From the incense-scented corners of new age herbal shops to the bright fluorescents of conventional grocery shelves, natural body care has transitioned into the mainstream of American beauty culture. No act symbolizes this more aptly than Clorox’s 2007 acquisition of natural cosmetics innovator Burt’s Bees for nearly $1 billion ($913 million, to be exact). But what exactly is natural body care?
For Every Body
By Jessica Capets Chevalier
Consider for a moment that skin, the largest organ of the human body, absorbs up to 60 percent of whatever it comes in contact with. In fact, it is estimated that a 60-year-old woman has internalized approximately 30 pounds of moisturizers over the course of her lifetime, according to holistic skin care company Dr. Hauschka. Unlike food that is processed through the liver for purification, chemicals absorbed through the skin are unprocessed and stored in fatty tissues and organs throughout the body. Many consumers are left wondering, what exactly is in those 30 pounds of moisturizer, as well as in shampoo, nail polish, lip-gloss, and foundation?
According to BTrue Naturals, more than 33 percent of skin care products have at least one ingredient that has been proven to cause cancer. An Environmental Working Group survey found that “one of every 13 women and one of every 23 men are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable human carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) every day through their use of personal care products.”
This view is not supported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA). The CTFA is the leading national trade association for the cosmetics and personal care industry. In conjunction with the FDA, and as a general summary, their research shows that most of the body care ingredients identified by groups as being harmful to your health are in fact safe to use given extensive research and subsequent regulations established by the FDA in conjunction with the CTFA. For more information on research that has been conducted and detailed summaries specific to ingredients used in beauty care products, go to the Personal Care Products Council website www.personalcarecouncil.org.
What is startling to groups not in agreement with the FDA or the CTFA, is that the United States does not mandate full exposure of transient ingredients, those that are not technically added by the manufacturer but are contained within the individual ingredients themselves, on body care product labels. In other words, there could be potentially harmful chemicals in your night cream that you’ll never even know about.
But don’t feel blue about that perfect loose powder that covers your age spots and fills your crow’s feet. Fortunately, there are many natural body care products available.
Lena Iqbal, a licensed esthetician and owner of Chattanooga’s Euro Med Spa, explains, “Natural skin care is based on using botanically-sourced ingredients existing in or formed by nature, without the use of synthetic chemicals, and manufactured in such a way to preserve the integrity of the ingredients.”
“Natural body care does not utilize fragrances, dyes, or parabens,” says Karen Noell of Greenlife Grocery. The safety of parabens, a group of chemicals used as anti-microbial preservatives in the cosmetic industry, is being debated within the scientific community.
Can natural ingredients really pull their weight against the harshest of skin ailments? Absolutely. For instance, is excessively dry skin plaguing your winter months with itch? Toss aside your petroleum jelly for shea butter, a natural fat extracted from the fruit of the shea tree.
“Shea butter leaves a protective coating on your skin, but still allows the skin to breathe,” says Patricia Nunley, owner of Dogwood Farms, a natural bath and body care products manufacturer in Rising Fawn, Georgia. “It is mild enough to use on infants, and it can actually be ingested as cooking oil.”
Oatmeal is another excellent natural solution that serves as a soft exfoliant and moisturizer. Amy Gossett of Plum Yummy, an all-natural body care and food company in Rome, Georgia, uses both oatmeal and local honey in her soaps. Honey serves as a healing agent for skin and scalp.
Lena Iqbal says consumers should do their research when considering product ingredients. In fact, some ingredients sound complicated, but are actually quite natural. For instance, lactic acid is derived from milk and hydrates and whitens the skin. Glycolic is from sugar cane or rhubarb and acts as a strong degreasing agent. Citric acid, found in citrus fruit, helps the skin attract and hold moisture. Kojic acid, a derivative of mushrooms, acts as a strong antibacterial agent and effectively evens out skin tone.
If you are worried about juggling these terms at the makeup counter, take heart. Chattanooga has many purveyors of natural cosmetics that can point you in the right direction.
Greenlife Grocery, for instance, stocks products that follow a stringent set of guidelines: all-natural products free of parabens, fragrances, dyes, and other chemical-based ingredients. From dandruff shampoo to natural astringents, toothpaste to henna-based hair tints, Greenlife’s knowledgeable staff is able to provide information about a wide variety of natural body care products.
You may find a multitude of the best skin care products among the best grocery choices anyway. According to Myra McChelle Eby, founder of MyChelle Dermaceuticals, the pulps of blueberries, cranberries, and pumpkin are all excellent exfoliants, which also provide antioxidants, enzymes, and acids that promote cellular turnover. As these non-toxic skin care products flush down our drains and into the environment, it, too, will thank us for our natural, chemical-free choices.
1. Know your companies and stick with brands that you trust to provide full disclosure of ingredients. Dr. Hauschka, for instance, sources the majority of its ingredients from biodynamic and organic farms and voluntarily submits to Germany’s BDIH Certified Natural Cosmetics standards, which hold the most stringent guidelines for purity. BDIH provides a list of cooperative manufacturers and seeks to protect not just the consumer, but the environment as well.
2. Utilize a resource guide, such as A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter, which outlines safe and unsafe body care ingredients. Take the guide along when you are cosmetic shopping.
3. Check your labels. Grab your resource guide and determine the true nature of the ingredients in your products.
4. Recheck your labels on repeat purchases. Product formulas can change.
5. Keep up with the lingo. Find something new? Pop it into a search engine and study its origins.
6. Remember, terms like “all natural” are not supported by any legal definition by the FDA. Don’t rely on the front label only – verify the ingredients, too.
7. Look for local alternatives. Look for stores and companies that are close to home and get to know the products and/or people who work there. Chattanooga has many spas, locally owned grocery stores and locally owned skin care companies that can become trusted resources.
• Personal Care Products Council,
• Food and Drug Administration,
• BDIH. 7 February 2009.
• Darbre, P.D., et al. “Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumors.”
• Journal of Applied Toxicology. 24.1 (January 2004). 7 February 2009,
• Dr. Hauschka. 7 February 2009.
• BTrue Naturals. 7 February 2009.
• Eby, Myra Michelle. “Skin Care.” El Segundo: Active Interest Media, 2008.
Jessica Capets Chevalier is the owner of the Alchemy Spice Company and has lived in Chattanooga for six years. She was raised in Western Pennsylvania and earned a BA in English at Geneva College and her MFA in Writing at Penn State University.