The skin care and beauty industry are flooded with claims such as ‘clean’ and ‘organic’. But these are broad terms, which still have no actual definition. It implies that ingredients come from natural sources, but this could relate to one ingredient while the rest do not quite live up to that ‘natural’ claim.
What can be said is that natural ingredients are widely believed to be less polluting and therefore better for the environment. As a result, the demand for natural skincare is on the rise. A 2019 study by Statista showed that 58% of female consumers in the US look for natural or organic products while shopping for beauty. In the UK, the phrase ‘natural ingredients’ (alongside ‘without preservatives’ and ‘cruelty-free’) is most searched for when consumers look for beauty products.
While plant-based products may be biodegradable, they may not actually be that sustainable. Palm oil, for example, is a naturally derived product and a common ingredient in many products such as soap and lipstick, however it is also a major cause of deforestation and has also impacted local communities and endangered orangutans.
It is, however, true that done correctly, harvesting, and trading of natural ingredients can help uplift communities and provide invaluable income, but transparency is key. A good example of this is BASF’s Rambutan Program, which follows strict sustainability principles, resource conservation and supports the local to create a socially and environmentally responsible supply chain.
If certain skincare ingredients are rare or vulnerable and the supply chain is potentially harmful to the environment and local communities, is synthetic skincare then not the way forward?
The problem is that many synthetic ingredients have been given a bad name. The reality is that there are positives and negatives to both natural and synthetic skincare: when it comes to synthetic ingredients, there is a transparent supply chain, and you know where it comes from. Furthermore, although some of the synthetic substances have been in use for around for over 50 years and have a proven track record for human safety, their impact on environmental health is not clear or only being seen now. There are ingredients that don’t decompose, for example microplastics – some synthetic ingredients can be a form of microplastics which although not harmful for humans is now being proven to not be great for the environment.
This is a difficult question with no clear answer: the choice is about more than just deciding to go with natural or synthetic; it needs to focus on how to make natural, sustainable. Formulators and brands need to focus more on the back story. If the intention and the vision for low-impact, responsible, sustainable beauty is there, then then there is every chance that great ingredients, formulations and positive impact will follow.
For more information on sustainably sourced ingredients and formulation advice contact Botanichem.