Last week I posted an article on my Facebook page and onto the student and graduate forum of Formula Botanica. I knew what I was posting would get some response, but I was quite taken aback by how big a response it got, especially from my fellow students.
A large multinational company selling beauty products have announced that they are developing a range of premium natural haircare products. This is a good thing surely? We need more multinational organisations to become green? This is what those of us who are beginning our own journeys of developing natural skincare ranges are striving to become, isn't it?
So why all the responses? Why are a group of natural skincare formulators talking about this?
The main thing that I think got us all talking and discussing was what do the big multinationals mean by “premium” and “natural”. After a bit of investigating the particular product, I found the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredient (INCI) list on the Boots website (interestingly this wasn't available on the manufacturer website!) It turns out this new “premium, natural” haircare range contains Sodium Lauryl Sulphate. For those of you who don’t know this chemical, SLS is a manufactured ingredient often used in mainstream shower gels and shampoos as a surfactant. One American specialist website called ‘SLS Free’ says: “So effective and so inexpensive is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate that it’s found in a number of industrial cleaning agents such as engine degreaser and industrial strength detergents. It’s also widely used as a skin irritant when testing products used to heal skin conditions”.
Scary stuff. Not what you might think of when you are buying a product from a trusted brand when it talks about a “premium, natural” product.
The other strand of discussion was the look and feel of the advertising. Many of were really struck by how the image was one that many of us, the small artisan brands, would use or aspire to ourselves. Except that we don’t have the multi million dollar marketing budgets to play with. It made me wonder - are small artisans worrying the big corporations? Are we threatening their market dominance?
There is of course the idiom ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. The proverb was created by Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon: or, Many things in few words, 1820. Colton was expressing that, to imitate is to flatter without necessarily being aware one is flattering. Natural skincare brands, associated with clean living and organic products are on the increase, and many of us are more aware of what we are putting in and on our bodies. Similarly we are all becoming more aware of the impact that chemicals have on our environment and many of us want to fight against this.
I established Ginger Stone to develop products that can be used by people with skin sensitivities to use and feel safe that they will not harm themselves and their skin. I have studied in depth to try to understand the impact of ingredients on our skin, our bloodstream, our overall health and I am still learning every day. In fact some days I question if I will ever know enough! Without the knowledge gained from my studies I know I would have trusted this mainstream range. I would have believed the marketing hype and I would probably have bought the product.
What then are my obligations to my customers, long standing and new, to help educate and support their buying choices? I like to think that I have a responsibility to share my learning and help people make informed choices. I am honest and transparent about what goes into my products and how they are made - this ethical commitment is a core value and I think is shared by many in my field. I try to limit the number of ingredients in each product, to ensure you get the maximum impact of nutritional value for your skin from each and this also means the ingredients list is easier to understand. My blogs and sharing my journey with you are part of this transparency.
I have developed a free handout that shares the names of some of the genuinely natural preservatives that skincare formulators use to preserve products. Natural products are not necessarily risk free, but used carefully and with respect for concentrations they are likely to be less harmful in the long run. I hope this helps you to begin to understand what to look for on labels of products. Click here to download.