Is Switching to All-Natural Beauty Products Really Better for Your Skin?

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When it comes to buzzy skincare trends, perhaps nothing has been more on the rise in recent years than products boasting “all-natural” or “naturally-derived” ingredients. Take a walk through any drugstore beauty aisle and you’ll see everything from moisturizers to face washes touting natural properties—probably with a plant on the packaging to really drive the point home. And statistics are showing that this marketing is catching on. A recent survey done by Statista discovered that more than 50% of both female and male consumers in the United States prefer skincare products that are either natural or organic. However, another study conducted by the Kantar Woldpanel found that just 23% of women believe natural products are more effective than synthetic ones. This got us wondering: Is natural skincare really better?

As consumers like us become more and more conscious of the things we put on our bodies, it makes sense that we would be drawn to products with shorter ingredient lists made from plants we’re familiar with and substances we can actually pronounce. But it’s clear that the world of so-called “natural” beauty is complicated. To find out whether or not we should add more natural products to our beauty cabinets, we talked to experts. 

What does it mean when a product says it’s “all-natural”?

“When a beauty product says ‘all-natural’ it typically means that its ingredients are derived from nature (ie, plants, fruits, or minerals) and not created synthetically” explains Gabriella Baki, Ph.D., a cosmetic scientist and assistant professor of pharmaceutics at The University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

However, Dr. Baki tells us that the terms “natural” and “all-natural” do not have a formal, standard definition for skincare products and other cosmetics in the U.S., and that these terms are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to her, “Any company can create its own definition of natural, which means that two ‘natural’ products may not be the same.”

“All-natural” is also not the same as “naturally-derived.” According to Dr. Baki, naturally derived typically means that the source of the ingredient is natural, but that that the ingredient is chemically processed in some way—which is not always a bad thing. “A naturally sounding ingredient, such as aloe vera extract, can come from nature but can often also be synthesized in a lab,” she explains. This can help stabilize the ingredients and improve their effectiveness. Baki says that in these cases, the ingredient will have the same name on the product label, but the source is not the same.

There are certifying bodies in the U.S. and around the world (such as the Natural Products Association, Ecocert, COSMOS, and NaTrue) that do have a definition of natural, and there are select

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