Why use natural and organic products?
There are many reasons why it is desirable to use products that contain only natural and certified organic ingredients. Firstly, our skin is our largest organ and it absorbs the products we use through our pores. By using natural products, we are reducing the number of harmful chemicals entering our body and circulating around our system. It has been found that some synthetic preservatives, once absorbed by the body, store in our organs and continue working in our bodies for long periods of time. Many commonly used synthetic ingredients are suspected carcinogens (cancer-causing).
The importance of choosing natural products becomes heightened with new babies, who have more vulnerable skin that is easily irritated. Using chemical ingredients on the skin of new babies can harm the development of the protective skin barrier and lead to future skin complaints. Secondly, if you choose to use products containing certified organic ingredients, this means that there will be far less contamination from pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers than alternative products. Organic methods of farming are costly and therefore the raw ingredients derived from organically grown plants increases. Natural and certified organic raw ingredients and pure organic essential oils are far more expensive than their cheap synthetic counterparts, so be prepared to pay more for natural and organic products than for standard, mass-produced, synthetic alternatives, however, the long term benefits will always be worth the extra cost.
Why are chemicals used in skincare?
Most products you find on the market today use strong, potentially harmful chemicals. There are several reasons for this. To enable products to have a long shelf life parabens are often used to preserve the product. Unfortunately, other chemicals are commonly used as fillers with the basic idea being to increase profit. To use an analogy, a fresh apple, once cut in half will start to turn brown after a short time. You can squeeze lemon juice onto the apple, which is a natural antioxidant. This will prevent the apple from turning brown as quickly, or you could inject the apple with formaldehyde. The apple could sit on a shelf without turning brown for some time, however, I would not want to eat it. This is analogous to 100% natural products and the use of natural preservatives versus chemical preservatives.
The Bad news… labelling and ingredients in Australian skincare…
In Australia, it is mandatory that all product ingredients be listed in descending order by volume or mass; so the first ingredient that you see (often water) makes up the largest part of the product. The final ingredient that you see is used in the smallest quantity. With this information in mind, when a product claims to be natural unfortunately you may still find that when you take a closer look at the ingredients, that the natural ingredient features near the end, following a long line of chemical-sounding names. What this means is that the manufacturers have added one or two natural ingredients, (often in minimum quantities) to a synthetic base product, in order that they can use the word natural when labeling the product. Current Australian trade regulations state that only 1-5% of ingredients need to be natural for a product to be labelled as such. There is currently no legislation in Australia to prohibit this.
As consumers, many of us are now becoming more aware of the potential consequences of using chemicals on our skin and so we are seeking out natural and organic products, to use on ourselves and our children. Unfortunately, many companies are now taking advantage of this fact and utilising the words natural and organic in a fairly loose interpretation of the word.
The ugly news…lies and deception in skincare labelling…
Unfortunately (and I appreciate that I am using this word repeatedly), some companies claim that their products are 100% natural when what these companies should really be claiming is that their products contain ingredients that are derived from a natural source, which is completely different. In fact, 2 high profile Australian brands, claiming to be 100% natural, have recently been found to be making false claims about their product ingredients and use of chemicals and have been contacted by the ACCC and made to re-label all their products. (information is available on the ACCC website). As a general rule of thumb…if it sounds like a chemical it probably is. For example, on a label, you may find the phrase derived from coconut oil which is often referring to cocomide DEA (from the fatty acids of coconut oil). The coconut oil used has undergone processing and been combined with synthetic chemicals and so it can now no longer be called coconut oil, however, to try and convince consumers that some portion of the product is natural, companies state that it is derived from a natural source. In fact, cocomide DEA, the so-called nature-derived ingredient is listed in the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) as being a skin irritant. It causes many allergic reaction and dryness to the hair and skin. It is toxic and has been potentially linked to cancer and other health concerns. DEA-related ingredients are widely used in a variety of cosmetic products, primarily as emulsifiers or foaming agents. Studies have revealed an association between DEA and cancer in laboratory animals. Coconut oil is just one example in a long list of similar examples. In fact, I would predict, that the more you as a consumer arm yourself with knowledge and become label savvy the angrier you will become about labelling and what people are claiming as natural, and what you are unwittingly putting on your skin and on your children.
Animal Testing and Cruelty-Free Skin Care for You and your Family:
Sadly, a great many companies still test the product on animals or have it done for them. There is absolutely no reason for this to be continuing, with other more accurate testing methods available. Many products also contain cruelly derived animal ingredients including placental extracts (derived from calf embryos) and animal-derived ceramides (brains). With highly effective plant-derived ingredients available, there is good reason to check your product ingredients for animal products or by-products. Check for the CCF bunny logo if you wish to ensure that the product is definitely cruelty-free.
So, what is the good news?
The good news is that there are many companies in Australia who are doing the right thing and truly natural products are readily available in shops and online. A quick visit to the CCF (choose cruelty-free) website will show you the companies that have achieved cruelty-free certification and can also show you ranges that are suitable for vegans. Available online there is a wealth of information about toxic chemicals in skincare and also a copy of the MDSD (Material Safety Data Sheet) which is an A-Z of chemicals found in skincare.
So, what should I look for?
Become label savvy! Read labels carefully to check that the ingredients are natural and certified organic. Check out an online chemical ingredients dictionary online. In terms of babies and skincare, adopt a minimalist approach. Newborn babies bottoms can be washed with organic cotton balls and warm water, rather than wipes. They do not need soap. Use a natural bottom cream or balm when needed. Most of all, avoid all mineral oil based baby products and those containing sulphates (SLS and SLES). The more certified organic ingredients, the better, as this means that they have the added benefit of being chemical and pesticide-free, however, many organic products still feature chemical preservatives, so check for the absence of chemical-sounding names and seek products using natural preservatives if that is your preference. Companies who truly use natural ingredients usually have easy to read labels, but if in doubt, contact the company and ask questions…after all, its your family and your skin.
www.accc.gov.au The ACCC website tells consumers about labelling requirements in Australia.
www.choosecrueltyfree.org.au A complete list of cruelty-free products, information on animal testing and research on other viable testing methods.