When does it get synthetic?
The term "synthesis" has its root in Greek: "synthesis" describes a combination of several elements to form a new substance. It is not only mixed here, because there is no physical way back to the starting materials. So far, so scientific. Whether natural or synthetic: it is always a question of a chemical composition - and a synthetic substance often has exactly the same chemical composition as its natural counterpart. So it always depends on the specific substance - and how well it is tolerated by our body and the environment.
Before we give an overview of the different types of cosmetics, we would like to emphasize: there is no "good" or "bad" in the field of cosmetics. A lot is a gray area and most of it is a matter of attitude. Nevertheless, it is important to consciously deal with what is actually in your own jar, pump dispenser or shampoo bar. Therefore, we would like to clear up the terminology first of all, because there can be three types of cosmetics in your own toiletry bag:
As with all other cosmetic products, the EU Cosmetics Regulation regulates what is allowed in conventional creams and the like. However, many chemical-synthetic ingredients that get the green light from the EU are controversial. These include, for example, substances that are suspected of being harmful to health, can trigger allergies or contaminate the groundwater (e.g. microplastics from mineral oil).
Outside hui, inside often hä: natural cosmetics usually contain fewer problematic ingredients. However, they do not meet the guidelines for natural cosmetics - for example because they still contain synthetic film formers or sun protection filters. Some of these are poorly biodegradable and accumulate in the environment or endanger marine biodiversity. That's why you shouldn't let the aloe vera and oat stalks on the packaging turn your head directly, but rather check the ingredients critically - otherwise the natural make-up remover lotion will become an eyewash.
Natural cosmetics contain purely natural or nature-based raw materials - i.e. those that are not produced on the basis of petroleum. However, "natural cosmetics" is not a protected term, which is why it is always worth taking a critical look at the ingredients. Seals such as Ecocert and Natrue or the ISO standard 16128 often help with orientation. However, natural cosmetics do not mean that the contents all come from organic cultivation. Purely organic cosmetics can be recognized by the labeling of the ingredients or by an organic seal.
Who's who in cosmetics?
Conventional cosmetics are cosmetics produced according to legal requirements, some of which contain synthetic raw materials.
Natural cosmetics increasingly use plant-based substances, but do not completely dispense with synthetic ingredients such as preservatives or sun protection filters. It does not yet meet the guidelines of natural cosmetics seals such as Ecocert or Natrue.
Natural cosmetics are based on the rules of common seals, according to which only ingredients of natural origin may be used. In addition, the majority of the products contain a certain proportion of ingredients from controlled organic cultivation. If the natural cosmetics only contain ingredients from controlled organic cultivation (up to 95%, depending on the organic seal), they are referred to as organic cosmetics.
INCI for Beginners
The Latin-English “gibberish” on the back of cosmetic packaging has a name: INCI. The abbreviation stands for the "International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients", which specifies how certain ingredients must be described. This creates an international comparability and where "Caprylic Capric Triglyceride" is written on it, Caprylic Capric Triglyceride is also in it. In addition, the rule applies: the earlier an ingredient is listed, the larger the quantity in which it is represented.
You can see here which ingredients should not be found in purely natural cosmetics:
The little red list of ingredients (and natural alternatives)
Petroleum products (e.g. paraffinum liquidum, ozokerite, microcrystalline wax)
Oil or raw materials produced on the basis of oil are very often used in conventional cosmetic products due to their properties. Extracting and using crude oil is unfortunately in principle harmful to the climate due to the poor CO2 balance. In addition, impurities are regularly found in petroleum substances. Coconut, shea or jojoba oil are good plant-based alternatives.
Silicones and PEG derivatives (e.g. PEG-8, PEG-15, PEG-32)
These are also obtained from petroleum and are difficult to degrade. They are used as skin care additives or serve, for example, to combine immiscible liquids such as water and oil (emulsifiers). They are also what make many shampoos foamy. Natural alternatives can be found in a variety of vegetable oils or in vegetable lecithin (hydrogenated lecithin), a natural emulsifier.
Parabens (e.g. methyl, ethyl, propyl, benzyl parabens)
Although they can make cosmetics last for a long time, they are suspected of influencing the hormone system and promoting diseases. DMDM Hydantoin and Trichlosan are also controversial preservatives. A few preservatives made from petroleum are also permitted in natural cosmetics. For example Potassium Sorbate.
microplastics (e.g Acrylate Copolymer, Polyamide, Polyethylene)
Unfortunately, they still exist, the tiny plastic particles for peelings and the like. These plastic particles also include water-soluble nano-sized polymers that are found in liquids, gels or waxes. Some of these are so small that they cannot be filtered by sewage treatment plants. The consequence? They float around in the sea for the next hundred years and end up in the bellies of sea creatures. Microplastics are prohibited in certified natural cosmetics.
Do conventional cosmetics work better?
The fact that an ingredient has been produced synthetically means one thing above all: it is available in consistent quality and usually in large quantities. Natural ingredients, on the other hand, are not always available and in commercial quantities. Their procurement is therefore associated with more effort. It's a rumor that synthetic ingredients do a better job. Because effect, preservation, fragrance ... all of this can be achieved nowadays with natural ingredients. Just a little more time and energy is put into researching good compositions and sourcing the raw materials. This is one of the reasons why natural cosmetics unfortunately still cannot be offered as cheaply as some conventional alternatives.
Natural is the new beautiful
From toothpaste to eye cream: On average, we use twelve different products every day. Our skin absorbs them and many of the ingredients get into the deeper tissues or even into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, most applications are not that “external” at all. And in addition to our bodies, they usually end up in our water cycle via the drain in the next step. So if you want to do something good for yourself and the environment, you should avoid ingredients such as parabens, paraffins, microplastics, silicones and the like. Because natural essences and oils also make skin and hair shine.