, were beginning to get more sales traction and media interest than their mainstream rivals.

This came down to consumer concerns over the use of artificial chemicals, such as parabens and other preservatives, in cosmetic products which were seen as not in keeping with modern trends for organic, sustainable living.

The crucial point to make is that beauty products which are marketed as natural don’t do away with chemicals altogether, as this would be impossible; rather they set out to replace the old school ingredients which are perceived as problematic with alternatives that are sourced from nature.

From plant-derived essential oils, to minerals extracts from the earth itself, natural cosmetics aspire to harness the resources from the world around us, rather than conjuring them from laboratory processes.

The Sustainable Angle

The move towards natural products in the beauty industry is not just about clicking with consumer trends and expectations, but also about making this vast sector more sustainable in a broader sense.

Whether or not you have concerns about the chemicals you rub into your own skin, there is no questioning the potentially problematic impact that they can have when they are eventually washed away down our drains and end up in the wider ecosystem.

The most conspicuous example of the beauty industry getting it wrong is that of exfoliating scrubs, which at one point were often made using small pieces of plastic to create friction and remove dead skin cells. 

Today, using biodegradable exfoliating ingredients, such as sea salt or even coffee grounds, is far more preferable.

The Ambiguity Issue

While the natural beauty product movement has a lot of positives to bring to the table, there is still the legitimate concern regarding the way that these cosmetics are marketed, and it is necessary for regulators to play catch-up so that consumers aren’t at risk of being misled.

The main issue is that at the moment, there is no FDA-approved definition of what ‘natural’ means in this context. The same goes for ‘organic’, and so it is possible for brands to label their products with these terms without necessarily needing to adhere to any particular standards for naturalness.

There is a bill being considered at the moment which would require that beauty brands could only use the term ‘natural’ to refer to their products if at least 70 percent of the ingredients are naturally derived.

While the Natural Cosmetics Act has not yet been implemented, the guidelines it proposes do give consumers a good idea of which beauty brands and products they can trust right now.

A quick glance at the ingredients list should let you see the percentage of the contents of a cosmetic item are natural. The higher this is above the 70 percent mark, the better.

The Final Word

Naturalness in the beauty industry will eventually be codified more clearly, but for the time being consumers need to research the products they buy with care, and accept that there is still a lot of leeway in how this term is used on packaging and in marketing.