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.

A Simple Guide To Reading Skincare Labels

Coloured chalk molecular formulas and diagrams

Understanding the symbols, ingredients list and claims on skincare products can be confusing and unclear. Sifting through the marketing jargon and understanding the complexity of ingredient names and functions is time-consuming and frustrating. To help you decipher it all, this is a simple guide to digesting your product labels.

First up is what a product claims to do. According to the UK government, the product labelling in the sale of goods and services requires that it is not misleading in; the quantity or size, the price, what it’s made of, how, where and when it was made, what you say it can do and the people or organisations that endorse it.

Three terms you will often see are; dermatologically tested, hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic. Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation explains exactly what they mean in The Skincare Bible:

Dermatologically Tested – This implies that the product has the endorsement of, or has passed rigorous laboratory tests carried out by a dermatologist. In the UK, there is no legal definition of the term and this testing could be as basic as a dermatologist or other qualified medical doctor giving the product to a handful of people and relaying back that there were no reports that it caused irritation

Hypoallergenic – This is a manufacturer claim that a product will cause fewer allergies than others. It is not, however, a legally binding term and is rather meaningless. Hypoallergenic products can still contain fragrances – a common cause of allergy and irritation.

Non-comedogenic – This literally means ‘will not blog pores’. Yet again, there is no industry standards or regulation. Be aware that despite the label, it can still clog pores.

Next are ten symbols you will have seen on your products and their packaging.

Leaping Bunny – This internationally recognised logo means the product has not been tested animals.

PAO – Meaning, Period After Opening, this tells you the expiration date of a product. It’s commonly found in the image of a jar with a number on it next to the letter ‘M’. For example, if the number says 6M, that mean you have six months to use it after opening, before it will expire.

Mobius – Signifying that the packaging can be recycled, sometimes there may be a number in the middle of the triangle, which represents the percentage of the packaging made using recycled materials.

Ecocert – This arrow-filled circle symbol is an organic certification and was set up in 2003 as one of the first regulatory bodies developing standards for natural and organic cosmetics.

Refer To Insert – When it’s impossible for a brand to fit all the legally required information on a product, the information can be found on the accompanying leaflet inside the packaging.

Flame – An obvious one, but important to note nonetheless, this tells you the product is flammable and should be kept away from an open flame. This is usually found on pressurised cans such as deodorant and hairspray.

Greendot – This symbol means that 95% of your product is made from plant-based ingredients and 10% of all its ingredients are organic.

Hourglass – This represents that the product has a life span of less than 30 months – even if it’s not opened.

E-Mark – The lowercase ‘e’ sometimes found on packaging means the average volume or weight of the product is the same as what’s listed on the label, as per EU law.

UVA – An important one for sun lovers, this means the product contains the minimum recommended level of UVA protection for a sunscreen.

Reading and understanding an ingredients list can be difficult without the help of an expert. Decoding the complicated names and variations in formulas is not something that’s easily done and as a result, is often dismissed. But understanding what’s in your products can help you to accurately find products that are suitable for your skin.

In the EU, cosmetic ingredients are labelled using an INCI list, which stands for the International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order from the highest to lowest concentrate. If there is less than 1% of an ingredient in a product, it is not required to be listed. Despite EU legislation dictating how ingredients are labelled, there is still confusion, in particular with fragrance, which can be described through blanket terms such as ‘parfum’ or ‘aroma’. As we know, fragrance is one of the biggest irritants for sensitive skin so if sensitivity is your concern, it’s always best to go fragrance-free.

Dr Mahto details further, “If your skin is sensitive to fragrance, or you otherwise choose to avoid it, these are the additional 26 ingredients to look out for; alpha-isomethyl ionone, amyl cinnamal, amyl cinnamyl alcohol, anise alcohol, benzyl alcohol, benzyl benzoate, benzyl salicylate, butylphenyl methylpropional, cinnamal, cinnamyl alcohol, citral, citronellol, coumarin, eugenol, evernia furfuracea extract, evernia prunastri extract, farnesol, geraniol, hexyl cinnamal, hydroxycitronellal, hydroxyisohexyl-3-cyclohexene-carboxaldehyde, isoeugenol, limonene, linaool, methyl 2-octynoate.

Helpful resources to assist you in understanding the EU regulations behind ingredients, product labelling and changing rules and regulations, Dr Mahto recommends the cosmetics section of the European Commission website. Here you will also find the Cosing Database, which enables you to look up cosmetic ingredients to find out what they are.

Is Natural Skincare Better For You?

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From the natural and organic to the “non toxic” and “free from”, there are plenty of terms that describe the new wave of clean beauty brands. And they are proving incredibly popular.

In the US, NPD noted a 13 percent rise in skincare brands that have an environmental focus which promotes wellness or natural ingredients in 2017.

According to The Soil Association, 74 percent of people said they would believe a product was free from ‘nasties’ if it had organic on the label. However, there is no set definition of what makes a product natural or organic. In fact, the category has very little regulation. Read More…

What Are The Dangers Of Silicone In Shampoo?

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Q: After suffering with facial inflammation – which was unresponsive to topical steroid creams – I think cyclopentasiloxane (CPS), a silicone found in hair products, is the culprit. I was diagnosed with contact dermatitis but I have read that CPS has been linked to cancer and allergies.

A: CPS is from a family of silicones used to make hair shiny and supple. It is also used in deodorants, sun creams and some skincare items. I understand your concerns about long-term damage, which I suspect may stem in part from the current issues with silicone breast implants. But there is a difference between silicone implants – which if ruptured migrate into tissues of the body – and applying silicone topically.

CPS is a large molecule that is unlikely to get through the skin barrier. A review of CPS and related compounds in the International Journal of Toxicology found ‘minimal percutaneous absorption was associated with these ingredients and the available data do not suggest skin irritation potential’.

‘Cyclopentasiloxane has not been shown to cause cancer,’ says toxicologist Dr Christopher Flowers from the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association. ‘The stringent European cosmetics laws require safety assessments for all cosmetic products before they are made available to the public.’ Read More…