Delicious Living Blog

Are natural cosmetics always safer?

A recent natural cosmetics recall raises issues about what to look for in our "natural" cosmetics, why edible ingredients aren't always ideal skin savers, and the greatest opportunities in the natural personal care industry. Pure, recognizeable ingredients may be the foundation of natural cosmetics. But those less glamorous elements—advancements in natural preservatives, surfactants and more—are the future. 

Cocoa, oats, yogurt, fruit, sugar. Manufacturers have used these foods as a way to market themselves as natural. (New York-based Dairyface just launched a dairy-based skin care line that must be refrigerated to maintain freshness … hmmmm.) Many of these ingredients do have skin-saving properties like moisturizing or exfoliating. However, trusting only ingredients with recognizable names (those that, admittedly, I advise consumers to look for on labels) can be an overly simplistic way to evaluate natural cosmetics.

Beyond simple ingredients

Some companies utilizing "edible" or plant-based ingredients may also use synthetics (get the lowdown on some of the worst); others still struggle to find the most functional natural alternatives to preserve their products or eliminate bacteria. And in order for a high-quality, performance-driven product (this relates more to antiaging, acne, hair, and nail products than facial masks and body moisturizers) to live up to expectations, it needs science-backed bioactives, functional surfactants, preservatives, etc. And certain edible ingredients, particularly if they're not preserved properly, might not always be safe as skin care—or the right choice for your skin.

This issue came up at a past Natural Products Expo session on organic personal care when Farah Ahmed, vice president and associate general counsel for the Personal Care Products Council, discussed the reasons why edible ingredients aren’t necessarily suitable for topical use, from their reactions to specific skin types to the potential for them to harbor bacteria that can cause infection. (Cosmetic bacterial content will be the focus of the FDA’s upcoming public meeting on cosmetic microbiological safety issues.) For me, this issue was brought to light after a recent natural makeup recall.

What follows is an emotional rollercoaster, one that could only result from tumult between a woman and her cosmetics.

Natural cosmetics recall raises issues 

Last week, Purity Cosmetics, manufacturer of 100% Pure products, recalled a batch of eye shadow produced in a third-party facility that was contaminated with Pseudomona Luteola, bacteria that can cause inflammations of the skin and even bacteremia, bacteria in the blood.

Nooooooooo! But wait a second.

100% Pure has really impressed me. The innovative company produces an array of products, from caffeine eye creams to plant-pigmented foundations. The products are completely plant-based, nontoxic alternatives not just to chemical-laden cosmetics, but also to mineral makeup that uses common potential irritants. And so, I remain loyal: I applied my 100% Pure tinted moisturizer today.

But this news raises some important issues. I understand that like even the most sustainable food systems, the natural cosmetics industry will have hiccups. In the big picture, an isolated incident like this, more the result of the manufacturing facility than the ingredients, is far less offensive than the potential long-term ill-effects of products with parabens, phthalates, 1,4-dioxane, and the list goes on.  

However, such news also is the catalyst for that Aha!-get-off-your-soap-box moment. Nontoxic cosmetics aren't without flaws (luckily, toxins aren't one of them!)—which means we can’t simply put all of our faith in “natural.”

Personal care-ingredient opportunities 

Purity (ah hem, no pun intended) of the ingredients used in products has been the foundation of natural cosmetics and has gotten the attention of crossover consumers.

But natural cosmetics also rely on those less glamorous elements—advancements in natural preservatives, surfactants, and more to improve overall efficacy and safety. There’s a lot of room for growth, and this means opportunities, which some companies are taking advantage of. Kemin, for example, is a supplier of proprietary, entirely plant-based formulas that help products work—and last longer. One signature product is Rosamox, a rosemary-derived preservative. Nuveon is another company raising the bar, with various plant-based surfactants. 

Cocoa, oats, yogurt, fruit, sugar. It's a good start.

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