Are you feeling confused about whether you should be favouring products with natural ingredients only? Is there a product you’d like but the fear of synthetic ingredients is stopping you from buying it? If yes, then you should read further as it will probably give you some interesting insights about synthetic versus natural ingredients, and why it’s not always a no-go.

First, we need to define the difference between both:

  • A natural ingredient or ingredient of natural origin is either an ingredient used as a whole, without any major transformation or extracted from a natural source. For example the Vitamin C from an orange.
  • A synthetic ingredient is 100% man-made in a laboratory, it will be the exact replication of the natural ingredient at a molecular level. For example, the Vitamin C’ scientific formula is C6H8O6 (carbon, hydrogen & oxygen). It can be quite easily created in a laboratory and there is no absolute need to take it from a vegetable, or worse in some specific ingredient’s cases, animal source.

Sourcing of a component of natural origin versus synthetic

It is also important to understand HOW vitamin C (or any other ingredient), will be extracted from the natural source. The process highly depends on each ingredient and each source, but there are some inevitable steps such as “digesting or processing” the plant material and extracting the component itself by using solvents (it can be water or alcohol for example). This process implies that other components may be extracted with the vitamin, and also the chemicals used to extract it may also stay on the ingredient. These are all factors that could potentially create issues on your health of the effectiveness of the extracted ingredient.

On the other hand, a synthetic ingredient can be done from scratch using only a few needed components, meaning that the level of purity will be potentially higher. With a higher level of purity, the risks are reduced as there are fewer “triggers” for allergic reactions, endocrine disruptions, or more…

The body point of view – difference & absorption

The first thing to know is that your body is not able to make the difference between a vitamin of natural origin and its synthetic copy. At a molecular level, the important point is the molecule itself.

The big difference absorption wise will occur in foods. It is always healthier to have a balanced diet because when you absorb vitamins while eating fruits or vegs, you are also eating fibres, sugars, water, and all of these combined play an important role in our bodies and are better absorbed altogether.

On your skin, it is different, you need to bring the components directly so they will have to be either extracted or synthesized.

The ethical concerns

Another point you may not have thought of is ethics. How do we know that all the ingredients that can be synthesized, but are coming from natural sources instead, do not exploit soils to the detriment of local populations and/or the Planet? How do we know that the water used for the crops will not be taken from reserves used by a local village?

Not all the synthetic ingredients created in the past years can be considered as good alternatives, some of them are actually pretty bad for us. However, when one of these turns out to be harmless, we would encourage its use, as laboratories will be less likely to use foods or local & essential resources to produce them.

The results and efficiency

In the food supplements world, some studies have been conducted to find which is best between a vitamin coming from a natural origin and the same but synthetic. The results were that there isn’t much of a difference. There is a big gap however between these vitamins alone, and eating fruits and veg, as it will always be the best way to get your vitamins. But since the skin can only receive active components, it will not be able to make the difference as said earlier so results will be most probably the same.

The objective of this article is not to push the synthetic ingredients to the first place. We, at The Discovery, ban any controversial ingredient (natural or synthetic) that is known to cause health or ethical issues. We want you to be aware when you buy non-toxic skincare products, that not all of the synthetic ingredients are necessarily bad for you or your skin. We hope this blog gave you some clarity about the main differences we can find between both versions of a vitamin or any other ingredient that can be synthesized.