Natural vs. Naturally Derived

Decode green skin care

There are dozens of green trends in the cosmetic industry and even more organizations claiming to be the leading authority on the topic. The abundance of information and often conflicting opinions requires thorough research to choose the right green products for your spa. It is enough to make the average consumers head spin and confuse businesses that are trying to do the right thing into resignation. Being a green spa requires finding a balance between natural, organic, and green, ratings on the biorenewable carbon index and fair trade to find the right eco-ethical products for your business.

The key to choosing green cosmetics for your spa is in determining how you define green ingredients. Based on conflicting information on the Internet, you might be surprise to find that the very same ingredients you have been taught to avoid are some of the greenest ingredients on the market. Sodium lauryl sulfate is the perfect example. This ingredient can be found in the top ten list of ingredients to avoid by countless “experts” despite the fact that it scores a 100 on the biorenewable carbon index, is naturally sourced from the fatty alcohols of coconut oil, is completely safe in wash off formulas, lets off 0 percent VOC (won’t vaporize into the atmosphere), is readily biodegradable, and is EO/PO free (contains no Ethylene Oxide/Propylene Oxide Copolymer). By all green standards sodium lauryl sulfate is the perfect ingredient, but many self-proclaimed watch-dogs in the industry claim otherwise.

Choosing the right ecological path for your company is a multiple step process that definitely includes picking the right cosmetics for use in your spa. In plain English the following is designed to give you scientific information that may aid you in making the green decisions that are right for your company.

Natural and Naturally Derived

The fine line between natural and naturally derived ingredients is hard to decipher since most ingredients have a tie back to a natural resource. There is added confusion caused by the fact that purely synthetic ingredients also have a place in creating safe and affordable cosmetics. To completely disavow all synthetic ingredients would leave the majority of consumers priced out of the cosmetic world. Defining the right eco-ethical path for your business has never been more important to businesses as it is today with consumers seeking affordable, natural, organic and green cosmetics.

Understanding the fine line between natural and naturally derived is the most important factor in choosing the cosmetics for your spa. Ingredients that are 100 percent natural are ones that are found in nature and simply must be processed to express the ingredient from the natural resource. Examples are vegetable oils (olive, coconut, avocado, etc.) and butters (shea, mango, etc.), essential oils (lavender, orange, tea tree, etc.), distillates (rose, orange blossom, lavender, etc.), clays (green, pink, kaolin, etc.), herbs, salts, sugars, waxes (beeswax, carnauba, candelilla, etc.) and so forth. It is very simple to create a green treatment with these ingredients.

Ingredients that are naturally derived are dependent on natural ingredients as a starting point; however, they are altered by a chemical reaction. All of the ingredients used for the reaction may be natural ingredients but the new ingredient is considered naturally derived. The perfect example of this is sodium lauryl sulfate, which is a chemical reaction between the fatty alcohol acids (lauryl alcohol) of coconut oil with sulfuric acid (formed naturally by the oxidation of sulfide minerals) which is then neutralized with the addition of sodium carbonate (naturally occurring.)

Another example of a chemical reaction that creates a cosmetic product is castile soap, which is considered natural but also formed from a similar chemical reaction. Castile soap is made when lye (sodium or potassium hydroxide) reacts with oil through saponification (hydrolysis of an ester under basic conditions to form an alcohol and the salt of a carboxylic acid (carboxylates) which creates soap.

Sodium lauryl sulfate and castile soap are both created through a chemical reaction of a plant-derived ingredient; however one is vilified and the other is praised as the ultimate natural product. It is no wonder that consumers are confused! Much of the information available on ingredients is tainted by the self interest and the agendas of the source. Chemistry is the ultimate measuring stick in deciphering the origin of an ingredient. Determine which side of the line between natural and naturally derived to choose for your spa and review ingredients according to the standards that work for your philosophy.


Whenever and wherever possible, organic and wild-crafted ingredients win hands down over pesticide and chemically fertilized crops. The debate in the cosmetic industry over certification and definition of organic finished cosmetics has been raging for years and is not due to quiet down for many years to come. Organically certified cosmetics are complicated by the fact that the list of acceptable ingredients in certified organic cosmetics was designed for the certification of organic food. The emulsification, preservation and stabilization needs of foods are vastly different than those of cosmetics. The market is flooded with cosmetics that are certified by organizations with wildly different standards of organic. The key to organic decisions can best be found in the ingredient list of the product.

Biorenewable Carbon Index

The biorenewable carbon index of cosmetic ingredients is a value based on the percent carbon derived from a biorenewable resource. Biorenewable ingredients are ones that are originating from animal, plant or marine material. The carbon index number is calculated based on the number of biorenewable carbon divided by the total number of carbons in the entire molecule. This index is one way formulators are working to reduce the cosmetic industry’s carbon footprint. A few examples of surfactant ingredients that are plant derived that score a 100 on the biorenewable carbon index are caprylic/capric triglyceride, ammonium lauryl sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate.

Fair Trade

The social movement that is market-based known as Fair Trade is designed to help producers of ingredients in developing countries and to promote sustainability. Fair trade practices for cosmetic ingredients are related to exports from developing countries to help producers and workers move towards economic self-sufficiency and stability. The ingredients most noteworthy for fair trade in the cosmetic industry include coffee, cocoa, sugar, herbs and essential oils.


The use of the term non-toxic in the cosmetic industry generally relates to ingredients that are non-toxic to the human body. Non-toxic ingredients are ones that do not result in ill-health for the consumer. Searching for information to determine whether an ingredient is non-toxic or not can be misleading and confusing. Many companies claim that ingredients used by their competitors are toxic in order to sell their own products. There are also organizations bent on scaring consumers into believing that more regulation in the cosmetic industry is required to protect consumers from cosmetic companies to fulfill their own agendas.