As a medical esthetician, I’m regularly exposed to the latest advancements in the skincare field—and that means navigating through products that actually work and others that have simply become the latest buzzword. One current buzz-about concept in skincare is the use of “all-natural” and organic ingredients. As patients continue to focus on healthier lifestyle choices regarding what they put into their bodies, they are also becoming more educated about what goes on their skin.
The FDA defines a natural ingredient as one that is extracted from a plant or animal product (instead of being formulated synthetically, or in a lab). However, because the process for labelling natural products is not regulated by the FDA, any company can label a product as “natural” without clinical data that supports the efficacy or safety of its claims.
There are many naturally derived ingredients known to have a great effect on the skin, but a product’s overall formulation is key in determining its effectiveness. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “enhanced natural ingredients, which have been chemically altered, tend to be more stable, penetrate better and have more long-lasting effects on the skin than unaltered plant extracts.”
Take, for example, vitamin C. With proper stabilization and an effective delivery system, i.e. Obagi Vitamin C Serum or Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, this antioxidant ingredient has been shown to stimulate collagen and protect against free radical damage. However, in its pure form (think juice from an orange) it would merely sit on the skin’s surface without delivering any real benefit—or worse, cause burning or irritation, especially in sensitive skin types. To achieve measurable change in the skin, an ingredient must be stabilized and capable of targeting the appropriate skin layers.
Though I wouldn’t tout them as true treatments, many natural ingredients are capable of providing a temporary and superficial benefit to the skin; for instance, using olive oil and sea salt as an exfoliant. The salt exfoliates dead surface cells, while the olive oil has moisturizing properties that smooth and soften the skin. Yet, formulated incorrectly, or applied too harshly, it can lead to irritation, or for oily skins, can actually make matters worse.
I use—and recommend to my patients—professional medical grade products mixed with both natural and formulated ingredients that have been backed by clinical studies and comprised of proven ingredients. There are wonderful natural ingredients on the market, but like any skincare product, your best bet is to make a selection that has research to back up its claims.