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Natural skincare tips

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We’re constantly bombarded with adverts promoting the latest cosmetic products on TV, in magazines, billboards and social media, so you’d be forgiven for thinking your complexion requires extras to stay healthy. However, having “healthy looking skin” isn’t really what’s important; cultivating truly healthy skin is what matters. Here, we explain how good skin is built from within and what this means for your skincare considerations.

What is “green beauty”?

When we refer to “green beauty” we mean natural skincare. For example, making your own natural skincare products, so you know what’s gone into them, buying more natural products, and avoiding all the questionable, and, in some cases, potentially harmful, ingredients found in commercial products (more on these below).

But rather than just thinking about what you put on your skin when it comes to taking care of it, what about nurturing it from within?

Since the cells of our skin are constantly growing and dividing, there’s a demand for a continuous supply of nutrients from what we eat, which has a huge impact on your skin’s health and appearance. For instance, the vitamin A family is used on our skin for anti-ageing and to reduce wrinkles. However, your skin has many functions beyond looking good. It protects us from harmful things from the outside world, such as pathogens. To do this, our skin’s immune defence against microbes requires key nutrients, which act at the level of our genes to regulate the production of anti-microbial proteins and other molecules that enhance skin immunity. Here, vitamin A plays a key role. It also works together with vitamin D to regulate thousands of genes. So, it’s important we get enough vitamin A from food sources like oily fish, spinach, carrots, red peppers, and egg yolks from pastured chickens, to name a few.

Vitamin A is just one example of the variety of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats your skin needs. If these are lacking from your nutrition, or occasionally, if you have too much of these in your body, it can affect your skin’s health. Without the proper balance of these nutrients, your skin can develop a range of reactions including:

  • rashes,
  • itching,
  • acne,
  • pimples,
  • infection or
  • eczema.

You can read more about skin and nutrition in our ‘Skin deep: Healthy skin comes from the inside out’ article.

As well as nurturing it from within, it’s important to look to what Mother Nature gave us, and one of her greatest gifts is sunshine. The sun is the best source of vitamin D, which is not only made in your skin, but your skin is also uniquely able to activate it to its hormonal form, where it acts directly in multiple ways to support your skin’s barrier and immune function. Therefore, natural skincare involves daily and year-round sensible exposure to natural sunlight. In the summer, that means exposing enough skin to make sufficient vitamin D, whilst being mindful to avoid sunburn.

Did you know lightbulb icon in a circle with a green border

“Green beauty” may also relate to companies who seek to focus solely on natural ingredients in their products. In addition, the term might refer to eco-friendly makeup, skincare and beauty products whose producer embraces sustainable practices like ‘Eco refills’. This involves partnering with recyclable and compostable eco-refill systems and encouraging customers to save their product bottles, so they can fill it when their refill arrives, to reduce single-use plastic. Others use biodegradable packaging for sustainable skincare products.

Meanwhile, some companies pride themselves on being ethical and ensuring all their products are vegan, not tested on animals and have treated workers at every stage of the supply chain fairly and respectfully.

As we always say, when we look after the world around us, our long-term health can also benefit.

Warning in a circle with a green border

Labelling a product “green” can sometimes be used as a marketing tool without anything to back it up. It can be wise to always read the ingredient label and try to choose companies who have a track record for really prioritising a ‘green’ approach as outlined above, especially smaller companies where natural skincare is the main focus.

Why is natural skincare important?

Natural skincare isn’t just important for your skin health and appearance and for ethical and sustainability reasons, it affects your overall health too. This is because certain ingredients in personal care products, for example, the chemical molecules phthalates and parabens, can be harmful if they build-up in your body. They can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream in small amounts, and subsequently spread throughout your body, which then has to process what’s been absorbed into your bloodstream.

Especially if they were born prematurely, this is particularly important for babies as premature infants’ skin barrier is often very impaired. Babies’ organs, such as their liver, kidneys, blood and nervous systems aren’t fully developed. This means they’re much less able to deal with foreign substances absorbed through their skin and are more prone to side-effects and toxicity.

How to choose skincare products

Ideally, the products you use on your skin should be chosen with great care, and skin that’s in good condition may not need any cosmetics – a bit like taking a “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” approach! Yet, sometimes your skin might need some extra help, for example if it’s dry, greasy, sore or inflamed.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when choosing products:

1. Opt for skincare products that are also edible

Honey and avocado can often be popular edible ingredients used for skincare. Another example, is virgin coconut oil, with a lab study finding it demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties and protected the skin by enhancing its barrier function , coconut oil can be used for:

For those with oily skin, coconut oil may be too greasy. Likewise, other edibles, such as olive oil may not be suitable for oily skin types. Jojoba oil has been found to be useful for acne and helping to repair the skin’s natural barrier, so may be a better alternative – experiment and see what works for you.

If you’re susceptible to oily skin or acne, you may wish to be cautious with using some oils on your skin. Instead, there’s some research that suggests tea polyphenols (from green tea and other teas) may be useful in reducing sebum (oil) secretion and for acne for people with oily skin. They can be used both orally and/or topically for skin health. More specifically, they can reduce sebum production by microscopic glands found in your hair follicles that secrete sebum, known as sebaceous glands, and for the prevention and treatment of acne vulgaris.

As with a lot of natural skincare products, what works for some people, may not work for others.

A white box with the title 'Rose water recipe' (for natural skincare) at the top in black text. The box contains 3 blue boxes with black text. The top box, which has an icon of a green tick in the top left-hand corner, says: 'Use: May be a less greasy way to remove make-up (it can smell lovely too!).' The 2nd box below it on the left, which has a mortar and pestle icon in the top right-hand corner says: 'Ingredients: 85ml of mineral water 4 heaped teaspoons of fresh rose petals, 1 teaspoon of dried elderflower or double fresh elderflower, 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar'. The third box to the right, which has an icon of a list on a piece of paper and some beauty product bottles and tubs in the top right-hand corner says: 'Instructions: 1. Mix all the ingredients together.'

It’s about seeing what works for you, but doing so cautiously, perhaps by doing a patch test on a small portion of inconspicuous skin to check there’s not irritation within 24 hours of application.

2. Research product ingredients list, especially those of commercial skincare products

It might be a good idea to avoid products with ingredients that you’re unfamiliar with, especially those with long and complicated chemical names. Where evidence of the toxicity of certain commercial cosmetic ingredients is still emerging or isn’t yet definitive, it can be wise to err on the side of caution and embrace alternative natural skincare products that aren’t chemically created in factories.

Although not an exhaustive list, if you’d like to research more about a particular product or ingredient, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have a database of cosmetic products you can access for free and search for a wide variety of ingredients, brands or products. You can then use their ingredient concern and scores to inform your decisions.

In the meantime, here are a list of ingredients it can be helpful to avoid when selecting your skincare products:

IngredientAluminium
What is it?Aluminium is one of the most widespread metals on Earth and the third most common chemical element on the planet after oxygen and silicon. Turns out it makes its presence known in personal care products too, such as anti-perspirants deodorants, lipsticks, toothpastes, makeup and nail polishes.
Why you should avoid itDifferent forms of aluminium carry varying levels of toxicity to humans and not all ways of being exposed to it, for example applying an aluminium salt to the skin, achieve the same amount of absorption into your system. However, in regards to cosmetics, the European Commission’s Public Health organisation concluded: “aggregate exposure to aluminium from cosmetic and non-cosmetic sources may exceed safe limits for consumers at the highest exposure ranges.” So, if you want to reduce your aggregate exposure you can minimise unnecessary aluminium in your skincare products.

A review in 2002 stated that, although a direct relationship between aluminium and Alzheimer’s Disease hadn’t been clearly established, it has still been implicated in a range of neurological disorders, altering the usual brain activity, and has been associated with an increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS), which have been implicated in a range of disease processes.

Fast forward to 2019, and the Alzheimer’s Society summarised that, as of yet, no study or group of studies has been able to confirm that aluminium is involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

A 2020 study found significantly more aluminium in the brain tissues of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorder and multiple sclerosis than in the brain tissues of those with seemingly healthy brains. However, it was noted that more research is needed to understand the role played by high levels of aluminium in the causes of human neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disease, and how much aluminium is too much in human brain tissue.

The metal has also been implicated in breast cancer, with the ability to contribute to the instability of genes in a cell or organism needed for cancer and tumour development. Researchers did note that there was a need for more research to explore whether the concentrations of aluminium measured in human breasts can in vivo (taking place inside a living organism) lead to any of the effects seen in cells in laboratory tests.
IngredientBenzoates e.g. sodium benzoate
What is it?Benzoates are the salts of benzoic acid, which is naturally found in prunes, cinnamon, and cloves The free acid form of benzoic acid doesn’t dissolve in water easily, which is why sodium salt (sodium benzoate) is often used as it has greater solubility.

A similar chemical to parabens (see below), sodium benzoate, is often used as an alterative paraben-free preservative, but nevertheless, there are some concerns regarding its safety.
Why you should avoid itSodium benzoate may cause irritation to the area of the skin it’s applied to, and may increase jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) in newborn babies who have it applied to their skin. This is because absorption of sodium benzoates through the skin of newborn babies is high.

An animal study revealed sodium benzoate activates inflammatory pathways in direct proportion to the amount consumed, including
inflammation that encourages cancer to develop. A test tube study also indicated more free radicals are created when the concentration of sodium benzoate is higher. Free radicals are unstable atoms implicated in cell damage and can increase risk of chronic disease.

Benzoates can be converted to benzene (albeit in low levels) in the presence of vitamin C. This is a conversion that can be accelerated by heat and light. Benzene, is a known carcinogen, which has been detected in some sun care products. Try to choose vitamin C products that don’t contain sodium benzoate or, at the very least, you may wish to store your vitamin C personal care products in a cool, dark place.
IngredientFluorinated chemicals
What is it?Known as PFASs or PFCs (Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances to use their full names), these are a large, complex group of synthetic chemicals. They have a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms, hence being classed as ‘fluorinated chemicals’. GenX chemicals are manmade, fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of the PFAS chemical class.

There are countless PFASs in cosmetics, so it’s tricky to list them all, but generally, the ones to watch out for are products that have the letters “fluoro” in the ingredients list.
Why you should avoid itThe European Chemicals Agency notes that particular PFASs are known to accumulate in people, animals and plants and have a toxic impact, such as certain PFASs being toxic for reproduction and harming the development of foetuses. Several PFASs may also cause cancer in humans and some are suspected of disrupting with the human endocrine (hormonal) system.

Products containing PFASs are already banned in the EU and Australia but not in America, where GenX was seen to cause cancerous tumours to develop in the liver, pancreas and testicles of rats given differing amounts of GenX over two years, along with benign tumours, kidney disease, liver degeneration and uterine polyps. However, the researchers noted that the relevance to humans was questionable.

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences lists possible links between human exposures to PFASs and altered metabolism, fertility, reduced foetal growth and an increased risk of being overweight or obese, a heightened risk of some cancers and a reduced ability to fight infections.
IngredientFragrance
What is it?In America, the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973 that requires companies to list cosmetic ingredients on labels excludes fragrances to protect trade secrets. Laboratory tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and analysed by the EWG revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products. Ingredients not in a product’s hidden fragrance mixture must be listed on the label, so manufacturers disclose some chemical constituents on ingredient lists but lump others together in the generic category of “fragrance”- which are typically mixtures of many different secret chemicals, such as diethyl phthalate and musk ketone.
Why you should avoid itCan often comprise a complex cocktail of natural essences and synthetic chemicals – often petrochemicals (see below). Some are known to be associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions.

Others have concerning harmful properties or a tendency to build up in human tissues. These include diethyl phthalate (DEP), a chemical found to be widespread in Americans, and linked to sperm damage in humans, along with musk ketone, a synthetic fragrance ingredient that accumulates in human blood, fat tissue and breastmilk.
IngredientParabens (also known hydroxybenzoates or p-hydroxybenzoates)
What is it?Parabens are a group of chemicals with similar molecular structures that are preservatives and stop microbes growing.
Why you should avoid itThe fact that parabens mimic the female sex hormone oestrogen makes them potential endocrine disruptors. Able to be absorbed through your skin, and from your blood and digestive system, they’re a cause for concern when it comes to breast cancer, with researchers concluding: “For now, cautions should be taken when individuals, including breast cancer patients or individuals with high risk of breast cancer, make the decisions on personal care products containing parabens.”

Repeated use of relatively low concentrations of parabens in cosmetics may lead to sensitivity and allergies.

Red flags exist around the regular use of products containing parabens – especially methylparaben – and UV-induced damage of skin cells and disruption of cell growth rate. The use of parabens with other oestrogenic chemicals may potentially influence the development of a form of skin cancer.

In animal studies, propyl and butyl parabens seem to have reduced sperm production and cause a reduction in testosterone levels, depending on the dose. One animal study also found maternal exposure to butyl parabens during pregnancy and breastfeeding changes the development of the reproductive organs and sperm production in male offspring.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics recommends being wary of:
– Ethylparaben
– Butylparaben
– Methylparaben
– Propylparaben
– Isobutylparaben
– Isopropylparaben
– Other ingredients ending in -paraben on labels.
IngredientPetroleum jelly
What is it?Otherwise known as petrolatum, and sometimes referred to as ‘mineral oil’, this comes from petroleum and is a by-product of the petrochemical industry. Petrochemicals are substances that come from refining and processing petroleum or natural gas.
Why you should avoid itOriginating from the oil industry makes petroleum jelly no friend to the environment. Toxic mineral oil hydrocarbons from cosmetics were found in women’s body fat and breastmilk in one study.

Whilst properly refined petrolatum has no known health concerns, it’s often likely to be contaminated with toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs for short!). PAHs are seen as reasonably possible to cause cancer.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics suggests looking out for the following on labels:
– Petrolatum
– Petroleum jelly
– Paraffin oil
– Mineral oil and
– White petrolatum – which the organisation says is refined and safe to use.
IngredientPhthalates
What is it?A salt or ester of phthalic acid. Esters are organic compounds that react with water to produce alcohols or organic or inorganic acids.
Why you should avoid itSome phthalates have very little evidence to show if they’re harmful, while others are linked with some serious health concerns. These include being associated with infertility, testicular dysgenesis (poor semen quality, testicular cancer, undescended testes and hypospadias), obesity, asthma, allergies, leiomyomas (also known as a ‘fibroid’) and breast cancer. They were also found to mess with the endocrine system and have been associated with cognitive and behavioural issues, and may cause neurological disorders.

As such, the EU has banned them from cosmetics but they’re still present in American products.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics advises keeping your eyes peeled for:
– Phthalate
– DEP
– DBP
– DEHP and
– Fragrance on labels.
IngredientPolyethylene glycol (PEGs)
What is it?A polyether (joined together by what’s called ether links by many molecules of simpler compounds) compound, widely used as an addictive in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food.
Why you should avoid it1,4-dioxane is a byproduct formed when some cosmetic ingredients are made, such as polyethylene glycol. (Other names to watch out for are:
– Polyethylene
– Polyoxyethylene
– PEG and
– those with the prefix, or syllables ‘eth’ or ‘oxynol’).

They’re a potential carcinogen. However, in an independent risk assessment, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety concluded that 1,4-dioxane amounts in cosmetic products are considered safe for consumers at trace levels of less than or equal to 10ppm (parts per million).

Cases of people being hypersensitive to PEGs are being reported more and more often, with some researchers calling for more awareness around its allergenic potential.
IngredientPropylene glycol
What is it?A small, synthetic alcohol used in moisturisers, cosmetics and deodorants, with wider uses outside personal care products.

Other names for propylene glycol include:
– 1,2-propanediol
– Propane-1,2-diol
– 1,2-dihydroxypropane
– 1,2-propylene glycol
Trimethyl glycol
Methyl ethyl glycol
Why you should avoid itAlthough relatively uncommon, propylene glycol has the potential to cause allergic contact dermatitis (skin inflammation), particularly in those more prone to allergies.

The EWG states that it’s classed as a skin irritant and expected to be toxic or harmful when it comes to non-reproductive organ system toxicity.
IngredientTriclosan
What is it?Triclosan, along with triclocarban, are both antimicrobial agents used in many soaps and detergents – despite the American Food and Drug Administration discovering no evidence that antibacterial washes containing triclosan or triclocarban were superior to plain soap and water for protecting people from bacteria.
Why you should avoid itTriclosan has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system in an animal study, where the researchers stated there was potential concern for harmful effects on human health, and alter thyroid function. Triclocarban may also disrupt thyroid activity.

A 2010 report by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety established that even low concentrations of triclosan can trigger bacteria that’s resistant to antibiotics. However, this was in in vitro (lab)studies and the six in situ (done on natural tissues in their original state) studies they examined failed to show an increase in antibiotic resistance following triclosan use, but the committee admitted differences in methods used to measure “resistance” and to analyse the data made it too early to conclude that triclosan exposure never leads to developing microbial resistance.

Another worry is that triclosan builds up in fatty tissues, having been found in human milk and plasma (a fluid in blood) in a study that indicated that triclosan-containing personal care products were a dominant source, and in the umbilical cord blood of almost half of babies in a Greenpeace study. Foetuses are vulnerable as they develop, making their exposure to the potentially endocrine disrupting triclosan that can build up in their tissues even more worrying.

3. Try homemade natural skincare products so that you know exactly what they contain

Doing this can also be cheaper too. Many homemade cosmetic recipes can be found online.

Warning in a circle with a green border

When trying any new products on your skin, even natural ones, always try a small bit on your skin as a patch test 24 hours before giving the real thing a go to check for any reactions / irritations as each individual is different.

Some examples of recipes you could try are:

A white box with the title: 'Sugar scrub recipe' (for a making homemade natural skincare product) at the top in black writing. The box contains 3 pink boxes with black writing in. The first box at the top, which has an icon of a green tick in the top left-hand corner, says: 'Use: For silky feeling skin, in the shower, scrub your skin with 1 tablespoon of the sugar scrub mixture and rinse well.' The 2nd box underneath it to the left, which has an icon of a mortar and pestle in the top right-hand corner says: 'Ingredients: 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1/2 cup of coconut oil and olive oil, a few drops of essential oil’. The third box to the right, which has icons of a list on a piece of paper and skincare products in a bottle and a tub in the top right-hand corner, says: 'Instructions: 1. Stir to combine all the ingredients. 2. Store in an airtight container, like a wide-mouth mason jar.'

A white box with the title 'St John's Wort recipe' (for a homemade natural skincare product) at the top in black writing. The box contains 5 green boxes with black writing in. The first box at the top, which has an icon of a green tick in the top left-hand corner, says: 'Use: A healing salve (an ointment used to promote skin healing or protection).' The second box underneath it to the left, which has a mortar and pestle icon in the top right-hand corner says: 'Ingredients: Flowers of St John's Wort (picked on a dry day). A carrier oil of your choice e.g., almond or olive oil.' The box underneath that to the left, which has a warning exclamation icon in a yellow triangle in the top right-hand corner, says: 'Note: Please check with your doctor before using St John's Wort as it's known to interact with several medications, such as certain antidepressants, heart medications, blood thinners and contraceptives to name a few. This mixture can make some people more sensitive to the sun.'. The 4th box to the right, which has icons of a list on a piece of paper and skincare products in a tub and a bottle in the top right-hand corner says: 'Instructions: 1. Fill a clean glass jar with the St John's Wort flowers and cover with the carrier oil. 2. Place on a sunny windowsill and shake every so often. The oil will turn a lovely shade of red. 3. After a month, strain the flowers, bottle the mixture and label. 4. Use within 6 months.' The last box underneath that to the right says in italics: 'From: The Hedgerow Apothecary: Recipes, Remedies and Rituals by Christine Iverson.'

A white box with the title 'Clay face mask recipe for mature skin' (for a green natural skincare recipe) at the top in black writing. The box contains 4 yellow boxes with black writing in them. The first box, which has a green tick icon in the top left-hand corner, says: 'Use: Clay masks have been used for centuries to nourish, heal, absorb potentially toxic substances and provide essential minerals and nutrients There are many different types of clay, with slightly different benefits and mineral contents.' The second box underneath that to the left, which has a mortar and pestle icon in the top right-hand corner, says: 'Ingredients: tablespoons of white clay powder, 10 drops of chamomile essential oil, 1 drop of sage oil, Warm water (to ensure correct consistency)'. The third box underneath that to the left says in italics: 'From: Russian Clay Secrets: Medicinal and Cosmetic Applications of Healing Clay by Matt Isaac.' The fourth box to the left, which has icons of a list on a piece of paper and skincare products in a tub and a bottle in the top right-hand corner says: 'Instructions: 1. In a cup, combine ingredients and add warm water. 2. Mix to a consistency that can stick to your face without being too runny. 3. Apply the mixture to your fact for 10 minutes.' 4. Cover with a damp muslin cloth soaked in water to make sure the clay doesn't dry out.' 5. Once 10 minutes is up, rinse off and moisturise afterwards.'

A white box with the title: 'Clay face mask recipe for dry and irritable skin' at the top in black writing. The box contains 3 purple boxes with black writing in them outlining a green beauty recipe. The top box to the left, which has a mortar and pestle icon in the top right-hand corner says: 'Ingredients: 2 tablespoons of pink clay powder, 2 drops of sage oil, 1 drop of lavender oil, Warm water (to ensure correct consistency)’. Underneath that to the left is a box that says in italics: 'From: Russian Clay Secrets: Medicinal and Cosmetic Applications of Healing Clay by Matt Isaac.' The third box to the right, which has icons of a list on a piece of paper and skincare products in a tub and a bottle in the top right-hand corner, says: 'Instructions: 1. Mix essential oils in warm water before mixing with clay, stirring well. 2. Apply to your face and leave for 15 minutes before washing odd with water. 3. Dry off and moisturise afterwards.'

We hope this article has helped you feel more equipped to navigate the often confusing world of skincare.

To discover how different factors can affect your skin health and understand how to improve it, visit the Records section of the Evergreen Life app to take our quick Skin Health Check.

Reviewed by:

Anna Keeble MA BA Head of Content and Wellbeing Expert

Dr Claire Marie Thomas MRCGP DFSRH DTMH DipNLP MBChB BMedSci Medical Expert

Nicky Verity MSc and BSc Wellbeing Researcher

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Jayna Shepherd

Jayna Shepherd is a Content Writer at Evergreen Life. As a BA Journalism graduate, Jayna enjoys the challenge of learning about cutting-edge wellness research and translating that into digestible, chatty plain-English to benefit our app users and content readers.

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