Guest post by Nicki Zevola, the owner of FutureDerm.com.
Buying beauty products used to be so simple: There were “natural” products and then there were basic products. Your friends who liked granola and dressed like Kate Hudson used natural products, and your friends who ate salads and who shopped at Saks used non-natural products.
But now that it is trendy to shop at Whole Foods, lines have become blurred. It’s no secret that I don’t believe in using only natural products – there are simply too many super-efficacious synthetic ingredients and delivery systems out there. However, out of respect for those who do, here’s an unbiased, researched guide:
1. NOT TRUE: Natural means “non-toxic”.
Many natural ingredients are capable of causing irritation. I’m almost always skeptical of people who swear they have sensitive skin that is “cured” with all-natural products, as these can have dozens of ingredients that are known irritants. Chamomile for those with ragweed allergies, natural red dyes for those with carmine allergies – the list goes on. And let’s not forget poison ivy is natural, but you wouldn’t rub that all over your skin!
Lavender essential oil can also be a problem. Lavender was featured in Cell Proliferation in 2004, which demonstrated that lavender oil was cytotoxic in vitro (i.e., in culture), most likely through damage of the cellular membrane. The authors of the study attributed the damaging cellular activity to linalool, a natural component of lavender oil.
Of course, all beauty product ingredients are regularly reviewed by the FDA. Clearly, these same results were not repeated in vivo (in living tissue), or else the ingredient would be banned.
2. NOT TRUE: Harsh growing conditions leads to more resilient plants that are better for your skin.
I’m not going to name names, but some products incorporate extracts from plants grown in extreme conditions – heat, cold, you name it. They claim that these conditions make the plants more resilient and hence better for your skin.
These conditions do make the plants more resilient, but they delete the usefulness of the plants for your skin. Truth be told, under stressful environmental conditions, plants divert energy towards survival, resulting in stunted growth, as well as less nutritive leaves and extracts.
3. NOT TRUE: All scientists and physicians believe in the alarming ingredient databases.
The scientific review policy is rigorous, and for a reason: It protects people. Even though scientists are usually respectable, straight-laced, tight-lipped types, it’s hard to get grant money and even harder to get work published amongst such cerebral competition. Sometimes scientists will use ingredients, like parabens, in 20000x concentrations to generate publishable results. I worked in labs for seven years as a pre-medical and M.D. student, and I learned how important it is for scientists to double-check one another, to question one another’s findings, and to demand repeatability of results.
Unfortunately, there are databases out there that automatically “tag” any published study without any of this questioning. There needs to be an educated review board that makes pervasive conclusions amongst all of the studies. Instead, most of these just “tag” any published result, no matter whether it’s directly relevant to skin care and cosmetics or not, just because it’s published.
Most of these are run by political non-profit groups, and many women believe them because they’re not for monetary profit, not questioning the idea they could be out for gaining a different kind of power: power in numbers.
Yes, publishers of journals are pretty skeptical, but the FDA does not keep concluding mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, and even sulfates are safe in beauty products because they’re not. They are. Even though sulfates can be drying, they are safe unless you are allergic to them.
So bottom line: synthetic and natural products are a lot more alike than you think. Chemicals are chemicals, whether they come from artificial or natural sources. Synthetic and natural vitamins, minerals, and other compounds have the same activity and receptors, and the same risks of toxicity – though, truth be told, those risks are extremely low with organizations like the FDA and EU in place.
What do you think about natural skin care and cosmetics? Do you think the trend is dying, or is it here to stay?
About the author: Nicki Zevola is the owner of FutureDerm.com, which analyzes beauty from a scientific perspective. She is releasing her own state-of-the-art cruelty-free time-release retinol 0.5 treatment on August 16, 2012 through FutureDerm.com.