What Does “Natural” Mean?

Customers and other soap makers often ask: “Are your products all natural? Because I need all natural. I don’t want to put chemicals on my skin”.

There’s a current trend in marketing to make consumers irrationally afraid of “chemicals”. In a nutshell, natural is good, but it can also be very, very bad. Arsenic is natural, as is uranium. But would you want to ingest either one or use it daily on your skin?

What Does “Natural” Really Mean?

Is purified, distilled water something you find in nature? Nope. Is a Rose or Lavender hydrosol distillate “natural”? No, not really. Because it’s made through a distillation process and it isn’t found naturally occurring in a flower puddle.
Mineral micas are not natural either; the cosmetic grade micas that we find in “natural” mineral makeup, lipsticks, gloss, and eye shadows post 1960-ish are lab made by binding different ingredients to micas to create stable and skin-safe colors. Whether laboratory created or mined, they are put through a purification process that gets rid of potentially bad “natural” things such as arsenic, lead, and mercury, to name a few.

To make a true soap, by it’s definition and chemical makeup, you have to have sodium hydroxide. Yes, you can make that from wood ashes but it would vary too much in concentration from batch to batch, so we have a standardized lab made variety. Mineral oil is derived from petroleum which we extract from deep inside the Earth, but that doesn’t make it natural, does it?

Is olive oil natural? Olive oil comes from olives but we have to press them first and by the third extraction of these oils, achemical like hexane is usually used to get the last bit of oil from the olives. At the very least, virgin olive oil undergoes a pressing process which isn’t something that nature does by itself.

The term “natural” is tossed around as though it really means something, when it’s plainly and simply a MARKETING TERM, nothing more. And the fear mongering over “chemicals” is nothing but more of the same. After all, EVERYTHING on earth is made up of chemicals, from the air we breathe to our water. Don’t let some of the scare tactics websites use make you too paranoid. Our skin is designed to not allow everything to pass through willy nilly. Medications must be specifically designed to be the right molecular size to be able to cross the skin barrier. *(more on the skin in another article).

Did you know that dihydrogen monoxide can cause death if the amount you ingest exceeds what your body can handle? Yep.

Here’s an excerpt from a fun, tongue-in-cheek website that specializes in informing people of the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide, or DHMO:

“Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is a colorless and odorless chemical compound, also referred to by some as Dihydrogen Oxide, Hydrogen Hydroxide, Hydronium Hydroxide, or simply Hydric acid. Its basis is the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, a species shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. The atomic components of DHMO are found in many caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol.

Yes, you should be concerned about DHMO! Although the U.S. Government and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) do not classify Dihydrogen Monoxide as a toxic or carcinogenic substance (as it does with better known chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and benzene), DHMO is a constituent of many known toxic substances, diseases and disease-causing agents, environmental hazards and can even be lethal to humans in quantities as small as a thimbleful.”(http://www.dhmo.org/facts.html)

Yes, they’re talking about water! So you see how easily you can be fooled into being terrified of chemicals? So many of the fear-mongering sites are not based on real science, but rather, they take a worst-case scenario type of stance which leads you to think that the ingredient they are vilifying is worse than nuclear radiation for your body.

What we should strive for, is cleanliness in our manufacturing procedures (even if you are making a cream or soap or lotion at home) and we should try to incorporate the least amount of potentially harmful ingredients while still preserving the benefits and efficacy of the product. Making our own skin care products at home is NOT the same as cooking or baking. It’s combining many elements that work synergistically to create something that has some benefit for our skin. It’s chemistry, pure and simple. That’s why it’s best to call them formulas instead of recipes.

Having said all of that, we can stay close to nature with our skincare products and there is no need to be unnecessarily fearful of the word “chemical”. Most educated consumers would still choose a handmade soap over a synthetic detergent bar, once they know the difference between soap and detergent, simply because those can be more drying and/or irritating to the skin. But that doesn’t mean that they too, can’t be formulated with extra moisturizing ingredients that alleviate that effect to a great extent. We can create a cream that helps your skin using more beneficial ingredients and less filler additives than a mass-marketed made cream.

Most importantly, should you continue to preserve your products with tried and true tested for efficacy “chemical” preservatives? Absolutely! It’s far safer than the potential fungi, microbes and bacteria that will inevitably show up without one, often invisible to the naked eye for weeks before forming clusters of nastiness so large that we can see the green or black spore colonies. Nobody wants that!

Yes, there have been developments using essential oils and synergistic ingredients that work as preservatives, but again, essential oils, extracted from plants though they may be, are made up of an assortment of, you guessed it – chemicals! So in conclusion, don’t be fooled by “natural” marketing claims that play on your fears. Use discretion and learn what all those weird Latin or INCI label ingredients actually are if you’re concerned about them, but don’t just settle for what one or two websites claim are true.

Some of favorite site links for information on subjects like this are:




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