Hello everyone thanks for stopping by, we hope the holidays are treating you well.
Today we are going to be discussing the natural fallacy as it pertains to skincare and cosmetics. The clean beauty movement has sweeped the nation, and with it has come many discrepancies and misconceptions, and dare i say-misinformation.
As someone who has been operating my business for the last 4 years now, I have come to a greater understanding of the ingredients I use, their manufacturing processes, their questionable sustainbility, and a deeper understanding of synthetic ingredients or ones that are not so natural. Lets discuss that briefly in todays blog, and I will do my best to keep this as brief as possible while still covering everything in great detail.
So what does Natural fallacy mean? If you have never heard that term, the natural fallacy means basically in a simple way that if something is derived from nature or natural then it must be good-or it is better than its synthetic counterpart. Another example is labeling certain ingredients as "bad" and "good" depending on one's own beliefs and definitions on what is natural.
CLEAN BEAUTY STORM
In the beauty world today we see this happening on a wide scale with the taking over of the clean beauty movement. Things have become very black and white, but when it comes to cosmetic ingredients it isn't that simple. To the everyday consumer who is easily swayed by certain marketing tactics, when a business labels ingredients as "bad" or harmful to one's health that gets consumers attention. The goal of that type of marketing is to convince the consumer to buy what you're selling instead of the "toxic" chemicals they were buying before in which they were unaware of the hidden dangers they pose. Knowledge is power right. What it also does is sway consumers opinions about ingredients that otherwise arent as harmful as they are implying.
This also happens in the world of food, and cleaning products. The Health and Wellness Industry uses this marketing tactic on a large scale. The natural fallacy really doesn't make sense at its core- the belief that because something is derived from nature then it is automatically better for your overall health or just better in general. Volcano lava is natural, so is lead and mercury and those are very dangerous. Those are extreme examples but you get the idea.
There are also sustainability concerns in regard to only using natural products as the demand increases from the consumers. These issues need to be considered. We could take the hundreds of acres that Young living uses to grow their flowers for their essential oils as an example. Is that entirely sustainable even though its natural? What are the ramifications of using that land for only essential oils instead of food, or the local wildlife that lives on it even though they claim to promote reforestation efforts and regenerative farming. Considering they have farms all over the world for their essential oils the implications are very large of what they're doing. This should help us to understand that synthetic ingredients though made in a lab can help conservation efforts in regard to natural ingredients.
Something else to consider is that not everyone has skin that is going to be compatible with natural only products. Only oils and butters may not work for everyone especially those with skin issues such as acne, rosacea, eczema, sensitive skin etc. An extreme example of this is those born with harlequin ichthyosis or similar skin genetic disorders. This type of genetic mutation causes the skin to have absolutely no barrier protection which causes the skin to turn in to dry scales which can easily become infected. The focus of treatment is keeping the skin hydrated and protected. Treatment includes bleach baths, and thick layers of Vaseline all over the body. I have firsthand witnessed this with a close friend who had a child born with a variation of this genetic mutation. The treatment protocol worked extremely well. Her skin looked healthy and very minimal scaling. If someone told her to only use completely natural products on her baby with this condition it could have major life-threatening ramifications.
All that to show that natural isnt going to work for every person on the planet and in some cases it is not better.
When I first started my business 4 years ago, I was very wet behind the ears, impressionable, and easily influenced. I was still so new at running a business, and formulating products that I didn't fully understand the science or chemistry behind a lot of the synthetic or natural ingredients. I also was making only "natural products" with only oils and butters (Tallow/Shea) or waterless ingredients besides my soaps. Those do not require preservatives or any complicated ingredients. They are very simple formulations that anyone could make technically. Sure, they do require some trial and error, but by only using ingredients that are deemed minimally processed and from nature, I had the sense that they were far superior to their synthetic water-based counterparts.
I admit, I really just jumped on the bandwagon of what I saw other more successful natural businesses doing which was educating their customers on the toxic ingredients that the sneaky cosmetic industry was using. I thought this was what I was supposed to be doing- educating my customers. When in reality, I was the one who needed to be educated.
After quite some time, I came to want to learn how to work with other formulations, I loved the chemistry of soap making, and dual lye recipes and I wanted to grow in my knowledge of formulating. There was an issue though, I had a barrier i needed to get over and that was this idea or stronghold that anything that was more processed or synthetic was bad. I decided to do some major research and reading into specific ingredients that I kept hearing about in my natural niche that were painted in a bad or negative light.
A good example to give is the "Dirty Dozen" list. It has parabens, phalates, endocrine disruptors, preservatives and so on. Instead of reading other blogs, or articles written by clean beauty proponents I instead read the actual studies done over the years on certain ingredients, I also started reading articles written by toxicologists, and science/cosmetic chemists. People who truly had a background in what I was wanting to learn about. I stopped listening to people who had no formal training in the chemistry of cosmetic ingredients. After all they weren't relevant experts and i quickly realized the clean beauty realm was just a giant echo chamber with very little evidence provided to support any of the claims.
THE DOSE MAKES THE POISON
This isnt to say there arent some ingredients that could possibly be problematic for some consumers, but the more I learned about organic and inorganic chemistry and toxicology my thoughts changed. There is something called aggregate exposure that really will determine the risks of an ingredient. As I was learning about the skin barrier and how it functions, I also realized that not as many things were penetrating it as I thought. The skin barrier is not easy to penetrate, and many checkmarks need to be checked before an ingredient is going to reach the blood stream or even the deeper layers of the epidermis.
All these claims that natural businesses including myself had made were wildly inaccurate and probably extremely confusing for the consumer. Another issue that no one really discusses is how expensive natural products are. Not everybody can afford completely natural oils and butters. Often times the ingredients that are being demonized are the ones that are most affordable and available to the everyday consumer. I wondered how they felt if they happened to see some of my earlier posts demonizing the drugstore skincare they were probably using.
Another hurdle I had to overcome mentally was, am I going to trust the experts? What was my reasoning for not trusting them? Was it because they were taught by the system that was trying to wipe us out as a species? One toxicologist explained it clearly and accurately, loosely quoted he said, "we scientist who are testing ingredients have family and children who are consumers, are we going to lie and say something is safe if it clearly isnt?". Sure, there are corrupt individuals in every system but overall, many are ethical scientists who want to understand the true results of using an ingredient whether synthetic or not.
***This doesn't mean that new data doesn't come out frequently and change the overall opinion of certain cosmetic ingredients. Remember though that correlation does not equal causation. ***
This is where the burden of proof comes in and the consumer needs to bear the burden of researching and choosing to believe what they want. There are many lab tests showing the efficacy and robust safety data of parabens( we will cover this more in great detail in another blog), yet they are still being demonized. Why is that? Is it because the cosmetic businesses are trying to follow a trend of where the money is going which is towards more natural options. It doesn't help that there are nonprofit organizations such as the EWG which labels certain ingredients as bad, but a lot of the data they provide to back those claims is not accurate. They will only show one study that doesn't represent the whole body of data AKA cherry picking. Or they show the safety hazard sheets which only are for the manufacturers who are handling the ingredient alone by itself and not in a formula. We must also realize they are funded by certain brands to push certain products, so they are going to only show you data that works in their favor financially, but that topic is for another day.
Back to my journey, I started to realize that "natural" had its limits and it was making me feel limited in my growth of formulating. If I wanted to use ingredients that targeted things like wrinkles and sun spots like Vitamin C or Propanediol which were only water soluble then I had to learn about preservatives, chelators, emulsifiers and actives. Since I have learned about these things and formulated a whole line of water-based products I have realized that much of what is pushed today is based on playing on consumers fears.
If a business is giving you a free from list that means nothing, in fact, I would be weary of businesses demonizing certain ingredients. We all want to use high quality products on our skin, and we don't want to worry about something harming us. The reality is most(I didn't say all) products on the shelf today have robust safety data to support their use, whether or not your skin can tolerate them is another question. A highly processed product can do wonders for one person's skin, while for another it can cause a major reaction like dermatitis. Does this mean that the ingredients are toxic? No. Can they cause irritation over time? Sure.
WRAP IT UP
To wrap this all up i will leave you with this- dont be so quick to assume because something is natural it is better.
So, the natural fallacy is very prevalent in today's world and it has truly muddied the waters of reality. My best advice from a business owner to a consumer and other business owners is don't be so quick to assume. Remain skeptical of any claims. Do your research and look at everything, not just what one brand is saying, or one holistic practitioner. Listen to the experts weigh in on their opinions, and read all the studies you can find, you might be surprised.
Dont be easily swayed and recognize if a brand is using fear to try and sell you something.
What's truly unfortunate is with the sweeping of the clean beauty movement is a great divide has been created between the cosmetic scientists/chemists and the natural businesses. There is so much misinformation that makes it difficult for the beauty industry as a whole to make any headway or to find common ground. Its like you have to choose sides which couldn't be further from the truth.
Thanks for coming to my ted talk. I didn't want to go into the studies regarding parabens or endocrine disruptors for this blog because it would be too long, but they will be coming soon in another. If you are wanting to learn more about cosmetic science, I encourage you to check out Labmuffin beauty sciene, and The Eco Well. Both are cosmetic chemists, and they have blogs with studies, and podcasts featuring experts in this field. Here are links to their websites: