Organic, botanic, natural, plant based… what’s what?
When we decided to develop our line of skincare products we were set on the fact that we wanted them to be organic. This was part of our core Luxe Botanics philosophy and key to how we chose our ingredients and manufacturing partner. However, along the way we noticed many other skincare buzzwords being used in the industry, either as the company’s core values or as part of their marketing strategy, and honestly, it just got confusing! What is the difference between organic and natural? What is plant based versus botanic? What’s the difference between certified organic and organic? …its very frustrating both as a consumer and as a skincare formulator to work out the differences. Along our journey we have learnt so much and have had some amazing teachers so I wanted to share our knowledge with you in the hopes that it enlightens your skincare journey too! So here goes:
An international standard of agreed methods for farming the base product (food and agricultural) which may be formulated into an ingredient for use in skincare, food, etc. To receive the certification the farm (and its processes) have to be assessed, approved, and maintained to this international standard on an annual basis. Although the overall ethos is the same, the requirements do vary country to country and between industries. In general, the requirements are very strict and require that:
- Crops and livestock must be raised in a production system that emphasizes protection of natural resources; plant and animal health; preventative management of pests, diseases, and predators; and compliant use of allowed materials
- Maintain or enhance soil and water quality
- Conserve the local environment (Wetlands, woodlands and wildlife)
- Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used
- Products must be protected from prohibited substances and methods from the field to the point of final sale
There are various bodies that can assess and approve the certification, for example: the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture); ACOS (Australian Certified Organic Standard); Ecocert (European certification with branches all over the world); among other local certification bodies globally.
Overall, this is a very costly process and can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the country in which it is being certified, the industry and the setup of the farm.
Without the official certification, products can still be labelled organic, they just can’t use the certified organic logo or market as certified organic. As I have learnt, in many cases small producers simply don’t have the resources (money or staff) to keep up with the requirements set forth by the organic certification bodies. And often when this is the case, they wouldn’t have the money to purchase expensive pesticides anyway. As I have come to understand it, organic simply means that the product is grown and produced in a manner which is considered to be as close to natural plant or animal growth as would occur in the wild. Just be aware that many companies are now using this word loosely as a means to market their product. If a product is labelled organic its worth your while to research where their ingredients come from and how they are farmed.
Natural is a tricky one… Most people (including me) are fooled by this into thinking that the product contains ingredients found in nature, but in reality this not always the case. Natural really just means that the ingredient or ingredients mimic something that is found in nature, and is therefore considered to be natural. An ingredient that is chemically similar to one found in nature could be one of 2 things – the actual ingredient sourced directly from nature (plant or animal source) or it could be entirely synthesized in a lab to chemically resemble the natural version. As I’ve said in previous blogs, this may or may not affect you – we all react differently to different chemicals – but you should be aware of the ingredients origin. You may find that you’re allergic to mango, but if you use the chemically synthesized version you have no reaction (as is the case with me and Aloe Vera).
I was recently fooled into buying a body wash that was made by a company with “natural” in the name, stupidly thinking this meant that the company would value botanic and organic ingredients, but when I opened it and used it for the first time the smell and texture gave it away – it was full of “natural” papaya and mango ingredients. Chemically they mimic the real thing but the effect is just not the same on the skin or the nose… When I read the back of the bottle I realised that nowhere did it say Carica papaya (Papaya) or Mangifera indica (Mango), so clearly they were using a chemically synthesized ingredient.
The word “natural” to me is perhaps the most misleading and misused word in the industry and is commonly known to fool us lesser mortals into thinking we are using something good for us…
Botanic & Plant Based
Botanic refers to the origin of the ingredient and identifies it as made from or taken from plants.
(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/botanical ) This is often interchanged with the words “plant based”.
Again, you should do your research here as often the word botanic can have the same implications as the word natural – it really just means the ingredient is similar to something botanic (a plant) – but is this lab synthesized from chemicals or is it made from the actual plant itself?
Botanic is not yet in the mainstream marketing that you see on your shelves, so I really hope that as it becomes more widely used it is better explained and understood than the word natural.
Overall, I always emphasize that you do your research to make an informed choice. Always be aware of the buzz words and the way they are used to market a product…
The Luxe Botanics Team