I Know Natural When I See it

What is Natural?

I Know Natural When I See it

When it comes to natural, we might think, “Natural, you know, from nature. I know it when I see it.” Pressed for a definition, we might say that the substance is based on plant matter or is found in nature and minimally processed. That sounds reasonable, does it not?

Each of us has in mind what we deem natural, yet others may not share our definition. Some think essential oils are natural, for example, while others think they are too manipulated to be natural. Some only use expeller pressed oils, while many use refined oils or oils extracted with various chemicals and still believe they are using natural ingredients. The list goes on.

Various groups formed over the years and set definitions for natural that they put forth as guidelines for their members. These definitions of course, only affect members of the group, but non-members may also glean information to help them decide for themselves.

For those in the USA, the FDA provides no regulatory definition for naming a product natural. The regulations do require truth in labeling though, and forbids placing the term, “natural,” along with the ingredient. See the fact sheet here. Makers are free, therefore, to call a product natural at their discretion, provided they are not intentionally misleading customers.

The laws and regulations for each country differ, but “natural” is more difficult to define than it appears at first glance. In fact, the topic is a hot one worldwide. In the US, it means little except as a marketing term.

As you can see, US based bath and body makers have little to go on in determining natural ingredients, and other countries also deal with this issue.

What is a conscientious maker who embraces natural to do?

One answer to the dilemma is not to use the term, “natural” at all in the name or description of a product. This is not as hard as it sounds. Concentrate on the features of the product, with terms that play them up and appeal to customers who prefer natural, but do not use the term. These might include:

  • Stimulating
  • Refreshing
  • Herbal
  • Garden-inspired

Text could also appeal to the psyche:

  • “Feel like you bathed in nature”
  • “Get that clean, sophisticated look”
  • “Start the day right.”

In addition, offset text may include phrases that point out special ingredients:

  • “With peppermint essential oil!”
  • “Made with oats”
  • “We use fresh herbs!”

Offset text, by the way, is a text box on the label that is separate from the name of the product and ingredient. It is often in a different font and color to keep the labeling in legal form.

Another method makers use is to define their product as natural by determining the percentage of natural or organic ingredients. A bath fizzy made with baking soda, citric acid, mango butter and salt, for instance, with one percent fragrance oil and synthetic coloring, they might call, “98% natural (or organic) ingredients.”

Whatever approach you take, make the best product you can, do it legally and ethically and be proud of what you built. Respect others for the decisions they make, and allow them the latitude to do so. At the very least, let others take care of their businesses while you take care of yours. Keep in mind that some of the most knowledgeable in our industry disagree on the definition of natural, so don’t expect every maker to live up to your standards.

May your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

Beth Byrne, for Making Soap, Cosmetics & Candles Magazine

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