April 2010

Lisa Kind - Editor

Esthetic Endeavors | by Judith Culp


Natural and Organic Skin Care

In today’s market we are seeing a wider span of what clients want: from wanting highly therapeutic age-fighting pharmaceutical formulas to the other extreme of wanting “green” earth-friendly formulas.

For the latter group the buzz words of the day are natural and organic.

A web search on the words natural and organic brings up a staggering number of results. Unfortunately, the results yield little factual information and a lot of lovely wording designed to hook the buyer.

Most consumers think of natural as coming from nature or more specifically from plant resources. Experienced estheticians smile at this new goal. Cosmetic formulators have been using ingredients from plants for as long as they have figured out a way to extract them.

We know the Egyptians used plants as key components of beauty care. Ayruveda is based on natural skin care and dates back well over 2000 years. The use of natural ingredients is not new.

Today’s estheticians are more educated with a better understanding of cosmetic chemistry. They know that plants are chemicals as well as water. Everything but light and electricity is a chemical. Natural things are still chemicals, even though the consumer may not realize this.

Despite all this confusion over terminology the good news is that plants are finally being appreciated. What is changing are the ways of incorporating botanicals so they are more stable.

Plants are not naturally or inherently stable ingredients. You take cuttings from your flower garden and put them in water and they will soon start to wilt and decay.

Vegetables or plants that are past their prime in the garden also start to break down and recycle into mulch.

The same thing historically happened in cosmetics. The base ingredient for many cosmetics is water which is a great breeding ground for bacteria. The tricky part in formulation has been how to stabilize these natural ingredients to make them useful in the product and not to break down or go bad before they are used up. Home care products are even more complicated because consumers frequently dip their fingers into the jars and the result is a high risk of product contamination.

Historically the cosmetic formulator used preservatives. Now the traditional preservatives that have stood the test of time are slipping out of favor. Cosmetic chemists have been working for years to find alternatives that will do the job.

Finally they are meeting with success and finding ways to use alternatives to the classic parabens and other preservatives. Essential oils have been used due to their naturally high antibacterial and fungicidal properties. But the strong aromas and intensive activities associated with these oils can make them inappropriate for some consumers. It’s an ongoing process to find ingredients that will protect the product from growth of microorganisms but not interfere with the action of the botanicals included for their skin benefits.

It is important that we, as estheticians, know and understand what is in those natural products we are using and selling that is protecting the cosmetic from growth of harmful microorganisms.

Some ingredients can be incorporated for use in more than one way. They may be used for their benefits to the skin or incorporated to act as a preservative. Vitamin C is an example of this. It is important to note that if the ingredient is there as a preservative its benefits will be used up doing this task and it will have less or no value left to benefit the skin itself. A chat with the manufacturer can generally clarify which ingredients are doing what function in the specific product.

There is also the question of whether the full plant is used or components of it. This is not an issue where we can have one correct answer for botanicals. Some plants are best used as a whole plant extracts. This means they are not refined or processed to remove odors, colorants or any part of the plant compounds. But other plants are more useful when their attributes are separated out into what is called an isolate.

Organic is a term that is frequently used to enhance perceived value but it can be misleading. The government has established strict guidelines for what can be called an organic product. In 2009, a major vendor of natural and organic products came under scrutiny by the FDA due to mislabeling of their product due to origin and/or handling of some of the components. If you claim it is organic, then the proof must exist. For manufacturers to claim their products are organic requires tracing and verifying that ingredients are grown and handled in specific ways.

However, note that there are loopholes to calling a product organic based on the percentage of ingredients included in the product that are organic verses those that may not be available from an organic source. A common way to confuse the issue is to include the word organic in the name. The name is just that, a name.

If we were to brand our product organic, this would be the name, not necessarily a reflection of the contents. But if we state on our label “natural and organic,” then we are making a claim for the source of ingredients and must be able to substantiate this with documentation.

More natural and organic ingredients in products is a key industry direction. It will be our job as estheticians to make sure we understand what claims the manufacturer is making and to check out that they deliver. Is the entire product natural and organic or is it based on natural botanical ingredients?

Some manufacturers claim their product to be preservative-free. Then what is its shelf life and what makes it so? Something needs to be in the product to prevent the growth of microorganisms or we risk skin reactions to the product or even the microorganisms in it. With every new wave of interest and every new direction of products, questions must be asked to protect our investment and our clients.

We must seek out the facts amidst the commercials and excitement. Our businesses and our futures are dependent on our analysis and critical thinking skills so we can truly know what is and is not natural and organic and represent it properly to our clients.

Judith Culp, a CIDESCO Diplomat has been in the esthetics industry since 1980. A CPCP permanent makeup technician for over 18 years she served a 4-year term as a Director for the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, two years as their president. She is president of Culp Enterprises Inc. and CEO of NW Institute of Esthetics. Judy Culp is available for consulting. For more information visit www.estheticsnw.com.