(Photo above by Anastasiia Ostapovych via Unsplash)
The natural beauty movement has been on the rise in the last couple of years. In 2018, the natural cosmetics industry was estimated to have a global market value of $34.5 billion dollars. It is projected to increase to $54.5 billion by 2027. Basically, it’s a huge industry that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
But is natural beauty better? Are organic products safer and do they work better than traditional cosmetics?
Many beauty bloggers and celebrities have joined the bandwagon and swear by natural beauty. Amanda Jo, who runs the beauty blog Organic Bunny, says she switched to natural products after she saw her friends and loved ones “becoming sick with cancer, hormone disruptions, infertility, constant migraines, allergic reactions and other life-threatening diseases.” Jo believes that “parabens and other chemicals were possibly to blame” for those ailments.
Living Pretty, Naturally’s Kate Murphy also believes parabens should be avoided because they are “found in breast tissue, acts like estrogen in the body, [and] could lead to impaired fertility or fetal development.” Besides parabens, Murphy also lists a variety of ingredients she believes consumers should look out for, including synthetic fragrances. But, she does have a doTERRA — an essential oil multi-level marketing company — tab on her website.
Alexa PenaVega, of “Spy Kids” fame, is also an avid essential oil user. She promotes Young Living oils and even has an entire separate Instagram account dedicated to them. Outside of aromatherapy, PenaVega uses essential oils in her skincare and encourages her followers to do so too. In this Instagram video, she says to mix 30 drops of different essential oils into a moisturizer you already have to “enhance” it. She touts the benefits of the oils, noting that the rose oil is especially “hydrating.”
Others are not as enthusiastic about essential oils and clean beauty. Skincare specialist Hyram Navigator very bluntly says that “natural skincare is not better” in a YouTube video reacting to Bella Thorne’s all-natural and DIY nighttime skincare routine. Navigator says that characterizing chemicals as harmful is misguided because traditional products have chemists that “are removing all the negative aspects of an ingredient and only adding to the beneficial aspects of that ingredient.” But when using natural ingredients or doing a DIY like Thorne, “you are exposing yourself to the high risk of possible irritants” because the dangerous or irritating parts of the raw ingredients haven’t been removed.
Telling people to generally avoid chemicals, too, can be misleading. Charlotte Palermino, who is working on getting an aesthetician’s license and is launching her own skincare brand, sums it up as “everything is a chemical.” This is basically true, if an oversimplification. Water is a chemical; the oxygen in air is a chemical.
Even the essential oils many influencers love are chemicals. Beyond that, essential oils are derived from flowers, making them fragrances. Palermino warns that fragrances can be irritating, even if they are natural. She notes that there are plenty of natural things, like poison ivy, that can be harmful, and she reiterates that just because something is natural doesn’t make it safer.
In an interview with beauty magazine Byrdie, skincare specialist Suzanne LeRoux also warns of the potential harm of essential oils. “If an essential oil is rancid, diluted, or of very poor quality, that could potentially [cause] breakouts,” she said. Since there are no quality standards for essential oils in the U.S. — and the FDA does not need to approve cosmetic products before they are sold — it can be difficult for consumers to judge the safety of an essential oil product.
Similarly, since many natural beauty products and homemade cosmetics avoid preservatives, sometimes consumers might not know if an item has gone bad. But preservatives like parabens have not been found by the FDA or the Cosmetic Ingredient Review to be harmful. In fact, parabens prevent bacteria and mold growth, which could be harmful.
Now that you’ve seen both sides, is natural beauty worth it? Are natural products inherently better or will you stick to chemical formulations?