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Are natural extracts better than water?

Liz asks…Since water is usually the first ingredient of any shampoo… then all these extracts are basically taking the place of plain old water. What would make this formulation different is the concentration of the extracts in the purified water, no?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Think of it like this, Liz:

Let’s say my shampoo is made of mostly water (about 90%) and the rest (10%) is detergent, preservative, thickener, color, etc. So my ingredient list would read something like…

“Water, detergent, preservative, thickener, color, etc.”

Now, let’s say I want to make this formula look more natural by adding a bunch of plant extracts. I ask my supplier for a cocktail of 10 or 12 different botanicals which are supplied at low concentrations in water (sometimes alcohol, glycerin, or polyethylene glycol is used as a diluent along with the water.) So I’m still adding almost 90% water but now that water contains a few percent of botanical extracts. Since these extracts (along with the water in which they are diluted) make up the majority of the formula, I could create an ingredient list that looks something like this…

“Aqueous Purified Water Extracts: Camellia Sinensis Extract, Citrus Aurantium Amara Peel Extract (Bitter Orange), Astragalus Root (Membranaceus) Extract (Milk Vetch), Schizandra Chinensis Fruit Extract, Pinus Tabulaeformis Bark Extract (Pine), Vitis Vinifera Seed Extract (Grape), Sedum Rosea Root Extract, Rehmannia Chinensis Root Extract, detergent, preservative, thickener, color, etc.”

Of course this ingredient list is not following the official International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) which requires that water be listed first since it’s present at the highest concentration. You don’t get to count all of the water as extract since the true extract is present at a very low level. The majority of the product is STILL water but it certainly looks more natural when presented this way, wouldn’t you agree?

If the listing followed the U.S. rules (ingredients listed in order of descending concentration until 1%, below which they can be listed in any order)  it SHOULD like this.

“Water, detergent, thickener, etc. Camellia Sinensis Extract, Citrus Aurantium Amara Peel Extract (Bitter Orange), Astragalus Root (Membranaceus) Extract (Milk Vetch), Schizandra Chinensis Fruit Extract, Pinus Tabulaeformis Bark Extract (Pine), Vitis Vinifera Seed Extract (Grape), Sedum Rosea Root Extract, Rehmannia Chinensis Root Extract, preservative, color.”

The other important question to ask whether or not the extracts will make the shampoo work any better on your hair. The truth is the vast majority of botanical extracts won’t do anything for your hair (especially when applied from a shampoo, since they just rinse away.)

You have to be very careful when buying so-called natural products so you’re not tricked into spending more money on a product that isn’t really any different.

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{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Hamfan March 6, 2014, 12:27 am

    This is really interesting. Do you think this is what’s going on with the labeling on this Trader Joe’s conditioner too: http://www.makeupalley.com/product/showreview.asp/ItemId=79238/Balanced-Moisturizing-Nourish-Spa-Conditioner/Trader-Joe-s/Conditioner

    On one of the reddit boards, someone said they were using it because the fatty alcohol content was so low and fatty alcohols supposedly made the OP break out. This surprised me, because the product is visibly creamy and conditioner-like. I didn’t see how it could be that way if it’s mainly water and rosemary oil, but I wasn’t confident enough to press the issue.

    What do you think? Dodgy labeling?

  • Randy Schueller March 6, 2014, 2:19 pm

    @Hamfan: Below you’ll find the the ingredients for the Trader Joe product.

    It does appear that they may have “stacked the deck” by listing all the extracts first. Here’s why I say this:

    Certainly you would expect a product based primarily on water and liquid extracts to be thin and runny. Yet, a reviewer on Makeup Alley describes the product as “so darn thick, it can be difficult to spread…” This is odd since the only two solid ingredients which give the product its creaminess and its conditioning properties are Acetamide MEA and Cetyl Alcohol, which are placed almost at the very end of the ingredient list. My guess is that it would take AT LEAST 3 to 5% of those two ingredients to provide a reasonably thick product.

    So, I think there are two possibilities regarding the ingredient list:

    1. The ingredient list could be correct as stands assuming that each extract is used at a higher concentration than Acetamide MEA and Cetyl Alcohol. This is doable but would result in a very expensive product.

    2. The ingredient list is “dodgy” as Hamfan suggested.

    Now, that’s not to say this is a bad product. In fact, my guess is that it’s excellent for cowashing given the lack of silicones and cationic agents. But just don’t think all those extracts make it a better product.

    Purified water, organic rosemary oil, organic valencia orange citrus, organic mango, organic lemongrass, organic ginko biloba, organic echinacea, organic willow bark, organic sea kelp, organic chamomile flower, organic textured soy protein, organic lavender, organic grapefruit citrus, Tocopherol (Vit E), Acetamide MEA, Cetyl Alcohol, Citric Acid, Methylparaben, propylparaben, botanical fragrance

  • theresa March 24, 2014, 10:25 am

    this is quite helpful, thanks. to take it one step further, what should one look for in an effective shampoo? are any “natural” shampoos really any better?

  • Randy Schueller March 24, 2014, 11:26 am

    @ Theresa: “Natural” is not better however there are differences in mildness between different shampoo formulas.

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