There is an enormous amount of rhetoric on the internet from many sources such as independent skincare businesses, well to do lifestyle bloggers and everything in between. The subject of how natural ingredients and products are safe and that all synthetic ingredients are bad, scary, dangerous, toxic etc. The slant on these articles seems to be selling you their products in the hope you are scared witless to buy anything else that's not "natural". That word, "natural" has me cringing every time I hear it. It's a word that's over used and misinterpreted, also my hair is rather blonde in the photos below, it's actually dark brown now, covering an enormous amount of well earned grey.
Lets go into the rabbit hole shall we?
For starters, what do we mean by natural? For me it means a substance or biological material that has been directly harvested from the planet with minimal processing such as simple refining, cleaning or cold press extraction. The atomic and molecular structure will remain the same after harvest as it was while growing or accumulating in the Earth. Fair enough?
What about the process of creating products that are called natural? For instance, "natural" soap, and I make a lot of it: Most of the ingredients are indeed natural as explained above but the actual process of soap making is not natural so why do we call this type of soap natural? Soap bars don't saponify on a tree or in the ground to be pulled out like a carrot. I use the cold process method to make soap which requires the very caustic sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. However it yields the most gentlest and finest soap product you can use. Only now it is full of saponified ingredients that were natural to begin with. I'm pedantic, I know.
Tell the masses that we are massless?
Another terribly misused phrase I see is "chemical free" it makes me so cross! We are a bunch of living breathing chemicals, the air is a chemical, the sea, the cup of tea you made, everything around us is
chemical. It's such a sloppy term and belongs to the nutty layman that is misleading the unwitting masses. I think the users of this phrase could possibly mean that there are no harsh substances or unnecessary chemicals in their products but it's very misleading and not very informative at all. Personally I would avoid any brand that touted this ridiculous phrase that suggests we are all free floating massless particles bobbing about in a vacuum.
Natural is good, synthetic is bad!
This is not a black and white picture. It never will be. I have cobbled together some examples:
There are synthetically made substances are much safer than their natural counterparts, colour pigments such as iron oxides and ultramarines being some. Mined pigments would need refining because of the heavy metal contents. When they are made in a lab they are purer and safe for cosmetic use but still have the same chemical structure as their natural Earth borne relatives.
Clay is naturally sourced but can contain heavy metals, for cosmetic legislation the clay we choose to use has to have an analysis report to make sure it is safe for use. I bet you didn't know that!
I have explained why soap isn't as natural as we thought. The soap I make is one of the oldest methods of creating this cleansing potion that we know of today. Detergents or surfactants (the latter word I use) do the same job as traditionally made soap but they have been processed in slightly different ways to increase lather consistency or cleansing power. Not all surfactants should be tarred with the harsh brush but the old school surfactant Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has had a huge bashing over the years. It is a very strong surfactant and I can't use it on my skin either because it's very irritating (I have ridiculously sensitive skin). I personally think it is better for cleaning ovens and toilets with a pair of strong rubber gloves on. There is nothing to suggest that SLS is carcinogenic though, that's layman rumours gone mad. There is no real scientific reporting to suggest that.
There are newer and more gentler surfactants available to use these days such as the palm oil free Sodium Coco-Sulfate that has a much larger molecule than SLS, SLES and their irritating cousins. This means that the molecules will sit happily on your skin whilst washing without lodging into your epidermis like the harsher surfactants do. Some laymen like to bash Sodium Coco-Sulfate by saying it's really 50% Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Ok more science: If you look at the fatty acid profiles of vegetable and fruit oils, you will see that most contain lauric acid (lauric where the word lauryl comes in). SLS uses only lauric acid that is usually derived from palm and petroleum sources.
Coconut oil contains roughly 50% lauric acid. The whole coconut oil that is used in SCS therefore must mean that 50% of it is "lauryl sulfate" but the whole point of the molecular size of SCS as mentioned above is being missed. The entire point about 50% lauryl sulfate is moot in this case, it's just another scare tactic to make the ones rattling out such drivel sound superior and erm… natural.
What's That Smell?
Here synthetic fragrance goes head to head with essential oils! I do use essential oils in my products because I feel that they are better for your wellbeing and the environment. I don't get sensitised to them. However natural sourced aroma chemicals can be very tricky and some can be very toxic just like many of their arch enemy synthetic counterparts. All of our products are safety assessed by chartered chemists and the measurements of any ingredients including essential oils are well within safe limits.
The problem with synthetic fragrances is they do not have to reveal their entire ingredients lists should you want to see them. They use synthesized aroma chemicals and sometimes isolates derived from essential oils. They can use other ingredients for binding and fixatives which can often irritate skin, eyes and the respiratory system. On the other hand many other folk are not affected by them at all! Personally I cannot tolerate most of them at all apart from the odd sweet scent such as chocolate or coconut made with tonka bean, at a push. Because of the unclear list of what synthetic fragrances are actually made from I choose to keep usage to an absolute minimum.
I am very happy to share everything about my products with you, inside and out. This is a progressive business venture and journey to seek out the best for you and the Earth both ethically and scientifically. I hope not to bamboozle you with too much science jargon but rather explain things a little easier so you can be properly informed and make your personal choices with confidence. Creative science and the natural world can sit together in harmony, with the right balance and the right knowledge. But more than anything, I just want you to relax and enjoy your Little Blue Hen Soap & Skincare goodies!