Natural vs non-natural and some basic chemicals to avoid


Let’s start with the basics, what does natural, organic etc. mean in a skincare product?

– A natural product is a product that includes any ingredient of plant, mineral, marine- or animal origin. Meaning a natural product isn’t necessarily vegan, cruelty free or organic.

– An organic product is a product that contains a minimum of 70% organic ingredients. This isn’t enough to get an organic seal like the BIO or ECOCERT certificates.

– Vegan/not tested on animals/cruelty free are also labels that you should look for on products, natural and organic doesn’t mean animal friendly.

The first thing you should remember is that all companies, even “conscious” companies label their products for marketing purposes. Just looking for the words “natural” or “organic” on a label isn’t enough. What’s important to do as you take your first steps towards a more conscious skincare routine, is to turn the package around and read the fine print. How high is the percentage of natural or organic ingredients in the product, and is the product vegan and cruelty free?

Once you’ve checked that the product really is natural it is usually safe to use, keeping in mind that allergic reactions can occur from plant-, or mineral based ingredients as well. If you have allergies (and maybe even if you don’t) it’s never a bad idea to try the product on a small part of your skin first to make sure it’s okay fo you to use. Some natural ingredients (for example essentials oils) can cause skin irritation because of the high concentration levels, which is why natural products should come from a company you trust to ensure controlled amounts of each ingredient.

A natural product is often free from preservatives, which is great for our bodies but means the product shouldn’t be used past the use by-date, and should be kept in a dark and cool place (like our food!). They should also preferably come in either glass containers (preferably dark) or toxic-free plastic such as PET and BPA free plastic. Avoid PVC plastics and remember to recycle your containers no matter the material.

With non-natural products, meaning products containing man-made chemicals there are a few rules of thumb that are easy enough to follow.

First, there isn’t a lot of actual research on the harmful effects of these said chemicals, and in small amounts most of them probably wouldn’t be particularly bad, but since we use skin- and haircare products daily the amounts become quite large over time. A lot of the chemicals have also had proven direct effects such as skin irritation.

As well as most likely being harmful for us in long time use non-natural products also have a negative effect on our environment. Both the making of these chemicals as well as when we let them out into the environment affects our planet in a negative way.

An easy thing to do to start choosing better products is looking for products made in the EU or Australia, where the regulations for the use of chemicals is more strict than for example in the US. Looking for “free of”-tags on a product is also good, because even though the product still contains chemicals, the most harmful ones (at least the ones that are said to be the most harmful) are usually not there.

Below is a list of the most common harmful chemicals (and some non-chemicals) in skincare, what they’re used for and what their assumed negative effect is. 

Aluminium: used for example as an anti-perspirant, has been linked to breast cancer and skin irritation

Baking soda: used as an anti-perspirant, can cause skin irritation

Benzoyl peroxide: used for acne treatment, dries out the skin

BHA: used as an exfoliant, can cause allergies

DEA, MEA, TEA: used as emulsifier and fragrance, assumed carcinogen

Dioxins: environmental pollutants, used for example in cotton farming, assumed carcinogen, ends up in tampons (this is why we should use organic tampons or menstrual cups)

Fragrances: used to make a product smell better (often to cover up chemical smells), there are many different fragrances, many are assumed carcinogens or toxins

Imidazolidinyl Urea and DMDM Hydantoin: used as preservatives, break down to formaldehyde which can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, assumed carcinogen

Isopropyl Alcohol: used for quickly drying products, assumed carcinogen

Palm oil: not harmful for humans but should be avoided for the negative effects the harvest has on the environment

Parabens, phthalates: used as preservatives, assumed carcinogens

Petrochemicals: used as fragrance, preservatives or to water down a product, assumed carcinogens

Phenoxyethanol: used in organic skincare as preservative, can cause skin irritation

Polyethylene glycol: used for dissolving oil, takes the protective oils off the skin and hair and leaves them more vulnerable to toxins

Quaternium-15: used as a preservative, assumed carcinogen

Sulfates (SLS, SLES): used as foaming agents, assumed carcinogens, can cause irritation to skin and eyes, harmful to the environment, often tested on animals

Synthetic dyes: used to change the colour of a product, assumed carcinogens

Talc: used to absorb moisture, assumed carcinogen, can cause skin irritation

Triclosan: used as a preservative, assumed carcinogen


Remember to always read the ingredients on a product, and keep in mind what products you try and what effect they have on your skin. Every product doesn’t work for everyone, and even in natural products there might be ingredients that aren’t suitable for you. Stop using a product if any irritation appears. Also keep in mind all the experiences and opinions on this blog are my own, you make what you want of them.

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