Pros and cons of natural ingredients in skincare – Part 2


In the first part of this post we have discovered that labels don’t tell us much about the true nature of the product. The bottle may say “Aunt Jane’s Organic Garden” when what’s inside may not be organic at all. At the same time, a skin lotion may be organic certified just because it contains 95% of organically grown ingredients that do nothing for you.

My point is that we clearly need to do more work ourselves to determine what is best for us. So, let’s forget the label and focus on the ingredients.

Generally speaking, it’s fair to say that while not all natural ingredients can really help, most of them at least are not harmful. It’s true that poison Ivy and arsenic are natural, but you wouldn’t include them as part of your daily personal care routine. That’s just common sense.

When we talk about natural ingredients we need to focus on two separate issues: selection and preservation. Selecting the right (and useful) ingredients is a form of art. Making sure the same elements are preserved correctly, is a science. We need both and that’s OK because we must realize that while not all natural products are necessarily good for you, at the same time not all synthetic ingredients are toxic.

Again, the key issue is how to preserve natural ingredients.

In the words of Dr. Linda Katz of the FDA reported by the New York Times article I mentioned in part 1, “natural ingredients may be harder to preserve against microbial contamination and growth than synthetic raw materials”.

Speaking of preservatives, there is a lot of talk lately about parabens. Let’s remember that parabens exist in nature as a defense for a variety of fruits and vegetables, like carrots, olives and cucumber. This is confirmed by an LA Times article by Emily Shon that indicates how fruits and vegetables create their own beneficial antioxidant compounds that help them protect themselves from insects, pollution and the effect of exposure to the sun. The parabens we have to worry about however, the ones that have been linked to cancer, are the synthetic ones that mimic our body’s natural hormones and can alter the functions of our endocrine system, suggests a post on overstock.com. Preserving natural ingredients without the use of parabens is difficult but not impossible, writes The Chemist Corner, suggesting that benzoic acid and sorbate could be used as possible natural solutions.

Other natural preservatives are polyunsaturated vegetable oils (PUVO’s), like grapeseed, sunflower and safflower, reports Kimberly Snyder in her blog. The problem is that these are extremely delicate and can degrade to rancidity. Rancid oils lead to free radicals, which are a source of aging. This is again why we need to pay attention not only to what’s in the bottle, but also to the way natural ingredients are protected during the making of the product. Something that may help your skin look younger could in fact have the opposite effect if the manufacturers as well as the retailers don’t handle it properly.

Well, since we touched upon anti-aging products, let’s dig a little deeper.

Vitamin C is a natural substance that helps fight free radical damage and thus help rejuvenate your skin. The problem however is that, according to the LA Times article I mentioned earlier, while Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, when in a solution its effects are dramatically reduced over time.

Another issue with Vitamin C is that in order to work on your skin, it needs to be kept at a highly acidic pH2, which can sting. Sting equals discomfort, which may lead to reduced sales, and that is equivalent to an unhappy manufacturer that, because of that will probably use just enough Vitamin C to be able to put it on the label and nothing more. As we discussed in part 1, marketing and quality don’t necessarily go hand in hand, do they? Antioxidant can block some of the cell damaging effects of the natural aging process and green tea derived antioxidants like phenol, and EGCG in particular, can be beneficial. However, EGCG makes a cream look brown and that’s why many products contain too little of it: if the color is not right, people will buy less. Here we go again.

So, let’s use Apple Stem Cells! Well, Apple Stem Cells is another buzz word and some people claim they can make your skin look younger. Unfortunately the problem is that these cells cannot survive once they have been extracted from their natural environment. So they basically do nothing for your skin when in a bottle, Dr. Leslie Baumann, a dermatologist, author and researcher in Miami told the LA Times

I don’t want to sound negative and hypercritical. I’m just really trying to draw a line between what we are led to believe a product does, and what it does in reality. Awareness, information and common sense are the best tools we have to make sure we make the best possible choice. Let’s use them.

Products need to be formulated carefully to ensure that ingredients remain active and penetrate the skin. Often, an ingredient that seems good in testing loses all benefits once exposed to the air or mixed with other substances, writes Emily Shon in her article.

My advice is: let’s do some research and see if we can gather some information on the head scientists behind the products we like. Do they have credibility, or are they just marketing people turned product experts? Also, let’s keep in mind that many natural substances that can provide health benefits through your stomach often don’t provide the same benefits when applied topically on the skin.

Let’s wrap-up our conversation about anti-aging skincare. The key element in all anti-aging solutions is Collagen, which is what naturally supports our skin and gives it firmness. As a result, products stimulating Collagen production, like peptides, can really help. Obviously, peptides are synthetic ingredients, although not to be considered automatically toxic. A natural alternative is given by algae and seaweed, both known for promoting the production of Collagen and Elastin (a protein that gives our skin its elastic characteristics). If that’s what you’re looking for, marine ingredients may a good idea.

As I write this post, in the hemisphere where I live it’s the middle of the summer and we have to deal with sun exposure. If you are looking for non-synthetic anti-inflammatory solutions, there is a natural ingredient called curcumin. Not only does it help with burns, it can also help wounds heal. The problem is its color and smell, and for this reason you may find it in some products but in general in too small quantities to be truly beneficial.

Finally, a word on allergies. Our body can be allergic to anything, natural or not. I have a friend who is allergic to pineapple. It doesn’t matter if it’s natural. She just can’t tolerate it. According to a publication by The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Australia, about 3%
of adolescents have fruit or vegetable allergy.
Rosacea, for example, can be an allergic reaction to apples, pears, cherries, peaches, plums, cucumbers, melons, watermelons, zucchinis, pumpkins and kiwis.

Sometimes fruit or vegetable allergies are connected to pollen. This is called oral allergy syndrome (OAS) and is caused by a cross reaction between inhaled pollen and the protein found in certain fruits and vegetables. According to foodallergies.com, people sensitized to birch pollen may have OAS symptoms when they are exposed to certain fruits like apples, hazelnuts, nectarines and kiwi. This includes fruit extracts applied topically since it takes only about twenty-five seconds for what we put on our skin to enter the bloodstream.

So, in conclusion we can say that while natural ingredients may be generally preferable, not all of them are necessarily good for you. At the same time, we have to realize that not all synthetic substances are toxic. Sometimes in fact we need a synthetic product to ensure the natural ingredient is preserved correctly and in particular to avoid antioxidants to turn rancid.

The best way to protect ourselves, in my opinion, is to study the company that makes the products. Ignore the label. Look at the company’s history and ask for a full list of ingredients, not just the main ones. Check the head scientists’ background and see where they come from and what they stand for. Then check the ingredients against the list of 1,372 toxic chemicals banned in Europe (and the ten banned in the US, while you are at it) using the link on the free stuff tab of the blog.

3 thoughts on “Pros and cons of natural ingredients in skincare – Part 2

  1. Interesting take on it, I haven’t read about any cons to natural skin care before, I actually found this part before Part 1 so I’ll have to go back and check out the rest of it…

    Just wanted to say.. nice work! :)

    ~Mel

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