Natural – it means pure, wholesome and just better for you, doesn’t it? No wonder the natural skincare market has exploded in recent years, with consumers expressing a preference for products that are naturally derived over chemical-packed cosmetics. But we’re forgetting one thing – Mother Nature can be harsh too (for example, formaldehyde is a naturally occurring compound, while on the flipside, pure water is an example of a chemical substance). So what exactly is natural skincare and more importantly, is it actually any better for you?
A natural ingredient is considered to be any plant, mineral or animal byproduct. Natural ingredients have been a beauty staple in many cultures for centuries – the Ancient Greeks slathered on olive oil and honey with abandon; and in Egypt, Cleopatra was said to be a fan of sea-salt scrubs, almond oil and bathing in donkey’s milk to maintain her radiant complexion.
Fast-forward a couple of millennia and the interpretation of natural is more ambiguous. The fact is, unlike the term organic, which refers to how an ingredient is farmed, there are no legal definitions for advertising ‘natural’ as it’s not regulated by any governing body. So unsurprisingly, there is still a high degree of confusion surrounding it. According to market-research firm Mintel, many shoppers find it difficult to know if a product is as natural or organic as it claims.
Jessica Smith, Trend Forecaster at the Future Laboratory, agrees. ‘Claims of “natural” will no longer be enough for beauty brands in the future,’ she says. ‘As consumers seek effective formulas that truly protect their skin, beauty ingredients will come under increased scrutiny, with zero irritants becoming the new standard in natural beauty.’
Vague definitions aside, there’s no doubt that natural beauty has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, with clinical studies now proving that many active ingredients from nature can have huge benefits on skin quality. For example, rosehip oil is high in vitamins A and C (two well known anti-agers), while the active ingredients in manuka honey have been proven to stimulate collagen renewal. Of course, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have been harnessing the power of nature for centuries, but it’s only more recently that their magic is being proven in the lab.
And now, the high-tech, skin-savvy Korean brands are at it too, with covetable names such as A. by Bom Cosmetics and Skin79 offering technologically advanced formulas using natural ingredients that respect the environment. So let’s hear it for Mother Nature, with a look at some of our favourite plant-based brands.
Evolve Organic Beauty
‘Green science’ based on the power of plants is the ethos behind this vegan-friendly artisanal brand. From skincare to haircare, each product is handmade in a studio in Hertfordshire in small batches to guarantee freshness. Chock-full of natural actives, the labels show the percentages of every ingredient so you know exactly what’s going on your skin.
This chic French brand is a beauty editors’ favourite, and its Beauty Elixir has earned cult status among its legions of fans. It all started in Bordeaux, when the founders met a professor who told them that grape seeds contain the most powerful antioxidants in the world. Fast-forward a quarter of a century and the brand, which eshews parabens, mineral oils and phthalates, has a couple of patents under its belt (it was the first to patent resveratrol – a potent natural anti-ager).
The Soap Co.
Boasting style as well as substance (this eco-luxe brand has won awards for its minimalist, biodegradable, recyclable packaging) the soaps, liquid handwashes and hand lotions are all handcrafted in the UK. Not only are the formulations free from animal-derived products and synthetic nasties, the company is a social enterprise that provides work opportunities for people who are visually impaired or have disabilities.