• What are the skincare ‘nasties’ people refer to and why should they be avoided?

The reputation of cosmetic ingredients is certainly not a steady one. One minute they are being praised as the most effective ingredient and the next we are being warned about their so called dangerous side effects. It is no wonder it gets confusing for the consumer!

The most common “skincare nasties” that people refer to are

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Parabens or other harsh preservatives
  • Hydroquinone
  • Alcohol
  • Mineral oils
  • Artificial fragrances or colours

There are many others that people are cautious about including some chemical sunscreen ingredients. This been said there are a number of ingredients that have had a bad rap and have actually been proven to be very safe not to mention effective, however it is often a case of marketing, and companies listening to consumer demands. Once there is a myth out there, it can be very hard to de bunk it.  There were studies on parabens (preservatives) that were proven to be flawed, but by this time, the word was out that these were not good for us. There have been recent reports by the FDA that say they are one of the safest chemicals we can come into contact with. Some parabens occur naturally and are in the foods we eat…even strawberries. However, as there are now non -paraben preservatives available, and packaging options that help ensure the ingredients are protected, companies no longer have to use parabens.

I believe the main reason certain ingredients should be avoided (both natural and synthetic) is because they can be irritating and cause ongoing skin inflammation. A lot of people are avoiding ingredients as they believe them to be toxic or harmful and this is often not the case.

  • What are the long-term consequences of using skincare products that aren’t natural?

It is more a case of the long term consequences of using skincare products that are not suited to your skin type and for example cause irritation and inflammation. Chronic skin inflammation is one of the causes of premature skin ageing. Also if you are not using the right ingredients or products (be it natural,synthetic or a combination) to suit your skin type and skin concerns, you will not have the clear, healthy glowing skin which is what we all want.

  • What are the common misconceptions people have around natural skincare?

My question is always “what is natural” as people have different interpretations of this. Some people think that natural products are better for acne. Natural does not always mean non-irritating or even safe, in the same way that synthetic or chemical does not always mean they will harm you. I was once shown a natural skin care cream and when they took the lid off it had a thick layer of mould. Not something I would want to put on my face. There are actually a number of common skincare ingredients considered to be “natural” that can irritate and cause allergic reactions such as contact dermatitis. Some examples are tea tree oil which is used for its antibacterial and antifungal properties and is increasingly found in over the counter products and even witch hazel which is another ingredient used for acne. We know fresh lemon juice is full of vitamin C, however for most skins this would be very irritating if applied directly to the skin, and would not penetrate and have the skin benefits, that L-ascorbic acid manufactured in a laboratory would have

Natural also doesn’t necessarily mean effective. There are however many very effective botanical ingredients .

Truth be told people want clear skin and this is always my goal when I am consulting and recommending products to a patient. In the past it was often a case of conscience vs clear skin, and we would see patients struggling with acne, telling us they only use “natural” products, which clearly were not working. The great news is that now it doesn’t have to be like this. We have products, without the commonly perceived nasties, and with botanicals that are very effective.

  • Which chemicals are safe for us to use on our skin and which ones aren’t?

This is a difficult one to answer as there are so many very safe synthetic or chemical ingredients and of course many that are not.

There is a growing trend with consumers concerned about chemicals in products.

What people are wanting to know is that they are not putting something potentially toxic or harsh synthetic ingredients on their skin rather than it just being about chemicals. The chemical formula of water is H20 but people would not be concerned with this.

It is also about the % of these chemicals in products that can cause confusion and start myths. An example of this is with oxybenzone  a chemical sunscreen ingredient which has been thought to be irritating and absorbed through the skin, and a 2001 german study found traces in breast milk, however concentrations in  USA sunscreens have been cleared by the FDA. This been said, we have very effective sunscreen products available without a cocktail of chemical ingredients so there is no need to use those with an extensive ingredient list of very hard to pronounce names.

It is essential that people take a sensible and well balanced approach. If someone is to say “I don’t use sunscreen as it is bad for my skin, the long term effect of this is going to be skin cancers”.

Also what is safe for one skin type or person may not be for another. Derivatives of vitamin A such as retinol and retinaldehyde are very safe and effective ingredients and commonly used to treat acne, but they are not recommended if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Salicylic acid (often naturally derived from willowbark) is another go to ingredient when treating acne, but would not be safe for someone with an allergy to salicylates such as asprin.

My advice is to have a consultation with a medical skin care professional that understands cosmetic ingredients and products, and who will recommend products that are sourced from reputable companies, backed by science, that use the purest of ingredients and are free of harsh chemicals and known skin irritants, and rather are formulated with safe ingredients, in a delivery system and product that will actually work!

  • How can someone ‘green up’ their beauty routine?

Using products that are never tested on animals and with ingredients that also have not been tested on animals. Where possible certified organic ingredients that are pesticide free. Chirally corrected ingredients where possible will mean you are using the purest and most effective ingredients that your skin cells will recognize. No artificial fragrances or colourings. Again this is where it is important to seek advice from professionsals that have done their research and know their products and ingredients, unless you have the time to do your own research on the products you are using.

  • Is there a miracle product or ingredient for young, acne-prone skin?

One of the challenges an individual with acne prone skin, has is finding a sunscreen that won’t irritate, or flare up their acne. I hear this a lot particularly with younger patients who say all sunscreens make them break out and clog their skins. Of course these younger patients are often outdoors a lot with various sporting activities so it is absolutely essential that their young skin is protected.

Elta MD UV clear is an SPF 46 zinc based sunscreen that is oil free and contains 5% niacinamide which is vitamin B3 used to help reduce blemishes. So not only will it protect the skin and not cause breakouts it actually helps to calm and reduce acne. It is also fragrance free, paraben free, sensitivity free and non-comedogenic.

When it comes to having the best possible skin it is about having the most safe and effective products coupled with advice both initially and ongoing. As your skin clears your regime will change.