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Can natural ingredients outshine synthetic ones?

Updated: Apr 3, 2023


Figure 1. Natural citric extracts for cosmetic products

It is usual that people think about natural or green ingredients as safer, better, gentler to the skin, even less toxic to the environment, but sometimes this concept not always appears to be correct. Not all the natural compounds are good for us, and not all the “synthetic” products are so bad as most people consider.


The first wrong idea appears when people think about chemical as “bad”. Chemistry has always been there since the BIG BANG event, when elements such as hydrogen and helium started to react together. Furthermore, as the first signs of life started to appear on earth, 4 main atoms constituted these live forms: C, H, O, N. Water made possible to form more complex organisms like cells and to progress to macroscopic ancient animals. Hence all of them, and all of us, are made of chemicals.

Figure 2. Natural cosmetic product

Natural substances used as cosmetic ingredients are defined as substances which originate clearly from a specific organism that could be plants, animals or bacteria and are intended to be part of cosmetic products [1,4]. As it seems safe to have a natural sourcing for an ingredient, several of these plants carry some threats: Rosmarinus officinalis or rosemary extract has the H226, H304, H317, H373, and H411 phrases for health and environment hazard one of them telling: “may be fatal if swallowed and enter airways” and “may cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure” [2].



Although this seems like rosemary is not safe anymore, it applies for pure substances and it will be extremely unlikely that a cosmetic product will use more than 20% as an ingredient in its formulation [3]. However pure essential oils sometimes have really high concentration of possible toxic compounds.


Let’s check the other counterpart, hyaluronic acid has been traditionally extracted from chickens’ crest which represents the natural method, but thanks to advances in chemistry and biotechnology, now it comes from a chemical fermentation process. Said in another way, now it is classified as a synthetic compound.


Figure 3. Cosmetic products with hyaluronic acid

The main point of this article is to clarify the misconception of saying that everything that is synthetic is bad and everything natural is good. The idea is to generate more awareness about the information, that should be obtained from the scientific literature and not just via YouTube videos, blogs,or influencers that are so common nowadays. Science every day offers us the possibility of a better life with the use of cosmetic products, but it is up to us to make a right and conscious choice.


References:


[1] Klaschka, U. (2016). Natural personal care products - analysis of ingredient lists and legal situation. Environmental Sciences Europe. 28:8. DOI 10.1186/s12302-016-0076-7


[2] Klaschka, U. (2016). Are natural compounds used in personal care products toxic for the aquatic environment?. Sustainable Chemistry and Pharmacy 4 (2016) 13–20.


[3] Ramawat KG, Mérillon J-M. (2013). Natural products. Phytochemistry, botany and metabolism of alkaloids, phenolics and terpenes. Heidelberg, Springer, Berlin.


[4] EC (European Commission) 2008. Regulation no 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, amending and repealing Directive 67/ 548/EEC and) 1999/45/EC and amending regulation (EC) (No 1907/2006). Off. J. Eur.Union353, 1–1355 〈https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32008R1272 〉.




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