With the explosion of new “green” products entering the skin care market in the last year or so, it is now commonplace to find drug store shelves lined with products featuring “green packaging,” in order to convey a message that their products are pure and all natural. However, in many cases, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Often you will find a handful of botanical ingredients mixed in with many potentially toxic synthetic ingredients.

But the question we may want to ask is, “Are all synthetic ingredients harmful?” As natural and organic products have become increasingly popular due to consumer awareness, it seems that the word “synthetic,” has developed a bad reputation, regardless of whether a product is safe or not.

Conversely, there are ingredients found in nature that you would not want to use as some can actually be toxic. Some natural ingredients such as lavender and bergamot oil may increase sensitivity to sunlight. For some people, coconut oil (a very popular natural ingredient can be drying or clog pores). While essential oils do have benefits (they are routinely used in natural skin care products), they can be irritating for some sensitive skin types.

Sometimes it is necessary to use a non-toxic synthetic ingredient (s) when no equivalent can be found in nature. More and more naturally based companies are using some of the ” hottest” anti-aging ingredients in their products. Are they 100% all natural? Some are not. Are they safe? According to some research data banks that evaluate the safety of cosmetic ingredients, they are rated as relatively non-toxic (however, more research may be needed to demonstrate the safety levels of these ingredients). Among them are Matrixyl 3000, a synthetic pentapedtide, which is suppose to increase collagen production, hyaluronic acid, a powerful humectant which occurs naturally in the human body, and R-Lipoic Acid, a powerful antioxidant which mimics what our bodies naturally produce, but is synthesized in a lab because there is not enough of it found in nature.

While the idea of using 100% all natural products may seem appealing, it does not necessarily mean they are safe. In fact, failure to include effective preservatives in a product can lead to health problems, such as skin infection. Some companies use a combination of essential oils, but research indicates that in order for essential oils to be effective as a standalone preservative, they would need to be used at unsafe levels. In our opinion, there are really no safe and effective all natural preservatives. While it is sometimes apparent that a product has gone “bad,” (e.g. visible mold spores or product separation), bacteria may not always be visible to the naked eye. So, in reality you may be using a product which may look fine, when in fact it isn’t.

Often, it is necessary to use some type of synthetic non-toxic preservative (s) to ensure the products you use are safe. The recent negative publicity surrounding the use of parabens may give the impression that all synthetic preservatives are toxic or carcinogenic, when in fact, they are not. Many natural skin care companies find it challenging to come up with safe and non-toxic preservatives for their natural products. In an ideal world, we’d be able to pluck the leaves or seeds from a plant or tree, crush it up and mix into our products and come up with a safe and effective preservative. In reality, this rarely happens.

Some natural preservatives are originally plant derived, but must undergo a chemical process to convert them into a viable and effective compound strong enough to prevent and combat bacteria and fungus. A balance must be struck between effectiveness and gentleness – in other words, a preservative, which is not only non-toxic, but one that won’t cause (in the majority of people) skin irritations, allergic reactions (e.g. dermatitis). Some non-toxic preservatives which undergo some type of synthetic process with excellent safety records include Cosmocil CQ , Potassium Sorbate (usually used in conjunction with other preservatives), and Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE). However, manufacturers should make sure their GSE is free from tricolsan and benzethonium chloride. Many natural skin care companies also use Phenoxyethanol, another broad spectrum preservative. These preservatives may offer a potentially safer alternative to parabens and preservatives that release formaldehyde such as imidazolidinyl urea and DMDM Hydatoin.

From our perspective, it is more important for a product to be safe and non-toxic rather than a 100% all natural. Bear in mind, that some consumer advocacy organizations such as the Natural Ingredient Resource Center (NIRC) considers a product “all natural”, if it contains at least 95% of ingredients which fits their criteria for natural ingredients. The other 5% may come from ingredients that do not meet their criteria for natural, but do not contain synthetic fragrances, artificial colors or ingredients from petrochemicals. The toxicity of each ingredient must also be minimal. So a product label which reads, “All Natural,” may not be same as one that states, “100% All Natural.”

Educate yourself as much as possible. This will ensure that the products you purchase are not only effective, but safe. Many resources are available on the Internet to provide you with important information so you can make more informed choices. Also there are many books which you can check out at your local bookstore which focus on safe and non-toxic skincare.

This post was submitted by Dr. Teri Dourmashkin, the Founder and President of La Vie Celeste Skin Care, a manufacturer of all natural, cruelty free and vegan anti-aging skin care products, specifically designed for sensitive skin.

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