When (and Why) Natural Products Aren't Natural
The health and beauty industry has run amok. Whether it’s a product being marketed as natural or one made from synthetic chemicals, the only defense against companies who hide what they put in their products, and then lie about them being there, is to understand how the system works. This way you can figure out how to work around it, and ultimately, put yourself in a better position to take care of your body.
As consumers, we are stuck in a Catch-22. We buy things that are made to stop the most natural processes of the human body, but that do so with the most unnatural of chemicals. Think about it. Deodorants. Sunscreens. Toothpaste. Mouthwash. Tampons. We’re fighting the wrong war with the wrong weapons. The majority of the products on the market in the personal care space don’t support our bodies’ natural functions. Rather, they interfere. And worse, they disrupt incredibly complex systems that rely on one another to keep the body in balance.
Indisputably, the rate of chronic illness is on the rise affecting not just the elderly, but devastating youth as well. Some say that the toxic chemicals we put on our bodies between our toiletries and cosmetics are worse than those hidden in our food. The premise being that the digestive system acts as a filter (to some extent), but when going through the skin, these toxic chemicals end up directly in our bloodstreams, and stay there free to wreak havoc on our health.
Unless we involve ourselves differently in the way we pick the products we use, we are sitting ducks. Though that does not need to be the case if you know what to look for, and that starts with this:
You cannot have a product that has water in it or that is shelf stable or that is mass-produced and have it be “natural.” By “natural” I mean without chemical preservatives binders, emulsifiers, sulfates/surfactants (bubble boosters/detergents) and stabilizers. It’s just not possible. Here’s why…
Water is used, often as the first ingredient, to dilute formulas. It means a cheaper cost to the manufacturer, which in many cases is then passed onto the consumer (and sometimes not). It’s a strategy: Water as an ingredient is a money saver, but that water also means it is a product with preservatives in it. Period. Over and out. No debate. Guaranteed. Otherwise, things will grow - bad things, green things and fuzzy things. Things that are not safe.
But water is natural. Right? Yes. But…
It is also the biggest problem in creams and lotions. Contrary to popular perception, preservatives do not keep products “fresh.” Rather, they create a toxic environment so that living organisms can’t grow - organisms, which by the way, are 100 percent natural and grow in moist/wet environments. The last thing you want is an infection from bacteria that grew in your lotion or shampoo!
So, since water and preservatives go together in your average body/beauty products, and because that is not going to change any time soon, it becomes a matter of choice for each person to make his or her your own personal decisions based on weighing these 3 things:
- Your personal beliefs about toxins and the extent to which they threaten your health.
- Your comfort level with how toxic an ingredient will be to your body that was intended to create toxicity in the product that you are putting on your body (and face, scalp, etc…).
- Your amount of trust in the manufacturer because the issue is as much about the use of the ingredients as it is about how companies lie and mislead their customers on labels and in advertising.
Then, beyond the water/preservative relationship, you have the nature of natural ingredients. They do not behave, let alone cooperate. Rather, they melt and harden in response to temperature, separate from one another, can turn color and often don’t smell very good. These are realities that the beauty and personal care industries have fixed with chemicals, because chemicals are controllable, cheap and reliable. For large-scale production it’s the only way to force formulas to behave in a way that simulates freshness.
The thing is, cosmetic and personal care manufacturing is “processing” and has all of the same hallmarks of processed foods. Namely, and most importantly, products need to be “shelf stable,” and if they are, there has to be something, some measure of control, to make it so. The longer a product needs to move through a pipeline and supply chain – and sit on a shelf for who knows how long, the more (and perhaps stronger) chemicals are required to ensure its stability. It is a factor of time (and water), more than anything else that threatens the integrity or breakdown of a formula.
Otherwise, you would open your jar of cream and instead of a pretty, white fluffy cream that smells nice, you could find a yellow/brown, rancid, moldy, dry, cracked substance with the oil doing its own thing and the water and powders doing something else. That is a risk cosmetic manufacturing cannot, and will not, take. And rightfully so. Their products would never sell.
So what can you do?
- You can make your own. It’s the purest, cheapest way to go. However, the downside is that you pay for it in time. So, convenient it is not, which is how the big manufacturing firms stay alive. It’s the promise (marketed very well) to make life easier, which it does, but easy (and affordable) will often cost you in safety and health.
- Look for products made without water, such as oils, balms and butters. In some cases water is necessary, but as a function of the product and not a cost-saving measure. For example, we make a cleansing foot spray and use water to help clean off foot dirt and grime. In order to address that we add alcohol, and in order to offset the drying effects of alcohol, we add aloe and glycerin. Together they work beautifully and they do so without a million other ingredients that are potentially harmful.
- Buy soap based, not detergent based products. You can substitute a lot with Castille soap. My favorite is Dr. Bronner’s. And if you don’t like the scents, you can get unscented and mix it with your favorite essential oils. I like to make orange and lemon and sometimes ylang ylang. So good.
- If you see aqua on a label for a product that is claiming "All Natural," be suspicious. Rather look at ingredients first, and then you determine whether they are natural or not.
- Avoid big chain/drugstore brands the same way you would avoid packaged/processed food. It’s the same animal.
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