I would love to imagine that the ingredients in all of my products come from wild botanicals grown in the Swiss Alps rather from a lab in an industrial park. It makes sense to me that ingredients that are as "natural" as possible are going to be way better for my health and my skin. However, it's a bit more complicated than it seems at first blush.
The term natural doesn't mean much because in the food, skin care, and cosmetics industries, the term is not adequately regulated or quantifiable. Anyone can slap the label "natural" on a box or jar and hope we won't bother to read the actual ingredient list, which may be chock full of synthetic additives, preservatives, and other lab-made ingredients that our skin won't love.
To assist you in getting ready for some product selection, I want to lay out some definitions here that can help guide you. The terms natural, raw, and synthetic all imply certain things — but these implications aren't necessarily true. Many of our perceptions are sculpted by myth and hearsay, so I wanted to clear up what each of these terms can mean.
The first definition of natural in the dictionary is "existing in, or formed by nature." So, when I think about the ingredients in my beauty products, it seems to make sense that something that sprouted straight from the earth will be healthier than a laboratory concoction. This is why my heart sings when I see that a product contains aloe vera and/or organic, cold-pressed plant oils.
Keep in mind, though, that no matter how natural the ingredient, it's highly unlikely to have jumped straight from the farm or forest into its recyclable container. There's always a degree of physical processing, which may include heating and the addition of other not-so-natural ingredients. So, unless you're pulling the plants up from your yard and mashing them with a pestle and mortar to smear on your face, the meaning of the word natural can get a bit muddy!
Organic is another term that has become a bit problematic because it's really hard to qualify. The first thing is not to confuse "organic chemistry" with "organic plants and foods" (as in those that are grown without synthetic herbicides or pesticides). Organic chemistry is the science of substances that contain both carbon and hydrogen, and many are made in the lab as molecularly exact matches for original ingredients that were pulled up from the earth.
Why does a skin care ingredient need to be "organic"? In fact, truth be told, you are not necessarily smearing pesticides on your skin if your ingredients aren't organic — the processing involved in getting your ingredient into a formulation has likely removed every last trace of pesticide. However, I will say that if a company takes the trouble to source organic ingredients, then you can be pretty sure that it is concerned with quality. Another reason that I love to buy formulations from companies that use at least some organic ingredients is that I like to support organic farming.
If a food or agricultural product is certified to be organic, it should be: