JUNE 21, 2020
Written by Stephanie Powers
I know there are a lot of opinions about “green,” “natural,” and “organic” skincare brands and I know there are a lot of conspiracy theories about why doctors aren’t typically recommending these types of products to patients. The same reasons your dermatologist isn’t recommending these products is the same reason why estheticians and other professionals don’t work with these products, and it has nothing to do with kickbacks, Big Pharma or any other malevolent entities. It comes down to scientific evidence. The best science we have actually shows that natural products tend have higher rates of reactions and allergies, and often times these products haven’t undergone the necessary safety and efficacy tests. There are a lot of reasons from this that have to do with things like cost, manufacturing, chemical complexity and preservation methods. On the other hand, Medical grade products actually have to test their products for both safety and efficacy, and they are required to back up their claims. As a professional working with these products in the treatment room, this helps me deliver results and protect my clients from adverse reactions.
The main issue with this discussion is that it isn’t black and white, so demonizing synthetic ingredients and overlooking issues with natural ingredients just to market products as “green” misses the point entirely. Each chemical, class of chemicals, and combinations of chemicals must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Science based skincare has always been concerned with safety and efficacy and it uses the best in synthetics AND natural ingredients in order to achieve the best outcomes for consumers. Science isn’t concerned with ideological purity, it’s concerned with evidence. Very few products on the market are 100% “natural” and most tend to have a blend of both synthetic and natural ingredients anyways, so there’s a false dichotomy being presented between natural and synthetic and we don’t have to choose between things like safety, efficacy or ethically sourced ingredients. Sustainability and ethical sourcing is also an issue with product manufacturing, but this isn’t an issue that the green skincare market has a monopoly on. In fact, this is an issue affecting all manufacturing and we all need to make this a priority globally, not just in the beauty industry. Consumers have become afraid of chemicals and started looking for products they think would be “natural” or “safer.” Although there have been a few issues in the past, cosmetics actually have a pretty good track record of being safe for consumers (remember DDT and asbestos, anyone?), and the rising concerns with their safety are increasing disproportionately to any evidence that they cause harm. There are issues with popular watchdog organizations such as EWG spreading science misinformation and as of now there is a huge gap in accountability for green products. The number of useful and accessible resources for consumers is limited, since the majority of the “information” on the internet and in the news is regularly unfounded, biased, unreferenced and even dishonest.
Here are a few fun facts about toxicity, chemicals and skincare:
- Everything is chemical. Air. Water. Strawberries. Brains. Puppies. Bombs. There is no such thing as “chemical free” products.
- 62% of known carcinogens (cancer causing agents) are natural
- Synthetic copies of natural ingredients are molecularly identical in every way to their natural counterparts. Totally the same.
- Parabens have never been shown to cause any harm to humans whatsoever. A mom group on the internet got ahold of a breast cancer paper, didn’t know how to interpret what they read and then concluded that parabens caused breast cancer and circulated it wildly and cost the beauty industry billions in reformulations. Parabens are actually food grade safe effective preservatives that were protecting the consumer, but who needs safe and effective preservatives at very low PPM when you have the power of GREEN (Marketing. Green marketing.)
Now this is not to say that organic or natural products are necessarily bad, dangerous or ineffective (although some are), this is just to say that in the absence of evidence, I’m agnostic and I’d rather let evidence guide my beliefs- not blind fear. I choose to work with “knowns” rather than “unknowns”, and I love and recommend the natural lines that get it right (I’m talking to you, Doctor Rogers). If something is working for you, then it is working for you! I’d love to see more science in skincare, and I’d like to see more science literacy in general. I think a mindful blend of synthetics and stable, natural ingredients tends to win, and those are exactly the kind of formulations I currently recommend to clients.
Stay tuned for more on science based skincare info!
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