The Truth Concealed Under “Natural” Cosmetic Marketing

by Danielle Owen

Lush’s all-natural “Coalface” cleanser assaults skin
with sandalwood and genuine coal powder. Washing your
 face in a fireplace would probably be gentler.  

The abundant varieties of foundations, primers, and concealers that clutter the shelves of every cosmetics aisle can baffle and overwhelm even the most well informed shoppers. You’re likely to find products riddled with misinformation and melodramatic marketing claims that lead to confusing, fear inducing labels such as “paraben-free” or “all-natural”. Doing a small bit of research and having the right frame of mind will ensure that you don’t waste your money on tubes and bottles filled with nothing but empty promises and shady morals. Although the cosmetics industry has been riding the “all-natural” and “organic” trend all the way to the bank, a smart shopper will look to common sense and science to make decisions about which brands and products are worthwhile.


Much of the debate surrounding “natural, chemical-free” cosmetics would end immediately if a moment was spared to think about an essential, but often forgotten fact: everything is made of chemicals. From the air you breathe to the food you eat, chemicals are everything and everything is comprised of chemicals. If a well-intentioned relative recommends that you use a specific brand because it’s “all-natural” and “doesn’t have any chemicals”, it might help to think about the following: the use of the word “all-natural” is completely unregulated—many products that capitalize on the term are hiding chemicals found in almost every other beauty product on the market. Many “natural” products add small amounts of natural sounding ingredients to a standard formula of synthetic ingredients and proceed to use strategic advertising to hype up its “natural-ness”.

If you stumble upon the website for the cosmetics line “Say Yes to Carrots”, you’ll read that “All of our Yes To products combine the fresh, unadulterated goodness of organic fruits and vegetables with the purifying and moisturizing properties of 26 minerals harvested from the ancient world’s most renowned spa– The Dead Sea”. This description, which reads as though it’s an “Onion” parody of the skincare industry, fails to mention that most of their products contain sodium coceth sulfate, cocamide DEA, or propanediol, along with many other synthetic ingredients. These ingredients, albeit less lofty-sounding, aren’t necessarily harmful just because they’re chemicals. The irresistibly cutesy cosmetics company Lush uses ingredients like ground almonds—notorious for tearing sensitive skin—as well as fragrant oils (such as orange and patchouli oil, well-known irritants) in many of its products. These brands are a small fraction of those that profit from the growing interest in and simultaneous lack of knowledge about natural/organic products.

If you’re interested in buying a potential cosmetic/skincare product, head over to a website such as cosdna.com which gives each ingredient in a product a grade, analyzes it for safety, and indicates if it causes acne or irritation. Remember—natural isn’t always better. Take special note, dorm-room DIY cosmetic fans–today is the day you stop putting baking soda and lemon juice on your face (there are caustic acids in lemons). The recipe you saw on Pinterest, albeit repinned by an impressive number of people, does not originate from a legitimate dermatological source and has no scientific basis.

Danielle Owen is a sophomore at Barnard College and Social Media Strategist and Politics Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of Lush.

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