The Truth Behind Natural Skincare
The beauty industry is full of jargon, particularly when it comes to natural skincare. Marketed terminology is loaded with meaningless, empty adjectives that confuse and ‘greenwash’ customers. The truth is, messaging around ‘natural skincare’ isn’t definitive within the cosmetics and wellbeing industry — there’s no legal definition. Therefore, many brands use this to their advantage and throw around words such as ‘nasties’ ‘clean’, ‘non-toxic’ and ‘natural’; creating a meaning of their own.
Are natural ingredients safer than synthetic ingredients?
Some brands go so far as to say that chemical-led products are bad for the skin, using adjectives such as ‘harmful’ and ‘dangerous’ as a fearmongering technique to steer customers towards natural ingredients. They claim that going ‘natural’ is the only solution for a healthy complexion, and is safer and better for the skin.
However, this isn’t the case as there’s no scientific validity. For example, often natural essential oils can have a high allergenic potential. Synthetic alternatives can be created to reduce this, whilst also minimising impact on natural resources of the oils. Just because a product is deemed ‘clean’ and ‘natural’, it doesn’t mean that it’s better for the skin or hypoallergenic.
What does the FDA say?
The FDA have stated that ‘an ingredient’s source does not determine its safety. Many plants whether or not they are organically grown, contain substances that may be toxic or allergenic’. Board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Corey L. Hartman uses the example of organic poison ivy. Though natural, it can be very harmful just like snake venom, botulinum toxin and arsenic – to name a few.
In natural skincare, the most common ingredients to look out for are citrus fruits such as bergamot oil and bitter orange which can increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, causing irritation and redness. Always remember to patch test new products before adding to your routine – particularly if you have sensitive skin.
‘Be led by science, not fear’ – Skin Rocks founder, Caroline Hirons
When formulating natural skincare, it’s extremely difficult to measure effectiveness and potency as you’re competing with the environment. Everything from seasonal shifts to changes in soil minerals affect the results in production every time. It’s hard to predict the outcome.
Natural ingredients are also not tested as much as synthetics and chemicals, which tend to be more consistent and repeatedly trialled for enhanced safety and have better purity levels.
What about preservatives?
Natural cosmetics often shun the use of proven safe ingredients such as preservatives, including parabens. These highly stigmatised preservatives prevent dangerous organisms and mould creeping into our skin and beauty products. Yet, the industry has misled consumers to believe parabens are ‘toxic’ when in fact, the FDA has found them to be ‘completely safe for use in cosmetics’ (note, the word ‘toxic’ is always dose-dependent; it’s about the dose, not the ingredient).
Parabens are one of the safest and most-tested ingredients in the industry. If there were any cause for alarm, it should be focused on the less studied, preservative-free skincare. Just think about the shelf life of fruit and vegetables at home — to keep mould and bacteria at bay, you’d have to keep these products refrigerated and replace them every week.
Natural vs chemical and synthetic-led ingredients
Some natural ingredients can work wonders for the skin, but we want to clarify that they’re not necessarily better than chemicals or synthetics. You can, of course, incorporate both in your routine, but synthetic and chemical-led products are generally more effective and deliver better results.
Things to remember:
‘Natural’ does not mean better, safe or safer.
Essential oils can aggravate sensitive skin and cause allergic reactions as often as fragrances synthesised and developed in a lab.
Parabens are safe. Preservatives are strictly regulated in the cosmetics industry (particularly in the UK & EU), and cosmetics scientists can only formulate using preservatives that have been approved for use.
There is nothing you need to avoid in skincare (in terms of health).
The word toxic is always dose-dependent.