There’s no question about it: Natural beauty is blooming, and in the grand scheme of things, this is a very good thing for all of us. It signals a movement towards greater awareness, discernment, transparency and advocacy. It’s pushing conventional personal care companies to clean up their act, and even if they never win clean beauty awards, they’re making progress in the right direction, removing the most harmful ingredients and trumpeting their green initiatives, steering the masses to consider natural the new normal. It’s a sign of the times – we’re waking up and demanding better quality from brands. Yay, us.
But, let’s be honest. We also know that natural is loosely defined, and since greenwashing is so much easier than becoming a natural beauty formulator, many brands have mastered the “look and feel” of natural, but don’t have the formula integrity to back it up. So, while they may get to hang out with the pros in the Naturals section, they haven’t earned their stripes.
But even for diehard clean beauty consumers, spotting a knockoff in the Natural Beauty aisle isn’t as easy as spotting a fake Louis on Canal Street. If you can’t tell by the look and feel, and the ingredient deck passes muster, then what is the difference between a faux natural and the real deal? If you ask ten beauty industry professionals to define ‘natural’, you will get 10 entirely different answers. If you don’t believe me, just try asking 3 friends…the results are the same. Natural means different things to different people. Perhaps that’s why the FDA has yet to define the term ‘natural’ as it pertains to both food or cosmetic labels. With more and more brands flooding the market and the FDA on perma-vacay, the term “natural beauty” will continue to get watered down, making it evermore pressing for brands and retailers to establish their own definitions and ingredient standards.
For Jenna Levine, Founder of LINNÉ Botanicals, being natural isn’t nearly enough – it’s a given, of course, but it’s just the starting point. It’s not about the INCI name, but about where, how and when the raw material is sourced – information that’s not revealed on the back of a label, but rather through education and experience. Each botanical she selects is perfectly natural and often certified organic. But what sets her formulas apart is her investigation into the species or varietal of the plant and where it was grown. In a greenhouse? On a farm? In it’s native environment? Like a Forensic Botanist, Jenna researches whether or not the plant had to struggle against environmental stress, or if it was coddled by tending hands. (Hint: if the struggle is real, it strengthens the plant and boosts phytonutrient density.) When sourcing wild crafted, native ingredients, she learns about the plants’ natural habitat and sources from the region where the plant is known to thrive. That’s why LINNÉ’s formulas feature organic Aloe from Southern Texas and Northern Mexico, certified organic Olive Leaf Powder from Albania, wild harvested and certified organic Tea Tree Oil from Australia, certified organic Wild Lime Essential Oil from Sri Lanka and sustainably and wild harvested Palo Santo from the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. Then, once the plant is grown and harvested, she concerns herself with how the ingredient was stored before and after it was processed. Finally, after expertly selecting the specific varietal from the specific region that was stored and processed in a specific way, she perfects the plant synergy to deliver the desired benefit. Now, that’s what I call quality control.
Any natural beauty brand formulator worth their salt will tell you that sourcing ingredients is by far the most time consuming, laborious and exhilarating part of product development. And since skill and craftsmanship aren’t ingredients listed on the back of a label, a diligent consumer must shop for beauty products with the same discernment they would for any luxury item: research the brand and it’s maker; touch it, smell it and feel how it wears on your skin; and always buy from a trusted source.