Making the move to using more natural products seems simple walking into stores today. Every other product has a leaf or a tree on it with the claim of being natural or organic. Companies have noticed the influx of consumers wanting to step away from synthetic ingredients and they want to profit off of the naïve customer by making unsubstantiated claims on cheap, synthetic products. Greenwashing (disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image) has now expanded from manipulating eco conscious customers to taking advantage of the natural/organic crowd.
How is this allowed to go on? Easily. The FDA does not regulate the use of the terms organic, or natural. Many manufacturers take advantage of this loophole when labeling and advertising their products. In order to avoid being manipulated, you have to educate yourself and study the ingredients of a beauty product before committing to adding it into your routine.
To make matters even more complicated, if a natural compound is created synthetically in a lab, do you still consider this chemically identical substance natural, even if it wasn’t derived from a plant? Causing further confusion and frustration, even when the product has been confirmed to only contain natural, plant derived elements, that still does not guarantee safety. The ingredient urushiol has been used in products that claim to be all natural. The company is not lying, urushiol is indeed a natural plant derived chemical from poison ivy. Not exactly a product you want to slather on your skin.
Before you hand over your hard earned money, here are a few more things you need to know before trying out an all natural product.
Fragrance & Essential Oils
One of the most attractive attributes of a beauty product turns out to be one of its most elusive. Because fragrance is considered by the FDA to be a ‘trade secret’, labels are not required to list any of the individual components. When you see the word fragrance in the ingredient list, it may be being used as a blanket term for hundreds of chemical items.
Essential oils are a much more natural option to fragrant your products and they come with some added benefits. The antibacterial, antifungal and healing properties of these oils make them a fantastic addition to your beauty products. However, certain precautions must still be taken when using products that contain essential oils as an ingredient.
While ‘therapeutic’ or ‘clinical’ grade sound like safe bets on a label, keep in mind that these terms are not regulated by any governing body. They are marketing terms and do not speak for the safety or purity of the oil. In fact, the word ‘pure’ is in the same camp. Pure can mean whatever the manufacture or advertiser would like it to mean; it has no guarantee associated with it. Truly pure essential oils can be very expensive, therefore much of the oils you see on the shelves are actually blended with cheaper oils in order to keep costs down.
When you are able to get your hands on a product that actually contains a pure essential oil, caution should still be used. Essential oils are powerful tools and adverse reactions are not uncommon. Allergic reactions including hives, itching and blistering can all occur from exposure. Eucalyptus, rosemary, tea tree, oregano and citrus-derived ingredients like Bergamot or lemon oil are all common offenders. The detox theory states that because essential oils are devoid of proteins they cannot cause an allergic reaction is false. Penicillin contains no proteins, yet some develop allergies to it. The detox theory suggests continued use after irritation is encountered. But I suggest ceasing use immediately and always do an allergy test by using a small amount of the product on the inner arm to test for a reaction before applying any product elsewhere.
After a week of discontinuing my usual face washing routine and switching to washing with a jojoba based oil, my skin was noticeably younger looking. It was smoother, my acne (which I still got in my thirties) was almost gone and I kept telling my best friend to touch my face as I felt the need for everyone to understand how amazing this oil was (and still no acne from the face touching!). This however, was not the first oil I had turned to after my switch to more natural products. The first oil never seemed to properly soak into my skin; it left oil marks on my pillowcase and didn’t make any discernible difference in my skin’s condition. I decided to take a closer look at the ingredients in each oil to see if I could determine what made them distinct from one another.
I immediately started thinking about the shelf life of oils. Oil can turn rancid when exposed to air, light, moisture or bacteria. These rancid oils also produce free radicals. These cell-damaging fellas are found everywhere, including the polluted air we breathe, and the fried foods we eat. Our bodies are already constantly fighting off this oxidative stress, do we really need to be slathering free-radicals all over our skin? Well, you might be doing exactly that, if your oils are past their prime.
The shelf life of many commonly used beauty oils is roughly up to one year under ideal conditions (i.e. not your hot, moist bathroom). I checked my previous facial oil and found grapeseed, almond and apricot kernel oils. All three have a shelf life of a maximum of 1 year. My new facial oil contains jojoba (actually a liquid plant wax not an oil) and coconut oils as the main ingredients; their shelf lives are a maximum of 5 and 4 years respectively. It will take 4-5 times as long for my new facial oil to start producing free radicals as my old oil. Which oils are you more confident in applying to your sensitive facial skin?
Also, be weary of olive and argan oils. With shelf lives of 2 years they may seem like a better choice than their 1 year counterparts but these oils have serious purity issues and are often mixed with unlisted mystery oils. It’s best to stay away if you are not confident in the production process.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve made the switch to natural products! If you want some brand recommendations I have a few tried and true. ;)
Thanks for reading!