Natural are you sure?

Danny Siegenthaler and his wife Susan make a great team, Danny is a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and Susan is a medical herbalist and Aromatherapist. This article will make you think Natural or Not. Sure made Wayne'r Think about his skin care.

Natural, All Natural, Holistically-Natural or Pseudo-natural -

By: Dr Danny T. Siegenthaler, Thu Dec 8th, 2005 11:34:38 AM

You may have realised that recently everything you look at claims to be 'natural', but what is natural? Does it referrer to everything that the product contains? Is it some of the ingredients in the product that are natural? Or is a single ingredient, which was isolated from an originally natural source, the only thing that is natural about the product?

These are just some of the questions that are confusing customers today and in many cases claims by some manufacturers of that their products are natural, are misleading, if not totally false all together.

Let's look at what natural actually is defined to be:

* relating to nature,

* in accordance with the usual course of nature,

* present in or produced by nature, rather than being artificial or created by people,

* not artificially coloured or treated.

That does not really tell us all that much, but let's think about the images that this word, natural, may create in our minds.

Natural - natural scene, nature's playground such as the beach the mountains, virgin woods and forests, beautiful lakes and so on. It also reminds us of natural substances, smells of flowers, the air just after rain, animals in their natural habitat and so on.

When it comes to products, be they for consumption or personal care, we tend to think of 'natural flavours' as opposed to artificial flavouring, natural preservatives versus artificial ones, but what is a natural ingredient and how could we define it better?

Here is where things get a little murky because there are many ways we can think of a substance as being natural or not natural. For example, let's use my favourite - Aspirin. The active ingredient in Aspirin tables is Salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is naturally found in the bark of the White Willow tree. Thus, Salicylic acid is a natural substance and if extracted from the bark, rather than recreated synthetically in a laboratory, you could say this is a natural product. But is it?

Strictly speaking a liquid made from say water and Salicylic acid, would be natural and fit the definition of 'as found in nature', but let's look at another way to get the same therapeutic effect from the properties of the White Willow bark.

Herbal medicine uses the whole bark and utilises traditional methods to extract the ingredients from the bark. One of these ingredients is the Salicylic acid, but it's just one of the ingredients. There are many more which do not help to numb pain or do very much to help relieve pain, but they do work on balancing the effects of Salicylic acid.

We know that this acid can and does irritate the lining of the Stomach and that is why many of the companies that make Aspirin will put warnings on their labels and make suggestions of taking Aspirin with food and so on. Using the whole extract however, will include the modifying ingredients from the bark, which will protect the Stomach's lining and yet the Salicylic acid will still work on reducing the pain.

Now, which do you think is the 'natural' product? The one that uses a single naturally derived ingredient in a liquid, or the other one, which uses the more complete set of ingredients found in the White Willow bark? This point could be debated forever and both these could be called natural, depending on YOUR DEFINITION.

My definition is that the products with the single isolated ingredient, is not natural because it misses many of the naturally contained substances that form part of the bark of the White Willow. For the purpose of this discussion, let's say that the Aspirin at the Chemist or Drug store, containing Salicylic acid, was extracted from the bark; it's not, but let's pretend. In addition, let's pretend that the Salicylic acid was in pure water, again, this is not the case, but just pretend with me for a little longer. That would mean, that there are basically two ingredients in the Aspirin, the first is the Salicylic acid and the second is pure water. Thus, you could say that this product was 100% natural or all natural, couldn't you? Of course, there is nothing artificial, the ingredients are found in nature, so it's natural.

So what does that make the herbal extract, more natural? Well, it contains more ingredients whose origins are found in nature. Here is the dilemma, both are natural, both have taken all their ingredients from nature, so can we find a way to differentiate between the Aspirin from the Chemist/Drug store (it's 100% natural...) and the Aspirin from the Herbalist (it's 100% natural...)?

Let me introduce a 'new' term "Holistically-natural", what do I mean by this term? I propose, that this term may be of use to describe the type of product that has not been overly modified. That means, "Holistically-natural" would accept the alcohol extraction of all the ingredients, but would not except the additional step of extracting the Salicylic acid out of the alcohol-extracted ingredients. Similarly, essential oils are extracted from their parent plant by a variety of means, including, cold-pressed, steam distillation and others. "Holistically-natural", would be applicable to essential oils, which have been extracted by the most appropriate form, but would not apply to further isolation, or manipulation of the derived essential oil.

The reason for providing this 'new' term is to differentiate our "Natural Aspirin" from the Chemist with the Herbal extract of the White Willow bark used by herbalists. Both of products will help reduce pain, but only the latter containing a more complete set of the ingredients from the White Willow's bark will help mitigate the possible irritating side effect of Salicylic acid on the lining of the Stomach. Thus, the herbalist's version of the product would be "Holistically-natural".

Now, the skin and personal care industry is full of claims of 'natural' skin care products, and many manufacturers are abusing the term natural to the extreme. Using an isolated, naturally occurring chemical from a plant is, as we've seen, not what natural implies. Let's look at the definition again: Natural means present in or produced by nature... Well, a single ingredient may well be present in and produced by nature, but nature itself does not use it in isolation. Nature uses it in balance with other associated chemicals - holistically.

In the skin care industry, not only do creams and lotions often contain many different ingredients in order to achieve the claims by the manufacturer for a given product, but most of the time, the ingredients are a list of naturally derived, but not holistically-natural, ingredients, together with non-natural chemicals that do not have their origin in nature at all. Examples of this would include emulsifiers, colours, flavours, preservatives, etc.

Some manufacturers bend the rules even further. Any substance that contains the chemical element Carbon is by definition an 'organic chemical'. That is what 'Organic Chemistry' (Bio-Chemistry) is based on. Now, organic skin care therefore, may well be skin care that contains Carbon-based chemicals that may not occur naturally in nature, but because they contain carbon, they can be termed organic - do you see where I'm going with this?

The term Organic is supposed to indicate that there were no artificial or synthetic products used to grow, say vegetables. Thus, there are no inorganic substances such as inorganic fertiliser, pesticides, herbicides, etc., present in the plant or the soil the plant was grown in.

Many less ethical manufacturers will use the term organic to attract the consumers who are looking for 'organic skin or personal care products', but will actually sell them a product, which is not organic in the true sense of indicating free of in-organic substances, grown using organic farming methods, etc.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that all companies that claim to have organic skin care products are misleading you, far from it, however, there are some that do and it is sometimes difficult to establish which is the one that uses the term organic in the 'holistically-natural' way.

We at Wildcrafted Herbal Products belief that holistically natural skin and personal care products are the only way to go. They are safer, better for you and easier for your body to make use of. The concept of holistically natural, follows the principle of 'the less processed a product is, the better it is for you'.

About the author: Danny Siegenthaler is a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and together with his wife Susan, a medical herbalist and Aromatherapist, they have created Natural Skin Care Products by Wildcrafted Herbal Products to share their 40 years of combined expertise with you.

© Wildcrafted Herbal Products 2004 - 2005