Natural-based personal care products have become more popular in recent years as marketers and consumers discover the benefits of natural ingredients such as vitamins, herbs and materials derived from the sea. At the same time, however, as natural products gain widespread acceptance, a true definition for the term natural becomes more obscure.

The word natural is easily twisted, noted Warren Raysor, president and founder of Abra Therapeutics, Forrestville, CA. The meaning depends on who is trying to define natural. Is petroleum natural? Are all things that exist in the world natural? It depends on who is defining it.

Natural ingredients are seasonal with limited quantities. Smaller companies relying solely on natural ingredients must target smaller audiences. And larger companies often use the word natural as a marketing tool, but their products are 99% synthetic, according to Mr. Raysor.

Of course, there are benefits to using synthetic materials. For example, synthetics are uniform from batch to batch. With natural ingredients, each batch is unique, taking more time to perfect the outcome. And despite recent reports, the safety of synthetics versus natural ingredients is not a black and white issue, said Mr. Raysor. He noted that the company uses Parsol 1789, a synthetic sunscreen, in several products.

There are a lot of natural things you dont want to get next to, such as poison ivy, while many preservatives are not harmful. But natural often suggests nutritional, Mr. Raysor said.

Using natural ingredients is also beneficial because customers are often more familiar with herbal names than other naturally-derived ingredients.

Vitamin fractions are generally so difficult to pronounce, customers dont understand their value, said Mr. Raysor. Herbals, on the other hand, are easier to understand and read.

Abra has had long associations with herbal formulators, organic farmers and producers. The newest Abra product is Adaptagen Phytoserum which contains green tea, sage leaf, Siberian ginseng, schizandra berry and grape seed to protect environmentally threatened skin. Green tea, a natural photo-resistant and anti-carcinogenic leaf, has been used for thousands of years in eastern tea ceremonies.