Synthetic vs. Natural Vitamins in Cosmetics

Written by: | May 16, 2016 | 2 responses


Vitamins are an important part of sustaining overall health. However, the value of natural vs. synthetic vitamins regarding our bodily health is debatable and controversial and ultimately beyond the scope of what we can discuss as a cosmetic manufacturer. We should all pay particular care to make sure we get the vitamins we need as vitamin deficiency can have serious consequences. The vitamins we apply topically in skin and hair care applications are beneficial, but not part of the nutritional debate. Because vitamins applied topically are not critical to nutrition, virtually all of the vitamins used in topical skin and hair care formulations are synthetic.

Can You Get Your Vitamins Through Cosmetics?

Unfortunately, our bodies cannot get the vitamins they need through skin care products. It is unlikely that topically applied vitamins have anything more than the mildest local effect on the cells in the outer epidermis. There is some evidence that Vitamin D may penetrate more deeply than this, but even so, it would not be possible to apply enough Vitamin D to the skin to get even a fraction of our daily recommended value. Ergo, the discussion on how our bodies digest and utilize natural vs. synthetic vitamins as well as long-term benefits or negative consequences, doesn’t apply to vitamins in skin care products.

Synthetic vs. Natural Vitamins in Our Diets

When it comes to natural vs synthetic vitamins in our diets, the experts are divided. There are those who say synthetic vitamins are toxic and cannot be properly digested by our bodies; that we should get all of our vitamins from whole foods, and that we should avoid all synthetic vitamins. This doesn’t take into account that there are many people who cannot absorb the natural Vitamin B found in leafy greens but who can absorb synthetic Vitamin B in a tablet form perfectly well. It is probably most accurate to say, “sometimes natural vitamins are better, sometimes synthetic vitamins are better and sometimes it makes no difference at all”. If you were to ask a Chemist, they would tell you that as far as chemical composition, there is no difference between synthetic vs. natural vitamins. However, there are Doctors who will tell you that synthetic vitamins contain no trace minerals, some of which are critical to making the vitamin effective, and must utilize the body’s mineral reserves depleting the body rather than nourishing.

Natural Vitamins in Cosmetics are Expensive

When it comes to vitamins used in cosmetics most customers are interested in ingredients that are both affordable and vegan. Natural vitamins are often animal derived. Fish oils, beef liver and egg yolks are the most abundant sources of natural vitamins such as A, D, E, K, and B12. Botanically derived vitamins are used almost exclusively within the dietary supplement industry where end-users are prepared to pay a high premium for natural botanically derived vitamins.

Botanically derived vitamins are dramatically more expensive than synthetic alternatives and are subject to unpredictable fluctuation in price and availability making them impractical for most formulations.

Between the years 2007 and 2012, the price of natural Vitamin E increased over 200%. I suspect many people remember this. I was Essential Wholesale’s buyer then, and I was doing everything I could just to secure an allocation of enough natural Vitamin E to meet manufacturing requirements for our needs and our customers’ needs. We were paying high prices to get our hands on natural Vitamin E, all the while grumbling and cursing under our breath, and of course, so were our customers. But those of us who must have natural Vitamin E must pay whatever the manufacturers demand.

The majority of vitamins used in the cosmetic industry are synthetic, but not all. It is demonstrated that the natural Vitamin E derived from vegetable oil has a far more potent antioxidant effect than synthetic Vitamin E. The dramatic difference in quality between natural Vitamin E and synthetic Vitamin E has no parallel with any other vitamin used in cosmetics. In skin care, natural Vitamin B3 has the same effect as synthetic Vitamin B3. But a formulator cannot swap synthetic Vitamin E for natural Vitamin E and expect the finished product to be of the same quality. If one wants the maximum benefits of Vitamin E one must use natural Vitamin E, such as Essential Wholesale & Labs’ mixed vegetable oil derived Vitamin E or our sunflower oil derived non-GMO Vitamin E.


Many cosmetic manufacturers claim to use only natural vitamins so it is important to remember that at this time the word “natural” is an unregulated term and unless formally charged with misrepresentation there is nothing to compel manufacturers to substantiate their “naturalness” claims.

Wikipedia describes the practice of “greenwashing” as follows:

Greenwashing (a compound word modelled on “whitewash”), or “green sheen, is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly. Evidence that an organization is greenwashing often comes from pointing out the spending differences: when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being “green” (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), than is actually spent on environmentally sound practices. Greenwashing efforts can range from changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment on a product that contains harmful chemicals to multimillion dollar advertising campaigns portraying highly polluting energy companies as eco-friendly.

As greenwashing becomes more prevalent in the cosmetics industry Essential is committed to being as transparent as possible in our marketing and product information, and, we put our money where our values are. This year we’ve stepped up our investment in green manufacturing practices and in alternative energy sources. We participate in carbon-offset programs and carefully vet our suppliers for sustainability.

In the end …

In the event that a customer wishes to formulate a product with natural botanically derived vitamins, and they are willing to pay for natural botanically derived vitamins, we are happy to accommodate in any way we can. It has been our experience that most people in the cosmetic industry are satisfied with the predictable cost, the steady supply, and reliability of synthetic vitamins– with a few notable exceptions, of course.

Drop us a line if you have any questions or concerns. We’re here to help.

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