How natural are Aubrey Organics?
Aubrey Organics, a company founded in 1967 by chemist and former carnival magician Aubrey Hampton, claims to manufacture hair, skin, and body care products that are “100% natural”. Hampton has even written a book, Natural Organic Hair and Skin Care, in which he lays out his philosophy on these matters in some detail.
I’ve been using the company’s products for a number of years, mostly their shampoos and hair conditioners, and had until recently taken their claims about the naturalness of their products at face value. However, as a result of the more accurate labelling on their products as of late and my growing knowledge of cosmetic chemistry, I no longer accept the claim that their products are “100% natural”.
Here are some of the discoveries that led me to change my mind:
- For a long time, Aubrey Organics used the ambiguous term “Coconut Oil-Corn Oil Soap” on its shampoo labels. It would be easy to assume, as I at first did, that this referred to actual soap, i.e., a substance made by reacting oils with lye, but no, what this really refers to is a detergent called coco glucoside, which is made from “coconut/palm fatty alcohols and glucose obtained from corn.” As far as detergents go, this one is considered relatively benign, but Aubrey Hampton knows better than to call it “soap”, and it’s hard to see why this detergent should be considered any more “natural” than, say, cocomidopropyl betaine, another coconut-derived detergent which Aubrey routinely denounces. I’ve seen dish detergents at the grocery store in which coco glucoside was a primary ingredient; should they be considered natural too?
On p.276 of Natural Organic Hair and Skin Care, Aubrey cautions readers to stay away from purportedly natural products which contain ingredients said to be derived “from coconuts”; does that mean we should avoid the shampoos his company makes?
- In his sales literature, Aubrey makes out his “Coconut Fatty Acid Cream Base” to be a unique, proprietary “absorption base containing essential fatty acids” and “coconut fatty alcohols,” when in fact it’s nothing more than cetyl alcohol — which is a common, off-the-shelf ingredient — dissolved in denatured alcohol and water. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this ingredient, but that Aubrey would hype it up as something special and exclusive to his products shows you just how shrewd of a salesman he is.
- Despite what Aubrey claims, grapefruit seed extract (GSE) is not a natural preservative, and when one looks at an Aubrey Organics product label in which the ingredients and their quantities are accurately represented rather than being obscured behind phrases like “Aubrey’s Preservative” and “Coconut Fatty Acid Cream Base,” it’s clear GSE constitutes a significant portion of some of the products.
- Aubrey condemns the “quats” (quaternary ammonium compounds) which are ubiquitously used in mass-produced hair conditioners; well, it turns out that GSE is a quat (benzethonium chloride), and from what I’ve been able to piece together, so are hydrolyzed proteins, including the “hydrolyzed sweet almond protein” which is a main ingredient in Aubrey’s Island Naturals Conditioner and which datasheets indicate has “antistatic” and “hair conditioning” properties, these being characteristic of quats. In the quantities at which GSE is used in Aubrey Organics hair conditioners, I suspect that it’s not just there to act as a preservative, but also to serve the same detangling and softening functions as quats do in other companies’ hair conditioners.
Now don’t get me wrong: I consider Aubrey Organics products to be of high quality, and they undoubtedly contain more natural ingredients than most of what’s on the market.
My concern is that Aubrey Organics is representing its products as being far more natural than they really are, which strikes me as dishonest, particularly when it attacks competitors’ products for having ingredients which it itself uses, albeit in hidden form.
The bottom line is: if you need something to be 100% natural, without any artificial preservatives, the only way you’re going to get that is by making it yourself in small batches and quickly using it up before it goes bad. As soon as a product containing large amounts of water has to sit on a store shelf for several months, it’s going to need an effective (and that means artificial) preservative. Aubrey Organics is no exception.
Aubrey wants you to believe that his company’s products are the same as those he helped his mother make in her kitchen during the Great Depression, but that is simply not the case.