It is those simple pleasures that often result in profound revelations and have a tremendous impact on our overall wellbeing. Standing in the field and inhaling the fresh, earthy scents of a summer rain might trigger a joyful childhood memory. Sitting by the riverside and allowing your feet to be massaged by the flowing waters may result in a calming of the senses, being transported into a state of complete relaxation as the waves ease your worries away. Being utterly spellbound by the wondrous landscapes that decorate the Earth can inspire us to do great things in life. The connection to Mother Nature is a primeval one. We are drawn to Nature and her bounty unconsciously and instinctively. Whatever our background or culture, Nature has a profound effect upon our entire being and remains a continual source of inspiration and awe. Our connection to Nature is so natural, so perfect, and so unpretentious.
The ancients revered Nature and feared it. They found ways of harnessing her powers and studied the flora, fauna, and marine life with a heightened curiosity. Very early on, man discovered that Nature nurtures and that powerful remedies exist for almost all the ailments plaguing mankind. Tribal peoples concocted various remedies for different diseases using indigenous herbs that were available to them. They often travelled far and wide looking for that precious herb or seed that would purge the ills of the village. Herbal medicine was formally introduced circa 372-287 BC when Theophrastus compiled an extensive body of work that detailed numerous herbal recipes, usages of various naturally occurring substances and intricate formulae. Nicholas Culpepper published The English Physician in 1653, which gained wide popularity. The Aztecs and Native Americans strongly believed in the power of natural substances and there is widespread archeological evidence that proves the existence of herbal practices amongst these peoples.
Therefore, it only seems natural for us to be using products for home care and personal care that are derived from Nature. The pharmacopeia of Nature is beyond doubt one of the most efficient and potent. It deserves serious attention, and more studies need to be conducted in this area so that we can standardize treatment and care. We need more laws, more regulation, and definitely more awareness.
Although our skin is an impermeable protective barrier, it is porous and does allow very small molecules to pass through the barrier and into our system. If the skin is diseased or compromised in any way, absorption is accelerated and substances will enter into the bloodstream leading to unwanted and potentially harmful side effects. In fact, studies indicate that many non-natural substances are carcinogenic, teratogenic, and pose serious health risks. This makes it even more essential for us as a community to become aware, read labels and try and adopt a more natural approach when it comes to using personal care products. Synthetic products should be avoided whenever possible; however, this does not mean that all natural ingredients are without risk. If you are allergic to any component of the product, please try and avoid it. Each person is unique, as is his or her skin. Therefore, even if a product is labeled “natural,” you may be allergic to one or more of the components, so they should be avoided, as contact may lead to a cosmetic or allergic dermatitis. In fact, studies indicate the most important allergens are of a very low molecular weight, can pass through the corneal layer of the epidermis, and can cause allergic dermatitis, so it’s best to exercise caution.
When we are out shopping and come upon a product labeled “natural,” what does it actually mean? What is a “natural product,” and what differentiates it from a “non-natural” one?
The Natural Product Association (NPA) is fighting hard to protect the environment and our wellbeing by trying to introduce laws and regulations that will lend a level transparency of the products we use by proposing clear-cut guidelines that both the consumer and retailer can follow. The illustrative list of ingredients proposed by NPA is extensive, so I will mention only a few of the commonly used ingredients that one should be aware of when buying products both for home and personal care (yes, that includes skin care products)!
Tenets That Deem a Product “Natural” as Devised by NPA
- Natural Ingredients: A product labeled “natural” should be made up of only, or at least almost only, natural ingredients and be manufactured with appropriate processes to maintain ingredient purity.
- Safety: A product labeled “natural” should avoid any ingredient with a suspected human health risk.
- Responsibility: A product labeled “natural” should use no animal testing in its development.
- Sustainability: A product labeled “natural” should use biodegradable ingredients and the most environmentally sensitive packaging.
What is a Natural Ingredient?
- Must come from a renewable/plentiful resource found in nature, with absolutely no petroleum compounds.
- Must be found in fauna, flora, and minerals, otherwise known as animal, plant or mineral.
- Some examples of natural ingredients are: Alcohol denat., Algae, Allantoin, Arinica Montana, Ascorbic acid, Avena sativa (oat), Avacado oil, Beta-glucan, Biotin, Caffeine, Calamine, Ceramides, Cetyl alcohol, Citric Acid, Collagen, Mushroom extract, Argan oil, Glycerin, Lactic acid, Glycolic acid, Henna, Honey, Hyaluronic acid, Barley extract, Jojoba oil, Keratin, Hydrolysed silk, Lanolin, meadowfoam, Mulberry extract, Oleic acid, Olive oil, Panax ginseng, Pectin, Pumice, Hibiscus extract, Retinyl palmitate, Rose flower extract, Black seed extract, Salicylic acid, Sorbic acid, Yucca extract, Wheat germ extract).
What is a Non-Natural Ingredient?
- These are synthetic compounds that are not derived from nature and should be avoided whenever possible.
- If no other viable alternate is available from natural substances only then can one use a synthetic compound.
- Certain synthetic compounds are actually prohibited due to the serious health risk they pose.
- Ingredients that are absolutely prohibited are: Parabens, Phthalates, glycol, Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), DEA/TEA, PEGs, Synthetic Polymers, chemical sunscreens and Petrolatum. For an extensive list please visit the NPA website.
What should you be looking for in a product?
- Look for the NPA Natural seal.
- Read the labels.
- Do your own research.
- Buy products from certified companies and reliable sources.
What questions should you ask yourself or the manufacturer/company before buying products?
- What percentage of my products is natural? NPA requires that products needs to be 95% or more natural.
- Does the product contain any of these ingredients: Parabens, Sulfates, Chemical Sunscreens, Petro Chemicals, Glycols, Phthalates, PEGs or PPGs, DEA/TEA, Synthetic Polymers, Formaldehyde Donors or 1, 4-Dioxanes? These ingredients are on the NPA prohibited list.
- Does the manufacturer use Ethoxylation, Sulfination or Polymerization? Products that carry the NPA seal should not have undergone any of these processes.
- Are your products and packaging recyclable? NPA seal requires that products be packaged using biodegradable materials are the most environmentally sensitive.
- Does the company test on animals? NPA seal requires that products are never tested on animals during any stage of the manufacturing and testing process of the product (unless required by law).
On an ending note, I will say this: the choices are many, but the goal should be one — a safe and happy environment, overall wellbeing, and making informed choices when buying and using products.
Therefore, spread the word and may you all celebrate this gift called life!