“Natural” Beauty Products: Gimmick or Game Changer?

Sephora-natbeauty

The beauty industry is absolutely massive. Producing something like 445 billion dollars in sales, you can imagine that there is a lot of money to be made in this industry. This means that in addition to long-standing cosmetics giants such as L’Oréal, the market for smaller companies has grown and is thriving.

The room for newcomers in one of the largest commercial markets is very exciting, and offers opportunities for many new and innovative brands to reach the average consumer. I am not, however, excited about the false advertising and misleading claims made by many beauty brands, the latest of which being the trend of ‘natural’ costmetics.

As a chemist, it is extremely worrying to me when companies use ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ to mean ‘necessarily better for you’. While it is unequivocally true that some chemicals are bad for you and some chemicals are good for you, I resent the claim that just because it was extracted from something natural means that it is in any way better for your skin or your overall health. Unfortunately, allergies and skin sensitivities don’t care where the chemical compound came from, and I don’t agree with companies using false assumptions to trick consumers into buying their products.

One cosmetics company, called Antonym, states on their website

“We’re big on eliminating chemicals, but refuse to compromise performance”.

First of all, the name Antonym for a beauty company is somewhat of a poor choice as a quick google of “antonym beauty” literally returns the result ‘ugly’. Second of all, the focus should be on using eliminating chemicals that are proven irritants rather than just eliminating chemicals in general.

(I’d like to stress that I have no issues with the products from Antonym, they are just unfortunately an example of “Natural=Good” marketing)

Is Natural Always Better?

No. Not at all. There are highly toxic synthetic chemicals and there are highly toxic chemicals extracted naturally. Assuming it is possible to synthesize in a laboratory setting a chemical that can also be extracted naturally, there is absolutely no difference in the effect of the chemical on your body. What this means is that using ‘natural’ to mean ‘good’ is misleading, as I could in theory produce exactly the same product via entirely UNnatural means, and it would have the same effects.

So What Is ACTUALLY Important?

The chemical composition is everything. There ARE indeed some chemicals that are bad for you (typically these things cannot be used commercially in high quantities anyway) but also individuals may have different sensitivities. If you notice that a product or series of products is causing you irritation, it’s not because it contains synthetic chemicals it’s because whatever is in the product is an irritant or you could have an allergy. This is usually on a case-by-case basis, and so it’s up to you to identify products that don’t work for YOU.

Additionally, many companies such as Antonym are focused not only on ‘natural’ products but are also against animal cruelty and are committed to working towards sustainable packaging and production methods. These are things that I personally look for, as while I don’t have a preference for ‘natural’ chemicals, I do have a preference for preserving the nature from which they came. Instead of demonizing chemicals and paying out the ass because something says ‘Natural’ on the label, we should be focused on making sure that the products we use are made in an ethically and environmentally responsible manner, because at least that actually makes a difference.


Are you likely to buy a product, beauty-related or otherwise, because it has ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ on the label? Do you think it is ethical for companies to use things like a ‘natural’ label to charge more?

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