Over the past few years, the all-natural and organic beauty industry has outpaced the growth of mainstream businesses in the beauty market. Consumers are increasingly demanding products made from plants and free of potentially toxic ingredients, with the expectation that they are completely safe and more beneficial than the mainstream counterpart. Natural, plant-based skin care products have gained the reputation of being superior to their synthetic alternatives primarily because of their potency and for being non-toxic and healing to the skin. Unfortunately, while many natural ingredients are safe and effective, a few may not only be ineffective, but even toxic.
1. Essential Oils
When used as directed, essential oils can be safely employed in aromatherapy, alternative medical therapies, and even in personal care products. However, some essential oils are known to be dermal irritants, dermal sensitizers, and dermal photo-sensitizers. Due to the lack of regulations in the cosmetic industry, beauty companies may include these oils in their formulations. Companies have also included some oils that are harmful only because of the percentage used in the formula.
Irritating Essential Oils
Irritating essential oils may cause a mild to severe reaction when applied to the skin, including redness and blotchiness. In more severe cases, the irritation may cause pain and a burning sensation. Plant oils that are known to be dermal irritants are:
Bay, cinnamon, clove bud, citronella, cumin, lemongrass, lemon verbena, oregano, tagetes, and thyme.
Sensitizing Essential Oils
Sensitizing essential oils may cause an allergic response in the skin that leads to inflammation. When using a product containing a sensitizing ingredient, the skin may become allergic to it and react every time that ingredient is applied to the skin (allergic contact dermatitis). Plant oils that are known to be dermal sensitizers are:
Cassia, cinnamon bark, Peru balsam, verbena absolute, tea absolute, turpentine oil, backhousia citriodora, and Inula.
Photosensitivity is an increased sensitivity of the skin to UV rays. Due to their chemical composition, some plant oils, which contain photoreactive compounds, can be photo-sensitizing, making the skin more vulnerable to sun-damage during exposure to UV rays. Using a skincare product containing a photo-toxic ingredient before sun exposure may lead to sun poisoning (severe sunburn).
Physicians recommend up to 72 hours away from UV rays after applying these oils to the skin. You should also wear a broad spectrum sunscreen and reapply it throughout the day as recommended, in order to prevent sun damage (brown spots, wrinkles, skin cancer, etc). Plant oils that are known to be photo-sensitizers are:
Angelica root, bergamot, cumin, distilled/expressed grapefruit, expressed lemon, expressed lime, expressed orange (bitter), and rue.
However, among citrus oils, which are known to be photo-toxic, there are also a few that are not:
Bergapteneless bergamot, distilled lemon, distilled lime, mandarine-tangerine, sweet orange, expressed tangerine, and yuzu.
If you are currently using a product containing one of these ingredients, ask the manufacturer if the ingredient was expressed (cold-pressed) or steam-distilled. Then check this list to make sure that it is safe to use in the daytime when you are exposed to UV rays.
2. Natural and Organic Fragrance
Many natural skincare products contain fragrance that is obtained from organically grown plants. Unfortunately, even when completely organic, fragrances may be made with irritating/sensitizing fragrant oils, causing reactions similar to the ones mentioned above. Consult this guide when choosing a non-toxic perfume.
3. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a great multi-tasking beauty oil that works wonders on hair and can be safely used as a body moisturizer as well. In facial care, however, coconut oil may not be beneficial for all skin types. While people with dry skin that are not prone to blemishes may find it effective at moisturizing the skin due to its emollient properties, people with oily or acne-prone skin may experience breakouts due to its occlusive properties.
Similarly to coconut oil, plant-based butters like shea and cocoa are excellent moisturizers for dry skin that is not prone to breakouts. Due to their emollient and occlusive properties, they can soften the skin and prevent moisture loss. However, applied on oily skin, they can clog pores and cause breakouts.