One of the most common misconceptions is that natural and hypoallergenic are synonyms. Many natural ingredients in skincare and cosmetics are very healthy, safe, and effective. But just because an ingredient is natural does not automatically mean that it is good for the skin.My skin is super sensitive, so I need to use only natural products right?
Bottom line? Natural is not a synonym for hypoallergenic. Actually, you may need to avoid natural ingredients. Despite its persistence, it remains a myth: natural does not mean hypoallergenic.
In fact, the opposite is frequently true. Many natural ingredients are highly allergenic: fragrance oils, beeswax, fruit and flower extracts, etc. and their level of “naturalness” does not make them less allergenic.
It’s similar to foods: if you’re allergic to peanuts, bee stings, and strawberries, it doesn’t matter how natural or organic they are, you must avoid them.
Natural Allergens and Comedogens
In general, natural is wonderful and organic is ideal. But there is a lot of misinformation surrounding this issue—from what “natural” or “organic” really means and how to regulate these terms, to whether or not the natural choice is always better.
Some natural oils are known to clog pores. Other natural substances are proven allergens. Bee stings, peanuts, pollen, poison ivy, strawberries and some animal fur are just a few examples of things that are unequivocally natural but that are also highly allergenic. For people allergic to them, bee stings and peanuts are even life threatening (for some people severely allergic to peanuts, even a peanut touching the skin can be dangerous).
Fragrance is consistently among the top allergens. This is true even for fragrances that are as naturally occurring as they come such as lavender or rose. If you’re allergic to fragrance, you will probably react to it whether it is synthesized in a laboratory or directly extracted from an all-natural source.
And many plants are highly photo-allergenic—they have chemicals that can react with light to cause darkening on the skin.
There is a perceived hard line between natural and chemical, which is why you may hear some people say “I won’t use anything with chemicals in it. I only use natural things.” But while the difference between “synthetically produced” or “processed” and “naturally occurring” or “unprocessed” is relatively clear-cut, the line between “natural” and chemical is almost impossible to draw.
Everything in nature is composed of some combination of chemical elements (the periodic table lists all the known basic elements). Anything natural has a chemical structure. Water is hydrogen plus oxygen.
To use even certifiably natural elements in products or food, some amount of processing is required. Even distilling aromatic plants to produce essential oils sometimes results in the creation of chemicals that did not exist in the raw material but which are created by the distillation process alone.
While there are conclusive studies that show that certain chemical structures—of some processed foods, for example—are harmful (especially in studies where lab animals are fed huge amounts of the chemicals over long periods of time), no study shows that natural / organic / unprocessed is always better / healthier / safer than the alternative. For example, multi-vitamins are processed foods. Milk is necessarily a processed food as, if drunk directly from a cow, it has certain health risks.
In a Nutshell
If a skincare or cosmetic product contains natural or organic ingredients, this does not necessarily mean that the product will not cause allergies or clogged pores, or that it will provide effective therapy.
The general rule is this: whether a product is “natural” or not has no bearing on the efficacy of its claims or its safety on the skin. Better measures of safety or efficacy are valid clinical studies that are well documented in peer-reviewed medical or scientific journals—this includes regularly published allergen lists from contact dermatitis organizations in different countries or large, multi-center studies from multi-country organizations like the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies.
If you would like to use natural products but have very sensitive, acne-prone, pigmentation-prone or very dry skin, or if you’re looking for the safest alternatives for pregnancy, lactation or baby care, make sure that the products are hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic, that they are patch-tested, and that their claims are proven by legitimate clinical studies. And, look for the product’s VH-Rating which shows you how many and which allergens are omitted from a formulation.
Click here to learn more about natural ingredients.
Click here to learn how hypoallergenicity can help with most skin concerns.
Click here to learn more about the VH-Rating System.
Click here to read the VH-Rating System’s proven efficacy.
Click here to learn about the VH-Rating System’s validity as a method for substantiating hypoallergenic claims.
Click here for more on our mythfoliation series.
Click here for more on how we choose our ingredients.
Click here for information about patch tests.