Guidelines for Choosing Natural Skin Care Products
By Joni Keim
Are you looking for natural skin care products? It’s getting both easier and more confusing to find them! Years ago, the best natural skin care products were usually from Europe or cottage-industry manufacturers. Now that “healthy” has gone mainstream, safe and effective natural skin care products are available from natural food stores, dermatologists, aestheticians, and websites on the internet.
Before sharing my guidelines, as a licensed aesthetician, on finding natural skin care products, I want to start by recommending that you keep your skin care program as simple as you can. Using fewer products keeps down the number of ingredients and chemicals to which you are exposed. A basic skin care program of cleaning, toning, moisturizing, and protecting from the sun, done correctly with quality products, can be enough for many people. If you decide to use additional products, be sure they serve a purpose and are benefitting your skin. (For more help determining the best skin care routine, take a look at my book, “Natural Skin Care: Alternative & Traditional Techniques.”
Here are 7 guidelines that you should keep in mind when choosing your natural skin care products:
Read the labels of every product you are considering purchasing. This is to determine if the product contains anything that you may be sensitive or allergic to or do not want to use. The FDA Cosmetic Labeling Rules require that skin care product manufacturers list the ingredients on the label in the order of the highest concentration first. Recognizing and getting to know ingredients involves research as well as a learning process, but over time you will become good at it. It is worth the effort. Some ingredients that sound bad are bad and some are not, so it is good to know the difference.
There are many ingredients, from a health standpoint, to be avoided, such as synthetic fragrances, synthetic colors, coal tar, DEA, BHA, formaldehyde, mineral oil, parabens, propylene glycol, talc, phthalates, triclosan, toluene, hydroquinone, and oxybenzone. There are others but too many to comprehensively list here, and new ingredients are continually being developed. To stay current and informed, visit www.ewg.org. The phone app, Think Dirty, is also available.
Be aware that any product that contains water or unpreserved watery ingredients, such as aloe vera, hydrosols, or water-extracted herbal extracts, needs to have an effective, broad-spectrum preservative system. Without one, microbes will contaminate the product in a short period of time, especially if fingers are dipped into it. These microbes, once they begin to flourish, may not be noticeable but often can be detected visually, such as black spots, or by smell, such as smelling sour or “off.” Using a contaminated product on the skin can cause skin infections, eye infections, rashes, and other forms of dermatitis. (For the consumer, it is a red-flag to see “water” listed in the ingredients but not see a preservative.)
Avoid synthetic fragrances. Synthetic fragrances are common allergens and can cause other health problems. They serve no beneficial purpose in natural skin care products. They are used because manufacturers know that consumers like things that smell good, and synthetics are far cheaper (and last longer) than natural aromas from herbs, spices, and essential oils.
Synthetic fragrances are usually listed as “fragrance” on the label. They may contain any number of 3,000 different chemicals, which are not required to be listed separately on the label, so the user does not know what she is using. Most synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals, which include benzene derivatives, phthalates, and toluene and can cause allergies, brain fog, dizziness, coughing, sore throats, headaches, as well as nervous system disorders, respiratory irritation, endocrine disruption, and cellular change. Synthetic fragrances can penetrate the skin and be absorbed into the body. They can also enter the body via the lungs when inhaled. An estimated 34% of the population has health issues caused by synthetic fragrance exposure. (This is why you see signs in doctors’ offices that say, “No Perfume.”)
Avoid synthetic colors. Synthetic colors are common allergens and can cause other health problems. They serve no purpose in natural skin care products. They are used to achieve an “attractive” appearance. These pigments are manufactured from synthetic chemicals and coal tar and can contain heavy metal salts, such as lead. Many chemicals can be in one dye. They are known to cause sensitivity and irritation and can contribute to blemishes and hyperpigmentation. In the United States, they are listed on the labels as FD & C or D & C followed by a number, such as FD & C Red 40. They can also appear with just the color and a number, such as Yellow 5.5
Whenever you can, buy products in glass. Glass is recyclable and does not leach toxins into the product. Plastic, depending on how it is made, can leach phthalates, BPA, BPS, antimony, and lead into the product. These chemicals have been linked to health problems, such as endocrine disruption, allergies, developmental disorders, obesity, and asthma. There are some people that feel no plastic is really safe. Others feel that HDPE (high-density polyethylene), LDPE (low-density polyethylene), and PP (polypropylene) are safe enough to use. 8, 9, 10
Determine whether the company meets your personal standards. When you have found products that meet the criterion of being natural, safe, and effective, you may want to investigate the company. Is the company’s philosophy a good fit for you? How long have they been in business and what is their reputation? Do you want a product that is not tested on animals? Does the company list ALL of the ingredients on the label, or are there hidden ingredients in the products? Are they willing to answer your questions when asked?
Try the product. When you are satisfied with the outcome of your research, have established your personal guidelines, and have chosen your products, experience them: the feel, the aroma, the action, and the results. Some manufacturers provide samples, which allow you to try the products without the financial commitment to full sizes. This is a good opportunity for consumers; however, it usually takes more than a sample to really know how a product is working for you. You need about a month’s worth. Also, keep in mind that as your skin changes over time, you will need to adjust your skin care products and routine.
I’ve found Caryn and her team of clinical aromatherapists, to be fantastic resources when you have questions about natural skin care products. I’m excited to try their new line of body lotions. If you’re looking for additional natural skin care advice, including recipes that incorporate aromatherapy, you can order a copy of my book, “Natural Skin Care: Alternative & Traditional Techniques.”