Natural cosmetics - not always all that natural
By Susanne Collins Jun 16, 2011, 3:06 GMT
Berlin - Creams with camomile extract, deodorant made with rose water and toothpaste with orange blooms are all natural descriptions of cosmetics whose names sound good.
The products also promise no or very few harsh ingredients, but not all natural products are based on natural materials. The label 'natural' isn't always what people think it is, said Jenny Pohl, spokeswoman for Germany's industry association for pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and personal care products.
'Unfortunately, some manufacturers are using the demand for more natural products to advertise their products as natural or organic when they in fact have little natural additional ingredients,' said Pohl. These products are enriched with substances based on mineral oil. 'This phenomenon of green washing is increasingly leading to confusion among consumers.'
Birgit Huber of the industry association for personal care products and detergents in Frankfurt agrees.
'The adjective natural in product labeling or the use of an image such as a bloom doesn't mean that the product is a natural cosmetic,' said Huber. Consumers can, however, look for quality seals from various industry organizations that ensure they are natural.
But these seals cannot be found on every category there is for cosmetics, said Pohl. Changing hair to platinum blonde is utterly impossible to achieve with purely natural agents. Even if the package indicates litchi extract is one of the ingredients, there is most certainly hydrogen peroxide in the dye. This is also true of sun-blocks and decorative items that claim to be natural. They might indeed contain a natural ingredient, but they couldn't do their job without the chemical ones they also contain.
Despite all their promises, natural cosmetics are not right for everyone. Even when additives that can be irritating such as artificial fragrances and preservatives are not included, people allergic to something like camomile cannot use a cream that has it as an ingredient.
'It is often said that natural cosmetics carry a greater potential for allergies,' said Catharine Banach of Germany's wellness association. People who want to be certain that the products won't cause a reaction should not use them.
European manufacturers must list information about the ingredients in their products on the packaging using the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. This list is also used outside Europe to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction. Pharmacists can also translate and explain the effects of biological and chemical names.
Huber said, however, that natural cosmetics and conventional cosmetics are considered equal in scientific and legal terms. This also applies to how well they are tolerated. The best approach a consumer can take is to consult a specialist and have a skin analysis to see whether the product in question is a natural product or a conventional one.
The effectiveness of natural cosmetics is no longer inferior to other personal care products. Some natural products are even better than those that contain harsh chemicals, experts say. For example, an organic brand recently was able to prove that lemongrass oil is five times more effective than the synthetic anti-acne ingredient salicylic acid.
The shelf life of natural cosmetics is also now comparable with that of conventional products. Gone are the tiny jars of creams mixed up in some back room, said Pohl. They all use the same preservatives with the exception of the fragrance company Demeter.
Market observers say it now appears that the differences in quality, effectiveness and shelf life are no longer so great between ordinary products and natural products. This is also true in terms of their effect on the environment, said Banach. Just because they are plant-based doesn't mean that natural cosmetics can be produced in unlimited quantities by all the world's manufacturers.