The “Natural” Factor

A psychological ploy adopted by advertisers. I wonder what 'natural' means. Products labelled 'botanic', 'organic' or 'herbal' also may be called 'natural' products. We could equally say that deadly nightshade, poison ivy, a bee sting and rabies are all 'natural'. Yet the word implies something that is healthier and better for you. On the other hand, 'chemical' has negative associations, although one way or another everything is chemical; the universe relies on

chemical reactions for its survival. Water is natural, but it is composed of the chemical elements hydrogen and oxygen (H₂O).

Plants are natural but their growth relies on the chemical reactions caused by sunlight and by soil composition. The whole of our metabolism is a series of chemical reactions: to digest our food we secrete stomach acids and alkalis, while 'natural' sunlight chemically changes the colour of our skin and hair.

Even when natural ingredients are used, they have to be extracted, percolated, pulverized and mixed with other chemicals to preserve them. Furthermore, natural ingredients all vary depending on sunshine, rain, wind and soil conditions. They can differ from year to year in exactly the same location, as found with wine vintages or olive oil, making quality control almost impossible.

Natural may perhaps mean non-synthetic (although this is also difficult to define). Synthesize is the opposite of analyze. To analyze you break something down into its component chemicals. To synthesize you build up a compound from its component chemicals. In the laboratory the quality of chemical ingredients is easier to maintain and so is that of the compounds that are made from them.


Should the description 'natural' on a label influence your choice? By the time a natural ingredient has reached a commercial product, it is completely different to its original form. It may smell similar to the original and you may like the scent, so by all means use it. However, it is unlikely that an apple, avocado or orange cosmetic will be coloured by or contain the actual fruit, although it may smell like it. All it will have is the fragrance - which may have been synthesized. Truly natural expressed oils of flowers, herbs or fruits are many times more expensive. If you are buying a low-priced product, the chances are that the fragrance is not natural either. You may

have read that the product you buy is 'naturally preserved' with no artificial ingredients. However, you can't preserve a product naturally unless you freeze it. Any plant, fruit or food will spoil without preservation, and the most effective preservatives are chemicals, which are found in all so-called natural products.

Hopefully the point was maid. If you are psychologically attuned to what is natural as a 'feel-good' factor, then that is fine.

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