While many synthetic ingredients used in commercial skin and body products are toxic or potentially toxic, there are some synthetic ingredients that are considered to be safe and non-toxic. As natural products are becoming increasingly popular due to consumer awareness, it seems the word “synthetic” has developed a negative stigma, regardless of whether a particular ingredient is safe or not. In fact, more and more “naturally” based skin care companies are incorporating synthetic ingredients (particularly those in the anti-aging category) into their products.
Conversely, there are all natural ingredients which can be toxic, and you wouldn’t want to use. Also some natural substances such as bergamot oil and lavender essential oil can both increase sensitivity to sunlight. While essential oils do have benefits (they are routinely used in natural skin care products), they can be irritating for some sensitive skin types.
Sometimes it is necessary to use a non-toxic synthetic ingredient (s) when no equivalent can be found in nature. It’s difficult not to notice that many naturally based skin care companies are now using some of the ” hottest” anti-aging ingredients in their products. Are they 100% all natural? Some are not. Are they safe? According to some research data banks that evaluate the safety of cosmetic ingredients, they are rated as relatively non-toxic (however, more research may be needed to confirm the safety levels of these ingredients). Among them are Matrixyl 3000, a synthetic pentapedtide, which is suppose to increase collagen production, hyaluronic acid, a powerful humectant which occurs naturally in the human body, and R-Lipoic Acid, a powerful antioxidant which mimics what our bodies naturally produce, but is synthesized in a lab because there is not enough of it found in nature.
While the idea of using 100% all natural products may seem appealing, it does not necessarily mean they are safe. In fact, failure to include effective preservatives in a product can lead to health problems, such as skin infection. Some companies use a combination of essential oils, but research indicates that in order for essential oils to be effective as a standalone preservative, they would need to be used at unsafe levels. In our opinion, there are really no safe and effective all natural preservatives. While it is sometimes apparent that a product has gone “bad,” (e.g. visible mold spores or product separation), bacteria may not always be visible to the naked eye. So, in reality you may be using a product which may look fine, when in fact it isn’t.
Often, it is necessary to use some type of synthetic non-toxic preservative (s) to ensure the products you use are safe. The recent negative publicity surrounding the use of parabens may give the impression that all synthetic preservatives are toxic or carcinogenic, when in fact, they are not. Many natural skin care companies find it daunting to come up with safe and non-toxic preservatives for their natural products. In an ideal world, we’d be able to pluck the leaves or seeds from a plant or tree, crush it up and mix into our products and come up with a safe and effective preservative. In reality, this rarely happens.
Some natural preservatives are originally plant derived, but must undergo a chemical process to convert them into a viable and effective compound strong enough to prevent and combat bacteria and fungus. A balance must be struck between effectiveness and gentleness – in other words, a preservative, which is not only non-toxic, but one that won’t cause (in the majority of people) skin irritations, allergic reactions (e.g. dermatitis). Some non-toxic preservatives which undergo some type of synthetic process with excellent safety records include Cosmocil CQ , Potassium Sorbate (usually used in conjunction with other preservatives), and Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE). However, not all GSE is processed the same way. It should be free from triclosan and benzethonium chloride. Many natural skin care companies also use Phenoxyethanol, another broad spectrum preservative. These preservatives may offer a potentially safer alternative to parabens and preservatives that release formaldehyde such as imidazolidinyl urea and DMDM Hydatoin.
From our perspective, it is more important for a product to be safe and non-toxic rather than a 100% all natural. Bear in mind, that some consumer advocacy organizations such as the National Ingredient Resource Center (NIRC) considers a product “all natural,” if it contains at least 95% of ingredients which fits their criteria for natural ingredients. The other 5% may come from ingredients that do not meet their criteria for natural, but do not contain synthetic fragrances, artificial colors or ingredients from petrochemicals. The toxicity of each ingredient must also be minimal. So a product label which reads, “All Natural,” may not be same as one that states, “100% All Natural.”
It might be a great idea to do more research. This will help ensure the products you purchase are not only effective, but safe. Many resources are available on the internet. One great resource is the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at http://www.safecosmetics.org. They provide comprehensive, up to date information on safer skin and body care, as well as those ingredients you may want to avoid.