SLS free, parabens free, with Argan oil, 100% Nature. These are only a few words that appear on the packagings of skin care products, shampoos, conditioners, etc… At the supermarket we have to choose a product among dozens of them but how to choose the right one? How to distinguish a natural product from the ones that are only advertised as such but aren’t? These are questions that many people face daily and that persuaded me to write a guideline for choosing the right products.
I admit that it’s difficult to analyse all products on the shelf but with this guide I will make the selection process easier for you. 🙂
How to select a natural product
First of all, it is important to underline that a definition about what a natural or organic beauty product is, doesn’t exist. Even though it is easy to think of natural food products – mainly associated to the idea of sustainable production – it is not so easy for cosmetics. For beauty products the terms “natural” or “organic” could refer to the natural origin of the ingredients but also to the organic production processes.
The tips that I decided to list here are just my personal ones that could help you to distinguish between a generic skincare product and a natural one.
1. do not be fooled by the packaging
Raise your hand who, at least once, bought a product only because attracted by the packaging. Here I am! I admit that I’ve often bought face masks, shampoos, and skin creams only for the lovely drawing on their packaging! Just because a cucumber is pictured on it or the word “Nature” is written in bold capital letters, it doesn’t mean that the product is really made of natural ingredients! Many companies take advantage of the words “Bio” and “Natural” only to increase their sales. Be skeptical!
It’s sad but unfortunately it’s true, that real natural products are almost never cheap.
The higher the quality, the higher the price.
For example, if you are looking for a good natural and not aggressive shampoo, the price can help you to make an initial selection. If a small bottle of shampoo (eg. 250mL) costs only 2-3 €/$ it is unlikely that it’s an “authentic” natural product! Conversely if the product costs more than 10€/$ could be made of natural ingredients or even of Organic Certified constituents.
Certifications could be used as an initial help to easily recognise natural products. It is a way for brands to demonstrate the naturalness of their products and to increase loyalty in consumers. So far there are no legal standards in the beauty industry that define the concepts of “natural” or “organic”. Associations as NaTrue, ECOCERT, COSMOS were founded to solve this problem, fixing criteria for the international classification of products.
Briefly, they set a minimum quantity of natural ingredients that must come from organic production. This could vary according to the certification. In any case, to obtain a “organic product” certification, the ingredients must come from at least 95% organic production. I’m preparing a post to describe better each of them more in detail. So stay tuned 🙂
However, certifications can have a bad side. Since they are not mandatory, a certification could discriminate a brand selling natural beauty products only because it did not apply for them. I personally use products that don’t have a certification but that contain good natural ingredients. For example 100%pure produces skincare products as well as shampoos and cosmetics with natural ingredients. I will review the 100%pure facial masks as soon.
Long story short, a certification can help you at the beginning but that’s not a silver bullet. You need to look at other factors like INCI for example.
INCI. What a strange word! INCI means International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. It’s a system to name ingredients in a unique way. It makes use of scientific names (often in Latin or English) so that they are easily recognisable by people speaking different languages. The INCI ingredients are usually reported on the backside or on the bottom of a packaging and are listed according to the quantity contained by the product. The first one will be presents in big quantity while the last one in small quantity.
With more and more natural/bio/organic products coming to the market, a huge number of ingredient’s dictionaries are also being introduced. One of them uses a colour code to classify the ingredients in poor (red), average (orange), and good (green). I use this as reference. These dictionaries can be very useful if you want to get a quick overview of the ingredients. However as chemist, I cannot just simply rely on them but I have to go deeper.. and this is what I done next.
4.1 Sodium lauryl sulfate
Sulfates are surfactants, the molecules that produced bubbles in shampoos and soaps. The most important is sodium lauryl sulfate. The Ingredient Dictionary that I use reports sodium lauryl sulfate as POOR. In high concentrations, this molecule can cause skin irritation and it’s also quite aggressive. It is also used in car wash soaps and floor cleaners because of its powerful cleansing agents. Honestly, I’m looking for a shampoo that doesn’t contain this molecule due to its aggressive nature. It’s often occurred that drops of a sulfates-rich shampoo made my eyes red and irritated. In conclusion:
sodium lauryl sulfate: AVOID IT
I already wrote about parabens in a previous post (here a link) describing the controversial situation about these preservatives. The ingredient dictionary labels them as GOOD. Methyl- and Ethyl-parabens are safe within the maximum allowed concentrations. However Isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben and pentylparaben are banned by the Commission Regulation (EU). This was imposed as preventive measure since there aren’t so far studies that demonstrate they are safe.
For general beauty products, it is up to you to decide whether you want to make use of products containing parabens. In any case, certifications like NaTrue, Ecocert, COSMOS do not allow parabens in their products. Honestly, I avoid them but ..
Parabens: UP TO YOU
4.3 Synthetic products
Beauty products as skin creams, shampoos, and deodorants contain a wide range of ingredients. To make the selection easier I would suggest to avoid products with synthetic ingredients like:
Silicone (cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, dimethicone, and phenyl trimethicone)
EDTA (i.e. disodium-, tetrasodium-)
PEG (i.e. PEG-4 and PEG-100)
Cocamide DEA (diethanolamine) and MEA (monoethanolamine)
Carbomer (Polyacrylic acid)
These are only a few examples of ingredients that I prefer to avoid when selecting a natural product.
Synthetic products : AVOID THEM
If you would like to know more about these ingredients just leave a comment below.
affiliate disclosure: this post contain affiliate links about products that I tried and recommend.
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