This article from our founder was first published in the Natural & Organic Products Magazine's 'Beauty Buzz' column, targeted at store buyers.
‘I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could want to own’ Andy Warhol
We all want to be better citizens and have a duty to protect our diminishing natural environment. Luckily, the natural and organic beauty sector has grown year on year meaning we should be hopeful, and proud of where we have come?
I’m not so sure, and I’m urging buyers to use their power to shape change.
Firstly, to help the consumer convert to natural and organic, products needs to work well. Eco product and packaging claims are well and good but rendered pointless if the item itself goes unused, meaning a good intention becomes part of the waste problem
Natural and organic products are not optimised by chemical enhancement and so rely on the potency of the natural elements themselves to be efficient. This should be fairly obvious but I’m not sure we are asking the right questions.
There is no shortage of natural beauty options out there and it’s easy to understand why box ticking, logos and certifications hold a place, but here is where we need to tread carefully.
Organic certification as an example, is a great step in helping us make informed choices, but only scratches the surface. It’s a reassurance, but should not form the basis of judgement or consideration. Rather it should solidify and back up the complete picture.
Firstly, we shouldn’t exclude brands who are organic but can’t officially make the claim, because they can’t afford certification or aren’t set up for such systems, sometimes for the best possible reasons. A natural oil such as argan for example, can be both certified organic and also deodorised, but deodorisation involves heat treatment which denatures the oil and significantly reduces the properties. As well as this a number of other factors come into play such as terroir, and even freshness of the natural product which is highly underrated.
No one would want to drink a stale fruit juice, let alone one that hasn’t been cold-pressed these days, so why don’t we think in a similar manner with natural beauty? Seeds such as those used to make argan oil start to oxidize immediately after being extracted from their shell, therefore need to be pressed swiftly. The reality is that most of what is available in the market has come from readily extracted seeds sitting in sacks for months rendering them almost dead. When it comes to highly potent botanical extracts which are effective in beauty, there are limitations to efficacy due to stabilisation methods put in place to extend shelf life.
Then there are popular yet misleading terms such as ‘cruelty-free’, often used to indicate the absence of animal exploitation but grey around the areas of fair treatment of workers and environmental damage, lending it to products that aren’t necessarily kind after all. I could go on, but you get the picture.
The solution? Firstly we have to be realistic about our expectations and change our priorities. Nature, is delicate, wild and unpredictable at times, we cannot control it, and we should not expect it to fit into the same systems that have been put into place for lab developed chemical based products, leading to unrealistic expectations on shelf life, uniformity and more. Innovation is often unsustainable in itself and the pressure for ‘new’ means many brands are bringing products to market just for the sake of it. We have to ask ourselves if this is necessary, if we really believe in the power and beauty of nature, do we need to over complicate it?
Asking very specific questions to see if brands can back up their claims is important. This means taking the time to get to know the founders and the back story, finding out who is making the products and how the components are sourced to make sure they are really offering something authentic rather than jumping on a bandwagon. Making farm visits to get a view point quite literally from the ground up is valuable, and this is an area in which we are far more ahead in the food industry. Smelling products, feeling them, and testing them against similar items all helps develop the right instinct to make better choices.
This may sound like a lot of work, but change takes time and the moment we are honest about where we stand, we know what we are actually working with. Only then can we strive to be better, slowly but surely.
If we don’t all use our influence in the right way, not only will this compromise the environment, the risk is that all of us as consumers won’t get access to the most incredible natural ingredients as the growers will be forced to give up. Which could mean giving up on the idea of natural and organic overall.
Much like in the art world where some of the best talent goes undiscovered and a lucky few make it thanks to a gallery taking a chance on them, beauty buyers hold a huge amount of power in shaping the future of natural and organic.
Copyright of Dana Elemara, if you would like her to contribute to your publication please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org