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Building Natural Products

By: Eric S. Abrutyn
Posted: March 3, 2010, from the March 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Of natural products on the market examined for this article, most consist of at least 90% naturally derived materials and they omit certain ingredients construed as being unsafe, such as parabens. Cosmetic products meeting organic standards tend to follow USDA food standards, where no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or other toxins were used to grow the non-hybridized plant sources from which the raw materials are derived. The most common denominators among formulas that meet claims for natural standards include:

  • based on environmentally conscious and ecologically sound practices that are socially responsible with regard to the use of resources, and that impart minimum human impact on the environment;
  • at least 90% of the formula composition, sans water, is based on renewable feedstock and ingredients with neutral carbon footprints;
  • incidental ingredients such as preservatives, chelating agents and antioxidants do not have to be included in the calculation—so long as they represent less than 1% of the non-water portion of the composition, and there are no renewable resource alternatives; and
  • all raw materials used should represent the best approach to safe exposure to humans; safety measurements are based on scientific studies demonstrating their long-term safety to humans.

In general, the key to formulating natural products is to choose safe and effective raw materials of as natural an origin as possible. Their renewability also should be incorporated into the product development process, to result in the smallest possible negative footprint on the environment. However, for product developers to meet the specific requirements of a given standard, it is important to fully understand the requirements since they can vary as to how the percentage of natural ingredients is calculated, or the degree of modification allowed to a natural source material. This is important because some natural ingredients are either not functionally suitable to create good aesthetics, are not stable, or are not sufficiently pure—odorless and colorless.


The continued market demand for natural products is growing, and while the definition of natural remains an ongoing discussion, there is a definite push toward eliminating classical, “chemical-sounding” ingredients, even if they are proven safe and have little or no impact on the planet. Since the concept of natural and how it is positioned in the marketplace is still a moving target with minimal legal standardization, it will take some time to provide formulators with a clear idea of how to find and utilize the right materials that support this market claim.

Current standards are dependent upon the marketing divisions within individual companies and their legal departments, but the beauty industry, as a whole, must take a leadership role, as it has for the past 50 years with other issues, to control the misleading association of terms such as natural and organic with consumers’ expectation of implied safety. The industry must also continue in its defense of ingredients with established safety.

This abridged feature was reprinted courtesy of Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine (C&T). The full technical article is available in C&T’s October 2009 issue.