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Natural Skincare Ingredients: The Truth Behind the Buzz

Michelle C. Turley, Managing Aesthetician for The Skin Institute at Savannah Plastic Surgery, Savannah, GA

As an aesthetician, I’m regularly exposed to the latest advancements in the skincare field—and that means navigating an increasingly abundant selection of options. One current buzzed-about concept in skincare is the use of “all-natural” and organic ingredients. As consumers continue to focus on healthier lifestyle choices and analyze what they put into their bodies, they are developing an increasing interest in what they use externally, as well.

Organic skincare products—just like organic food—are regulated by the USDA, and must contain certain percentages of organic ingredients in accordance with the type of labeling standard desired. For example, in order to receive an “organic” label from the USDA, a skincare product must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients.

The FDA defines a natural ingredient as one that is extracted from a plant or animal product (instead of being formulated synthetically, or in a lab). However, because the process for labeling natural products is not regulated by the FDA, any company can label a product as “natural” without clinical data that supports the efficacy or safety of its claims.

There are many naturally derived ingredients known to have a great effect on the skin, but a product’s overall formulation is key in determining its effectiveness. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “Enhanced natural ingredients, which have been chemically altered, tend to be more stable, penetrate better and have more long-lasting effects on the skin than unaltered plant extracts.”

Take, for example, vitamin C. With proper stabilization and an effective delivery system, this antioxidant ingredient has been shown to stimulate collagen and protect against free radical damage.* However, in its pure form (think juice from an orange) it would merely sit on the skin’s surface without delivering any real benefit—or worse, cause burning or irritation, especially in sensitive skin types. To achieve measurable change in the skin, an ingredient must be stabilized and capable of targeting the appropriate skin layers.

Though I wouldn’t tout them as true treatments, many natural ingredients are capable of providing a temporary and superficial benefit to the skin. For instance, I often tell my patients with dry skin to try a do-it-yourself body scrub of olive oil and table salt. The salt exfoliates dead surface cells, while the olive oil has moisturizing properties that smooth and soften the skin.

I use—and recommend to my patients—a professional regimen like SkinMedica® backed by clinical studies and comprised of proven ingredients. There are wonderful natural ingredients on the market, but like any skincare product, your best bet is to make a selection that has research to back up its claims.

* American Academy of Dermatology: