The hippy side of me will always be for natural and organic, but when it comes to beauty, I’m afraid I’m a little superficial. I want and need products which help keep my skin youthful and smooth, my hair shiny and full of volume, plus they have to smell and feel good to use. Of all products, I’m the most hypocritical with make-up – I fall for the glossy packaging and colours way before checking organic credentials or ingredients lists.
In the past, natural meant making compromises, particularly with hair products. You simply didn’t get the glossy sheen that man made ingredients or the squeaky clean-ness we are used to that harsher foaming agents give. Now, manufacturers have more organic and natural plant extracts at their fingertips and formulations as well as results have improved. There are some great shampoos and conditioners that leave hair with a clean, light feeling that is actually more authentic looking than the over-polished ‘done’ look which I now realise some of the more hi-tech hair products leave. But that’s a matter of taste.
When it comes to skin care, I find myself mixing and matching science-y type serums and sunblocks with hand made cleansers, and as natural as possible moisturisers. And that science-meets-nature approach seems to be the way forward. Facial acupuncturist, Annee de Mamiel (a woman to whom natural is very important) told me recently that she looks for proven state-of-the-art anti-ageing ingredients such as peptides to carefully incorporate into her hand blended intricate formulas with their high concentration of pure essential oils and plant extracts. The best of both worlds I’d say.
Just how important is it that our beauty products be natural anyway? It depends on what your definition of natural is to begin with (more on this later). Our skin is a barrier, although a permeable one, and no one really knows exactly how much of that beloved body lotion or shower gel is being absorbed. Purists like the late, great natural beauty brand creator, Horst Rechelbacher who founded Aveda and later, Intelligent Nutrients, was always on a mission to ‘clean up’ the industry. He was adamant that what we put on our skin should be 100% organic, as much as the food we eat and the products we use in the home. He was known to drink his own hairspray at conferences to prove his point.
I might be a little less purist, but I am careful. As soon as Horst pointed out to me that we ‘eat’ our lipstick, I made sure at least every lip balm I use on an everyday basis is made of natural ingredients (raw coconut oil even sounds better than petroleum jelly!). And, because skin on the rims and lids of the eyes are delicate and vulnerable in a similar way to the lips and mouth, I’m careful to choose the most natural eye make-up and make-up removers I can find. Ultimately, it’s about balance – think yin/yang – it couldn’t be more hippy really. The things I use every day all over my body I make sure are as natural as possible. I don’t use nail polish and self tan all the time, so I figure the odd manicure, or spray tan before holiday isn’t going to harm me. As I mentioned, make-up is an exception but I don’t wear it day in day out. Skin care I won’t compromise with results – I want the best anti ageing technology I can get, but in as natural a formulation as possible (all do-able according to De Mamiel).
In the end, the word natural means something different to everyone since it can’t really be defined as far as beauty products go. You can use accredited certification bodies such as ECOCERT and The Soil Association as good guides in this arena, but know they have different criteria. For some smaller manufacturers, it can be cripplingly expensive to certify, and they may not necessarily agree with the criteria and as a result be ‘beyond organic’. In the way that might weigh up that it’s better to have frozen British grown strawberries rather than organic ones flown in from Kenya, so some ingredients in beauty products (essential oils, for example) may be better sourced from a local farmer than a certified organic mass producer.
The best advice is, have your own standards, be conscious of what you are buying and putting on your skin. Read labels, look at the ingredients, check the company’s website. Do you agree with their stance? Do you feel comfortable ‘buying into’ their brand, does it resonate with you? The good news is we have a vast choice these days. We can read and find out information far more easily – there are no excuses for being ‘greenwashed’.