Natural, Naturally Derived, Nature Identical… What Do These Terms Mean?


In Canada, the word natural is not regulated so we see it being used on many different items, meaning many different things, making many different claims.  This can also be said for the term naturally derived and nature identical.  These terms have created an abundance of consumer confusion in the natural product marketplace. 


What do these terms really mean?

The one thing I have noticed, dealing with many different people, is that the term natural has no real definition.  Some believe the term means “from the earth” meaning that unless it is right from the earth, it is not natural.  This would mean Essential oils, because they are formed by extracting the volatile chemicals of the plant, are not natural being that they are the plants altered form. 


Others believe that “minimally processed” ingredients are natural.  So as long as the item was the original form two or three processes ago, it can still be referred to as natural.  Essential oils, Butters, Carrier oils, would all fall under this definition as they do not look like the original plant; however they do still have the properties of the plant and have undergone minimal alterations to be the form they result in.  Another item that would fall under this category is stearic acid.


Nature Identical or lab natural (a term I believe I made up, but it explains it best for me) consists of such materials as micas, oxides and lye.  The same process used in nature to make these products is used in a lab to make molecules identical in composition to the way nature makes them.  Being we are looking for purity, this is the only real way to regulate many products for cosmetics.  Many essential oils are labelled as such, however in my opinion they should be labelled fragrance oils, not essential oils.   This is how a person would find a strawberry essential oil in the market.  The molecular compound that produces the strawberry scent is replicated in a lab to produce the same scent.  Raspberry ketones would also be part of this category as well as many other natural aromatic compounds


Naturally derived is a term causing the most confusion of all in the marketplace.  Naturally derived means that an ingredient was once part of nature; however, it does not stipulate how far back in the processing chain the item was a whole, natural item.  Most surfactants (including SLS which is derived from coconut) and polysorbates (derived from sugar) fall under this category.  We know looking at the aforementioned ingredients that they no longer resemble their original plant form at all.  A wooden table is closer to being a tree, than polysorbate is to being sugar.  So in essence, this term is more of a marketing gimmick than anything and should be taken with a grain of salt. 


Final Thoughts

I personally feel, due to the above, we need to regulate the word natural in the marketplace.  I am not one for regulation and feel many things in our industry are overregulated, but too many people are capitalizing on the non-existent definition and making false claims, confusing the public.  The natural product industry is becoming more rampant with misleading and false information.  It needs to be adjusted.  Hopefully the above will clarify a bit of the confusions for everyone, but until regulation occurs, we will just need to know our ingredients and the processes they underwent to be the final material.  Vendors will have to be honest when marketing their products and educate consumers along the way and suppliers (such as myself) will have to take responsibility for ensuring the manufacturers of the finished product are informed.  

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