Natural Skin Care, Naturally Better?

natural organic skin care, sensitive skin care With the surge of interest in organic food, there has also been more interest in organic and natural skin care. But many healthy foods have a health halo; they appear healthy, but they aren’t any better than regular junk food. Skin care products can hide behind the same guise. Like those foods, natural skin care products may not always be the best choice for you.

Health Halo: Natural skin care is better for sensitive skin.

Botanicals can often be more stimulating. Highly concentrated essential oils can overstimulate reactive skins. Ingredients can vary from batch to batch as seasons and farming conditions change. Some reactive skin types can’t handle these changes; they need more consistency.

Health Halo: Natural skin care is not as harsh.

Salicylic acid is derived from the botanical willow bark. Glycolic acid is derived from sugar. Apricot scrubs are completely natural and still incredibly aggressive. Sometimes, your sensitive skin can tolerate a natural form of an ingredient better. Sometimes it can’t tolerate an ingredient in any form. You may just have to experiment.

Health Halo: Natural skin care is less likely to cause allergic reactions.

You can be allergic to any ingredient, even natural ones. Poison ivy is completely natural and sometimes even organic, but you still don’t want to rub it on your face. Additionally, highly allergic skin types may find that the long lists of active ingredients make it difficult to narrow down specific ingredient reactions. They may find a simple list easier to navigate.

Health Halo: Natural skin care is more effective.

Natural skin care products can be incredibly effective. So can clinical skin care ingredients. It just depends on the condition of your skin and the results you desire. Some skin concerns, like acne, can respond well to natural ingredients like willow bark or tea tree oil. More persistent acne may need prescriptions like Retin-A or clindamycin. Your need changes just like your health. You may be able to avoid catching the flu by eating leafy greens and sleeping well, but once you’re sick, you might really need some Nyquil.

Health Halo: Natural skin care products are better for pregnancy.

Essential oils abound in natural skin care products, and they may be too stimulating for the sensitivities that can sometimes arise with pregnancy. There are also differing opinions on what essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy. As a rule, I advise women to avoid hydroquinone, retinoids, and benzoyl peroxide. Defer to your doctor for any other ingredients.

I really love natural skin care products. I love the light fragrance of the essential oils, the lack of synthetic preservatives and fillers. In fact, I prefer many natural ingredients. But I love the results I get with clinical products, and my skin also looks its best when I mix in ingredients like retinoids. Don’t choose natural skin care over clinical simply for the health halo. [Tweet this!] The best part about the skin care business is that you have plenty of options. What do you choose?

 

 

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The Ingredient Chronicles: Salicylic Acid

This tricky ingredient shows up in many skin care products. It is commonly found in acne treatments. Let’s take a closer look at how salicylic acid works in the skin to use it effectively.

Skin care ingredients like salicylic acidSalicylic is a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA. It is an exfoliant derived from the botanical willow bark or made synthetically. Salicylic works primarily inside the pore, as opposed to AHAs like glycolic that work on the surface of the skin. It’s oil-soluble as well, so that means that it can break up the oil that’s in the pores. It also slows the production of the oil in the pore.  Because of this, it’s a great ingredient to use to control excessive shine.

Salicylic acid is one of the more common ingredients used in acne control products. We know that acne is caused by three things: oil, dead skin, and bacteria. Salicylic acid actually can address all three things, but it specializes in breaking down the clogs in the pores. Like a jackhammer, it breaks up the oil that acts as the cement to form the clog in the first place. It is usually partnered with something like benzoyl peroxide, which is more effective at killing bacteria.

By looking at the way salicylic works, we can see alternative uses. Most people don’t consider blackheads to be a form of acne, but in fact, blackheads are the very beginning of acne. If blackheads are a concern for you, salicylic is the way to go. It will dissolve the blackhead, making it more pliable and more easily extracted by a professional. Once the pore is clear, it will help to keep that oil from building up again. Folliculitis, or ingrown hairs, can also be addressed by using salicylic acid, since ingrowns have many similar properties to pimples (both are caused by a buildup of oil and dead skin in the pore). It is also great if you are prone to breakouts after waxing. A light application helps to kill bacteria, reduce redness and itching, and keep the follicle clear.

Remember that, as with many effective skincare ingredients, you can get too much of a good thing.  Since salicylic curbs oil production, it can in fact be drying. For dry skins, I find that using salicylic in just one step of your routine is usually sufficient. Dry skin that is still concerned with breakouts should try an acne control serum once a day, maybe even just in the areas prone to breakouts or blackheads. Combination skins may follow the same advice, or try a salicylic wash a couple times a week to control oil. Very oily skins may find that a wash and a serum work well to control breakouts or shine. Be careful in combination and oily skins, as using too much salicylic can cause what’s often called a rebound effect, where the drying effect actually stimulates the skin to produce more oil. If you feel like your skin is oily no matter what you try, you may be suffering from rebound oiliness.

Salicylic acid is a great ingredient when used correctly. It controls oil, fights breakouts, and even soothes irritation. It is definitely an ingredient to consider for all skin types. With a little help and advice, you can figure out exactly how it works best in your routine.

 

 

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The Usual Suspects

 Adverse reactions to skincare products can be exceedingly difficult to narrow down. But if your skin is burning or itching, it will be worth the effort to try. There are many ingredients that are typically known to cause allergic reactions (hives, rashes, burning, and flaking). You can make your investigation much easier if you begin your search by eliminating the usual suspects in an allergic reaction.

The Usual Suspect: Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens, like avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone, neutralize UV rays in the skin, as opposed to deflecting the rays away from the skin on the surface. Many more reactive skin types can’t handle this level of stimulation and will develop a rash or break out. It is important to note: people are usually only allergic or reactive to one particular sunscreen. This does not give you a free pass to skip sunscreen. Try to narrow down which sunscreen is the problem and avoid it. Or, skip chemical sunscreens all together and use a mineral sunscreen like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

The Usual Suspect: Synthetic Fragrance

I hate to break this to you, but if your cream smells like nothing, it probably has a fragrance in it. Creams without any fragrance don’t generally smell great, but they are significantly less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Ingredients to look for are perfume, parfum, or fragrance. In natural products, look for derivatives or essential oils like linalool, limonene, geraniol, or citronellol. It’s also important to note that a certain amount of essential oils must be listed as fragrance, so it can often be difficult to tell just from reading the ingredients. You may not be able to tolerate synthetic fragrance, but a light natural fragrance may be okay. This really depends on your skin, so find out what works for you. I personally can’t stand a heavy perfume in a cream, but I’m a sucker for the natural fragrance and additional benefits of essential oils.

The Usual Suspect: Artificial Colors and Dyes

In skin care, I find these ingredients to be wholly unnecessary. Additionally, they are common irritants and easy to eliminate. I don’t generally recommend anything with artificial colors. The most common allergies are red dye allergies, so unfortunately, you may want to also look at your cosmetics for this suspect. Remember, though, that anyone can be allergic to any color. Start by eliminating red dyes and check the ingredients list for Red Dye #40 (or other numbers), FD&C Red #40, or even ingredients like carmine. It is also interesting to note that ingesting red dye (through food, drinks, candy, etc.) can also cause adverse reactions on the skin.

The Usual Suspect: Essential Oils

This is one of those categories that is very specific to the person. Essential oils are bioactive and may overstimulating to  some sensitive or reactive skins. It is one of those situations where natural may not necessarily be better. Also keep in mind that essential oils can cause photosensitivity, so using them in the sun can exacerbate another problem. These ingredients are usually found towards the bottom of the list, so look for any ingredient with extract or oil in the name. You may be able to tolerate some essential oils and not others, so this particular suspect may require some additional experimentation or research.

Dealing with allergies can be tedious and frustrating, but try not to lose hope. Product shopping becomes significantly easier when you know what to avoid. I have skin allergies that have taken me years to figure out, and I can say from experience that life (and my skin!) is better now that I know. Feel free to contact me if you need support or help, or leave me a comment on this post.

 

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Esthetician, P.I.

I visited my sister in Miami last week, and, as usual, having an esthetician around brought up lots of skincare questions. She’s been getting a lot of irritation on her face and chest, and now it’s up to me to figure out what is causing all of it. I think I’ve cracked this case already, and I did it by using my super sleuthing method to find the culprit.

First, I start by asking a lot of questions. When did the problem start? Any new products added about that time? Changes in diet? New medications? In this case, I noticed the irritation popped up after a day on the beach. My major clue here? Environmental factors! This particular reaction is definitely being aggravated by the heat.

Next, I start looking at the products that she’s using. Her routine is pretty simple, and she’s been shopping natural brands at the drugstore to save money. I eventually compare all of the ingredients in her products and try to find the common ones, but I start by looking for my usual suspects in the products she uses the most. She’s using a sunscreen when she goes to the beach (like a good sister of an esthetician), and I notice that the product she used that day has five different chemical sunscreens in it. Chemical sunscreens aren’t necessarily bad, but I find that many people cannot tolerate them. I also see that she’s using another sunscreen with lavender essential oil in it. Since I know that essential oils can cause photosensitivity, I think I may have just hit on the trifecta.

Her routine is fairly simple, so I feel confident that I have figured out the problem. She’s allergic to a specific chemical sunscreen (the common sunscreen in her two products), and the hot, beachy weather combined with the essential oils are compounding her adverse reactions. I put her on the simplest routine possible (exposing the skin to the fewest ingredients possible). She had grapeseed oil and pure aloe on hand, so she can use those for at least two weeks to see if her skin clears up. If it does, we’ve found our perp. If it doesn’t, then I have to continue on with other suspects, like food allergies or medications. After two weeks, and if her skin isn’t breaking out in rashes, we’ll start her on a new sunscreen with a mineral filter instead.

Hopefully, this will close the case on the mystery reaction quickly, but it’s important to remember that even if this is the solution, sometimes the healing process can take a while. Tackling allergies and reactions can be frustrating, so don’t give up. Partnering with a dermatologist or other skin professional can often help, and if redness, hives, or itchiness persist, you should definitely seek one out.

 

 

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Winterize Your Skin

Tips to protect your skin against the winter weather.We are two major snowstorms into winter and suffering from massively cold weather on the East Coast, and my skin has been feeling the hurt. The freezing, icy wind is blistering my cheeks and my apartment provides no relief, with dry heat that is stripping moisture out of my skin, making my complexion dull and my eczema flair. If you’re in a similar position with your skin, here are my tips to cope.

  • Don’t be afraid to moisturize. Look for creamier, more emollient moisturizers. Some key ingredients to look for are glycerin, shea butter, and natural oils like jojoba or sunflower oil. Moisturizers that leave a little barrier on the surface skin (often called occlusive moisturizers by pros) are best for being out in the elements because it will protect from wind and cold. Avoid ingredients like mineral oil, petrolatum, and paraffin.
  • Use a Vitamin C serum to repair and rebuild weather-damaged skin. Vitamin C is anti-inflammatory, which will help to calm redness and irritation caused by aggressive weather. Look for ingredients like L-ascorbic acid or Vitamin C Ester. Use it in the morning for extra antioxidant protection.
  • Keep exfoliating, but make it gentle. Dry, dead skin cells can accumulate on the surface of the skin, leading to uneven texture and making it more difficult for your moisturizer to penetrate. Stick with exfoliating masks using lactic acid or fruit enzymes, which both exfoliate and hydrate at the same time. Your best-case scenario product also has plenty of antioxidants as well.
  • Try a mask for an extra punch. Moisturizing masks can provide a boost in moisture levels and extra skin soothing ingredients to calm irritated, parched skin. Try one right after your shower to seal the extra hydration into your skin.
  • Remember your sunscreen. Yes, you still need it. As long as there is light, you need to wear sun protection. Try a sunscreen with zinc oxide for the added benefits of skin soothing and redness reducing.
  • Eat more guacamole.  [Tweet this!] Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats and can help to moisturize your skin from the inside. Plus, it’s tasty.

Hopefully, a few tips to tweak your routine will help you survive the remaining winter days. We can all count down to spring together.

 

Speak your mind! How do you cope when the cold weather wreaks havoc on your skin? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook and tell me what you think!

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