Updated: May 2
An extract from our article published in JUNO magazine, Winter 2022 Edition.
The clean beauty movement churns out so many different terms – from ‘natural’ to ‘organic’ and ‘free from’ – it can often feel hard to make informed choices about skincare. To help demystify the world of clean beauty, we've broken down what it really means for a product to be natural and organic, and why switching to organic skincare can benefit you, your children and the environment.
While there is no certified industry standard for what it means to be 100% natural, a product is generally considered to be natural if it is made wholly of ingredients found in nature, whether this be from plants, animals, minerals or marine sources. This also means that 100% natural products do not contain synthetic chemical components, petrochemicals or synthetic colourants and fragrances.
How raw ingredients are processed, however, is just as important as the sources from which they are derived. For example, while many skincare and haircare products use shea butter as an ingredient, many brands chemically process the natural ingredient to make it ready to use in their products. At MotherEarth’s we only use raw, unrefined shea butter in our Beauty Balm, which is simply physically processed. While refined shea butter might have a higher shelf-life, the regenerative and healing properties of the ingredient are lost in the refining process. And this is the case with many natural ingredients: their potency is greatest in their natural form, and chemical processing often means you lose the beneficial properties of the ingredients, which beauty brands still claim their products have. So it really is worth researching the efficacy of the products you are using.
'Organic' describes how the ingredients used in products are grown. An ingredient is organic if no harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilisers or other chemicals are sprayed on to the crops when they are grown, and the crops are not genetically modified in any way. Opting for organic skincare products has benefits for your skin and reduces the environmental impact of your choices. From an environmental perspective, organic farming is better for wildlife diversity, avoids pollution from pesticide and fertiliser sprays, produces less carbon dioxide and prevents dangerous waste seeping into the soil and the water system. As you think about making more conscious choices, opting for organic beauty products is an approach that serves both the environment and your skin better.
From a health perspective, pesticide-free and chemical-free products are more likely to be non-allergenic and are less likely to cause skin sensitivities or irritation. This is an incredibly important consideration when choosing products for children, particularly infants. Infants and young children have a thinner stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin, which means their skin is more sensitive to irritation and inflammation and so requires gentle ingredients to not aggravate it.
Over recent years, there has been greater public awareness of commonly used synthetic ingredients in high street beauty brands. These can cause skin and health issues such as allergies, irritation, and adverse health conditions rooted in the persistent use of skincare products that contain micro synthetic chemicals over an extended period. Alongside the growing demand for natural and organic skincare has been an understanding that clean beauty doesn’t necessarily require all synthetic ingredients to be avoided, only those that are known to be toxic, cause irritation, are carcinogenic or are endocrine disruptors. There are three important ingredients to avoid:
Parabens: A group of chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives in beauty products.
If absorbed into the body, parabens can work as endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mimic the effects of oestrogen and can disrupt natural hormones in the body. They can affect fertility and the reproductive system, and can increase the risk of cancer and skin irritation.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS): a commonly used foaming agent often used in topical cleansing products because of its ability to lather, deeply cleanse skin and hair and break down the oils in things like makeup.
SLS is effective at cleansing because it strips the oils from your skin, which can leave it feeling dry and dehydrated. SLS can also cause contact allergies, i.e. irritation of the skin. Products containing SLS are good to avoid, particularly if you are prone to skin sensitivities and dryness and skin conditions like eczema or dermatitis. Sulphate-free shampoos, body washes and facial cleansers are a much better option. For example, at MotherEarth’s, our facial cleanser Cleanse ME is entirely SLS free and uses Jojoba Oil as a key ingredient to provide gentle cleansing whilst also hydrating your skin by absorbing deeply into the skin.
Mineral oils are highly processed, refined derivatives of petroleum that have no colour or odour. They and used in many high street skincare products as a relatively inexpensive active ingredient to lock in moisture and smooth the skin. While the efficacy of mineral oils (such as paraffins) make them popular with skincare brands, the manner in which they lock in moisture – by creating a protective barrier on the skin to prevent loss of moisture – also means they can lead to blocked pores. Mineral oils are made up of large molecules that are not easily absorbed by the skin. They sit on top of it, inadvertently trapping dead skin cells, sweat, makeup and environmental pollutants in the skin. This can then lead to skin irritation.
Given these potential side effects of chemicals that are oft found in high street skincare brands it is no wonder that more and more people are opting for more natural alternatives to meet their beauty needs. Over the last few decades, the scientific research behind natural skincare and its efficacy has grown, and we now have such a plethora of options when it comes to choosing clean beauty brands and skincare blends. At MotherEarth’s our focus has been on rooting ourselves in the earth, and harnessing ancient knowledge of natural ingredient and their healing properties. As we go into the depths of skincare formulation, it is not difficult to find natural ingredients that work wonders for every type of skin and every beauty and wellbeing need. Our planet and its natural resources are able to provide for every skincare need, it’s just a matter of finding the right ingredients that work best for you.
1. School of Natural Skincare International, ‘What is natural skin care?’ available at schoolofnaturalskincare.com.
2. Funlayo Alabi, ‘The difference between organic raw unrefined shea butter and refined shea butter’ (May 2020), available at shearadiance.com.
3. Francesca Brooking, ‘The clean beauty movement: What is it and why is it controversial?’ (June 2021), available at pebblemag.com.
4. Brooke Shunatona, ‘Everything there is to know about sodium lauryl sulfate’ (November 2021), available at byrdie.com.
5. Elle MacLeman, ‘Mineral oil: What is the controversy surrounding mineral oil and is mineral oil actually safe?’ (August 2021), available at thedermreview.com.