Is there any value in calling natural skin care products "natural"?
I thought: "Holy cow! Did I read that right?" I mean, sure, with both "natural" and "organic" labelling being heavily abused in recent years by brands that are clearly neither, I can understand the distrust, but to essentially refuse to accept that the term "natural" has any helpful purpose at all is really not the answer to the underlying problem is it? Regardless of how a product is branded, we must, as we have always said, encourage people to read and understand full ingredient lists to determine whether it is what they hoped for. Surely that is the only real means for a customer to figure out for themselves which brands tout "natural" and are anything but natural, and which brands are really making great products from beautiful, nature-derived ingredients?
Contrary to the advice we received, I believe there is absolute relevance and value in the term "natural". In fact we at Alchemilla emphasize "natural" in our product descriptions because our skin care products are as pure, natural, organic and effective as they can be while we avoid causing harm to people and the planet. We use as many organic and natural ingredients in as high a quantity as possible, while maintaining the quality and effectiveness our customers have come to expect from us. We don't abuse the term "organic", but we do use both terms when describing our products because we believe they fairly and honestly describe our products!
Regardless of whether there is "natural" or "organic" on the front of a label, I believe 100% that it always, ALWAYS comes down to understanding all of the ingredients in a product before making a decision on whether it meets our expectations. I've come across products that are labelled 100% organic and sometimes certified, but when I read the ingredients, I find that the products are very unsophisticated or down-right not good for skin at all. For example, there are Certified Organic products that consist of 100% oils and waxes, or products that contain lemon juice as a preservative...easier to Certify but for most people, not so good for the skin.
I do feel encouraged though, that after much organic labeling abuse of recent years and a realization by many people that food is food and skin care is skin care and never the twain shall meet, a Certified Organic stamp doesn't mean the product inside the bottle is anything to write home about. Customers are truly beginning to realize that if they want organic oil or lemon juice on their skin they'll squeeze a lemon or pour from their olive oil bottle right out of their kitchen instead of looking for it in the personal care isle! More importantly, they are realizing that their satisfaction ultimately boils down to being informed about what's actually in the product and how it performs on their skin, not just how it is branded or certified, or how "foody" it sounds.
So I would say to the manufacturer who suggested we actively de-value the term "natural" and push "certified organic" as far superior to sell more of their soaps: Instead of creating more consumer confusion to differentiate our brands, can't we all keep the education ball rolling so as to protect not only the ethical brands that we want to keep on store shelves, but most importantly to protect customers from being mislead into purchasing something that may not necessarily be good for their skin, even though "certified organic" is on the front of the label!?
Furthermore, I would raise the point that if we were to delve deeper about this, we could talk about soapmaking itself, and the whole question of how it is even possible for soap to ever be Certified Organic. One may be quite shocked when understanding that the actual process of getting soap into its final state does not sound all that organic at all! In fact, when we break down the process and the ingredients needed to make soap, we become aware that soap's raw ingredient content is highly caustic (caustic soda or potassium hydroxide to be exact - most definitely not good for the planet or human in their raw form) and that the actual process of soapmaking very dangerous.
We may also be a little astonished at how easily these facts are overlooked by the passer-by, because the finished product is branded Certified Organic and the ingredient list reads "saponified" oils as the only hint that the product was originally oil mixed with caustic soda! Of course, there is no caustic soda in the final product, and soapmakers argue that it's irrelevant, but what I want to bring to light here is that many personal care manufacturers (soap or otherwise) would rather people blindly trust a Certified Organic stamp than really look into the facts. What we want to do is push the need to understand the facts before deciding on a product and to bring to light that all the facts are not always available from a stamp that reads "Certified Organic".
All of that being said, we're not wanting to suggest that organic soap isn't a good thing. On the contrary, it's wonderful and I certainly prefer it over conventional soap! The purpose of my example is to highlight a simple truth to offer a broader perspective on the Certified Organic personal care industry in general, and whether it truly represents what many want us to believe it is, or whether we need to be asking more questions.
And although it reads like we are attempting to de-value "Certified Organic" labelling, we're not. In my opinion, Certified Organic brands are much preferable to chemical-laden brands. However, it's all a matter of perspective.
I'm also not trying to de-value soap itself. I am simply protesting the approach some brands take to dissuade consumers from making informed, conscious choices based on fact, ie. suggesting they blindly trust certification labels as their only means of determining a product's true value.
At Alchemilla we believe there is plenty of market share for everyone and that we should support, not demonize, any company that is producing high quality natural goods as an alternative to chemical-laden junk. If we really care about people and the planet, why not cut out the bologne around product branding (it's an ineffective way to win ongoing consumer confidence after all) and focusing on producing and promoting safe, effective, pleasant, sustainable products that people want, and that do no harm to person or planet...AND to support others doing the same.
Why not apply the knowledge we
have to ensure that we are creating the best possible products, then encourage buyers of those products to choose based on actual product ingredients, how it feels and performs, whether it's compatible with my skin, what are the brand's motivations?
(This is not to say that we haven't had a bee in our bonnet in the past with a few so-called "natural" brands who shamelessly continue to mis-label their products in an effort to fool consumers (eg. knowingly using synthetic or "nature identical" fragrances in their products and calling them essential oils on the label, or using high percentages of alcohol or a very low-pH (both detrimental to the skin) as alternatives to an adequate preservative system, all in an effort to appear more clean and natural. I admit, I am guilty - and I'm not sure I'll ever stop grumbling about that!)
There really are many independently owned companies, uncertified, that are producing truly
beautiful and effective natural products using high quality ingredients, that deserve recognition over and above certification stamps or clever marketing. The key for the consumer in finding such products is to not immediately right-off
anything! The key is to know what
you are getting by learning a little about the company, reading the ingredients, doing the homework, and trying the product.
From one manufacturer to another I would like to say: Let's stop putting down each other as the only way to differentiate our products and win market share! Let's build up and expand what we know for sure is truly good, and encourage others to do their due diligence, to trust in their own research and not blindly trust a product's branding as the only means of making a decision!
*In fact, we're so not trying to de-value soap. After all, we're about to begin selling beautifully crafted organic soaps that we found so good, we decided they would be the only products we do not make in our own lab! We simply won't be promoting these gorgeous soaps by de-valuing the word "natural"!