Why natural beauty products are not always safer

You may already know that the word “natural” on a food label can be misleading—since it’s an unregulated term and ingredients that occur in nature are not always the healthier choice. Similarly, while it’s not entirely meaningless when used on the label of a face wash or moisturizer, the term can be confusing in the world of personal care and beauty products.

Here is the key: Just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. So while the majority of the ingredients we use at Beautycounter are natural, we will never call ourselves a natural brand. Instead, we screen ingredients for safety, regardless of where they come from.

That fact means we get a lot of questions about ingredients, like, “How can you have safer products if you use synthetic ingredients?” Since we believe in clear communication, we have to explain the difference between ingredient source and safety.

What do natural and synthetic really mean?

“Natural” refers to the source of the ingredient, meaning it was produced by nature without human intervention. Synthetic ingredients, on the other hand, are produced in a lab.

Some brands restrict their formulations to natural ingredients, such as plant-based color pigments (like turmeric) and essential oils (like lavender). Most natural ingredients are, in fact, safe but here’s the key: The fact that an ingredient is natural does not guarantee it’s safe. Lead, for example, is a naturally occurring metal that is harmful to human health.

On the flipside, while many synthetic ingredients (like parabens) have been shown to have real health risks based on multiple research studies, the fact that an ingredient is synthetic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unsafe. The silicone dimethicone, for example, is a large molecule that sits on the skin or hair, and research indicates that its use in cosmetics poses little to no potential harm to human health. (Some people have skin sensitivities to this ingredient, but no more than other ingredients, including natural ones.)

Evaluating safety

Instead of asking whether an ingredient is natural or synthetic, at Beautycounter we ask: Does the ingredient or product in question have the potential to harm a person’s health, and if so, in what way and at what levels?

Most companies start and stop with acute reactions (i.e.: Does the product irritate skin?), but we take the concept of safety much further. We research what is known about each and every ingredient, evaluating toxicological information and potential long-term health effects.

Since many ingredients are understudied and may have never been assessed for their potential to cause cancer, reproductive harm, and other issues, we give preference to those with safety data over those without it. We also use comparative analysis of similar chemicals to assess ingredients with data gaps.

Only after this comprehensive review do we then decide whether or not an ingredient—natural or synthetic—is safe for use in our products.

We believe this process is far more reliable than trusting “nature vs. lab” oversimplification.