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Pros & Cons of "All Natural" Products: What You Should Know

What makes a product “all-natural?”

Perhaps the question should be, what keeps a product from being “all natural?” The ever-growing world of natural beauty products is complicated. In fact, it may be the complete opposite of the simple, straightforward images that the word “nature” connotes. Put simply, though it’s a highly-coveted claim, the word "natural" means nothing but that the company thought it would be a nice way to market a product.

Though there has been some movement toward increased regulation of cosmetic ingredients (you may have heard about The Personal Care Products Safety Act), the FDA doesn’t have any current rules preventing the word “natural” from being used on a label, as long as there’s the tiniest bit of a natural ingredient in the product.

As with food, ingredients on a label are listed from highest to lowest concentration. A natural ingredient that’s being hyped in a product’s name or packaging may easily be at the end of its ingredient list, e.g. including a dab of argan oil means a product can legally flaunt that it’s a “natural product, rich in argan oil.”

But that’s just the beginning of the Pandora’s Box that is the current state of natural beauty products. Here are some Pros (and Cons) of the natural ingredient movement.

Pro: Natural that’s really natural can be a good thing

One of the primary roles of the skin is to act as a barrier to protect us from the environment. Research shows that permeation of a substance through the skin depends upon a number of factors, including the way in which the substance is applied to the skin, the physicochemical properties of the substance, its molecular weight, the part of the body where it’s applied, the thickness of that particular area of skin, the temperature, the blood flow, and on and on. In other words, we know that while our skin is designed to keep bad things out, it is certainly absorbing a small portion of what is being applied to it.

And while there are still questions about how much is really being absorbed into our bloodstream, some published reports suggest that daily makeup wearers absorb up to five pounds of product ingredients each year.

We really need to start questioning the products we are putting on our skin, and not just assume that the chemicals in them are safe."

Biochemist and organic advocate, Richard Bence

When you apply chemicals to the skin, it’s reasonable to worry about their absorption into your bloodstream. Many natural ingredients - such as those that are commonly eaten - aren’t worrisome due to our long and comfortable experience with them.

Con: Natural products may not be as effective as their lab-made counterparts

Just because an ingredient is made in a lab, doesn't mean it's toxic — and just because something's completely natural, doesn't mean it's not toxic! In fact, many “natural” products or ingredients don’t have clinical studies demonstrating that they’re effective or completely safe (for all people) when applied to skin.

And often, there simply isn’t a natural ingredient that measures up to one formulated in a lab, as far as functional performance. The greatest example of this is the anti-aging wunderkind, retinoic acid, a lab-produced version of vitamin A which is in a league of its own. It’s studied and proven effective in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and discoloration, increasing firmness and radiance, and minimizing pores. All of these signs of aging have been shown to be best treated with synthetic retinoids because the naturally-derived version of vitamin A is a different shape. The molecule’s shape is key to its fitting into the retinoid receptor in our skin that allows it to do its job, and synthetic retinoic acid is a better fit.

Con: Relying on the “natural” label isn’t enough

Rather than selecting your skincare products based on arguably meaningless marketing labels like “natural,” it’s more effective to know which ingredients to look for and which to avoid.

Science is the currency of ideas at Perricone MD.  All our ideas start with a scientific hypothesis about how we can improve the health and beauty of the skin.  Science guides our thinking and is the proof behind what we do."

Perricone MD Chief Innovation Officer, Chris Caires

This means that both natural and synthetic compounds are equally and fairly “auditioned” to be ingredients in Perricone MD products, and often, they are one and the same. For example, “Essential oils like argan, rosehip and chia are wildly popular because they contain vitamin F, which is the collection of unsaturated fats, like omega-3, -6, and -9s, that your body needs to obtain from diet. They are essential building blocks of your skin barrier, making up around 40 percent of the dry weight of your cellular membranes.”

Vitamin F is the star ingredient of the Perricone MD Essential Fx Collection, which contains a vitamin F blend featuring chia, flaxseed and macadamia seed oil. “It’s unique in that its intensely hydrating properties can improve the skin’s moisture barrier, resulting in more supple, glowing skin."

Pro: Nature and science are a powerful combination

While considering the results of all-natural products, it’s important to note that many natural ingredients work better in conjunction with a safe, synthetic “companion element.”

For example, the Essential FX Acyl-Glutathione Collection harnesses the power of the brand's best-selling, patented Acyl-Glutathione molecule, combined with the skin barrier-protecting Vitamin F blend comprised of chia seed, flax seed and macadamia seed oils. Acyl-Glutathione is a custom biomolecule created by Perricone MD to support the body's natural level of glutathione – also known as the body's master antioxidant. This potent molecule targets the deepest creases, wrinkles and engraved expression lines. "Because Acyl-Glutathione helps improve the appearance of damaged skin, it's important to pair it with an intense moisturizing ingredient, like Vitamin F, to improve the skin's moisture barrier," says Caires. "This powerful combination locks moisture in and keeps environmental aggressors out, making it the most potent Perricone MD skincare formula to date."

Another effective example of the marriage between natural skincare and safe lab-made ingredients is the Perricone CBx for Men Collection, a skincare line featuring Super Clean Face Wash, a Soothing Post-Shave Treatment, and a Lightweight Moisturizer, all created to address excess oil production, sensitivity, and irritation related to shaving, as well as core skincare concerns like dehydration, fine lines, and uneven skin tone that directly affect a man’s skin. The star of the line and sponsor of its powerful results? Phytocannabinoids, the buzzworthy antioxidants naturally derived from the hemp plant.

“After carefully vetting a variety of active ingredients, we chose to use phytocannabinoids, non-psychoactive cannabinoids derived from the cannabis sativa plant, as the key ingredient in the CBx for Men collection,” explains Caires.  

“Phytocannabinoids are known to help stressed, oil-prone skin feel soothed, healthy and refreshed, making them an ideal ingredient for men’s skincare,” Caires continued.  “Aside from skincare, phytocannabinoids have also been used to address a variety of conditions such as chronic pain and sleeplessness as well as skin conditions such as acne.”  

There are many aspects to potent, effective skincare, and most important are high-quality ingredients. At Perricone MD, we find the best combination of nature-made ingredients and high-tech science, so skin is restored and protected for a youthful, healthy appearance.

Learn more in our 5-part series on demystifying “clean beauty”.