One of the things that seems to draw people into this hobby the most is a desire to work with more natural ingredients and purge synthetics and harmful chemicals from their skincare routine and life. While this is a rather lovely idea on the surface of things (it really pairs nicely with the notion of shopping at farmers’ markets, baking all your own bread, and gardening), it is a surprisingly difficult thing to pin down. I’ve learned over the years that many people have vastly different definitions of “natural” and “chemicals”, and my notions about what I will and won’t use have certainly changed and developed over the years as I’ve learned more and tried new things. So, I thought we could have a bit of a discussion on the idea of “natural”.
What is “natural”?
This is a surprisingly hard question to answer. The dictionary defines natural as “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.” We all have notions of what is “natural” and what isn’t, but when you start to pin them down, things get tricky. There are some things that pretty much everyone will agree are natural (trees, grass, milk, dirt, dogs, beeswax, olive oil, horse poop, snakes, etc.) and some things most people will agree are not (plastic, silicones, vaseline, polystyrene, bubble wrap)—but there is a lot of room between those two ends of that spectrum.
Is a wolf, for instance, “more natural” than a dog, which has been domesticated and bred by humans for thousands of years? What about corn, which has been bred by humans for centuries to create the plant we know today from wild grass—is that still “natural”? When we process that corn into cornmeal, is it still natural? What about corn syrup? High fructose corn syrup? Drywall? Splenda? Windex? Where is that line in processing where something that started out “natural” isn’t any longer? There’s a lot of room to poke and prod around at this “natural” notion!
Most people seem to agree that ingredients that are sourced from plants and animals and are minimally processed are “natural”. Pressing (many seed and nut oils), distilling (essential oils and hydrosols), and separating (waxes) seem to be ok. Solvent extracted seems to get a bit debatable. Mining seems to be ok, but only for some ingredients (why? I have no clue, but I have heard from many people who don’t like mica, which is mined, but love clay, which is also mined).
Ingredients that are synthesized are generally classed as “not natural”, but with strangely inconsistent application. I’ve heard from many soap makers who don’t want to use iron oxides in their soaps because they are synthesized, while those same soap makers are completely ok with using sodium hydroxide… which is also synthesized. There’s definitely a bit of a grey area when we encounter ingredients that are lab made (or refined), but started from a more recognizable source; ingredients like emulsifying waxes, stearic acid, some surfactants, and some plant based dyes. None of us would be able to make those ingredients in our homes (and they certainly no longer resemble the coconut they were derived from), but they often end up sitting on the “ok” side of the natural-unnatural ingredient continuum, for reasons I can’t clearly explain!
All this is to say that there really is no hard definition of “natural”. There’s some things that can be easily put on one end of the spectrum or the other, but there’s a whole lot of muddling confusion in the middle.
What is a chemical?
Everything. Seriously. Everything is made up of chemicals, so dismissing something because it is a “chemical” is completely meaningless. The word definitely has some negative connotations and some more “toxic” definitions, but considering how shockingly broad the term is, it’s much more useful to look at individual chemicals than the term on the whole. It’s sort of like how we were all concerned about carbs being evil ten years ago, but eventually broadened that out to recognizing that some carbohydrates have more nutritional merit than others. Brown rice and potato chips are both carbs, but after that the similarities drop off pretty quickly. The same can be said of carbon monoxide and dihydroxgen monoxide—both can kill you, but you need one to live!
Why do we care if something is “natural”?
Well, we’re the kind of people who care what we’re putting on and in our bodies. We read ingredient labels, bake bread from scratch, avoid BPA, and shun trans fats. We choose whole foods, so why not whole skin care? And what’s not to love about the idea of natural? Of using whole, pure plant oils and butters? It sounds wholesome, lovely, nourishing, and delightfully old-fashioned in the best way possible. Just like it’s far more appealing to eat a fresh apple than take a vitamin C supplement and a fibre tablet, the idea of using a plant-based facial oil that’s been used for centuries in Morocco is much lovelier (and easier to trust) than using a serum that’s been compounded in a cosmetic laboratory and marketed with a million dollar ad campaign and Nicole Kidman’s face. Perhaps we feel like we’re opting out of the beauty industry by going back to nature and using products that have been used for hundreds of years. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of it. Perhaps it’s the lower price tag.
One of the core assertions I hear from readers, see around the internet, and find in the general skincare community is that natural = safer and healthier, and that it has the potential to be just as, if not more effective, than synthetic ingredients, or more complicated products. And what’s not appealing about that? The notion that you can break away from a dependency on shop bought products full of mysterious ingredients is a really enticing one, and is basically the core reason I started this hobby and run this blog. I am the last person in the world who is going to tell you that using more natural ingredients is silly, or a bad idea, or not worth doing. I love working with more natural ingredients, and I love the challenge of re-creating products that use synthetics with plant based ingredients. It’s fun, and I love knowing exactly what’s in everything I make. I’m certainly not trying to imply or say that making more natural things is bad, dumb, or foolhardy. It is awesome, and great, and I love learning about all these amazing oils, extracts, and butters that Mother Nature makes.
The notion that something is safe simply because it is natural is complete hogwash, though. Asbestos, hemlock, smallpox, feces, botflies, scorpions, and poison ivy are all “natural”, but I don’t want those anywhere near me. Closer to home and this hobby—tea tree oil and wintergreen essential oil are toxic if consumed. Citrus essential oils can cause serious burns if applied to the skin before sun exposure (Tisserand is an excellent resource for this and all things essential oil safety). Bentonite clay contains levels of lead that occasionally lead to FDA warnings about particular brands. Just because something was squished out of a plant or plucked off a tree does not mean it is safe. The notion that natural = safe is known as the “appeal to nature” fallacy—it’s a common enough notion that there’s an entire logical fallacy for it!
So, I think it’s probably more accurate to say that what we care about is our products being safe. Sticking to natural ingredients is an appealing (if not terribly accurate) way to easily determine if something is safe. Ingredients like beeswax, almond oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter are simple, familiar, and easily evaluated on an ingredients label. Ingredients like Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Magnesium Stearate, and Boron Nitride are harder to immediately identify and evaluate without a chemistry background, but I love all of those ingredients, and they are perfectly safe. Don’t write something off just because it sounds chemically—dihydrogen monoxide sounds chemically, but it’s just water.
I will always choose safe and “natural” (whatever that means, haha) when given the choice between a natural and a synthetic ingredient that perform equally well, but safety should always be the top priority, not “natural-ness”. I’ve written more on things to consider regarding safety/toxicity here—it’s worth a read!
Organic vs. Inorganic
There’s a couple different categories here that seem to get confused. There’s organic vs. inorganic in the chemistry sense, and organic vs. inorganic in the farming sense. Don’t mix the two up!
In chemistry, something organic is generally defined as something that contains carbon, usually as a C-H bond or a C-C bond (though there is some debate on this). This means that all living things are organic. Trees, people, grass, broccoli = organic. Salt, water, baking soda = inorganic.
In farming, “organic” is all about how something was raised and produced. For broccoli to be organic in the chemistry sense it just has to exist, but for broccoli to be organic in the farming sense it must be non-GMO and raised without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Because salt, water, and baking soda do not grow, they will only ever be inorganic, so if you ever see “organic salt” on the shelf at Whole Foods, just chuckle and walk away 😝
These multiple meanings have lead to misunderstandings when people who want everything they use and consume to be organic, without realizing that it is completely impossible—you’d die of dehydration! You can definitely strive to use all organically raised ingredients wherever possible (many botanically sourced ingredients are available in organically raised varieties), though this typically increases the cost and reduces your selection of ingredients. As of this writing, 1L of organic almond oil is $44 at New Directions, while 1L of conventional almond oil is just shy of $10, and only 26 of the 92 carrier oils they sell are organic.
The decision to choose organic or conventional seems to be one made by one’s pocketbook more often than not, and is completely up to you!
When synthetic is safer
Some of the synthesized ingredients I work with the most are pigments. Iron oxides, chromium oxides, and ultramarines are all synthesized. While iron oxides do occur naturally, they’re usually contaminated with heavy metals. Ultramarine is synthesized for cost concerns (the original pigment source is lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone). The FDA does not allow the use of the naturally occurring versions of these pigments for safety reasons. “Natural” very often means “unregulated”, and while that is not always a bad thing, it definitely can be if the “natural” version of something frequently contains high levels of lead or arsenic.
Most preservatives also aren’t “natural”, and the ones that are more natural often don’t really work as well. However, if you’re working with water, you need a preservative. Without one, you’re setting up a delicious buffet for an all-natural mould, fungus, and bacteria party… and I don’t think that’s the kind of natural we’re interested in!
When natural just can’t measure up
There’s a lot of things that pressed-from-a-nut/picked-from-a-tree/stolen-from-a-bee ingredients cannot do (I’ll call this category of ingredients “crunchy” from here on out). Whether we’re talking about the thickening powers of stearic acid, the amazing gentle lather of Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, or the colour potency of iron oxides, there are a lot of things that more crunchy ingredients will never be able to do. Can you get by without using synthetics? Definitely. But you cannot do everything using barely refined, plant-sourced ingredients.
I am asked A LOT about using ingredients like beetroot powder, turmeric, and rosehip extract instead of iron oxides. The potency, stability, shelf life, and consistency is just not there. Those are all really important characteristics when formulating cosmetics and most other applications where you want long-lasting, dependable colour. I made a video comparing some different colorants here so you can see the difference in potency. If you want to make cosmetics, you need iron oxides and other pure pigments. Additionally, most plant based/spice colour “alternatives” people suggest are not approved by the FDA, and while the FDA is not fussy about many things, they are majorly fussy about pigments. If you use turmeric to colour your foundation it is considered “adulterated” by the FDA in the same way it would be if you’d used tartrazine. Obviously we don’t all live in the USA (I don’t), and if you aren’t selling any of your creations in the USA you aren’t under the regulation of the FDA, but it is worth knowing.
If you’re wondering how “organic” cosmetic brands get by without—most don’t. Take a look at the ingredients; the start of the list will be things like beeswax, shea butter, and almond oil for creamy cosmetics, and arrowroot starch and corn starch for powdery things. Hop on down to the “may contain” section at the bottom, though—the vast majority of time that’s all iron oxides and other pigments (often listed as Cl+a 5-digit number, like CI77499, CI77492, or CI77491). And those ingredients are definitely in there—no “may” about it! The “may contain” clause in labeling laws is there to allow manufacturers to print a single label for every different colour of lipstick or shade of foundation they make, so that “may contain” list will contain every pigment they use across their entire line of lipsticks, but you can be guaranteed that at least some of those are in the lipstick you’re holding—it just is unlikely to have all of them.
You can definitely get away without using surfactants, and I certainly did for many years—soap is fantastic thing! I have been having fun playing with some gentler surfactants lately, though. Some people find that the higher pH of soap doesn’t agree with their skin and/or hair, and that’s where surfactants can really shine. I’m also having lots of fun adding some bubbles and lather to concoctions that usually wouldn’t lather, like clay scrubs and bath salts.
Some of the functions synthetic ingredients perform are nice-to-haves, and some are necessary for performance. This can be dependent on the ingredient, and on the project. If you really want a fruity scent, you generally have to turn to fragrance oils—definitely a “nice to have” (in my opinion , at least). Two percent dimethicone in a lotion gives it a silkier slip, but isn’t required. Some people, however, find they really need dimethicone in their hair care to keep things under control. Nice, light lotions really need a complete emulsifying wax—the more “natural” beeswax/borax pairing makes heavy, waxy lotions. I am definitely no expert in using synthetic ingredients, but from the reading and experimenting I have done, they can do some amazing things that either can’t be done with crunchy ingredients, or can’t be done easily. It’s not hard to see the appeal.
The gist of this section seems to be that if you want to stick to 100% crunchy ingredients, there will be a lot of things you won’t be able to do. And that may be ok with you (that may even be why you got into this hobby in the first place!), but it’s something that needs to be acknowledged.
Many people who get into this hobby want to do things more naturally/safely, but ultimately don’t want to sacrifice performance or negatively impact their life. The number of women I’ve heard from who still use their old store bought shampoo because cold processed shampoo bars just do not work for their hair is not at all insignificant—and I can’t blame them! If my hair looked and felt awful when washed with CP shampoo bars, you better believe I’d be backing off that particular “natural” track pretty fast. Nobody dives into this hobby thinking “I don’t care if my acne flairs up and my hair frizzes like mad—I just want everything I use to be natural!” We seem to hope and assume the opposite will happen (“my skin will be so much happier with natural oils and soaps!”), but if it doesn’t, most people go back to what was working for them before, and I can’t blame them.
What if I’m still suspicious?
Do some real, proper research and be open to accepting your discoveries. Gut feelings do not mesh with science. Look for recent peer-reviewed scientific studies. Critically evaluate your sources, and look at the methodology of the study. One I hear about frequently is the study that implicates titanium dioxide as a potential carcinogen, but if you look at the methodology of the study, it isn’t hugely applicable to humans and our uses of titanium dioxide.
Here’s some good resources for research:
A lot of people coming to me with a laundry list of perfectly safe ingredients they are hell-bent on avoiding because they “don’t trust them” or they “don’t like the sounds of” them. Honestly, I don’t know how to tactfully address that. If you can’t provide me with vetted, scientific proof beyond your gut feeling that something is legitimately harmful (to users, animals, the environment—something!)…. I don’t really care that you don’t want to use them, and I’m really not interested in helping you make some sort of alternative soap-like concoction from a paste of yucca root and foundation from cornstarch and mustard. You are obviously free to make any decisions you want about what ingredients you want to use, but please don’t expect me to agree with you if you can’t provide proof of why those ingredients are unsafe.
This is a lot like my flat out hatred of olives. I think they are gross, and I don’t want anything to do with anything that has olives in it. Seriously. If a casserole has a smattering of olives on top, those nasty little things have infested the entire casserole and it is ruined for me. That doesn’t mean that olives are poisonous, and I’m certainly not going to go seeking out a blog focused on cooking with olives and ask them to do extra work to develop new, olive-free recipes to accommodate my (entirely personal) hatred of olives.
What can I make if I want to stay 100% crunchy?
Anything 100% oil based and anything designed for immediate use. Balms, salves, lip balms, body butters, body oils, sugar scrubs, deodorants, clay masks (for immediate use!), and oil-based serums are all easily made from ingredients like plant based oils and butters, beeswax, clays, plant waxes, herbs, and essential oils.
If you want to stray into soap, you’ll need to be ok with using sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, both of which are synthesized. Once you’re ok with NaOH and KOH there’s loads of herbs, essential oils, butters, botanical extracts, oils, and other fun crunchy ingredients you can work with. Thanks to the high pH of soap it is self preserving, so we can work with a lot of typically tough/impossible to preserve ingredients (herbs, botanical powders, clay).
Once you want to start working with water (lotions, toners, mists, creams, etc.), you need a preservative (I recommend liquid germall plus) and emulsifiers. There are lots of different emulsifiers to choose from, and I encourage you to do your own research into which ones you want to use. Looking at the MSDS (material safety data sheet) for your ingredients is a great place to start; any good supplier should provide them, otherwise you can google the ingredient name + MSDS (polysorbate 20 MSDS, etc.).
If you want to make cosmetics, quite a few minerals and powdery ingredients become necessary for good performance. Oxides, magnesium stearate, boron nitride, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, micas, and other ingredients give us cosmetics with good colour, slip, and adhesion, and in my extensive experiments with DIY cosmetics, you really won’t get worthwhile results if you don’t want to use those ingredients.
- There is no hard definition of “natural”—most of us create our own, and they can vary wildly from person to person
- Everything is made up of chemicals, so don’t write them all off—research individual ingredients
- Sometimes synthetic ingredients are safer than their “natural” counterparts
- Synthetic ingredients can do many things that crunchy ingredients can’t
- Not wanting to use an ingredient for no reason other than “not trusting it” is completely baseless, and I’m not interested in developing recipes based around ingredients you don’t like on gut feeling alone.
- If you want to completely avoid synthetic ingredients you can still make a lot of skin care products, but there are many things you won’t be able to make
- Safety is paramount, not “natural-ness”!
Ok, that’s enough rambling from me! Where do you draw the line? Do you have one? How do you decide if you are ok using an ingredient?
Woah, This was one of, if not THE most amazing articles I have read in years!
I wish I had the ability to explain this notion – this clearly.
Thank you so much for a truly wonderful read!
Thank you so much, Adi! I really appreciate it 😀
Thank you for this! You said everything I want to say when hateful customers attempt to shame me. I’ve worked so hard for so many years to create lovely products that are as natural as they can be and still be SAFE and effective. I have found most haters know little to nothing about the ingredient/s that get them so puffy…..that is what makes ME so puffy. This divine article lifted a weight off my shoulders….and made me giggle. I needed that. Thank you and big kudos for articulately + brilliantly writing what so many of us want to scream at the top of our lungs! XxOo
You’re so welcome! I am so glad it has struck a cord (with so many!) as it was such a relief to write and publish. The fear mongering around skin care and bodies (especially women’s bodies, it would seem) makes me want to pull my hair out some days 😛 Feel free to share if you’re so inclined, hopefully it’ll help!
Do you have any recipes with turmeric in them?
Marie, it’s really anti-body hair! Plus exfoliating.
Really informative! It captures my feelings about the whole issue entirely. Great tips as well! Thanks so much for sharing!
Thanks so much, Rena!
Very well written!! These are all points that I discuss with my clients frequently. It is important that we educate ourselves and our clients on what is natural vs safe and not just jump on the natural bandwagon. Thanks for the research you have done and for articulating so clearly these important points.
Thank you so much, Sandy! I was really hoping to make this a bit of a be-all-end-all reply for many of the questions I get on a regular basis, though I still don’t know what to say when people ask me if everything I make is “all natural”… they rarely actually care about the diatribe answer I want to give haha!
Good Lord, you’re amazing. Thank you for this entirely sensible exposition on how to make choices about what you use. I love that you can walk that middle line–“natural” is not that useful a term, science should support opinions, and also, things like essential oils have some benefits so lets use them.
Also in the amazing theme, I had so much fun yesterday with “Make it Up”. I spent most of my time on pretty powdery things for my face and stuff for my eyes. Then I read the lips section and you have rocked my world at the idea that a long-wearing and not-filled-with-suspicious-and-unknown-ingredients lipstick is possible is just plain amazing. Glowing review on Amazon will be forthcoming.
Thank you so much, Kathie! This was a fun one to write and required a lot of re-visiting and revising to ensure it said exactly what I wanted it to 🙂
And I am so glad you are having fun with Make it Up! I had such a blast writing it that it’s only fitting everybody gets to have a blast once they have their own copy 😛 I hope you make some kick-butt lippies and love them! 😀
This post is AMAZING. Thank you so much for laying this out in such an informative manner! So many people panic when they see a big word on an ingredients list, not realizing that just because they don’t immediately recognize it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Definitely saving this for future reference!
Thank you so much, Dana Marie 🙂
I try and do research and draw the line differently than you simply because my super sensitive skin doesn’t want many ingredients even “natural” on it. So well I love the colors created by mica they need to be kept off my skin and that is just the tip of the sometimes frustrating iceberg.
Thank you for such a well thought out article. I agree with you on all points. I bought your book becau I wanted more natural cosmetics but I also want them to be safe! I only recently discovered your blog and I love all the things I’m learning. Thank you!
Thanks so much Julia—and a big extra thank you for buying my book!
Absolutely brilliant post Marie. I came into this hobby wanting to (eventually) be 100% natural. I’ve realised it’s not completely possible; although there are numerous options to choose from for things like preservatives, emulsifiers, etc.
Thanks again for being a voice of reason in this growing community!
Thanks, Jennifer! I definitely came into it with the same thoughts—dreams of never needing anything other than almond oil and cocoa powder dancing in my head. But as you said, it’s really not possible… not if one wants the quality and results I do, at least! Thanks for reading 😀
This is one reason that I love to follow you 🙂 I think the same way and find that its all a balance. Pulling it back to science just makes sense. Keep on being amazing 🙂
Thank you so much, Connie! 😀
Thank you for posting this Marie. I for one am tired of the all natural claims and even more so the organic claims. Most of them are false and what I have always told customers is to read the labels. Go a step further and research the ingredients. If you are uncomfortable with something you see, don’t purchase the product. People seem to be obsessed with preservatives. I personally do not believe there is natural/organic preservative out there that is effective. I too use Germall plus as my tried and true preservative as well as Optiphen plain for certain products, mould and yeast are scarier to me than a small amount of preservative. I could go on and on about this topic but I think you have put just about everything important in your article. As for “chemicals”, I know many a folk who would not be alive today if it weren’t for those nasty things.
Thanks, Lynne! I couldn’t agree more 🙂 Research trumps an “organic” label every time!
Really appreciate this balanced and intelligent piece. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and I feel sometimes like an almost willful resistance to logic, like when people are quasi-religious about not touching bentonite with a metal spoon (how do they think it was mined, transported, ground up, and stored?). As much as I respect and listen to people’s lived experience, I always strive to balance this with science/fact when researching and creating. This was a great read as always, Marie. Really appreciate your role in this community!
Thank you so much, Brigid; I feel like you are bang on with your willful resistance point—I find few things more frustrating, and harder to counter. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!
Thanks for always speaking your mind and touching on everything I wish to explain to my customers, but can’t always find the words to do it!! You are truly an inspiration, and I love your ramblings! Keep up the good work, and research!!
Thanks so much, Shelby! Feel free to share the post around to your customers, haha 😉
Thank you Marie. Very well written with science back up. You have a very easy to understand style when dealing with difficult subjects. I really like the bulleted summary at the end. These types of articles are very informative for us newbies.
Thanks, Carolyn! I’m happy you found it helpful and informative 😀
Thank you for this post. I particularly like the assertion that everything is a chemical because this is something that really riles me when people talk about “chemical-free skin care.” Also, for some people it may not be possible to stay “100% crunchy” without sacrificing the condition of their skin/hair. I tried to be 100% homemade and “natural” by using homemade soap, cleansing balms, vinegar toner, and oils to moisturize and I found that the high pH of soap ruined my skin and the lack of hydrating ingredients left my skin dehydrated. So I would urge readers who are having poor results with 100% DIY cosmetics to consider that you may need to use some synthetics.
Thanks, Elizabeth! I have been experimenting with some syndet shampoo bar formulas recently and it’s been quite interesting to note how differently the work on my hair. It’s so important for people to really notice how those crunchy things work for them and be willing to acknowledge when they don’t, too—especially if they are doing damage! There’s no need to be belligerent about using something that isn’t working just because it seems like it should.
As a scientist, who is mainly interested in this hobby for the satisfaction of “doing it myself,” I appreciate this post. When I share things I make with friends I hesitate to tell them that the products are “all-natural” or “organic” or “vegan” or “whatever-craze-is-in-vogue-at-the-moment-term” exactly for the reasons that you describe. Those terms do not necessarily mean safer or better. As you point out, arsenic and lead are natural, but are not safe. I feel that labeling something as “natural” or “organic” – even if it is true – creates an expectation that all things should be this way and encourages uninformed people to shun perfectly safe and effective products that are not “natural” or “organic.” As an example to show the power of uninformative labels, I had a lady who refused to use the Argan facial serum I created because I had used a different brand of essential oils than she likes. Her preferred brand of EOs has done a remarkable job convincing her that no other 100% pure EOs are safe because they don’t use this company’s made up certification process. It’s really an amazing marketing strategy. I wish that more people could be as reasonable and critical with their thinking as you Marie. Good job and thank you for a nuanced post.
Thanks, Jen! You are bang on with your points about creating expectations; even if that particular product is organic or gluten free or whatever, the way in which it is presented completely glosses over why that might be the case for that product, and why it may not be the best thing for another. And ARGH re: that essential oil brand. I have a couple suspicions about which one it may be, and neither of those brands will ever receive a dime from me!
Thanks for reading and for your lovely, thoughtful comment 🙂
I LOVE your posts, always intelligently thought out and to the point. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the “natural” preservative Leucidal Liquid SF.
Thanks, Cheryl! For leucidal, do a command+F for it on this page for more info. The gist of it is that certain versions are rubbish, and others are a bit of a challenge to use properly. Hope that helps!
This summarises the reason I am hooked to your bolg as opposed to others. I always liked your idea of making your own “natural” products, with the understanding that, if you stay entirely “crunchy” the results are not really spectacular; while if you use too many synthetic “unpronounceable” ingredients, why bother making it yourself?
I totally agree that minerals, emulsifiers and preservatives are unavoidable if one wants good results. It took me a while to start making lotions as they need both emulsifiers and preservatives, but if you love DIY-ing you cannot … not try making your on lotion! Thanks again Marie, you are awesome!
Thanks, Miruna! I completely agree with you on lotions—I was hesitant at first, but I am never going back 😀
Wow! This is great article! Thank you so much!
I have two question for you:
1. As far as “natural” (haha) preservatives. What is your opinion of Radish Root Ferment? I am seeing it pop up everywhere over the past year or so. And I have seen many Etsy sellers who use, as you said, “less effective” preservatives, stating their shorter shelf life (and these folks seem to make products “to-order”, as it were to increase stability and avoid rancidity)….but also this particular ingredient. Thoughts?
2. For pigments…..there is a company out of California called 100 Percent Pure. I love their products and always shop their biggest sales. They pride themselves on using fruit to color their makeup as opposed to minerals. If the FDA is so fussy, (I read the FDA link you posted), how on earth did they manage to do this? It seems like a miracle. Some items they use do have mica in them, but nothing I have seen (or at least nothing I have purchased) contained any colorants besides plants.
I would love to have your input on this! 🙂
Hi Ryan I have seen the ingredient list of 100 percent pure and they do use zinc oxide, iron oxide and mica to color their cosmetics. These ingredients can not be avoided in cosmetics that need pigments. I have absolutely no idea what and how they use fruit pigments. Fruit and vege pigments aren’t strong enough to give you that beautiful red rose color in lipsticks, especially oil based lipsticks. However, they might work in water as they are water soluble.
Interesting—which products are those? I’ve been casually poking about their site and haven’t found any yet, but I suppose the physical products could have different ingredient lists than the website, since the labels on the products are the only ones that are legally mandated. Though that seems very sneaky… hmm.
Hey Ryan! Thanks for reading 🙂 For radish root, do a command+F for it on this page for more info. The gist of it is that certain versions are rubbish, and others are a bit of a challenge to use properly. I would be wary of those Etsy sellers as they really have no idea what their shelf lives are because they cannot control what happens to their product after the ship it. What if it spends a week in a 40°C delivery truck before arriving? Eep.
I’ve looked at 100% Pure before; they’re impossible to miss if you follow any kinds of natural beauty accounts on Instagram! I have a few theories, the first being that although those ingredients are not approved colourants, they are not disallowed as ingredients… so perhaps they are classifying them as something other than a colourant? That would be quite the trick since they whole point of cosmetics is the colour part LOL, but that’s one theory. Given my experience with plant based colourants… they stink. They are impotent and weak, they oxidize quickly and vary in colour from batch to batch. I don’t know what they are doing to make that work for them, but I would guess it is not a process easily replicated without a laboratory. Just some guesses!
Your tone is so much better than mine is when I try to talk about this issue.
Instead of saying natural, I’ve been leaning towards saying non-toxic in conversation. Even that has issues, but at least the eyes of the “non-crunchy” types don’t immediately glaze over.
To add to your organic salt comment, a friend and I have a running gag where we send each other pictures of products labeled gluten-free that are just downright silly marketing, like whole coffee beans.
Thanks, Gwen! I think earlier versions of this article were a bit… less nice LOL. I like your non-toxic approach, and I may adopt that. Also, can I join in your running gag? I saw some great ones in the Kensington Whole Foods last week
You’re in! We should start a tumbler if there isn’t already a couple hundred.
It will undoubtedly result in a spin-off book, a film, and a TED talk!
Hi, Marie: I’ve read that Japan has the strictest regulations in the world for safe esthetic ingredients, and I am trying to find that list. I’d happy buy from any company that meets Japan’s standards. Have you found that list? If I find it, I will email it to you.
I haven’t found it—I haven’t even looked. How interesting! Fingers crossed you can turn up a copy 🙂
I really enjoyed reading this because, like the other commenters here, this subject really drives me nuts when I’m asked about it. When people start using the words “natural”, “organic”, and “chemical” in relation to personal care products, I really have to bite my tongue and strive to be diplomatic. Why are people so anti-something just because it’s “man-made” or considered a “chemical”? I have severe outdoor allergies, so I cannot use some things that are “natural” because my throat will close up and that will kill me. I prefer to live, thank you, so I look for alternatives that work for me and sometimes those alternatives are synthetic. And don’t get me started on the whole “organic” issue. My husband is an agronomist, specializing in chemistry, crops, and soil health, and he will tell you that things labeled “organic” are not safer/healthier/better/etc for you and throw so much research at you to back it up that your head will spin. But, like you said in your article, if you believe something is better for you, it works for you, and you can afford it, go for it! That’s the beauty of DIY. We get to make our own choices.
On a different note, I have read your book cover to cover and am anxiously awaiting my order of supplies. I can’t wait to get started making my own makeup!! Thank you for such a wonderful book!
Yes! Agh! I never know how to react or what to say when somebody asks if something is “natural”. Like… how much do they care? ‘Cause I can deliver a full-on lecture, but the question is usually polite pleasantry, and said lecture would be completely out of place lol.
I’ve having so much fun following your book experiments on the forum! I’m not commenting a ton but I am remaining your ever-creepy surveillance overlord 😉
I strive to be diplomatic most times, but people don’t really understand when you get into the details of why there are very few “all natural” products. They haven’t done the research for the facts, but by golly, can quote you all the latest marketing gimmicks! I try to tell them the difference if they seem truly interested, but when they just smile and look at me sort of patronizingly, I don’t even bother to go any further. I’ll just get irritated and say something I shouldn’t! Haha
Creep away, O Mighty Overlord! I’m sure you are reading things that have you laughing hysterically!
Ooh goodness, I know that patronizing look! I once had it leveled at me after I told somebody that no, I don’t habitually stare straight into the sun to cure myself or whatever ails me (they were dead serious), and that I didn’t because I didn’t want to go blind. The patronizing pity they leveled at me was enough to trigger a mild rash LOL.
Marie, again, thank you for this post. Very helpful and enlightening. The main reason I’m now doing DIY is because I refuse to pay the outrageous prices for cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, etc. I have the liberty of adding ingredients that work for me. Love ❤️, Barb
Thanks, Barb! I tend to agree; I love the control, and I love feeling like I’m sticking it to “the man” by opting out of their ridiculous pricing and all that 😛 Thanks for reading and commenting 😀
Thanks for writing this! I’ve puzzled about the huge amount of motherhood/natural life type blogs that seem to run on the idea that coconut oil can fix anything and beyond that we don’t need other products. None of them seem backed up by any kind of real research. There are so many horribly dangerous things in nature it never really added up to me. I’ve loved your blog because the products our family has made from here actually work unlike some of the 3 ingredient oil blobs we’ve created from other sites. Yes we did use the emulsifying wax! 🙂 We try to make more holistic choices when we can but a lot of this is about cost savings for me and also the fact that I love to make things. The fact that I can thoughtfully decide what to put into something and I also know where it was sourced is nice. I just also don’t love the fact that women are told them need $50 face creams and $30 eye shadow pallets…what could we do with all that cash in the world of good if we were free from the beauty industry!
Thanks, Annette! I completely agree about the coconut oil thing; it’s become so common that I figure it’s actually a great way to evaluate a source. If they imply, anywhere, that coconut oil is the cure all, then that is not a reliable source 😛 Your approach sounds a lot like mine; a bit about cost, a bit about control, a bit about the love of creating. It’s great fun! Thanks for reading and happy making 🙂
This is one fabulous post Marie!! Highly informative, thought provoking, and most importantly, its steeped in common sense which is all too often a rare commodity these days 🙂
My book arrived and its gorgeous. I am working my way through it today as I take advantage of a snow day with book and tea.
Thanks so much for all you do for us Marie, its beyond appreciated.
Thanks so much, Karen 🙂 I’m so glad you are enjoying the book, too! It was so much fun to write and photograph, I’m so glad it is out in the world (and is being well received!).
Thank you for posting this. I’m ashamed to admit that I have been stuck in the “crunchy” category thinking things that didn’t come from the earth were bad. Only in the past month have I been looking into making my own lotion (as opposed to body butters because they can be heavy). After researching, reading your replies to my questions on another post, and this article I am more comfortable with moving forward into making my own creams and lotions.
Thanks, Jordan! I, too, spent some time in the crunchy category—it can be a total echo chamber, too, so it’s an easy place to stay. I hope you do dive into lotion making and love it; I’m (obviously) completely hooked! 🙂
Excellent post, Marie! Thank you for taking the time to write that all out so sensibly.
Thanks so much, Kelly 🙂
Awesome post, thankyou Marie. I started out on the making ‘natural’ track quite a few years back and gosh horror, I used to make myself face creams with no preservative from recipes out of old bools 🙁 Since then with a lot of my own research and many many helpful insights through your research my products have blossomed and are ‘preserved’ saftely 🙂 I chuckled reading this article, because I too have started to include a lot of ingredients I was once very nervous of. We live and learn.
Thankyou for your great articles and blog!!! and book (which I am yet to make anything from..!!! procrastinator that I am)
Happy New Year – Linda
Thanks, Linda! I’m sure we all have horror stories from our early days of DIYing—I sure do! I cringe to think about some things I used to do… and worse, share with the world. Ack. More research is always in order! Thanks for reading and happy making 🙂
Hi Marie,thank you for such an informative post. I came to realise (through experimentation) a long time ago, that you can’t stay 100% crunchy lol.
You have made some great points and the links will prove informative too. Fantastic blog by the way.
Thanks, Pauline! 😀
Outstanding information on a tricky subject. I agree with you wholeheartedly. We are fed a lot of misinformation via the web and it is not easy to always make the right choices for ourselves and our families.We muddle through as best we can. I am saving this article to read and reread again. I am grateful to you for all the research you do on our behalf.
Thanks so much, Wendy! 😀
This is great Marie! I’ve always researched each individual ingredient I use and my personal ‘rules’ on what’s acceptable and what isn’t have change quite a bit after acquiring new information. A few months ago I started wondering about the whole ‘natural’ aspect of this particular hobby. I did a lot of research (including Susan at the aforementioned Point of Interest) and came up with the same thoughts that you’ve just expressed but in a lot more of a chaotic jumble, like clothes in a dryer. You’ve just laid out the pros and cons of the issue so clearly and concisely. Thank you for helping to put order to a small cubbyhole in my mind.
Thanks, Dawn! This article definitely took quite a while to write, sorting a lot of rambling paragraphs into something resembling a logical-ish walk through of my thoughts. It was a fun challenge 🙂
Great article. . . .thanks!!!
SO GLAD someone finally said it.
Another point about “organic” in the farming sense is that farmers are still allowed to use things like pesticides that are approved of by the FDA etc. which can be equally if not more toxic to humans, animals, and the surrounding ecosystem. Just as GMOs aren’t necessarily dangerous, organic produce isn’t necessarily safe.
My friends tell me I am forbidden to stand up and shout, “PREACH” when I hear something fantastic, and since I live in China, I’m not sure how, “hallelujah” would go over.
So I am just going to go with, “BOOYAH!!!”
I agree with Sarah. It’s about time someone took this sticky topic and actually discussed it from a “crunchy” point of view. I was gushing about the long wear lipstick I made the other day and how much I’ve enjoyed working with oxides only to be hollared at that they aren’t natural and if I want to use a 100% natural lipstick I need to use something like beetroot or hibiscus to make the colour. Or Burtbees 100% natural lipstick.
I really enjoyed your comment, “…I’m certainly not going to go seeking out a blog focused on cooking with olives and ask them to do extra work to develop new, olive-free recipes to accommodate my (entirely personal) hatred of olives.” I think this was probably the best line in this blog entry Marie. But olives Marie? Olives! They go great in a martini! And stuffed with garlic and blue cheese? Oh my! I’ve read and admired your tact in dealing with people trying to convince you to create something or other without something or other and then expect you to do it with your hands in Mickey Mouse gloves.
Great, educational and thought provoking post Marie! It’s great to see you taking on these types of topics!
I’m shaking my head over that olive comment of hers. Tsktsktsk.
A dirty martini without olives??? A crispy peasant loaf of olive bread, never to grace her table?!???? What else haven’t you told us Marie? What. Else.
Hey Penny…I heard you’ve made the big time by almost making every recipe in her book. Game on woman! I’m right behind you
Oh so GAME ON lady!
My magmy should be arriving today then I’ll be done! For the most part, I just need to add some to some recipes then I’m set! I made the lip stick bases, the cream base, gloss base and all in jars for easy colour play as that is what I’m really trying to learn right now. So when I’ve a few minutes, I jump to the kitchen with my inspirational colour, decant 5 or 10 grams and hop to it! My friend was over the other day as I was getting tired of washing my face (Cold Snap for the face washing win!) so I borrowed hers. She thought it hilarious after I poured a recipe shouting, “DONE! Annnnnnnd flip page.”
I made the mistake of forgetting to wash the cream blush off my face yesterday before class. Way to go me! My tiny humans loved it to much they wanted multi-coloured sparkly cheeks too. Thank goodness parents know it’s good quality pots of goo!
L’sigh. I wish there was a place where Make It Up readers could jump into to discuss what they’ve done or funky colour combos and such. Or inspired recipes based on the books. I was shocked to discover the silica microspheres over here (imported from Aroma Zone in France) were cheap! Because the Taobao seller bought them, but no one knows how to use them!
Christie, I know! It’s bonkers! I guess Marie could still be ok in my books if she is ok with pickled garlic. Or onions. But maybe she doesn’t like martinis? Then the discussion is off the table! She should really move to China. Olives can be bought only on Taobao, and they are not common anywhere locally.
I did it! Sharing spot wish granted 🙂 Now you and Cristie can compete to see who posts first haha.
I must admit I am not much for martinis, but garlic and onions are amazeballs, and a must in pretty much everything. Pickled… not so much. Maybe one day, as more of my taste buds die 😛
I’m very impressed ladies! Way to go! I’m still waiting on ingredients to arrive!
And Marie, I hate olives too!
Yay, I’m not alone! You can come to my potlucks 😛
Err… raw tomatoes can be disappointing to the point of disgust if they’re the sad kind grown in Mexico, shipped to us on a truck, a ripened with ethylene? The kind that are white and mealy when you cut into them? That’s kind of another thing I don’t like, but I prefer to view it as snobbery 😛
Well… I, for one, am ok with both PREACH and BOOYAH lol. And I will not apologize for my hatred of olives. They started it by tasting utterly wretched. If they would quit assaulting my taste buds I’m sure we’d get along!
Thanks, Sarah! And I did not know that about “Organic”. Charming :/
One of my sisters was a… well she was something to do with growing/managing produce and plants for various companies that sold them as starter plants in the States. When people go on their band wagons about only buying local and organic and natural blah blah blah, she said it was hard to not hit them as they have no idea what they are talking about.
I guess a lot of companies will buy starter plants from a growing company who use what they need (we are talking full on hazmat gear when they spray) in terms of sprays and such to get their crops to grow. Then they sell them to us saying they are natural and organic for they are. They are, say a pepper plant. A pepper plant is natural. They are organic in terms of safety and standards set out by the people who make those claims. And if they are sold to you in the same city you live in, sure! It’s local too.
It’s like that old biddy who runs around saying she bought 100% pure Egyptian Cotton sheets. But little did she know, that the one and only single strand of Egyptian Cotton is actually 100% pure Egyptian Cotton. The rest of it is just regular old fashioned cotton. Because the company isn’t lying when they say, made with 100% pure Egyptian Cotton. Our foods are natural, and organic and local.
These days, the only thing I want to know is, was my food grown with “night fertiliser”. (it was common in China for a very long time to fertilise with human waste and that caused many a dysentary and various forms of food poisonings over the years.
Oh lordy, yes, night fertiliser can go stuff itself! And I definitely agree that all this marketing bollocks is just that. Bollocks. I’m grateful that marketing has inspired many people to care, but unfortunately it seems to go from awareness/caring to militant terror far too easily. Agh. This leads to loads of well meaning people who don’t realize how much information they’re missing!
Marie… I really have nothing intelligent to add to this discussion, but I really appreciate this well-thought out article! I think that some people, myself included, when first faced with the fact that there are some unsafe ingredients in some of their skincare products just stop trusting anything made with ingredients with more scientific, chemical sounding names. It seems kind of silly to me now, as there are some crunchy ingredients that have been as little researched as some not so crunchy ones :] So many brands and companies have latched on to the word “natural” that it really cannot be trusted at this point either! Patience and research are one’s best friends when it comes to safer skin and body care.
Thank you so much, Ashley! I think you are absolutely correct, especially about the research; many more “natural” ingredients are not subjected to the same scrutiny as synthesized ones. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Awesome article. Thanks for sharing it.
Thanks so much, Kris!
Wow Marie, that just blew me away! “AWESOMENESS” and truth, that has been so tactfully put. I follow every post and have at times been stretched to the max to find the products you use in your awesome recipes. I live in South Africa so it’s not easy to source some of the ingredients and suppliers here don’t sell to the Micky Mouses’s like the Stubbornly DIY ;). Your Silk & Cedar shampoo started a month long search to source the silk in the recipe! I am so happy I persevered, I found my product and some Stay See Vit C and Hyaluronic Acid….Keep on the wonderful work, it is much appreciated!
Thank you so much, Larga 🙂 Being Canadian I can definitely understand the ingredient challenge; most US suppliers will ship most things north of the border, but the cost is often insane! So, I try to limit myself to Canadian suppliers and try not to use anything too strange! Happy making 😀
Excellent topic! As a lover of science (I went into healthcare), I am so thrilled to read your views on the natural-good, chemical-evil corner of the web.
The number of natural things (love the term “crunchy”, btw) that are harmful either in excess or in moderation is staggering. Oxygen is as natural as you can get, but high levels of oxygen delivered over the long-term have serious negative effects on the body, and even short-term use with neonates can lead to blindness.
I’ve noticed how many questions you field from people concerned over harmless ingredients simply because they “sound iffy” and did wonder if you’d ever get around to addressing them all collectively rather than spending endless time addressing them individually. Personally, I think you’ve laid out an excellent case for evaluating ingredients based on safety and effectiveness rather than fear and the “granola factor”.
Thanks for the fantastic read!
Thank you so much, Misty! I was recently watching a TV show that had a plot point using ricin… a very toxic poison derived from castor oil! And yet nobody has ever asked me about the safety of castor oil, while I’ve fielded an untold number of questions about iron oxides. 😛
Great article. I have a degree in Laboratory science and a deep love of all things chemistry. Most people do not realize methanol and ethanol (as other organic compounds) are simply one molecule off. My professor liked to make a joke that drinking one can make you feel like you are in heaven and the other would quite literally bring you to heaven (or hell, lol). I also think preservatives have gotten a bad name (like GMO -which is a whole other discussions). As a laboratorian who has studied and researched at length every aspect of lab practice, I want to stress that you, the consumer are responsible for the safety of what you consume. You should not blindly use products that someone has seemingly done a lot of research into. I personally would never take a drug that my DR has prescribed to me w/o checking the interactions with my other medications and side effects. You have to be your own advocate. Now if you research hard enough you can find a blog that copied and pasted something to validate their argument and if you know the science behind the comment you can tell this person has no idea what they are talking about. When you research your topics look for scientific studies in places like pub med (the gist will be in the abstract) , the CDC and the MSDS (it is required by law we use these in the lab). Great info ! If I didn’t believe in your blog and know that everything is obviously very well researched, I wouldn’t follow you religiously and think you are so awesome. Thanks for taking the time to let us all in on your research.
Bingo CL. I know Marie puts the time into research. Time I don’t necessarily want to, myself. But not everyone earns that trust.
So I truly hope she makes a million off her book and other endeavors related to this stuff. Or more than a million!
Christie stole my word. So I’ll just say you hit the nail on the head CL. I love doing research, but getting out of my comfort zone is possible, it’s just difficult to start. I love how Marie does the research and because I’ve grown to trust her recipes and the reasons behind them, I’ve been able to grow as a DIY’er trying new things, exploring and doing my own research on various things.
I will second that hope! 😛
Thanks, C.L.! I definitely agree that knowledge is power, as is critical thinking, and we should use our research and critical thinking skills to be our own advocates. It used to be that a large company needed to pay for a scientific study to get results they “wanted”… now you can just google what you want and find somebody that agrees in no time flat. Critical thinking and resource evaluation is more important than ever these days! Thank you so much for reading and commenting 😀
Very nicely done. I loved it. I do have some question that you brought up…..I need to know what I can use that is not coconut.
You mentioned that items derived from coconut. I make soaps and want to make cosmetics for a daughter of mine who is allergic to coconut.
Hi Tracy! In most applications, babassu oil is an excellent alternative to coconut oil (though sadly it is definitely more expensive). Unfortunately, when it comes to things derived from coconuts, those things are rarely clearly labelled, and alternatives are generally not easily sourced; there may be one, but it’s not a simple “use B instead of A” situation (and of course that varies by the ingredient—there are dozens, if not hundreds, of ingredients derived from coconuts!). I always recommend talking to your supplier about “derived from” concerns!
I know Marie’s values for skin safety-wise so if it’s good enough for Marie, it’s good enough for me.
That’s where my line is. I trust her.
*****Marie, you should open a new page for gushing and trading ideas on the recipes in your book. Someplace we can devote just for that. Trade color blending ideas for skin tones we may share with others and blush / eyeshadow blends.
And gush over your book. I got a LOT of gushing to do but don’t know where to do it.
Great minds eh? I just said that in my reply to you above!
Yes. I’ve got some serious gushing to do but I’m afraid of gushing too much on Facebook! I took a gander to see if anyone posted anything and I had a few posts and pictures in a row… and well… I don’t want to be the only one posting creations!
Your wish has been granted! 😉 It’s brand spankin’ new, so feel free to pass on any recommendations. I’m still trying to make the text not-so-tiny.
I mustn’t let your trust go to my head!
Holy Cow! You made a forum! How long have you been working on this surprise? Never mind, doesn’t matter. I am so going there.
Now when I get a little wordy commenting, I don’t have to feel so guilty for taking up space or going off topic.
Gee, I hope I don’t suffer a bout of shyness when I type my first post
OK, me AGAIN. How do I log in? It’s probably right under my nose.
LOL whoops! Refresh http://humblebeeandme.com/hive and you should have an option to create an account… obviously this is not quite ready for a big launch haha. Thanks for being a tester!
Eh… at that point, about an hour. Hence the glitches LOL.
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this blog post. I have not been making my own body products for long and have not yet ventured into lotions yet (soon), but I have already had this conversation with a few people who insisted on only using “natural” ingredients. My dad used to say that 100% of people who breath, die, therefore, breathing MUST be bad for you! 🙂
Now, I have an opposite question from one you posed in the blog…I recently found a book from the 90’s with lots of body product recipes in it. All the lotions use the beeswax/borax combo as an emulsifer. Can I just sub an general emulsion wax in place of the wax/borax? I’m going to try it anyways since each of the recipes only makes a few days worth of product due to also not using any perservatives. I be adding in the germall plus as well.
Lastly, I am anxiously awaiting my copy of the book to arrive! I can’t wait!!!
Thanks, Jenni! The beeswax/borax recipes usually have very different oil to water ratios, as well as emulsifier to other ingredient ratios, so I am doubtful, but hey—it’s a small batch, so why not try it? Happy making, and I hope you love the book when it arrives!
Fantastic article Marie! I love how you always take the difficult topics and present them in such an enjoyable format.
Perhaps sometime you can do an post on essential oils VS fragrance oils. Enormous amounts of plants are needed to produce essential oil. Over-harvesting is threatening some species of plants. Yet there are folks who consistently bash fragrance oils in soaps.
Personally I do use some essential oils in my products, but I also appreciate the time and place for quality fragrance oils as well.
PS I got your book, and am in love! Left you a well deserved glowing review on Amazon xo !
Thank you so much, Deborah. I must admit that is not an angle I’d ever heard of or considered for the EO vs. FO debate; how interesting! Much of my general avoidance of FOs is due to the strength (I find if I use FO in a shampoo bar my hair smells like that until I wash it again—which I can understand some people love, but I typically don’t). I shall have to mull over this and do some more research—thank you! 🙂 And thank you so much for reading, commenting, buying my book, and saying so many lovely things about it! I hugely appreciate it!
Thank you thank you thank you! I really enjoyed this post! I’ve started making some of my products and am still learning. I just received your book in the mail this week and can’t wait to read it! I’ve skimmed it and I have a couple questions. 1) Can I use a different oil instead of jojoba or argan oils if I need to? Jojoba oil gives me little red bumps on my face when I use it. I love argan oil, but have noticed it is sometimes too heavy for my skin. 2) Have you ever heard of the preservative Neodefend? I follow another natural and diy beauty blog and she uses that preservative. Thank you so much for all your great posts and your awesome book!
Hey Brittany! In recipes that call for just a few drops of a liquid oil you could use something else, but in recipes with a cream base, I cannot vouch for the performance. It may be better, it may be worse. I only tested the recipes as written, so once you start making changes, I have no idea if the performance will stay the same!
I have worked with Neodefend, but have since stopped as you have to pH buffer your final product (so you need a pH meter), cannot use vitamin C, and it can cause the pH of your product to drift downwards (I recently followed a discussion where somebody’s lotion dropped from 5.5 to 4.5 in just 4 days! You can read more here.
Thank you for the information!
Great post, and a very balanced perspective! Having been on both sides of that debate myself –first as a vegan-hippie-organic nazi, then as a chemotherapy nurse– I understand that organic and natural are way overused and ill defined terms. I have no problem with the concept of synthetic.
My issue is that I have a contact allergy to both formaldehyde and Oxybenzone, and finding products without those ingredients is difficult, so I’m in this not to sell, but for myself.
I can’t use Germall or Germaben because they both release formaldehyde. I was using Leucidal liquid but had problems with mold so added something call AMTcide coconut, and I threw in some aspen bark extract. Seat of the pants, I know… I used emulsifying wax NF which worked fine with the solo leucidal liquid but the texture got grainy with the addition of the other 2 ingredients. I switched to BMTS-50 and cetyl alcohol using a from making skincare, but with the preservatives I used, the lotion separated. The recipe used one of the Germs.
I’d like to switch to phenoxyethanol with sodium benzoate, Leucidal liquid with sodium benzoate, or Optiphen Plus, but I can’t find any recipes with those ingredients. I know I will have to get the pH under 6 but am not sure what to use (potassium sorb-ate) and when best to test the pH (water phase? Oil phase? Both separately? After emulsification?) Do you have any advice?
Thanks, Barbara! I’m not sure I can be of much use with your preservative conundrum; I assume you’ve seen this awesome resource? I’ve never worked with any of those preservatives (aside from sodium benzoate as part of a blend called “neodefend”). I would pH test the final product, and not just at completion, but after a few days to see if the pH is drifting, which can happen. I would probably choose citric acid to buffer, but that’s just because I have it. I hope that helps! If you haven’t already, I would recommend joining this group on Facebook as there are many people there with a lot more preservative experience than I have 🙂
Thanks Marie. It’s a start and I’ll just have to do some experimenting. I’ll let you know what works.
Oh, yes I have seen the Making Skincare post. It is very informative, thanks.
Love this article, Marie. Clears up lots for many people. I understand having an “organic” or rather pesticide free large garden out in my backyard. I am not allowed to call it truly organic as I haven’t put out the beucoup bucks to be certified in my country. I start most everything from organic seed and try to use things like ladybugs to eradicate pests and plant flowers to attract good bugs,etc. But the terms are so nebulous that it’s crazy. Love your simple approach and explanations. Weed through all the hype and marketing bs and it comes down to the fact that most of us reading your blog want to better our lives by knowing what is in our personal care products and foods and we wish to take a proactive role in just that. Loving the book and making some stuff from it this week! BTW I live in Arizona so my home is often 80 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s over 100 degrees outside for 6 months of the year so I really need to use preservative in my lotions. We here are just as dry as you only 5 times hotter. Thanks again! LIN
Thanks, Lin! “Most of us reading your blog want to better our lives by knowing what is in our personal care products and foods and we wish to take a proactive role in just that”—brilliant, you’ve hit the nail in the head 🙂
Thank you for this great post. I am a big fan of your site and also Susan at Point of Interest because you are both educated about what you are doing and continue to learn and share that knowledge with us. (Thank you!) I think your points on what is natural or not can be applied to more of our lives than just beauty products. For some people the organic natural thing is just the latest bandwagon to jump on which I think is where all the hype comes from. Like the comment someone made about how silly coffee labeled glueten free is. I think people have a lot of opinions without the knowledge to back them up.
I want to live a more natural simple life but in a real, realisitc, not idealistic way, if that makes sense- no bandwagon. I agree that manmade doesnt mean bad. I think my interpretation is whether what I am eating or using on my body and in my life is safe and also eithical. Safety can almost always be determined by science (almost being whether you fully trust the source of the science I guess) and ethics are individual. I am a big advocate of animal welfare so animals that were harmed or abused in order to obtain an ingredient is where I draw the line. Similarly was the ingredient sourced from methods I agree with that sync with my beliefs of humane treatment of humans, animals, and our planet. Those decisions are personal for each of us but my point is that I think we often confuse our ethics with science. Both are important but getting the two confussed is just ignoranance. Science tells us what we are using and its safety and our ethics keep us humane. I think your post did a great job explaining things.
I love soft on your skin lotions and shampoos that lather as much as I love the pure simple nurshing feel of ingredients that are familar like coco butter and beeswax with almond oil lip balm. We can almost always safely and ethically have both the natural and synthetic thankfully.
I think the “commercial” world is what most of us want to avoid but confussing that with “natural and organic” is where the need for education comes in. As a restaurant server we have a joke about the lady who wants a diet coke and lowfat oil on her salad with her deep fried ‘glutenfree’ breaded shrimp. LOL Ignorance is really just stupidy not bliss. Thank you for speaking up and knowing what you are talking about!
Thank you so much, Tonya—I really enjoyed your comment 🙂 I completely agree with the “bandwagon” thing—they seem to be so easy to jump on, and there are so many of them! Broad based decisions are always easier to make than nuanced ones, so I definitely understand the appeal. And I love your points on science + ethics needing to work together to help us make decisions that work on both sides!
Great article Marie, nicely explained 🙂
Thank you very much 🙂
Incredibly well written, informative article. Thank you so much for your wealth of knowledge on these subjects. I stumbled across your channel on Youtube after deciding I wanted to make my own beard oil/balm, but I now sense the beginning of my own ‘stubbornly DIY’ journey. And with all of this.. I read somewhere you can bake a damn good cookie? Allow me to soak up some more of this wonderful site and person you are, and I’ll be sure to make regular donations in the near future
Thank you so much, Neil! Welcome to the wonderful world of stubbornly DIY… it’s basically a black hole, so be prepared! 😉 As for cookies—this one is utterly divine. The aging is pure brilliance. Happy making!
Hi Marie! This is by far one of the most comprehensive, informative and easy to understand articles I have read regarding this issue of natural vs synthetic and organic vs inorganic. Your wealth of knowledge is amazing. Thanks so much for sharing with us!
Thank you so much, Jamie! Truly 🙂 Thanks for reading!
I appreciate this post very much. This is a lot of the reason why I started following your blog. I’ve tried the cinnamon and arrowroot starch foundation and they do not hold up at all. I think being smart about what we are using and understanding why we are using something is important and I’ve appreciated how you educate your readers on ingredients.
I’ve just made quite a few of your recipes from your new book yesterday and I’ll say my new powder foundation works amazingly well! Much better than cinnamon and arrowroot.
I appreciate all the thought and work that goes into what you share.
Thanks for all you do!
Thanks, Jen! I’ve definitely found the same thing with the food cosmetics… they just tend to be a waste of food, though the idea is certainly intriguing! Thanks so much for reading and DIYing with me 😀
First, I have subscribed to about three things in my life, and I just subscribed! What a great, thoughtful, article. Thank you! When it comes to food, my gauge for “natural” and “healthy” is to ask myself if my body will know what to do with this when I eat it! It doesn’t know what to do with preservatives, for example, and so has to stress itself to assimilate it. I’m new to soap making, and coming up with a “standard” for healthy is a little more difficult than for food, although I do realize that what we put on our skin does enter our inner workings! Anyway, thank you for the excellent food for thought (no pun intended!) I plan to read this article again!
Thanks for reading! I would give your body a bit more credit, though 😉 It actually does know what to do with a lot of preservative type ingredients—for instance, formaldehyde! Not only does our body know what to do with it to break it down, we actually make formaldehyde. One could also argue that our body knows “what to do” with the flu virus, or food poisoning, but I’m hardly excited about experiencing either of those reactions, and I’d definitely call those reactions stressful! If I were you I’d give your standard a bit of a closer look 🙂 Look at safety data rather than whether or not you think your body understands something—for instance, our body thinks it “knows” what to do with cancer, but I’d rather it didn’t lol. Our bodies are pretty amazing!
Hello again Marie!
I know this post is a couple months old, but I really enjoyed it and want to discuss some points. (And anyways, every search I make on Google seems to bring me back on your blog these days. I guess your SEO pays off and the fact that you’re becoming more and more popular also helps. Good for you, you deserve it!!!)
For my products, I draw the line mainly with biodegradability and processes that are polluting. I want ingredients that are safe and nice to use, of course. But I also think about what is left in environment after or what it cost to nature to make my product/ingredient (I’m looking at you, ethoxylation and petroleum products).
And I’m actually surprised that this topic doesn’t come more often when people discuss «natural» things. It IS indeed really hard to define a word like «natural», but to me biodegradability should be an obvious thing to consider. For instance, I really appreciate the work of Susan on Point of Interest. But I already read an article there that is similar to yours about «natural» and I had the feeling she said something along the lines of «Natural doesn’t exist so let’s use what pleases us»… I don’t know, but to me it feels a bit short. Don’t get me wrong, please! It’s just my opinion and english is not my first language, so I might sound rougher than I want. I really appreciate Susan’s work and also yours!
But to be honest : I feel most of your ingredients are more acceptable to me than Susan’s recipes. And just to make clear : I have no problem to use some man-made ingredients, especially since they are often safer or they don’t consume precious resources. But using things that build up in nature like silicones or cationic surfactants in everyday products, for me, seems not ok. I prefer to settle for products like inuline or marshmallow roots. Less efficient and more difficult to work with, maybe, but it feels like a good compromise for nature.
That said, it’s kinda hard to find good informations about polluting processes or biodegradability. It seems easier to find infos on safety usages, etc. So I might be wrong about some ingredients, of course! I try to make a lot of research, but I also have a life and many different hobbies =P But I wonder what are your thoughts on this subject? Maybe you know good informations sources about it?
Once again, I hope I don’t sound too rough, disrespectful or ungrateful!
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts (and hello to a fellow Marie!). I really like this way of looking at it, though you are right—it is hard to come across reliable information on production processes and biodegradability for everything we use. I’d probably start by reviewing MSDS documents, and finding out who actually manufactures the ingredient in question and getting in touch with them.
And you definitely don’t sound rough, disrespectful or ungrateful at all 🙂 This is a forum for discussion and you have expressed your thoughts beautifully!
Just a contribution to the discussion and reaffirming what has been said: https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/may/19/manmade-natural-tasty-toxic-chemicals
Thank you, Gaba! This is a fantastic read 🙂
I know this post is old! but I would like to reopen a discussion. I’m not entirely sure if you have published something similar recently. I can not find it. Topic of everything natural but mainly Sustainability & ethics.
For me (and I hope) a lot of other people out there, the choice to turn to natural ingredients is more about sustainability and ethics, and wow there is so much misunderstanding surrounding this topic. For example I live and work on a certified organic farm, but our interest in certified organic doesn’t come from a concern of what goes into our bodies, rather more the concern of how unsustainable & unethical conventional farming is & the concern for the environment at large.
For me personally I am marketing my brand as natural, & I won’t choose ingredients that are completely synthesized either, but I do make CP soap. Go figure. This sentence is 100% why I feel your article on “natural” is so important. However, I feel there are a few additions that could be touched on.
I won’t make a lot of your recipes because a lot of the ingredients contain palm. For example even the “natural” emulsifier Olivem 1000 is palm derived. So for that reason, I won’t choose something just because it’s “natural” or naturally derived. A LOT of people I know in the soaping community have the impression that sustainable palm oil makes it ok. I have done some research into this regarding RSPO Palm oil & have found that it is a lie. A lot of companies are able to pay for the badge, and continue with the same practices they always have been doing – and I can not trace which products this applies to, I just don’t have the resources to be able to do so… So for now I am not making lotions, which is fine, I saw a new emulsifier coming out made from seaweed (cool!). But, even then the premise of using a preservative doesn’t gel with my brand. Also, this means I can’t even use sodium cocoyl Isethionate, because I can’t be sure that the raw material I purchase is palm free.
I am also one of the people who will never use mined mica, or synthetic mica in my products, however I will use other people’s products that contain synthetic mica & I will use clay (what!?). It’s not about the factor of mica being mined as much as it is about mica being mined by children and vulnerable people, and that natural mica is a finite resource. The clay that we can get is a byproduct of other industries, and isn’t specifically mined for cosmetics. The reason there is no real Australian pink clay anymore is because the Mine closed down. So all Australian pink clay is now white kaolin with synthetic iron oxides. I am lucky enough to live on volcanic soil in Australia, and can walk out my back door and collect some dirt, sift it, clean it, sun dry it and voila I have red clay! (this sounds like a perfectly romantic love affair with the earth but I don’t do this… yet). But you see the dilemma, there is a lot more to the natural topic that needs addressing.
I think the main thing I would like to say is that what upsets me most is that people are choosing natural, but not sustainable. People won’t use synthetic micas, but they will use “natural micas” mined by children. People won’t buy products that aren’t “Cruelty Free” but they will buy products with pam in them. People claim their products are cruelty free when they don’t know that their products are harming the environment. I think people get confused and think synthetic = chemical = toxic. What I would like to see more of is people considering how far their ingredients have traveled, how it is made and who is making it and in what way? Not just is it natural or synthetic. Because these are the real cost of the ingredients. Choosing that little bit more expensive Shea or cocoa butter that is fairtrade could make all the difference in someone else’s life, or cutting down on mileage of products & sourcing local can help reduce your carbon footprint. The more people buy ethical & sustainable ingredients, shop local etc the more demand there is = the more supplies produced = cost of those going down.
You have so much influence, & I am not saying that you should stop doing what you are doing because this is what works for you, but I think what really needs to be acknowledged is the issue surrounding how ethical something is, not how natural. How sustainable is it? Eg. Himalayan Pink clay is a finite resource, and is mined unethically, and unfairly. Do we have to use it? Maybe there is a local salt mine near you? From your country.
I would also like to add, there are some things we can not control, like foods we eat, or products we buy may contain palm without our knowledge, maybe you need a car to get from A-B. Maybe we need tractor fuel for our farm. I don’t think it is actually possible for everyone or anyone to be 100% Completely sustainable or ethical in every aspect because basically that would mean ceasing to exist. BUT I do think we should take responsibility for what we CAN control. eg. not Supporting companies who could change their practices for a better future for the earth and humankind. and yes realistically everyone’s can & can’t be different. and maybe for you doing your part in the world means not driving a car or not eating meat, or planting lot’s of trees, As long as we are all doing what we CAN do.
You are a wonderfully smart and curious human & I’m sure you have a world of knowledge on this topic too, and I feel it’s not just important but pressing to share it.
I would love to see you talk about your opinions surrounding this topic either here or in a blog or video.
Peace & carrots from an Organic Farm in Australia