5 Myths Fueling the Natural vs. Chemical Debate
Elevated Simplicity Blog

5 Myths Fueling the Natural vs. Chemical Debate

by Heather Smith on Feb 20, 2021

Chemicals are the core of everything in our universe. Chemical reactions involve rearranging the molecular structure of a substance. These reactions are central to our entire existence and ongoing survival.

Water + carbon dioxide + light = oxygen + glucose (photosynthesis)
Food + enzymes = amino acids + carbohydrates (digestion)
Micro-organisms + carbohydrates = alcohol (fermentation 🍷)


The Chemical vs Natural Skincare Debate

When consumers shop for chemical-free skincare and natural skincare products, usually what they are looking for are proven skincare products made from substances that are safe, easy to understand, and have a clearly defined purpose in the formulation.

What they are not looking for is the (ever-growing) list of ingredients with red flags regarding ethics, human rights, animal rights, environmental destruction, and (most-importantly) uncertain health risks. Consumers often choose to bypass ingredients that are highly processed, synthetic, modified, or have had suspicion cast upon them due to claims of potential risk (whether substantiated or not).

One of our favourite examples right now is the ingredient Bakuchiol. It is a chemical that is extracted in pure form from Babchi seeds. It is a natural botanical ingredient, but the extraction process (called monomolecular extraction) is very scientific and very much not a traditional method of making a plant extract. The reason we love bakuchiol so much is because it is an ingredient that is both natural and also BioActive or Functional. It has supporting evidence that it's effective. 

Bakuchiol is very much a natural ingredient, but the science needed to obtain it is really not. This is what we mean when we say we elevate Green Beauty. 

Demand Sustainability

Consumer demand drives momentum forward at a frenzied pace. This is especially true when something new or exciting is desired or discovered. The "natural" and "superfood" movements are responsible for triggering mass deforestation and irresponsible agricultural processes that reduce biodiversity and forever change local ecosystems and indigenous cultures.

Paying attention to responsible, sustainable, and ethical sourcing of these amazing ingredients is the responsibility of manufacturers, but also the consumers who purchase them. That's one reason we prefer certified organic ingredients when available. It's most certainly going to be more expensive to manufacture a product when you pay attention to ensuring the ingredients come from small-scale, traditional farming practices. These articles about the super-food industry and acai berry farming are great further reading.

Natural is not automatically better. Not for you. Not for our earth. 

Another example for discussion is petroleum jelly. From a technical standpoint, it could be considered "natural" (though not renewable) because it comes from our earth. However, in its pure form it would be toxic as a cosmetics ingredient, so it requires extensive refining. If it isn't refined properly, there is a risk it could retain a type of hydrocarbon that is linked to cancer. However, once properly refined, that risk is removed.

If you ask most dermatologists (including my son's pediatrician) they'll tell you it's one of the best occlusive barriers for healing irritated skin. When it was the only thing that stopped my screaming baby's rash from worsening, I used it and my doctor-brain knew it was fine. That said, my mommy-brain wanted to find alternatives that were not derived from the petrochemical industry. We ended up finding great success with a simple, homemade mixture of oils and butters. There are many natural remedies for things like acne that are gentle and effective. 

Knowledgeable Consumers Make Smart Consumers

Marketing gimmicks play on the fears of consumers in multiple ways. In the EU, claims that a product is "free from____" specific ingredients that are known to be safe have been banned because it implies that other products that do contain the ingredient are less safe, which is untrue and misleading

As a smart consumer, you arm yourself with a good foundation of knowledge and then find a brand you can trust to develop products that agree with your ethics.

So, how can you wade through ingredient labels and decide for yourself? What should you look for in good clean skincare?

What to avoid? Where do the true safety risks exist?

5 Myths Fuelling the Natural vs. Chemical Debate

MYTH 1: Botanical extracts are all safe:

Simply untrue. Cyanide is extractable from the seeds of apples, cherries, and apricots. This makes it a botanical extract, but we're going to leave that one off our ingredient list! Safe botanical extracts are safe, but merely just being extracted from a plant does not make safety automatic.

MYTH 2: Synthetic chemicals are contaminated:

Quite the opposite. Natural, especially unrefined, substances in their "pure" unmodified form are impure. If you manufacture a bio-identical substance in the lab environment, you can eliminate any chance of contamination and ensure purity. 

An example is salicylic acid being extracted from willow bark (a traditional medicine recommended by Hippocrates in 400BC) and manufactured into acetylsalicylic acid (a modern drug that saves millions of lives per year).

Natural willow bark is less pure (and less effective) than the synthetic alternative  *AND* lab synthesis means deforestation of willow forests isn’t needed to produce any of it; You won't see me asking my patients to chew on a tree branch when they're having a stroke, but I'm happy to use the extract on my face when I need to exfoliate.

MYTH 3: Leading a toxin-free life is possible:

This is a tricky one. From a purely medical standpoint, everything in the world has a toxicity associated with it. Some things are instantly toxic and poisonous, but even simple substances like water can kill you at toxic levels. My personal favorite toxin is produced during the fermentation of grapes and I consume this toxin frequently.

One of our pet-peeves is when products are labelled as "toxin-free". It's like marketing a steak as "gluten-free". Nobody makes face creams out of asbestos and arsenic. Labeling cosmetics as toxin-free doesn't really tell the consumer anything.
                                  Tweet this!

Labeling cosmetics as toxin-free doesn't really tell the consumer anything. With the exception of poison, there is no standardized list of toxins. Of course we all want to use products that are non-toxic, the main issue is that (without providing proper details) that term is just a fluffy marketing word. 

Focusing on clear labeling about what is IN the product, is far more useful and informative than focusing on labeling about what is not in the product. At bareLUXE, we focus on telling you what is in our clean skincare products, the purpose, and we use clear language to describe it. 

MYTH 4: The cosmetics industry is unregulated:

Health Canada and the FDA regulate the ingredients you're allowed to use and the requirements for labeling. Canadian Ad Standards monitors for unsubstantiated claims or misleading advertising. What they don't do is take samples of the (?)millions of products out there and independently analyze them. This is why you need to choose a brand you trust. They do require brands to submit claims substantiation and safety data in some circumstances (i.e. PH testing for glycolic-acid creams). As evidence changes, so do the laws and so do the lists of things to eliminate (and so should the ingredients chosen by brands). 

MYTH 5: Skincare brands just want to sell products:

This is where marketing hype gets tricky. It is true, we are in the business of selling things to make profit. However, there is a responsible way to market, and consumers are smart. Help educate your customers. Be clear about what you stand for and what you will/will not accept in both the products you sell and the suppliers who harvest or refine your ingredients. Be transparent and make things easy to understand. Let your products speak for themselves. 

Skin safe science. Use simple ingredients. Elevate them into more effective products. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Elevated Simplicity

About the Author

Dr. Heather Smith developed her love for skinimalism and clean beauty years ago when she began making home remedies for her newborn's eczema. She is an expert in natural ingredients and active botanicals and has now launched bareLUXE Skincare - a full line of effective oil serums. She dedicates this blog to consumers who are researching ingredients and working to make their beauty ritual more natural and sustainable.


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Smith nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content should consult their physicians about their skincare concerns and routines.