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Plant derived vs natural. We have a problem.

INCI Name:
Saccharide Isomerate (and) Aqua (and) Citric Acid (and) Sodium Citrate

The consumer may see nothing strange in this ingredient list, but the chemist or biochemist or biologist will ask “what on earth is saccharide isomerate”. If you are Hannah you will think that you must have forgotten something important because I used to know everything about sugars and polysaccharides. Is it age?

No. It’s not my age. Saccharide isomerate is an invention of the ingredients industry, great at pulling names out of the proverbial magic hat. Saccharide isomerate is a soup, a mix of unknown sugars made in the laboratory. And, as its composition is unknown, it can’t be said that is similar to anything in nature or in human skin. We will never know. But it’s water-soluble and easy to mix in any skincare product. The fact that we have no idea what it will do once it reaches the skin is less important, right?

And here lies the importance of separating plant-sourced from plant-derived. A chemical extracted from a plant maintains its chemical structure. Plant-derived is fluff. For some natural chemicals, it may also be dangerous. Chemists have been playing with derivatives of cannabidiol (CBD), a component of Cannabis sativa (marihuana) that has no psychedelic activity.  I like CBD because it helps with skin itch and pain, nasty symptoms that can be caused by a number of illnesses and are difficult to manage and it’s great to have a topical product that can help. If you go by chemical structure, CBD is safe and works nicely in topical products. But when people forget that what matters is chemical structure (and not words) there is danger.

The most common form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis plants is delta-9-THC, which is almost identical to delta-8-THC in its chemical structure. Delta-8 is a synthetic chemical derived from hemp. The molecules’ similarity means that delta-8 and delta-9 act very similarly in the body. Crucially, they both bind to the same receptors in the brain, particularly one called the cannabinoid type 1 (or CB1) receptor. Here is where wordplay instead of chemistry becomes dangerous: people selling delta-8-THC say that “since you can extract CBD from hemp, and CBD is not THC, it should still be considered hemp, and it’s legal. Let’s make money! And if people are hurt, that’s not my problem.”

Let’s be clear: what matters is chemical structure, not whether a certain chemical has started as a product of photosynthesis.

Let’s keep ourselves safe.  Understand the science.