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Natural vs. Organic

By: Carl Thornfeldt, MD
Posted: January 30, 2009, from the February 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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This means that the effectiveness or safety of a botanical ingredient is dramatically impacted by events such as those necessary to get the ingredient to market.

A natural or organic product does not always implicitly equal a safe product, either. Botanical-based products usually provide multiple functionalities and stable formulations of highly reactive ingredients. While it can be notoriously difficult to create efficacious and stable commercial formulations, botanicals containing multiples of these ingredients already exist in nature in stable mixtures that can be extracted.

For example, one of the world’s most deadly bioterrorist products is called ricin. It only takes about a teaspoon of ricin to kill up to 40,000 people if ingested via a city’s water supply or inhaled through a heating and cooling system. However, ricin is actually an extract from the castor bean, and another extract from the castor bean is azelaic acid, which is a top ingredient for treating rosacea. So this one plant produces two very different extracts with vastly dissimilar functionalities and safety. This example illustrates why skin care and spa professionals need to be mindful of and knowledgeable about what ingredients are in their products, as well as the ingredients’ safety and efficacy.

Essential effectiveness

A natural or organic ingredient at any concentration does not implicitly equal an effective product. Many of the more than 320 herbs used in skin care products are at concentrations below therapeutic ranges in order to minimize the risk of any unpleasant, adverse reactions. In other words, simply putting an ingredient into a formulation does not mean it will have any effect on the skin.

A major challenge to the clinical efficacy of any herbal extract is the delivery of therapeutic concentrations of the desired active ingredients across the stratum corneum permeability barrier in a functional state. Laboratory data of the function of an herbal extract cannot lead to the assumption of its effectiveness in treating human skin conditions with topical application. In fact, only one out of 350 new chemical entities with in-vitro data reach human prescription drug approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so producing an effective and safe non-prescription topical product requires complying with a known development path to overcome these challenges.

Regarding regulation