Natural cosmetics sales are booming and organic skin care is more popular than ever. According to market researcher Kline, the global market for certified natural cosmetics was at over 13 billion dollars in 2014 with Europe accounting for more than 20 percent of the sales and Germany, France and Switzerland being the top three highest-selling countries. So why are natural cosmetics in such high demand? A recent survey showed that the top three reasons for consumers to buy natural cosmetics are that they don’t contain chemicals, that they are gentler on the skin and that they are ecologically friendly and cruelty free.
But is that true? Yes, most natural cosmetics brands don’t test on animals, don’t use animal parts in their formulas and produce their products with respect for the environment and for human rights. And yes, many natural skin care and make-up products are indeed free – or mostly free – from chemicals like parabens, silicones and sulfates. But it is not always true that natural cosmetics are gentler on the skin and therefore more suitable for sensitive skin types. On the contrary even.
You would think that anything that comes straight from nature is safe for your skin, but don’t be fooled. Some natural ingredients can be potentially irritating and some can even be downright dangerous. Skin care expert Paula Begoun says: ‘There is no substantiated, published research anywhere proving that organic ingredients are superior to non-organic or synthetic ingredients. Natural ingredients such as peppermint, menthol, eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, sandalwood and essential oils are routinely included in natural and organic products. Research has clearly established these ingredients as irritants. When the skin is irritated it causes collagen to break down and hurts the skin’s ability to heal.’
Other natural ingredients that can potentially cause skin irritation, skin sensitivity and even allergic reactions include citrus, lemongrass, geranium oil, lavender oil, witch hazel and ylang ylang. Despite coming from natural sources, all these ingredients can cause dryness, redness and flaking. And yet many natural cosmetics brands seem unfazed by this knowledge and happily continue to use them in their formulas. One of Lush’s best-selling anti-acne moisturizers for example contains lavender oil which is a potent skin irritant that could actually aggravate acne rather than cure it. And even The Body Shop – a brand that is usually known for coming up with wonderful formulas – has some products that contain seriously irritating ingredients such as menthol and certain plant oils.
So does this mean that all natural cosmetics are bad? No. There are some really wonderful natural skin care products out there and natural products can be great for your skin provided that you pick a safe formula. Ingredients like coconut butter, aloe vera, avocado oil, grape seed oil, sunflower seed oil and sesame oil for example are all-natural and completely safe. But again, there is no evidence that proves that natural cosmetics are better or safer for your skin than synthetic products. Just because an ingredient comes from Mother Nature doesn’t mean it is better for you. And just because an ingredient was created in a lab doesn’t automatically make it bad for you. The key is to look at the ingredient list of a product rather than at whether the formula is all-natural or not. Only by analyzing labels and dissecting formulas will you be able to tell if a product is good for your skin or not. Knowledge is power after all. So start examining those ingredients and remember to always try before you buy.
Melissa Van Roosbroeck is a style and fashion writer.