Natural cosmetics and Standard cosmetics - What’s the difference?

In a previous article about natural cosmetic products, I wrote about the difficulty in producing actually natural cosmetics. This is particularly difficult for cleansing products like shampoo or body washes. I thought it would be instructive to compare a standard shampoo and a natural shampoo to see how they are different. If you’re formulating these types of products you have to decide which formulation route you’ll take.

What to compare

For this article I had to decide which products to compare. It’s pretty easy to find a standard shampoo (most of them are) so it makes sense to just take one that sells pretty well.  In the US, Suave is the most popular shampoo in terms of bottles sold. Other brands make more money but if we’re just talking units sold, no one beats Suave.

Finding a natural shampoo is a little trickier.I wouldn’t consider any of the top 10 selling shampoo brands to be “natural.”  Herbalessences tries to look natural but there is nothing particularly natural about their marketing.

In doing a search for “organic shampoos” I came upon this article about the top organic shampoos. It’s amusing because the author of the post is clearly taken in by the product marketing and has no idea that the products she is promoting are hardly natural at all.  But this is an approach that many companies take so I’ll just pick one of these products to compare.


Seaweed Bath Company - Balancing Eucalyptus and Peppermint Argan shampoo

Suave Professionals Rosemary mint shampoo 

General observations

One of the things you’ll notice about products in the natural arena is that they are often small manufacturers who don’t know the rules required for labeling cosmetic products. For example, in the Seaweed Bath company ingredient listing they use disallowed words like “plant derived” “natural version” and “corn & vegetable derived) in their ingredient list. They also specific “vegetable glycerin” which is not an approved INCI name.

The natural product is also a lot more expensive. It costs about $1 an ounce while the Suave product costs $0.10 per ounce.  Since Suave is such a low cost product made by a gigantic corporation and the natural product is made by a small start-up, the price difference isn’t surprising.

On to the formulas…


Suave Ingredients:
Water (Aqua), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Chloride, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Mentha Viridis (Spearmint) Leaf Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice [Aloe Vera], Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil [Lemongrass], Rosemarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower/Leaf Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Flower Extract, Fragrance (Parfum), Polyquaternium-10, Tetrasodium EDTA, DMDM Hydantoin, Citric Acid, PPG-9, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone

Seaweed Bath company ingredients:
Aqua (water) with Fucus Vesiculosus (bladderwrack seaweed) Extract, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe), Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate (corn & vegetable derived), Decyl Glucoside, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Vegetable Glycerin, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Oil, Hydroxyethylcellulose (plant derived), Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Babasuamidopropyl Betaine, Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B5), Citric Acid, Tocopherol (Natural Vitamin E), Polyglyceryl-10 Laurate, Eucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus) Essential Oil, Sodium Benzoate (natural version), Potassium Sorbate, Dimethicone, Gluconic Acid (plant derived), Mentha piperita (Peppermint) Essential Oil

All shampoos have the same types of ingredients whether they are natural or standard. These include the solvent, detergents, conditioning ingredients, adjustment ingredients, preservative and fragrance. Here’s how these products compare.

Solvent - Both products use the same solve…water. The Seaweed Bath company gets their labeling wrong by including the phrase “…with Fucus Vesiculosus Extract.” When you label water it is just supposed to be Water (Aqua).  If you’re selling internationally you can put aqua in parenthesis.

Detergents - This is what makes the product work. Suave uses standard detergents including Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Cocamidopropyl Betaine.  A good choice…cheap and effective.  The Seaweed Bath company uses Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate, Decyl Glucoside,Babasuamidopropyl Betaine, and Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate. Seems like overkill but those glucosides don’t clean and foam as easily so a little extra thought has to go into formulating. It’s notable that none of these ingredients are actually found in nature. You could say they are naturally derived but that could be true of both the Suave and the Seaweed Batch ingredients.

Conditioning ingredients - Suave throws a lot of non-functional natural extracts in the formula which might affect the quality of the foam and feel during application but the only real conditioning ingredient in their formula is Polyquaternium-10.  The Seaweed Bath company has a bunch of non-functional ingredients in their formula too. For conditioning, they rely on Dimethicone. Neither of these ingredients are found in nature.

Preservatives - Suave uses the highly effective system of Tetrasodium EDTA, DMDM Hydantoin, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone. This seems like overkill to me but it will certainly work.  The natural product uses organic acids to preserve their product including Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, & Gluconic Acid.  Citric acid is used in both formulas to keep the pH at 5.0 or below.

Fragrance - The standard product uses Fragrance in its formula.  The natural product uses a blend of essential oils to get its scent.  This includes ingredients like Eucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus) Essential Oil and Mentha piperita (Peppermint) Essential Oil. Other ingredient may contribute to the odor but those two will be the most prominent.

Claims ingredients - Both of these products are loaded up on the claims ingredients.  In fact, most of the ingredient list is claims ingredients.  In the Suave product there is

Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Mentha Viridis (Spearmint) Leaf Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice [Aloe Vera], Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil [Lemongrass], Rosemarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower/Leaf Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Flower Extract

In the Seaweed Bath company product there is

Fucus Vesiculosus (bladderwrack seaweed) Extract, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe), Glycerin, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Oil, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Panthenol, Tocopherol

These ingredients will have little to no effect on hair although they may affect the quality of the foam, the ability of the product to clean and the product odor.

Overall, there is definitely a difference in the natural product versus the Suave product but there certainly isn’t anything particularly more natural about the natural product than the Suave product. In fact, if it wasn’t for the label and marketing, you would be hard-pressed to call the product from Seaweed Bath a natural product at all.


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