The rise of organic skin care in recent years is certainly well-intentioned—who wouldn’t choose gentle and eco-friendly ingredients over potentially harmful synthesized ingredients? The organic-versus-synthetic debate continues to develop, and it’s one that’s filled with misinformation. The best thing you can do for your skin is to make each purchase an informed one.
The Benefits of Organic Products
As of 2017, the FDA doesn’t regulate the term “organic” for cosmetic products, but you might find USDA “certified organic” seals—or similar seals from France’s ECOCERT, or even Germany’s BDIH—on your cosmetics. These labels ensure that the product doesn’t contain inorganic substances, like synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Certified organic skin care products can help you avoid potentially harmful synthetic chemicals, such as toxins and pesticides that have been proven to or are suspected to have adverse health effects. By choosing organic, you also choose to avoid the potential inorganic health hazards including cancer-causing carcinogenics, endocrine disrupters, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, neurotoxic fragrances and reproductive toxicants.
The Cons of Organic Cosmetics
Organic skin care often appeals to those with allergy-prone or sensitive skin, but that doesn’t mean they’re hypoallergenic. Even all-natural ingredients—including but not limited to cinnamon, lavender, lanolin and tea tree oil—can cause allergic reactions. Components such as citrus oils can also sensitize skin to sun damage. Moreover, preservative-free products leave organic cosmetics open to spoilage and bacteria contamination, which shortens their shelf lives and may lead to infection if you use them.
Synthetic Cosmetics: The Advantages
Synthetic cosmetics have at least one practical advantage over many organic skin-care products: there is an abundance of evidence around their effectiveness and even their potential side effects. Ingredients such as retinol have well-documented track records that many organic ingredients can’t compare with. Though the jury is still out on commonly used preservative parabens, synthetic-based products have longer shelf lives and typically come at a significantly lower cost than organics.
Do Your Homework
Skin care contains a minefield of labels: from “natural” to “vegan” and just about everything in between. Like organic cosmetics, many of these terms are not regulated in the U.S. In fact, “natural” is even less regulated than “organic,” as neither the FDA nor the USDA vet the term’s usage. Oftentimes these labels are simply used (or abused) as marketing buzzwords. Rather than taking labels at face value, take the time to research active ingredients on a case-by-case basis, do some research and most important—see how your own skin reacts to certain ingredients.