There's a bit of a trend at the moment - insisting on 'natural', or 'organic', but is that what you should be insisting on or is 'non-toxic' a better choice.
- existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind.
- in accordance with the nature of, or circumstances surrounding, someone or something.
So, here's the thing - if natural just means to you that a product comes from nature - so from a plant, for example - you may be getting more than you bargained for.
Plants live in soil and however careful the plants are tended to and harvested, the soil is affected by weather, by rainfall, by what is draining into the soil. etc So there may be heavy metals or other contaminants in the soil and they will affect the plant but it may not be obvious to the naked eye and you probably won't know if contaminants have affected your products.
Nature is not all good
Recently, I was speaking to someone about skincare products. She said 'I only use all natural products'. And then added, 'what could be more natural than a plant?' as if just being from nature meant that something was good for you.
Well, let me think about that:
- Deadly nightshade is a plant and it's natural but I'm not about to start applying it to my skin or ingesting it.
- Stinging nettle is a plant and I'm certainly not going to apply that to my skin although I hear nettle tea is not bad :-)
- A plant could be contaminated with lead if that is present in the soil. I don't think anyone wants to ingest or apply lead to their skin these days.
'Natural' does not always equate with what is beneficial to you.
So, maybe just being 'natural' is not enough for you to know about whether to use a product, either on your skin or in your wellness regime, as a supplement, for example.
Organic means different things depending on your point of view
- relating to or derived from living matter.
- relating to or denoting compounds containing carbon (other than simple binary compounds and salts) and chiefly or ultimately of biological origin.
- (of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.
Guidelines for what 'organic' means vary from country to country, but more importantly, organic doesn't guarantee non-toxic. Pesticides may not be added to the produce but what about pollution generally, including acid rain, soil pollution etc.
In some countries, having 70% organic ingredients, (so 30% not organic) can be certified organic. Most countries allow for at least 5% non-organic ingredients in their 'organic-certified' products.
A product can be called 'organic' but that gives no guarantee that you are actually even getting the part that works or that it's in adequate amounts . There's a product called 'Apricot scrub' and apricot extract is the last ingredient listed which means that it's in the least concentration. Just being called organic or natural is meaningless.
The desired result comes from the active ingredient
If you want to calm your skin that may be sun-burned, for example, you have probably heard that Aloe vera does a great job. Yes, it does, but do you know that it's not all of the aloe vera plant that acts this way.
The soothing, calming properties of the aloe vera come from the active ingredient that only comes from a certain part of the plant. And the concentration of that active ingredient varies with the age of the plant.
So, when you choose natural, you want to make sure you choose the bit that works. Just because a product says it has aloe vera does not actually mean that it contains the active ingredient that you're looking for. And the same goes for 'organic' aloe vera.
Active ingredients from plants have chemical names
Another thing that seems to be a point of confusion is that when you look at the ingredient list, you see names that are chemical sounding. That doesn't mean these are unnatural.
It just acknowledges the fact that plants are made up of molecules and those molecules have names, and what you are looking at could be the name of the natural, active ingredient.
If it's in a jar, it needs to keep
If you want a natural face mask made of avocado and honey, it will probably feel amazing on your skin. If you have mixed the ingredients just before you apply the mask, you are likely to be getting pure benefit. But.....
If your mask comes in a jar, or tube, then it needs to have some sort of preservative otherwise you are going to get bugs and/or mould growing. You may not see these contaminants but they are likely to be growing on most 'natural/organic' products that do not have a preservative.
Now, there are preservatives that you should absolutely avoid, like formaldehyde, but others are safe when used in small, but adequate, amounts. Don't discount a product just because it has a preservative. Be more concerned about the ones that don't.
I choose natural AND non-toxic
When I say I choose natural and non-toxic, this is what I mean:
Natural - to me this means working with the body. We have an amazing body that is designed to stay healthy.
- We have an acid mantle which is a protective layer on our skin that is slightly acidic. So, natural to me means not stripping that off with alkaline cleansers. Even some top-end high-price beauty bars (soaps) are alkaline
- We have a natural moisturising factor (NMF) which is not one but several compounds that we have on our skin to keep it moist. This NMF declines with age, sun damage and pollution. I use moisturisers that mimic the NMF and I avoid products with mineral oils and petroleum distillates which basically just occlude the skin. To me that's being natural
- Looking to nature as an example and then recreating it is what I consider natural. That may mean that some molecules from nature have to be broken down so they can penetrate the skin. For example, a collagen molecule is natural but you can't apply it to the skin and expect it to penetrate into deeper layers because it's just too big. You can use oligopeptides, though, which are smaller chunks of the collagen protein that can penetrate the skin layers and then stimulate natural collagen production
Non-Toxic - this means to me that I follow the mantra that also guides me in my medical practice - 'above all else, do no harm'
- I prefer to use products that come from nature because I believe they are best, but I want some evidence that the product is beneficial and not harmful - that's my nerdy medical-side kicking in, but if I require rigor in the occasional medication I take, why wouldn't I expect the same in products I take daily or that I apply to my skin daily?
- I am shocked sometimes in my medical practice when I suggest a drug for a condition, often a well tested drug with a clear indication and a very good safety profile and the person will say 'I don't like taking drugs'. That's fair enough because I don't either. But then they will proceed to tell me about all the things they are taking from the 'health' food shop that they can tell me nothing about. Now, I'm not saying that products you buy in the health food shop can't be good for you, but unless you're clear about what is in them and what result you are hoping for, how can you make an informed choice that the benefit outweighs the risk?
- I have spoken to so many people who only want to use products with a few ingredients with 'sexy' organic sounding names, but there's no way of knowing whether it's the active ingredient and that's it's not contaminated. I want to know what I'm putting on my skin or what's in my health supplements.
I am confident not only that I know that the products I use and promote are natural and non-toxic but also that the quality of the product I buy today will be matched in a product I buy tomorrow. I use a brand that uses a rigorous production method from sourcing to quality control.
How do you know a product is non-toxic?
I use (and promote and sell) a range of products that undergo a rigorous quality assurance testing process, called 6S. This is a process used on products that come from nature, so are natural, but they are also non-toxic and this is checked by this 6S process.
- selection - what are the best ingredients to get the results?
- sourcing - where is the most reliable source for getting quality ingredients?
- specification -what is the specific active ingredient?
- standardization - is the amount of the active ingredient at the desired level every time?
- safety - is the product safe and, in particular, free from heavy metals, microbes or allergens?
- substantiation - is the product and claims supported by evidence-based research?
From the point of view of this article, ones that are particularly pertinent are specification, standardization and safety.
One of the reasons I can be confident that the products I promote and sell are non-toxic is because of this rigorous 6S process that puts skincare and wellness products through the type of process that drugs need to go through to get FDA approval. Most skincare products and health supplements would not pass this type of scrutiny.
One piece of equipment used in this 6S process is a very sophisticated GCMS (gas chromatography mass spectrometer). Most companies just don't put the funding into R&D that allows them to own such a machine, so most products don't go through this process.
At the end of the day, you need to be confident in the process used by the company making your skincare and wellness supplements. Zansie will cover this a bit more in next week's blog.
What will you insist on in future?
When you are next choosing a 'natural' product, consider how important it is to you whether it's also non-toxic. The two are not synonymous.
Organic and natural have different meanings to different people - what do they mean to you?
Next week, Zansie is going to deep dive into '3 tips to finding all-natural products that are actually all-natural'
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