Cosmetic ingredients are compounds of a different nature, which exert their function by improving the quality and appearance of the skin. However, the origin of these ingredients is usually accompanied by a series of false myths about their safety and efficacy that we are going to try to explain:

1. A natural ingredient is not always organic

When we talk about natural ingredients, the first image is usually a plant-based, organic and even fair trade product. The use of the term natural has an impact on the consumer’s sensory experience of the product [1]. Not surprisingly, consumers who choose natural products, consider that these are healthier and a moral option [2].

But what is true in this?

By definition, a natural product is derived from a plant, animal or mineral origin. However, not all natural ingredients are organic, because in order to achieve organic certification, the ingredient has to come from crops that have been grown using organic farming techniques.

Likewise, products labelled as organic must follow a series of premises, the main ones being that:

  • The product must contain at least 95% organic vegetables.
  • 20% of the ingredients of the product must have ecological origin, except for water and minerals. As water is one of the main components of cosmetic products, the ratio of organic ingredients to the total is diluted [3].

Thus, natural cosmetics are those made up of at least 90% ingredients of natural origin. While the remaining 10% is made up of water, preservatives and other chemicals necessary for the formulation [4].

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2. Natural compounds are also chemicals

Natural ingredients are usually made up of different compounds. In fact, the European regulation for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances and Mixtures (REACH) defines natural ingredients as UVCB (Unknown or Variable Composition, Complex reaction products or Biological Materials).

Natural ingredients are complex preparations made up of multiple components from various chemical classes. This means that on the one hand there is the possibility of interaction between the different substances and, on the other hand, the labelling does not always indicate all the ingredients, which could not highlight that any of them are potentially dangerous [5].

According to a publication of the Dermatology department at the University of Ferrara (Italy), 91% of natural products contain fragrances, usually in the form of essential oils and plant extracts, which are separately labelled and not recognized as fragrances [6] . In the same vein, in a review on the effects of cosmetics on contact dermatitis, it was concluded that fragrances are the most common cause of allergy to cosmetics, followed by preservatives and hair dyes [7]. That means that fragrances are ingredients whose prolonged use on certain types of skin can produce an adverse skin reaction, more commonly than other cosmetic ingredients.

In fact, comparing the substances used in natural cosmetic products with the data that the regulatory authorities have on their ingredients, it has been concluded that the European legislation on chemicals presents important shortcomings with respect to natural substances [5]. Therefore, it is necessary to update the databases of the regulatory authorities so that the new compounds present all the safety guarantees that are required for a safe cosmetic use.

3. The efficacy of cosmetic ingredients is regulated

Any active ingredient must demonstrate its efficacy both in vitro and in volunteers to reach the market. Synthetic ingredients have the advantage that their composition and concentration will be more homogeneous in the different manufacturing batches, compared to plant extracts. The extracts may have different titration depending on the harvest time, type of extraction and origin of the plant.

This is why it is essential that the effectiveness of any ingredient (natural or synthetic) is based on the results of the tests carried out in the lab and not only based on the literature for that compound or plant.

Are synthetic ingredients more effective than natural?

The effectiveness of each ingredient depends on its composition. The effectiveness of natural ingredients depends on the concentration and bioavailability of their active ingredients [8]. The efficacy tests presented by the laboratory show the actual efficacy of each active ingredient separately. Once that ingredient is included in a cosmetic product formulation, efficacy studies are carried out on these ingredients in formulation. This guarantees the effectiveness of each product.

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4. Biotech ingredients can also be organic

Biotechnological ingredients are those in which, using biotechnology methods such as fermentation or cell cultures, ingredients are obtained from microorganisms, enzymes or plant stem cells. These ingredients are, for example, epidermal cell growth factors or hyaluronic acid that is produced by bacterial fermentation [9].

Biotechnological ingredients can also be certified as organic ingredients, as long as they come from a fermentation process that complies with European regulation (CE) No. 834/2007 regarding organic farming. Furthermore, enzymes or bacteria can be used as an ingredient directly in the formulation of a cosmetic, as long as they do not come from genetically modified organisms [10].

5. Synthetic ingredients and their false reputation for insecurity

Synthetic ingredients are the best-selling compounds on the cosmetic market. Especially the peptides with activities in reducing wrinkles and increasing skin elasticity. However, consumers today prefer natural ingredients, which they perceive as milder, safer and healthier than products with long and complex chemical names [11].

But are natural ingredients safer?

Natural ingredients are not safe and some of them can even be toxic. This is why in Annex II of the European regulation on cosmetic products, 1,392 substances of natural origin have been listed whose use can be toxic, and therefore prohibits their use [12]. Similarly, independent bodies such as the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) continually review the safety of new cosmetic ingredients regardless of their origin.

As we have seen in point 2, natural cosmetics are chemical compounds of plant, animal or mineral origin, so, like any new substance, it must present a series of toxicity and safety studies that allow its use, as specified. makes for other types of ingredients.

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6. Cosmetic ingredients are safe

For the approval of the use of a cosmetic ingredient, a series of characteristics of every substance with cosmetic purpose must be registered. These characteristics, according to the Guidance Notes for Testing Cosmetic Ingredients for Safety Assessment of the Scientific Committee for Cosmetic and Non-Food Products, are [13]:

  • Define the chemical nature of the ingredient and its structural formula. As well as your INCI name, CAS registration number.
  • If it is a natural extract, the main component and other components with their specific functions must be specified. The name of the organism from which the ingredient is extracted, the part of the plant (if it is a plant extract), the growing conditions and the type of extraction must also be specified.
  • Apply special consideration on a case-by-case basis for those natural extracts that contain substances known to have toxic potential.
  • Define the degree of purity of the ingredients and their physical-chemical properties.

In addition, all cosmetic ingredients must present the results of safety and toxicity studies, both in vitro and in human volunteers. The list of safety studies to be carried out can be consulted in the notes of the scientific committee [13].

Finally, it is important to note that every ingredient, regardless of whether its origin is natural, biotechnological or synthetic, must meet a series of efficacy and safety requirements to reach the market. In addition, when these ingredients are formulated in creams, lotions or any cosmetic product, it has to carry out its own efficacy and safety tests.

With all this, the efficacy and safety of cosmetic products that reach the consumer is guaranteed.


  1. Apaolaza V., Hartmann P., López C., Barrutia J.M., Echebarria C. Natural ingredients claim’s halo effect on hedonic sensory experiences of perfumes. Food Qual. Pref. 2014;36:81–86.
  2. Rozin P, Spranca M, Krieger Z, Neuhaus R, Surillo D, Swerdlin A, Wood K. Preference for natural: instrumental and ideational/moral motivations, and the contrast between foods and medicines. 2004 Oct; 43(2):147-54.
  5. Klaschka, Ursula. “Natural personal care products-analysis of ingredient lists and legal situation.” Environmental sciences Europe 28,1 (2016): 8.
  6. Lauriola M, M, Corazza M: The Wild Market of Natural Cosmetics of Obscure Safety. Dermatology 2019;235:527-528.
  7. González-Muñoz P, Conde-Salazar L, Vañó-Galván S. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by cosmetic products. Actas Dermosifiliogr. 2014;105(9):822-832.
  8. Alcalde MT. Cosmética natural y ecológica. Regulación y clasificación. Offarm. 2008. 27 (9): 96-104.
  11. Reisch, M. S. (2001). Pure and sweet. Chemical & Engineering News 79 (16), 23.

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