How to Know If a Skincare Product is Natural

Understanding the word ‘natural’ is one of the hardest tasks of all in the skincare & green beauty business. Online Organic Cosmetic Science School Formula Botanica offers some practical advice on how to research ingredients and decide what natural means to you.  


With global organic beauty market trends showing the green beauty sector reaching $22bn by 2024 with yearly growth of 8-10%, it is little wonder that the word ‘natural’ has serious marketing power. Browse cosmetics’ products anywhere from supermarket aisles to niche beauty stores and you’ll see terms like ‘natural’, ‘100% natural’ and ‘all-natural’ liberally applied to product labels.

The beauty industry is using them as shorthand to imply that the product has attributes we would associate with nature. That single word can evoke a product packed with fresh botanical ingredients virtually untampered with by chemical labs and manufacturing processes. Of course, that’s often far from the case.


As you train in organic skincare formulation, you soon realise that natural is a very complex word and, even more frustratingly, that it has no legal definition.  A cosmetic product may say it is natural even if it contains only a small percentage of what consumers and natural skincare formulators would deem truly natural ingredients. For example, a product can be described as natural even if it has just 1% naturally-sourced, plant-based or natural mineral ingredients.



However, the lack of legal definition does not mean that skincare brands are immune to prosecution for misleading uses of ‘natural’ in their marketing and on labels. Some skincare brands, mostly in the United States so far, have faced legal suits as a result of using the terms ‘all-natural’ and 100% natural’. Soon, there may be little wriggle room between using the vaguer, standalone word ‘natural’ and claiming your product is 100% natural.


The fact that natural is coming under such intense scrutiny is at the same time both worrying and reassuring for the green skincare entrepreneur. It might pressurise those brands who are being less than transparent about their ingredients’ origins to remove misleading labeling and make only bona fide claims. If you are starting out on a skincare brand journey or already selling your cosmetics’ products, we recommend you read up on why 100% natural claims could get you into trouble.


However, we shouldn’t rush to judge companies that label products 100% natural when their products aren’t. There are more sides to the naturals story.

This is because what is considered ‘natural’ to one skincare formulator or brand might not be to another. Natural has nuances which, depending on your approach to formulating and your ethos and mission, could all be considered ‘natural’. For example, would you consider a lab-synthesised ingredient that mimics the chemical structure of a natural ingredient to be natural? Some might.


Four Shades of natural

At Formula Botanica, we have identified four shades of natural. Depending on who you are talking to and what your own stance is natural takes on one or more of these shades. We explain this to our students in depth so they are armed with the knowledge to make their own decisions in formulating and also the right choices when it comes to buying ingredients, as well as in labelling products and dealing with compliance.


Formulators of course rely on suppliers to tell them about the provenance and chemical makeup of their ingredients. Having open, clear lines of communication with your suppliers is paramount in defining your products’ shade of natural.



Reputable suppliers like Soap Kitchen have trusted third-parties, including growers and wholesalers, across the world and they do their utmost to track and trace the ingredients they sell. They can provide you with Certificates of Analysis (COAs) and MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) to ensure you have full, transparent information on the chemical components in the ingredients you buy as well as their source of origin.

While cold-pressed carrier oils qualify as the most natural of ingredients, others in the formulators’ kit such as natural emulsifiers, preservatives, chelators and solubilisers need more research. Ask your suppliers for these supporting documents so you can choose the right ingredients to suit your shade of natural. We’ve rounded up a list of some useful questions to ask your suppliers in this article on sourcing sustainable botanical ingredients.


Natural is just one such vague term you’ll find used liberally on labels and in skincare marketing. Pure, clean, ethical and sustainable are some of the other trending words you’ll need to unpack and take a stance on in your skincare formulating journey.



To find out if an ingredient is natural, we recommend researching your ingredients thoroughly, and then deciding on your corner of the naturals’ world. If you’re aiming to sell your products and are unsure of where they sit on the sliding scale of natural, ensure you undertake a compliance check of your claims. Do this along with the stability tests and microbial challenge tests that are legally required before placing a cosmetic product on the market.


Whether a skincare product is natural or not may still be a grey area, but the legal landscape is changing as we write. If you are intending to build a skincare brand, our advice is to be 100%  transparent from the outset in your brand positioning and marketing statements, as well of course in your labeling. By doing this, your customers, and your conscience, can be clear about where your products sit in this nuanced world of natural.

Learn to Make Natural Organic Skincare

If you’re interested in understanding more about formulating natural skincare, find out about Formula Botanica’s accredited online courses.

The school’s International Organic Skincare Entrepreneur Program covers not only formulating from beginner to advanced level but also the business, legal and compliance side of building a skincare brand. It opens for enrolment twice a year with the next start date early October 2018.

Thank you to this week’s contributor Liz from Formula Botanica for her very interesting and informative article, we hope to hear more from you soon! If you have any comments or thoughts, please feel free to share them in the comments box below.

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