THE TRUTH ABOUT NATURAL SKINCARE
It’s covetable, cool and arguably a boon for the planet. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Should you go full hippie – or pick synthetic?
IN THE COURSE OF BECOMING A TOP-SHELF STATUS SYMBOL,
green beauty has splintered into nuanced, often bewildering, factions. “Organic” products are cruelty-free and untouched by pesticides, GMOS and synthetic chemicals, while “vegan” products don’t contain animal-derived ingredients. Beauty offerings labelled “natural” are perhaps the most confusing, as they’re unregulated but generally deemed to be made without any artificial ingredients or fragrances. With today’s emphasis on purity and sustainability shaking up industries from food to fashion, this last classification has become especially desirable – and abused.
“Natural is a classic marketing word,” says pharmacist and founder of Truth Treatment Systems skincare brand Benjamin Fuchs. “To a chemist, there’s no such thing as natural. The distinction the body makes isn’t between natural and synthetic, it just looks at the molecular structure. If I take vitamin C [from nature] or I create it in my lab, it’s the same molecule. I look at ingredients to see whether the body will recognise them.”
That recognition is what translates to results, the Holy Grail of any beauty product. Nevertheless, an ever-growing number of consumers are greening their routine, whether motivated by concern for the planet or the suspected toxicity of certain chemicals – but they are also questioning the scope of what can be achieved using all-natural products. “Every day, someone comes into the store wanting to go organic,” says Jessica Richards, owner of cult store Shen Beauty in Brooklyn, New York. “Often it’s because someone close to them has cancer, or they’re pregnant. They want everything new. And 99 per cent of them come back to buy something to get a result they can’t get with a natural product, like fixing an age spot. They always incorporate something chemical back in.”
THE CASE FOR NATURAL
For years now, studies have suggested that certain endocrine disrupters found in personal-care products, such as phthalates and parabens, may have adverse effects when used long-term, and many informed shoppers have a general aversion to silicones. But that’s not the only reason to go natural. “One of the main benefits of natural ingredients is that they can be more sustainable and generally better for the environment if responsibly sourced,” says Perry Romanowski, one of the cosmetic scientists behind The Beauty Brains website.
Some of the hardest-working, scientifically proven ingredients in beauty products are natural. Romanowski recommends rosa canina (rosehip) oil and niacinamide (vitamin B3), which are “skin-smoothing, anti-wrinkle and anti-hyperpigmentation”, and green tea, “an antioxidant that is a preventive against ageing”. For redness and inflammation, check the ingredients list for soothing argan oil, chamomile and aloe, says dermatologist Dr Leslie Baumann, author of Cosmeceuticals And Cosmetic Ingredients.
Rice and cotton extracts provide major hydration (Burt’s Bees has a nourishing option that makes the most of both ingredients) and plant oils such as rosemary and rose, found in Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum and Kypris Antioxidant Dew, boast antioxidants to nourish while combating the stressors that cause dryness and returning the glow to skin. Hyperpigmentation can be addressed, to a degree, with brightening mulberry extract, licorice root or vitamin C. Vitamin A
“THERE ARE NATURAL INGREDIENTS THAT YOUR BODY PERCEIVES AS TOXIC. FOR ME, IT’S ABOUT RESULTS”
is similarly effective, and Tata Harper’s Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil provides a double hit of A and C, without peeling or redness.
WHEN TO GO SYNTHETIC
The experts agree: for truly impactful anti-ageing effects (smoothness, reduction in wrinkles, pores and pigment, increased firmness and radiance), there isn’t a natural equivalent for retinoic acid, a chemical compound derived from vitamin A. Retinoids are available in prescription creams and in over-the-counter products such as retinol, a weaker version of the ingredient. Why are signs of ageing best treated with synthetic retinoids? To get maximum cell turnover and anti-ageing benefits, Baumann explains: “The molecule has to act like a key in the ‘lock’ of the retinoid receptor in your skin, and the key has to be a particular shape. Vitamin A from nature isn’t the same shape as retinoic acid or retinol.”
A HAPPY MEDIUM
Luckily, we don’t live in a black-and-white world. Many brands, such as Go-to and Dr Barbara Sturm, are eliminating the nasties without following an all-natural brief. Millennial favourite Drunk Elephant has invented its own category of “clean-clinical”, which founder Tiffany Masterson defines as simply using the most effective ingredients. “I don’t look at ingredients in terms of natural or synthetic. I [assess] them by whether they’re safe and biocompatible with your skin. There are natural ingredients that your body perceives as toxic. For me, it’s about results.”
Skincare is an intensely personal experience, and weighing up what feels good both physically and intellectually may be about finding a comfortable shade of grey. “I sell what works,” Richards says. “When I started my store, it was only organic and natural products. Now it’s a mix of the most efficacious. Many women who shop all organic will also get Botox or drink [flavoured] lattes pumped full of GMOS. It’s a balance.”
I’ve heard of a hair serum that costs more than my haircut. Is it worth it? A.
You’re no doubt talking about Sisley’s new Revitalizing Fortifying Serum and, yes, it’s totally worth it. In case you hadn’t noticed, your scalp is made up of skin, and skin needs a different kind of care to hair. So Sisley took all of its skin know-how and applied it to this serum, part of its new Hair Rituel range that promises to fuel the scalp and fortify the hair. Massaged in regularly, strands will be stronger, denser and shinier. And don’t ruin all your hard work with hair tools that sizzle. Invest in a dryer that regulates its temperature, ensuring the scalp (and serum) can work optimally.
Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil, $66.12, TATA HARPER, net-a-porter.com
Antioxidant Dew, $110, cleanbeautymarket. com.au KYPRIS,
Active Botanical Serum, $270, VINTNER’S DAUGHTER, net-a-porter.com
Sensitive Daily Moisturising Cream, $29.95, priceline.com.au BURT’S BEES,
C-tango Multivitamin Eye Cream, $93, DRUNK ELEPHANT, mecca.com.au
Revitalizing Fortifying Serum, $240, SISLEY, sisley-paris.com
Supersonic, $549, DYSON, dyson.com.au