It is something that I hear all the time, “Natural is better!” But, is it really? We make natural skin care products here at Kaiya Naturals. So, naturally, we have a financial interest in the answer being a strong “yes”. Lucky for us, the natural/organic trend is the fastest growing trend in many industries, including the skin care industry. When I go around asking, “Why is natural better?” the response is almost always the same, “Because it is!” What this tells me is that this notion is a core belief.
Core beliefs are thoughts and assumptions we hold about ourselves, others, and the world around us. They are deep-seated beliefs which often go unrecognised and yet they constantly affect our lives. However, sometimes core beliefs are incorrect. Could the core belief that “natural is better” be wrong?
Before we can answer the question of whether “natural” is better, we must first define what we mean by it. If we agree to follow the Oxford English Dictionary definition we come up with:
1. Existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind.
1.1 Having had a minimum of processing or preservative treatment.
Our question then becomes:
Is something that is derived from nature and minimally processed or preserved, better than something that is made by humankind, and/or given more than a minimum amount of processing or preservative treatment?
To answer this we must determine if there are instances where “unnatural” is better.
“True soap” is a synthetic material. You will not find it in nature. There are soap plants that have been used in a similar manner. However, soap is a substance that is made through chemical interactions with materials that must be made my humankind (lye, sodium lauryl sulfate, etc).
If natural is better, then soap should be avoided. However, according to the CDC, “not washing hands [with soap] harms children around the world.” This is because it prevents the spread of disease, which in turn battles the rise of antibiotic resistance. In the case of soap, natural is not better.
Aspirin is a synthetic pain reliever. The compound from which it is derived was originally extracted from the bark of a willow tree in 1763. Almost a hundred years later a purely synthetic version was created that did not burn throats and upset stomachs as badly as the more “naturally” processed version.
If natural is better, then aspirin should be avoided in favor of ingesting opium. Opium is a powerful natural painkiller that has been used for thousands of years. However, it is also highly addictive. In the case of pain relief, it would seem that natural is not better, either.
Natural Isn’t Always Better
These two cases bring us to the conclusion that natural is not always better. In fact, they both highlight a common issue with natural solutions. In both cases the active ingredients are either not concentrated enough to provide the necessary benefit, or they are lost in a sea of other compounds that have effects we are not looking for. When it comes to delivering powerful, isolated effects, materials that are made my humankind, and/or made with more than a minimum amount of processing seem to be better.
When Is “Natural” Better?
Over the course of the industrial revolution we have ravaged our planet. We have stripped our atmosphere, contaminated our water, irradiated entire cities, and created a geological record that will serve as a marker of our pollution for millennia (plastiglomerate).
This highlights a common issue with “unnatural” materials and methods. This issue is the hazardous long-term effects. While “natural” is not always better, it is better in most cases where there will be long-term use, or exposure, for both the environment, and for our own health.
Recently, the FDA banned the use of 19 common ingredients in over-the-counter antibacterial soaps. The FDA did this because it determined that the risk of systemic absorption, and antibacterial resistance, from long-term exposure, outweighed the benefit of preventing infection.
Endocrine disruption occurs then the body’s delicate system of hormone-signalling is altered. We covered this in our article, “The 411 on Endocrine Disruptors.” One of the 19 FDA banned ingredients, triclosan, does exactly this. The disruption that it causes has been linked to a higher rate of breast cancer in women, thyroid disfunction, and cardiac muscle dysfunction.
The Take Away
“Unnatural” materials and methods may be better when you need a powerful, isolated solution. However, you need to weigh that benefit with not only the risk of its longterm use on your health, but with the collective longterm exposure to the environment. In the long run, “natural” is, almost always, better.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only.