Are Natural & Organic Ingredients Better for Your Skin?
Many people believe passionately that natural, organic ingredients are better for the skin but the truth is this belief has no factual basis or scientific legitimacy. The surprising fact: There are lots of natural, organic ingredients that are bad for skin! Many of them are lurking in products claiming to be better or safer because they’re natural or organic. Sad but true.
Whether due to blissful denial or because they don’t know the research, lots of cosmetic companies sell products with ingredients that aren't really natural or contain natural ingredients that are a problem for skin. Conversely, just because an ingredient is synthetic doesn't make it a problem for skin. Let's set the record straight!
Natural Is as Natural Does
Please know we're not saying there isn’t a large range of natural ingredients that are exceptional for skin, because there are—lots and lots of them! But the idea that they’re the "best" or only option for skin is not good advice. When formulating products for Paula's Choice Skincare, Paula and her team only select natural ingredients with a proven track record of being beneficial for skin. We avoid using problematic ones because these aren’t doing your skin any favors. Now that's natural done right that the best cosmetics companies follow!
We’re not the only ones concerned about the misguided notion that natural = better: Dr. Linda M. Katz, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Cosmetics and Colors stated that "Consumers should not necessarily assume that an 'organic' or 'natural' ingredient or product would possess greater inherent safety than another chemically identical version of the same ingredient. In fact, 'natural' ingredients may be harder to preserve against… contamination and growth than synthetic versions" (Source: New York Times, November 1, 2007).
Joan Shaffer, USDA spokeswoman stated that "…people should not interpret even the USDA Organic seal or any organic seal of approval on cosmetics as proof of health benefits or of efficacy. The National Organic Program is a marketing program, not a safety program. [Chocolate cake] may be [natural and/or organic] but that has no bearing on whether it is safe or nutritious to eat (Source: www.ams.usda.gov/nop/FactSheets/Backgrounder.html).
Natural Ingredients: The Bad
Many natural, organic ingredients used in skincare products can cause significant skin sensitivities that build up over time. Some of them can also be harsh and abrasive on skin. None of that is good, so it’s important you know what to avoid so you can take the best possible care of your skin.
Skin-aggravating ingredients of any kind (natural or synthetic) cause all aspects of skin to breakdown and fall apart. It interrupts skin’s ability to renew and reawaken its natural shape and significantly diminishes its ability to defend itself from environmental damage. This is especially true of fragrance ingredients that often go under the misleading category of essential oils.
All fragrance, whether synthetic or natural, causes trouble for skin. Essential oils may be good for your nose, but they’re a serious problem for your skin. We’re often shocked and dismayed at how many natural products are little more than eau de cologne dressed up as a moisturizer, lotion, serum, or toner.
What's particularly troubling is the fact that your skin is very good at hiding that it’s appearing to be sensitized. Just because you're using a product with problematic ingredients but not seeing any signs of surface aggravation doesn't mean it's not taking place where you can’t see it.
All of the following common natural ingredients can be a problem for skin in one way or the other. For example, many citrus ingredients can enhance the sun’s negative impact on skin. One other point, many of these ingredients do have beneficial properties (like antioxidant compounds) but they also come with negative ones. There are plenty of natural ingredients that give your skin only the positives and none of the negatives. Those are the only ones that should be in your skincare products!
These ingredients shouldn’t ever be in your skincare products.
- Almond extract
- Balm mint oil
- Citrus juices or oils
- Clover blossom
- Coriander oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Fir needle
- Geranium oil
- Ground up nuts
- Lavender oil
- Lemon balm
- Oak bark
- Witch hazel
- Ylang ylang
Natural Ingredients: The Good
Since the list of problematic natural ingredients is so long, you may be wondering what are the best natural ingredients for skin. There are many! Here are the top ones that have only beneficial properties and none of the bad:
- Amino acids
- Hyaluronic acid
- Green tea
- Willow Herb
- Coconut oil
- Safflower oil
- Canola oil
- Shea butter
- Olive oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Argan oil
- Carnauba wax
- Rice Bran oil
- Rosa canina Fruit oil
- Palm oil
- Omega fatty acids
- Corn oil
- Aloe vera
- Jojoba oil
- Algae extracts
- Sea whip extract
- Feverfew extract
- White tea
- Cocoa butter
- Sesame oil
- Borage oil
- Acai oil
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B3
- Goji Berry
- Coffeeberry extract
- Evening Primrose oil
- Tamanu Oil
- Silybum marianum extract
Lastly, keep in mind that with natural ingredients, packaging really, really matters! Think of how long a head of lettuce lasts in your refrigerator and you'll get an idea of how the wrong type of packaging (such as jars or clear bottles) will cause natural ingredients to break down. This occurs from repeated exposure to light and air and contamination from repeatedly scooping out the product with your fingers. Be sure to look for opaque, non-jar packaging that minimizes exposure to these elements. Then you’ll be getting the most benefit from the natural, organic ingredients that can truly help you get (and keep) the skin you want.
References for this information:
Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, October 16, volume 80, pages 226-32
Contact Dermatitis, September 2016, issue 3, pages 129-143; October 2013, issue 4, pages 196-230; and February 2014, issue 2, pages 90-97
Acta-Demato Venerology, June 2016, issue 5, pages 679-683
Annals of Emergency Medicine, April 2016, issue 4, pages 554-556
Cutis, October 2015, issue 4, pages 269-274
Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences, December 11, issue 1, pages 199-206
Food Chemistry and Toxicology, February 2011, issue 2, pages 324-341
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!