February 18, 2014

How "Natural" is Natural?

We recently had a student contact us, asking about our opinion on "natural" colorants and fragrances. It's such a difficult topic & we wanted to share with you our discussion. Side note: Lori thoroughly researched soap colorants for her Coloring Soap with Confidence talk at the Soap Guild in 2010. See it HERE. We also have a wonderful resource for natural colorants in CP soap in Ruth’s Coloring Soap Naturally eBook  - there is a $29 charge for it – it’s an instant download and loaded with helpful information on using herbs/natural colorants.

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. 

If your customers understand your fragrance oils are “made from natural ingredients,” we don't see any reason why they won't also understand that using "nature identical" but lab-created colorants is the safer alternative - free of toxins & pollutants that could be found in the truly natural colorants dug up from the ground."

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). 

As for the so called "natural fragrances" made from isolates... Personally I think they are not natural, more of a frankenstein process of pulling things apart & putting them back together again in a totally different way. That process to me is far from natural, even though you could argue that the ingredients are. My nose tells me something is wrong when I smell them. They are not complete, they are not whole, like a pure lavender essential oil would be.

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! 

The HSCG conferences are a wonderful way to gain solid information from really knowledgeable people in our industry. I stopped going only when I was very pregnant, and now it's hard to go with a young child (14 months) still breastfeeding... But I hope to return to teach at another conference on the near future. [Update: Lori is going & speaking THIS year!]

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!

1 comment:

Pam said...

Often I have wondered about essential oils and their process. When ever the discussion eo bs fo comes up I wonder about the essential oils coming from all over the world and what type of fuels and equipment/metals are used for their extraction.

Thank you for more food for thought.