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The headquarters of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is seen in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photo Reuters

The headquarters of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is seen in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photo Reuters

From the Soapman Blog

The FDA is looking for industry guidance in defining “natural” as it relates to consumer products. Here’s a perspective from the Soapman.

With the coming of the counterculture in the sixties and seventies a new paradigm for the concept of natural arose as applied to consumer products. This sub-culture elucidated a bio-based frame of reference for deciding which products were natural and which were not. Natural in this context came to mean plant-based rather than petroleum based, and this provides a solid starting point to work from.

Products that are more bio-based are by default more natural. To me this leads to the suggestion that perhaps natural like “organic” needs levels of naturalness. Following the lead of the National Organic Program we could perhaps have categories such as: 100% natural, 95% natural, and made with natural (70%), all relating to the percentage of bio-base content. Something to consider.

While this conveys the gist of the issue there is clearly more to the concept of natural than plant-based content alone. Natural is also a code word for safe and nontoxic. This is the consumer expectation. Ingredients that are suspected carcinogens, even when bio-based, must by definition be excluded from products designated as natural. Pthalates, phenols, chlorine compounds, hydroquinone, steroids, synthetic detergents and anything petrol based would thus be excluded.

Coal tar-derived colors such as Lake and FD&C colors are by definition, source, and toxicity not natural. Similarly, artificial fragrances and scents (often the same molecule) are not natural.

Heavily processed materials are not considered natural, while lightly processed products and ingredients are. Processing methods are part of consumer expectations of natural. Cold-pressed, citric acid or clay- refined oils are natural. Hydrogenated or hexane-refined oils are not.

Lightly processed clays, muds and salts and natural. Highly processed mined minerals are not. Mineral colors, while marketed as natural, are not natural and some may even be dangerous.

Ethanol is natural. Other forms of alcohol are not. Methanol might be the fuel of the future but it is toxic to humans and thus not natural for personal care product marketing claims. Isopropyl is a petro-based product and thus not natural.

Hybridized and heirloom seed stock is definitely natural. Genetically modified seeds and food products are not. GMO products have yet to prove their safety over time to the majority of natural-minded consumers who think about these things. Hybrids are natural, bio-engineered plants are not.

Radiological minerals are found in nature. But they are neither safe nor non-toxic and thus are excluded from the natural in products designation. So uranium in your shampoo – not natural.

To summarize, natural care products are by definition plant-based, safe and nontoxic, non-GMO and lightly processed. Or to put it another way, “natural” means as close to original form as is feasible and effective.

Is the FDA listening?

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