Why “Natural” Products Aren’t Always The Best Bet For Your Skin

Everything natural isn’t good for us. Everything synthetic isn’t bad. As consumers, we’re becoming increasingly privy to false or sensationalized product label claims, such as “100% natural,” “organic” and “eco-friendly.” There’s tons of misinformation out there. It takes a lot of digging and self-education to decipher it. The conversation has largely told us natural = good and synthetic = bad. I think the conversation needs to shift to: Is it safe for me? Is it safe for the planet?

When I first started Sumbody 19 years ago, I didn’t tout “natural” on the label because it wasn’t yet in vogue. The widespread perception was that natural products weren’t effective and only chemical-filled products delivered results. Little did most people know, those chemicals were actually harming skin. Plus, natural ingredients can be just as, if not more, potent than their chemical counterparts.

Additionally, we see better results from naturally-derived products, as chemical products are counterproductive to healthy skin, causing issues such as wrinkles, premature aging, rosacea, dryness, and acne. When considering the potency of natural ingredients, think about alcohol: completely natural with mind and body-altering properties. When it comes to skincare, it’s all about harnessing the proper active ingredients to create the desired results.

So what is natural? If something is derived from corn or coconut, does that count? At the Society Of Cosmetic Chemists, where I was a keynote speaker on this topic, chemists were debating this, down to the molecular level.

I suggest we stop trying to understand what is and isn’t “natural” and focus on what’s safe. When we boil it down and get past the jargon, isn’t that what we’re looking for? Will it harm our health or that of the planet? This may seem radical to some, concerned with their exposure and married to the term “all natural.” Take cyanide: completely natural, yet highly toxic. Essential oils, too, are natural, but can be caustic. For this reason, I suggest treating them like medicine: using them occasionally for specific needs, not continuously. The lesson here? Everything natural isn’t good for you and everything synthetic isn’t bad.

Amidst all this confusion, debate, and false advertising, it’s time to reassess our true goals and simplify. As a consumer, I suggest disregarding a product’s front label with all its flashy claims. Instead, focus on the back label. A longtime advocate for this method, my first book Look Great, Live Green delves into understanding labels to decide what to put on skin. Try not to get hung up on deciding between ammonium lauryl sulfate, triethanolamine, and cocamidopropyl betaine that are “made from coconut” or polysorbate 40 that’s “derived from lauric acid from coconuts” and sorbitol, which “occurs naturally in many fruits.” Let’s ditch the molecule discussion and return to what really matters.

I have a firm approach to what I put in and on my body: guilty until proven innocent. If there’s any question about the toxicity or health risks of any ingredient, I avoid it until more testing can be done to garner a more definitive answer.

Here’s what you can do to find the answer about health safety.

Don’t blindly trust the company who’s making the product.

A new tactic for some brands is to say, “We hired an independent toxicologist or chemist or had all the ingredient tested in an outside lab.” They may truly stand behind the results, but the “outside” services were paid for by them. We need to push for testing to be done by the manufactures before they can sell us an ingredient. We need scientific health studies done on the ingredients before they can be passed for consumer use.

Reference Material Data Safety Sheets (MSDS) online.

For example: From MSDS on Triethanolamine, “Special Remarks on other Toxic Effects on Humans”: Acute Potential Health Effects: Skin: May cause skin irritation with burning pain, itching, and redness. May be absorbed through the skin and affect the liver, metabolism, and urinary tract. Eyes: Causes eye irritation with tearing and burning pain. May cause transient corneal injury. Ingestion: Causes gastrointestinal (digestive) tract irritation with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. May also affect behavior, sense organs, liver, and urinary system. Inhalation: Inhalation of mist may cause respiratory tract irritation. May also affect the liver, blood, urinary system, and cardiovascular system. Chronic Potential Health Effects: May cause liver and kidney damage. Prolonged or repeated contact may cause skin necrosis and/or ulceration of the skin.

Look for products with familiar ingredients, such as oils, butters, salts.

Buy and use less.

Make a list of the top 10 ingredients you want to learn about and gradually and expand your knowledge.

When all else fails, you can always email us at Sumbody.