Are ‘Natural’ Skincare Products Better for You? What Are They?

Right now, it seems like everyone is about pristine beauty. On social media, you may see it as influencers declare that switching to an all-natural skincare regimen has improved the appearance of their skin. It’s evident on store shelves, where a plethora of items advertise themselves with images of lovely flora and words like “nontoxic.” In fact, 2022 market research from Brainy Insights projects that the natural skincare industry would almost treble, reaching $12.27 billion, between 2021 and 2030.

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The problem is that “natural” is a somewhat nebulous phrase. According to Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, “there is no formal system that regulates ‘natural’ or a legal definition of what this term means.” Customers may find this confusing since firms may claim a product is natural even if it includes non-natural substances, according to the expert.

What You Actually Get If You Choose “Natural” Skincare

The labels “natural” or “nontoxic” frequently imply that the product is free of artificial chemicals that many people find irritating or that may be connected to health issues, or both, according to Jennifer Chwalek, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. According to her, these substances might include colors, fragrances, and certain preservatives like parabens. However, that’s not so much a promise as it’s a customer impression.

The terms “natural” or “organic” do not guarantee that the product is safer, more hygienic, or better for your skin. For example, dermatologist Rebecca Kazin, MD, an assistant professor in the dermatology department at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, states that these phrases do not imply hypoallergenic. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] states that the product is less likely to produce an allergic reaction when labeled as “hypoallergenic.”) Furthermore, natural solutions won’t instantly solve your skin problems if you have a delicate complexion. Dr. Kazin adds, “If a patient is having skin issues, I might recommend they try a product where I know exactly what the ingredients are, that they shouldn’t have a reaction to.”

After all, according to Dr. Garshick, plant-based compounds can cause inflammation. Poison ivy is a prime illustration. Though poison ivy isn’t used to make creams, essential oils found in natural goods might cause a skin response that is comparable. Dr. Chwalek names limonene and bitter orange as two prevalent causes. She continues, “And bergamot oil can make skin more sensitive to the sun.”

But Do Ingredients in Skincare Products Really Seep Under Your Skin?

Whether or if the “natural” chemicals in skin care products are absorbed by your body is another crucial consideration. “A lot of these molecules [found in chemicals for skin care products] are too big to get through skin. However, technology has advanced and is now discovering ways to fool skin into absorbing more in order to increase efficacy, according to Kazin. A possible benefit is that in the end, a lower concentration of an active component could be possible.

Conversely, proponents of clean beauty assert that some systemic damage might result from particles penetrating the skin. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes that research suggests that some of these ingredients—phthalates and parabens, for example—may be endocrine disruptors, or chemicals that alter hormones and raise the risk of cancer or reproductive issues, even though the FDA claims that these ingredients are safe when used as directed. People frequently discuss how using these substances is prohibited in Europe. Though it does permit the use of certain parabens in limited levels, the European Union has actually outlawed the use of five parabens. Currently, 20 parabens or compounds similar to parabens are permitted by US regulators.

Additional Concerns Regarding Skincare Product Ingredients

There are numerous unknowns regarding the chemicals utilized in components for skin care products, even though there may be good cause to be concerned. “What concentration or level of exposure do these chemicals become problematic at?” asks Chwalek. According to Garshick, further study is required because many of these studies have been carried out on rats that are exposed to significantly higher concentrations than usual. In addition, since these compounds are included in a variety of different goods, including food, it is unclear how exactly these fit into the bigger picture of overall exposure.

Regretfully, we still lack all of the answers. You may select the skin-care items that fit your budget, your values, and your skin-care objectives in the interim. Our dermatologists advise that while naturally derived substances might be effective, natural or organic products can also be pricey. You can work with your dermatologist to identify options that will be suitable for your skin type if they are out of your price range.

Glossary for “Natural” Skin Care: Terms and Definitions

Five-free This phrase, along with others like 7-free, 10-free, and 15-free, can be seen on nail polish labels belonging to nontoxic manufacturers. These figures represent the quantity of compounds absent from nail polish. For instance, a nail polish labeled as “5-free” means that it is devoid of formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde resin, and camphor. However, there is ongoing discussion on the consumer safety of these “-free” goods, according to Harvard Medical School.

Natural In contrast to popular belief, the FDA has no control over the “organic” designation on skin care products or cosmetics. However, in compliance with the National Organic Program (NOP) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the formula may be certified organic if it contains agricultural products. A product has to contain at least 95% organic components in order to be eligible to bear the USDA Organic Seal. When anything is marked “made with organic ingredients,” it indicates that at least 70% of its ingredients are organic, but the seal cannot be applied.

Free of parabens According to the FDA, parabens are preservatives that are intended to stop bad things like mold and bacteria from growing in your items. These are known by their respective names: methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl parabens. Despite ongoing investigation, the FDA states that “at this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health.” A product without a paraben label is paraben-free.

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