Natural products have become increasingly popular in recent years, with vegan and plant-based ingredient sales seeing a 27% spike in 2020 alone, according to the Plant-Based Foods Association. This carries over into supplements, vitamins, skincare, and even cosmetics. However, natural ingredients pose some unique challenges when it comes to clinically testing products.
What defines a natural product?
When it comes to skincare, natural products must be generally free of synthetic fragrances, dyes, parabens, sulfates, and phthalates. These products can be harsh or irritating to the skin, and natural skincare opts out of them in favor of botanically derived ingredients. Dr. Gunt, the head of clinical and scientific affairs at popular natural skincare brand Burt’s Bees, also states that these products should be responsibly sourced from nature, meaning no animal testing and no petrochemical feedstocks (which are essentially byproducts of petroleum fraction used to produce chemicals or plastics.)
For vitamins and supplements, food sources are usually listed as either 100% animal or plant-based with no synthetic ingredients, dyes, or flavoring.
Check your ingredients lists to know for sure. One thing to spot is when products list nutrients themselves as individual ingredients (e.g. vitamin C), or use chemicals such as ascorbic acid, they are usually synthetic.
What are the challenges?
Clinical research in supplements is obstructed by several primary challenges, including shortages in funding due to the lack of patentability of natural ingredients. There are also manufacturing and contamination difficulties to contend with, along with the potential lack of product consistency across different batches.
When it comes to marketing, it can be challenging to find the right language, as natural products can have varying effects from person to person. The US government does make every attempt to protect the health and safety of supplement consumers, such as through the Federal Trade Commission’s role in mandating “Truth in Advertising.”
These challenges may best be remedied by approaching clinical trials through the eyes of consumers, and what results actually matter to their health, safety, and well-being. To find out more about what kinds of clinical trials accomplish this, and how you can get started, read more down below.
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