Natural vs Synthetic Skin Care – A Sensory Consideration

The conversation around natural vs conventional skincare is a hot topic! A myriad of opinions can cloud our decision-making process when faced with all the beauty offerings on the market. It is vital to distinguish between validated truths and blinding myths. A cardinal misconception is that scientific = synthetic and natural = homemade. Formulating conscious, effective, natural skincare is as much a scientific endeavour as formulating conventional beauty products.

Natural skincare poses different challenges to the formulator as the arsenal of ingredients available differ. Because of this, natural products often look, feel and smell different than conventional beauty products. Let’s look at the main sensory differences between natural and conventional beauty products.

Skin Feel

Big beauty brands allocate a large amount of the formulation cost to sensory enhancers. Ingredients that alter the feel on application are often modified silicone polymers that can create an almost three-dimensional sensation on the skin. These types of ingredients however are not suited for use in natural skincare.

When formulating natural skincare, oils and butters dictate the feel of the final product. This can lead to formulations having a heavier and more occlusive feel on application. Unlike synthetic occlusives, the natural oils and butters absorb quickly, leaving the skin feeling nourished.


In natural more so than conventional products, the ingredients that make up most of the formulation, determine the texture. In anhydrous (free from water) products, like balms, great texture variations may occur due to temperature fluctuations. As the product heats and cools, the fatty acids present in butters and waxes solidify at different temperatures. The result is a grainy texture that melts on skin application. These changes in texture are extremely difficult to control.

Synthetic anhydrous products on the other hand are often petroleum jelly based. Seeing as petroleum jelly is devoid of the beneficial fatty acids, it behaves differently when subjected to temperature changes. It tends to liquify and solidify to a uniform paste. Thus products, like petroleum-based bum creams, can become soft and melted and settle back to a uniform consistency.


The first thing most people do when trying a new product is to smell it. The global perfume market was worth USD 31.4 billion in 2018, meaning scent is a big deal. This includes fine fragrances and perfumes used in personal care products. Vast amounts are spent on developing signature perfumes to lend identity to a brand or range. Perfumes serve to mask the smell of underlying ingredients as well as create a pleasant experience. Although care is taken to create safe perfumes, they still account for the majority of skin reactions in conventional skincare products.

When creating natural offerings, essential oils are used to enhance the smell. The benefits of using essential oils are the aromatherapeutic value and healing properties they add to products. Studies have shown essential oils are anti-microbial, ant-inflammatory and mood-enhancing to name but a few. Even though they add value to a product their volatile nature may cause adverse reactions in some people.

It is important to remember that each person’s skin behaves in a unique manner. If you are prone to reactions or want to err on the side of caution, test products on the forearm before commencing full-scale use.

Product Performance & Shelf-live

Natural products may perform differently from their conventional counterparts. This is probably most obvious when comparing foaming of liquid or gel cleansers, body washes and shampoos. The sulfate-free and gentle ingredients available for use in natural products do not foam with the same ferocity as SLS or SLES for instance. Thickening of the products are also more difficult and natural gums are required. Gums can result in a jelly-like texture. When formulated with care, natural alternatives do less harm to the lipid content of the skin by reducing the amount that is washed out upon cleansing.

Natural ingredients have a shorter shelf life than refined and synthetic ingredients. As a result, the finished beauty products also tend to have shorter shelf-lives. This is to ensure the client gets the best possible product, offering the most benefits without compromising on safety.  

Natural beauty products can complement a healthy, wholistic lifestyle. Understanding the sensory differences one can expect is key in creating the best experience.

At JOMAR natural skincare for babies and toddlers we pride ourselves on choosing the right ingredients for the job and delivering these as unadulterated as possible. We try and keep ingredients to a minimum and reduce processing times to ensure we deliver our products with Nature’s benefits intact.

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