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Nowhere is the advertising hype greater than in the beauty industry, with “natural” or “organic” being some of the favourite claims. But what do these words actually mean – and are they worth paying extra for? 
 
Thanks to “our friends” in Europe, you’d have thought it would have been a simple job to find some regulations setting out the criteria to be met before any of these words could be used. So did we. 
 
 
Having recently spent an afternoon trying to do this – and failing miserably (!) – it quickly became clear that the answer just isn’t that straightforward. While it was easy to find all sorts of regulations over food labelling, the beauty industry seems to have got away very lightly. Nowhere could we find a standard definition for any of these words. True, there were some voluntary agreements, but that was as far as it went. 
 
What does that mean for you as a consumer? 
 
Well, it means that your idea of “natural” – or any other claim made on the front of the packaging – may be very different from those doing the marketing for the product in question. 
 
Let’s take a walk down the beauty section of any supermarket and look at a couple of different products. 
 
How about a well known herbal shampoo, whose TV adverts feature summer meadows? On the front of the bottle is a picture of herbs with the strapline “A selection of herbs from the Alps, where they are known for their hair strengthening properties”. Look on the back and the ingredients are listed as: 
 
Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (A)/Sodium C12-13 Pareth Sulfate (B), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Dimethiconol, Citric Acid, TEA-Dodecylbenzene-Sulfonate, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Disodium EDTA, Laureth-23, Dimethiconol / Silsesquioxane Copolymer, Sodium Benzoate, Glycerin, Propanediol, Thymus Vulgaris Flower/Leaf Extract, Salvia Officinalis Leaf Extract, Artemisia Dracunculus Leaf/Stem Extract, Menyanthes Trifoliata Leaf Extract, Sodium Hydroxide, Rhodiola Rosea Root Extract, PPG-12, Parfum, Benzyl Salicylate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citronellol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool, CI 42051, CI 47005. 
 
While it’s true to say that it does contain herbs – we’ve highlighted them – they are in no way the main ingredients. Like many products, the main ingredient is water – aqua – followed by a long list of synthetic chemicals, the majority petroleum based. Does this still sound like such a natural product? 
 
Or how about a daily moisturising lotion?  
 
This time there is a picture of Oats on the front with the words “with naturally active colloidal oatmeal, moisturises dry skin for 24 hours.” The ingredients are listed as: 
 
Aqua, Glycerin, Distearyldimomium Chloride, Isopropyl Palmitate, Paraffinum Liquidum, Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Avena Sativa Kernel Flour, Paraffin, Cera Microcristallina, Stearyl Alcohol, Myristyl Alcohol, Benzyl Alcohol, Sodium Chloride. 
 
While it does contain oats – again we've highlighted it – it's the eighth ingredient. Water – Aqua – is the main ingredient, with the remainder being synthetic, petroleum based, chemicals. 
 
We could go on and on, but trust you’ve got the point. It’s all about hype and putting the best possible spin on things. 
 
By way of contrast, let’s look at a couple of products found on the shelves of a local health food shop. 
 
A shampoo, with a picture of lavender on the front and a strapline of “with lavender oil”. Its contents are listed as: 
 
Aqua, Ammonium laureth sulphate*, Maris sal, Polysorbate 20*, Lavandula angustifolia oil*, Lavandula hybrida oil*, Pelargonium graveolens oil*, Melaleuca alternifolia leaf oil*, Anthocyanins*, Cocamidopropyl betaine*, Potassium sorbate, Sodium benzoate, Citric acid*, Linalool^, Citronellol^, Geraniol^ 
 
Vegetable derived * From Essential oils ^ 
 
While water is the main ingredient, by highlighting the natural ingredients it quickly becomes clear that this is a very different product – using a completely different definition of “natural”. 
 
Or a daily moisturiser in plain white packaging with the words “enriched with organic green tea.” 
 
Aqua, Caprylic/capric triglyceride*, Aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) leaf juice**, Glycerin*, Glycine soja (soybean) oil**, Cetearyl wheat straw glycosides°°, Glyceryl stearate*, Cetearyl alcohol*, Limnanthes alba (meadowfoam) seed oil*, Butyrospermum parkii (shea butter)***, Camellia sinensis (green tea) leaf extract**, Sodium PCA*, Tocopherol* (vitamin E), Parfum (natural aroma)*, Stearic acid*, Citric acid*, Sodium benzoate, Potassium sorbate, Xanthan gum*, Limonene°, Linalool° 
 
* Vegetable derived ingredient, ** Organic certified ingredient, *** Community trade ingredient, º from essential oils, º º wheat straw sugar derived, gluten and protein free ingredient. 
 
Once again, highlighting the natural ingredients makes the difference immediately apparent. 
 
What’s the solution?  
 
Well, as always, it’s quite simple. Caveat emptor. Buyer beware. 
 
Always have a look at the ingredients on the back of the packaging BEFORE you decide whether you want to buy the product. How many do you recognise or know what they are? Do you really want to put them on your skin, to be absorbed into your body? 
 
And “yes” we know what you’re thinking. Won’t that involve lots of hard work? Well, “yes”, it will involve a little work initially – but you’ll only have to do it once. 
 
If you’re not sure what to look for, here are some of the worst offenders: 
 
Sodium Laurel Sulphate (SLS) provides the foam in a whole range of beauty products such as shampoos, cleansers, bath products and even toothpastes. If you’ve ever wondered why your hair feels “squeaky clean” after washing, SLS was originally used to clean the grease from industrial machinery. So just imagine what it does to your hair… It has been linked to many health problems including skin irritation, asthma and immune system dysfunction. While it can be derived from plant sources, most is produced in a factory using a chemical process. 
 
Parabens (methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, ethylparaben) are found in many products and are used as preservatives. They have been linked to the disruption of hormones and can mimic Oestrogen. 
 
Mineral oils and petrolatum products are used to lock in moisture in the skin or hair. Linked to skin irritation and cancer, concern has also been expressed about possible contamination with potential carcinogens, PAHs. Put another way, do you really want to be putting by products from the petrol refining industry on your skin? 
 
Aluminium is the main active ingredient in anti perspirants. Other heavy metals can be found in many make up products. Easily absorbed by the skin, they have been linked to many health problems including alzheimers and cancers. 
 
Synthetic colours, fragrances and perfumes can be found at the end of the list of ingredients of many products. Even so called “unfragranced” products still contain them! Not only have they been linked to health problems such as asthma, but may also be harmful to fish and other wildlife. 
 
Oh and aren’t truly natural products much more expensive? Well, “yes” natural products do tend to be a little more expensive BUT you usually need to use less of them. So, they last longer. 
 
Oh and did we mention that natural products are better for you and the environment… 
 
As always, it's your choice. 
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