Natural & Organic Cosmetics - the Benefits, Myths and Advertising Tricks
Natural, Organic and Hypoallergenic are words we see a lot these days, especially where cosmetics and foods are concerned. But what do these terms really mean and what difference can it make to you and your health? Are there any substances that are best avoided and are there really any products that genuinely deliver what they promise? I hope this guide will give you a few tips if you are looking for more natural products.
Eczema, rashes and hypoallergenic products...
I first began researching this subject many years ago, having suffered from eczema and assorted skin rashes from childhood. Over the years, as a teenager and in my twenties, I tried so many products and found few, if any that didn't cause a reaction of some kind.
I used to go through the beauty counters, the pharmacists and the supermarkets looking for hypoallergenic products, those that boasted 'natural' ingredients until, in my early thirties I finally found a product that really seemed to work. That was a goat's milk cream that, within days, reduced itching and, for a time, my eczema was almost completely under control.
Sadly, after a couple of years the product seemed to be getting less and less effective until my eczema was pretty much back to its bad old self. I had a look at the ingredients list on the jar and found that one significant thing had changed - the manufacturers had started using dried goat's milk instead of fresh and, for me, this had made all the difference between the product working and not! The milk in the skin cream wasn't 'live' any more and I realised that that must be the key to the effectiveness of the cream. It was then that I decided to do some research and set up myself, making hand made products for people like me - those who have sensitive skin and a low tolerance to chemicals - using only FRESH, RAW GOAT'S MILK - that's how Nature's Recipe was born.
My policy is, most importantly, that anyone using my products knows exactly what is in them, and to use raw materials that are as natural (really natural!!) as possible and to avoid ingredients that are known to cause long or short term skin and health problems. I also wanted to be able to offer products without making outrageous claims - but more about that later...
"This cream says 'Natural', 'Pure' and 'Hypoallergenic' - that's good isn't it?"
The use of the word 'Hypoallergenic' in advertising and promoting products is interesting - as far as advertising standards are concerned the word has no real meaning. The term was first coined by advertisers in 1953, while promoting a new cosmetic product - based on the greek prefix 'hypo' meaning below normal. In advertising terms, or as a legal definition, it means very little. In reality, it is impossible to create a product which can be guaranteed to be tolerated by everyone. It is important, if you are sensitive, to carry out an allergy test on yourself first, by leaving a little of the product on the skin of your inner arm for around 12 to 24 hours to check the reaction, if any.
What amazed me was the increase over the last few decades of people who report skin sensitivity and the increase in eczema, psoriasis and other problem skins. Could it be that the huge explosion in the use of synthetic (man-made) ingredients in everyday products was contributing to this? I think it's worth thinking about. The worrying thing is that for research to be valuable, scientists have to look at the long term effects of various chemicals both on us, and the environment. Sadly this sort of long term research often is not carried out before ingredients are available and quite legal!
Neither of the words 'Natural' or 'Pure' have any real legal meaning either and, if you care to look on the ingredients panel of many products where these sort of terms are used for promotion, you might be dissappointed at just how tiny the amount of natural ingredients there are in many 'pure and natural' cosmetics. Of course it is a good thing to use pure and natural ingredients both in your diet and on your skin but many manufacturers are well aware of the publics increased desire for all things natural and do, in some cases, exploit this!
To be fair, there are very few lotions and potions, especially those containing herbal extracts or simple water that can be sold without the use of some sort of preservative - even my own products contain some preservatives - otherwise they would only have a very short shelf life. But, like everything else there are good preservatives and bad ones.
Parabens, Oestrogen and the Cosmetic Industry
Almost any cosmetic product on the market today will contain preservatives - in most cases it's unavoidable unless we want to buy our shampoos and face creams like we do our milk - every few days, and then keeping them in the fridge. However, one group of products which is used in unimaginably large quantities in the cosmetics industry are parabens. Alarmingly, recent studies carried out by British Researchers have found traces of parabens in breast cancer tissues. It is thought that because parabens can mimic oestrogen this causes an increase in the rate of growth of tumours. Of course, the cosmetic industry quite rightly states that parabens have been tested and found to be safe. They are perfectly legal to use throughout Europe. However, writing in the Journal of Applied Toxicology Dr. Philippa Darbre states that of all the cancer tissues she had sampled parabens were found in every one!!! So... Nature's Recipe - NO parabens!
We all make assumptions - if it's legal surely it can't be harmful. Sadly, I don't think we can use that as a good argument any longer. With all the personal health issues not to mention the environmental ones surrounding many synthetic products, it is no wonder that more and more people are looking for natural products both to eat and to apply to their skin.
Retinol A and the Wrinkle Miracles....
Now I am in my forties I am, like many people looking for something to smooth out my wrinkles. There are products on the market, usually expensive in price and packaging, that promise all sorts of incredible results. Again I thought I'd do some research and see just what these products contained that were going to 'turn back time'. It's an exciting idea isn't it - apply a cream and look 5 or even 10 years younger. Oh dear! The only substance I have managed to find after spending days and days trawling the net, that actually can affect wrinkles is Retinol A. Unfortunately, the concentrations needed to actually reduce the depth of wrinkles is only available on prescription from your doctor! And just before I went rushing to the GP claiming to have acute wrinkles I read that the side-effects of using high concentrations of Retinol A include reddening and peeling of the skin and other equally off-putting things.
It is true however that Retinol can improve and maintain skin quality and texture when applied regularly. What I also found is that you don't have to pay the earth for this and went about making my own products containing natural ingredients that help to keep more mature skin in good condition. I'm happy with that.
In conclusion, I believe that Nature usually does know best. There really isn't time here to explore all the different issues around synthetic versus natural products but I know I've seen and read enough to be convinced. Time and again natural, unadulterated products, when carefully selected for their therapeutic properties, seem to work in harmony with the body's natural systems. If in doubt - check the label - don't just accept the advertisers word for it. I like to think that my products could be eaten (but I really do not recommend it!) without ill-effect - I promise it's not the only measure I use - but the idea makes me smile.