“Natural” and “organic”, still largely misunderstood by people, existing more in stereotype than in Dr. Isidor and Dr. Isidor Apothecary and Perfumery

“Natural” and “organic”, still largely misunderstood

(Part 2 – Continued)

When chemicals such as cocamide DEA or  sodium hydroxysultaine are followed by the words “derived from coconut oil” the consumer is led to believe that these synthetic chemicals must somehow be “natural” or simply close to the term “natural”. While this may be true in some cases where a natural oil or extract is actually used, it is ultimately irrelevant because what you end up with after the chemical solvent extraction and processing is usually anything but natural or pure. It is just another chemical concoction with some rather awful sounding long names to describe the process the “natural” product went through.

Now, what about “organic”?

Again, if we look in the dictionary for the word organic it is pretty obvious to us what we expect to find as far as safe products in general are concerned. Would you say in the context you are expecting to use or find the term organic that this would be a fair description; “produced and involving production without the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers or synthetic chemicals” or “of, relating to, or derived from living matter” or “grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals”, “not using artificial chemicals”, “of, relating to, or obtained from living things” and finally the dictionary says “of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides”.

To me and probably to you it seems rather elementary that when describing a product as organic that this is exactly what the customer would expect. However to the marketing men this is not what they mean by organic. Let’s delve a little deeper into this play on words

One example, to create cocamide DEA, a fancy foaming agent found in some shampoos (by the way many customers asked me why my natural shampoos do not foam enough), requires the addition of a synthetic chemical and known carcinogenic substance, diethanolamine – DEA, to the coconut oil. It is therefore no longer natural, or safe! This can be explanation why natural shampoos do no foam as commercially available brands. I received many claims as I mentioned above from customers “well everything is OKAY, the shampoo is very good, but your shampoo does not foam”. Yes, it does not because it does not contain chemical foaming agent. If we look at the term “organic” on a label, we usually think it means “grown and cultivated without the use of chemicals” as stated above. That is the conclusion most skin care companies would like us to come to when they use the rather loose term organic.

Many companies are using the chemistry definition of “organic” – which is also defined in the dictionary as “a compound that contains a carbon atom” or “relating to, being, or dealt with by a branch of chemistry concerned with the carbon compounds of living beings and most other carbon compounds” and in this way they confuse customers. Really, carbon! This is known in the trade as confusion advertising so the real picture becomes blurred. Carbon is found in everything that has ever lived and lives. Vested interests by using this definition of organic, they are saying that a toxic petrochemical preservative called methyl paraben is “organic” because it was formed from leaves that rotted over thousands of years to become crude oil, which was then used to make this preservative. How absurd is this when consumers are looking for safe non-toxic products?

The play on the word organic gets even worse. An increasing number of companies are now claiming to use “organic” herbs in their products. But, what about the rest of the ingredients? Are they safe? Are they “natural” or from an “organic” source?  Surely there must be an authority that governs the use of the term “organic” on labels? The simple answer is, no!

However, we have new terms on a market such as “certified organic” or “certified natural” is governed by a number of internationally and nationally recognized bodies. Searching for products with the logo of a certifying body on the label is only one of the ways you can guarantee the organic authenticity and integrity of every ingredient in the product. That is currently in reality. This can then truly be called a natural product. Without the “certified organic” or “certified natural” label, the organic /natural claim means nothing, as it cannot be verified and most likely it is a complete hoax perpetrated by the marketing men and their hype.

Unfortunately, these new terms are not as comfortable as they sound. As I said, unfortunately, the line is still “not white not black, simply very very…grey” bear in your mind that the process of certification means paying fees, providing the authorities with the list of ingredients and it does not include the strict, rigorous and in depth laboratory analysis… Is the product REALLY natural and organic?


Fortunately, there is a very simple way to differentiate between the hype and truth in skin care and that is to read carefully the ingredient list on the label. Mostly, they are in very small print, not visually impaired friendly; but simply make contact with manufacturer prior any further action. It is a legal requirement that all skin care products must be labelled with the ingredients in descending order of their quantity in the product. A good rule of thumb is to divide the ingredient list into thirds: the top third usually contains 90-95% of the product; the middle third usually contains 5-8% and the bottom third, 1-3%.

Actually, be careful what are you buying, a good advice would be simply order samples first, contact manufacturers, or apothecary masters, make consultations (it worth tremendously), and probably it is still the only way to find the natural and organic apothecary product(s), cosmetic(s) and/or cosmeceutical(s) that meet all your needs, requirements and to make sure you do not treat yourself with harmful chemicals, toxins etc. Additionally, even the formula is declared as “natural” and “organic” maybe simply does not meet your needs or it is not appropriate for your skin type or your skin condition. One of the good ideas how to find a real 100 % natural and organic apothecary products including cosmetics and cosmeceuticals is to find a small scale producer, mostly you will need to order the products as a custom order. It will take a time but it worth to be patient. Objectively and professionally, all of us who produce natural and organic products follow the traditional and ancient apothecary (mostly), producing a small scale of products (not thousands bottles, only 10-20 or 50 max), a shelf life for our products is significantly shorter (several months to one year) compared with commercially available brands in a store (years), formulation is a time consuming process and sometimes just to make initial solutions, elixirs, extracts etc., takes several weeks. One of the reasons (for all of the above) is we use the natural preservatives. That’s mean we use either therapeutic grade oils as preservatives or certain herbs and plants organically grown as preservatives. Next step is to order samples of the products of your interest, try it, use it, test it on your skin, it might work or if not contact apothecary master for consultation for the signature designed formula to meet your needs, at least most of them.

I am always open and free for consultations to customers; probably, now you understand why. Too much grey color (instead of black and white) and fuzziness and blurriness today regarding “natural” and “organic” in cosmetics, and other apothecary products!

Finally, I have to thank to all inspiring authors in the cosmetic sciences, apothecary, skin care, many many… authors of scientific articles in peer review journals, to my colleagues and to my customers for their guidance and inspiration.

Respectfully yours,

Dr. Isidor


Dr. Isidor Apothecary

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