Natural Cosmetics: Hype or Hope?

Should you consider the switch to all-natural cosmetics? Here's what you need to know.

First, department store make-up counters are known to use engaging promotional ploys. Big-time brand names command high prices and compete with big promises.

Enter the "naturals" to health food stores and the Internet. You'll recognize them by words like "organic" and "holistic." Are these features worth it in cosmetics? Or is it hype?

According to Dr. Roberta Palestine, who did her residency in dermatology at the Mayo Clinic, "It really is marketing hype. Natural isn't always better. Synthetic isn't necessarily worse."

"Poison ivy is natural, but that certainly doesn't make it good," Palestine adds. "A chemical is a chemical," she says, "what matters is your skin type.

"If you're prone to acne, learn to read labels. If your skin is more mature, you need moisturizing ingredients," Palestine tells consumers. Others need to prevent allergies.

She points out that "hypoallergenic" means it is free of offending ingredients. It does not mean a product will prevent break-outs or acne.

Testing Your Skin

If you suffer from allergies, ask your dermatologist for the newer, more extensive patch testing. It goes beyond the basic 24 chemicals. This pinpoints the exact chemicals that are problematic for you. Then find out which products use them and avoid them.

"Many so-called natural products use exotic ingredients, but they are really functioning as high-priced moisturizers," says Palestine. There are many fine humectants, the ingredients that bind water to skin, in products at all price ranges.

Common humectants you might find include: glycerin; maltitol syrup; mannitol; propylene glycol and sorbitol.

She advises that more women should adjust the consistency of their skincare products with the season. "Use creamier products for winter, then lotions in the summer," says Palestine.

Even Linda Collinson of LaCrista, an online natural skincare company agrees there are plenty of natural skincare claims that "are a lot of bunk."

A self-taught chemist who started her company because she was allergic to everything says, "Plain and simple is often better.

"Look at the top of the ingredient list because they are ranked in order of volume," says Collinson. Be sure the best ingredients are on the top of the list.

Keep the list, which is usually on the box you throw away, so if a product irritates you will know what was in it.