Beauty News

Pure & natural

As an increasing number of cosmetics claim to be natural or organic, Claudia Renford explores how chemical-free these products really are.

There is no doubt we’ve become more conscious of what we’re putting on our faces and bodies in recent times – and cosmetic companies have responded in droves. An array of organic and natural skincare and make-up products now line chemist, department store and supermarket shelves to cater for the high demand.

But ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ can be hugely broad terms when it comes to labelling on beauty merchandise, and many brands are using the definitions very loosely when taking advantage of this growing trend.

“There is no regulation in New Zealand around labelling of skincare products,” explains Nicki Hanning, founder of True, a natural skincare company. “This can cause confusion [to the consumer] as a brand can use only one or two natural ingredients and still claim to be ‘natural’ on their packaging.”

Sarah Cowan, managing director of The Herb Farm, agrees there is a lot of ‘greenwashing’ in the natural/organic industry that we need to be aware of. “Green and natural products are becoming more popular and more companies are jumping on this opportunity – unfortunately this is creating a lot of misleading claims, making it hard for the consumer to be able to tell if a product really is ‘natural’,” she says.

So how do we define a ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ product – and how do you know if you are really getting what the packaging claims? This is where research and certification comes into play. “Consumers need to look beyond the use of clever marketing words and imagery, become as informed as possible, and not be afraid to ask questions,” advises Sarah. She believes being educated about ingredients is the key to making the best choices when choosing a natural or organic product. “Being able to navigate through an ingredients list and know what ingredients to look out for and which ones to avoid is a great start.”

Natural and organic skincare products, from left to right: Wild Ferns Manuka Honey Here There and Everywhere Balm, $21, Manuka Health ManukaClear Mask, $28, Organic Surge Daily Care Skin Smoothing Body Lotion, $12.50.

Nicki points out that when products such as cleansers, toners, serums or face creams contain a water element (water, aloe vera, floral waters, hydrosols), you’ll find they are rarely 100 per cent natural. “Generally, they need a preservative in them to sustain their shelf life and keep harmful micro-organisms, mould and fungus away,” she explains. However, oil-based products, including face or body oils, don’t need these preservatives. “They already contain antioxidants such as Vitamin E or seed extracts that help prevent the oils from going rancid.”

With consumers increasingly confused and concerned about the veracity of beauty companies’ ‘green’ claims, many brands that use organic or naturally derived ingredients are attaining certification for their products from independent organisations such as BioGro and AsureQuality. These offer some measure of control by having a strict certification process, which requires products to meet certain guidelines.

“BioGro verifies organic and natural health and bodycare products by assessing formulations, raw materials and conducting an annual audit,” explains Lucy Terpstra, communications manager at BioGro. In order for a company to claim a product is ‘certified organic’ by BioGro, it must be made up of a minimum of 95 per cent certified organic ingredients.

Natural and organic skincare products, from left to right: Living Nature Radiance Night Oil, $69, Antipodes Hallelujah Lime and Patchouli Cleanser, $43, Olive 100% Natural Skincare Oil, $30, True Rejuvenating Hand Cream, $40.

The same strict standards are set with AsureQuality. Organics technical manager Mike Smith explains that they currently verify into two main categories. “‘Organic’, which must have the minimum 95 per cent organic agricultural products, and ‘Made with Organic Ingredients’, which must have a minimum of 70 per cent organic ingredients,” he says. “Anything below 70 per cent organic is not certified.”

While these certifications are helping consumers ensure they get what they expect, how fussed should we be about ‘going green’? Is this a beauty trend that carries some weight in terms of benefits? Many experts claim it does – arguing that natural products work better than conventional skincare because they don’t contain unnecessary synthetic ingredients.

“We strongly believe nature knows best,” says Sarah Cowan. “Natural ingredients, used as much as possible in their whole state, have an amazing system of phytochemicals, and have been used for millions of years for beauty and healing – because they work!”

Natural and organic skincare products, from left to right: Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant Plus, $36 Sukin Rose Hip Hydrating Day Cream, $29, The Honey Collection Beetox Bee Venom Tightening Face Cream, $66, Rosehip Plus Nourishing Night Cream, $35, The Herb Farm Exfoliating Powder, $27.


It might seem as if they are interchangeable, but there are some clear differences in the terms commonly used to identify ‘green’ beauty products.

Natural: This term is broadly used to describe natural, naturally derived and sometimes nature-identical ingredients.

Certified natural: This status needs to be obtained from an independent authority and requires the products to meet a set standard.

Organic: Products boasting this will have ingredients that have been organically grown but not ‘organically certified’. “This means the likes of chemical sprays or pesticides have not been used in the growing and processing of the ingredients in the product – but there isn’t a third party certifying this,” explains The Herb Farm’s Sarah Cowan.

Certified organic: These products and ingredients have been certified organic by a third-party company and have met the specified organic criteria. They should not contain harmful toxins.

Natural and organic make-up, from left to right: Living Nature Summer Bronze Pressed Powder, $50, Burt’s Bees Lip Crayon in Sedona Sands, $18, Nude by Nature Blush in Virgin Blush, $25, Human+Kind BB Cream, $39.50.


The higher up on the ingredients list, the higher the percentage used. To ensure products are more natural than others, check they have little or none of these ingredients.

  1. Parabens and Phenoxyethanol Parabens: These are often listed as methyl, butyl, propyl and ethyl parabens, and are the most commonly used preservatives. Phenoxyethanol is a synthetic preservative, which is commonly used in ‘paraben-free’ products.

  2. Petroleum By-Products/ Petrochemicals: These are derived from the same substance as motor oil! Examples include petrolatum, paraffin, glycol, butylene glycol, isopropyl alcohol, polybutene, triclosan, polyethylene and mineral oil.

  3. DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine) and TEA (triethanolamine): These chemicals are what make the suds – best to avoid.

  4. Synthetic Colours and Fragrances: Sometimes labelled as ‘F.D. & C’ followed by a number. Some synthetic fragrances contain phthalates, which can cause skin sensitivity.

  5. Propylene Glycol and Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): Chemicals used to thicken products; they can cause dry skin and rashes.

  6. UREA (Imidazolidinyl) and DMDM Hydantoin: These release formaldehyde, which is known to cause headaches.

  7. SLS (Sodium Laurel Sulphate) and SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulphate): Used to make products foam, such as shampoo, shower gels and cleansers, they can often cause rashes.

  8. Carbomer: Made from acrylic acid, this is a gelling agent – safer, more natural gelling agents are xanthan, guar and sclerotium gums.

Natural and organic make-up, from left to right: Living Nature Foundation, $55, Burt’s Bees

Beeswax Lip Balm, $12, Karen Murrell lipstick in Coral Dawn, $30, Nude by Nature Mineral Cover, $45.

Words by Claudia Renford

Photos by Getty Images and Bauer Studio (NZ)

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