Synthetic vs Natural Skincare: What’s the difference and which one’s better?

Understand the difference between synthetic and natural ingredients, and choose the best type of skincare for you

The onset of ‘clean beauty’ and consciousness regarding sustainability and natural ingredients in skincare products has snowballed into a debate between synthetic versus natural skincare. While there are advocates on both fronts with strong arguments, their advice seems to pinball in different directions. This has created a binary of sorts that leaves the majority of the consumers feeling perplexed as to which ingredients to pick and which ones to avoid. In the midst of this debate, one thing is certain, whatever choice we make, it should be an informed one. Hence, in light of this, here’s everything you need to know about synthetic vs natural skincare, the differences, and what you should opt for. 

What is the difference between synthetic and natural skincare?

Synthetic, or chemical, skincare involves ingredients that are scientifically derived or made in a laboratory. The formulas tend to be chemical copies of natural ingredients, for example: Hyaluronic acid. On the other hand, there is no one set definition of natural skincare. ‘Natural’ can mean multiple things and is unregulated in the industry. This enables many companies to mask their products as being green, when in fact they are far from being natural. The most basic explanation can be that natural skincare includes ingredients that are derived from plant-based sources like botanical oils. Conversely, it implies products lacking synthetic preservatives, such as parabens, that help extend the shelf life of products.

Which one is better?

2.21 Blog post Which one is better

The polarisation in the beauty industry as a result of the two ‘camps’ has made it difficult for consumers to decide on one of the two. While natural skincare is blamed for their inefficacy, chemical ones are said to be harmful. The answer is that none of these claims are true or scientifically-backed. Natural skincare is not necessarily the best for you and similarly, chemical products are not inherently dangerous. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Natural products can be highly-effective, if they are formulated with the same attention to government-mandated standards that are given to chemical ones. On the other end of the spectrum, chemical products are seen under a questioning lens simply because of our inability to distinguish between different chemical names, the inherent fear that comes along with this misunderstanding, and the larger overarching notion that ‘chemicals are bad for you’. An important point to keep in mind is that when it comes to chemical formulas, the idea of a product being seemingly ‘chemical-free’ is not possible. At its most fundamental level, everything is a chemical, from water to oxygen. Natural products, on the other hand, are not always efficient, ethically sourced, or organic simply by virtue of them being ‘natural’. You will find substantially toxic natural products as well as bio-available chemical ones. Hence, there is no one category that is purported to be ‘better’ than the other. 

Which one should you opt for?

2.21 Blog post Which one should you opt for

Both synthetic and natural skincare have their pros and cons, but the answer and choice is dependent on you. Beauty is very personal so only you can decide what works best for your skin, whether its natural or synthetic ingredients. For some, it may be an amalgamation of both. You may find synthetic serums with active ingredients have a greater efficacy on your skin type, but that you like to follow your serum with a naturally-derived emollient. The bottom line is to make an informed decision about the same. Researching and reading the ingredients list are of primary importance. For the best results on your skin, don’t give in to the binary and interrogate both chemical as well as natural skincare products well. 

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