What is Natural Skin Care?
Natural skin care is normally understood to refer to those products characterised by the absence of synthetic ingredients, such as preservatives, petrochemical derivatives, mineral oils, fragrances and harsh detergents.
Typically, natural skin care products are made using natural ingredients such as plant oils, essential oils, herbal and floral extracts (both aqueous and waxy), that have been prepared in the “old fashion way”, without chemical processing or modification. Sometimes, ethically produced animal derivatives, such as beeswax, may also be present in natural skin care (1).
Natural skin care made with approved organically produced raw materials and practices can be organic certified by the relevant organic organizations.
Unfortunately, there are numerous products in the market that claim to be either natural or that are cleverly marketed for their singular botanical extract or vitamin, amongst a dense cocktail of synthetic ingredients. These are the “pseudo-natural” products (1). To help clarify if a skin care product is really natural, it is recommended to read the ingredients section in the label.
Why is natural skin care better than synthetic?
Products that are made from ingredients that have been extracted naturally from sustainably maintained plants and crops manifest the essence, the energy, the qualities and the benefits of the source raw material, in ways that synthetics ingredients do not.
Simply put, the geographical location, the soil and the water the plants are grown in, as well as the sun exposure, the seasons and harvesting times contribute to the mature plants and crop yields in unique ways.
These factors cannot be mimicked in the laboratory or controlled nurseries, as the natural exposure to the environmental conditions facilitates development of subtle differences in the plants. These are then reflected in the quality of the extracted oils, as well as on their specific composition, properties and benefits.
Besides, synthetic ingredients are produced in laboratories using scientific, yet often hazardous processes involving the use of carbon dioxide, propylene glycol or hexane based methods. Although these chemical agents may only be present is trace amounts in the final synthesised ingredients, it is unclear what effect they might have as they accumulate in our bodies, over a prolonged period of exposure (2).
Of course, some of the natural extracts and oils may also be affected or destabilised by the natural extraction methods used in their preparation. For these reasons manufacturers of natural skin care products give great consideration to the sourcing of their raw materials and how natural ingredients are prepared from the latter.
What is Special About Plant Oils?
Plant oils are made up of complex mixtures of different fatty acids (lipids). It is the specific mix and ratio of these fatty acids that determines the unique character of any oil. In addition to the main lipid fraction, there are also other very important bioactive substances such as the phospholipids, phosphatides, phytosterols, phytoestrogens, isoflavones and vitamins. These bioactives are known as the unsaponifiable fraction of the oil. They normally are present is small amounts and are unique signatures of the oils (3).
To demonstrate how the oil composition determines the difference in functional properties, the typical fatty acid profile of apricot kernel and borage oils as described in Kusmirek (3) are compared below.
1 – Apricot kernel oil is a mixture of 58 – 74% of oleic acid, 25 – 30% of linoleic, with the remainder 4 – 7% composed of Natural skincare palmitic, palmitoleic, stearic and alpha-linolenic acids. The unsaponifiable content is approximately 0.5 -0.75%.
2 – Borage oil is a mixture of 30 – 40% linoleic acid, 8 – 25% gamma linolenic acid, 15 – 20% oleic acid, 9 – 12% palmitic acid, 3 – 4% stearic acid, 2 – 6 % eicosenoic acid. The unsaponifiable content is approximately 1%.
Apricot kernel oil is a great nourishing and emollient oil that is easily absorbed. These properties are attribute to the high percentages of oleic and linoleic acids. Furthermore, apricot kernel oil is also an excellent source of vitamin A, present in the unsaponifiable matter.
Borage oil is known for its nourishing and penetrating properties attributed to the presence of linoleic and oleic acids, but in addition the high content of gamma-linolenic acid confers its regenerating and firming qualities.
The differences in the properties of apricot kernel and borage oils, as well as those of other oils not discussed here, demonstrate the importance to blend various plant oils for optimal skin care, so that the skin is adequately fed, continuously hydrated, smooth feeling and equipped to regenerate efficiently. These are essential to promote a healthy skin glow, regardless of age.
But, even if the synthetics oils were to reproduce the exact mixes and ratios of plant derived fatty acids and unsaponifiables, it would be nearly impossible to mimic into the synthetic oils the contribution from the energy that is held in the plant, from which the equivalent natural oils were extracted. Thus, natural ingredients are different from their synthetic equivalents.