Many of us already prioritize eating clean, quality foods—but should we hold the products we put on our skin to the same standard? According to many experts, yes. Here’s why it’s time for you to give natural skin-care a try.
The Influence Of Organic Food
Around the early 2000s, people started adding more organic food options to their grocery carts. This may have been the result of smart marketing (many companies started pairing the word ‘organic’ with ‘healthy,’ linking the two in consumers’ minds) or because people were learning about the effects pesticides have on the environment, says Ellie Kempton, R.D.N., founder of Simply Nourished Nutrition and consultant for Life Smart by Carrie Dorr.
Since then, the movement has compelled the food industry to put more organic options in stores across America. These days, 45 percent of Americans try to include organic food in their diets. “I’m excited and confident [that] this percentage will only continue to grow,” says Kempton.
Beyond Food: Why What We Put On Our Skin Matters
In recent years, the interest in cleaner food options has spilled over into other aspects of our health, too. It’s no longer just about nutrition and exercise, but what we put on our bodies, too, Kempton says. That’s why natural skin-care is an obvious—and important—next step for anyone focused on clean living.
“Our skin is the largest organ of the body, with the greatest surface area for absorption,” says Jamie Schehr, N.D., R.D., a naturopathic physician in New York City. “When we are constantly putting things on our skin that are inflammatory, toxic, or reactive, it can have an effect on [our] overall health or directly damage the integrity of skin cells.”
Some of the biggest offenders in our products: parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), BHA and BHT, and formaldehyde.
The Research On Skin-Care Products And Health
Science hasn’t yet confirmed how the amounts of these chemicals found in beauty and skin-care products affect our health. However, research has identified them as potentially harmful.
Take parabens, for example. Typically, these chemicals, which act as preservatives and halt bacterial growth, are added to products to extend their shelf life. In 2014, a small study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology found that out of the breast tumors of 20 women, 19 contained traces of parabens. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the parabens caused the cancer—or that they’re definitively linked—it suggests a concerning potential connection.
And if you’re not sold on the idea that your skin actually absorbs these chemicals, consider this: One 2016 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that after just three days of using personal care products labeled ‘chemical-free,’ levels of phthalate, parabens, and phenols in teenagers’ urine decreased significantly.
Clearly, more large-scale research needs to be done to truly determine just how much threat synthetic products pose.
While we wait for science to catch up, many consumers are proactively opting for more natural products. “As we continue to discover [the link between] certain chemicals [and] higher incidence of disease, we can choose to avoid these chemicals or ingredients,” says Schehr.
Strides In Natural Skin-Care
Luckily, more and more body- and Earth-friendly brands are popping up every day. One example: Shea Moisture, a brand that leaves parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, and other suspect ingredients out of their hair-care, skin-care, and men’s products. (The Vitamin Shoppe carries a wide assortment of Shea Moisture products, as well as many other beauty and skin-care brands that prioritize quality, natural ingredients.)
And the healthy beauty movement doesn’t end with making products less harmful for our bodies, says Schehr. The industry is also moving to make products less harmful for environment by using greener production and packaging methods.
Dr. Bronner’s—a household name for its super-clean soaps—supports suppliers who use sustainable farming practices, uses 100-percent post-consumer plastic in their packaging, and is currently working toward becoming a zero-waste business. Meanwhile, the high-end brand Origins uses renewable energy to produce their products, transports said products in recycled cardboard shippers (zero Styrofoam involved), and only works with factories that contribute zero waste to landfills.
Shopping For Good-For-You Skin-Care
Though we can all benefit from cleaning up our routines, converting to natural personal products is a highly individual process. After all, you have to consider which products to swap, your budget, and your personal skin concerns, Schehr says.
If you are going to do it, Schehr recommends starting with deodorant. “This has become a hot topic in the health and wellness world due to the potential negative effects of conventional deodorant,” she explains. “Because we are likely to wear it daily and apply in excess, choosing a natural deodorant is a great place to start when making the switch to natural products.” Two popular options: Every Man Jack’s Cedarwood Deodorant and Crystal’s Lavender & White Tea Deodorant.
From there, prioritize the other products you switch over based on how often you use them. Swap out products you use daily—like body wash and moisturizer—before cosmetics you only use once in a while. “What is most important is that when considering a change, [you] do it in a fashion that is sustainable, affordable and, most importantly, effective,” Schehr says.
Looking for sustainable packaging is another easy place to start. “It doesn’t directly affect the skin, but it does have a major effect on the environment,” Schehr says. And more often than not, brands that prioritize environmental sustainability also prioritize quality ingredients.
Beyond that, just check your labels. “The best thing you can do is understand what is in your product,” Schehr says. “If you see an ingredient you’re unfamiliar with, look [it] up.” In general, avoid products that contain parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), BHA, BHT, and formaldehyde.
If you want more specific guidance, pay your dermatologist a visit. They can recommend which other ingredients to look for and avoid based on your skin type.
Just remember, personal care decisions are just that: personal. What works for one friend may not be best for you. And that’s okay, Schehr says. Because “if it doesn’t make you feel great, then what’s the point?”