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Article: Are all natural ingredients safe to use in skincare?

Are all natural ingredients safe to use in skincare?

Whether you’re a passionate pro-organic, pro-nature shopper or a committed follower of science, you’ll always be interested in the debate about whether natural is better for your skin.

The truth is, the terms ‘chemical’ and ‘poison’ have taken on a meaning that’s almost the same. People think that ‘all chemicals are bad’, totally forgetting that everything (including us) on this planet is made from chemicals. A product that calls itself ‘chemical free’ literally can’t exist.

People also forget that nature is very good at manufacturing chemicals that are toxins. Some toxins are produced by plants as a natural defence mechanism against predators, insects and microorganisms. For example, foxgloves produce several toxins that can lead to death if you consume them.

Other sources of natural toxins are water-borne microscopic algae and plankton that produce highly toxic chemical compounds in certain circumstances. When people eat fish or shellfish that contain these toxins, illness rapidly follows.  

In short, there are lots of natural, organic ingredients that are bad for skin. And this is one of the reasons why Okana focuses on ingredients that you can literally eat. The ingredients lists on our products read almost like a fruit and vege shopping list. Other brands that call themselves natural don’t necessarily take this approach. The lesson here is that all natural skincare products are not created equal.

When natural skincare goes bad

Some of the ingredients used in natural skincare can cause significant skin sensitivities, which get worse over time. And some can be harsh and abrasive, like ground nuts. When your skin gets super-sensitive or badly eroded, it’s open to all kinds of damage because the skin barrier has been compromised.

Fragrance ingredients are particularly known for their ability to sensitise skin – and we’re talking about natural fragrance ingredients too, not just synthetic fragrances. Aromatherapy oils might be wonderful under your nose, but they can create havoc when applied to your skin. Moral of the story? Always do a sniff test when you’re shopping for natural skincare.  You need to smell nothing, quite literally. Don’t let a beautiful fragrance suck you in.

Citrus-based natural ingredients can also be a problem, because they can make your skin more sensitive to UV. While they might be included because they have antioxidant properties, they come with baggage. There are plenty of excellent natural ingredients that only deliver positives with no negatives attached, so you don’t need to settle for products that have dubious ingredients.

The bad guys to look for in ingredients lists of natural products include: alcohol, allspice, angelica, arnica, mint oil, balsam, basil, bergamot, cinnamon, citrus juice or oil, cloves, coriander oil, cypress, fir needle, geranium, grapefruit, ground nuts, horsetail, lavender oil, lemon, lemon balm, lemongrass, lime, marjoram, oak, peppermint, rose, rosemary, sage, thyme, witch hazel and ylang ylang.  There are others too, but this list covers the most common ‘bad guys disguised as good guys’.

The proven heroes of natural skincare

So how do you know if your favourite brand of natural skincare consistently uses ingredients that are batting for the right team? Apart from thinking about whether you could eat the ingredients, keep an eye out for these good guys.

  • Oils: apricot kernel oil, macadamia oil, olive oil, plant-derived glycerine, rapeseed oil (canola), avocado oil, apricot wax
  • Fruit extracts: berry juice, red grape extract, tomato juice, apple amino acids, mango,
  • Vegetable extracts: carrot juice, beetroot, corn, lettuce juice, cucumber juice
  • Abrasives: bamboo powder, brown sugar

This list doesn’t cover all the safe natural ingredients available, just the ingredients we’re currently using at Okana. We’ve done our research, so you don’t have to. There are many more excellent natural ingredients out there, but you need to do your homework before you can be certain they won’t cause problems.

How to do a patch test

Whether you’re using a product made with natural ingredients or a science-based product made with synthetic ingredients, you should do a patch test before you apply the product to your face.  Here’s how that works:

  • Select an area of skin that is usually not visible, such as behind your knee or inside your elbow.
  • Wash and dry the area of skin you’ll be using for your test.
  • Apply a small amount of the product and cover it with a sticking plaster.
  • Leave it in place for 24 hours. Don’t get it wet.
  • Peel the plaster off and see if you’ve had a reaction – reddening, burning, itching or spots. Wash the product off.
  • If there was no reaction, the product is probably safe to use on your face.

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