If you have sensitive skin or are concerned about chemical overload, you probably instinctively reach for beauty products with ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ on the label. But does natural beauty always equal better? Nope, the experts don’t think so.
This may come as a surprise …
but there are many natural, plant-based ingredients that can cause really bad skin reactions. Poison Ivy is an obvious bad guy, but even seemingly harmless botanicals can cause your skin to freak out.
According to a study by dermatologists at the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, there are about 80 plant-based oils that can cause allergic reactions.
On the hit list:
• All fragrances, even natural essential oils, can cause your skin to freak out, so they are best avoided.
• Lavender, jasmine and tea tree oil are known to cause allergic-type skin reactions in some people.
• Propolis, derived from bees, is another common allergen (check the label on your lip balm!).
• Some people react to plants in the Compositae family, which includes chamomile, an ingredient often specifically marketed as calming and soothing for sensitive skin.
So synthetic ingredients are better than natural ones?
Well, they can be … the line between natural and chemical isn’t that black and white. Not even for lab coats.
Everything is technically a chemical (even water!) and anyone can slap ‘natural’ on a label (it’s not regulated). That means a natural ingredient can be toxic, and a naturally-derived ingredient can get a bad rap just because the process of making it suitable for skin means it falls into the synthetic category.
Is that making your head spin? An example might help!
Take Hyanify™ – it’s made by isolating and fermenting a marine bacteria and helps skin make its own hyaluronic acid, an essential component of well-hydrated, youthful skin. That technically makes it a synthetic ingredient, but it’s totally awesome for your skin.
(sometimes listed as petrolatum, paraffin oil or liquid petroleum) is made by refining crude oil, technically a ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ product, yet we know it’s not great for skin – it clogs your pores and, according to The Environmental Working Group (EWC), can still potentially contain a toxin that is linked to cancer.
So, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s going to be kind to your skin.
Reactions can be more than skin deep
Studies have shown that, if you are prone to allergies and have broken skin (think eczema or dermatitis), you are also at greater risk of developing food sensitivities from skincare. People have reportedly developed food allergies to goat’s milk and cheese after using goat’s milk soap or lotion, and even almond oil and oats have also been known to cause reactions.
If you feel like your skin is unhappy, then hotfoot it to a dermatologist. They can do patch tests and help you work out what to avoid. Isolating the ingredient that is causing a skin reaction takes time, partly because reactions aren’t always instant – they can take months or years to surface. To make it even trickier, allergies can be ‘indirect’ – if your sensitive to something in your hand cream, it could cause a reaction around your eyes if you’ve rubbed them.
What about product efficacy?
If you want to change the structure of your skin (we’re talking improving elasticity and collagen levels so that skin looks more youthful), then you’ll need something backed by science. Ingredients like Hyanify™, (which has been scientifically proven to improve your skin’s own hyaluronic acid levels) and Snap 8™, (the newest form of an anti-ageing peptide called Argireline, which has been proven to reduce wrinkle volume by up to 63% in 28 days), are synthetic but produce great results if you’re aiming for healthy, happy skin.
Natural vs synthetic: the verdict
Pick a product based on the fact that it contains safe, scientifically backed, effective ingredients, as opposed to harmful or just ineffective ingredients. That means it’s not as simple as defining a product as synthetic or natural.
Essentially you’ll need to learn label lingo – botanicals listed under their Latin name can be just as confusing as a chemical ingredient. Once you get the hang of it and you know what works for you, you can pop a product in your cart with confidence.