Natural, Organic, & Synthetic: can they all live together in one happy beaker?

Natural, organic, and synthetic ingredients bring their own unique purpose, functions, and benefits to your products. However, there are misconceptions in the cosmetics industry that organic and natural ingredients are the better and healthier choice over synthetics.

Technically, just because you purchase an organic or natural product does not necessarily mean it’s better for your skin or the environment. The same concept applies to avoiding all synthetic ingredients.  

At pH Factor, we combine the beautiful qualities of organic and natural ingredients with scientifically proven formulas (synthetics) to create a perfect balance. 

As a start-up cosmetics brand owner, it is important to understand each ingredient’s functions and how they can work together in synergy to create highly effective products.

Let’s explore the positives and negatives of each product type so that you can make an informed decision on what ingredients and combinations are best for your brand.

 

Safe Synthetics vs. Unsafe Synthetics

In most cases, synthetic ingredients and products have a bad reputation in the beauty world as they are seen as potentially harmful. When we talk about “synthetic” skincare, we refer to products that incorporate scientifically derived ingredients. 

Your product can not survive long-term without some level of synthetic ingredients— synthetics are predominately used for their cost-effective preservative properties to maintain longevity and decrease bacterial microbes found in cosmetics.

Many synthetic ingredients are actually created using natural compounds, but synthesising them in a lab can sometimes be made more effective and have a more consistent composition. If your customers are looking for rapid results, they should embrace science, not focus on all-natural. 

A consistent product means that each batch will have accurate, reproducible formulas, contain the readily available form of the product, and do not include active plants that may cause reactivity and skin sensitivity.  

Synthetic ingredients can also be better for our environment. Instead of disturbing the natural environment and depleting resources, scientists can replicate ingredients identically close to natural ingredients with the same, if not improved, benefits.

The top three ‘safe’ synthetics our experts commonly recommend and include in our small batch production beauty products are:

  • Retinol – Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that effectively improves skin texture and can prevent the signs of aging. It is an essential antioxidant for healthy skin. However, this ingredient should be used with caution as it is a powerful ingredient that increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. 
  • Hyaluronic Acid (HA) – HA is a naturally occurring molecule in the body. It attracts and holds onto moisture giving your skin the boost it needs for a healthy, radiant glow. It is a must-have ingredient for repairing the moisture barrier of the skin and hair shaft.
  • Peptides – Peptides are smaller versions of proteins important for producing collagen in our skin and hair, making it look youthful and healthy. Peptides improve the skin barrier, reduce skin inflammation, and improve elasticity. 

 

Synthetics are looked down upon because many types are not good at protecting your skin’s protective layers. The below ingredients, when used above the allowed limits, are known allergens and skin irritants:

  • Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde is a preservative used in skin and hair products. In its pure compound, it is a pungent-smelling colourless gas. It is best to be avoided as prolonged exposure often causes allergic skin reactions (contact dermatitis) that impact the skin’s natural barrier.
  • ParabensParabens are chemical preservatives that are found in a wide range of skin and hair products. They have been known to cause many problems for your hair, including drying, scalp irritation, colour fading, and even hair loss. Use of parabens in your products should be considered carefully.
  • Petroleum JellyPetroleum Jelly, otherwise known as Vaseline, is used in various skin and lip products. It’s important to note that there are safe & unsafe types of Petroleum, so it is important to source them correctly. Unrefined petroleum jelly contains potentially harmful contaminants, a group of carcinogens that can cause cancer. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Therapeutic Goods Agency (TGA) considers the use of many synthetic ingredients in cosmetics such as parabens and formaldehyde to be safe to use. This is due to our bodies easily tolerating up to around 0.4% of minimal concentrations. However, their long-term effects are unknown, so it is best to avoid using higher concentrates if not necessary.

 

Natural Ingredients

On a broad scale, a natural product is one that is derived from plant, mineral or animal by-product. The term “natural” is unregulated by the FDA, which means that any brand can put this word on its packaging even if it contains a whole list of synthetic ingredients. 

Natural ingredients are known for their many natural healing powers, plant-based ingredients, oils, and botanicals that offer a variety of skin benefits— from protecting your skin against free radicals and promoting restoration and repair of skin cells.  

Natural ingredients are commonly seen to be “good” and without any harmful effects— however, this is not true. 

Botanicals are very powerful and can cause allergic reactions as there is an unstable level of activity within the active ingredients. Ingredients to use with caution include:

  • Lavender Oil – The allergens in lavender oil include geraniol, linalool, and linalycaetate. It is best to use them with caution in cosmetics as they are well known for causing allergic contact dermatitis.
  • Tea Tree Oil – Similar to Lavender, Tea Tree oil can also cause allergic reactions and dermatitis among people with sensitive skin types. 
  • Citrus Extracts – Products with citrus ingredients such as lemon juice are highly acidic with a pH of just 2 and roughly 100 times more acidic than your skin. Because of this, it can be damaging to the skin’s protective barrier–leaving it feeling dehydrated and prone to irritations, acne, and aging. 

pH Factor recommends taking a science meets botanicals approach, using scientifically proven skincare to enhance the power of naturals. Finding the right formulation to avoid adverse reactions becomes essential when working with natural-based products. We always recommend taking caution with the quantities of each active ingredient. 

 

Organic Ingredients

An organic product means that the ingredients have been organically produced according to the organic standards. However, a product only has to contain a certain percentage of organic ingredients to have a “made with organic ingredients” certification. 

It can still contain up to 5% of harmful ingredients or plants that are known to cause skin reactions. Additionally, “organic” does not mean that it is better for our environment as many organic practices and production methods can be detrimental to our planet.

There is no denying that organic ingredients are beneficial in skincare as they are rich in vitamins and nutrients that are safe to be absorbed into the skin. Some commonly used examples of organic ingredients include:

  • Green Tea – Not only is green tea a superfood–but it works wonders in cosmetics too! It is an excellent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and has antimicrobial properties. For example, it can be added to hair care products as a scalp detox and is a perfect skin treatment for those with acne or oily skin types. 
  • Aloe Vera– Aloe Vera contains enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins A and C, which can treat burns, acne, dry skin and many other skin issues. It is great for use in skin care products as it is suitable for all skin types.
  • Coconut Oil A cult favourite used in both skin (face & body) and hair care. The rich oils are effective in moisturising, reducing inflammation, promoting wound healing, and have antibacterial properties. Those with oily skin should use it sparingly to avoid clogged pores. 

 

Your Takeaway

Whether it is a natural, organic, or synthetic ingredient—it is important to understand that they work better together in synergy–rather than on their own. 

With so much noise in the cosmetics market, it is vital to look beyond labels and thoroughly research what ingredients and skincare will be most beneficial to your target market. 

Avoid getting caught up in the ‘clean beauty’ wave, and instead embrace lab-crafted, scientifically tested products that combine science with natural/organic ingredients for amazing skin. 

Whether you need help understanding what ingredients to choose or how ingredients work on the skin, our team at pH Factor will provide you with all of the education and training you need to succeed. After all, we are the experts who create the different!