Why Organic Skincare Isn’t Always Better

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Avocado mask in a container, surrounded by natural ingredients

Organic food has been all the hype lately, and for good reason too…

Food that is grown organically contains far fewer chemical residues than their conventionally grown counterparts. This means that they are not only better for your health, but for the environment too, especially with the strict standards that organic farms have to adhere to. 

With all of this in mind, you would automatically assume that the same applies to your skin care too – organic is better, right? 

Well, it may surprise you to know that this isn’t always the case…

What Exactly Is Organic Skin Care?

In order for a skin care product to class itself as organic, the ingredients within it need to contain:

  • No toxic pesticides or herbicides 
  • No chemical fertilizers 
  • No antibiotics or growth hormones in animal products

This may sound good in theory, but how do you know that an organic product has actually followed those rules? 

What Are the Regulations for Organic Skin Care?

This is a question that not many people ask, instead assuming that organic skin care follows the same strict regulations as organic food. 

However, this assumption is very wrong…

Skin care is not regulated to even nearly the same extent as food, making it hard to determine whether the ingredients used in products really are organic. Standards vary between countries too, with the EU, for example, having noticeably stricter regulations than the USA. 

When it comes to organic certifications in the USA, these are the four main levels you will encounter: 

  • 100% Organic – every ingredient, excluding water and salt, within the product is organic 
  • Organic – 95% of the ingredients within the product are organic 
  • Made with Organic Ingredients – 70% of the ingredients are organic, but a USDA seal is not allowed to be displayed on the product 
  • Less than 70% Organic – the product should not claim to be organic, but individual organic ingredients are allowed to be identified on the ingredients list  

There are more than 350 other organic certifications out there too, and each company will have their own standards when it comes to whether or not a product is organic.

What does all of this mean? 

It means that you can’t necessarily trust an organic claim on product labels. If you are determined to buy organic, you will need to properly read up on the company that has made the product, the ingredients that have been used, and the certifying body who granted the product its organic status.

The Benefits of Non-Organic Ingredients

It is safe to say that 100% organic products do not contain any synthetic chemicals, but is this really a good thing? 

To put it simply, the answer is no. 

There are so many man-made ingredients out there that are extremely beneficial for your skin, such as: 

  • Retinol – a powerful derivative of vitamin A, retinol is one of the best anti-aging ingredients out there, doing everything from fighting wrinkles and acne to increasing the production of collagen and elastin 
  • Hyaluronic Acid – found naturally in the skin, the synthetic version of hyaluronic acid won’t be organic, but will still be one of the best ingredients for keeping the skin hydrated 
  • Ceramides – naturally found in the skin, the ceramides in your skin care products are unlikely to come from an organic source, but still really help to strengthen your skin’s protective barrier, keeping the skin firm, smooth and hydrated 
  • Benzoyl Peroxide – an over-the-counter acne treatment, the results that benzoyl peroxide provides are unlikely to match up to the organic anti-acne ingredients available 

Just because something is made in a laboratory and isn’t organic, doesn’t mean that your skin won’t still benefit from it. If you end up opting solely for products that are completely organic, your skin will end up missing out on so many beneficial ingredients. 

The Need for Preservatives

Usually, unless a product is 100% organic, it will contain at least one chemical preservative. 

Is this bad? 

Not necessarily. 

You may not realize it, but preservatives actually make your life so much easier…

The majority of your skin care products will come into contact with your hand on a regular basis, and your hand will more than likely contain bacteria. This bacteria then enters into your skin care product and will soon start to rapidly breed, unless the product contains a preservative that can destroy that bacteria.

Unknown scientist holding a small clear tray of powdered preservative

It isn’t only bacteria that you need to be careful about either…

Where do you usually store your skin care products? 

Unless your answer is “in the fridge”, this is another reason why you need preservatives in your products. The environment around your home isn’t optimal for keeping 100% organic products fresh, meaning that they will end up going off much faster. 

This brings the issue of shelf life to light…

Products that don’t contain any preservatives and aren’t stored in the fridge will only have a shelf life of a couple of weeks. 

Are you prepared to keep replacing your skin care products every two weeks? 

Not only will this be expensive and time-consuming, but also quite a waste, as you will likely end up needing to throw a product out before you have finished it. On the other hand, a preservative in a skin care product will help to keep that product stable for months. 

What happens if you use an expired organic product on your skin? 

Well, the active ingredients within them won’t really have much of an effect, at least in a good way. Since those ingredients will have degraded to quite an extent, they may even end up having quite a detrimental effect on your skin, leading to oxidative damage.

Of course, when it comes to the many different preservatives out there, some are definitely worse than others. 

Which preservatives should you avoid? 

These are some of the most harmful: 

  • Parabens – when applied to the skin, parabens are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and mimic estrogen in the body. This then interferes with your natural hormones, making you more vulnerable to developing ovarian and breast cancer
  • Phenolic Acid/ Phenol – in larger quantities, this common preservative can lead to a number of serious health conditions, from respiratory problems to fainting 
  • Formaldehyde – an extremely harmful carcinogen, and probably one of the worst preservatives out there. Be wary of Imidazolidinyl Urea too, as this ingredient releases formaldehyde over time 
  • Phthalatescould potentially cause breast cancer, asthma, diabetes, behavioural problems, fertility issues and more

Do your favorite skin care products contain some of the above-mentioned preservatives? 

Don’t panic just yet…

Take a proper look at the ingredients label and try to work out how much of the preservative has been used. Dosage is key when it comes to the way in which these preservatives will damage your skin. For example, apples contain formaldehyde, but you would have to eat a huge amount of apples in order for them to cause health problems. The same applies to many preservatives – in small amounts, you don’t really have much to worry about. 

Found a product that claims to use no preservatives, but boasts a long shelf life? 

You need to be careful…

Some companies actually use unregistered preservatives in their formulas, so that they can still claim to be preservative-free. 

What about natural preservatives?

There are quite a few myths out there surrounding natural preservatives. Many ingredients are touted as being a natural preservative, but don’t really have this effect in reality. 

Common natural ingredients that are used as preservatives, but don’t actually work well as a preservative, include: 

  • Vitamin E 
  • Rosemary Extract 
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract 

While those ingredients are fantastic antioxidants and could really help your skin, they don’t actually kill off any of the bacteria that enters in to your skin care products. 

When it comes to the natural preservatives that do work, you need to keep in mind that these function differently from synthetic preservatives. While synthetic preservatives destroy any bacteria that enters into a product, natural preservatives create an unfriendly environment for bacteria, preventing them from entering into the product in the first place. 

This sounds good, right? 

In theory, yes. However, unless you are washing and drying your hands each time you use your skin care product, and are also storing it in a fridge, then it is more than likely that some bacteria will still end up entering into the formula. This will then grow and slowly take over, making the product more harmful than good. 

Is Natural Skin Care the Same As Organic Skin Care?

While natural and organic skin care products share many similarities, these two terms should not be used interchangeably. 

Why? 

Because the term “natural” is regulated even less than the term “organic”. 

This is a phrase that so many skin care companies use as a marketing tactic, when really their products may only contain a small amount of one natural ingredient. 

Another reason not to get these two terms confused is that a product can be natural, without being organic. This means that the ingredients have been derived from plants, minerals or animal products that haven’t been grown organically.

Natural skincare with ingredients on a table

Of course, a product can also be natural and organic at the same time, and many people would assume that this means the product is great for their skin. 

Is this true? 

Not necessarily. There are actually several natural ingredients out there that are known irritants and common allergens. 

In fact, research shows that the following natural, plant-based ingredients are actually among the top triggers when it comes to skin reactions:

  • Eucalyptus – eucalyptus essential oil can lead to rashes, itching, red bumps and blistering 
  • Tea Tree Oil – a common ingredient for treating acne, around 5% of those who use tea tree oil report the onset of allergic contact dermatitis 
  • Citrus Ingredients – for some, even touching the peel of a citrus fruit can lead to problems, so you can only imagine what a more concentrated citrus extract would do 
  • Lavender – while quite a gentle ingredient, lavender contains high amounts of linalool, which is the compound that gives this herb its distinct scent. Linalool has now caused so many skin irritations that some countries are considering putting a health warning on products containing lavender 
  • Balsam of Peru – commonly used as a fragrance, this ingredient can lead to some severe skin irritations 

As you can see, just because an ingredient has been derived from a natural source doesn’t mean that it is necessarily going to do your skin any good. 

Already experiencing a skin reaction from an organic or natural skin care product? 

Make sure that you stop using that product immediately, so that your skin is able to heal and calm down. It can then be worthwhile trying to work out exactly which ingredient within that product has caused your reaction, so that you know what you do and don’t need to avoid in the future. 

Don’t forget, allergies can often develop over time. Just because you have used a certain product or ingredient for years, doesn’t mean that you are immune to developing an allergy to it. 

Organic Skin Care Isn’t Always Better

As you can see, just because a skin care product has been labelled as organic doesn’t mean that this product is going to be better for your skin than a non-organic alternative. 

So, how do you know which products to go for? 

The key thing to look at is the ingredients within a product, and whether or not these are suited to your skin type. 

Performing a patch test on your skin first with any new product will also be beneficial, as you will be able to determine exactly how your skin is going to react to it. 

Don’t forget…

Synthetic, non-organic ingredients can often be even more powerful than natural, organic ones, so make sure that you do your research and don’t be fooled by a label. 

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