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What Your Natural Beauty Products Won’t Do

Posted Jan 19 2010 2:42pm

katherine-bio-pic.jpgLondon correspondent Katherine McKenney writes:

Making the switch to natural beauty products is an exciting proposition. Well done you for deciding to put your health ahead of empty marketing promises!

I can see it now: you buy your first natural product. You take it home. You unwrap the minimalist, eco-friendly packaging. You apply said product. And then you think, “Ahhhhhh, wait a minute!  This isn’t what I was expecting!”

Perhaps you are unfairly comparing the natural product to your usual synthetic chemical-laden equivalent. Natural beauty products are wonderful but they won’t behave in the same way as synthetic products. In order to prepare you for what to expect, here is a guide for what your natural beauty products won’t do.

Natural beauty products will not smell the same because their scents are derived from plants, flowers, and lovely things found in nature.  Therefore they will not smell like the man-made chemicals you are used to.  At first whiff, you may be reminded of your granny who loved florals: lavender, rose, and geranium (not necessarily scents you would associate with your hip, happening self).  The first time I took a whiff of cedarwood, I thought it smelled like dirt.  Now I love it.   The essential oils tend to grow on you after your nose becomes accustomed.  I find synthetic fragrances really icky and overpowering but my Italian boyfriend persists on buying them for me since he comes from the land of overpowering scent.   When I jokingly asked him which “cancer spray” he was going to give me for Christmas this year, he retorted that with my bad attitude I wasn’t going to get anything.   Ba humbug!  He didn’t think it was very funny but I don’t think using toxic products on my body is very funny either.  To each his own.

Natural beauty products will not foam the same because they do not contain harsh detergents like sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) or sodium olefin sulfonates.  Early last year, I embarked on a mission to find the perfect organic shampoo for my hair, meaning a shampoo without SLS.   It was a difficult, at times traumatic, experience, but I did learn that there are some good natural shampoos out there.  You just have to be prepared for how your hair will behave while it sings the swan song to SLS.  For a few months after you make the switch, your hair will go through a rebalancing act.  While your scalp starts to realize that it can produce less sebum since it’s no longer being over stripped by the SLS, your hair will seem more greasy than you are used to.  Ways around this are using a degreasing wash once a week (I like rinsing my hair with green tea and an egg before shampooing.)  You can also use a hair powder/dry shampoo in between washes to keep your hair looking clean (equal parts arrowroot and orrisroot powder plus a few drops of rosemary essential oil work well).  Finally in order to maximize your natural shampoo, apply it separately in small parts on the top, bottom, and sides of your head rather than wacking a big glob on the top and then trying to spread it around.  It won’t spread as well without the foam, but another trick is to apply a little water here and there as you need it to help work it through your hair.

Natural beauty products will not last for years because they contain few to no preservatives.   One of the most controversial families of preservatives getting a lot of press these days are the dreaded parabens.   The analysis of the research done on parabens range wildly from “they are evil” to “they have been around for decades and humans have gotten used to them so they are fine.”  Personally I prefer my products sans parabens.   It is important to read the labels on your beauty products carefully.   Just because a product is labeled paraben-free doesn’t mean it’s automatically safe. You can check the level of toxicity in your products at Skin Deep, the Environmental Working Group’s database of cosmetics.

Natural beauty products will not clog your pores because the atomic structure of the oils and ingredients are simple and small enough to pass straight through pores and into the various layers of the epidermis and dermis.  Chemicals such as paraffin and petrol-based chemicals are notorious for just sitting on top of your skin and not doing anything except blocking the air from getting to your skin, which can cause your pores to get blocked.  It may be useful sometimes to have a barrier between your skin if you are, say, climbing Mount Everest and your face and lips are chapped.  (In situations like those clogged pores are the least of your problems!)  For more information on skin and how beauty products work, I recommend Liz Earle’s book Skin Care Secrets or The Beauty Brains blog.

Natural beauty products will not irritate your skin because they do not contain harsh chemicals which break down your own natural barrier properties.  Besides the detergent SLS, other chemicals which you should be wary of, particularly if you suffer from dermatitis, eczema, or other skin conditions include: mineral oil (often labeled paraffinum liquidum), retinoids, alphahydroxy acids (AHAs or fruit acids), glycolic acids, and ingredients used in hair-removal products.

Natural beauty products will not disrupt hormones and interfere with normal endocrine system function (adrenal glands, pancreas, thyroid gland, pituitary gland, ovaries, and testicles), cause infertility or birth defects, cause allergic reactions or immunotoxicity, cause neurotoxocity (harmful to brain and nervous system), cause organ system toxicity (cardiovascular, respiratory, stomach and digestive organs), irritate mucous membranes like eyes and lungs, or cause cancer.   Whew!  I knew there was a reason I switched to natural products.

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