Practically speaking, the difference between natural and artificial ingredients is minimal. Both are synthesized in a laboratory by a cosmetic chemist, who blends the appropriate chemicals together in the right proportions, whether to use “natural” chemicals to make “natural” ingredients or “synthetic” chemicals to make artificial ingredients. In some cases, natural ingredients are extracted from plant extracts. But even in these instances, the cosmetic chemist must utilize chemicals for the extraction purposes.
The Final Result is Exactly the Same
What is important here is the formulation used to create an artificial ingredient must be exactly as that used for a natural one in order to produce the desired result. The distinction in terminology comes only from the source of the chemicals. But the chemical composition of the compounds, and hence how they produce results within the skin, are the same.
One Exception: Natural Products Do Not Guarantee Purity
In answering the question as to whether or not there is any difference between natural and artificial ingredients in skin care, there is only one correct answer: Artificial ingredients are simpler in composition and potentially safer, because only safety-tested components are utilized. On the other hand, natural extracts can contain many particulate toxins inherent to their sources. Natural coconut, for instance, depends on a chemical found in the bark of a Malaysian tree. Extracting this chemical involves the removing of the bark, which also kills the tree. So although this “natural” coconut is exactly the same as that in an organic chemist’s laboratory, it is also much more expensive and hazardous for the environment.
The toxins in natural products can be dangerous for the consumer. Plants make many toxic substances. Some of these toxic substances are created by plants to combat other plant species. One class of these, called the triketones, have been used as pesticides (Toxins, 2010). Notably, when plants are treated with these pesticides, they can cause the tissues of the plants to turn white from the bleaching of chlorophylls (Toxins, 2010). Do you really want to put these toxins on your skin?!
Another example are the allergens that can be found in numerous natural products. For instance, the all-natural ingredient chamomile, which is known to be soothing for the skin, also contains ragweed. Repeated exposure to chamomile has been known to induce a highly irritating rash resulting from a ragweed allergy, according to the nutritional guide The Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Many other “natural” ingredients, such as the arnica montana used to treat bruises, are also able to induce detrimental effects after repeated exposure. In fact, according to Dr. Leslie Baumann’s Cosmetic Dermatology, “Prolonged treatment of damaged skin [with arnica] often causes edematous dermatitis with the formation of pustules; long-term use can also give rise to eczema.”
Natural Extracts are Less Regulated than Synthetic Ingredients
In addition to purity concerns, natural extracts are less regulated than synthetic ingredients. Whereas the FDA states synthetic ingredients are only permitted in skin care products up to certain concentrations to minimize potential irritation, inflammation, and allergenic reaction in the skin, natural extracts are generally permitted in products up to whatever concentration the company feels comfortable with — which is not only bad practice, but also potentially dangerous for the consumer.
Concentrated Ingredients are Better than Whole Plant Extracts
Aspirin was created when the active portion of the Salix alba white willow bark, acetylsalicylic acid, was extracted from the whole witch hazel plant. In studies, aspirin
My second problem with the “natural not chemical” movement is simply that consumers are often ignoring the numerous double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-center studies backing certain chemical ingredients in favor of clever marketing giving the impression that natural is always better. And that is a problem, because there is no research to date demonstrating that all-natural skin care products are always better, while there is substantial research indicating that certain chemical ingredients – retinol, niacinamide,vitamins C & E, and chemical sunscreens, to name a few – have proven long-term benefits for the skin.