We regularly receive questions about how natural certain products are. Unfortunately, there is rarely a good short answer to such a question. Whether something is natural or not is a matter of taste and opinion. Something more can be said about related matters such as organic, environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Natural in short
If a cosmetic product or a cosmetic raw material is called ‘natural’, it means that the manufacturer, seller or whoever makes this statement believes that the product is ‘natural’. It doesn’t have to be different from other cosmetics or cosmetic raw materials in any way, but it can be.
The main point is that everyone is allowed to call any cosmetic product or any cosmetic raw material ‘natural’. There is no legal regulation on this point and no generally accepted definition. If you buy ‘natural’ cosmetics, these cosmetics can be identical to any other cosmetic product that is not advertised as ‘natural’.
In other words: the concept of ‘natural’ is an opinion and not a fact. The great thing about facts is that they always apply to everyone. If we write that almond oil is liquid under normal circumstances, then that is a fact: always and for everyone. If we say it’s natural, that’s our opinion, someone else may think differently. For example, because the oil is extracted from the nuts in a factory, and what is ‘natural’ about a factory?
More philosophically, you could ask yourself whether there is even such a thing as natural cosmetics. Cosmetics are meant to make you look more beautyful than you are. So not to show your natural self, but something that is apparently better than nature. Humans naturally smell like sweat, not like violets. Wrinkles and blemishes naturally appear as you get older. Animals only use water and sand to clean themselves: the ultimate natural cosmetic. The use of cosmetics is intended to counteract nature or to cover the natural. In this sense, the term “natural cosmetics” is self-contradictory.
Cosmetics do not grow on trees and are not mined in mines. Cosmetics are made in the factory, or possibly in the kitchen, but in any case not in nature.
So the word ‘natural’ in natural cosmetics does not mean anything by itself. If you want to know what is natural about the natural soap you have bought, you should ask the manufacturer why they think it is natural. Are you satisfied with that answer? That’s great!
Maybe it’s good to be a little critical. Is a certain soap natural because it is made from olive oil? That olive oil may be natural, but the lye used to make the soap is a product of the chlorine industry. In other words: most things are a little natural, completely natural is a different story.
We sometimes notice that those customers who explicitly ask for natural products sometimes have problems with the associated drawbacks. Two examples that we have experienced ourselves:
- Yellow beeswax. The colour was less dark this time than in many previous deliveries. That is possible, it is a natural product and the natural colour can turn out differently from one time to another. Solution: use white beeswax, which is always almost white, so the colour is more consistant. Or accept that ‘natural’ means that the colour and other properties, such as smell, are not always quite the same.
- Clary sage oil. The smell was different from previous deliveries. Origin, weather and production method ensure that one essential oil does not necessarily smell like the other. The spread in scent can be quite substantial. Solution: use loose fragrances, whether natural or not, and no mixtures such as an essential oil. Or accept that ‘natural’ means that the smell and other properties are not always quite the same.
Are your products natural?
As indicated above, the word ‘natural’ can mean anything.
That is why we are careful with the word. If you come across it in an item description, we mean the following, unless clearly stated otherwise in the description.
Cosmetics Raw Materials
We use the term natural for cosmetic raw materials if the molecules that make up the raw material are made by nature. Almond oil is therefore natural, although it is refined. Cetyl alcohol is made from vegetable oil, but by converting the molecules of vegetable oil in the factory, so that is not natural. With comfrey extract, the comfrey molecules may be natural, but the glycerin is made by converting vegetable oil in the factory: not natural.
In doing so, we deviate from the Cosmos standard. This standard has been prepared by a number of European organizations of manufacturers, certifiers, users and other stakeholders. They have agreed that cosmetics that meet that standard are natural. We believe that sometimes strange choices have been made in this standard and therefore do not adopt it. Moreover, the standard is no longer free: you now have to pay for certification to meet this standard, which would make our products too expensive.
We have accepted a standard for fragrances, namely ISO 9235. Here too, it is sometimes up for debate, but fewer strange choices have been made than with the Cosmos standard. If a fragrance is natural according to the ISO 9235 standard, we consider it a natural substance. There is also another standard for natural fragrances, namely that of European Regulation 1334/2008 Article 3.2C. This one goes a little further: microbiological processes may also be used. In those cases we explain the term ‘natural’ in the description.
Are your products sustainable?
What sustainably means to us, in summary, to the core: not using up substances, leaving no harmful waste that cannot be processed and no causing irreparable damage to ecosystems. More broadly, it also means that you do not cause any short-term damage to people and the environment. So no slave trade or (disguised) support for harmful regimes and also prevent temporary environmental damage.
A simple example: petroleum will run out at some point, so products made from petroleum are not sustainable. Plastic waste takes thousands of years to decompose and in that time can cause damage to nature: it is therefore not sustainable.
Examples of unsustainable products we use are calcium carbonate, isopropyl myristate and other substances that come (partly) from mines or are made from materials that come (partly) from mines. When the mine is empty, the resource is gone. The same goes for the plastic packaging we use.
We do not always have a complete view of the production. If the energy with which an essential oil is made comes from coal, then the essential oil is not sustainably produced: the coal will run out at a certain point. If the energy is obtained from hydropower, the oil is sustainable in that respect.
We strive for sustainability, but it is still often difficult to get a good idea of how sustainable a product is. There are also not always good alternatives (yet). We see it as an assignment to ourselves to get a better picture of this and to look for alternatives.
Are your products palm oil-free
We sell various products that are made from palm oil to a greater or lesser extent. We strive to ensure that this meets the RSPO standard as much as possible. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, because we are also dependent on the availability.
Also: switching to another vegetable oil is not always possible and is certainly not automatically more sustainable. The only oil that can almost always be used instead of palm oil or palm kernel oil is coconut oil. This has to do with the composition of the oil. In principle, coconut oil is less sustainable than palm oil or palm kernel oil because more land is needed for the same yield of oil.
Of course, it also mainly depends on how the oil is made. If that is from organically produced coconut oil on land for which the forest has not recently been cleared, then that is of course better than non-organically produced palm oil for which the forest has recently been cleared.
We try to indicate in the description of vegetable oil-based products what it is made of and also how sustainably it is produced. If we have the choice between more sustainable and less sustainable products, then in principle we opt for the more sustainable, but we still have a long way to go, as we switch product by product – so that also applies to products based on palm oil.
In principle means that we cannot accept every price difference and a product should be usualy available, of course.
Are your products environmentally friendly?
The best thing for the environment is to use as little as possible: reducing consumption is the best thing you can do for the environment. Because cosmetics are a luxury, so not necessary, cosmetics are in a sense always bad for the environment. Simply don’t use more than you think is necessary. Even better, see if you can use less. Keep in mind that many skin problems are caused by prolonged and too frequent washing: showering less often and not always applying shower gel is often good for the skin, the environment and your wallet. You therefore need to apply less creams to moisturise skin that has dried out due to too much washing.
For raw materials it is very difficult to determine how environmentally friendly they are (or better: how harmful to the environment). You should actually make an extensive calculation for each product and then compare things that are not comparable. Product A costs a lot of raw materials, but little energy. Product B costs few raw materials, but a lot of energy. Which is the most environmentally friendly?
Rose scent and other examples
A synthetic rose perfume is usually less bad for the environment than natural rose essential oil. A lot of energy and space is required for the production of rose oil. The synthetic variant also requires energy, but much less.
Salt and calcium carbonate don’t break down in the environment, but they don’t do any harm either. Many types of essential oil break down badly and are very harmful to the environment, but so little is used in cosmetics that this is rarely a problem in practice.
Please note: there is no reason to assume that natural subastances are better for the environment than synthetic substances. The rose oil is just one example. Natural substances can be environmentally harmful, where a comparable synthetic substance is not.
Are your products 100% pure?
These are actually two questions, which we will deal with separately.
Have substances been added to the product?
Sometimes. An antioxidant has been added to our lemon oil and many other essential oils. This is necessary for many professional users of our products because otherwise they cannot guarantee the safety of the product. An antioxidant ensures that the oil can be used longer and harmful substances develop less quickly. So there are more examples. If we add something, it is indicated in the description of the product. Our suppliers also sometimes add substances and small remnants of additives can sometimes remain in a product. We will report this when we know.
Have substances been removed from the product?
Sometimes. Our vegetable oil is often refined unless it is not necessary, such as with jojoba oil and castor oil. Refining produces an oil that does not smell, has a less dark colour and has a longer shelf life. In the product description we generally indicate whether and how refined the substance is.
Desired substances such as vitamins are also partly removed during refining, but this is a temporary problem. Refined oil is more stable than unrefined oil, which means that the vitamins are also retained for longer. After some time, the refined oil is richer than the unrefined one.
Are your products vegan?
Most products are vegan, but not all. In many cases this is immediately clear. Wool fat, beeswax and beeswax absolute have an animal origin, as the name indicates. If it’s not immediately obvious like with some fragrance compounds, we almost always mention it in the description.
Cosmetic raw materials based on animal fats are almost no longer made, in almost all cases they are now made from palm oil or coconut oil.
Are your products chemical?
Chemical means that a substance is made of molecules, atoms, ions and other particles. All matter is therefore chemical. Every human being is 100% chemical from the tip of the toe to the tip of the hair. Every organic apple is 100% chemical, every pesticide is 100% chemical.
We can therefore confidently say that all our substances, both natural and synthetic, are 100% chemical without exception.
Are your products ecological / organic?
Sometimes these terms are seen as a kind of synonym for ‘natural’, in that case: look there.
For foodstuffs and agricultural products, ecological / organic can mean products that have been produced in a certain way. This concerns vegetable or animal raw materials, where no or less fertilizer and pesticides are used. If you buy organic lettuce in the store, you can count on it being grown according to these methods. There are laws to enforce this and there are control organizations that control this.
Cosmetics and cosmetic raw materials can also be called ecological / organic, but in most cases there is no legal basis for this. There is no law that enforces that the cosmetic or the raw materials for it must meet certain requirements. This means that everyone can call almost every cosmetic raw material and every cosmetic product organic, regardless of origin.
Such cosmetics will often be comparable to legally regulated foodstuffs, but there will also be tampering. Finally, you can charge more money for organic detergent, although it contains the same as in the non-organic detergent.
Per January 1, 2022 the EU legislation has changed. Now some raw materials that are used for non food products are still bound to this law. Examples are essential oils, bees wax and natural resins and gums.
Our choices here
Unfortunately, the amendment of the legislation as of January 1, 2022 took us a bit by surprise. It’s legislation that we didn’t have to deal with before and that’s why we only found out late that we suddenly had to deal with new rules.
Products made before January 1, 2022 are not yet covered by the law, which means that we will only have to comply with the law in steps from the end of 2022. We will see if we can arrange organic certification for the products in question. That would mean a price increase of about 30% for our organic products to cover the extra costs. We will gradually remove the designation (org) from the products in question, although we will continue to purchase organic products as much as possible.
On one hand, it is a pity that it takes so much work and money to arrange the administrative matters surrounding organic products. The fact that there is only one organization in the Netherlands that is allowed to arrange this does not make it any easier or cheaper. It means that organic products are necessarily more expensive and therefore less accessible. Reversing the legislation (everything is basically organic, you have to pay more to show that your non-organic products are not too harmful to people, nature and the environment) would help enormously. Sri Lanka is trying to introduce something like this, but unfortunately Europe is not that far yet.
On the other hand, this way you have more certainty that what is sold as organic is also organic.
For products that are not covered by the legislation, we will not change anything for the time being. These products are certified by various European organizations and are controlled in a similar way to organic products that are covered by the law. We don’t have to do anything about that now and we have enough confidence that these products have been produced in a similar way.