There is no doubt that public misconceptions on the natural/organic cosmetic issue exists, and to the advantage of cosmetic companies who use this uncertainty to promote their products as the “safe choice” solution. As such, pro artists and consumers alike owe it to themselves to get a grasp on very simple cosmetic chemistry knowledge if they are going to make wise buying decisions based on truth and product advertising accuracy.
Every single ingredient approved by the FDA for cosmetic formulations (and there are close to 25,000 of them) are elements that can be roughly classified into 4 basic origins of cultivation: animal, plant, earth/ore, and laboratory created (synthetic) elements. Every raw elemental material or ingredient from these categories that is used in creating a cosmetic MUST be synthesized (chemically processed) to stabilize it in a compound or to be bound into a mixture for an end formula use. This also includes a proper preservative base for shelf life and consumer use safety.
Therefore, the resulting product from this process does NOT make it a completely natural or organic “end to end” cosmetic creation. Rather, it’s a cosmetic product that could have started out with some raw materials originating from natural/organic (plant, animal, earth ore) sources before chemical processing. This is where the element of organic “truth” gets lost in translation and public confusion starts. Cosmetic company marketing strategies take excellent advantage of this confusion as a means of exerting some control over the debate through advertising statements, and with the hopes of converting customer fears into trust for their products.
There is no conclusive scientific evidence that natural/organic cosmetic products are any safer to use than others on the market. The FDA put out a statement in 2007 by one of their resident doctors, Dr. Linda M. Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors to this effect: “Consumers should not necessarily assume that an ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ ingredient or product would possess greater inherent safety than another chemically identical version of the same ingredient. In fact, ‘natural’ ingredients may be harder to preserve against microbial contamination and growth than synthetic raw materials”
Further, the USDA put out a statement concerning the public’s interpretation of USDA Organic Seal, or any organic seal of approval, on cosmetics. “It is not proof of any government endorsed health benefits or product effectiveness. It is purely a marketing program, not a safety program”. An interesting article in the NY Times, “Skin Deep: Natural Organic Beauty”, examines this issue further with other national experts weighing in on this subject. The USDA/FDA have also published official statements concerning organic (natural) ingredients and labeling organic ingredients, with links listed below:
FDA: Organic Cosmetic Product Terms and Definitions
National Organic Program: Cosmetics, Body Care Products, and Personal Care Products
USDA: Organic Certification and Labeling of Cosmetics and Personal Care Products
USDA: Solving the Problem of Mislabeled Organic Personal Care Products
Another perspective to think about is that many natural/organic substances touted for use in cosmetics by manufacturers are also considered toxins, and used in other fields of biology or forensic pathology for research means. Ultimately, product safety and skin sensitivity will always remain the foremost issue with any cosmetic ingredient. As one health conscious consumer summed up the natural organic controversy: “ Even if you fry an organic potato, it is still a french fry”.