We’re often asked “Are your products Natural?”
Now we’re not chemists, or Scientists, or ‘experts’ but we have spent a hell of a lot of time talking to these experts and asking the hard questions since we started Homethings.
Our conclusion – it doesn’t feel natural to call our products Natural.
That might seem an odd statement to make given that we spent many months developing our products with chemists with the strict brief that they had to be non-toxic, natural or naturally derived, vegan friendly and compliant with third party accreditations such as Ecocert and banned lists such as Prop65.
So why are we not shouting from the rooftops that our cleaners are bottles of kick-ass plant powered goodness that you could have grown in your garden?
Well, in short – we believe it's a false claim that plays into a potentially dangerous consumer narrative.
Firstly, there is no industry wide agreed definition of what the terms ‘natural’ , ‘naturally derived’ or ‘plant based’ actually mean. The ambiguity leads to brands applying their own definitions and interpretations with no standardisation, otherwise known as greenwashing.
For example, we use citric acid as a key ingredient in all our products for its wonderful cleansing properties. It is a ‘natural’ ingredient found in citrus fruits but the industrially produced version, whilst chemically identical, is made ‘synthetically’ in factories through a fermentation process and not by painstakingly hand-squeezing lemons.
Sodium Hydroxide is another ingredient commonly found in soap based products carrying ‘100%’ natural claims. Almost all sodium hydroxide is ‘synthetically’ made in industrial plants due to it’s safer and lower environmental footprint than it’s ‘natural’ cousin.
Is it right to call these ingredients natural? We think probably not.
Secondly, our view is that the increasingly popular consumer narrative that “natural” automatically means a better, safer, more environmentally friendly product is flawed.
Ricin, poison ivy and radioactive radium are just three examples of the many highly toxic substances found in nature. Our belief is that the key issue should not be whether an individual ingredient is ‘natural’ or ‘synthetic’ – but rather the key for brands and formulators should be about applying a consistent set of ‘values’ to your product development considering the story of each individual ingredient. For example:
How and what is it derived from?
How environmentally friendly is this ingredient?
Is there any scientific evidence that it is a ‘toxic’ or ‘harsh’ chemical that should be avoided?
Third party accreditation schemes are very helpful in this regard for maintaining an external benchmark.
Lastly, the environmental issues are not always clear cut. Let’s make one quick comparison to draw attention to the issue here...
It’s now widely accepted that commercialised production of ‘natural’ animal proteins for human consumption is having a detrimental effect on the environment and potentially also on human health.
New players are rightly being heralded for their innovation in creating ‘synthetic’ lab based animal proteins that could have a huge role to play in a future sustainable food chain.
Contrast that to essential oils. Commercial production of natural essential oils is also hugely resource intensive. It takes almost 10kg of rose petals to create just 5ml of rose oil, and over 2.5kg of lavender flowers to create just 30ml of lavender oil; yet there is a perception that ‘natural essential oils’ automatically means a more environmentally friendly product.
Natural essential oils are also some of the most problematic ingredients to formulate with when you are trying to make your products safe and hypoallergenic. Many people can have reactions to some natural essential oils with symptoms including rash outbreaks, dermatitis or even more severe allergic reactions.
Synthetic alternatives can often be produced with a much lower environmental footprint and with the benefit of hypoallergenic properties.
At Homethings, one of our core values is transparency. We believe in calling out misleading things when we see them and presenting the facts as we see it too.
So. When it comes to Natural v Synthetic, the reality is really a much more complex picture then you’d imagine painting and that’s why you won’t find us calling our products ‘natural’. Mic drop.
Disclaimer: this article contains the opinions of Homethings.