Skin care & Hair care: Science vs Natural vs Organic?

How do you know what to choose?


When researching ingredients to start making skin and haircare products my investigations left me completely confused with the plethora of claims and counter claims regarding the safety and efficacy of products on the market

It is not easy to come up with a balanced, objective view on potential toxicity of skin care ingredients. Mainstream skin care companies usually assert that whatever ingredients they use are safe. On the other hand, alternative all-natural skin care outfits profess gloom and doom from synthetic ingredients. The majority of independent studies of the subject focus on acute toxicity of high doses/concentrations rather than a chronic low-level damage from long-term use of small amounts (a situation far more common in real life).


The more I have read and talked to others the more I have come to understand how complex this all is….you want a product that offers real benefits but this has to be balanced with using ingredients that are safe and fit with your vision for your brand.

My basic philosophy was to try and create products that contained as many natural ingredients as possible. If there was an oil, or a butter, or a wax involved….make sure it was the best I could source and then why not use organic whenever available. Most importantly I wanted to find the most benign ingredients mix to create something that would be less likely to irritate.
I came up with the idea of using the Sanskrit concept of Ahimsa – I mean you no harm – as a way of avoiding the ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ claims but as a genuine commitment to aim for the best and most gentle ingredients I could find.

For me there is something comforting in knowing that the products that I apply to my skin or hair come from nature but what I discovered along the way is how confusing the whole issue is!


When you are looking at ‘natural’ cosmetic products, there are two phrases: ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ that are often used.
Are the two terms interchangeable or do they have two different meanings?
Which is preferable….does it really matter?
So firstly… no, they are not interchangeable.
Basically the only thing in common is that each product using these two labels substitute a chemical product with natural or organic materials that are supposed to be not only better for the user but also the environment.
In the US, the FDA requires manufactures to list all ingredients in descending order of concentration on the product labels it does not regulate the term ‘organic’ or ‘natural’.
Organic means that the botanical product was grown in a chemical-free environment. What happens to these ingredients from there does not affect the companies ability to claim the product as organic.
Natural on the other hand means that the final product has been made solely from botanical resources without any use of chemical additives or preservatives.
Many American cosmetic companies follow along with the National Organic Program which is a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture which requires that at least 95% of the product is organic. However to make things more difficult for consumers, there are products available that state they are ‘made with organic ingredients’. This means there is at least 70% of organic material that has been used….confused yet?
There is no specific regulation in New Zealand protecting the word ‘organic’ so it’s ‘buyer beware’. Products can be labelled as ‘organic’ without any requirement to prove this through certification. BioGro certification provides you with an independent validation of a producer’s organic claim.
As for the term natural, there is no specific organization that has created any sort of regulation to place on these products. So, therefore a company can produce just about anything and say it is natural. It is not to say that some companies are honest about the products, there are reputable ones, however it is not to say that there is some out there feeding on the eco-conscious consumers.
Unfortunately there are cosmetic brands that are labelled as “organic” or “natural”, but where these claims are misleading.
“Organic” products may contain just a tiny amount of certified organic ingredients – or none at all. So-called “natural” products can also contain an array of synthetic ingredients.
Most of the companies that state the product are natural means that there are no synthetic additives such as color chemicals chemical preservatives or even chemical fragrances.
At first the basic concept of organic or natural products was to conserve the environment from chemical pesticide and fertilizers. Today, since the increase in the concern over the environment, many companies are trying to reach out to the billion dollar eco-conscious market.
The regulation of the cosmetic industry here is nowhere near as restricted as international markets.
In response to the deluge of “natural” claims, the New Zealand Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) has developed industry guidelines on green marketing. Among other things, the guidelines caution that companies should not use “organic” in their brand name unless the product really is organic. Legislation here requires any cosmetic product placed on the market to be safe under normal circumstances of use.
If you’re looking “natural” cosmetics, check the ingredients list carefully. Many products on the market may contain some synthetic chemicals.
This does not mean they are bad! In some cases they are less likely to cause skin irritation as natural doesn’t always mean “safe”. Allergic reactions can occur from both natural and synthetic ingredients
“Natural” has become a marketing catchphrase. Cosmetic companies need to be upfront about the proportion of natural and synthetic ingredients their products contain.
Too often, it’s left to consumers to sort fact from fiction and to understand what ingredients they may have concerns about
From my research (hours of reading I have saved you from) here is some what I have learned:
If you have spent any time reading information about cosmetics on the Internet, you’ve no doubt come across scare stories about dangerous, “toxic” ingredients. It might be lead in lipstick, mercury in mascara, or some other outrageous headline but the message is always the same, cosmetics kill and cosmetic companies are more concerned about profit than producing safe products..

When you pick up a product and read the ingredient list, even the most natural range with have a list of big-scientific-words that could not sound more horrifying. But once you look into it, you discover that in many cases they are nowhere near as scary as they sound.
Here’s a great example: Cocoglucoside & glyceryl oleate….sounds nasty but if fact it is a “natural skin care ingredient is a natural surfactant soap blend made from coconut oil and sunflower oil. Used in natural skin care as extremely mild and effective cleanser that rinses quickly, it is biodegradable and offers a natural alternative to harsh chemicals”

In the salon, clients sometimes have specific ingredients that they want to avoid…often for legitimate reasons, sometimes because they have heard something that has concerned them and occasionally due to “old wives tales” so I thought it would be interesting to look at the “hit list” of currently talked about chemicals and see what I could find out*
* this is what my research has lead me to understand – it is a complicated business and not everyone will agree but I have tried to keep it balanced.


Top Vilified Cosmetic Ingredients

Diazolidiny Urea
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Mineral Oil
Propylene Glycol
Color pigments
PEG – Polyethylene Glycol


Ethyl, Butyl, Methyl, Propyl, and Parahydroxybenzoate
Parabens are the second most common ingredient in skin care products … water is first.
They are used in cosmetics to prevent microbial contamination. Their high temperature stability and high level of effectiveness have made them an popular preservative choice.
Parabens have recently come under fire by certain consumer groups and all-natural companies. They claim that parabens are “…a strong hormone disrupting chemical. Has direct links to breast cancer and heart problems.” One study showed they possess mild estrogen-like qualities. Preliminary research uncovered parabens in human breast cancer tumors. This does not prove a causal relationship, however. Parabens are ubiquitous. They are an estimated 75-90% of all personal care products. Even many so called “natural” and some organic skin care products contain parabens

For more click here
The debate regarding parabens and preservatives in general is certainly not finished. There is a gradual phase out of these preservatives occurring in the natural skin care industry. There are other less controversial options out there so if you are concerned you have other options.

Diazolidinyl Urea / DMDM Hydantoin

Like parabens, these cosmetic ingredients are preservatives added to combat disease-causing microbes. They are called “formaldehyde donors” because when placed in a solution they dissociate into ions, one of which is formaldehyde. The formaldehyde then quickly kills microbes.
Formaldehyde is a scary ingredient to people as it has been shown to cause irritation, gene mutations, and cancer. But formaldehyde donors are not the same thing as formaldehyde and the amount of exposure gotten from cosmetics is well within safe levels.
The US Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel evaluated the available data on this ingredient (and reevaluated it in 2006) and concluded it as safe to use on cosmetic products at a maximum concentration of .5%. Their studies demonstrated it to be neither toxic nor photosensitizing. However, tests did show it to produce mild skin irritations in some (1 out of 1000), so this ingredient should probably avoided by those with very sensitive skin.


Triclosan is an anti-bacterial ingredient added to cosmetics to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It’s usually found in antibacterial soaps, handwashes, toothpaste and deodorants. The FDA has affirmed its effectiveness and regulates products that contain triclosan as over the counter (OTC) drugs.
Some groups object to triclosan for various reasons. They say that Triclosan can produce a toxic, hormone disrupting chemical. That it poses long term chronic health risks, alters genetic material, and causes birth defects. It also can damage kidneys, lungs, liver, etc.
Independent scientists who study Tricolsan come to different conclusions. The safety of triclosan has been established but recent studies have prompted the FDA to re-examine the data. But as of now, “FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time, Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans. But several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review” You can learn more about the status of Triclosan here
One interesting concern about Triclosan is that it has the potential to create “super-bacteria” that is resistant to its effects. This has some scientists suggesting it shouldn’t be used in cosmetics. They might have a point!

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Shampoo does not need to foam to effectively cleanse your hair and as I have been experimenting my favoursite formula so far has little or no ‘bubble action…but most consumers demand a lather when they wash their hair!
SLS, SLES are basic detergents used in everything from body washes, hand cleansers, shampoos and even toothpaste. They really are versatile cleansing surfactants.
They are also the most maligned surfactants in the entire cosmetic industry. Just do a Google search for sodium lauryl sulfate and you’ll find plenty of sites telling you how awful it is. Claims such as “may cause hair loss”, “causes cancer”, and “the most dangerous chemical found in hair and skin care products” are frequently repeated.
One perception that has managed to persist in the public domain over the last few years is the perceived carcinogenic risk posed by sodium lauryl sulfate. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, including an article published by the American Cancer Society definitively positing no link between SLS and cancer, this urban legend remains ingrained in many consumers’ minds.
Of course, SLS can be irritating (many surfactants are) but the CIR has reviewed it and found “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate appear to be safe in formulations designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin. In products intended for prolonged contact with skin, concentrations should not exceed 1 percent”

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Acts as a water softener and a foaming and wetting agent. Often in products designed for mildness, such as baby shampoos. Yet it leads to eye and skin irritation in some. It is in the same risk category as lauryl sulphate – they have the potential to cause skin irritation in some people
Ultimately, they clean the hair more than it really needs to be cleansed and the ideal would be for us to let go of our need for bubbles! there are other more gentle cleansing ingredients available – read the back of the bottle and look for other surfactants. They still have very scientific names like sodium cocoamphoacetate, lauryl polyglucose, sodium cocoyl glutamate, sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate, Cocamidopropyl betaine but they are gentle to the hair and skin


Speaking of maligned surfactants, Diethanolamine is right up there with SLS for its ability to receive bad press. It is a secondary surfactant added to cosmetic formulas to boost foam and improve lather feel (yet again)
Concern about DEA containing cosmetics was brought up when a 1998 National Toxicology Program (NTP) study found an association between the topical application of diethanolamine (DEA) and certain DEA-related ingredients and cancer in laboratory animals. Chemical fear groups ran with this and claimed that DEA is a “hormone disrupting chemicals that can form cancer-causing nitrates”. It actually caused most personal care companies to replace DEA materials with other options.
However, the fear is unfounded and the FDA reviewed all the latest data and concluded, “at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be alarmed based on the use of these substances in cosmetics.” Certainly, the FDA will continue to review DEA containing ingredients but at the moment, there is no established safety concern. Associated with allergic reactions and eye irritation…so why not avoid if you can?


Used as a detergent and dispersing agent. There is high sensitivity to its use. Prolonged contact is particularly irritating. Toxic to lab animals. The CIR Expert Panel recommends use only in small, concentrations, not to exceed over 5%. They also recommend limiting it to rinse off products, such as shampoo. However, some hand and body lotions include it. Combining TEA with nitrates results in cancer-causing nitrosamines.
For more from the FDA click here…but it seems that DEA & TEA are both to be avoided if possible
Most importantly we need to get over out addiction to the foam!

Essential Oil or Fragrance Oil ?

People often refer to essential oils and fragrance oils interchangeably because of their similarities, but some important differences distinguish them from each other. Essential oils are natural chemicals that are extracted from the leaves, flowers, stems, roots or bark of plants. They are not true oils, but are the aromatic and volatile essences derived from botanicals. Fragrance oils (also called perfume oils) are often synthetic (or a blend of both); chemists analyze the plants’ components and reproduce their chemical compositions. Although essential oil blends (combinations of essential oils) are not synthetic, some suppliers call them fragrance or perfume oils.

Lets face it cosmetics without fragrance just don’t sell, it is part of the appeal…we buy things on smell ( The global market for fragrances and perfumes is valued at around US$18 billion)

But some groups will lead you to believe that all fragrances are awful. They “…cause headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing, vomiting and skin irritations. Fragrances affect the nervous system, cause depression, hyper activity, irritability, inability to cope and other behavioral changes”
Indeed there are chemicals in fragrances that can cause problems at high enough levels. There are even ingredients that the EU requires companies to label because they are known allergens. However, fragrances are thoroughly screened for safety by independent scientists at the IFRA. There is a safe level of use and fragrance houses follow these guidelines.
essential oil
Essential oils have some amazing medicinal and therapeutic properties if used properly – their benefits can be both physiological as well as psychological, but they can also be dangerous if not used properly.
Because essential oils are made from plant extracts, the likelihood of allergic reaction is high, especially for those who are known to have hay fever or other plant based, pollen, or grass type allergies.
There is also the possibility of toxicity when overused or not used properly. .
Essential oils that are known to have a higher than average allergic reaction on the skin are:
Basil, Bay, Benzoin, Birch, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Cassia, Citronella, Clove, Cumin, Fennel, Fir, Lemongrass, Verbena, Oak Moss, Oregano, Parsley, Peppermint, Pimento Berry, Pine (high), Thyme, Wintergreen, and others that may not be listed here.
There seems to be a place for both Essential and Fragrant oils as well as they are used knowledgeably.


The FDA has reviewed the safety of Petroleum and determined that it is a safe ingredient to use. In fact, it’s even safe for use in food products. And as far as the EU goes, it is not banned in cosmetics. Petroleum can and is used in cosmetics as long as it’s a cosmetic grade of the material
Purified petroleum is common to moisturizers and other cosmetic products. It forms an oily layer on the skin that prevents moisture evaporation. It purportedly smooths and moisturizers skin, but so do natural moisturisers. Petroleum based products may also interfere with normal perspiration and other skin functions.Manufactures love petrolatum because it is very inexpensive (read: a cheap addition for manufacturers).

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil also known as paraffin oil, is a byproduct of petroleum. Commonly used as a skin moisturizing ingredient that gets a bad wrap from natural product producers: here are some of the claims about mineral oil.
Mineral oil dries the skin and causes premature aging
It robs the skin of vitamins
It clogs pores and prevents collagen absorption
It causes acne.
Not sure that these are accurate, but again there are better natural products around to choose from…shea butter, mango butter plus its hard to get past the image of an oil well!!!!

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is a humectant and is the most common moisture-carrying ingredient, excluding water itself, in personal care products. It is a useful material as it’s compatible with numerous materials and provides benefits itself.
It is hard to see why PG is so feared when according to scientists at the FDA, CIR, and National Toxicology Program, there is negligible concern related to its use. Some suggestions it can be an irritant to people suffering eczema


PEGs (polyethylene glycols) are used in cosmetics for a variety of reasons including moisturizing, thickening, emulsification, solvency, etc. It would be difficult to produce many modern cosmetics without them.
However, the chemical scare mongers fear that PEG is a carcinogenic material that will dry out and make your skin age faster. It’s the typical claims you find related to any petroleum derived ingredient.
According to an article in the journal Toxicology from 2005, scientists conclude that “Taking into consideration all available information from related compounds, as well as the mode and mechanism of action, no safety concern with regard to these endpoints could be identified.” Chemical fear-mongers are not basing their concerns on science.


Without colorants most cosmetic formulas would be yellow or brown. Color cosmetics would not exist.
The complaint is that artificial colorants are carcinogenic. As usual, this claim is not supported by science.
Of all the ingredients in cosmetics, colorants are the most highly regulated. Each batch of colorant must be approved by the FDA prior to use. The FDA also monitors the safety of colorants. Any color additive that is found to cause cancer in animals (or humans) may not be used in cosmetics.

PVP/VA Copolymer

Some claim this ingredients is toxic however it seems it raises no real health concern as it are not on any lists of toxic chemicals which cause suspected or recognized health effects
It has not been detected in human tissue or urine
Essentially they are plastics that coat the hair and give it more substance, fullness and volume – not dangerous – just a bit odd really!

So it seems that many of these ingredients may be capable of causing skin damage with prolonged use, but more importantly with the advance of science and the development of safe alternatives, are simply redundant.


Personally, I like natural ingredients. For me there is a feel good factor in using something that has Mother Nature at its heart but not all things ‘natural’ are safe and benign as not all things chemical are evil and harmful.
Advocates of all-natural skin care believe that any natural substance is more effective that its synthetic cousin, and that all chemicals are toxic. The reality is more complex than that. According to modern science, biological effects of a particular chemical are the same whether it is isolated from natural sources or synthesized in the lab.
In theory, that is always true. In reality, depending on whether a substance was derived from natural source or synthesized it may contain different contaminants. Generally, harmful contaminants are more likely in synthetic chemicals, but they do sometimes occur in natural substances as well.
In that light, using only natural ingredients reduces but does not eliminate the risk of toxic contaminants — the integrity and quality standards of the manufacturer are equally important.

It is complicated to get to the bottom of what are ‘good’ ingredients and what are not. On both sides of the argument the claims are fervent and passionate!
It is important to do your own research and read the arguments on both sides before you form an opinion.
It is pretty easy to get swayed by the marketing on both sides and get caught up in the hype (without really understanding the issues.
For me, I am sticking to my original plan…a product that is as gentle and natural as possible with the best ingredients that my research can find!

For a full list of ingredients in the products we have in the MADÉ range click here and if you like them the rest is up to you