Natural beauty explained

If natural beauty is something you’ve recently cottoned on to, congratulations and welcome to your healthier and more environmentally friendly lifestyle! It’s an altogether more beautiful way to be, and your skin will thank you.

What’s more, natural beauty fans will be pleased to hear that the trend for cosmetics and beauty products that don’t damage your skin or the environment shows no sign of slowing down. There are now more natural beauty ranges from more brands, spanning budget to luxury options, meaning shoppers have wonderful choice.

What exactly is natural?

With so many natural beauty products out there, for our face, hair and body, it’s important to know exactly what natural means. This way you can choose products that will genuinely benefit you and the environment, and can avoid products that have been branded ‘natural’ simply because the marketing manager once owned a pot plant.

In summary, a natural beauty product, such as a natural shampoo, natural sun protection, moisturiser or lipstick, is one that ticks several, if not all, of these boxes:

  • It is free from harmful chemicals that can irritate the skin and do just as much damage to nature. More about those later.
  • It includes naturally derived ingredients such as oils, vitamins and other extracts from fruit, vegetables, flowers and plants.
  • In the case of mineral make-up, it might be made from minerals naturally derived from the earth, such as zinc oxide, titanium oxide, iron oxide and ultramarine, and, crucially, at the same time leave other harmful chemicals out. (Nearly all make-up uses minerals; natural mineral make-up is as much about what is left out as left in.)
  • The ingredients themselves might be organic, or in other words cultivated without the use of harmful pesticides.
  • The ingredients will be sustainably grown and harvested, and fairly traded.
  • They won’t include synthetic fragrances or colourings.
  • They have been made without generating harmful by-products that can eventually get into our waterways and hurt wildlife.
  • The packaging will be entirely or mostly recycled and recyclable.
  • It has been made without cruelty to animals.
  • Some brands are now also paying attention to air miles, attempting to limit them by using locally grown ingredients, and using alternative transport methods to cargo planes. You can also choose to buy UK-made products if you wish.

Natural make-up

We’re having a love affair with natural makeup at BigGreenSmile. The newest ranges are simply so good, especially mineral make-ups. And the choice of colours is so broad you’ll have no problem recreating any look - day or night. Choose from Lavera, Korres, Dr Hauschka, Madara, Alva, Burt's Bees, Benecos and Green People at BigGreenSmile.

Swap Shop

You don’t need to make a wholesale change to your beauty bag over night. Simply swap in natural products as your old ones run out. You will find that there is an alternative for everything, even your cult staples.

Toxic ingredients to avoid

Many people find their way to natural beauty products because they have sensitive skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis, eczema or rosacea, and find that wearing make-up causes flare-ups. Others because they are pregnant, and wish to take a natural path. Or, it might be that their skin simply feels irritated by the synthetic ingredients in non-natural products.

Whatever your reason for finding your way to natural products, there are some commonly used ingredients to avoid. You will find them listed on products, or specifically shown as not included on natural beauty products. Please note this is not an exhaustive list.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Widely used as a foaming agent and surfactant in everything from toothpaste to shampoos. It can irritate skin, eyes and respiratory tract, and is even reported to cause upset tummies and vomiting for some.

Parabens are widely used synthetically-made preservatives that are known to cause skin irritation, especially for skins prone to dermatitis and rosacea, and can cause hormone imbalances in both men and women.

Petrolatum and paraffin oil
A smoothing and softening agent. It can irritate the skin, reduce the skin’s natural ability to eliminate toxins and can potentially be carcinogenic if contaminated. Can be listed as petroleum.

A legally allowed preservative, sometimes found in mascaras. It can accumulate in the body over time. Toxicologists worldwide recommend avoiding it wherever possible.

Polymethyl methacrylate
This adds a soft and smooth feel to foundations but worryingly is linked to cancer, disrupting the immune system and causing skin allergies.

Bismuth oxychloride
This one is a relatively new entrant to the list, thanks to the rising popularity of mineral make-up. It’s been used in cosmetics for years, because it gives products a shiny glow. It’s technically a mineral, and so might appear in some make-up legally claiming to be mineral make-up. But, it’s not naturally-derived; it’s a by-product of lead or copper smelting. It can cause skin irritation, so if you want to be on the safe side check the ingredients on your mineral make-up. Bismuth is a naturally occurring mineral, but bismuth oxychloride isn’t.

This is the smelly chemical in insect repellent. This synthetic formula was developed in the 1940s by the US Army and is thought to work by stopping insects from locating people. It is known for causing skin irritation and allergic reactions and is absorbed through the skin accumulating in the body’s fat tissues. There’s an ever-growing case about the potential toxic effect DEET has to mammals, and mosquitoes are showing resistance to the many chemical insecticides being used. As a powerful solvent DEET has the ability to melt hard plastics. Ouch!

Triclosan & Triclocarban
Anti-bacterial preservatives with damaging effects such as skin, eye and lung irritation and hormone disruption, and don’t break down naturally in the environment.

Propylene Glycol
Used as a skin-conditioning agent, found in many products including moisturisers, hair conditioners and make-up. Can be a skin irritant, aggravating psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis. A main ingredient in anti-freeze. 

A group of chemicals commonly found in plastics and cosmetics, especially nail varnishes, hair spray and perfumes. Particularly noted for posing a risk to hormones and the reproductive system.

The benefits of natural beauty products

Of course, you don’t need to have a skin complaint to choose natural beauty products over mainstream alternatives. The benefits are many:

  • They are kinder on all skins, though it must be noted that some natural ingredients, such as nut or wheat extracts, can cause allergic reactions too.
  • Huge environmental benefits, in terms of reduced toxicity, sustainability, less packaging waste.
  • Often you are supporting smaller businesses, sometimes local. And the larger natural brands tend towards ‘putting something back’, such as charitable work, cooperatives and campaigning.
  • Happy fish.

 Photo: BellaFaye