Natural alternatives to your favourite skincare ingredients

Fork made of vegetables piercing a golden capsule

The appetite for natural beauty has grown exponentially in 2019, and there’s zero sign of it slowing down. This past year has been largely about subbing in synthetic formulations for those that are natural, going ‘clean,’ and re-focusing on organic options. But why exactly are we so taken by all things natural, and why now? “Customers are mindful of the impact that skincare has on the environment, and want to do their part to try to use brands that are more sustainable and that are not full of ingredients that will harm their skin,” explains Ksenia Selivanova, co-founder of expert-led skincare consultancy Lion/ne. “There is also a fear of chemicals, and consumers want more transparency, so have gravitated towards ingredients that they recognise and can understand,” she continues.

Our new-found obsession with going natural can have definite benefits for our skin; another reason why we so often seek out products that keep it simple and are largely chemical-free. Many of us are beginning to notice a real difference in the way our skin — and our conscience — feels when choosing to go natural rather than synthetic. “How our skin responds to natural botanicals is very different to how our skin responds to synthetic ingredients or plants that have been sprayed with pesticides,” says Tara O’Rourke, Esthetician Trainer and Brand Ambassador at Dr. Hauschka. “Natural botanicals have an affinity with the skin when they are hand harvested with good intentions all the way through the process. It is something that is felt and cannot be replicated or produced synthetically in a lab,” she adds.

While natural ingredients are not for everybody (sensitive skin types may want to go slowly), there are some great options out there for those who want to give them a go. The following are the most interesting alternatives to some of our favourite synthetic ingredients, from retinol to salicylic acid.

Retinol alternatives

If you’re into retinol (a beloved vitamin A derivative), chances are you’ll have heard about the bakuchiol buzz in recent months. Bakuchiol has been praised as the ultimate natural alternative to retinol as it requires zero down time, has no side effects, and can be used on sensitive skin or on those who are pregnant. Bakuchiol is derived from the babchi plant, and is a phytochemical ingredient that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Much like retinol, it aids in anti-ageing, and while there is still work to do on establishing if it is as effective as retinol, there have been studies (including the one by the Society of Cosmetic Scientists in 2014), which suggest bakuchiol has similar results in terms of an increase in cell turnover, collagen production stimulation, reduced hyperpigmentation, and smoother fine lines and wrinkles.

Interestingly, bakuchiol is not the only ingredient that has potential to work with the skin in similar ways to retinol. Apricot kernel oil can also be praised for its retinol-like properties, thanks to its level of vitamin A. The vitamin A within the oil can help with fine lines and wrinkles, as well as roughness and dehydration. Interestingly, it also aids in UV-related skin damage, which sets it apart from retinol, which makes the skin more sun-sensitive. It’s important to note, however, that little research has been undertaken to determine whether apricot kernel oil is as effective as retinol, or whether it has many similarities on the whole, so don’t expect miracles with this one.

Try: Super Bakuchiol Serum by Garden of Wisdom.

Exfoliant alternatives

We all love a good exfoliating session, but some skin types don’t cope as well as others with synthetic formulations. Sensitive skin, for example, could benefit from trying ingredients such as clary sage, which has similar effects to salicylic acid. Featuring keratolytic properties, it can gently exfoliate the surface of the skin, and “is an antioxidant, meaning it can be beneficial in the fight against free radical damage,” notes Selivanova.

However, this is another one that isn’t backed by a whole lot of science, so it can’t be guaranteed to work or have results comparable to salicylic acid. It’s worth giving a go though, notes Dr Ismat – dermatology specialist at Pulse Light Clinic: “Salicylic acid can be very helpful as a re-surfacing agent for acne or congested skin- I am not aware of any good studies that shows clary sage is as effective — but again, a good brand/product should be safe and worth trying, and may well be effective for many.”

Other ingredients that have been seen to have results similar to traditional exfoliants are organic raw cane sugar (rich in glycolic alpha-hydroxy acids), and of course, natural fruit enzymes such as those derived from pineapples and papayas. Natural brand Dr Haushka also uses wild English daisy and Nasturtium in their products, which have astringent properties and oil-balancing properties respectively. They are therefore both great for helping oily and/or blemish-prone skin.

Try: Green People Fruit Scrub Exfoliator.

Nourishing alternatives

So we’ve covered exfoliation and retinols, but what about nourishment? In truth, there are a seemingly endless number of natural ingredients that nourish and moisturise, but mango seed butter is the one that experts love, and one that takes the place of a well-known ingredient often used in products like balms: petroleum.

“Mango butter has a similar consistency to cocoa butter. It nourishes the skin, providing fatty acids, and can make even stressed, dehydrated skin soft and supple again,” says O’Rourke. Mango butter is a natural antioxidant, and can also help skin prone to eczema and psoriasis, whereas petroleum-based products “are more likely to clog the skin as they provide a barrier effect,” says Dr Ismat. “Petroleum is so processed that it doesn’t contain any nutritive ingredients,” adds Selivanova. “Mango on the other hand, is rich in vitamins A, C , E, which are essential in protecting the skin from free radicals and excellent to promote cellular regeneration.”

Try: Eye Revive Cream, Firming Mask and Lip Balm by Dr. Hauschka.

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