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The Quest For Colour, Naturally.

March 27, 2010

One of the cosmetic  industry newsletters that I write for recently ran an online poll asking readers if they think that mineral make-ups should be considered natural when these formulations typically contain minerals of synthetic origin. The results were quite surprising considering the number of ‘natural’ minerals around – 80% of the 120 respondents said NO. Interesting!

So why did we get this result and if the majority of the industry (surveyed) don’t agree with the ‘natural’ claim then why are they using it??? So many questions and so little time!  I guess that the best thing to do is to check out what was said and go from there.

Here is the link to the poll which was ran by Special Chemicals For Cosmetics. A global publication for the Cosmetics Industry.

Reason 1: THE LAW WITH REGARD TO CHEMICALS.

I was surprised to learn that in America the use of natural colourant materials is prohibited by law. Apparently this has something to do with the fact that natural pigments can be contaminated with heavy metals, can be of varying quality and are more expensive.   However in Europe the law is different and natural pigments such as Iron Oxides can be used in cosmetic products as long as they meet the specifications for safety.   Here in Australia we tend to follow the European regulations but also have NICNAS – a government body that regulates the chemicals that come into the country. As far as colours go, we are allowed to use the stuff that’s on the European list.

Reason 2: THE LAW WITH REGARD TO MARKETING.

This is more tricky, most countries have something like the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) that regulates what people say about products but as there is no singular LEGAL definition of  ‘natural’ it can be a bit like asking someone if they believe in God – there are many roads that can be taken to find truth and many different versions of ‘natural’.

Generally speaking common sense would state that in order to call something ‘natural’  it really should be manufactured from ingredients that have been processed with minimal chemical interference.  It would be nice to think that a natural product was 100% natural – fresh from the tree but this is rarely practical.  

Recently Na True launched their ‘natural’ certification standards in Europe and are due to start certifying products in July.  Under their criteria a  water-free (powdered or mineral) colour cosmetic has to contain a minimum of 1% natural ingredients and a maximum of 50% derived natural ingredients. ‘Derived Natural’ relates to ingredients that start off all natural but go through an allowed chemical process to modify them. For example saponifying a fat to form a soap, other ingredients in this category could be some colourants, hydrogenated vegetable oils, hydrolyzed protein, stearic acid and many more.  Finally these mineral make-ups can contain any percentage of nature-identical substances (as long as they meet the 1% minimum natural part).

So in a nutshell, a ‘natural mineral make-up’ only has to have 1% totally natural, up to 50% natural but modified and from 1-99% nature-identical ingredients to make the grade (nature-identical is when chemists produce in a lab  a chemical that is identical to one found in nature. In colour cosmetic applications this should not impact negatively on consumer safety or product performance).

And finally on marketing. There is no single standard. If you want to know how natural (from a tree etc) YOUR make-up is, you have to do some reading.  THEY are only kidding you if they are use a ‘natural’ logo without complying OR if they use words that imply the product is more pure and natural than it actually is independently of any certification.

Reason 3:  What IS natural?

As you have seen above there is no single law describing ‘natural’. Indeed each certifying body has many different levels of certification on offer – natural, organic, XX% natural etc.  It can be most confusing even for people working with this stuff every day!

The most important thing that we, the market can do is to stay informed.  It is painful to have to read the standards and to understand what each thing means but if we are interested in the products that we use it all helps.  All good standards will have their criteria posted somewhere that is accessable in a free and easy to download way. If you can’t find the info, question why.

If you don’t want to spend your time with your head in paperwork then you could always just trust what the manufactures are saying about their products.  Yes that is quite a radical thing to say as we all know how the ‘truth’ can be stretched by other-enthusiastic brand-owners BUT it just might work.

So, mineral make-up is not as natural as we first thought.  Is that so bad?  Have we been conned?  Should we abandon it now and go naked into the sunset?

I am sure that nobody would appreciate me preaching to you about what to do next so I won’t. It’s personal and everyone has a different comfort zone with respect to evidence, information and exposure. As far as I am concerned though, I still love my mineral make-up especially in the summer when it’s just too hot for a face full of liquid foundation. 

I’m going to keep on living the dream.

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