What does "all natural" really mean?

Posted by Emily Rubeo on

What does living more naturally mean? 

Alright.. this is a topic that gets my goat. The phrase "all natural"... sounds great, right?  When I hear "all natural" I think entirely derived from nature. Can't go wrong with that label, right?

Silly me though, this is often not what such a label means when you're purchasing food, cosmetics etc.. 

Defining your terms is so important. 

The FDA (for what they're worth to ya), has very loose guidelines for what phrases like "all natural" or "made with natural ingredients" are defined as. In fact, the definition they have states that they consider natural to mean, “that nothing artificial or synthetic (including colors regardless of source) is included in, or has been added to, the product that would not normally be expected to be there.”  Well, that's vague and leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation. 

Many people (I'm happy to see!) are moving toward more and more "natural" lifestyles.  I hear from people almost daily that have this very goal. They've realized that highly processed garbage is not good for them or their children but many have not defined for themselves how much processing is bad and why.  Many things we consume or use are processed to some degree.  They've read that "chemicals", "preservatives" and pesticides are linked to things such as cancer and hormonal disruptions but they don't really know what chemicals or even how to define the word chemical. They hear about GMOs but do they really know what genetic modification is? They've heard that artificial colors are linked to behavioral problems, hydrogenated oils can lead to heart disease and the list goes on... 

These same families are also busy and many do not have the time to sit down and do extensive research so they reach for those products labeled "all natural" and twice the cost of the other stuff and trust that they've made a good decision for their family and that someone has approved these products and their ingredients as safe or healthy.  Many of those products, however, contain many hidden or obvious dirty ingredients despite the "natural" label. This upsets me.

In the food world, the use of MSG, for example, is labeled under many different names to disguise its presence in a product.  "Natural flavoring" is one of those names.  MSG is controversial, however, it gives me terrible headaches and I need to avoid it.  Companies can often "justify" their use of certain ingredients based on what it's derived from.  For example, high fructose corn syrup is derived from whole grain corn and I've seen companies include it in their "all natural" products.  High fructose corn syrup, however is actually made by extracting the starches in corn into a syrup made of glucose.  An enzyme is then added to convert some of that glucose to fructose which produces an even sweeter taste.  Keeping all sugar consumption down is a healthy habit but this syrup, in particular, has been linked to obesity and diabetes and has come a long way from it's whole grain original state.  

I am only just barely scratching the surface here as an introduction to get you asking and hopefully beginning to answer some important questions.  I very well may write another post about the meat industry and factory farming separately and another with a list of ingredients to look for and/or avoid if you chose.  Aside from ingredients, ethical practices is another topic of concern, including how things are raised, harvested, mined or maintained. I'll also talk in the future about cleaning products and give you some of my favorite recipes for them. It's really a rabbit hole when you start to think consciously about all the products you use and consume on a daily basis. See..as I started my first blog post stating..  I tend to ramble.. My husband, listening to me talk in a stream of consciousness from one topic to the next, often looks at me and says, "oh.. your beautiful mind" and gives me a kind smile. Oh, well... 

On to the world of skin care and cosmetics. Another realm (my realm for this business) where the term "natural" gets overused and hard to decipher. When it comes to the cost of products, oh boy does it get insane! 

Again, in an attempt to appeal to a broader consumer base of those who are increasingly concerned about what's in their skincare products, companies will use the buzz word "natural". These products, however, may only contain a couple "natural" ingredients.  Some will say this is due to lack of government regulation.  I simply see it as lack of integrity from the companies and I always advocate for consumers to read the labels thoroughly and know what they are looking for before buying.  Some companies will be honest, open and stay true to values they hold and others will not and will always seek to cut corners.  Just as there are good and bad people in this world and it's up to us to weed through.

Our skin is our largest organ and some of what we put on it gets absorbed into our body and bloodstream (not all, don't worry!).  It seems logical to me, that we should be just as mindful about what we put on our bodies as what we put in them.  Take a second and count how many products you use on your skin every day.  For me (depending if its a hair wash day or if I needed to use my facial scrub) that number is 10 at the highest. For many, that number is much higher. Lotions, oils, deodorant, body sprays, scrubs, soaps, shampoo, conditioners, toothpaste, mouthwash and all the face makeup you may use are all products in this category.  There are also the ointments and rubs we use when we have ailments.  Oh, and hairsprays, gels and dyes. Then think about your baby or child if you have them.. diaper creams, powders, sun protection and medicines. Then we can get into clothing and bedding and detergents and on and on..  Again, it's a rabbit hole when you start to think about it. 

In seeking truly natural skincare products many avoid things that contain ingredients such as sulfates, parabens, petroleum, ethoxylates, formaldehyde donors, alcohols, or artificial colors. Have you heard of these ingredients? The best thing you can do is opt to learn about individual ingredients, their detrimental effects or benefits, common practices in growing, harvesting or extracting them and their effects. Picking products with the fewest ingredients and those you can recognize is a good start. You'll find that some things sound scary but really aren't! Good research practices are your best defense.

This is cumbersome, I'm aware. I'll attempt to help you with this as best I can and you can take it leave it. I will always be transparent about what is in every product I make and sell.  If you'd like to know where I got it from, I will also be transparent in that information.  I will endeavor on writing in depth posts about specific ingredients so you can better understand every one of them and how to maybe start using them yourself. Please understand, this is a lot of information. 

Ultimately, the decision is on you as the consumer to decide what does a natural routine mean to you.  Where do you draw the lines and how do you define these terms?  Petroleum is formed in a natural process from hydrocarbons, yet many avoid it on their skin and in their food and we don't usually consider it a desired natural ingredient. There are very few "natural" emulsifiers, preservatives or dyes so depending on what products you are seeking it may be hard to be strict in your definitions.  I rarely wear makeup and therefor do not sell it and I also don't really advocate for its use though I understand many women (and I suppose some men) like to wear it.  Makeup is certainly difficult to find truly pure and natural products depending on your definition of natural. In a future post we'll go over terms like "naturally occurring",  "naturally derived" and "nature identical". 

My family is the most important thing to me and they are who I make all these products for first and foremost.  In that, I hope to offer you some comfort and confidence in them.  I trust so little that I insist on making pretty much everything myself from single ingredients.  The majority of the ingredients I buy are certified Organic when possible and I've read up on the suppliers' practices. 

The key is finding what is practical for you and your family and deciding where to start.  Obviously, not everyone can raise all their own meat and produce and make all their own products. Everyone can make some though and that which you can't make or raise, seek out trusted sources for.

For me, like 12 years ago, I started a challenge to myself.  Whenever I ran out of a product for cleaning or skincare, I vowed to teach myself to make it myself instead of buying more.  This was a way to keep things manageable for me so I wasn't trying to learn everything at once. It then took many years to get to where I am and I am still learning and adding new skills all the time. Back those 12+ years, if you were to tell me that some day I'd have all this land, many garden beds, fruit trees, a greenhouse, raising pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats, and feral children, I would have told you it was a fantasy.  With hard work and dedication and the right people on your team, amazing things can happen. 

This ended up longer than I anticipated.. 

So, to end.. what does "natural" mean to you?  What are the lines you draw?  What are your goals for living more naturally and consciously? I'd love to know and how can I help. 

With love, from our home to yours. 

Mama Bumble.

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  • Relying on government to tell us what is good for us is the easy way out. We must be responsible for our own lives and do the research to understand what the truth is. I appreciate the knowledge “Bumble” has accrued and fully trust her products.

    Donna Hamburg on

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