In light of the ethical challenges and the desire for more organic, natural products, there is a growing buzz within the skincare market. That buzz is for products that reflect the nature of the end user to be more responsible environmentally and ethically. The question one has to face is; what does that even mean? What does it mean to be environmentally responsible?
Given the inordinate amounts of chemicals we are exposed to in our daily living, choosing environmentally responsible products to put on our skin daily should be a priority. Additionally, we should be considering the method of manufacture and the origin of the products we use when we think what environmentally conscious means. Environmental responsibility should take both factors into consideration: Where it comes from and what it is.
Where it comes from
It does no good environmentally when we use natural products, if the manufacturer or farmer who produces them is irresponsible in the growing and manufacturing process. Environmentally responsible production means that the product is not animal based, is organic, and is free from toxic by-products in the growing and harvesting process.
This sounds complicated, and it is. Natural products will not come cheap, the harvesting and production processes are slower and more labour intensive, creating a longer time to market chain. This means a higher price and smaller volume to market.
This does not mean lower effectiveness. Extracts from natural sources are as effective, and at times more effective, than synthetic products. Many medications are presently based on plant products to begin with. Digoxin is extracted from Foxglove plants and is used in the treatment of heart conditions, specifically atrial fibrillation. It is extremely effective, and the primary source of digoxin is by the growth, harvest, and extraction from the digitalis plant.
Organic production of any species of plant is ultimately what determines the environmental responsibility of any end product. Organic has many definitions; does it mean no pesticides, no fertilizers, no mechanical equipment are used in production and harvest. Or does it allow reasonable methods to be used and who defines the reasonable methods. The USDA has specifications and does provide inspections and certification of organic products, the accuracy of their certification is accurate up to a point that point depending on the origin of all the substances used in the manufacture of the end product.
Additionally, environmental responsibility also is impacted by the area that the product is grown and harvested. If massive and irresponsible methods are used to clear the land for use, if water has to be diverted by dam and irrigation, and if the harvest causes loss of habitat or damage to property, even if organic methods are used for growth, we cannot consider the product to be environmentally friendly.
What it is
Maybe a bigger question is “What it is”? Is it natural or synthetic? Synthetic means; made by chemical synthesis, to imitate a natural product. In fibres, it would mean Nylon or Polyester. In food, it means foods are derived from lower sources of either plant or animal products and through a manufacturing process, made to add to or imitate higher final products. Here you should imagine processed cheese spread….
In skin care or makeup, it has many meanings; it could mean the base product is wholly manufactured, it could mean the core product is natural but it may use a synthetic preservative. Natural is not always best, especially if there are considerations regarding preservatives and use times.
So, determining if the natural product is completely the product or a combination of the product and a synthetic preservative is important. If you are trying to use completely organic products, there is going to be a loss that has to be factored in as products degrade or go bad.
You have to consider if the product is specifically for the treatment of a specific condition or for a multitude of conditions. Tea tree oil is a product extracted from the Tea Tree plant, and the extraction is used in a wide variety of ways, mostly topical. When you consider what it is and in how many ways it can be used, the complications grow regarding the “naturalness” of it.
Also, is it plant based or animal based? Are you trying to avoid using animal based products out of an ethical stance? Is your stance against animal product testing or any animal use at all? Animal fats and other by-products are used heavily in the skincare industry, from soaps to make up. Are you ok with natural products versus synthetic in this area, or would you prefer synthetic if it causes an animal product not to be used? Or are you ok with the harvesting of animals for all uses but against the testing of goods on any animal except humans?
Overall, this begins to open very complicated doors, and many of the doors are hidden by the manufacturers of the final products. So, if this is important to you, do your research wisely and choose based on what your personal priorities are.