Natural isn’t always safe when it comes to skincare

Most people think that just because a product says ‘no preservatives’ or ‘100% organic’, it means that it is safe for use. However, experts say otherwise.

Myupchar December 17, 2019 18:45:34 IST
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Natural isn’t always safe when it comes to skincare

When it comes to skincare, most people are really picky. From brands to individual products, we tend to analyze all the information available before making a choice. With rising awareness about healthcare and toxic ingredients, consumers are now questioning almost everything that goes into everyday skincare products as well. It’s not uncommon to see a person asking questions like - Is it natural? Is it organic and if not what chemicals does it contain? 

Natural skincare products are all the hype these days. Most people think that just because a product says ‘no preservatives’ or ‘100% organic’, it means that it is safe for use. However, experts say otherwise.

Natural isnt always safe when it comes to skincare

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

Dr Courtney Blair Rubin, a dermatology resident at the University of Pennsylvania explained the effect of the natural and organic beauty movement in her article Natural Does Not Mean Safe-The Dirt on Clean Beauty Products, published in the journal JAMA dermatology. She wrote that most of the ingredients that are being shunned by clean beauty evangelists are actually important to maintain the integrity and safety status of the product. Remove any of them and you might as well be creating a recipe for a skin infection.

Greenwashing

The natural skincare market accounted for about 25% of the 5.6 billion dollar skincare market in 2018. The reason? ‘Greenwashing’ - a marketing strategy that preys on the fear of people and their belief in natural, and supposedly healthier and safer, products. 

But the truth is that the Food and Drug Authority (FDA), the central authority that approves all drugs that go into the market in the USA, does not have specific rules on what exactly is organic or natural. In fact, the term natural just means that the ingredient is coming from a natural source. Most natural ingredients have to be processed to make them safe before they can go into a cosmetic. Synthetic ingredients, on the other hand, are made in the lab to mimic the natural ingredients. Regardless, both these type of ingredients fall under the category of ‘chemicals’.

The term organic is an agricultural standard. This means the said ingredient was obtained from a product that was grown as per certain criteria and regulations. It has nothing to do with the cosmetic itself.

However, all ingredients in a cosmetic have to be under permissible (safe) limits. If a company makes a health claim about a cosmetic, the product comes under the category of drug and is regulated more strictly.

The convicts

One of the most common convicts in any skincare product is parabens. Parabens are preservatives that improve the shelf life of cosmetics. Essentially, they prevent microbial growth in the product. In the absence of preservatives, pathogenic bacteria or fungi can thrive in the cosmetic and may cause infection when applied to the skin. 

However, parabens have been found to have estrogenic properties. They mimic estrogen and are hence thought to cause breast cancer. Note the word ‘thought’: a lot of studies have found conflicting data that could not confirm the hypothesis. So it can’t be said for sure that parabens are harmful. 

On the other hand, parabens have proven to be one of the safest and non-allergic preservatives, as compared to some herbal ingredients that can cause allergy, photosensitisation and even dermatitis. More cases of contact dermatitis have been noted since the popularisation of natural products. 

Similarly, petroleum jelly, a product that most dermatologists recommend for its low cost and humectant (moisture preserving) properties is being rejected by a lot of people for its ‘supposed’ carcinogenic properties. Unrefined petroleum jelly indeed has some carcinogenic substances, though, most commercial products are refined more than once to remove these ingredients. 

But many brands sell this product and not all of them have a good refining process. So, it is always best to buy only good grade products from reputable sources.

In her paper, Rubin compared this natural skincare movement to the anti-vaccine movement where people have forgotten the importance of a necessary product because of theoretical risks.

For more information, please read our article on Glowing Skin.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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