Fairfield County Edition

Natural Skincare Matters

Consumer Beware; You’re On Your Own

A commitment to natural, healthy living for many of us includes eating cleanly, moving our bodies regularly, devoting time to spiritual practices, and tuning up through bodywork like chiropractic care, acupuncture and massage.

Another foundational building block to living healthfully is the products we use on our bodies every day. Many personal care products—even those labeled “natural” and “organic”—may be hiding chemicals that could be potentially harmful to our health. 

“Skin is our largest organ,” says Holly Arrindell, owner of Medicinal Skin in Ridgefield. “It absorbs products, so we want them to be safe.”

What’s the Harm in Conventional Personal Care Products?

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can regulate cosmetic chemicals. However, it only steps in if it has “reliable information” that a chemical could be toxic or harmful. 

“The result is that several chemicals with realistic chances of causing toxic effects can be found in everything from shampoo to toothpaste,” according to Scientific American. Where the European Union has banned more than 1,300 chemicals from personal care products, the U.S. has banned only 11. We haven’t passed a major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care products since 1938. And yet thousands of new chemicals have been developed and used in new products since then without being tested or regulated.

When petitions are brought to the FDA, such as a recent one protesting the use of lead acetate in hair dye, it still may take years for the FDA to deliberate and take action. In the meantime, U.S. law does not require those personal care products, including cosmetics, be approved by the FDA or any other governing body. Likewise, the law requires no specific tests before a new product or ingredient is brought to market. 

“When I first began researching this topic, it opened my eyes to how profoundly inept our culture is at protecting the consumer in the area of personal care products,” says Siobhan McKinley, founder of Organachs Farm to Skin in Westport.

As consumers of personal care products, we are our own best advocates; some effort is required if we want to reduce our exposure to unwanted chemicals. For some, the prospect of researching safer alternatives for everyday personal care products—such as skincare, sunscreen and makeup—may feel overwhelming.

Do Natural Products Really Work? 

McKinley hears this question from her customers all the time. Before starting Organachs, she worked in the beauty industry for 14 years. She notes that one problem with conventional skincare is that, “synthetic products sit on top of your skin. In contrast, your skin will synergistically recognize the botanicals and natural oils used in natural products.”

Since making the switch to natural skincare herself, McKinley notes that her skin has never looked better. “I used to use cosmoceutical brands from doctors,” she says. “But since I switched [to natural products], my skin glows. Once you start going organic, you don’t go back! Your skin looks better, brighter, more hydrated, and more supple.”

McKinley also notes that some people have doubts about the performance of natural products, especially cosmetics. “I carry a few makeup lines that were created by celebrity makeup artists,” she says. “The makeup I sell is high-performing, and it looks amazing on camera.” 

Connecticut mother Jennifer Zenke developed dry, red patches under her eyes and around her mouth after the birth of her son. “I tried everything to fix it,” she says. She tried hydrating, using more moisturizer and having her blood levels checked for vitamin deficiencies. She saw a dermatologist, who told her everything was fine. She tried all different products, but nothing worked.

A friend who sold products from Beautycounter—a leading multi-level marketing agency devoted to safer skincare—offered to let her try some samples for a few days. “Before I even returned the products three days later, my eczema was 90 percent gone,” Zenke said. “That was the ‘aha’ moment that the eczema was obviously due to whatever I had been putting on my face before.” 

Making the Switch 

Skincare is very individualized. When making the shift to natural products, be prepared to do some homework and then test different products to find what works best.

“It can feel kind of daunting when you think of switching over; you don’t even know where to begin,” says Zenke, who has become a consultant for Beautycounter. “Beautycounter does their own research [on their products], and they’re concerned about ingredients and long-term effects. The fact that they’re making it easier to switch is so great.”

McKinley recommends starting the swap with the one or two products you use the most frequently, and that sit the longest on your skin, including moisturizer and sunscreen. 

One place to start researching is with the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Healthy Living app. Consumers can download the app, type in the product they’re using and view its safety rating and list of chemicals with possible health effects. Choose one or two that have a poor rating, and start by replacing those products with more natural alternatives.

When choosing new products, remember that the FDA does not regulate the terms “natural” or “organic” in personal care products. “The word ‘natural’ doesn’t mean anything on skincare labels,” says Sherrylee Dickinson, a Fairfield County-based consultant with NYR Organic, a British natural skincare company founded in 1981. “It’s just a buzzword. There’s a lot of greenwashing that happens on these types of products.” Looking closely at ingredient lists and finding trustworthy brands is the safest way to ensure that products are truly safe and natural. 

Experts also note that when switching from conventional to natural skincare products, skin may react with breakouts at first. “Your skin is purging chemicals,” says McKinley. Experts say such reactions may last a few weeks before clearing up.

Treating our skin to products that will protect our health in the long-term is one more thing we can do to live a natural, healthy lifestyle.

Brooke Adams Law is a freelance health and parenting writer based in Stratford. Connect at BrookeAdamsLaw.com

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