Natural Is Better Or Is It?

All-natural products are undoubtedly the rage in today’s consumer-based market. From food products to beauty items, perception is everything, and the abundance of all-natural products on the market gives the appearance that natural is the healthier and safer option at first glance. Looking beneath the surface of these all-natural products and reading the fine print on their packaging reveal a whole lot more. And in regards to “all-natural” cosmetics and skincare products, the water gets even murkier and the details get blurry. In fact, often, a patient will be shocked to find out that she has developed an allergic reaction or contact dermatitis to an “all-natural“ skin product. How can this possibly be? There are several good reasons that “all-natural” is not necessarily better, more effective, or safer.

It is important to keep in mind that at baseline, “all-natural” products are simply unregulated and untested. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, the “FDA has not defined the term ‘natural’ and has not established a regulatory definition for this term in cosmetic labeling.”  The FDA also does not have regulations for the term “organic” for cosmetics. Products that tout having organic or botanical ingredients are assumed to be safe, but that is not always true. Often times, these products are labeled as “all-natural” solely because they have not been created in a laboratory setting. In fact, this losing of the scientific setting saves a company a lot of money and often results in sub-par formulations, ineffective results, and sometimes deleterious clinical outcomes from such skin products. Such an example is Jessica Alba’s Honest Company®’s Sunscreen, which resulted in numerous sunburns in 2015, many of whom were children.

Even if one looked past the lack of regulation in this industry and the potential for false labeling, it is key to be aware that blindly mixing and compounding botanicals, vitamins, minerals, and other “all-natural” components is problematic because these agents are not always safe for topical use on your skin, either alone or in combination. Many products that are safe for consumption orally surprisingly are not ideal or safe for topical application; not everything that is naturally derived is safe for topical use. Here at HDC, in the summer months, it is common for us to treat patients with phytophotodermatitis, colloquially known as “bartender’s dermatitis”. This blistering inflammation of the skin, which is like an extremely itchy, severe blistering sunburn, is caused by contact with furocoumarins and is activated by ultraviolet radiation like the sun. Although furocoumarins sound like a very ominous, scary term, these are simply a natural compound found in fruits and plants, primarily citrus-based like limes. But once the citrus juices come into contact with exposed skin and are activated by the sun, the furocoumarins can cause a harmful, toxic dermatosis, even though we can drink and ingest limejuice without consequence. Keep in mind that this entire process is completely natural, but is simply the combination of lime juice and the sun causing a toxic reaction in the skin. This type of reaction being only one example of many, it’s important to realize that the barrier function and protective membrane of your skin are far different from the barrier and protective membranes of other organs found internally in the human body. Not all organs are created equally.

Most reputable and well-known cosmetic and skincare companies are definitely not based on any notion of being all-natural, but these are not at all dangerous or poor choices when it comes to your skincare. In fact, these are far safer because they are tested, regulated, and demonstrate a safe and effective track record. These tested products are carefully formulated and delivered to your skin with specific functions and properties in mind. There are a multitude of properties that a skincare product possesses to deliver the optimal therapeutic benefits to your skin. From pH, to vehicles or “carriers” such as ointments, serums and creams, to the particle size of the active ingredients– all of these properties combine to allow them to penetrate effectively beneath the surface of the skin, to optimally deliver the active ingredients, and to target the areas where they are needed the most. In fact, an all-natural ingredient or product may not have the correct pH or its active ingredient may possess too large a molecule to have any effect except to sit on top of the surface as an inert substance. Or it may even cause a negative effect such as an allergic or toxic reaction. Actually, many natural products may do wonders when eaten, but may not do well when slathered on your skin. Restorsea®, one of our popular product lines in the office, has several natural ingredients, is composed of the purest ingredients, and is free of parabens, PEGs, phthalates, mineral oil, or silicone. Most importantly, this product line has also been rigorously clinically tested, and is backed by clinical studies to not only prove therapeutic efficacy, but insure patient and consumer safety.

Although all-natural cosmetic products are enticing and even preferred by many, always be an educated consumer and do your homework. Read the fine print and check out the company’s reputation and the research backing the product line. And on that note, let’s leave you with a thought to ponder. Remember our patient who is in disbelief that her allergic reaction is due to an “all-natural” skincare product? Rest assured that this patient will be happily and thankfully applying some very unnatural prescription creams to relieve her extremely itchy and inflamed dermatitis, and Dr. Honet’s very assured and unruffled response will be, “Natural isn’t necessarily better. Poison ivy is natural, too.” And that is that.

Happy healthy skin!

— Senada and Dr. H

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