What does “natural” mean to you in skincare?

I’m really not a fan of the word “natural” to describe most products, beauty or otherwise, since it’s really a fluffy term these days. For me, it should mean more ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients, packaging that’s easier on the environment, ethical labor, particular attention paid to using ingredients less likely to irritate most skin types, and no added fragrance.

— Christine
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Natural to me means it’s been green washed. The product is using ingredients that might be suspect or ineffective just to sound more aesthetically pleasing. The price could also be increased for something that has the same efficacy as something not labeled natural. Think “natural” vitamin C versus lab created vitamin C, they are both the same chemical.

“Natural” is NOT a regulated term, so it’s not to be trusted. It is a marketing gimmick. Also, many plant ingredients in so-called “natural” cosmetics are irritants and cause more problems (cell death) than any touted benefits. Most of these are the fragrant plant oils which are really there for the scent more than anything else. Fragrance is NOT skincare! Even if you’re skin’s not sensitive to irritants, it’s still doing long-term damage.

And chances are HIGH , if you are allergy prone, that those fragrance components will get you eventually. Limonene, Linalool, Geraniol, Citronelol, forget ‘em all. I was already avoiding them, and put on an old Burt’s Bees chapstick style lip thing, not thinking about my fragrant oil friends. I have little to no sense of smell, so did not detect. Thought my whole lower face would burn off, lips swelled, did not ‘come out in the wash.’ Just say no.

It means nothing to me, it all feels like marketing fluff. I doubt there are labeling guidelines or in this case even marketing guidelines (eg, companies can’t market something as ‘natural’ unless [fill in blank]) — though I haven’t researched, tbh — so it only signals to me a marketing competency or at least a marketing intention.

It’s not a term I look for. It tends to be misleading at best. I look for terms like hypoallergenic, sensitive, or fragrance free, as I’ve had issues with skincare in the past (including one time a face wash burned a hole in my face).

Agree with you pretty much. I find the term meaningless–it’s way overused and inaccurate. Definitely should mean no irritants added such as fragrances; no preservatives unless absolutely vital and even then, ones that are least triggering of skin allergies; and no untested or unnecessary ingredients that are there to make the product seem healthier or better for the skin and yet are irritating and/or have effects that are undesirable.

In addition, unfortunately, brands that have been normally presented or thought of as being more “natural” or nonirritating are guilty of reformulating their products or adding to product line items with irritants (e.g., CeraVe has some irritating lotions out now and Drunk Elephant’s peptide cream has some weird peptides in it that haven’t been tested and are irritating to rosacea, etc.)

And to top it off, when the brands that present their products as “natural” don’t even fully disclose all their ingredients, but just summarize the “key” ingredients and general categories of what’s not included, that still doesn’t tell those with sensitive skin or skin allergies the other things in there that aren’t so “natural.”

I could go on, but won’t. 🙂

Many natural ingredients can be irritating for the skin (and usually they are the natural fragrances).

But indeed, there is a lot to go on about brands. I liked that you touched the point of brands not fully disclosing their ingredients (or make it hard to get the ingredient list). And beyond that, I would like that brands would detail the ingredients better on their website; OK, they don’t have space on a tiny cream to put all ingredients. But at least list them online, along with the way they have been sourced and from were. Usually brands to that to be `catchy` with some of the ingredients; but even if your shea butter (for example) is processed by a self-driven women cooperative… what about the rest of the ingredients?

“Natural” is a catchy term which is not regulated here in Canada. It means that ingredients are derived from natural sources/that exist naturally on Earth (minerals, plant and animal based sources). But the term doesn’t say anything about the processes used to transform that material and the chemicals used. It may be natural as origin, but we end up with a product that is completely transformed. The source (country of origin for that substance) is also important, especially for talc, silica etc. as they can be contaminated with other materials that are dangerous. I prefer to look for “organic” labelling as it is strictly regulated here in Canada, so that you can be sure about the source (no contamination) and the process used to transform those raw materials.

I love your explanation! When I see “natural” it makes me think it’s probably worse than other products in the same retail space — ones that use strictly regulated terms that mean things about the quality/source of ingredients, labor, packaging, or that have certifications or seals indicating third party oversight. To me “natural” means that the best adjective the brand could describe the product with under the law is one that doesn’t convey anything meaningful.

Usually, a dated and ineffective formula that the industry moved on from years ago with a high concentration of irritants like alcohol and essential oils.

For me natural means… natural: an ingredient that is extracted from nature (not produced in a lab) with `natural`/traditional techniques . For example, natural to me is an butter or oil (shea, coconut, almond) extracted by a cooperative of people in the region that cultivates the source of the oil.
A natural skincare product for me it’s one very close to the natural ingredients (e.g. a body lotion formulated just as a mix of butters/oils).

I don’t think that natural has necessarily something to do with ethics and sustainability; workers can still be mistreated and some ingredients can be made more sustainable in a lab.

But `natural`, `organic`, etc. are indeed fuzzy terms these days. Natural isn’t always better. The 5% in the 95% natural ingredients product can have more impact than the 95%.

Ever-Y-Thing you said above, I agree with 110%, Christine. And with my having sensitive eczema prone skin, I only care that a product will not inflame my skin or break me out or cause an allergic reaction to one of those “natural” ingredients! Some are perfectly safe for me to use, ie; aloe vera, Shea butter, oat or rice, coconut based ingredients. Others, especially those that are more fragrant, will tear my skin up. First one to come to mind was one by Belif. Can no longer remember if it was called “aqua” or “water” bomb, but it messed me up!

“The True Cream Aqua Bomb,” and speaking as someone with rosacea, it is NOT good (it does list an added fragrance, which smells a bit like rosemary (?) to me).

There are a number of plant-derived products I can’t use because of sensitivity (lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, tea tree, and on and on and on …), but the only one that I have an actual allergy to (as far as I’m aware) is chamomile, which is (unfortunately) a very popular skincare ingredient. Experience has taught me that the more plant-based ingredients in a product, the more likely I am to have a problem with it. Lotion-wise, the stuff that tends to work better for me in every way possible is often petroleum-based and super basic (3-7 ingredients total).

I pretty much agree with everything stated here. It really doesn’t mean much to me and being a nurse with a fair amount of science based knowledge, I find most labeling to be very egregious. We have certain labeling practices that are mandated here in this country and we all know that the highest concentrated component is suppose to be listed first but that doesn’t tell you how much is actually in there, where it was produced, how it was sourced, processed, etc. I just ignore the word.

In terms of skincare or other beauty products like shampoo and lotions and stuff, it usually means plant based, like shea butter or jojoba oil (or whatever) as opposed to petroleum or mineral oil bases. It also tends to indicate a lack of parabens and laureth sulphates and other ingredients folks tend to regard as “nasties”. But that’s just what the marketing wants you to believe… And in most cases, it means there’s a pretty leaf/flower/happy little bee/whatever on the label and there’s nothing really intrinsically wrong with that as such – it’s what consumers expect when they choose something promoted that way, but the use of words like “natural” and “organic” are effectively meaningless in terms of an actual clear definition.
People equate natural with good (or at least, less harmful) – slap some exotic plant extract or honey in it mark up by 700% and watch it fly off the shelves.

You know what else is natural? Mercury. Arsenic. Deadly nightshade. E. coli. Tetanus. And we generally don’t want those things anywhere near us.

Natural skincare generally means you’re buying feel-good factor – the ingredients may be no better or worse than anything manufactured in a lab but you’re typically (but not always) paying a premium for it. FWIW, I’ve tried several things from Farmacy and haven’t liked any of them. The Green cleanser is OK but plain old mineral oil is easier to spread and for me at least, more effective at removing makeup.

(And for the love of everything you hold dear, please stop putting glitter in facemasks!!!!)

“Natural” is pretty much a meaningless term as it’s not regulated. Add to that the fact that “natural” products are not necessarily “safe”. Take lavender oil, for example; it is something that causes reactions for a lot of people. Things like poison ivy, castor oil and lead are “natural” but they’re not necessarily good to put on your skin or to consume.

Great answer Christine and all The community .
Not much to add that hasn’t been expressed better, other than sadly for me when I see the word “natural “ I think ineffective.
I look for products that have some good research behind it , cruelty free, and has been proven to work .
Although there are a lot of ingredients found in nature ( rose hip oil , Cacay oil , Camelia oil for hair * honey ) etc that are beautiful for the skin and hair and I will purchase these in organic form .

Nothing. It’s become a meaningless buzzword. And just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you!

What “natural” really means to me is no silicones, no mineral oil, no sulfates, no PEGs, no denatured alcohol, just no JUNK.

What “natural” actually means when I see it on a label is “soulless cash grab.”

As everyone has noted, the term “natural” is unregulated for topical products and skin care,and therefore can mean anything. In contrast, the word “organic” does mean that a certain percentage of primary ingredients are grown in a very specific way, i.e.. at the minimum without pesticides. Similarly “wild-crafted,” also relates to how the main plant ingredients were grown. There are also extraction processes that use more harmful or irritating solvents than other processes. Having written a skin care book with a prominent dermatologist, I agree with the warnings about fragrance, and sensitizing essential oils as well. Certain preservative ingredients are best avoided. As a professional health reporter, what i notice is that although there has been very inadequate research into cumulative exposures to synthetic chemical ingredients in beauty products, among the cohort of people (ourselves) who use them extensively over long periods, anecdotally a significant number of people do seem to report skin allergies, auto-immune issues, fatigue syndromes etc. While there is no telling whether or not such conditions preceded, followed, or worsened following the use of industrial cosmetics and beauty products over many years, I often wonder if the at risk population were not women, whether the research would have been done. A rule of thumb I have followed since my 20’s is to use the simplest, most organic, or minimally chemicalized skin cleansing, moisturizing and sun care, I could find. I’ve received many compliments on my skin up to the present. I do use regular cosmetics which have everything under the sun in them. I only rarely wear foundation to minimize exposure to chemicals over a large surface of my skin. And apart from dark circles, I have nothing to cover up. And that is my compromise. My overall health is good, and (knock wood) I don’t have any skin reactivity or other health conditions. If I did, I would be even more scrupulous. Ad the fact that the government has not done its job of assuring the long term of safety of products in use, is, in my view, no reason to denigrate the term “natural” or the goal of using more biologically supportive skin care or cosmetics, It’s too bad that “natural” has no meaning, but in part that’s because the public has not asked government to do the due diligence and offer the consumer protection that would give it meaning.

I am also dubious about the term ‘natural’ because it can mean all kinds of things and very few products these days are actually ‘natural’. And just because it is ‘natural’ doesn’t me it’s necessarily better, given everyone’s skin concerns.
What I do hope is the product’s ingredients are sourced in an enviromentally friendly way, using labour that has been given a fair price. The ingredients should be cruelty free and known to be beneficial to the skin.
No fragrance is important because ven botanical or ‘natural’ fragrances are annoying to my skin.

Whenever I hear “natural” touted, I think “poison ivy is natural.” I agree 100% with the attributes that Christine has listed but they should apply to laboratory-created products as well. And I don’t like to think about what my skin would look like without Retin-A.

Ha! I should have read up further … I just made a similar point below. More “natural” things to add to our collective lists:

Atropa belladonna
Radon
Arsenic
Fungi (moulds), viruses, bacteria, etc…

As a chemistry myself I find it interesting how these companies coin these terms for the gullible. Natural? Really? Being natural doesn’t mean the product isn’t going to harm you. People with a mal functioning lactase can’t eat any food with lactose, be it synthetic or whole non-processed natural food.
The same way the animal testing/cruelty free in cosmetics companies. Most of the substances used in cosmetics today were somewhere in time tested in animals. So, unless the company is using new substances, their products aren’t really 100% cruelty free because they are using products whose safety were garanteed by animal testing.

I’m with you on the frustration that the word “natural” has somehow come to mean non-harmful — rattlesnake venom, crude oil, and asbestos are all completely natural.

Ha, this is a constant conversation in my business too.
I’ve come to the conclusion that once a human has touched an ingredient, picked it, and added it to another, or manipulated it in any way, it’s no longer “natural”.
Basically, you would have to go right up to the tree something grows on and wipe it on your skin.
As we all know, natural also means a incredibly short shelf life–heck it wouldn’t even make it to the shelf.
So, “use of natural ingredients” would be better. With that more clarity on all fronts from manufacturers is imperative.

Sustainable is starting to mean a lot more to people too, except that can also be confusing. To me sustainable means: the products harvested are being replaced so that there will be enough for the future, that the people who work on the farms (or where the product is grown) are well cared for, and their families too. That ensures the next generation of labor. Additionally, as you point out, the carbon footprint is considered and especially packaging, inks, dyes…

One could take this question as “how important is it to you personally,” or ” what do you think the proper definition is?” My answers are “not” and “has just enough ingredients sourced from plant and mineral material before being completely altered in a lab environment that the marketing team can still sleep at night after throwing that term into the mix.”

I think it’s usually just a marketing ploy, and the packaging will be green and/or brown. And as mentioned above, you can (and I do) have allergies to things found in nature. When I think of the seasonal allergies I have, putting plant product on my face seems dicey.

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