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If you believe that eating whole, natural, organic, unprocessed food is healthier for you than chemically laden, highly processed, genetically-modified foods, can you make the same assumption about beauty and personal care products? The answer, of course, is yes.
When you realize that the skin is the body’s largest—and most highly permeable—organ, it is easy to understand that it needs healthy nourishment, too. Yet are all natural and organic products equal? The answer is in the journey from the ground to your skin. To make astute choices, it is vital to know what happens along the way.
How are natural and organic ingredients grown and harvested?
Have you ever asked yourself why the best olive oil you have ever tasted holds that place in your taste bud hall of fame? It is likely extra virgin olive oil with the right acidity from a protected region in Italy where the olives are cold pressed and respectfully seduced to give up their precious juices to maintain nutritional content and flavor. It is because the Italian climate, soil and environmental conditions there are conducive to the healthiest, strongest olive trees.
These trees are natural and not forced to grow in an environment that needs to be supported by mass agricultural techniques to yield the largest crop, with no consideration to the quality of the produce. I like to buy food that is in season and is sourced from a region where it does not have to be artificially supported via synthetic and artificial means to produce.
Like olive oil, not all natural and organic ingredients are of the same quality. It is like orange juice made from concentrate versus freshly squeezed. It is a cup of tea’s first distillation from a tea bag versus the second or third cup made from that bag.
The same can be said about the origins of quality natural and organic skin care products.
How are personal care products manufactured?
When you buy or grow organic vegetables, it makes sense to handle them in a way that preserves their nutrient value. Do you try and eat them as raw as possible or do you cook them? If you cook them, do you lightly steam or boil them on the stove or do you opt for microwave? From a nutrient perspective, most studies suggest the less water and heat the better. Because of this, many people use a microwave, however this does not take into consideration the potential impact on ingredients from the magnetrons and electromagnetic radiation levels.
Likewise, it is relevant to ask the same questions about natural and organic ingredients that go into personal skin care. How are these ingredients grown and prepared? Are they grown using the best sustainable practices? What happens when they come out of the ground to be made into skincare products?
The extraction method matters. Are the plants percolated or macerated to force the natural content? Are chemicals used to harshly extract the ingredients? Or are the plant’s natural properties gently coaxed from them as essences, extracts and elixirs that maintain the vitality of the plant in the process? Does the production method preserve the nutrient value of the ingredient or does it destroy it? As with food, when it comes to natural and organic personal care products, the less water, heat, chemicals, exposure to radiation and human manipulation the better.
How are they preserved?
When you buy food, do you look for the freshest food with the least amount of additives and/or preservatives? If so, you would be well advised to be just as diligent in selecting personal care products. Preservatives are additives put into products to prolong their shelf life and keep them from being broken down by microorganisms. Yet, what does a longer shelf life have to do with health? Absolutely nothing. Preservatives exist solely for the convenience of companies seeking to maximize sales and profitability through scalability, mass production and logistics. Imagine buying fresh food items that would last in your refrigerator for five years. You wouldn’t buy them to eat nor should you buy them to put on your skin. I subscribe to the belief, “the longer the shelf life the lower yours.”
A way to avoid adding physical preservatives is irradiation, an approach which slows or halts spoilage by affecting plant cells and microorganisms damaging their DNA beyond its ability to self-repair. This is the equivalent to using microwaves to cook food and it is one of three methods used on all fresh produce that comes into the U.S. before being released from Customs. The other two methods are mechanical (such as cold treatment or hot water or chemical dips) and fumigation.
So produce that may start out as organic in another country may well be rendered clinically dead on arrival in the U.S. Savvy natural and organic manufacturers handle their extraction before export to avoid the harsh exposure to irradiation, mechanical treatment and fumigation.
If you agree that food is fuel for our bodies then it makes sense that if it is alive, it adds life and if it is clinically dead, it just temporarily fills a hole in one’s stomach. The same can be said about personal care products. Those that are alive give life to the skin whereas dead ingredients produce no or negative results.
Learn to read the labels
I have found few cosmetic chemists who see and treat the natural and organic ingredients in a personal care product like a raw food chef does when preparing a meal to be the healthiest and most nutritious it can be. If the natural and organic ingredient in a personal care product is just another number on the formula sheet that can be grown, harvested, prepared, transported, preserved and stored like any other inert, synthetic chemical laboratory-produced ingredient being added to a cosmetic formula, how can all natural and organic skincare products be the same?
It pays to read labels to know the ingredients and processes that take the plant from farm to skin. Taking note of certifications for purity and clinical studies for efficacy are two parts of the three-legged stool of understanding. The third is transparency. Rating natural and organic products according to certification, efficacy and transparency will aid tremendously in helping one to navigate the growing number of choices among products that are marketed as natural and organic.