The Importance of Natural Products in the Age of Modern Cosmetics

While browsing through Stacey Dugliss-Wesselman’s book The Home Apothecary, we were struck by the simple, direct and forceful argument that she makes in her introduction regarding the importance of considering natural products as an alternative to modern cosmetics. We thought we’d share her thoughts with you.

“Beauty and health are anage-old quest. Unfortunately, in modern times our beauty solutions have not exactly been the healthiest for us.

In our vanity, we have become lazy, opting for easier, quicker solutions like diet pills, cosmetics, and even surgical forms of beauty preparations and treatments.

Long before laboratory research and technology, botany and research went hand in hand. The plant life around us has long been used for both medicinal and vanity purposes to better our lives.

With the advancement of modern science, “natural medicine” has often been disregarded, and it has gained negative connotations.

Sadly, modern medicines and beauty preparations are often focused on only one ailment or remedy, while a single herb can treat a variety of things. Nature’s herbs and oils treat us internally and externally.

Although we tend to be slightly more mindful about what we put in our bodies, we don’t often think about what we put on them. But what we put on our skin and our hair goes into our bodies. Researches say that the body absorbs up to 60 percent of what we put on our skin–our biggest organ. With new products coming onto the market every day that claim to penetrate the skin faster, we should be aware of the hazards that may be penetrating it with them.

Mainstream cosmetic products often contain toxic ingredients such as carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and allergens. A carcinogen is a substance that causes cancer. An endocrine disrupter mimics or interferes with the body’s hormones and can cause reproductive or neurological damage.

The main problem is that we use so many products with so many ingredients. The average American woman uses twelve products daily (men use six), with upwards of 168 ingredients (85 for men) total. Further, we use them for long periods of time; although a deodorant containing carcinogenic ingredients may not harm you with one use, you most likely won’t use deodorant only once in your life.

We often put far too much faith in regulatory agencies to make sure our products are safe. For instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) leaves it up to the cosmetic industry to regulate itself. In other words, if it makes money and is cheap to produce, why change it regardless of its effects?

At a 1997 hearing on the FDA reform bill, the late senator Edward Kennedy warned that the “cosmetic industry has borrowed a page from the playbook of the tobacco industry by putting profits ahead of public health.” What the FDA terms “generally recognized as safe” doesn’t necessarily mean safe as in lab-tested, but safe as in consumer-tested–meaning already commonly used in consumer products.

There are also very limited restrictions on labeling and claims. Companies are allowed to leave certain ingredients or “trade secrets” off of packaging. Just because it’s not on the label doesn’t mean it’s not in the product. Also, with increased awareness of our desire for healthier, natural products, big industry has created a bit of “natural” product confusion, manipulating us into purchasing their so-called natural products by using gimmicks and catchphrases. A product can contain less than 1 percent natural ingredients–say a few drops of lavender oil—and still market itself as “natural” regardless of what else is in it.

The bottom line is “education is key. Read the label and know what harmful ingredients to be mindful of. Don’t assume that regulatory agencies will be responsible and warn us. Just because it’s an over the counter product marketed as making us more youthful and healthful doesn’t mean it’s safe or that it has been tested for its long term safety effects.”

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An apothecary is a skilled craftsperson who compounds herbal mixtures that enhance health and beauty. Put aside the modern world of tricky marketing and harmful chemicals and create your own apothecary solutions. They’re fresh, safe, and effective—and many are made from the wholesome ingredients already in your kitchen and garden.

Inside you’ll find:
  • Skin Care 101: How to make cleansers, scrubs, creams and lotions, tonics, and toners for oily, dry, sensitive, or combination skin—along with acne treatments, natural sunscreen, lip balm, and more
  • Body care recipes for homemade body scrubs, massage oil, body powder, and toothpaste
  • Remedies for what ails you, including healing cough syrups, compresses, teas, and tinctures
  • Hair care recipes for dry, normal, or oily hair—add shine, clear up dandruff, and control thinning and volume
  • Recipes for the home, including Kitchen Sink Scrub, Drawer Refresher, and Fly Deterrent
  • Plus, get inspired at your farmers’ market and explore seasonal recipes for a Pumpkin Mask, Cucumber Toner, and more!
Stacey Dugliss-Wesselman launched Cold Spring Apothecary (, a line of health, beauty, and home products that adhere to sustainable practices for people and the planet.
At Cold Spring Apothecary, everything is made in small batches in Cold Spring, New York, by Stacey herself. And instead of harmful synthetic chemicals, organic ingredients are the cornerstone of each product. Stacey was the recipient of a Daily Candy Start Small, Go Big entrepreneur award in 2011. She lives in Hudson Valley, NY.