The Word is Used Often, but What Does "Natural" Mean?

Jennifer Katehos

Posted on May 18 2017

Unfortunately, the FDA, which regulates cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, has not defined the term “natural” and has not established a regulatory definition for this term in cosmetic labeling.  Moreover,  the word "natural" means something different to everyone.  Does it mean that all the ingredients are from plant origin?  In which case, petroleum-derived ingredients would qualify, as they come from crude oil, the essence of flora and fauna coming together in the earth.  Or does it relate to the process by which the ingredient was formed and prepared for use?  In which case, cold-pressed plant oils (like olive) and essential oils (like lavender) might qualify, but solvent-extracted plant oils (like rice bran) and absolutes (like jasmine) might not.  Or perhaps it means nothing was synthesized in a laboratory?  In which case, Vitamin C, although occurring naturally, would not qualify, as it needs to be chemically extracted or synthesized to be used as a cosmetic additive.

Furthermore, “natural” things can be just as dangerous as synthetic ones.  There is a safe dose and a toxic dose for everything.  Arsenic is natural, but it can be deadly.  Too much water and a person can drown.  To someone with an allergy, the use of a certain steam-distilled essential oil can have ill effects.  Mineral pigment colorants found in makeup, like micas, ultramarines, and oxides, are synthetically created in labs to create safe materials without naturally-occurring impurities, such as lead and mercury.  Furthermore, FDA-compliant labeling requires the use of intense-sounding names, even for “natural” ingredients.  For example, “Butyrospermum Parkii” is shea butter, and “Melaleuca Alterniflora” is tea tree oil. In short, “natural” doesn’t always mean “safe” or “simple.”


As Natural As Possible

Here at Gramercy Skincare, we make products that are “natural” as possible, while still being safe, enjoyable, and functional.  We use certified organic, ECOCERT-approved, and non-GMO ingredients where practical and possible.  We use vegetable and seed oils, essential oils, CO2 extracts, and distillates.  We’d rather have a positive outlook and focus on what we DO use, as opposed to what we DON’T, but it bears noting that we DO NOT use parabens, sulfates, propylene glycol, or PEGs.

We believe that making products as "natural" as possible addresses environmental and sustainability issues, a way to maintain the conditions in which humans and nature can coexist harmoniously.

Take a mental detour with us to the movie “Jurassic Park,” wherein the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm, perfectly portrayed by Jeff Goldblum, admonishes the creator of the park, saying, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”

We are coming out of a phase in cosmetics where we were using certain ingredients because we could, not necessarily because we should.  Take,  for example, petrolatum, which is one of the most maligned cosmetic ingredients today.  Petrolatum (or “petroleum jelly” or “soft paraffin”) is derived from a byproduct of oil refining.  (Amusingly enough, this means that petrolatum is 100% natural because oil comes from the earth!)  The process of refining petrolatum into a cosmetic product was discovered in the 1860s by a chemist named Robert Chesebrough.  For Chesebrough, petrolatum was the business, figuratively and literally; indeed, he patented the process and started making his product under the name “Vaseline.”  Despite its current reputation, petrolatum is actually an excellent skin protectant and is considered safe by the FDA

Thus, we’ve been using petrolatum as a product and an ingredient since roughly 1870, taking advantage of a byproduct of the oil refining process, because we could.  However, petrolatum is derived from non-renewable sources, and the time has come for the beauty and skincare industry to question whether it should keep using this ingredient.  Luckily, many of the ingredients used in the beauty industry can be produced from renewable plant sources, and the industry has begun to reduce its reliance on it and other petroleum-based ingredients.  Gramercy Skincare is excited to be part of this new trend.