Do All-Natural Skincare Products Really Work? I recently attended the “Natural Skincare Technology Summit” in New York, and I wanted to share the important information I learned with you. After all, our skin is an outer expression of our inner health and beauty, and how we care for it from the outside, as well as the inside, is extremely important.
The good news is that, in conjunction with the green movement, we’re seeing many skincare product manufacturers making a concentrated effort to avoid including toxic ingredients and chemicals in their skincare products. I think this is fantastic, because I’m all for reducing your toxic load, and one of the many concerns I have with most commercial, popular brands of skincare products is they feature toxic ingredients and petroleum product derivatives that can both contribute to toxicity (your skin is, after all, an organ through which chemicals are absorbed) and smother your skin. When you think about what we know about health and beauty – that true health and beauty arises when we eliminate toxins from our bodies – it doesn’t make sense that we use toxic ingredients on our skin in pursuit of beauty.
This blog is about skincare- not makeup- but as an aside I am thrilled that there are high performance, non-toxic makeup brands out there that I absolutely love.
So, while I am happy to see manufacturers designing products with fewer toxic ingredients and I totally support 100 percent natural solutions, there are some synthetic ingredients that aren’t toxic and can help your skin. For example, DMAE (Dimethylaminoethanol or dimethylethanolamine) added to skincare is a synthetic ingredient that matches a substance naturally produced in your body. Used in skincare products, it can help reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Another helpful synthetic ingredient often found in skin care products is peptides: molecules formed by two or more amino acids joined together. According to the Cleveland Clinic, peptides promote collagen and elastin production, which can firm and tighten skin to make it appear more youthful. There are other new, helpful ingredients being created and discovered regularly.
While not all synthetic products are toxic, neither are all natural products necessarily the best thing for your skin. For example, many natural product manufacturers use polyunsaturated vegetable oils (PUVO’s) such as grapeseed, safflower, and sunflower in their skin care products. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with polyunsaturated vegetable oils, they are extremely delicate in nature, and can degrade to rancidity and therefore spew out free radicals, with long-term storage or heat, light, and air exposure. Because of this, if a natural products manufacturer doesn’t use extremely high quality oils (high oleic varieties are considered more stable) which have been extracted carefully and stored in low temperatures (preferably below 60 degrees), there’s a good chance the product will oxidize and become rancid fairly quickly, or already is by the time you buy it. When we eat rancid oils, they also can generate dangerous free radicals in our bodies, which contribute to disease. Since free radicals (both in our bodies and on our skin) are also a source of aging, using degraded cosmetics that generate free radicals won’t make your skin any healthier over the long-term, and if you absorb them via your skin they can also harm your overall health. So with natural products that contain these oils, be sure that you know or ask the manufacturer about the way they choose and work with their PUVO and other oils, and are sure to use them within one month or a few months, at most, from opening the product.
Many skincare products now include antioxidants, such as vitamin C, to fight free radical damage. A 2009 University of Leicester study, for example, showed that topical vitamin C provided significant protection against aging free radicals.
One of the problems with vitamin C, however, is that when this powerful antioxidant is in a solution, its potent effects can be greatly diminished over time. This is one of the reasons I recommend using Sally B’s Antioxidant Boost, a pure powdered vitamin C that you add right to your cream or serum right before putting on your face. This gives you maximum potency vitamin C right where and when you need it. I personally use this product daily.
One of the best ways to reduce the signs of aging is by generating new collagen production in your skin. Part of the reason skin changes as you age is it loses elasticity, which is a function of collagen. Collagen supports your skin and gives it firmness. As you age your body naturally produces less collagen, resulting in aging, sagging skin. Therefore, products containing ingredients that stimulate collagen production (such as peptides) are a boon for anti-aging, helping your skin to retain its elasticity in the face of aging.
Of course, peptides are a synthetic ingredient. Is there anything in natural skincare products that has the same effects? Some skincare manufacturers are turning to marine ingredients such as algae and seaweed to promote collagen and elastin production. One study showed that the algae chlorella vulgaris applied topically prevented breakdown of elastin and collagen. If you are seeking totally natural skincare products, marine ingredients may be effective and preventing collagen breakdown; however, synthetic, non-toxic ingredients such as peptides, as well as others, are considered very powerful by many experts when it comes to stimulating new collagen production.
Reducing Signs of Photoaging
Two other collagen-producing ingredients you often find in anti-aging skincare products are retinol and retinyl palmitate. These are often used as alternatives to Retin A (retinoic acid or tretinonin), which is available only by prescription. Retinoic acid works very well at stimulating collagen production and reducing signs of photoaging; however, it can cause irritation and side effects, and is even recommended by some to not use during pregnancy. Retinol A products can also be fairly expensive.
Enter retinyl palmitate and retinol. These two vitamin A derivatives can convert to retinoic acid when added to skin cells, provided there is enough of the ingredient to react with the skin. In order to notice the effects of these two ingredients, then, there must be quite a large amount in the skincare products. Still, although these ingredients are less effective than retinoic acid, they are still more effective than many other of vitamin A because convert the most easily to retinoic acid, which is actually the superstar and stimulating collagen production. Retinyl palmitate has a larger molecule size than retinoic acid, however, and therefore does not penetrate the skin well. Retinol degrades quickly and loses its beneficial properties when exposed to air.
Another form of vitamin A, retinyl propionate, has a molecule size that penetrates the surface of the skin well; however, there is some doubt as to its effectiveness in fighting wrinkles. In fact, one study showed no advantages over a placebo.
Another form, retinaldehyde (or retinal) has shown promise in studies, reducing wrinkles, stimulating elastin and collagen, and minimizing skin irritation.
Other forms of vitamin A have a larger molecule size, and thus are less effective at penetrating the top layer of skin. Likewise, other forms convert less effectively to retinoic acid, and are therefore less effective in skincare products.
Organic makeup brands often use combinations of multiple ingredients and plant extracts in an attempt to get the products to have the same effects as synthetic skincare that relies on one or two ingredients. In some cases, this works very well.
I’ve always believed that good facial skincare arises from a combination of natural skincare with scientific, active technology utilizing non-toxic ingredients. However, if you want a really good 100% natural products, try the Tata Harper product line, which is one of my favorite completely natural lines. I’ve tested the Rejuvenating Serum and combined it with the Antioxidant Boost, which is a bit expensive at about $150 for a month’s supply, but has a great feel, is hydrating and will help smooth out your skin beautifully. I also really like the mild, fresh-smelling Regenerating Cleanser that cleans the skin without toxic chemicals. My favorite product in the line though, is the Resurfacing Mask, which is a great pick me up for the skin, and I do notice my skin looks brighter after using it. I use it weekly.