September 10, 2014

Are "All-Natural" Skincare Products Worth The Hype?

There is a very pervasive perception out there in Skincareland that "natural" is better because any products with chemical ingredients surely must be dangerous.  Read a long sounding name on a label and all sorts of red flags go up.

The thinking goes like... If it goes into a car, it can't go on the face. If it has a bunch of long names you can't pronounce, put it back on the shelf. It's usually the ingredients that are derived from petroleum that cause the most trepidation. But petroleum does come from the ground. ...Is that not natural? Silicone also comes from the ground.  As does heroin...

There is a question in the minds of many as to what happens after something has penetrated the skin: Do these ingredients go anywhere else in the body? Do harmful chemicals enter the blood stream? 

While there are many medications that are used topically, there really aren't the determents to health in skincare products that many claim.  As a colleague of mine said exasperatedly, "The skincare industry is not out to get everybody!!

In my opinion, there is more to worry about with pesticide or fungal laden kitchen ingredients in DIY home remedies than there is about whether or not you can pronounce everything on an ingredient list.

For home remedies that are actually ok for breakout-prone skin, organic is better, but it depends on the produce used.  You can't always tell when something has a fungal or bacterial problem if the item is not fresh.  But sadly, too many of the kitchen recipes suggested for skincare, even for acne clearing, contain pore-clogging ingredients. 

Question:  Should an Adult Acne sufferer use a natural skincare product line over a line that doesn't claim to be all-natural? 
Well, when it comes to acne skin, the answer is really... NO.

So, what's the deal here? Given that water is technically a chemical (H2O is the chemical designation of water), how can we tell what is made-up nonsense, what is actually ok for our skin, and what could be potentially bad for us?

First, we have to be sure how we define "chemical" and "natural."

Not every chemical is bad just as not every natural ingredient is good. Many ingredients that sound "chemical" are actually naturally derived, but they either: 

  • have a "chemical-sounding" name to make the formula look more scientific or,
  • are synthetic versions of more expensive or otherwise animal-derived ingredients, which are literally identical to the ones they're imitating.  Not practically.  Literally.

For instance, one of the most valuable and effective ingredients in skincare is a component called Sodium Hyaluronate. Sounds chemical to you? 

It's actually synthetic Hyaluronic Acid, which is something the skin naturally produces to keep itself hydrated. This is one of the most important ingredients in skincare because it holds 1000x its weight in water and binds water to the skin when the skin has lost the ability to do this by itself (especially as we get older). However, before chemists figured out how to synthesize Hyaluronic Acid in the lab, they had to harvest it from natural sources -- chiefly, rooster combs.

I know! Rooster combs!??! ...Eww!!!

Considering that the synthetic, Sodium Hyaluronate, is **exactly** chemically the same as the original (think of chemistry in terms of building blocks), and considering that it is also many times cheaper by the gallon, which version would you rather have in your beauty products?

Many "natural" ingredients are not good for skin and many more are completely disastrous for breakout-prone skin, like: cocoa butter, shea butter, all nut oils, avocado oil, and coconut oil. There is also a much greater chance of sensitivity reactions with "all-natural"-based products.  

In addition, there are botanical ingredients included to kill bacteria that really don't do a good enough job, and very few if any botanicals deal effectively with the main problem of acne, which is the dead skin cell and oil combo that make up blackhead material.  Every blemish starts out as a microscopic blackhead.  Oftentimes Tea Tree for bacteria and Salicylic Acid from Willow Bark for exfoliation can really be helpful.  Oftentimes they just don't cut it.  And this doesn't even touch upon the issue of how to get the skin hydrated rather than just lubricated.  I can't tell you how many clients I've come across who had been using "all-natural" lines, coming to me because of horrible clogging problems, insisting that they drink a ton of water, whose skin was **dry as a bone**.

While it's understandable to not want to put harmful things on your skin, there is a lot of misguided hype and misinformation out there designed to scare people into buying one product line over another.  

I carry two skincare product lines for acne-prone and sensitive skin types in my Studio (one of which has my name on it), and my philosophy is along the same line of thinking as my products' manufacturers: "Natural whenever possible; chemical when necessary."

Just to give some perspective, this is
 the best way I've seen the "all-natural vs. chemical" explained:
"If someone came into your house and offered you a cocktail of butanol, isoamyl alcohol, hexanol, phenyl ethanol, tannin, benzyl alcohol, caffeine, geraniol, quercetin, 3-galloyl epicatchin, 3-galloyl epigallocatchin and inorganic salts, would you take it? 
It sounds pretty ghastly. If, instead, you were offered a cup of tea, you would probably take it. 
Tea is a complex mixture containing the above chemicals in concentrations that vary depending on where it is grown.” 
– Dr. Derek Lohmann

So you see, it's really not as simple an issue as "pronounceable is better".  Oily and acne skin need hydrating, exfoliating, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial ingredients beyond what items found in your kitchen can offer.  Sometimes even beyond what all-natural skincare lines at the health food store can offer.

To find out if your skincare routine may be causing your acne problems rather than helping, please fill out my Eval by Email® form !

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