Make sure to read ingredient labels. For those who say that, including us, it’s good to remember that reading ingredient labels isn’t easy and it’s not the same as knowing what’s in the products you’re buying. For natural products – especially those we put in and on our bodies – “knowing” is more complicated than slogans and scanning the words.
What’s Listed Isn’t Everything
Labels are only as complete as they’re required to be. Vocabulary can be tricky, and some ingredients simply don’t appear on labels – or they appear under an assumed name – to avoid consumer backlash. Palm oil, for instance. The environmental disaster created by unsustainable production has caused many manufacturers to commit exclusively to sustainable palm oil. It’s caused others to simply hide the fact that they’re using plantation oil, either not listing it all or calling it vegetable oil instead.
Sometimes It’s Absolutely Clear
Natural products make the picture more confusing. Everyone wants to be seen as natural, but since there are no official standards, the appearance of natural is the best we often get. There is one instance, though, where differences are clear. When it comes to how skincare is scented, and sometimes colored, there’s an easy rule of thumb.
If you read the label for a “natural” soap and you see essential oils listed, it means the scent for the soap was derived from natural aromatic compounds found in the seeds,
bark, roots, and flowers of plants. On the other hand, if you see the terms fragrance oils, aromatic oils, or perfume oils, it means what you’re looking at was scented with compounds that came from a lab, an artificial scent full of artificial ingredients.
The Essence of Each
Whether steam distilled or cold pressed, essential oils contain more than the scent of the plants they came from. They contain all its beneficial properties, including therapeutic ones. Fragrance oils, in contrast, bear only the slightest resemblance to their source, containing the chemicals necessary to mimic a scent, nothing more. There is no essence to fragrance oils.
Judging from their presence in thousands of products, though, fragrance oils have their pluses. Because there’s nothing natural about them, any scent is possible (bubblegum, birthday cake, springtime in Vermont) and the consistency of scent is steady, unaffected by changes from crop to crop. Best of all, from a commercial standpoint, fragrance oils are really cheap to use.
Nothing Natural, Nothing Surprising
In the end, there’s nothing unexpected about synthetic fragrances. They behave in skincare products the way most synthetic ingredients do. They dry out the skin. They irritate sensitive skin in particular. They introduce thousands of artificial substances into our water. They also give manufacturers the chance to sell you multiple products – cleansers to dry your skin and lotions and conditioners to make it better again.