By Dr Carol Treasure, XCellR8 Founder and CEO
I listened to a great podcast from Global Cosmetics News recently. Titled “Naturals: The Big Debate”, it debunked some of the most common myths about natural cosmetic ingredients and considered the future for the wellness trend. As someone who frequently tests both natural and synthetic cosmetic ingredients, here’s my take.
The naturals trend is inescapable these days and a huge component of the mega-trend towards wellbeing, but it’s really driven by a desire for “no chemicals.” Unfortunately, though, there’s a lot of confusion among consumers. Firstly, many don’t understand that all cosmetics are composed of chemicals, because even natural components – including water – are chemicals.
But secondly, and perhaps more worryingly, is the fact that naturals are perceived as “good” and synthetics as “bad.”
Not all natural cosmetic ingredients are safe – or sustainable
Plants are equipped with self-defence mechanisms against attack from predators such as insects, and they do this by producing toxic chemicals. So natural definitely doesn’t equal safe, and not all naturals are equal.
Today’s “Skintellectual” consumers – especially Millennials – want safe and sustainable products, but there’s an incorrect assumption that natural products automatically tick these boxes. An example is beta-almond oil: the natural version contains potentially lethal cyanides; the synthetic version is both safer and more sustainable. Sometimes, natural extracts contain unsafe components that are difficult to remove and may cause phototoxicity, skin irritation or sensitisation. In cases like this, a synthetic version is safer, cheaper and more sustainable.
The demand for independent safety testing
The podcast touches on the need for adequate safety testing and states that consumers feel independent certification is important, highlighting the importance of an independent test laboratory to guarantee totally unbiased results.
In my experience, when manufacturers make the claim that their products are not tested on animals, consumers often the pose the question “So how do you test your products?” Whether an ingredient is natural, synthetic or both, it should never mean “Not tested at all”, however small the brand and whatever the belief about naturals.
We want it all
There is a widespread view that nature contains all we need for our health and wellbeing, and it provides a lot of substances that the synthetic chemical industry is simply unable to imitate. But it’s no longer enough that products are just natural – they need to be proven to work effectively too.
Skintelligent Millennials want naturals to be backed by science, as well as being sustainable throughout their life cycle – this includes biodegradable and not damaging to the environment after use. And they must look great for those all-important Instagram selfies as well as feel and smell gorgeous.
In contrast, the Baby Boomer generation are apparently more concerned about the health benefits. Sweeping generalisations here, of course! I’m in between the two and it ALL feels important to me. I want ethical, healthy, sustainable, and I’m not averse to the occasional selfie.
Natural synthetics: contradiction in terms or the future of the industry?
Ticking all of these boxes for today’s consumers feels like a tall order. According to the podcast, the use of naturals to support our wellbeing is “just something we forgot”. After the Industrial Revolution, society became fixated on the new trend towards synthetics. Now we’re returning to the wisdom we had all along, but with the science to prove it.
This combination of ancient knowledge with modern science is extremely powerful and is the perfect engine for the wellness mega-trend. Huge investment is expected to fund areas such as bioengineering techniques to produce “natural synthetics” in the lab that are both safer and more sustainable than their naturally occurring counterparts.
I can’t wait to see what exciting technology evolves to create the ethical and sustainable cosmetics of the future, and love playing our part in developing ever-better animal-free tests to ensure that they are both safe and effective!