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skincare: natural vs. synthetic

How can we differentiate between synthetic versus natural skincare, what do we need to know, and is the polarisation of the two even beneficial?

There’s been quite a lot of buzz in recent years about “green beauty,” with Sephora-purveyors and beauty bloggers all flocking to the latest clean skincare brand, switching to the elusive “10-free” products and opting for the newest indie beauty item to enter the market. What’s the deal? Why is there so much chit chat about natural skincare and why is the mainstream stuff so passé?

Navigating the world of beauty and skincare can be daunting to begin with. Throw in ingredients you can’t pronounce and greenwashing - even more confusion is bound to arise. How can we differentiate between synthetic versus natural skincare easily? What do we need to know? And is the polarisation of the two even beneficial?

When it comes down to it, there really isn’t a completely clear solution (no pun intended) on what the best course of action is. Everyone’s skin is different and can vary drastically per person. While a 100% natural rosehip oil may be just the thing one person needs to clear her acne, it might cause flare ups for another. So well we can’t recommend the perfect all natural solution for everyone, we do know that on the flip side, traditional products laden with chemicals are definitely not something we want to be putting on our biggest organ: our skin.

The majority of people seem to be falling in either camp – natural versus synthetic, and there doesn’t seem to be much discourse when it comes to blends. Despite this, products that are rooted in nature but backed by science are growing in numbers, with effectiveness being the biggest claim. It really does come down to how effective a product is, and understanding that not all chemicals are bad.


Some synthetic ingredients that we would advise steering clear of:



Many companies are realizing the benefit (and thus, profit) that lies in “clean beauty” and are eager to hop on the green train. They might list their products as being “natural”, “clean” and formulated without any of the above-mentioned chemicals, but this can be grossly misleading. In a market where competition is beyond fierce, consumers can’t rely on labeling anymore and must read ingredient lists to really get the full picture. The fact remains that the FDA and other regulations have very lax definitions of what “natural” is, so for a skincare brand to say their products are natural or derived from nature can easily be a layer of greenwashing. A truly clean brand will list exactly how they are (devoid of parabens, SLSs, etc.) giving the consumer a more transparent idea of what they are buying into. So just as not all chemicals are harmful, same goes with not all natural products being actually natural.


What can you do?

Because there isn’t a completely clear action on what to do in navigating these unchartered waters of natural versus synthetic skincare, here are some takeaways and action-steps for anyone who is interested in getting more in tune with their skincare regime:

  • Read ingredients and labels: Try and stay away from the 3 chemicals we listed above that are known to be harmful, and be mindful of misleading messaging and greenwashing

  • Get informed: As much as we are a convenience society looking for answers, we do have to take matters into our own hands when it comes to our skin. Read more blogs like this, listen to podcasts from industry insiders, and educate yourself on the ins and outs of skincare and beauty.

  • Ask about ethics: Remember that clean skincare doesn’t just extend to ingredients, but the ethics of the brand as well. Do they test on animals? Who makes their products? Are they taking responsibility for their plastic waste and production pollution? Are they sourcing their raw ingredients from ethical and sustainable sources?

  • Less is more: A simple routine never hurt our grandmothers, so when in doubt, opt for less. Find a great face cream (been hearing wonders about Drunk Elephant’s Peptide cream), a really good cleanser (a personal favourite is Sahajan Skincare’s Essential Oil Cleanser), and remember to exfoliate (I use the PMD Clean and swear by it). Follow up your cleanser with a toner and then night oil (loving Wolf and Pine’s Lady of the Night Oil) and you should be good to go!


In a world of over consumption and constant messaging, the best thing you can do is become friends with your skin, figure out what works for you, and stick with it! You know your skin best.