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"Natural" and "bio" - long term trends in the cosmetic sector


Consumers usually relate purity, innoxiousness and good tolerance with the terms "nature" and "bio" - not only in the food sector but also in the cosmetic field. 

That is why these terms are frequently used in advertisings. Now what is true here and what can we rely on?

Martina Grams, training manager at KOKO Kosmetikvertrieb GmbH & Co. KG, asked Dr Hans Lautenschläger, whether the promises and expectations derived from such advertisings are reasonable.

M. Grams: What are natural cosmetics - what does the term "bio" mean in the context of skin care preparations?

Dr Lautenschläger: A consequent interpretation of such terminology would mean that all the ingredients are natural and that - in the case that herbal substances are used - they are of biological origin. This, of course, is unrealistic. Let me quote some examples here:

  • There is no doubt that mineral oil and the resulting paraffin oils are natural substances. But you will only find them in conventional preparations.
  • Physiological salts, as e.g. the phosphates used to stabilize pH-values come from inorganic-chemical processing. They are nature-identical substances.
  • Hyaluronic acid no longer is a biological product gained from coxcombs but is produced from glucose with the help of certain bacteria.
  • Refined herbal oil - is this still a natural substance? Some components are extracted others are added during the refining process. In reverse, cold-pressed oils ("bio") often contain unwanted natural compounds with allergenic potential.

Conclusion: There is no precise, statutory definition of natural cosmetics. The popular seals have their individual evaluation criteria - depending on the certifying organization. We often find graduations here, in other words, products can contain certain amounts of synthetic substances and still are considered to belong to the range of natural cosmetics.

M. Grams: What can go wrong when buying "natural" and "bio" products?

Dr Lautenschläger: This particular question allows multiple answers. Let me just mention a few of them:

  • As with any other cosmetic product, it should only be applied after having analysed your skin otherwise you run the risk of not tolerating the product.
  • In the case of sensitive skin it should be kept in mind that the risk of developing allergies is in proportion to the number of extracts contained which in turn contain a variety of individual components.
  • Essential oils include components with allergenic potential that in part have to be declared in the INCI according to the Cosmetic Directive. Apart from that, natural products can form allergenic substances due to effects of radiation and atmospheric oxygen during storage, as for instance ascaridol from tea tree oil.

M. Grams: People have different skin types; whom would you rather advise not to use "natural" and "bio" products?

Dr Lautenschläger: As already mentioned, the allergenic risk has to be taken into account. In this respect, it should be mentioned that the barrier-disturbed skin is more prone to allergies than "normal" skin. Also in the case of cornification- and connective tissue disorders the use of "natural" and "bio" products has to be considered carefully.

M. Grams: What do you think of so-called stone peelings, for instance of apricot- and avocado stone peelings?

Dr Lautenschläger: Well, in the final analysis, it is a step backwards into times, when the wood flours that were used to treat irritations and minor injuries have been replaced by synthetic polymers such as polyurethane and polypropylene, which both have fallen into disrepute today because of the discussions around microplastics. Jojoba wax- and enzyme peelings based on natural substances certainly are the better alternative.

M. Grams: Some tend to use "back to the nature" products; others prefer "high-tech" cosmetics. Which type of products actually is advantageous for the skin?

Dr Lautenschläger: One thing does not rule out the other, of course - take for example the liposomes technology with carriers consisting of herbal phosphatidylcholine. The overall criterion should be an optimal physiological tolerance and efficacy. Taking this into account, it makes sense to evaluate the products in view of their compatibility with the targeted area in the skin rather than their source.

Further information:

Please note: The contribution is based on the state of the art at the revision date.

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Revision: 27.05.2021