Natural Beauties by Sara Niven
4th Sep 2019
With Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Week just around the corner (9-14th September) how many genuinely natural products are on your bathroom shelf or in your make-up bag?
If you have no idea and no particular preference, that’s one thing. But if you’ve bought something thinking it was natural and/or organic and later find out it isn’t, you’d have good reason to feel annoyed.
A confusing issue
Unlike the food industry, there are still no regulations regarding the use of the word organic when it comes to skincare. As a beauty editor, this still surprises me. Every time organic beauty week rolls around, I’m left wondering if that will change.
Until it does, consumers (including myself in the past) can pick up a body wash or shampoo, packaged with pretty pictures of leaves and flowers that proudly boasts organic ingredients. Only later, at home, they may realise the overall formulation also contains a large percentage of synthetic ingredients and wasn’t quite what they were expecting.
Logos from reputable, certifying bodies solve this issue. The Soil Association’s certification is probably the best known in the UK and the SA is also the driving force behind Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Week. This year’s theme is ‘One small swap’ – encouraging us to swap one product we use regularly, perhaps a body wash, cleanser or shampoo, for a certified organic version.
The SA clearly realise it would be unrealistic (not to mention expensive) to go through our bathroom cabinets and make-up bags throwing out everything that isn’t certified organic. I am aware of someone who did just this, filling several large bin bags in the process before replacing the lot. Their dedication to the organic cause was impressive but they did just happen to be married to a premiership footballer which might have helped...
For those of us who aren’t and can’t, another option is to get familiar with commonly used toiletry ingredients, do some research and decide if there’s any you definitely want to steer clear of when shopping for new products in future. Then look carefully at labels; not just the front but the small print on the back. The Soil Association has a handy reference guide, click here to view the page.
If you go down the certified organic route, bear in mind that there are a number of different certifying bodies ( NATRUE and Ecocert being among these) with different criteria and some are considered to be more stringent than others. Even ‘certified organic’ can mean different things it seems although all could be seen as providing some basic assurances.
In addition, there are some great companies producing what I’d consider genuinely naturally formulations that aren’t certified for perfectly valid reasons.
The founder of one range once told me the reason for not going for certification was that the associated costs were simply too high for her small business and her hero product didn’t qualify due to containing non-organic beeswax. She had only found the organic version available overseas and preferred to support local trade and minimise the company’s carbon footprint. Other than that, she made products with very natural formulations as eco consciously as she could and they were ones I’d be more than happy using.
Lina Lotto, SenSpa’s director feels similarly.
“Our aim for the SenSpa range has always been to provide high quality, natural formulations at affordable prices. British organic certification standards are rigorous and involve significant costs we’d rather avoid needing to pass on. Being certified organic also restricts the supply of raw materials and the suppliers we can use which is riskier in terms of situations like a crop failure. I am proud of our products which are focused on sustainability and naturally derived ingredients, including fragrances that are 100% from essential oil blends.”
Not having certification doesn’t seem to have held the range back. SenSpa products have won a number of awards, the most recent being a bronze and two silvers in this year’s Free From Skincare awards.
Awards coordinator, Alex Gazzola, explains that the Free From judges don’t focus purely on organic or certified products but instead aim to reward and acknowledge companies with ranges that fall within certain guidelines. These include avoiding common allergens and steering clear of anything considered detrimental to the environment including palm oil from non-certified sources.
“Potential entrants sometimes ask if we have a preference for certified organic products, and we assure them that unless they are trying to pass themselves off as something they are not, we never penalise non-organic or non-certified brands,” explains Alex.
“We do however give credit to, and encourage companies using natural alternatives to many synthetic ingredients, while there are a range of others such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate that render a product completely ineligible for entry.
SenSpa product formulations have never contained Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and are also free from parabens, a chemical preservative used to inhibit the growth of bacteria which many companies have been moving away from. Others argue that parabens have been used safely since the 1930’s and the 2004 study on them in relation to cancer has been criticised by some experts.
Unless the cosmetics industry makes up its mind, it remains a personal choice. To have that of course, people need to be informed, which takes us back to reading the labels or only buying certified products.
A personal choice
Ultimately it is our skin and our choice but it is worth considering that it is the body’s largest organ and what we put on it gets absorbed into our blood stream. My personal preference is for genuinely natural formulations, particularly when it comes to products for children. I’m not such a beauty puritan that I would ever turn my nose up at hotel toiletries if I’d forgotten my own (although I’m always impressed by those that provide naturally formulated minis).
Aside from that, even if something is deemed perfectly safe, I’d simply rather use a product that leaves my skin feeling hydrated because it contains plant rather than mineral oil and has a wonderful smell due to essential oils and not synthetic fragrances.
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