Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What does "natural" mean? An example...

I had a magnificent breakfast at Cookie's Diner in Chilliwack the other day, and found a bottle of St Ives lotion in the bathroom. It had the words "100% natural moisturizers" on the bottle, so you know I had to look at the ingredient list. (The actual product was aloe & chamomile, but I couldn't find an ingredient listing for that.)

Ingredients from the St Ives Body Lotion, Intensive Healing: Water, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetearyl Alcohol, Mineral Oil, Stearic Acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Urea, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Seed Oil, Olea Europaea (Olive) Leaf Extract, Dimethicone, PEG 100 Stearate, Cyclopentasiloxane, Triethanolamine, Carbomer, Cyclohexasiloxane, Ethylhexyl Glycerin, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance

As an aside, the one I saw had mineral oil, paraffin, and petroleum listed. Perhaps because it's a Canadian product and the listing above is American there's a difference?

Have a think for a moment...
  • What does natural mean?
  • What does the word "moisturizers" mean?
  • Looking at this list, do you see ingredients that might be construed as being moisturizers but not natural?
  • If you don't consider the moisturizers 100% natural, how can they make that claim?
This seems like a nice enough lotion with some great ingredients, but would you consider their moisturizers to be 100% natural?

St Ives had a campaign a while ago "No Unnecessary Chemicals". Of course there aren't unnecessary ingredients! Ingredients cost money - why would you add anything that wasn't necessary?

What do you think?


Jackie said...

A former sales rep of ours insisted on claiming (wrongly)our products were "natural". Her reasoning being that that is what retailers want to hear rather than a scientific explanation of what constitutes natural. This kind of terminology needs legally defining, but what politician is going to tackle that? After all they are not scientists!

Ingrid said...

Hi Susan,

Loving your blog, as usual.

Is it true what I readon the Net, that the cosmetic industry in Canada is not *monitered* or overseen by Health Canada. Any company or manufacturer can put any natural or synthetic chemical in their so called beauty products as they see fit - and no questions asked?

I read recently that the highest incidence of cancer today was for young women between the ages of 14 and 28. Cosmetics, make-up, hair spray, hair dyes were all mentioned in this article as being responsible for this highest rate of cancers.

Reminds me of why I ventured into making my own cosmetics - My daughter has asthma and could not tolerate spray perfumes - hence I did tons of research and came up with a roll-on *natural* fragrance that did not cause an asthmatic response in her.
And then, of course, I found you and the rest is history. :-)
Kudos Susan, and a big thank you.

Organa said...

Natural? where? when?
Cosmetics might not exist without marketing.
Maybe they mean that the butters are natural would not it? Now say that the product is 100% pure marketing think.
But I did not shoot the reason these big companies who fight like crazy to get your products in the market, who can sell more more capitalist world!!

Alexis said...

I really don't want the government defining the word "natural"! Lobbyist are too influential. I'd say better education is the best option, but considering the recent scandal in GA, who's to say what education is any more in the US.

Some people consider "natural" as unrefined - look at sweeteners as an example or the raw food trend. The raw food people consider any type of cooking unnatural. Uncooked broccoli and cauliflower are goitrogens for some people. I'm one of those people. So it would be perfectly natural for me to develop a goiter from eating broccoli or cauliflower too frequently.

Many of the supplies we buy are considered natural because they are derived from plants, but human beings must process these raw materials to create our supplies. There is a sector of society that will always consider such processing as unnatural. Do I really their lobbyist to influence my law makers? NO, and yes they do have lobbyist.

The use of INCI's can be misleading from either direction, meaning a naturally derived ingredient can have the same name as a petroleum derived product and vice versa. But this misdirection also serves a purpose - protecting their formula long enough for the company to make a profit, hopefully. My college internships were for companies that did product development. That's the nice way of saying they developed knock-offs! Though I won't give the name of whom I worked for, I'll tell that it was the "development" branch of a well known department store...and each large department store has these "product development" sister companies which develop their own "brands" for just about every single item in the store.

It's my understanding that companies are not required to list every single ingredient in their product. I think it's bizarre to leave out the ingredients that are used to market the product, but if you've ever worked in these types of companies or sat in during an executive meeting, you'd understand how these decisions happen.

Also if memory serves me correctly, US companies felt their rights to their intellectual property (the formulas they developed) were being taken away if they had to list every single ingredient. Not sure if this was settled by congress or law suits, but I know the companies were afforded some protection.

Lise M Andersen said...

I've been struggling with carbomer forever.. it's so far from natural that it's not even funny, but is there anything that can equal it from the natural world? I've tried matching it's fabulous, (and 100% safe) qualities for ages, but keep going back to it...
KOnjac glucomannan was the closest I got.. wrote a post on it if anyone is interested


anja said...

I think I've found it--something like the 8th definition of "natural" is "having a real or physical existence, as opposed to one that is spiritual, intellectual, fictitious, etc." So maybe all they're saying is that all of the ingredients in this lotion do, in fact, exist? Otherwise, I don't know. Maybe they're not saying that 100% of the ingredients are natural so much as that some of the ingredients are 100% natural. We all love sly applications of semantic ambiguity, right?

Leslie said...

I think in this case that the "catch" is in the word moisturizers, emphasis on the s. What are the ingredients that add moisture? Are they considered natural by most?


Beth said...

so true!!! I recently discovered a plastic shoe that claims: "made from vegetal origin polymers, fossil organic matter, natural fibre" I was quite sure that "fossil organic matter" wasn't some rare petrified wood or shellfish... Now plastics are typically organic polymers made from petrochemicals derived from fossil fuels - so "fossil organic matter" is certainly true, but still misleading. The thing is, humans don't create things ex nehilo - so we need to start with some raw material and all those raw materials come - well, out of the earth of course. So anything we make be it an atom bomb or a birthday cake is from 'natural origin' And to assume that 'unprocessed' is 'natural' is also a false assumption, as 'raw' products may still be genetically modified, and then certain natural substances my still be toxic or harmful. Not to mention the misleading and incomplete ingredients lists ... So this is why I am here - learning to make my own. :)

SKNgirl said...

I would never assert this was a natural product. However, it does have some natural ingredients ("moisturizers") in it. The company is trying to be tricky in their use of the word natural with the word "moisturizers". Most consumers would probably not catch that.

Although it looks to be a decent enough lotion, they are clearly trying to capitalize on "natural" (but not fully committed to it), relying on the average consumers' lack of knowledge of lotion ingredients.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Ingrid. The cosmetic industry is overseen by Health Canada, and you can take a look at their web site - Cosmetics & Personal Care - to see all the regulations, laws, and guidelines. And I don't think I'd trust that statistic about cancer. That sounds like something written to fit a specific philosophy to me, much like the idea that we eat 5 pounds of lipstick a year or that our skin absorbs about that much in cosmetics per year. (Both are very very wrong...)

Here are a few sites to visit:
Breast Cancer by age in Canada, 2012
Canadian Cancer Rates - 2012

Hi Jackie: I think you nailed this one on the head!

Hi Alexis! I admit I'm not up on my world news right now...what happened in Georgia? (Is that about teachers changing answers on exams?)

I think it's an interesting discussion because I am asked all the time if my recipes are natural, and there isn't an answer because it's so subjective. What one person considers natural, another might not. I don't consider anything that has been more than minimally processed to be natural. Oils - those are natural. Modifying a Japanese honeysuckle flower or radish to produce a preservative, not natural. (In the end, it doesn't matter where the molecule arises, it's what it looks like in the end!)

I think the key here is the use of "100% natural moisturizers" instead of calling the product natural - because it isn't - and leaving us to interpret what that means. So much of what we see in advertising is suggested and we fill in the blanks.

Keep up the discussion! I'm finding this fascinating!

Alexis said...

That would be the one I'm referring to. Since superintendents were given a $500k incentive to raise test scores, I guess it was bound to happen though a part of me expects better behavior. You know, lead by example since they're teaching children...but I digress.

Have to admit that as soon as I saw the St. Ives label, I didn't take the product very seriously!! By the time I was 13, I realized that brand was quasi-natural. Reflecting upon that, my older self is more inclined to think more of the ingredients are natural than my younger self would have. For some reason natural and edible appear together in my mind, but there are many lotion ingredients I'd never want to eat. Perhaps it was the engineering courses I took that changed my mind. I remember my chemistry prof stating it was always good to know from what raw material a chemical was derived because the processing was only as good as the people running the equipment and the equipment used to process it. Certain attributes are left behind even though we consider them to be statistically small, assuming human error didn't make a contribution.

Beside taking marketing classes, I also took stats and probability classes. Stats profs really hate marketing claims even though my working experiences taught me that marketing departments (at least where I worked) normally consulted the legal department and maybe a statistician before making a bold claim like something is 100% "whatever". I've never worked for a cosmetic manufacturer...well I'm not counting the two week temp job at pg because all I did was file old test data on aleve....but I have learned that each place I've worked had it's own set of ethics and morals regardless of any legalities. So it's had to say what cosmetic manufacturers consider ethical or true.

On a slightly related note, what is it with suppliers selling their products as "preservative free" when they're using Leucidal to preserve them. I'd rather have them state it's a natural preservative or naturally derived preservative even though not every one will consider it natural than for them to claim it's preservative free. Especially since the preservative they're using is one I can and have bought. Are they telling me this preservative really isn't a preservative and I wasted my money? I suspect it's pc marketing at work since the product is labelled an anti-microbial. I think claiming a product is preservative free when it clearly isn't seems counterproductive in the long run. I recently purchased some beta glucans, and after having it for 5 days, a hideous smell developed in the product bottle. I checked the msds only to find it was not preserved in any way, yet storage recommendations were just a cool place. Totally disgusting and a total waste of my money. I want to know with no if, and or buts that the supplies I buy will last a lot longer than a few days. Telling me something is preservative free gives me the impression it will be contaminated by the time I open my box like the beta glucans were.