Are Natural Products Actually Natural as Advertised? Check the Label
The Indian cosmetic market is growing rapidly and is expected to touch $20 billion by 2025. This continuous growth has been made possible by the rising demand for organic, herbal and ayurvedic products.1 Labelling is an important attribute along with price, brand and quality, that a consumer looks for before deciding to buy a product in the market.2 All drugs and cosmetics need to be labelled correctly and in the manner prescribed by law.3,4 Although everyone knows about the adverse effects of drugs, there is little awareness about the safety of cosmetics. Some consumers assume cosmetics to be safe and do not bother to read their labels, know about their ingredients and other useful information before deciding to use them.5
At present, toothpaste and other personal care products in the Ayurveda and natural segment are increasingly being preferred by consumers across the country. However, unbiased information regarding these products isn’t easily available to buyers and that’s why product details provided on labels remain the major source of information to them. Ideally, the label should display the list of all ingredients used in the product, net weight of the formulation, name and address of the manufacturer, license number, batch number, manufacturing date, caution notice, and much more. However, a majority of the labels do not fulfill all these requirements and some of them don’t even provide a complete list of ingredients used in their products. 6 Alongside, customers are not sure what qualifies as herbal products, and therefore, don’t pay much attention to the labels. This needs to be addressed in a county like India, where regulation can be lax. While in the US, the companies claiming that their products are completely natural have scientific data to support their claims and are highly regulated, the situation is completely different in India. The root cause is that there’s no single regulatory pathway for these herbal products and they slip through the cracks.7
“Herbal products are everywhere. But when you see their labels and read the ingredient list carefully ending just after detailing only a few herbal ingredients, you’ll begin to have doubts – is it fully natural and as efficacious and safe as it claims?,” says Dr. Bhairav B. Tawshikar Kulkarni, MD, Ayurveda Medicine, Shree Siddhivinayak Ayurved Panchakarma Center.
It’s not uncommon these days to find a long list of herbs — neem, lemon, essential oils, turmeric, aloe and more — mentioned as ingredients on the labels of herbal toothpastes and other personal care products. However, most of these products are fortified with fluoride, triclosan and other potentially harmful substances. Products free from toxic substances and formulated using only natural ingredients are truly natural and can offer tremendous benefits without exposure to harsh chemicals.
The hazards of a cosmetic product completely depend on the properties of the ingredients it contains. Even the herbal toothpastes available these days contain fluoride, triclosan and other questionable ingredients that are potentially toxic. Ingesting fluoride leads to chronic toxicity that could affect the brain, thyroid gland and other organs in your body. Triclosan, an endocrine disrupter present in conventional toothpastes, interferes with your hormones, leading to impaired brain and reproductive system functioning and altered behaviour and learning abilities.
What should customers be looking for, then?
In India, many ayurvedic formulations are easily available to you. But the label containing the word ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean that the toothpaste doesn’t contain potentially harmful substances. So, to make sure that the products you’re buying are natural, you should read the label carefully, look at the ingredients mentioned, and research the ones you don’t recognize. Sometimes, it can be difficult for the buyers to understand what’s in a product, especially when they see hard-to-pronounce and extremely long ingredient names. The products containing below 70% certified organic ingredients may only contain indications that an ingredient on the list is organic, but cannot be labelled organic. As a result, if possible, buyers should make sure that the toothpaste contains 100% certified organic ingredients. 9
Adopting a proactive stance is the key to protect your well-being, and that of your children. As a buyer, once you learn to recognize problematic and potentially toxic ingredients, you can easily avoid purchasing questionable toothpastes and other cosmetic products that may significantly add to your overall chronic chemical exposure.