Natural Skin Care – Why Bother?

Natural skin care is generally understood to refer to those products characterised by the absence of synthetic ingredients, such as for example preservatives, petrochemical derivatives, mineral oils, fragrances and harsh detergents.

Typically, natural skin care products are made using 100 % natural ingredients such as plant oils, essential oils, herbal and floral extracts (both aqueous and waxy), which were prepared in the “old fashion way”, without chemical processing or modification. Sometimes, ethically produced animal derivatives, such as beeswax, may also be present in natural skin care (1).

Natural skin care made with approved organically produced raw materials and practices could be organic certified by the relevant organic organizations.

Unfortunately, there are many products available in the market that claim to be either natural or that are cleverly marketed for his or her singular botanical extract or vitamin, amongst a dense cocktail of synthetic ingredients. These are the “pseudo-natural” products (1). To greatly help clarify if a skin care product is really natural, it is suggested to read the ingredients section in the label.

Why is natural skin care better than synthetic?

Products that are made from ingredients that have already been extracted naturally from sustainably maintained plants and crops manifest the essence, the power, the qualities and the advantages of the source raw material, in ways that synthetics ingredients do not.

To put it simply, the geographical location, the soil and the water the plants are grown in, in addition to the sun exposure, the seasons and harvesting times donate to the mature plants and crop yields in unique ways.

These factors can’t be mimicked in the laboratory or controlled nurseries, as the natural exposure to the environmental conditions facilitates development of subtle differences in the plants. They are then reflected in the grade of the extracted oils, in addition to on their specific composition, properties and benefits.

Besides, synthetic ingredients are produced in laboratories using scientific, yet often hazardous processes relating to the use of carbon dioxide, propylene glycol or hexane based methods. Although may only be there is trace amounts in the ultimate synthesised ingredients, it is unclear what effect they could have as they accumulate inside our bodies, over a prolonged amount of exposure (2).

Of course, a few of the natural extracts and oils can also be affected or destabilised by the natural extraction methods found in their preparation. Therefore manufacturers of natural skin care products give great consideration to the sourcing of their raw materials and how natural ingredients are ready from the latter.

What’s Special About Plant Oils?

Plant oils are made up of complex mixtures of different fatty acids (lipids). It is the specific mix and ratio of these fatty acids that determines the initial character of any oil. As well as the main lipid fraction, there are also other essential bioactive substances such as the phospholipids, phosphatides, phytosterols, phytoestrogens, isoflavones and vitamins. These bioactives are referred to as the unsaponifiable fraction of the oil. They normally can be found is small amounts and are unique signatures of the oils (3).

To demonstrate the way the oil composition determines the difference in functional properties, the typical fatty acid profile of apricot kernel and borage oils as described in Kusmirek (3) are compared below.

1 – Apricot kernel oil is a mixture of 58 – 74% of oleic acid, 25 – 30% of linoleic, with the remainder 4 – 7% made up of palmitic, palmitoleic, stearic and alpha-linolenic acids. The unsaponifiable content is approximately 0.5 -0.75%.

2 – Borage oil is really a mixture of 30 – 40% linoleic acid, 8 – 25% gamma linolenic acid, 15 – 20% oleic acid, 9 – 12% palmitic acid, 3 – 4% stearic acid, 2 – 6 % eicosenoic acid. The unsaponifiable content is approximately 1%.

Apricot kernel oil is an excellent nourishing and emollient oil that’s easily absorbed. These properties are attribute to the high percentages of oleic and linoleic acids. Furthermore, apricot kernel oil is also an excellent source of vitamin A, present in the unsaponifiable matter.

Borage oil is known because of its nourishing and penetrating properties attributed to the current presence of linoleic and oleic acids, but additionally the high content of gamma-linolenic acid confers its regenerating and firming qualities.

The differences in the properties of apricot kernel and borage oils, together with those of other oils not discussed here, demonstrate the importance to blend various plant oils for optimal skin care, so the skin is adequately fed, continuously hydrated, smooth feeling and equipped to regenerate efficiently. They are essential to promote a healthy skin glow, irrespective of age.

But, even if the synthetics oils were to replicate the exact mixes and ratios of plant derived essential fatty acids and unsaponifiables, it would be nearly impossible to mimic into the synthetic oils the contribution from the power that is held in the plant, from which the equivalent oils were extracted. Thus, 100 % natural ingredients will vary from their synthetic equivalents.

What about essential oils along with other botanicals?

Essential oils are concentrated extracts of aromatic along with other volatile plant substances, sometimes containing growth factors known for their regenerative properties. They are the foundation of the scents of nature and could be used to include scent to natural products. Because of their concentrated nature and high cost to produce, only smaller amounts of essential oils are used in natural skin care. Besides, as essential oils could be irritating to the skin, they ought to never be used undiluted.

As opposed to oils, floral/herbal waters will be the aqueous extracts from flowers/plants. Naturally produced oils and aqueous extracts are created through distillation, steaming, or infusion techniques. They are slow and frequently inefficient processes that add to cost. But, the merchandise generated using non-synthetic approaches are much safer and healthier than those extracted by using artificial methods.