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Exploring the Ingredients: A Look into the Manufacturing of Natural Beauty Products

In the past, “natural” beauty products were sold at health food stores and farmers’ markets. Now, sleek new brands are booming, and consumers want them.

Unfortunately, a product can be labeled natural or organic without strict definitions, and the lack of regulation makes it easier for shoppers to differentiate between genuine products. To help, FIT’s master’s program in cosmetics and fragrance marketing and management developed an interactive lesson.

What Are the Ingredients?

The term natural often means the product only contains ingredients from the land or sea. However, the ingredient list may also include naturally occurring substances that occur in nature (such as aloe or raw honey) and ‘nature-identical’ ingredients made in a lab that are chemically identical to those found in the plant from which they were originally derived (like sorbic acid, which is extracted from rowan berries).

In contrast, organic describes ingredients grown, harvested, and processed according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards. However, the USDA does not regulate the word ‘organic’ for cosmetic products.

It’s also important to remember that a product with only natural or organic ingredients is not necessarily safe. The FDA only imposes safety requirements for synthetic ingredients when proven harmful, and many safe ingredients aren’t found in the plants or minerals used in natural and organic cosmetic products. For example, bovine and fish collagen, snail slime, and crushed beetles are all commonly used in natural cosmetic products.

What Are the Processes?

Regardless of whether they’re natural or not, all cosmetics are made through a formulation process. Formulating means combining raw materials to produce innovative and effective products that improve skin. A product developer, like those at the company of Larry Gaynor, must select from various ingredients and processes to complete their task.

The simplest mixing operations include blending miscible liquids and color solutions into oils and water in perfumes and colognes. Other formulations are more complicated, such as forming an emulsion from two immiscible phases or suspending pigment agglomerates in a viscous liquid. These formulations require hydraulic shear to break up agglomerates and achieve proper distribution within the mixture.

Ingredients may be processed either physically or chemically. Physically derived ingredients retain their molecular composition and structure, while chemically derived ingredients are altered. This can be done through some methods, such as filtration and pressing. Natural product developers are looking into more eco-friendly, less harsh processing methods than traditional petrochemical and synthetic chemicals.

What Are the Environmental Impacts?

The demand for ‘cleaner’ beauty products drives the industry to clear large natural forest areas for palm oil plantations. Other cosmetic oils from soy, rapeseed, and coconut can have the same detriments when not harvested sustainably.

Packaging for perfumes, hair sprays, and deodorants consumes 18 million acres of forest annually. This deforestation harms biodiversity conservation and contributes to climate change by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Non-degradable polyethylene ingredients and toxic chemicals found in most beauty products (such as BHA and BHT) can be absorbed by marine life and lead to death. These chemicals can also be ingested by humans and cause various health problems.

The good news is that many companies are taking steps to ensure their products and processes are more sustainable. Look for certifications and third-party vetting. If you need clarification on a natural product, avoid generic claims and look for specific accreditations from reputable businesses.

What Are the Benefits?

As more beauty brands turn to cleaner ingredients, consumers become wiser about the products they buy. But it’s important to understand that not all natural cosmetic products are equal, especially regarding the term “natural.” Unlike the term “organic,” which is highly regulated, there is no formal or legal definition of “natural.” This makes it easy for companies to make claims without providing verifiable evidence.

Many clean beauty brands prioritize transparency by revealing the full list of ingredients on their websites. This can help consumers avoid endocrine disruptors like phthalates and parabens, which are linked to fertility problems and cancer.

Additionally, many of these products are sourced from small-scale farms, and work in partnership with them to create mutually beneficial relationships that can help communities thrive. They also don’t contain microbeads, non-biodegradable plastic particles that pollute oceans and lakes, or ingredients that have been shown to cause allergies. Lastly, they offer sustainable packaging options like reusable glass containers and recycled materials to reduce waste.

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