Natural vs. Synthetic Skincare: The Misconception & Facts
At Bespoke Skin Technology, our passion is science, and bringing that science to you. We pride ourselves on cutting through the mass marketing noise and unearthing (pun intended) the truth. So, to start the year off strong we thought we’d jump straight into the “natural” and “synthetic” skin care debate and shed light on why it’s not as simple as natural=good, synthetic=bad.
|| THE (COMMON) MISCONCEPTION
Much of this widely held belief that natural is better for us comes from the food industry, where the rise of plant based diets and pesticide-free farming has led us to be more conscious about our food choices. Now the same attitude is being applied to our beauty routines.
However, just because something's made in a lab, doesn't mean it's toxic — and just because something's completely natural, doesn't mean it's not (arsenic, anyone?).
The difficulty with “natural” products begins with the definition, or rather, lack thereof. The term natural means different things to different people, however, generally it implies that the product was formulated with ingredients found in nature without a lab. It’s important to note, that there is no global standard that prevents any brand for slapping a leafy design & the words natural on their products.
|| REDUCED SHELF LIFE
Much of what nature creates doesn’t come with a significant shelf life. Unless preservatives are added (rendering a product no longer “organic’’), it pays to be mindful that there is very little longevity in natural ingredients. Most of the shelf-life of organic ingredients is about three months. That's not an inherently negative thing, but it does mean you'll need to be mindful about restocking. You can house your products in the refrigerator to help preserve them, but it's extra important to toss them once they pass the expiration date.
|| SYNTHETIC SKINCARE IS OFTEN BASED ON NATURAL COMPOUNDS
When we refer to “synthetic” skincare we are talking about products that incorporate a laboratory and scientifically derived ingredients. Many synthetic ingredients are actually based on natural compounds, but by synthesising them in a lab they can sometimes be made more effective, as well as having a consistent composition e.g. they are exactly the same, every time. Synthetically created skincare often will take all of the positive aspects of a natural ingredient, whilst removing any portions known to cause reactions. Pretty clever stuff. As synthetic/human-made ingredients are consistent in their composition, they are less likely to cause a reaction/sensitivity. Natural ingredients may well have subtle differences due to where it was grown, when it was harvested etc and therefore affecting its composition.
|| NATURAL DOESN'T ALWAYS = ETHICAL
Let’s take cult beauty ingredient hyaluronic acid for example; hyaluronic acid can be derived from either a natural source (animals) or molecularly replicated in a lab to create an identical synthetic ingredient. The result is the same, the only difference is how the ingredient is sourced or manufactured. It should be noted both all-natural brands and brands producing synthetic products can be involved in unethical sourcing and manufacturing practices.
|| AND WHAT SHOULD YOU TAKE FROM THIS?
There is merit in both natural and synthetically created skincare. It is important to remember that the topic is not black and white and it is far better to familiarise yourself with ingredients that are evidence based. Evidence-based applies to all ingredients that have been clinically tested, regardless of their source; earth, sea, mineral, laboratory. It simply means that there have been robust, scientific clinical trials that determine how, why and what concentration is needed to get X result. Most brands will list all of their ingredients on their websites, if not their packaging.