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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Back to basics

Natural approaches in beauty and personal care
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - November 11, 2010
By: Sheila Lim
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Back to basics

Going natural
There’s an uprising in the “natural” movement. More people are not only becoming increasingly conscious about environmentally sustainable development issues, what they are eating, and where and how their foods are cultivated, but what they apply on their faces and bodies as well.

Going natural is nothing new. In fact, “natural” personal care was practised centuries ago. The most famous example harks back to ancient Egypt, when Cleopatra bathed in asses’ milk. And in Elizabethan society, women used mixtures of vinegar and lead (which could be lethal as it sometimes contained arsenic) to achieve their pale complexions.

Many cultures have their own arrays of herbal beauty potions and remedies passed down through the generations, whether concocted from rose water and witch hazel (used for their soothing properties) in Europe, or turmeric and neem (used for their cleansing powers) in Asia.   

More recently, a plethora of beauty and skincare products labelled herbal, organic, botanical, green or community trade have hit the shelves. Formulated mainly from natural substances known for their beauty-enhancing properties, these products may comprise common ingredients like jojoba oil and aloe vera, or more exotic components like pomegranate and coffee.

Drivers of the natural movement
With rising rates of cancer and other common afflictions brought about by our stressful modern lifestyles, the fears surrounding potentially carcinogenic ingredients and the growing awareness of the importance of staying healthy, people are increasingly taking preventive measures rather than looking for quick-fixes. 

The burgeoning population of ageing baby-boomers around the world has also created emerging markets comprising consumers with more time and resources to spend as they go in search of youth-preserving and age-retarding options.

New communication media have also given us easier access to information. This is another underlying factor driving consumers to demand more natural approaches in beauty and personal care. As consumers become better-informed and well-travelled, they also become more astute about safety and health issues, and the implications of the products and services they choose to use. 

Factors such as these have led to myriad beauty care and wellness businesses adopting the holistic mind, body and spirit mantra, and providing an array of natural beauty and wellness treatments, ranging from hair and body spas to yoga retreats.

Natural or not?
Growing consumer demand is driving the development in the natural trend, and this has resulted in a host of mainstream personal care companies and retailers jumping onto the bandwagon.

However, this movement of “natural” products is not without controversy; criticism has been aimed at products labelled as “organic” but actually contain only a minute percentage of ingredients that are certifiably organic and are often mixed with ingredients deemed potentially carcinogenic.

This leads us to the question: what does "natural" mean? As yet, there is no standard, certification or central authority to specify product and production processes in the cosmetics industry as being "natural".

In countries like France, lobby groups have formed to represent the interests of the natural cosmetics industry, and their role is to call for a clear, regulatory definition of natural and organic cosmetics, and represent the natural cosmetics industry's voice in trade negotiations.

For now, it seems that the onus is on us, the consumers, to choose wisely.

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