Today, there’s a lot of buzz around toxins and its harmful effects. Unfortunately, many have misconstrued it and assumed that “toxins” and “chemicals” are synonyms, which is not always the case. Just because an ingredient is natural, does not necessarily mean it does not contain naturally occurring toxins; and just because an ingredient is a chemical, does not necessarily mean it is toxic.
Environmental groups caution against ingredients such as parabens (which are frequently used as preservatives); petrochemicals and their by-products (often found in skin creams, foundations, and lip balms); mercury (in mascara and eyedrops); lead (in lipsticks); dioxane (in shampoos and body washes); and phthalates in nail polishes and hair sprays. Some studies show that these ingredients can mimic the effects of hormones in the body or, at high levels, possibly increase the risk of cancer.
Most people believe that natural and organic ingredients are better than synthetic ones. But this is not necessarily true. Synthetic ingredients are often very useful in skincare—they help in increasing the shelf life of a product. This implies that many synthetic ingredients act as preservatives.
For instance, hyaluronic acid is a good synthetic ingredient used in skincare. Hyaluronic acid is considered to be one of the best hydrators because of its moisture-binding properties. As we age, our skin loses its ability to retain moisture. This is when an ingredient like hyaluronic acid does the powerful job of plumping your skin and helps it regain the lost moisture. Yes, you might fear the word ‘acid’ in your skincare routine but truth is that it actually benefits the skin in many ways.
Naturals, on the other hand, are not always good for the skin. Certain natural ingredients can easily make your skin far more sensitive. For instance, alcohol might be a naturally-sourced ingredient but it is actually considered bad for the skin since it can hamper the skin’s surface.
Find what works best for your body
Be aware that all-natural ingredients can cause allergic reactions. A study in the British Journal of Dermatology revealed that popular natural ingredients such as tea tree oil, lavender, and jasmine brought on allergic or sensitivity responses in some people. Plant-derived substances are still chemicals and can potentially be unsafe. For example, one should never put certain essential oils – such as cinnamon oil and citronella – directly on your skin.
Basically, allergies don’t discriminate between natural or synthetic – you can have an allergic reaction to anything.
While there is a global trend that leans towards natural and organic skincare, it is also a fact that we are using more manmade ingredients than ever – with SPF, retinol and acid peels that have now become part of a regular skincare regime for many. Retinol and other vitamin ‘A’ derivatives are a favourite amongst dermatologists, and can do wonders to your skin – they’re known for their anti-ageing and acne-clearing properties.
This has sort of divided the beauty industry into two camps: those that are wary of chemicals and prefer 100% natural products, and those that need lab-based proof to ensure that the products are safe and effective.
But why do we need to choose? Why not have the best of both worlds? There is no rule that says that you can’t use both. So why not combine state-of-the-art synthetic ingredients with exceptionally effective plant extracts and other beneficial natural ingredients?
Perceive products as safe and effective
Instead of viewing products as synthetic vs. natural, understand that there are good, safe, and effective ingredients and that there are bad, harmful, and unsafe ingredients.
Natural ingredients like peppermint, menthol, eucalyptus, lavender and other essential oils are commonly found in natural beauty products. However, research has established that these ingredients can irritate sensitive skin and irritated skin causes collagen to break down and this hinders the skin’s ability to heal. You don’t really want that, do you?
On the other hand, there are loads of lab-engineered, synthetic ingredients that have a clean track record for safety, and are backed by research in support of their effectiveness in treating signs of ageing and other skin concerns. (Here’s looking at you, retinol.)
Here’s what you can do:
Read the ingredients
The most obvious, but least used weapon we have. Pay attention to the ingredient lists before becoming a brand loyalist
Do your research
Understand the difference between safe and unsafe ingredients.
Know your skin
Understand your skin and figure out which ingredients your skin needs to address the concerns it has.
A lot of people are allergic to nuts, and steer clear of peanuts, almonds, and the whole range of nuts. Similarly, do a patch test of the product you’ve chosen on the inner side of your elbow, before you decide to rub it all over your face.
If a product says it contains natural strawberries, but smells like imitation strawberry-flavoured candy, then it might not be as natural as you’d like it to be.
Beauty is very personal, so trust your own preferences and do your research.