If you’re already using, or thinking about switching to natural face care, chances are it’s because you’ve become aware of some of the dubious chemicals found in many skin and personal care products. So it might be a bit of a shock to discover that natural face care products still contain ingredients that are actively damaging your skin! There are no regulations within the beauty and skincare industry that govern claims such as natural. Natural skincare, it turns out is merely a marketing buzzword.
Before diving into these sneaky ingredients, go and grab your favourite natural moisturiser and run your eyes over the ingredients list. How many ingredients does it contain?
What about your cleanser? Toner? Makeup?
Just how many chemicals are you putting on your skin every single day? 30? 50? Over 100?
Do you know what all of those ingredients are? Are they all safe? Safe for your skin and its microbiome? Safe for the environment (all those chemicals get washed down the drain every time you shower or wash your skin)?
When you’re looking at Natural Skincare products that have 20+ ingredients in them, you have to wonder if it can really be natural when it reads more like the ingredient list on a bag of processed food.
These are the 4 things that I wish everyone knew about natural skincare and how common ingredients disrupt your skin’s natural processes.
Preservatives damage you skin microbiome
Your skin microbiome is the population of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that inhabit the very top layer of your skin. They also inhabit the various microscopic cracks and crevices of your skin, including hair follicles. These microbes talk with your skin’s immune system and help to protect it from bad bacteria that cause infections and inflammation. Your skins microbiome is your invisible ally, defending your skin from marauding microbes.
Read more about your skin microbiome in our blog post 'Getting to Know Your Skin Microbiome'.
Preservatives and antimicrobials in your skincare can be like napalm to your skin microbiome – after all they’re designed to kill bacteria and fungi, preventing them from breeding in your jars and tubes of skin and face care products. These powerful ingredients don’t magically stop working when you massage your moisturiser or cleanser into your skin, they keep on doing their thing and view the beneficial bacteria and yeast on your skin as just more microbes to be eliminated.
A weakened skin microbiome struggles to defend your skin from invasion by foreign microbes, leaving it open to infection and inflammation.
This study showed that 90% of the skin microbiome was eliminated within 1 hour after applying a skincare product that contained a mix of preservatives found in many face care products (including those marketed as 'Natural'). The microbiome only partially recovered even after 4 hours. The preservatives used in this study were Phenoxyethanol, DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, Methyl paraben and Propyl paraben. How many of these are in your favourite skincare products?
What are the consequences of applying strong preservatives and antimicrobials to your skin twice a day, every day for years on end? The short answer is – no one really knows, the study of the skin microbiome is only really just getting started. But we do know that the consequences of reduced microbe diversity in the gut microbiome extend far beyond gut health to influence the health of the immune system, brain, hormonal health and skin.
Skin with reduced bacterial populations, such as the skin of the elderly, is much more prone to infection, damage and irritation.
Any skincare product that combines water with oil soluble ingredients must include preservatives or they will be overrun with bad bacteria and mould in a very short space of time.
Emulsifiers break down your skin barrier
More and more evidence is emerging about the damaging effects to your skin’s protective barrier by one of the most commonly used category of ingredients, found in nearly all skincare products – emulsifiers.
Emulsifiers are used to combine water soluble ingredients with oil soluble ones and keep them blended together without separating. Like antimicrobials and preservatives, emulsifiers don’t stop working when applied to your skin, they bind to the lipids (oils) in your skins protective barrier and dissolve it. If your skin is then exposed to water (when you wash your face), your protective barrier is literally washed away down the drain! This is known as the ‘washout effect’. The end result is porous and leaky skin, it can no longer hold moisture and becomes dry and dehydrated. As your skin becomes dryer and more dehydrated with continued use, it begins to look prematurely aged with an increase in fine lines and inflammation.
A damaged skin barrier is more permeable to environment pollutants. Bacteria are also able to more easily penetrate a weakened barrier, causing acne and inflammation.
There are two main categories of emulsifiers used in skincare and cosmetics. Most conventional skincare uses emulsifiers that consist of polyethylene glycols (PEGs) derived from petroleum. PEGs are still found in some skincare products that market themselves as natural (after all, petroleum is naturally occurring).
Natural skincare products tend to use esterified fatty acids, which are far more skin friendly than PEGs, but can still damage your skin barrier AND are nearly all derived from industrially processed and refined palm oil – which is damaging to the protective barrier of our planet Earth.
Signs of a damaged skin barrier include:
- Skin that feels tight and dry after cleansing
- Feeling the need to apply moisturiser twice daily or more due to skin feeling dry
- Redness and heat
- Sensitive skin that reacts to many skincare products
Barrier disordered skin conditions include:
- Prematurely aged skin
Most natural skincare contains palm oil derived ingredients
Palm oil use is ubiquitous in all skin and personal care products, natural face care products are no exception. Why are palm oil derived ingredients a problem? According to the WWF Australia:
“The biggest impact of unsustainable palm oil production is the large-scale devastation of tropical forests. As well as widespread habitat loss for endangered species like Asian rhinos, elephants, tigers and orangutans, this can lead to significant soil erosion.” WWF - Palm oil - WWF-Australia
Palm oil isn’t just found in most skincare products, the food manufacturing industry is also addicted to palm oil and you’ll find it in processed foods from biscuits through to ice-cream and it’s even found in toothpaste.
As above, so below... beautiful and healthy skin comes from a healthy skin microbiome and barrier AND also reflects the state of your internal health. Your body can only be as healthy as the environment in which it lives. If we continue to allow our planetary biome to be destroyed to satisfy our insatiable need for palm oil, the quest for a glowing complexion will be the least of our concerns.
If you’re concerned about palm oil use, don’t expect it to appear in the ingredients list of your favourite moisturiser, cleanser or lip balm as ‘palm oil’ or ‘Elaeis guineensis oil’. Instead, it’s used to create a range of synthetic and natural sounding ingredients beloved for their moisturising and texturising properties. Once palm oil has been synthetically altered, it’s given a brand new chemical name. Palm oil is used to create emulsifiers, emollients, surfactants (foaming), preservatives and actives.
To confuse the issue further, certain common face care ingredients such as glycerine and the emulsifier cetearyl alcohol can be made from either palm or coconut oil, but palm oil derived is cheaper and easier to obtain.
Products Without Palm Oil has a comprehensive list of skin and face care ingredients derived from palm oil.
Some skincare manufacturers use responsibly sourced palm oil – but this is also controversial 5 problems with ‘sustainable’ palm oil - Greenpeace Aotearoa
Read more about the environmental impact of our addiction to palm oil in skincare, personal care and food How the world got hooked on palm oil | Palm oil | The Guardian
Natural fragrances can silently damage your skin
Fragrances in skincare might make your nose happy, but they’re no friend to your skin.
Fragrances are the most common allergen found in skincare products. Allergy is common to both natural and synthetic fragrances. Synthetic fragrances commonly also contain phthalates – a chemical associated with an increased breast cancer risk as well hormonal disruption. Phthalates in fragrances do not have to be included in the ingredient list.
Remember that 'natural skincare' is a marketing term and many skin and face care products marketed and sold as 'natural' and even 'organic', contain synthetic fragrances.
Why does natural face care contain fragrance? Manufacturers know that fragrance appeals to the emotional part of the brain and use this to help increase value perception and improved brand recognition. It’s also used to cover up the smell of some natural ingredients, which can smell rather… natural! Especially when your nose and brain are used to the pleasant aroma of synthetic fragrances.
Natural fragrances are usually based on essential oils and many people tolerate them without any issues, however, they are also a common trigger for allergic reactions (redness, itching and inflammation) in anyone with sensitive skin and some can increase sensitivity to the sun. Most essential oils also have broad spectrum antimicrobial properties and may interfere with the skins natural microbiome when applied every day.
The damage that fragrances cause to skin can be cumulative – it may take many years for the silent skin irritating effects to become apparent, manifesting as:
- Redness, inflammation & irritation
- Small red bumps
- Post inflammatory hyper pigmentation (the dark pigmentation left after pimples, eczema or dermatitis have healed which can last for many months).
- Eczema & dermatitis
Skinimalism – less is more
Your skin is your largest organ, it’s an amazing living organism which is continually shedding and growing brand new cells. A glowing natural complexion can only be achieved by feeding your skin the essential lipids (oils) that it needs to maintain a strong, robust barrier to maintain hydration and grow healthy cells.
Read our blog post on squalane from olive oil and why it's our favourite ingredient for maintaining a healthy skin barrier.
Using fewer products with less ingredients in your daily skincare routine will reduce your exposure to chemicals which damage your skin microbiome and protective barrier.
Choose simpler products with fewer ingredients, especially if your skin is sensitive (a sign of a damaged skin barrier).
Shop locally made skincare that uses skin compatible ingredients made in smaller batches, which reduces the requirements for preservatives and synthetic antioxidants to extend shelf life.
All of our Nubeean Noosa Healthy Skin[care] products contain 5 ingredients or less and focus on biocompatible skin friendly oils combined with minimally processed beeswax which creates a protective & breathable cocoon over your skin to seal in moisture. What we leave out is as important as what we put in.
Natural skin and face care, hand made in the Noosa Hinterland, Queensland, Australia
- Palm Oil free
- Chemical free
- Biocompatible skin friendly oils
- 5 ingredients or less
- Skin microbiome friendly
- Fragrance free range
- Naturopath formulated for sensitive, dry, dehydrated and mature skin
Our favourite minimalist skincare products
A mega hydrating blend of skin bio-identical lipids from olive oil combined with organic blueberry seed oil, blue tansy oil and Noosa Hinterland minimally processed beeswax. Deeply hydrating and moisturising oil serum that locks in moisture for more resilient, healthier looking skin.
A concentrated moisterising balm with organic Jojoba oil, Noosa Hinterland minimally processed beeswax and vitamin D. Multi tasking: Use as a lip balm, or, intensive treatment for dry, damaged and sensitive skin. Recommended for eczema, dermatitis, rosacea and acne. Fragrance free and suitable for use around the eyes. Ideal to use on baby's and small children.