I would love to post all of our email conversation, but really it was just too long! So here's the abbreviated version:
Erin L.: Could you shed some light on mineral colorants for me?
Lori: People sell these colorants as “natural” even though they're not dug up from the ground, perhaps it’s because they are made in a lab to be pretty identical to their natural counterparts.
But "natural" doesn't always mean "safe." In this case, the synthetic material is more safe than the natural product, but for all other purposes they are the same. Therefore, we feel that they are ok to use in our “natural” soaps - we just don't make any claims that our soap is 100% natural – (but in our view it is as natural as possible, while still making a safe product). If someone truly wants a 100% natural soap, you have to use herbs to color or just not use color at all.
Erin L.: "I think many people who dismiss the whole discussion of "natural" and "not natural" do so because they believe it to be an argument over which products are "better for us" or "safer," and they think, "Whatever. Natural doesn't equal safe, synthetic doesn't equal bad." And while it's true that there are people out there who want natural because they believe it to be safe, I also have customers who want natural because they believe it to be more "simple," and those who want natural purely out of curiosity and wonder- they enjoy seeing what can be created with naturally occurring ingredients.
For me, "natural" is not the same as "nature equivalent." One term refers to something that exists in nature and the other refers to something that man created to copy nature. It's similar to the issue of "authentic" vs. knock-offs and reproductions, and the question, "Should we value copies as much as we value originals?" In the case of natural fragrance oils for example, the manufacturer certifies that no synthetic (man made) components are used in the making of their Certified Natural Fragrances. Each blend is simply a combination of naturally occurring scent isolates, and nothing more. Making natural fragrances isn't a case of duping nature or synthetically recreating something to be chemically equivalent. Leaves and flowers contain essential oils, essential oils contain fragrant molecules called scent isolates. It's simply blending natural things with other natural things to create an interesting combination.
But in the case of oxides and micas, many of the raw materials are either too expensive to mine, purify or ensure the safety of, or are too rare to keep up with demand and keep affordable. For these reasons, scientists synthetically create them. It's like the synthetic diamond industry. By duping nature, costs are kept down, contaminants are eliminated, and mass quantities can be produced.
I am more concerned with giving my customers what I market my soaps to be, and that is, soaps that are not made with synthetic raw ingredients. They find me because I advertise "natural soaps that really are," and I feel obligated to deliver.
Lori: I like to think that if I am transparent about what is in my soaps to people then all will be ok (not trying to fool anyone into thinking anything is what it is not).
Erin L.: Suffice it to say, that I agree!! Some of the natural fragrance scents do smell "off," but I have found a few that I really like and that have become pretty popular in my soap line up. They help bridge the gap between my customers who want only pure essential oils, and those who want "natural" soap but expect it to smell like the Bath & Bodyworks Tutti-Fruiti-Surprise sort of scents. The Lebermuth Corporation calls these types "Fantasy" scents, but I much prefer your term, "Franken-scents." They said that their president, Robert Brown, did an hour long presentation at a recent HSCG conference. I would have loved to hear what he had to say. I'd like to go to the conference eventually- what an awesome educational opportunity.
Lori: Yes, Rob Brown has been at past conferences I've attended, and a few years ago I was honored to sit next to him on an expert panel. I quizzed him about all sorts of things like this. One thing he said that blew my mind was "if you saw how much processing goes into making essential oils, they are far from natural." So yeah, there is more to this discussion than one would think!
At this point, our discussion moved into the blog-o-sphere, with this well thought out post from Erin, "What is Natural, Anyway?" Check out Erin's website, blog, or Facebook page to find out all about her awesome company.
This is one of those discussions that's not going to be finished during one email exchange. What are your thoughts on "colorants?" We'd love to hear what you think!