If you’re familiar with my stance on natural skin care, you already know that I’m obsessed with research, details, and getting to the truth behind the hype. But sometimes even I get exhausted by the sheer volume of information – and conflicting opinions – about what’s natural, what’s not, and how to best care for our skin. It can be challenging to figure out what to believe about natural skin care, and what to expect from it.
Whether you’re just making the switch, or you’re already a full-fledged naturalista, you might be surprised by the truth behind some of the myths below, or perhaps you’ll gain a deeper perspective on what works best for you.
Let’s get into it.
IT WILL SOLVE ALL YOUR (SKIN) PROBLEMS
After learning about all the nasty ingredients in most personal care products and the havoc they wreak on our skin, in our bodies, and across our environment, it’s understandable that we might assume that truly natural and organic products will do absolute wonders for our skin. After all, ridding our lives of all those nasties is sure to give us 24-hour-flawless-glow, right? Unfortunately, skin problems aren’t always that straightforward.
If you’re dealing with recurring issues like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and sensitivities, naturalizing your skin care routine is definitely a wise choice – with truly nourishing ingredients and the absence of irritants, you’ll most likely notice a marked improvement in texture, tone, and fortitude. And hey, if all of your skin issues do clear up, fantastic! Now you know that you were having reactions to one or more common irritants in conventional products, and you can get on with your life.
But here’s the thing: if you notice slight or moderate improvements at first, and then seem to hit a wall with stubborn issues that continue to flare up, that’s a strong sign that your skin issues are stemming from other lifestyle factors. Now it’s time to investigate.
The most common culprit of stubborn skin issues unrelated to topical products is diet – even mild food sensitivities and allergies can show up as recurring skin conditions. Dairy and gluten are the big ones, but there are other foods you may want to consider. Here’s where a casual skin care journal comes in handy. You don’t have to track what you eat / wear / do every day (it doesn’t need to be that intense of a project), but when you notice a flare up of any kind – extra itchiness, redness, acne, or sensitivity – make a note of what you ate and drank over the last couple of days, and look for trends.
If your skin issues are consistently frustrating, consider trying an elimination diet for a few weeks and pay close attention to how your skin reacts. If you also notice positive changes in digestion, energy levels, sleep quality, and other markers of wellness, that’s a strong indication that you’re experiencing a food sensitivity or allergy.
NATURAL MEANS GOOD. PERIOD.
If only it were that simple. Chamomile is a superstar skin care ingredient, renowned for it’s soothing and conditioning properties – unless of course, you’re allergic to the ragweed plant family! Pure essential oils are often crucial elements in natural skin care formulas, since they contribute a wide array of skin-balancing effects, but some essential oils can be irritating and cause sensitivities for some people. Furthermore, there are several essential oils that must be used with caution in small amounts, and others that should not be used on the skin at all.
And then there’s straight-up misunderstandings about what “natural” actually means, as in the notion that mineral oil is natural (read: good) because it comes from the earth, which conveniently glosses over the multiple reasons why you may want to avoid it.
Perhaps my biggest frustration in the world of natural skin care is the heavy reliance on industrial seed oils like sunflower, safflower, soybean, and canola. Relatively inexpensive and readily available, these oils dominate not only most skin care product formulas, but the vast majority of processed foods as well. Despite the underwhelmingly basic skin conditioning properties they may offer, vegetable seed oils are far less healthy than we’ve been led to believe, and unless they’re explicitly stated as cold-expeller-pressed, you can bet they’ve been heavily refined with toxic solvents like hexane.
Moreover, these seed oils can be extremely high in polyunsaturated fatty acid, which makes them highly unstable, as in prone to going rancid within 6-12 months. You do not want rancid oils in your skin care products – they’ve lost any antioxidant value and can actually contribute to the formation and replication of cell-damaging free radicals. Next time you’re choosing a natural skin care product, look for more stable oils like jojoba, argan, macadamia nut, apricot kernel, camelina seed, camellia seed, and coconut.
RAW / ORGANIC IS ALWAYS BEST
This is a tricky one. For the most part, unrefined and organic ingredients are indeed the best choice, since they’re much less likely to have come into contact with nasty solvents, and more likely to offer a powerhouse of skin-conditioning nutrients. But sometimes a little natural filtering can be beneficial for various reasons. Gentle physical refinement using simple solvents like activated charcoal, or techniques like low-temperature heating and filtering, help to remove impurities and extend the shelf life of some ingredients. For instance, there is the possibility that unfiltered or “golden” jojoba oil may contribute to clogged pores, and deodorized shea butter contains fewer impurities while retaining upwards of 85-90% of it’s beneficial vitamins and nutrients.
Organic is of the utmost importance when it comes to most ingredients, especially plant oils, since the use of potentially toxic solvents is rampant in the oil production industry, and these additives are never listed on product labels. Overall, sticking to organic ingredients is reassuring since at least we know that there is a standard of purity that must be adhered to for certification.
There is one exception though: some herbs are more beneficial when they are wildcrafted. Many of the compounds that we value in skin-conditioning herbs are produced when the plant is under stress, fighting to survive in an uncultivated environment. When grown organically, protected from pests and regularly supplemented with natural soil amendments, the plants may take it easy and not bother producing all of those compounds that work to protect, replenish, and nourish our skin.
This is where a little research is required on your part – most natural skin care companies offer brief descriptions of their ingredients on their websites, like Equilibria’s Ingredient Notes. If you’re considering trying a new brand, it’s worth taking 5 minutes for a quick review of the types of ingredients they use and their overall philosophy, in order to determine just how natural they are.
NATURAL STILL NEEDS “REGULAR” PRESERVATIVES
Another tricky one. Here’s a general rule to live by – if a product contains water, it should contain something that acts as an antimicrobial and antifungal agent in the formula, especially when mixed with non-water-based ingredients (i.e. oils and butters). Be very suspicious of “preservative-free” claims. If you’re reviewing the ingredients in a water-containing formula and you don’t see anything that might even come close to acting as a preservative, that’s a red flag. Worst case scenario, the product does not contain a preservative of any kind. While this is unlikely, it can be pretty dangerous.
The more likely scenario is that the preservative isn’t listed on the label. Say what? Yes, unfortunately you read that right. Ingredients that make up less than 1% of a formula are not required to be listed on product labels, which means that a supposedly natural product could secretly contain a potentially toxic synthetic preservative (yikes!). Products that do not contain water are the exception to this rule – they truly do not need a preservative.
But there’s the important part – synthetic preservatives are not the only choice! Luckily there are some great natural ingredients available that can reliably protect natural products from spoilage when properly formulated. You’re definitely not stuck with potentially-hazardous preservatives.
Boutique natural skin care companies that make their products by hand in small batches are more likely to use these newer natural preservatives, since larger companies have much more difficulty integrating new ingredients into their manufacturing processes. In my experience (before I started making my own products), the smaller companies are also much easier to contact and get a straight answer from, so don’t hesitate to visit the company website, check the FAQs, and contact them for specific information on which preservatives they use and why.
IT DOESN’T “WORK”
We’ve all seen those Big Beauty advertisements for so-called Miracle Creams that promise to firm, lift, tighten, make wrinkles “disappear” and so on. And while we’ve learned to take those claims with a grain of salt, sometimes they’re actually true – just not as true as it may seem. Huh? I know, stay with me… Many conventional skin care products contain ingredients like manufactured proteins and synthetic fillers that actually do produce those hyped-up effects temporarily.
For instance, some ingredients that target wrinkles work by briefly “filling in” fine lines, creating the illusion of smoothness with reduced wrinkles. For 5 minutes. Then you’re left with a nice layer of substance that essentially amounts to residue sitting on top of your skin for the rest of the day. You might notice after a few hours that your flawless makeup application starts to look a little… chunky. Ew, right? These single-purpose ingredients don’t always play nice with others, and often end up causing more frustration than their short-lived effects are worth.
So in this sense, sure, natural skin care doesn’t “work” – you don’t often see immediate improvement in skin texture, tone, or overall complexion. Going natural involves a more holistic approach. It’s about nourishment and supporting the skin’s natural processes for real, instead of creating the temporary illusion of improvement. With a basic and consistent natural skin care routine that involves the right cleanser, exfoliant, toner, and moisturizer – maybe even throw in the occasional facial mask – you’ll start to notice visible changes like smoother texture, less dryness or sensitivity, and even a reduction in the formation of new fine lines and wrinkles. And let’s not forget the most important part: you’re safeguarding your health and wellness while enjoying genuine improvements in your overall complexion.
So, which of these truths surprised you the most? Is there a common misconception about natural skin care that I missed? Let me know in the comments!