Navigating Natural Store-Bought Skincare
Posted by : Ashley Southard /
We’ve delved heavily into the benefits of carrier oils and essential oils, what makes them so great, and how to use them – but what if you don’t have the time to shop for, experiment with, and determine which essential oils are for you?
There are plenty of honest, sustainable, good-for-you companies that have formulated beauty products to maximize the benefits of plant constituents (and some that aren’t as good for you as they seem); we’ll explore what to look for in store-brought products, so you can reap the same wonderful botanical benefits without the time it takes to research and create your own.
A few store-bought beauty caveats:
“Natural” means nothing – at least according to the FDA. Though there’s plenty of legislative movement toward making it mean something, there isn’t anything in code yet – so any company can plaster “natural” all over its bottle, even if, well, it’s not. To avoid being duped into thinking the product is good for you, read the ingredients – not just the label.
*NOTE: When in doubt, check the European standards. On the US market, only about 30 products are banned from use in cosmetics; in Europe, it’s more like 30,000. Furthermore, any cosmetic or skincare must undergo rigorous standard testing to bring the product to market in Europe (at least a year), unlike the US, where it’s sometimes as little as a week
A long ingredient list isn’t necessarily a bad one. A lot of naturalists believe that the shorter the list, the better it is – but that’s simply not the case as long as the ingredient list consists of natural, ethically- and organically-sourced, nontoxic ingredients! A lot of the active ingredients in plants aren’t readily absorbed by the skin, so they require (natural) additives to help the process. For example, rosewater is an excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, but it’s not going to penetrate the skin – so it must be combined with an oil that will.
Natural doesn’t last as long. The shelf life of most natural skincare is 3 to 6 months. One way to help natural products last longer is to keep them in the refrigerator – but no matter what, dispose of them by the expiration date.
Glycerin isn’t always bad (but sulfates and parabens are). Glycerin is naturally occurring in all lipids, including our own skin. It can be derived from plants, but it can also come from animals and be synthetically manufactured. If a natural looking product contains glycerin, you’ll want to find out where it came from. As for sulfate and parabens? Those are never natural, and should always be avoided.
What makes up your skincare:
Emollients: lubricating agents that moisturize and provide a layer of protection, preventing loss of hydration
Examples: plant oils, mineral oils, shea butter, cocoa butter, fatty acids (lanolin)
Emulsifiers: anything that stabilizes or prevents a solution from separation. There are 2 kinds:
1: O/W (oil in water): disperses tiny droplets of oil throughout an aqueous base, taking the form of clear liquids, milks, or lotions.
The certified organic ones look surprisingly “chemically,” but they are all derived from plants: glyceryl stearate, cetearyl alcohol, sodium stearoyl lactylate, cetearyl wheat straw glucosides, cetearyl alcohol, cetearyl olivate, sorbitan olivate.
School of Nature explores what exactly all these things are made of if you'd like to learn more.
2: W/O (water in oil): disperses tiny droplets of water throughout a fatty base, taking the form of balms.
Look for: beeswax, candelilla wax, lecithin (but look for soy-free and/or vegan lecithin, because it can come animal products and soybeans), acacia gum.
There are plenty of natural products that have no emulsifiers at all – you’ll see it in the separation of their compounds, especially as a liquid, and you simply need to shake before application.
Humectants: attract water to the surface of the skin, creating a supple, fresh effect.
Note: a lot of humectants have emollient properties, but not all emollients of humectant properties.
Polyphenols: phytochemicals found in plants that act as antioxidants in addition to a hosting a bounty of beneficial biological effects. There are 4 types: flavonoids, stilbenes, lignanas, and phenolic acid.
So, to summarize:
When you’re looking for skincare, consider what the purpose is: if it’s for moisture only, but you have no problem retaining moisture, a humectant will be sufficient. But, if you want to ensure you’re moisturized and that the moisture is locked in, you want a humectant emollient blend.
Natural compounds will separate – so when you a natural product that isn’t separated, you want to make sure there’s nothing synthetic about it.
Now that you’re ready to shop, here’s what to look for:
Botanical-based skincare is all about nourishing the skin rather than stripping it.
For acne and blemishes:
- Black Cumin Seed
For redness, Rosacea, and inflammation:
- Blue tansy
- Evening primose
- Licorice root
- Marshmallow root
- Rosewater (anti-inflammatory)
For combating wrinkles:
- Cacao bean (careful if you have oily skin)
- Sunflower seed
- Vitamin A derived from plants (a natural retina-A alternative) – sage is an excellent source
For de-puffing, dark circles, and all other under-eye qualms:
- Apricot oil
- Carrot seed
- Cucumber seed
- Green tea extract
- Horse chestnut
- Tremella mushroom extract
- Safflower seed
For brightening, lightning, and all-around skin texture, skin tone, and fine line improvement:
- Blue tansy
- Cotton thistle
- Helichrysum (also goes by the name Immortelle)
- Iceland moss
- Licorice root
- Peony extract
- Rosemary (note: not good for dry skin)
- Squalene (make sure it’s derived from a suitable source, such as olives)
- Vitamin C naturally derived from plant sources
By no means is this list exhaustive – it’s just a start! If you’re interested in diving deeper, you can read a plethora of studies on the benefits of botanicals in skincare:
Keep in mind…
Transitioning takes time and patience. If and when you choose to transition to natural skincare, or try a new skincare product, it takes about 2 weeks for your skin to adjust – approximately as long as it would take your skin to heal from a small cut or mosquito bite. It’s completely normal to experience a few blemishes or bumps during the process, but an outright rash means you should stop immediately.
Beauty isn’t only skin-deep: healthy skin starts from the inside out. Proper topical skincare is excellent, but detox methods - internal and external - can help your cells regenerate more quickly.
To promote regeneration internally: diet and hydration are key. A healthy, plant-based diet from organic sources will aid in improved skin, while detoxifying teas such as nettle and dandelion will help your liver process any toxins.
To promote regeneration physically: treat your body with methods that help circulate the lymphatic fluid such as:
- Dry brushing: stimulates lymphatic system and sloughs off dead skin cells
- Exfoliating with skin-safe materials such as nettle or muslin cloths
- Self-massage with Gua Sha stone boards: stimulates lymphatic system. Gua Sha boards are similar to jade rollers and can be used anywhere on the body. We recommend not only using them on your face, but also on the locations where your lymph nodes are located and on the underside of the joints in your body where lymphatic fluid can get stuck: the neck, underarms, hip joint, elbows, and knees.
Dress for detox success: your skin has to breathe to release toxins, so you should wear clothing that allows it to do just that! You want to wear textiles that don’t restrict, or worse, add more toxins to, your skin. By wearing natural fibers such as linen, nettle, and hemp, your skin can breathe naturally, promoting circulation and detoxification.