What are natural skin care products? Here, at the Klog, we’re always on a mission to debunk skin care myths. So when we heard that skin care chemists Michelle of LabMuffin and the chemists behind Chemist Confessions all thought that the biggest skin care myth was surrounding, “natural” on product labels, we decided to do some digging.
We reached out to Rachel Nazarian, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group, and Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, to get to the bottom of what this term actually means.
What does it mean when a product label says “natural”?
Not very much. Both Nazarian and Zeichner point out that there is no regulated definition of “natural” according to the FDA. Zeichner tells us, “Most cosmeceutical experts would define [natural] products as free of dyes, fragrances, parabens, phthalates, and sulfates. And moreover, ones that contain natural ingredients from sustainable sources.”
Nazarian agrees, stating, “The description of ‘natural’ generally means that the product doesn’t contain artificial ingredients, synthetics or artificial colors, but is not strictly enforced. It’s typically used for food products but often the term is extended to skin care and hygiene products.”
She also points out that, “because it’s such a poorly regulated term, it’s more a marketing tool than anything else.”
Does “natural” necessarily correspond to good?
Nope. Nazarian says, “The term does not imply any real health benefit or nutritional benefit at all.” Zeichner reiterates her point, “A natural product is not necessarily any safer than or more effective than traditional products. Natural products can cause skin allergies and irritation as much as other products.”
So, no. Full stop.
What does it mean for a product to be “organic”?
Believe it or not, the FDA does not have a definition for the term “organic,” and the term is not regulated or enforced under the FDA. “The term ‘organic’ is regulated by the USDA, rather than the FDA,” Zeichner tells us. “There is no official term, but rather it refers to ingredients that have been grown under organic conditions.”
Nazarian adds, “Organic has the same restrictions as ‘natural’ but the ingredients in the product must also be free of chemical ripening or genetically modified ingredients, among a few other restrictions.” And the term itself, “was only recently allowed to be applied to topical products, and not just food substances.”
Are there any natural products that you wouldn’t recommend people use on their face?
“Many natural ingredients are not safe for skin.” Nazarian says. “Skin maintains a very narrow pH, and if you apply substances (even natural ones) such as lemon juice, sugar, toothpaste, baking soda, vinegar, etc. onto skin, and it disrupts the natural barrier and pH balance, it can cause a lot of inflammation and irritation to the skin.”
Zeichner warns to be “careful about using ingredients like essential oils. They can be effective, but can cause irritation or severe skin reaction in the sun.” He also pointed out additional ingredients that can be associated with skin allergies including aloe, arnica, cucumber, ginkgo, lavender oil, peppermint, rosemary, sage, chamomile, and tea tree oil. He points out that, “these ingredients are not to be avoided, but just to be aware of especially if you have sensitive skin.”
The Bottom Line
Take it from the experts: Natural, organic, and good definitely aren’t the same thing. In fact, natural may mean nothing at all. As both Nazarian and Zeichner point out to us, poison ivy is a natural ingredient but definitely not safe or something you’d want to be putting on your skin. It’s better to test and see what works best for your skin, “natural” or not.