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What Is Actually in Your "Natural" Skincare?

Most people know that your skin is your largest organ, but did you know it can absorb 60-70 percent of what is put on it? Considering how much the skin can absorb, it’s scary that the FDA does not have a formal definition or set of criteria for food or cosmetics to be labeled as “natural”? In fact, calling something natural on a beauty product legally means absolutely nothing. People assume that there is oversight in the beauty industry, but that is not the case.


In regards to food, the FDA does have a policy for labeling foods as “natural”, although there is no formal definition. The main thing they’re looking at is whether or not anything artificial or synthetic was added to the food. However, the big caveat is that the policy does not address food production methods; such as pesticides, pasteurization, or irradiation of foods. The most recent activity around this was back in 2015~2016 where the FDA opened up a comment period to understand whether they need to have a formal definition and rules for the use of “natural”. Other than an open comment period, nothing much has happened since then. The FDA also regulates the cosmetics industry, so their lack of regulations around food also shows their minimal oversight over cosmetics. For comparison purposes, the EU bans 1,300 cosmetic ingredients and the US only bans 30.


So, what does this have to do with the products that we use on our little ones and ourselves? Our products are created with ingredients that are certified organic and many of the ingredients are fully edible. However, that is not the case for many skincare brands.


If you’re like us, you always take an extra close look at the ingredients list of whatever it is you might be buying, especially for your child. Unfortunately, more often than not the label can look like a chemistry text book. Even the products that are “natural” can have ingredients such as benzalkonium chloride, zinc oxide, isopropyl palmitate, potassium sorbate, and many more. How could some of these ingredients affect a person using them?

  • Benzalkonium chloride is a preservative and is also used as a foaming agent. The EWG rates this at a 6 and notes that it is specifically concerning for people with allergies, asthma or eczema. 
  • Zinc oxide is the metal zinc that has been oxidized. It’s generally used in sunscreen and cosmetics. It is a mineral that sits on top of the skin to help block UVA and UVB rays. The concern comes from nano-particles that are smaller than 100 nanometers. At this size (especially in sprays and powers), there is a concern that the particles can enter the bloodstream, generally though inhalation. (You can learn more about sunscreen in our post, "What's the best sunscreen to use on babies and kids?" )
  • Isopropyl palmitate is a palm-based oil that is used as a thickening agent. It also contains alcohol, and we know alcohol can cause moderate to severe skin irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin.
  • Potassium sorbate is another tricky one. It’s a salt of sorbic acid, and while it can be found in nature, manufacturers can also synthetically produce it fairly cheaply. While this ingredient is good at acting a preservative, studies have shown that it can also cause skin irritation, rashes and other reactions when used in cosmetics. 


So how do we get away from not using these ingredients? We get some help from mother nature! For thickening agents, we can use natural ingredients like beeswax. If we need to use a preservative, then we can use something gentler like Tocopherols (Vitamin E).


In fact, you should look for these types of qualifiers when buying skincare items.


Although the lengths we take to make sure our ingredients are natural and gentle on our little one’s skin might seem extreme, we think it’s well worth the time and effort to make sure their skin looks as good as the day you first met them.