• Words by Sonia

The Green Brainwashing Tales

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

It may seem to you the title of a fairy-tale but unfortunately, it's as real as the fact that we live in the so-called era of misinformation. Every day we are bombarded by tons of messages from the beauty industry and although they may seem to be very clear they include words like ‘inspired by’, 'from a natural source' or 'derived from natural ingredients' that can deceive you and give a false impression of what you are truly buying.

So, let's clarify from the beginning what matters in cosmetics: the ingredients.

There are five categories of ingredients that determine their ‘natural-ness’ in the cosmetic science world. These are their abbreviations and definitions:

N as natural

NDM as derived from nature with minimal processing (they are obtained by natural chemical reactions of natural elements or mechanical processes like cold press)

NDS as derived from nature complexed with/or processed using synthetic chemicals

NI as nature-identical ingredients

S as synthetic ingredients

Only two of these categories are considered natural – N and NDM. Although the rest are not, you will find claims suggesting that they are with comments like 'from natural source X' or 'from natural plant X'. For example, Cocamidopropyl betaine is sourced from coconut oil but is an NDM ingredient, therefore nor considered natural.

Let me show you closer each of them:

Natural (N)

A natural ingredient is one that is derived directly from the source with only minimal (if any) physical changes incurred. To be ‘natural’ the starting materials need to be of totally natural origin and use only approved ‘physical’ processing. Physical processing that may be involved, which would still enable an ingredient to be classified as natural, it includes (among other processses):

• cold pressing (used to extract oils from seeds)

• distillation using water or steam (used to extract many essential oils)

• solvent extraction using undenatured ethanol, water or vegetable glycerin (such as herbal extracts)

A natural ingredient should not contain any synthetic chemicals in its structure, nor be obtained via the use of synthetic chemical processing routes. Common natural ingredients are a variety of plant oils, herbal extracts and essential oils.

Derived From Nature (NDM & NDS)

To more accurately represent their ‘natural’ status, ingredients derived from natural sources should be split into two groups: Derived from nature with minimal processing (NDM) and derived from nature complexed with, or processed using, synthetic chemicals (NDS).

NDM ingredients are derived from natural substances, such as plants or marine sources, using only allowed chemical processing methods without the residue of synthetic chemicals. These ingredients can be correctly identified in marketing material or on labels as being ‘sourced from natural substances’, ‘derived from nature’ or ‘naturally derived’ like vegetable glycerine, decyl glucoside or cetearyl olivate.

However you find many of these claims for NDS ingredients (where a synthetic chemical has been used) misrepresented as being natural or naturally derived, when they either include a natural substance (but contain synthetic chemicals – rendering the ingredient no longer natural) or have been processed using synthetic chemicals to change their natural form and function and include a synthetic portion remaining in the finished ingredient. Common examples include gum cellulose or hydroxyethylcellulose, cocoamidopropyl betaine, or isopropyl myristate.

Nature identical ingredients (NI)

Nature identical ingredients are synthetic ingredients that are identical to their natural counterparts. These too are often promoted as being natural or naturally derived, although they are completely synthetic in origin. Common examples of nature identical ingredients include amino acids and peptides, vitamin A, B5 and non-vegetable derived glycerin.

Synthetic ingredients (S)

Synthetic ingredients are those manufactured entirely from synthetic chemicals or petroleum derivatives. Chemically speaking, petroleum is actually a natural product because it comes from the ground and is not synthetically engineered; however, the modern terminology used to define a synthetic ingredient includes petrochemical derivatives as they are non-renewable. Synthetic ingredients are in general, much cheaper to produce than natural ingredients.

A note about sustainability regarding ingredients; synthetic chemicals are usually manufactured from non-renewable sources, meaning that once the source is used, it cannot be replaced. Certified organic, natural and derived from nature with minimal processing ingredients (NDM) are renewable sources, because the starting raw materials can always be re-grown. Non-renewable sources are in limited supply, and once used, are gone forever. The biodegradability of individual ingredients should not be confused with their originating source, either. Biodegradability means the ability of the ingredient to be broken down through natural degradation processes to produce carbon dioxide, water and mineral salts.

In conclusion, the safety of a product relies on the ingredients’ selection as well as the right combination of ingredients. When formulating a product, there may be natural chemical reactions when some ingredients are mixed with others that need to be taken in consideration.

It all comes down to our personal choices, the type of business we want to support and the relevance of cosmetics to each of us.

Now, do you know what the price of natural ingredients is reliant on? Would you like me to tell you more about this topic? I’d love to hear from you, send me a message here

Glow Naturally & Wisely!

Sonia x