The ‘Dark Side’ of Natural Ingredients You Need to Know About

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While there’s no denying that the interest in natural ingredients is huge right now, not everyone agrees on how to prescribe them when it comes to certain skin care benefits. From calling out a dark side to a push for predictable results, the doctors debate:

Most Definitely: “Several natural ingredients can be effective when used properly,” says New York dermatologist Sejal K. Shah, MD, although she stresses there’s only a handful she’ll recommend, and they’re almost never a one-size-fits-all skin care solution. “Of course, people often assume natural ingredients are without adverse effects, but that’s not true. You can have negative skin reactions to natural ingredients, even as severe as burns, so they should always be used with caution. I like tea tree oil, green tea, sulfur, clay and willow bark extract for acne; aloe vera and chamomile for soothing and anti-inflammatory benefits; and oatmeal for soothing and hydrating the skin. Some may be used as an alternative to non-natural medications, while others may be better as adjuncts.”

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It’s a Mix: “In dermatology, there are many important skin-care ingredients that are not necessarily ‘natural,’ but are usually derived from natural sources,” explains Studio City, CA, dermatologist Gene Rubinstein, MD. “It’s a choice, but it’s more about getting guidance on which ingredients to look for and what’s actually going to work in your products.”

They Don’t Hit the Mark: “I think the technology is actually going full tilt into nanotechnology, stem cells, growth factors, heparin sulfate analogs, delayed-release retinols, and other areas,” says Los Gatos, CA, dermatologist Steven L. Swengel, MD. “I tell my patients that if they are looking for rapid, predictable results, they need to embrace technology, NOT focus on all-natural.”

There’s a Dark Side: Las Vegas plastic surgeon Mary Herte, MD, also has quite a few patients who request natural skin-care products, but she thinks there’s a “dark side” to them that most people never consider. “While we have lots of skin care options available from the most natural to the highest-tech and from gentle to very active, I believe skin sensitivity problems can be escalated by the use of natural skin care products. Botanicals can cause allergic responses and there’s an unreliable level of activity of the active ingredients. ‘Chemical’ skin care products are more uniform, have accurate reproducible formulas, contain the readily available form of the ingredient, and do not include the parts of plants that are not the active ingredient and may cause reactivity. They can also be tested with reliable results because of their consistent formulations.” The bottom line, in her opinion: “We see so many patients become irritated by hidden botanical ingredients, so we do not usually recommend a product just on the basis of being natural. Botanicals can be irritating, unstable or unreliable.”

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