When ‘natural’ isn’t natural in your hair and beauty products
By Lee O'Driscoll
Over the past two decades, consumers have become more concerned about the chemical and eco credentials of the products they buy, particularly things that are put in or on their bodies.
Mordor Intelligence estimates that the UK haircare market is projected to grow 3.1% between 2020 – 2025, and figures published by Statista in early 2022 values the UK organic and natural cosmetics market at nearly £221 million.
‘Chemical free’/’natural’ claims
A survey by ProdegeMR in 2019 found that 34% of consumers said that they preferred to purchase organic or natural skincare products.
Products claiming to be organic are bound by regulations, but ‘natural’ is a far looser term.
Packaging regulations mean that companies do have to list all their ingredients in the order of prevalence. However, the way some products are promoted, consumers can easily think that what they’re buying is more ‘natural’ than it is.
Some brands – even some household names – use terms like ‘natural extracts’ or heavily promote what are actually very small amounts of ‘natural’ ingredients alongside other harmful chemicals.
Companies like Salon Botanicals, which champion the use of natural ingredients, have shown that it’s possible to create high-quality, professional standard products, without the use of potentially harmful (to health or the environment) ingredients. A very popular salon hair treatment was recently taken off the shelves because of a potentially harmful active ingredient.
So why are synthetic/harmful ingredients still being used in hair and skin care?
The main reasons are likely to be cost and product longevity - good quality natural ingredients tend to be more expensive than synthetic options. Many synthetic ingredients are used for their preservative properties.
Which toxic ingredients should I be looking out for?
An easy way to remember is ‘The 5 Ps’: parabens, parfum, paraffins, phthalates and polythene glycols (PEGs).
These are preservatives that can be found in lots of skin, hair, and cosmetic products as they give them a longer shelf life. Parabens are known to mimic oestrogen when they enter the body (for example, after being absorbed through the skin), and one study found at least one paraben in 99% of a selection of breast tissue samples. Oestrogen can cause hormonal imbalances and can increase the development of some cancers, although Cancer Research UK says that more studies would be needed to confirm a direct link between parabens and cancers.
Paraffin oils and waxes are a common ingredient in skincare and cosmetics and are derived from petroleum. Paraffin is cheap and its emollient texture makes it feel moisturising. But it tends to sit on the skin rather than being absorbed and can clog pores and/or irritate the skin.
Paraffin-based lotions have also been linked to fire fatalities. Creams applied to the skin can also penetrate clothing or bedding, making them more flammable in the event of a fire.
We all like to smell good and sometimes a nice fragrance can be what makes us choose one product over another. However, when it comes to synthetic fragrances, you can never really be sure what you’re putting on your body, making parfum a common cause of irritation and allergic reactions. An article in The Guardian claims that around 4,000 ingredients are currently used to create synthetic fragrances – and any one scent can be made of between 50 and 300 different chemicals. You might see ‘parfum’ listed in the ingredients of products, but there is currently no requirement for the aroma chemicals used to create the scent listed individually.
Pronounced ‘tha-lates’, phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible and can also be found in nail polish and hairspray. Even if they’re not listed as an ingredient, they could still be present in plastic packaging, which leaches into the product it’s holding, and have been shown to be absorbed by the body. Phthalates are linked to a range of illnesses including some cancers and asthma. This is why glass packaging is a healthy choice.
POLYETHYLENE GLYCOLS (PEGs)
PEGs are synthetic petrochemicals used in some skin and hair products as thickeners and to aid absorption into the skin. Although some PEGs are deemed non-toxic from a regulatory point of view, they can contain more toxic chemicals as a result of cross contamination or manufacturing by-products. Other PEGs contain impurities which are known carcinogens and respiratory irritants and can cause serious health issues with long-term exposure..
Our products: what’s NOT included
We use only the finest natural and botanical ingredients for physical, mental and emotional well-being. We believe that nature has given us ingredients powerful enough to outweigh the need for synthetic and sometimes potentially harmful ingredients in hair and skincare formulations.
We think that the ingredients we leave out of our products are just as important as the carefully chosen natural ingredients that we put in.
That’s why none of our products contain:
- EDTA (Ethylenediamine tetra acetic acid)
- mineral oil
- propylene glycol
- SLS (Sodium lauryl sulphate)
- synthetic fragrances.
Check the ingredients in your personal care products.
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay educated.