You want an ingredient list you can read and comprehend. Is it all synthetic—using long, chemical names? Or are the ingredients identifiable? An ingredient list should have some recognizable, everyday words like sunflower seed oil or chamomile extract, etc. Not all complex words mean an ingredient is synthetic (for instance, vitamin E may be listed as tocopheryl acetate), but if the entire list is unrecognizable, it’s probably a synthetic product.
What’s wrong with synthetic? When you get right down to it, everything on earth consists of chemicals. Synthetics are made up of molecules of chemicals, just like organic or natural substances. But synthetic products are usually inert, meaning they are not active. Synthetic products are basically composed of inorganic, laboratory made ingredients, which are synthetic—fake. Organic, natural, or active products are made from natural sources like plants, fruits, and vegetal oils. The difference between synthetic and organic is best depicted by using essential oils. For more information see Essential Oils: a primer, but for now I will use them to illustrate my point. (See link below.)
Inorganic or synthetic essential oils are made in a chemist’s lab of similar molecules. Their chemical makeup may be alike, but chemists cannot put the “life force” into their laboratory creations. It is this life force that will constitute the effectiveness of the product. These synthetic copies may smell reminiscent of their organic siblings, but they are not exact. Synthetics can only mimic the real thing. And when it comes to ingredients used on the skin, I recommend the real thing. Your skin is a living entity, and I believe it will respond to real, organic products over synthetics.
When looking for products, I recommend looking for ingredients that connote real substances with organic matter employed. Although synthetic ingredients aren’t necessarily bad for your skin (they usually won’t cause flare-ups or irritations), they can’t help to soothe or otherwise stimulate the skin. Organic ingredients, on the other hand, can be both soothing and stimulating. One last point—synthetic products tend to be void of smell. Natural or organic products usually have wonderful aromatics based on the botanical ingredients used.
- If they are entirely organic, common chemical preservatives are not used, and the products can become unstable.
- They will have a much shorter shelf life, and bacteria from the air will affect and many times contaminate them.
- There may be a problem with consistency as well.
- The organic matter will change with different weather conditions and crop harvests, and therefore, so will the manufactured product.
- It’s hard to continually crank out an all-natural product consistent with the former batch. All-natural products tend to be quite expensive as well.
Whether you choose to purchase truly organic products or products with less natural ingredients, I believe the proof of their effectiveness will always show up in how your skin responds to them—how your skin looks and feels. To further the discussion of products and finding what’s right see:
- Hypoallergenic? Non-comedogenic? What do these means?
- Allergic Reactions to Products & The 72-Hour Test
- Finding the Right Products—for You
- Essential Oils: a primer