Modern Natural Skincare

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Natural: Natural Defined (July 16, 2009)

This definition of natural is unequivocal, i.e., it leaves no doubt.

The untouched wild—natural—environment hosts plants, animals, minerals, and water that contain a wealth of natural molecules.

Natural skincare is skincare using cosmetic products formulated solely with natural substances known to be beneficial to the skin.

The natural substances used are removed from their environmental substrate with their natural molecules intact and unchanged.

For example,

  • Olive oil is pressed from the fruit of olive trees. While it is used primarily for its fatty acids, the other molecules present, like vitamins and minerals, are also undoubtedly beneficial.
  • Lavender oil—essential oil of lavender—is separated from the leaves and flowers of the lavender perennial shrub Lavandula angustifolia by steam distillation. It is composed of hundreds of molecules, and is invaluable in skincare.
  • Clay is mined from surface and sub-surface deposits. It is a mineral composed of several elements with a crystalline structure that is responsible for its many benefits.
  • Herbal tinctures are a blend of the herb's natural molecules in alcohol, which is used as a solvent: the herb—leaves, flowers, stems, etc.—is steeped in the alcohol for some time, then filtered to separate the liquid essence from the solids.

Commercial skincare products deliberately muddy the water in order to persuade you to buy them. They use a number of phrases to convince you they are truly natural—when they are decidedly NOT:

  • "derived from" simply means the substance was created by an industrial manufacturing process, the substance itself does not exist naturally.
  • "nature-identical" describes a substance which was created by an industrial manufacturing process to be a replica of a natural substance, but is not, usually because of chirality (see the Wikipedia article for a good explanation) but also because many of the wave lengths of the natural substance are missing.
  • "refined" means the original natural substance was processed with heat and other techniques to remove bits and pieces; this is usually done to improve shelf-life, so it is the bits and pieces with the greatest life that are removed.

There is another group of ingredients in commercial skincare products that I label as "imposter." These are presented as if they were natural, but with experience you will realize that if you do not recognize them as truly natural, it is because they are not. Often you will need to have accumulated some in-depth knowledge to be able to recognize them. Labels alone are insufficient. Sometimes price is a clue. For example, authentic rose oil is very expensive because of the amount of roses needed to produce a tiny amount of oil. When you find a product claiming to contain rose oil at a price under $15, you can safely assume the rose oil is synthetic.

A recently-discovered imposter is "orchid oil." I was suspicious because orchids do not appear in my books on herbs and aromatherapy. I found a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for an orchid oil prepared by Guardian Laboratories in New York (apparently the producer and seller). It lists the ingredients as: Mineral oil, PEG-4 Isostearate, PEG-8 Isostearate, PEG-12 Isostearate, Propylene Glycol, and Cymbidium Grandiflorum Flower Extract. You can see now that this is not a natural product. I know of no documented benefits for its use in skincare, yet this product is currently being promoted as highly desirable for that purpose.