Is organic skincare all it’s cracked up to be?
From your coffee to your t-shirts, everyone is trying to convince you how their product is more organic or natural, ergo better, than the rest. But when it comes to skincare, just how much of the ‘organic’ hype should be believed?
Being worried about the amount of chemicals we apply on a daily basis is something that concerns many of us. And, like in the case of antibacterial soaps, there does seem to be a steadily growing case that maybe they aren’t so great for us after all.
So it’s no wonder that many of us are turning to products that claim ingredients only “found in nature”.
Irene Falcone, organic skincare guru and founder of Nourished Life, says the push towards organic skincare is a natural progression of the healthy food movement.
“As people are becoming more conscious about what they are putting into their bodies, naturally this extends to what they are putting onto their bodies,” she tells Fairfax .
“Organic personal care products really are an extension of the organic and whole food movement, if we remember back to when artificial colours and flavours being removed from food, removing them from beauty and skincare products is the next logical step.”
Often accompanied with the promise of containing no apparent “nasties” or “toxic” ingredients – things like parabens, sulphates, phthalates and mineral oil and the like – organic skincare in favours nicer sounding ingredients like rosehip and almond oil.
But are these alternatives any better than your standard cleanser and moisturiser or is it all just another version of “bottled water”?
Short answer is yes – to both these questions.
According to Sydney-based dermatologist and spokesperson for the Australasian College of Dermatologists Dr Natasha Cook, the main issue in the debate about natural or organic skincare is how these terms are applied.
“There really isn’t a debate about whether natural is better,” she tells Fairfax.
“The periodic table is natural; these are chemicals found in nature and they’re the same chemicals that some companies will tell you are bad for you so it can get confusing when consumers are confronted with information that pushes a ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ is best philosophy.”
One of the biggest names in the beauty industry, the founder of Paula’s Choice, Paula Begoun, argues against the idea that organic is better than “synthetic” skincare, primarily because organic products tend to be heavily laced with volatile and fragrant essential oils such as peppermint, lavender and orange. However, Begoun also believes that the parfums found in many over the counter products are equally as bad for the skin and that good skincare should be completely fragrance-free.
According to Begoun, many “natural ingredients as peppermint, menthol, eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, sandalwood, essential oils, and on and on are routinely included in natural and/or organic products. Research has clearly established these ingredients as irritants, and when the skin is irritated it causes collagen to break down and hurts the skin’s ability to heal.”
(Mind you, Begoun herself has also launched a range of “organic” skincare under her own brand so never underestimate the power of the market.)
However, many in the organic skincare industry disagree and argue that there is increasingly more research being released that favours natural ingredients over harsher synthetic ones.
A growing area of research
Audrey du Buisson Perrine, founder of Australian skincare brand Hibou Naturel, says that there is a disconnect between dermatologists and those who specialise in the organic skincare industry.
“I think the biggest problem we have is an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” she says.
“Many professionals play a important role, whether that be a doctor, naturopath, chiropractor, physiotherapist, or meditative therapist; each should be considered equal for their varying isolated benefits and used in conjunction with one another for a cohesive approach. Obviously, if you have a skin, nail or hair disease, then a qualified dermatologist is going to be the best person to see. The gap will only be bridged when we can see the benefits of both worlds.”
And there are benefits to switching out your synthetic products in favour of gentler, natural products. Antiseptic resistant bacteria notwithstanding…
Jojoba oil, coconut oil, chia seed extract are some of the common wonder products allegedly provided by nature’s own chemistry lab to nourish your skin. And there’s no denying their benefits – jojoba is known for being rich in fatty acids that help the skin’s elasticity; chia seeds are packed with Omega 3; and coconut oil is practically manna, good for your hair, skin and oil pulling if that’s your thing. Not to mention smells like a tropical holiday.
And then there’s the ethical side. Sadly, animal testing is a common practice used by a majority of skincare brands whereas organic and natural skincare brands are strident in their fight for animal rights.
Then there’s the environmental side of things. Italian beauty company Davines Group (recently launched in Australia) has embraced a sustainable business model, developing their own farms for ingredients, factories that operate on renewable energy and adopting a zero impact carbon policy. Head of the company, Davide Bollati, has also backed the development of greening projects in his native town of Parma, in Italy, as a way of offsetting development in the area.
And Lush, for all their pungency, offer 100% vegetarian products, has a recycling program on their own packaging and one of the best positive body image campaigns in the industry. Just brace yourself for the perfume equivalent of tear gas when you walk into the store…
Ultimately, how your skin responds to ingredients should be the most important detail when it comes to deciding whether or not “organic” is the way to go. If you’re allergic to nuts, for example, no amount of almond oil is going to be great for your skin. And there is still no real “organic” substitute for a proper SPF sunscreen (not even coconut oil as shown here and here). It’s also important to realise that not every ingredient you don’t immediately recognise is bad.
“There is a real issue with fear at the moment where we believe everything is bad for you,” says Dr Cook.
“From what we eat to what we drink or wear. And this fear has extended to skin care and the beauty industry. Smart companies use the safest ingredients possible and a lot of the things some organic brands take out are actually not the enemy. Benzyl alcohol for example is a completely natural preservative.”
“Look for a product that suits you specifically, not what looks good on the shelf,” says du Buisson Perrine.
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