Are 'natural' skin care products better?

This sounds very appealing and seems to make a lot of sense at first. But what is natural? This segment of skin care has seen major growth, and more and more brands have jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, most are using this as a marketing claim rather than as an underlying business philosophy that guides all aspects of their operations.

There is no established legal definition of exactly what natural is in Australia and so this is open to misrepresentation and manipulation. Irrespective of this, claims that a skin care product is natural need to be properly substantiated by brand owners, otherwise they can be in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, natural is defined as ‘existing in or formed by nature’, ‘not artificial’ and ‘not synthetic’. However even natural raw materials are transformed through manufacturing processes before being used in cleansers, toners, serums and creams. Many brands claiming their skin care products are natural also use ingredients that are synthetic.

To get around the ‘natural’ enigma, some brands claim their products are ‘chemical free’. But this is quite puzzling too as all skin care products contain ‘chemicals’, whether naturally occurring or not.

The final matter to consider is the use of preservatives. To preserve the product and protect the user, preservatives need to be used to stabilise the formulation and prevent microorganisms forming and multiplying. To achieve this, many naturally oriented brands are using various essential oils and this presents several challenges. There have been cases where the products have not had adequate testing to ensure they are correctly preserved and safe for the declared shelf-life. Higher levels of essential oils are needed compared with synthetic preservatives and this raises the potential for irritation, whether immediately or further down the track, with the skin becoming sensitised. Further, some essential oils, especially at higher concentrations, can cause reactions when skin is exposed to the sun.

Due to these reasons, it is not as simple as selecting your products based on claims that the product is ‘natural’. Always look at the ingredient list and ensure you stay clear of those ingredients that may not be good for your skin or you know you could react to, as they can come in both natural and synthetic forms.

What are actives?

Actives are ingredients in skin care products that address particular concerns. They can be found in everyday care products, as well as in prescription products targeting specific skin conditions. The best actives have a body of evidence behind them, such as Retinol, L-Ascorbic Acid, AHAs and BHA.

There is also research behind a lot of other ingredients, including peptides, growth factors, antioxidants and botanicals, but usually not to the same standard. Some actives have a claimed effect or history of usage, but have little to no science to back up the claims made for them.

Cosmetic ingredient manufacturers make quite a few claims for their products and these ingredients are sold to brand owners for use in their formulations. Sometimes these manufacturers conduct their own research and testing on new or tweaked ingredients so as to be able to make scientific-sounding claims. However it is best to be a little questioning here and dig deeper to see whether you can find verification of their claims by way of peer-reviewed independent research and publication in leading journals. That said, even the best of actives may not work for everyone or not as well as we hoped for, so it is always important to be realistic.

Are luxury skin products worth it?

We have a blog on the website that tackles this more in detail. In summary, do not get confused between effective cosmeceutical skin care products and luxury skin care products, as they are not necessarily the same thing. When a product is very, very expensive we expect it to be the best there is. But in skin care, the price is determined by more than just the value of the ingredients and the formulation. So much of it is influenced by the brand image, marketing, packaging and what an aspirational buyer is prepared to pay.

Do your research and ensure you are getting your money’s worth. There are some exorbitantly priced luxury brands that do not deliver results even close to their price tags, while there are some better priced and well-formulated cosmeceutical products packed with actives that really get the job done.

Can I mix different skin care products from different brands?

Traditionally, we have used products from the same brand and the same range of products. Skin care companies would have us believe that we need to use all the products in that particular range because they work best together or are not compatible with other products. However more and more people are becoming better educated and like to mix and match products from different ranges or even different brands. What is most important is that you find the right ingredients and formulations for your skin.

If you prefer to buy products on their individual merits rather than their brand halo, make sure you know what is in your products and how to combine them. With more and more actives making it into skin care products, it is not always immediately obvious that combining certain products can be detrimental to your skin. When brands are formulating a range, they take into account that you will be likely using a number of the products and will be layering them. Obviously, this is not the case when you are combining multiple skin care products from different brands. For example AHAs, L-Ascorbic Acid and Retinol can irritate your skin if overused or incorrectly combined, so make sure you know what you are using.

Can you prevent skin ageing?

The way our skin ages is affected by our genes and the modulation of those genes, or what is known as epigenetics. While we cannot change our genes, emerging research is uncovering new ways in which we can influence them, such as stress management, quality sleep, physical activity, correct nutrition, not smoking, avoiding harmful chemicals and other environmental hazards, and sun protection. Just like your body, skin needs to be well nourished, so ensure you are eating the right foods and following a healthy lifestyle.

In addition to influencing the way our skin ages from the inside out, we can influence the way it ages from the outside in. Everyone’s skin is going to age, however there are things you can do to prevent premature ageing. First and foremost, you need to use a sunscreen every day, even if it appears cloudy outside. The sun is responsible for a large amount of premature skin ageing, and the easiest and most effective way to protect our skin from the sun is by covering up and using sunscreen.

Besides using sunscreen daily, if you want your skin to stay youthful for longer, you need to use products with antioxidants in them, such as Vitamin C, to protect your skin from inflammation and free radical damage. In addition, your skin needs to be well moisturised in order to stay healthy. You could also invest in a product that contains Retinol, since it can smooth fine lines and wrinkles while also helping to compensate for diminishing skin collagen.

Is there a miracle cream?

There is no single cream or combination of products that will keep our skin looking the way it did in your 20s. While there is nothing that truly turns back the hands of time, we can use products that make us appear younger. The closest we have in our current armoury of products that make a difference, both visually and measurably, is the well-researched prescription Tretinoin (Retinoic Acid), which is a synthetic Vitamin A. Tretinoin accelerates cell turnover to reveal younger skin and penetrates the dermis to stimulate the production of collagen, thereby diminishing fine lines and wrinkles. Due to its side effects, it is only available on prescription.

However milder retinoids, such as Retinol, are readily available and can be found in many skin care products in varying strengths and using different delivery systems to maximise their absorption and minimise their irritation. When it comes to Retinol, the formulation is every bit as important as the amount of Retinol used.

Other ingredients that help us in our quest to keep our skin looking as youthful as possible are sunscreens, AHAs, Vitamin C and Hyaluronic Acid. Check out the information we have provided on Hero Ingredients on our website for a more indepth look at this.

Can topical products deal with every skin issue?

While topical products have come a long way, and there are so many more skin issues that can be treated today without the use of more invasive procedures, everything has its limitations. Sometimes it may be necessary to consider in-clinic treatments, such as microneedling, peels or laser.

If your skin has not responded to topical treatments or you have not been able to achieve the degree of improvement you are looking for to treat your acne, capillaries, pigmentation, scarring or uneven texture, find a reputable clinic and talk to them about your options. Make sure you feel comfortable about the treatment or treatments being proposed, and ensure you ask the right questions, including whether your skin is suitable for the treatment, what results you can expect and what side effects are possible.

While some treatments are relatively inexpensive and painless, others can cost thousands, be painful and have the potential for serious side effects, such as ablative lasers.

Only proceed if you feel confident in the clinician and treatment. It really does pay to do your homework and be cautious, especially if you could end up with a worse outcome.

Why don’t you recommend micellar water?

We know that micellar water makes things quick and easy for you, but the effort you put in now determines what type of skin you will have later in life. And, as we all know, prevention is always better than cure.

The occasional use of micellar water is no biggie, however regular use of it will do your skin no good. You know that chemicals, pollutants, dirt, grime, creams and makeup make it onto your skin and into your pores each day. For skin health, it is important to remove these products and the build-up of dead skin cells properly. Wipes and micellar water move all this icky and gunky stuff around your face without truly removing it. A thorough cleanse with rinsing will prepare your skin so that it better absorbs your treatment serums and helps prevent irritation and breakouts.

Additionally, there are many dermatological warnings about using micellar water on your eyes and the risk of bacterial overgrowth and Meibomiam Gland Dysfunction (MGD), a serious eye condition that damages the eyelids’ oil glands and makes your eyes feel gritty, dry and irritated.

A commonly used preservative in micellar water is Disodium EDTA, which is very irritating to the surface of the eye.

So, we are passing on the use of micellar water as a regular cleanser. But, if after all that you still want to use it, go ahead but make sure you rinse it all off or, better still, use a rinse-off version.

Should I double cleanse?

Double cleansing is great if you wear mineral sunscreen or heavy makeup, and should be limited to once a day. Oil cleansers work wonders to remove those difficult-to-remove creams without drying out the skin. Given that oil cleansers can leave some oil residue, which could block pores, it is best to follow up with a gentle second cleanser. In this way, you can thoroughly clean your pores and remove all sunscreen and makeup without irritating or damaging the skin barrier. Oil cleansers can also be helpful to anyone with a dry or very sensitive skin when applied before heading into the shower, as they protect the skin and stop it from drying out, especially if you are using shampoo.

Check the composition of your oil cleanser to ensure it is a true oil cleanser with gentle, nourishing light oils, and not a surfactant cleanser with a little oil thrown in simply to enable it to be called an oil cleanser. If you wear heavy eye makeup or waterproof mascara, use lash extensions or have sensitive eyes, it is best to avoid using an oil cleanser on your eyes and eyelashes. Try applying a gentle no-oil and no-alcohol eye cleanser first, before proceeding with using the oil cleanser on the rest of your face.

Should I exfoliate?

Regular skin exfoliation is the key to smooth, bright, and clear skin, but it can get downright confusing to know how often to exfoliate. For most people, exfoliating the face and body two times a week is adequate, although some may do it a little more frequently and others less. It really does depend.

For example, someone with oily, acne-prone skin that needs to be decongested will be different to someone with sensitive skin that is easily irritated. It also depends on the type of exfoliant being used and the strength of it. An enzymatic cleanser is going to be milder than an AHA toner and an AHA toner is going to be milder than an exfoliating peel. Keep in mind that the stronger your chosen exfoliation product, the less often you should use it. Damaging your skin barrier ages your skin rather than improves it.

The skin on our bodies is usually less sensitive than the skin on our faces so it can be exfoliated several times a week without issues. This may be something you want to do regularly in summer when you expose more skin and maybe even apply artificial tanning products. It also may be quite helpful for anyone who suffers from dry, flaky skin in winter.

Exfoliation provides our skin with a helping hand as we get older. The outer layer of skin is a condensed layer of spent skin cells and it thickens as we age, so exfoliating can reveal fresher skin.

By exfoliating, you are encouraging the turnover of skin and preparing it to better absorb treatments and moisturisers. Remember, though, that even a good thing can be overdone. If you do it too often, or too aggressively, your skin can become irritated or sensitised, and this can be counter-productive.

Should I use a toner?

This comes up a lot and is really a matter of personal preference. If you use the right products to cleanse, you do not necessarily need a toner. If you prefer to use one, though, we suggest using a treatment toner or essence, otherwise it could just be an unnecessary step in your beauty routine. Save the time, effort and expense for something that does more for your skin.

Should I use an eye cream?

The skin around your eyes is thinner, more sensitive and has its own distinct set of needs. Eye creams and eye gels are specifically formulated to suit this delicate area of your face, and they can have a different consistency to other skin products.

Some people advocate just using your regular serum or face moisturiser, however this may not be the best approach to tackle your specific eye area concerns or even to correctly nourish and protect the skin around your eyes. Eye treatments often seek to address a number of issues that are quite specific to the eye area, while still being gentle.

Eye treatments are not miracle products, and some of the claims made for them may be exaggerated. However they can do more for the eye area and cause less irritation than other products that have been developed for the rest of your face. For example, a standard AHA, L-Ascorbic Acid or Retinol product may be too irritating to use around your eyes because the concentration of actives is too high. A rich moisturiser may cause milia to form under the surface of the skin around the eyes. A product with fragrance or essential oils may cause eye irritation and watering.

Also consider the importance of protecting the skin around the eyes from UV damage. Regular sunscreens are quite problematic in this area for most people, so if you can find an eye cream with protection that does not cause you any issues, you are on a winner. The skin around our eyes is prone to sun damage and premature ageing, just like the rest of our skin.

If you have oily skin or are prone to milia, you can select an eye gel. If your skin is particularly dry and you need extra nourishment, a cream will work better. And then, of course, there are eye treatments that are designed for use during the day and work well under eye makeup and those that are better suited to use in the evening.

While eye formulas may add another step to your beauty routine, we still think they play an important role in keeping the skin around your eyes at its best and help avoid potential problems that can arise from applying other, non-suitable products.

I have oily skin. I am worried that using oils will make my skin break out.

Skin needs to maintain a healthy balance between water and oil, with a ratio of 70% to 30% considered to be ideal. Stripping the skin of all its natural oils will not prevent you from getting blemishes and could even make them worse, as the skin’s oils, known as lipids, also play a protective and antibacterial role. Overzealous cleaning, heavy exfoliation, use of drying products and lack of proper moisturisation can lead to an impaired skin barrier, making it more susceptible to irritation, moisture loss and infection.

Dry skin appears older and more wrinkled, and over time can become prematurely aged. Not what most of us are trying to achieve!

Most people can add oils to their beauty routine, even those with oily skin, whether as a first cleanser or as a final step in their skin care routine. However anyone wanting to incorporate a skin oil should be mindful of the characteristics of different types of oils, as some can be heavy, thick and clog pores.

Oily and acne-prone skin types have overactive oil glands, and for most people it makes intuitive sense not to add any more oil to their skin. However there is a little more to it. Oils that are closest to the skin’s own lipids and have a small molecular size are the ones that are going to absorb more easily and not feel greasy. Marula, Jojoba and Squalene are three types of oils that are lighter and more easily absorbed. They generally can be used by those with dry, normal, combination and even oily skin types. Argan, Buckthorn, Kukui and Rosehip are also low comedogenic oils and may also work for those with oilier skin.

Remember to go easy with the amount of oil you use on your skin. Two to three drops applied to the face after your moisturiser has absorbed should be more than enough. This gives your skin additional protection and helps seal in moisture, which may be a good option for you at night.

Of course, as every skin is unique, it is always important to test a product first, as what works for one person does not work for another, even when they have the same skin type. Naturally, there are some people who do not enjoy using oils on their skin, and that is OK too. Load up instead on other skin moisturising factors.

What can I do about my dry, flaky skin?

Skin can become dry and flaky for a number of different reasons: skin type, age, hormones, aggressive treatments, types of products used, harsh weather, heating and air-conditioning, diet, medication … It is important to work out what the cause is, where possible, and tackle this aspect while also topically treating your skin to some extra care and attention.

Most people are too aggressive with their skin and overdo their cleansing and exfoliation, while underdoing their nourishing and protection. Always use a gentle cleanser, rather than an aggressive one that strips your skin, and lightly pat your skin dry after washing. Try using a clean microfibre or polyester face cloth to rinse off cleanser rather than splashing your face with water as this can help too. Remember to only use tepid water rather than hot water. If you cleanse under the shower, consider using a more nourishing, protective-type face cleanser, as your shampoo and hot water may be contributing to the problem.

Step up your routine. Try gently exfoliating a few times a week, incorporating some hydrating masks, switching to a richer moisturiser and adding a skin oil as your final layer in the evening to prevent moisture loss.

What type of skin do I have?

Skin care products are labelled for different skin types such as normal, oily, combination, dry or sensitive. But figuring out what your skin type is can be a little confusing sometimes, especially if there are a few different things happening with your skin at the same time. To figure out your skin type, wash your face with a facial cleanser meant for normal skin. Pat your skin dry and then do nothing else for the next 30 minutes. Now check your skin by looking in the mirror. How does your skin look and feel? Is it flaky or shiny? Does it feel tight or dry? Is it rough or smooth to the touch?

If your skin is flaky and tight, you have dry skin. If your skin is shiny, you have oily skin. If your skin feels fine, you have normal skin. Should you find your skin is dry in some areas and oily in others, this means you have combination skin. If your skin flares up easily or becomes red or irritated when you use certain products, eat spicy foods or just catch a glimpse of sun, you have sensitive skin.

It is, though, worth distinguishing whether you have sensitive or sensitised skin. Your skin may have become dry and sensitised due to your skin care routine and products, yet your skin is actually oily, and this is where is gets more difficult. Even though your skin type is actually oily, you will still need to treat the dryness and sensitisation before again using products designed for oily skin.

Take a look at the information we have provided on skin types elsewhere on the website, as this provides further information

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