Natural is Not Necessarily Best for Sensitive Skin

I truly believe that the trend towards more natural foods and cosmetics is a wonderful development. It is a great step and it is a necessary step. I think there are a lot of unknowns in regards to all of the chemicals we consume on a day to day basis. That being said, I do not see why people see the words “natural” and “organic” on cosmetics and believe that they are fundamentally unable to cause irritation.

It is completely bizarre to me that some women will smell a flower, sneeze countless times, and yet believe that their skin will only improve if they rub a concentrated essence of that flower on their face. A few weeks ago, while visiting Portland, Oregon, I had a lady at a department store cosmetic counter doing a makeup application on me. I told her ahead of time my allergies/sensitivities and yet she didn’t look at the back of any products. Luckily I knew the product line fairly well and knew I was mostly safe, but she snuck a serum on my face and the tingling turned to burning. I told her how my face felt and she looked at me like she didn’t even believe me and said, “Well, I don’t know how that could be, everything in this line is completely natural.”

First off, not true, it is a brand I like quite a bit (so I won’t mention the name here) but it does use dyes and it does use fragrance that isn’t denoted as organic, on top if the natural oils it uses. This sort of miseducation bothers me a lot as a cosmetologist because it gives us a bad name. The general public doesn’t believe us when we talk because department store workers who are on commission occasionally lie (or say the “correct” answer without checking) to sell more product. I also don’t like the fact that they feel a need to lie because the public is so obsessed with the elusive “truly natural” product.

One argument in favor of organic products is that the ingredients have been around forever so we would know if they caused significant harm to humans. However, it is not the actual substance that is the problem, it is how it is processed and the concentration. A hundred years ago people may have been using perfumes but not in the quantities we do today. Natural or otherwise, how much do we really know about any kind of fragrance used multiple times a day in virtually everything we use on our skin. Products aside, just the frequency with which we use everything is crazy relative to how much people used to shower.

Even natural substances our occasionally found to be harmful, for example, coumarin, a popular choice in men’s fragrance (for that earthy, fresh cut grass scent), used to be in many food additives before it was banned by the US, and other countries, because it was toxic to lab mice. There is no evidence at this point to necessitate banning it in fragrances, but between an unknown synthetic fragrance and a mildly toxic natural fragrance I would probably prefer the synthetic.

Most of us are not chemists, which makes us extremely vulnerable to marketing. Things can say sulfate free and call something that is basically sodium lauryl sulfate organic coconut oil. If you go back far enough, everything is from nature.

All I am trying to say is: listen to your skin! It will tell you what it likes, and it won’t necessarily be any old thing that says “organic” on the bottle.

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