Want fewer synthetic chemicals in your skincare, but not sure what to look for? Separate the eco fact from fiction.
Back in the 1990s, our idea of “natural” beauty was an ecofriendly body butter you’d buy from the Body Shop to save a square foot of rainforest somewhere. Since then, the demand for more natural and organic beauty options has grown: the Soil Association’s annual report suggests sales of certified organic health and beauty products grew by 21.6% to £54.2m in 2015. Another survey last year found that almost 95% of UK women said they would use natural over synthetic if the results were comparable. It’s no wonder, given the advances in the field. All the beauty buzzwords you might think are confined to chemical lines are now also present in natural alternatives — BB creams, acid peels, kombucha (a cult ingredient in Korean face masks) — and they’re all up to scratch.
However, it’s not always straightforward to go au naturel. It’s a multimillion-pound industry that’s still unregulated, so plenty of companies may use the terms “natural” and “organic” on their products, but there’s no way to know if they’re telling the truth. “Food brands cannot put the word ‘organic’ anywhere on their packaging if it’s not independently certified, but there’s no compulsory certification for beauty companies,” says Sarah Brown, founder of Pai Skincare. “Many ‘natural’ products can contain as little as 1% natural ingredients, and the rest is synthetics or common irritants.”
So, how to navigate your way? For starters, look for a certified organic symbol. “Two of the highest-requirement seals are the UK’s Soil Association and the US Department of Agriculture,” says Imelda Burke, founder of the organic and natural apothecary Content. Both organisations require a minimum of 70% organic ingredients (farmed or produced without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides or artificial chemicals) before they will certify a product. Earlier this month, the Soil Association joined the new, Europe-wide Cosmetic Organic Standard, Cosmos, in an attempt to set up an international standard for organic and natural products. Meanwhile, the global big-hitter is Natrue, which requires 100% natural and naturally produced ingredients as the baseline for entry, with no GMOs, synthetic ingredients or artificial additives.
Even at the highest levels of certification, you’ll often find “nature-identical” synthetics that help to lengthen the shelf life of the product. Some brands also favour wild ingredients such as baobab seed oil, which can’t be certified as organic because they’re not grown in a controlled environment. So if you want to be a true eco-warrior, look at the back of the bottle: “You want plant names in the top two-thirds of the ingredients list,” Burke says. “Then scan the rest for those not sanctioned by most certifications, such as phthalates, parabens, sodium laureth sulphate, mineral oil, polyethylene glycol, formaldehyde and methylisothiazolinone. Apps such as Think Dirty and EWG can also help you to check any ingredients you’re not sure about.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of products out there that can deliver as good a result as your normal make-up, but with a more environmental conscience — who wouldn’t want that?
Keeping it real
A moisturiser-serum-primer hybrid. “This is the product I reach for when treating tired, dull, dry skin,” says the “cruelty-free” make-up artist Justine Jenkins.
Inika Certified Organic Vegan lipstick in Pink Poppy, £18
Certified by the Australian Organic Food Chain, this contains at least 70% organic ingredients.
House of Life Quiescent Completeskin Anti-Ageing face oil, £50
Made with 100% natural forms of anti-ageing favourites such as collagen.
Kiehl’s Pure Vitality Skin Renewing Cream, £49
This new anti-ageing moisturiser, out next month, contains a formula that is 99.6% naturally derived.
F Miller body oil, £40; la-gent.com
Unisex oil packed with argan oil, which is rich in antioxidants, and free from synthetics, preservatives and additives. Leaves skin with a clean, zesty scent.