Do you know the difference between natural, organic and synthetic ingredients?

Organic refers to how a plant is grown.  Organic plants are grown without using chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or toxic substances.  To make an organic claim, a company must have specific information regarding organic content levels by percentage in order to get a certification stamp.  The FDA has specific regulations concerning the term “organic” for food products and product labels.  However, the FDA regulates the use of organic ingredients in food products only.  Since water is usually the main ingredient in cosmetic and skin care products, and other active ingredients are used, it is virtually impossible to label any skin care product 100% organic.

 It is worth noting that there are no federal guidelines as yet for the use and proclamation of organically derived ingredients in cosmetic products.  The claims relevant to organic ingredients in a cosmetic formulation can be a marketing strategy to draw consumer attention, although many reputable companies will list the percentages of organic ingredients in their products.

 NSF/ANSI (National Sanitation Foundation/American National Standards Institute) defines labeling and marketing requirements for personal care products that contains organic ingredients.  The voluntary standard allows the “contains organic ingredients” designation for products with organic content of 70% or more to comply with the standard.

 Natural skin care carries a different slant.  The natural label has become ubiquitous. The Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients (Wiley 2010) defines a natural product as “a product that is derived from plant, animal or microbial sources, primarily through physical processing, sometimes facilitated by simple chemical reactions such as acidification, basification, ion exchange, hydrolysis and salt formation as well as microbial fermentation”. The government does not regulate the use of the word “natural” on products, except for poultry and other meats.

 Natural skin care infers using naturally derived ingredients (such as herbs, roots, essential oils and flowers) combined with naturally occurring carrier agents, preservatives, surfactants, humectants, and emulsifiers. The classic definition of natural skin care is based on using botanically sourced ingredients currently existing in or formed by nature, without the use of synthetic “chemicals” and manufactured in such a way to preserve the integrity of the ingredients. It is important to note that the word “chemical” has been misappropriated and maligned as synonymous with “poison”. It is not. Everything we eat, drink, drive, play with and live in is made of chemicals! Both natural and synthetic chemicals are essential for life, as we know it.


The word synthetic conjures up a sort of ‘Frankenstein’ approach to products. We like images of fields of flowers and herbs wafting in the wind and hand picked to be the basis of our products. But organic chemistry is the science of creating, in a lab, substances or ingredients that minimally, contain carbon and hydrogen, and which molecularly match those from nature in every way, In other words, they are nature-identical.

It is hard to visualize how a natural botanical developed in a lab could possibly match a natural botanical pulled from the dirt. Synthetic ingredients can match natural ingredients in every way. You can’t tell the difference! Based on science, the body does not recognize any difference between a truly natural ingredient and a synthetic, or lab-derived, natural ingredient. Is it socially wrong to use synthetic ingredients that are nature-identical but uses petro based carbon sources? Well, the answer may lie in the amount of natural botanicals required worldwide for all the topical products and dietary supplements. Hopefully, the move towards ‘green chemistry’ will achieve a better outcome of petro-based carbon sources and bio-based (plant) carbon sources.

 In 2014, Bellanina Institute plans to bring more information to you which will “demystify” the industry of skin and body care product ingredients so that you will know what you are putting on yours and your client’s skin.  Information is knowledge, as they say!  The issue is to sort through the maize of information as well as to decipher fact from fiction.  It is a daunting task!