What is natural skincare and how is it different to organic skincare?

When I decided to detox chemicals from my daily life, one of the first things I set my sights on was skin care. We all know that the skin is our largest organ, so it made sense to me that I should start with this. Little did I know that this one simple challenge would result in me establishing my own natural skincare brand!

My first stumbling block came when I found myself standing in the skincare aisle of a beauty store and feeling completely overwhelmed. In front of me were rows of body lotions – many of which were marketed as natural and/or organic. But the price of one product varied so much with another that I was sure they didn’t all offer the same thing.

Does the same happen to you? Do you know the difference between natural and organic skincare? Are you as clueless as I was about why chemical-sounding names are categorised as natural ingredients? Well, read on and let me help you put things into perspective.

What is natural skincare?

The definition of natural skin care differs from person to person. Just like how the definition of a healthy lifestyle to one person simply means cutting back on junk food and exercising more – while to another, it could mean going vegan and spending their holidays in a meditation camp – your definition of natural skincare can vary to mine. And since most of us view skin care as food for our skin, it’s no wonder differences exist here too.

To understand what your individual definition of natural skincare is, first decide what is important to you. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

Do I want any preservatives in the products I use?

Preservatives are an important part of most skincare products since water is frequently used in products such as moisturisers, toners, masks, etc. If these products are preservative free, they must be disposed of within 24-48 hours to prevent microbial growth that could cause a serious infection.

Adding preservatives allows for longer shelf life (anywhere between 6-36 months), making it convenient for you – but even preservatives that are regarded as natural are synthesised in labs using raw materials sourced from nature. Thankfully, there are plenty of natural preservatives available that are safe for both you and the environment. If you plan on using naturally-preserved products, try to avoid harsh preservatives such as parabens, formaldehyde and triclosan.

Do I want to use natural ingredients in its purest/raw form or are processed natural ingredients acceptable?

Plants are the source of many skincare ingredients so going all natural isn’t too difficult. But what is your definition of natural ingredients? Would you accept only physically transformed ingredients (i.e plant oils, butter, husks) or are naturally processed ingredients, such as enzymes, hydrogenated oils, actives, acceptable too?

Beware however, of the industry’s practice of utilising chemically transformed natural ingredients to cut down costs and therefore increasing profitability. Chemically transformed ingredients such as ester oils are frequently used not only because they are cheap, but also because they can help prolong a product’s shelf life. If using truly natural products is what you’re after, be prepared to accept a shorter shelf life and batch variation. After all, Mother Nature is not in the habit of producing identical, homogenised products!

How do organic ingredients differ from natural ingredients – and how important is it to me?

Organic ingredients are those grown in accordance with organic farming standards – such as the avoidance of chemical fertilisers, genetic modification and the use of growth hormones. These ingredients form the gold standard in natural skincare as they are grown as nature intended.

In most developed countries, using the term ‘organic’ requires your products to be certified by an independent labelling body to ensure compliance. This is unfortunately not the case in Singapore – therefore organic claims on products and produce are not required to be approved by law.

The challenges of organic skincare

As you are probably aware, organic products tend to cost more than non-organic ones. Some brands take advantage of consumer’s naivety by exploiting this fact. There are too many products on sale that contains only 1% of a certified organic ingredient with the other 99% made up of fillers and harsh chemicals. But they will make a big deal out of their one organic ingredient – duping you into believing that what you’re buying is good for you!

Of course, not all brands behave in this way. Some brands do formulate their products with truly natural and organic ingredients – but lack the funds to apply for organic certification. The certification process is a lengthy and costly process which is often out of reach for small, artisanal brands.

If you want to support your local homegrown brand, ask them to tell you about the ingredients they use and their philosophy behind their products as a way to gauge their true intentions. Most of them are so passionate about their products, they will be more than happy to go into detail about this.

Organic skincare is not the same as an organic tomato

Unlike organic food, most organic skincare products are not 100% organic – even when they are certified as organic skincare. An organic tomato is one which has been grown on organic soil using only organic fertilisers. But an organic moisturiser will contain preservatives, stabilisers, thickeners, etc – all of which can be naturally derived – but as it was synthesised in a lab, these ingredients do not fit the traditional use of the term organic.

Certification bodies overcome this conundrum by specifying the percentage of organic ingredients a product must contain in order to be certified as organic skincare. As this is a subjective topic, it’s no wonder differences exist between the various organisations issuing official certifications. Visit organisations such as Ecocert and Natrue to learn more about the certification process behind organic cosmetics and skincare products.

If you want to see me tell you all this in person – click here for my video postcard!


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