Unpacking “Safe Synthetics” in Cosmetics

In the US beauty industry, the term ‘safe synthetics’ is quickly becoming as commonplace as terms like green, clean and natural. And while this new term may not be intended to literally replace the others, but rather add to the lexicon, it has added to consumer confusion. We see this as an opportunity to educate and differentiate - not hate. There’s a place for ‘safe synthetics’ in beauty. And we agree that not all synthetics are bad, just as not all natural ingredients are safe. We’ve made a choice to steer clear from commonly found synthetics in our base formulas, and use only natural derived, ethically-sourced ingredients, and our goal is to explain why, and why we believe it’s better for you. So let’s dive right in. 

We’ll begin with the definition of safe. The word safe is defined as protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost” and when applied to the mission of Au Naturale, it means that our commitment to people, planet, and process is not only “safe” but also natural and ethical. While there are many ‘safe synthetics’ that are innocuous on the skin, they are not harmless to the environment. This is a main distinction of Au Naturale. For us, it’s only considered ‘safe’ if it’s safe all the way down the food chain. As we unpack our perspective on what ‘safe’  means in the US beauty industry, please bear in mind that our desire is to promote health, champion sustainability, nourish environmental practices so that we can give consumers color cosmetics that not only align with their values, but live up to some of their highest ones. 

The amount of lab engineered ingredients in beauty is vast. In our ongoing series on Unpacking Safe Synthetics, we will focus on the most common categories. Today, we put the spotlight on three: Petrochemicals, Silicones and Parabens, and the degree to which we believe they are safe for people, planet and process.  

Petrochemicals, or chemicals that are made from oil and natural gas, are common in the world of cosmetics, and have recently been introduced by many brands moving toward a “safe synthetic” mission. Though one could argue that these ingredients are safe for use on the skin, we rule out the use of these ingredients because they are  derived from crude oil and natural gas in a fossil fuel, thus unsustainable and unsafe for the environment. . Petrochemicals account of 2.5% of US Oil consumption; common petrochemicals include: ethenol, Anything with PEG (polyethylene glycol), Phenoxyethanol, Anything ending in ‘eth’ indicates that it required ethylene oxide (a petrochemical) to produce e.g. myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth, Butanol and any word with ‘butyl’ – butyl alcohol, butylparaben, butylene glycol, Any word with “propyl” – isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, propyl alcohol, cocamidopropyl betaine, Methanol and any word with ‘methyl’ –  methyl alcohol, methylparaben, methylcellulose, Anything with DEA (diethanolamine) or MEA (ethanolamine), Parfum or fragrance – 95% of chemicals used in fragrance are from petroleum, Paraffin Wax, Mineral Oil, Hexanediol, and toluene. 

Common Synthetic Silicones may add a veil of silky moisture to the top layer of your skin, but they are not safe for the environment, and thus we view this ingredient category as unsafe for you. While the molecular composition of common synthetic silicons like dimethicone and dimethicone crosspolymer are large enough to never penetrate your skin, they also never biodegrade. This means that these ingredients do not decompose over time, and will exist in the environment for thousands of years, infiltrating our waterways and ecosystems. We also believe there are large data gaps in research on these very common silicones.  We stay abreast of any studies that focus on these ingredients so that we can continue to learn more and pass our learnings on to you. 

Since the 1950’s,  Parabens have been used in cosmetics to extend shelf life and have been directly linked to breast cancer and endocrine disruption. Parabens are so widely used that they are found in your body, and even in the bodies of dolphins in the ocean.  For these reasons, we at Au Naturale steer clear of commercial parabens and use only USDA Organic Lavender, Tocopherol (Vitamin E) and USDA Organic Xylityl Cocoate as ingredients ensure a two year shelf life on our product, and prevent any potential threat of bacterial growth. We fear that too little research has been conducted on purported ‘safe parabens’ and are wary of misleading information in this category. 

Consumer confusion around these three categories - synthetic petrochemicals, silicones, and parabens -   is deeply felt by us at Au Naturale. While the definition of ‘safe’ is still being defined, at Au Naturale we have set our own definition to meet our highest standards: we do not use ingredients that do not align with our commitment to health and sustainability. We believe advancements can be made in the natural world to elevate the performance of naturally derived ingredients, and we aim to be the conscious color brand that brings these innovations to you. 

In truth and health,



I was wondering is there talc in any of your products and are there any organic ingredients

Ali April 01, 2020

I really enjoyed reading these interesting facts about how unsafe the ingredients in makeup are. When I go to sephora or Ulta I always noticed that dimethicone (silicone) is in almost 99 percent of all full coverage foundations. I love the Au naturale foundation stick it gives amazing full coverage without all the nasty chemicals that are bad for our skin, health and the environment ❤️🌳

Cilla February 26, 2020

Hi Ashley,

Thank you for the informative and wonderful blog post on safe synthetics. I am in my 4th year of transition to ‘clean’ as well as cruelty free cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, etc.

I will share this with my friends.

Olga January 28, 2020

I just received my first order and really like the eye liner and shadow. I am so pleased to have discovered your line and really appreciate your explanation of what safe means to you.

Heidi January 28, 2020

Just received my first order!
Will try them today.
I appreciate your efforts to educate and provide products that are good for both the user and the environment.
Jan from Real Raw Beauty recommended Au Naturale.

Barbara January 28, 2020

I LOVE Au Naturale!! Thank you for caring for the planet and people

Morgan January 28, 2020

Thank you so much for that information.

aggiedee January 28, 2020

Such an interesting topic. I had no idea parabens could have an effect on sea life. Looking forward to learning more in this series.

Blythe Alpern January 28, 2020

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