Cosmetic Ingredients : “natural” vs.”synthetic”

I recently read an interesting article on the different meanings the same words have for science and marketing. It was very illuminating in the context of skin care products and their marketing.

Let’s start with the ubiquitous term “natural”. To a scientist it means a group of molecules that are part of living nature, typically plants. These substances can be either isolated from  plants or synthesized.

“Naturally sourced” implies direct extraction from a plant or animal.

Biased marketing has conditioned a positive response to “naturally sourced” ingredients. Marketing people conveniently forget, however, that these sources may not be so appealing.

A good example is hyaluronic acid, used for anti-wrinkle purposes. The “natural source” for this molecule is roosters’ comb. The hyaluronic acid molecule synthesized in the lab is identical and does not imply using animals for its source.

Another problem with sourcing from nature is that in order to obtain a reasonable amount of any given ingredient, one needs to harvest massive amounts of plants. Not a very wise solution environmentally nor very economical from a business perspective.

Additionally, sourcing from plants runs the risk of inclusion of unwanted traces of toxins, pesticides and pollutants.

Synthetic molecules have exactly the identical qualities as their “natural” counterparts, without any of the above drawbacks.

Synthetic molecules are consistent in all their aspects, while “natural” derived molecules are subject to wild variations, depending on climate and harvest conditions, Their qualities are fluctuating and the quality of the end product is fluctuating as well.

Misinformation due to biased marketing is not new. Before deciding for or against an ingredient based just on its being “natural” or synthetic, please remember that some of the best,safe, efficient, consistent and advanced ingredients in today’s skin care are synthetic.

Les Nouvelles Esthetiques March 2013