Natural vs chemical, are they really opposites?
Updated: Jan 8
As the ancient Japanese saying goes, “Everyone loves beauty”, and what better way to achieve beauty than combining it with a sense of protecting our health and the environment? The term “Natural” is a trending topic in modern society, and it has been extrapolated to the Cosmetic Industry; an inexplicable attraction is felt towards those cosmetics in which the words “Natural” and “Chemical-free” are written (1). But do we really know what it means?
It is generally known that orange contains many different beneficial substances for humans. Vitamin C is one of the best-known antioxidants for skin care and also one of the most used in the Cosmetic Industry, but, ladies and gentlemen, as much as its origin might be natural, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) is a chemical molecule. Furthermore, it must be highlighted that Vitamin C can be obtained from natural sources or can be synthesized in a laboratory (2). Both natural and synthetically produced Vitamin C have the same chemical structure and there is no difference from a functional point of view (3).
Molecular structure Vitamin C (Acsorbic Acid)
So, why are we seeking out creams with natural ingredients if the molecule used in the cosmetic is the same regardless of where it comes from? Some think having natural ingredients means that fewer chemicals are used or that it might be better for the environment, but these ideas are incorrect. The extraction of ingredients from natural sources is always done through chemical processes, sometimes longer and more complex than a simple synthesis (4). What is more, imagine how many fields need to be harvested to produce a complete chain of natural origin creams (5).
In terms of the Cosmetic Industry, cosmetics are considered “Natural” when all their ingredients come from vegetable, animal, or mineral sources. Otherwise, if the components have been subjected to any chemical process, they are no longer considered natural. Although we can find many products described as natural in the market, it is exceedingly difficult to find pure Natural products (6). When choosing a cosmetic product, it has to be kept in mind that any company can write “Natural” or “Clean” on the product and define that term any way they want, as there is no existing policy for cosmetology marketing (7). It is wise not to get carried away by misleading advertising; clearly, the cosmetic market does not resemble the general idealized idea of Natural Cosmetics.
With this reflection, the intention is not to disparage natural sources or to question their effectiveness, instead it is to clarify that neither the “natural” is that good nor the “chemical” that bad, since there is not even a clear difference between them (8). Remember that water, being one of the most abundant substances on planet earth and in humans, is a chemical molecule, and tobacco, despite its natural origin, is one of the most harmful substances for humans.
Natural, Synthetic, Chemistry free, Cosmetic, Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid, Skin Care
(1) Rastogi, S. C., Johansen, J. D., & Menne, T. (1996). Natural ingredients based cosmetics. Contact Dermatitis, 34(6), 423–426. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0536.1996.tb02246.x
(2) Team, S. (2019, July 25). Natural Vitamin C vs Synthetic Vitamin C: What’s The Difference? Sunwarrior. https://sunwarrior.com/blogs/health-hub/natural-vitamin-c-versus-synthetic-vitamin-c
(3) Carr, A., & Vissers, M. (2013). Synthetic or Food-Derived Vitamin C—Are They Equally Bioavailable? Nutrients, 5(11), 4284–4304. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu5114284
(4) Chen, Q. (2009). Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Natural Cosmetic Product Compared to Chemical-Based Products. International Journal of Chemistry, 1(2), 57–59. https://doi.org/10.5539/ijc.v1n2p57
(5) Sustainable Cosmetics: Going Beyond the “Natural” Trend. (2018, November 19). SpecialChem. https://cosmetics.specialchem.com/tech-library/article/sustainable-cosmetics-going-beyond-the-natural-trend
(6) Natural vs Synthetic. (2018, September 29). Www.Origanumcosmetics.Com. https://www.origanumcosmetics.com/natural-vs-synthetic/
(7) Wischhover, C. (2018, September 18). “Natural” beauty products are huge now because of a fear of chemicals. Vox. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/18/17866150/natural-clean-beauty-products-feinstein-cosmetics-bill-fda
(8) Rodriguez-Taiwo, H. (2018, January 28). “Natural” vs “Synthetic/Chemical” Cosmetics. Hilary Says. https://hilarysays.com/natural-vs-synthetic-cosmetics/