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Controversy: Why Natural Skin Care Isn’t Always Better

Posted Jun 16 2008 6:13pm

Recently, I have been receiving a lot of e-mails from women who are dedicated to only using products that are all-natural or completely free of chemical preservatives. From my reading, while I acknowledge that some ingredients, likesodium lauryl sulfate, are known to cause skin irritation in many patients, other ingredients,like parabens, have only been found to raise health concerns in the majority of patients only when used in concentrations much higher than normally found in skin care products. Many chemicals that are reported in databases to have been found to raise health concerns were used in exceptionally high concentrations in scientific studies as “extreme dose” cases, not in testing actual skin care products. Some websites even report that chemical skin care ingredients, like parabens, build up in the skin over time,which has been found not to be the case.

My concern with the “natural not chemical” skin care movement is two-fold. One is that many consumers are believing that “natural = safe,” which is not always the case. Take, for example, the all-natural ingredientchamomile, which is known to be soothing for the skin. Repeated exposure to chamomile has been known to induce a very irritating rash resulting from a ragweed allergy, according to the nutritional guideThe Prescription for Nutritional Healing(and yours truly, who experienced the said effect after using chamomile for two months). Many other “natural” ingredients, such as the arnica montana used to treat bruises, are also able to induce detrimental effects after repeated exposure. In fact, according toDr. Leslie Baumann’sCosmetic Dermatology, “Prolonged treatment of damaged skin [with arnica] often causes edematous dermatitis with the formation of pustules; long-term use can also give rise to eczema.”

My second problem with the “natural not chemical” movement is simply that consumers are often ignoring the numerous double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-center studies backing certain chemical ingredients in favor of clever marketing giving the impression that natural is always better. And that is a problem, because there is no research to date demonstrating that all-natural skin care productsare always better, while thereissubstantiative research indicating that certain chemical ingredients -retinol,niacinamide,vitamins C&E, andchemical sunscreens, to name a few - have proven long-term benefits for the skin.

Of course, this is not to say that chemical always trumps natural either. Based on what I have learned thus far, there are good and bad chemical ingredients, just like there are good and bad natural ones. And while you may catch me pitching my beloved chemicalBath and Body Works bubble bathfor its very high concentration of sodium lauryl sulfate andavoiding certain chemical ingredients when I am pregnantsomeday, you won’t see me trading in my awesome (chemical)Skinceuticals CE Ferulic(with vitamins C and E),Phloretin CF(with phloretin and vitamin C),Olay Regenerist(with niacinamide),Green Cream(with retinol), orNeutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 85(with avobenzone/oxybenzone) any time soon. My point is, don’t be dragged into “natural” products like they’re matte makeup products and leg warmers in the 80’s. Although naturalsoundshealthier and more beneficial now, natural ingredients can hurt your skin too. Be careful - check with your dermatologist before starting a new skin regime, consult actual scientific research journals (not cautionary databases that make the FDA seem like a sitting duck) about your skin care ingredients, and be aware that natural skin care companies are no different than regular skin care companies, selling you products. Some are great, sure, but just like with the chemical products, some aren’t. Be aware. Balance chemical and natural, and go with what your dermatologist recommends and what makes your skin look and feel its best!

I am going to take extra care to address this particular issue more on this blog in the future. Until then, please let me know your thoughts! Just one more week until the FutureDerm giveaway!:-)

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