Recently, the trend of going back to the roots, simple components and non-invasive procedures has been popular in the cosmetics industry. It is the reason for the sudden interest in raw materials obtained directly from nature and used to produce natural cosmetics.
Information on the composition of a particular cosmetic is placed on the label on the packaging. What can we learn from the label? Which ingredients can be used in natural products? What are their functions?
The label on a cosmetic usually contains a list of cosmetic raw materials used for its production. The materials are referred to by using so-called INCI names. This abbreviation comes from English words International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. It is a unified naming system of chemical compounds in English and plants in Latin.
When buying cosmetics, it is worth paying attention to the list of ingredients to be sure that the product will work in a manner declared by the manufacturer. One should remember about the rule according to which the ingredients included in the cosmetic are listed in a specific order, starting with those of the highest content in the product. This information allows consumers to make an informed choice when they purchase cosmetics. Due to that, they avoid disappointment when purchased products do not work in the expected manner. Frequently, this is due to the fact that a particular ingredient is present in too small amount in relation to other components, to produce the desired effect. For this reason, the preparation of a cosmetic product with a specific effect is not an easy task. One should select cosmetic raw materials so that the product has a homogeneous consistency, and the ingredients’ properties are in harmony with one another, ensuring the desired results. This applies to both natural cosmetics and preparations containing synthetic ingredients.
Natural cosmetics are products that contain only natural raw materials – mineral resources and ingredients of plant or animal origin. In addition, they should be obtained as a result of such processes as: filtration, extraction, drying, distillation, pressing, milling, lyophilization and sieving. Obtaining natural raw materials with the use of the aforementioned physical methods, which process the material to a small extent, allows to preserve the nutritional values, vitamins and beneficial substances found in the raw materials.
Ingredients of animal origin can be used to produce natural cosmetics only when doing so is not harmful to the health or life of animals. Such raw materials are, among others, honey, propolis, lanolin and milk. In the production of natural cosmetics, it is also allowed to use cosmetic raw materials obtained in biotechnological processes, i.e. microbiological or enzymatic. Hyaluronic acid, among others, is obtained this way.
In addition to raw materials of plant and animal origin, in natural cosmetics you can also find:
For the production of natural cosmetics one shall not use mineral oils, paraffins, petrolatum, synthetic dyes, synthetic fragrances, synthetic preservatives, i.e. parabens or formaldehydes, as well as propylene glycol (PPG), silicones, BHT, SLS and SLES.
The ingredients of natural cosmetics have to be free from raw materials originating from genetically modified plants as well as from raw materials from dead animals or obtained in the manner harmful for them. It is also important to remember that the production of natural cosmetics requires undertaking measures protecting natural environment.
A natural cosmetic product should not contain synthetic substances; although some certifying organizations consider the product to be natural if it contains less than 5% of synthetic substances.
Cosmetic semi-finished products used in natural preparations have defined functions. However, due to the fact that each natural raw material has a rich composition and various properties, it can serve several functions at the same time. The most important ingredients that are used in natural cosmetics are antioxidants, emulsifying agents, hydrolates and plant extracts, humectants, exfoliants and surfactants.
Antioxidants’ action is based on reducing the amount of free radicals accelerating skin aging processes. These substances limit the growth of microorganisms and protect the cosmetic ingredients from decomposition. The natural antioxidants are: lipoic and ferulic acids, Q10 coenzyme, as well as vitamin C and E. Polyphenols and flavonoids found in grape seeds, rosemary and citrus are also effective. An additional advantage of these substances is protection of the cosmetic product from external factors, which extends its shelf life.
Due to emulsifiers, it is possible to create a permanent emulsion, that is, to combine two phases – water and oil. They give the right consistency and stabilize the cosmetic product. A popular natural emulsifier is GSC (Glyceryl Stearate Citrate) which, in addition to preventing the stratification of phases of cosmetics, is good for the skin. Another natural substance used as an emulsifier in cosmetics is also beeswax.
Hydrolates are distillates produced as by-products in the process of essential oils manufacture. Their properties depend on the plant which they were obtained from. However, their common features are the ability of toning the skin, improving its condition and soothing irritations. Hydrolates are also used as so-called water phase in soaps, creams and balms.
Vitamins are organic chemical compounds that have a positive effect on the condition of the skin. Vitamin C, A and E are most commonly used in cosmetics. They effectively soothe skin irritations, protect and regulate its density and restore firmness.
Humectants are substances that are responsible for binding water in both the cosmetic preparation and the skin. Due to them, moisturization is preserved for a long time, wrinkles are smoothed out and the skin becomes taut, supple and elastic. Natural humectants are aloe, honey, glycerol and hyaluronic acid.
Exfoliants are ingredients exfoliating the epidermis, and they are commonly referred to as scrubs. They remove the outer layer of dead skin cells, stimulating new cells to grow. In addition, they oxygenate and thoroughly cleanse the skin surface. Natural exfoliants can work mechanically or chemically. The first type are abrasive substances, i.e. ground seeds or inorganic salts. The second type of exfoliants are enzymatic agents that dissolve dead cells. In natural cosmetics, hydroxylic acids are used as chemical exfoliants (AHA acids). They are found, among others, in milk, fruit and sugar cane, and these are substances such as: malic, citric and mandelic acid.
Plant extracts are active ingredients extracted from plants in the extraction process using solvents, such as vegetable oils or ethanol of plant origin. Their effects result directly from the properties of the raw material from which they were obtained. They serve antibacterial, firming, strengthening, moisturizing, rejuvenating and reducing fatigue and discolouration functions.
This group of ingredients is used in cleansing cosmetics, where they are responsible for the saponification of impurities from the surface of the skin and they facilitate skin cleansing. In natural cosmetics Cocamidopropyl betaine obtained from coconut oil is used. This substance has very good foaming properties, antibacterial effect and it gently removes dirt, without causing skin irritation.
Natural cosmetics can be prepared on water base or oil base. Despite different consistencies, no one predominates over the other in terms of performance. It all depends on the preferences of the user, which form of the cosmetic he/she is more likely to choose.
Floral waters (hydrolates) or plain distilled water constitute water phase. Floral water contains valuable ingredients derived from plant raw materials (including their essential oils), due to which it enriches the cosmetic with beneficial properties. In turn, oil phase in natural cosmetics intensely moisturizes the skin, effectively nourishes it and protects against external factors. In addition, vitamins are dissolved in fats and so they are better able to penetrate deeper layers of the skin. Among cosmetics based on oil base, we can distinguish butters of solid consistency and liquid oils.
Natural cosmetics are becoming more and more competitive for synthetic products. This is due to the growing awareness of the benefits of using natural products. Before we trust the manufacturer, it is necessary to read the composition of the cosmetic, paying attention to every detail. It is also worth testing the product, checking its performance before regular use. It is good to consider whether it is worth losing the effects of improving the condition of the body obtained by means of a healthy diet and exercise by applying parabens, silicones and other synthetic additives on your body. The answer to this question seems obvious. Which cosmetics are better for us – natural or synthetic? In addition to the prevailing durability of the product and the greater pigmentation of the cosmetics with chemical components, they are not better than preparations obtained from natural ones.
Natural cosmetics contain valuable substances that occur naturally, due to which they are safe even for the most sensitive skin. In addition, they are not tested on animals, and their production takes place with care for the natural environment.
However, the most important argument for using this type of preparations is the lack of harmful substances that are often found in synthetic cosmetics. Their effects after prolonged use may be harmful to our body. Hence, what substances should be definitely avoided and why?
These are organic chemicals that act as preservatives and are present in almost all creams and synthetic balms. Their antioxidant effect extends the durability of the cosmetic preparation, but, unfortunately, it is not indifferent to our health. These ingredients have a negative effect on the skin as they can cause redness, allergies and also cancer, which has been supported by tests on animals. These compounds are not biodegradable and do not dissolve in water.
These are organic chemicals used as solar filters that occur in sun creams. Their use may cause hormonal imbalances because they act in a manner similar to female oestrogens. In addition, they can cause allergies. Chemical solar filters do not dissolve in water.
These are cyclic silicones, substances that improve the consistency of the cosmetic and facilitate its application. After some time, they evaporate, but they still negatively affect the body. These compounds are toxic and may be detrimental to our reproduction and may cause endocrine disorders.
They belong to organic foam-forming chemicals used in cleansing cosmetics. These substances are responsible for removing impurities from the surface of hair and skin. They often cause allergies, have a toxic effect on the immune system, and are also suspected of being carcinogenic. Ethanolamines are often contaminated with nitrosamines, which are very toxic and should therefore be avoided. The cosmetics preparations use diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA) and monoethanolamine (MEA or ETA).
These are organic chemicals that act as preservatives in cosmetic products. On the label you can find them under the name: methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, butyl paraben, aseptin. These substances cause skin irritation, burning and itching, as well as allergies. The important thing is that parabens have toxic effects not only on the skin, but on the entire organism. They affect the hormonal balance, may adversely affect the normal development of the foetus and act carcinogenically.
These are mixtures derived from processed petroleum, often used as a cosmetics base. They include, among others, mineral oil, paraffin wax, liquid paraffin and other by-products generated in the distillation of crude oil. The greatest danger associated with the use of petrolatum and paraffin in cosmetics is the presence of impurities in the form of PAH, i.e. polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which cause cancer.
When buying products for hygiene and body care, remember how important the origin of raw materials used in cosmetics is. Marketing message often does not go hand in hand with the real effect of the product, which instead of improving the condition of the skin – destroys it. This applies not only to natural cosmetics, but to all cosmetic preparations available on the market. Taking into account the composition of the cosmetic visible on the label, and not its brand, should become a routine that will help you properly care for your skin.