Cosmetic Chemistry: Are “Natural” Products Really The Way To Go?

Cosmetic Chemistry | Miami Center of Excellence

Women getting ready in the mirror.

In today’s world of skincare and cosmetics, the words “organic” or “natural” reign supreme. In fact, a late 2017 study released by The NPD Group reported that 40-50% of women buying skincare products actively seek products containing natural or organic ingredients. This leads us to believe that natural products are better than synthetically made products, right? Well, it’s complicated. 

In some cases, naturally derived products are better for your skin than synthetic products. In other cases, the additions of synthetics reduce the risk of allergy and can enhance the effectiveness and the shelf-life of your skincare and cosmetics. So, if synthetic ingredients have the ability to make your products better without interfering with the effectiveness, why are so many sprinting towards “natural” products? What does “natural” even mean?


What Is Natural vs. Organic vs. Chemical-Free?

Pick up any magazine and it’s proven that the world of beauty products is a complicated one. With so many buzzwords surrounding beauty products these days, how can you know what to trust and what’s considered “hype?” Let’s break down the most-searched terms when it comes to beauty and skincare products.


As far as the FDA is concerned, the word “natural” means nothing. Yet, “natural” is one of the most-used buzzwords for beauty-related products. While there is no rule stopping a brand from using the word “natural,” The Personal Care Product Safety Act ensures its claims cannot mislead the consumer. Basically saying that just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe. And just because it’s lab-made (synthetic), doesn’t mean it’s toxic. But, if you’re looking to minimize the amount of lab-made chemicals in your products, get to know your labels. Ingredients are listed from the highest to the lowest percentage. So, pick products where synthetic ingredients are mostly at the bottom.


Unlike the word “natural,” there are some parameters when it comes to labeling a product at “organic.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees a program called the National Organic Program, which enforces “organic” regulations and standards. It is the NOP that regulates the term “organic” on labels. But, when it comes to organic products, there is a small hitch: A product only needs to contain a certain percentage of organic matter to be called “organic.” This percentage will vary from state to state. To look for the highest grade organic, try spotting a USDA Organic seal on the packaging, as this means the product is certified up to 95% organic ingredients.


Let’s start with what may be obvious to some, but not others — EVERYTHING is chemicals. The air you breathe, the water you drink, the couch you sit on is made of chemicals. So when you’re looking at a product with the label “Chemical-Free,” think of that product and that label as nothing more than an attention grab. What you might be hoping to find is a product labeled “synthetic-free.” For a product to be labeled synthetic-free, it means it contains 100% naturally-occurring compounds or elements. Remember, just because something is synthetic-free does not make it organic.


What’s The Deal With Parabens?

When it comes to natural-product advertising, chances are the phrase you see most often is “Paraben-Free.” Beauty brands often use the phrase as a brag, or as a defining selling point for their products. But what exactly is a paraben?

Parabens are preservatives that are used in anything from cosmetics to food products to pharmaceuticals. They are extremely effective in preventing the growth of bacteria, yeast, and fungi, which will cause products to spoil. This extends the life of your products, and in many cases, makes them safer for human use. Parabens are derived from para-hydroxybenzoic acid that occurs naturally in foods such as carrots, blueberries, and onions.

Being that parabens seemingly make our products safer, why do they get such a bad rap? It’s believed to come from a 2004 study that found parabens in breast cancer tissue. Even though causality was not established, it spurred a wave of paraben alternatives to preserving personal care and cosmetic products, though further research is still needed to prove these “newer” alternatives are any safer.


When it comes to what you chose to put on your body, it’s really about experimentation. If your skin glows with an all-natural, organic, synthetic-free moisturizer, then buy it in every size available! If you find that you feel beautiful and confident in a drugstore-brand lipstick, chances are that’s okay, too.

What is your take on natural or organic beauty products? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter. And if you have any questions about the products we use, send us a message or give us a call at (305) 515-5425.