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Are Natural Cosmetics Ingredients Free from Petrochemicals?

Many cosmetics carry the labels “natural” or “petrochemical-free” to stand out from competition as the demand for products containing renewably sourced ingredients continues to grow. Due to the complexity of sourcing various ingredients from around the world and the large range of choices available, it is in the interest of manufacturers and distributors to have analytical proof that the ingredients used to make natural cosmetics do not contain petrochemical-derived substances.

Synthetic ingredients used as emollients, emulsifiers, humectants, preservatives and surfactants in cosmetic products are usually sourced from petroleum derivatives. Their natural counterparts are oftentimes more expensive. This is especially true for essential oils. The demand for natural essential oils and fluctuating crop availability or quality make their prices significantly higher than the synthetic variety.

To make sure that the natural ingredient procured is not fake or adulterated with cheaper petrochemical compounds, a manufacturer’s quality control measures should include natural product source testing using Carbon-14.

Verifying Petrochemical-Free Ingredients

Radiocarbon-based standardized analytical methods such as ISO 16620-2 can be used to verify that a cosmetic ingredient is devoid of petrochemicals. Results of ISO 16620-2 testing show the percentage of the total carbon in a product that comes from natural sources (biobased carbon) versus the synthetic (petroleum-derived carbon).

Materials sourced from nature have a known radiocarbon (Carbon-14) level. Blended substances with both petroleum-derived and renewably sourced components, however, will have a significantly lower radiocarbon level. Chemicals that are 100% sourced from petroleum derivatives have no radiocarbon left. Because of these distinctions, measuring the radiocarbon content of a material can be a reliable tool in proving that it is indeed free from petrochemicals.

For example, Ingredient A wholly made from renewable sources (e.g. plant extracts) will be 100% biobased according to ISO 16620-2. Ingredient B, composed of 60% plant-based extract and 40% petroleum-based, will have a biobased percentage significantly less than 100%. For a cosmetic ingredient to be petrochemical-free, it must be 100% biobased.

Beta Analytic’s Fast Cosmetics Testing

ISO/IEC 17025:2005-accredited Beta Analytic measures isotopic ratios and reports results for natural products source testing according to ISO 16620-2 8.3.2: biobased carbon content as a fraction of total carbon. The Miami-based lab provides results in 2-5 business days. Results can be accessed online 24/7 including QA reports and sample photos.

Cosmetics Natural Products Source Testing