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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.

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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.

 

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Some of Collinson's favorite all-natural skincare regimes are in your kitchen, such as her oatmeal scrub.

Put oatmeal into a coffee grinder and then add powdered milk. Keep a jar of this dry mix in your shower for sloughing off dead skin cells while you shower. It's very soothing," Collinson says.

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"Lemons can bleach age spots," she adds, "and yogurt with salt is a great scrub for oily skin."

Many women don't realize how irritated their skin is with synthetic, artificial chemicals until they make the switch to natural lines. "Women get used to dry, broken out, scaly, tight, itchy, blotchy skin when it is not normal. It should have a glow, some color," warns Collinson who uses no foundation at all.

"You should switch 100% if you want to go with all-natural products," she says, so your skin goes through its two-week adjustment just once.

"If you think your skin is sensitive, avoid fragrances, alcohol, FD&C colors, mineral oil and formaldehyde," she warns. "Mineral oil is everywhere and the more you use, the drier your skin will get.

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Natural Products Scutinized

"Be an educated consumer because price has nothing to do with quality," Collison says. Know that "all-natural" products have gone through more rigorous regulations to make the claim than products that say "natural."

It took 10 years for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finalize its rules on organic products. Products labeled as "made with organic ingredients" must have at least 70 percent organic ingredients. With this percentage, the U.S. rules are now in line with those of Europe.

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Beyond either of these "natural" classifications are the "organic" skincare products that might include, among other items, strawberry, rosemary, curled mint, aloe vera, mulberry, lavender oil, ylang ylang and iris.

Susan West Kurz, president of the Dr. Hauschka products in the United States says, "We're beyond natural. We take a holistic approach. "We believe your skin is a perfect cosmetic on its own. It rebuilds. Moisturizes. Protects itself," says Kurz. "We treat skin holistically, not symptomatically."

The Dr. Hauschka line, which used items such as witch hazel and St. John's Wort, relies on "biodynamic" growing methods to create its own ingredients from organic farms in Turkey, Bulgaria and other parts of Europe.

"Skincare is preventative healthcare, not a luxury anymore," adds Kurz. "It should be nurturing, aesthetically pleasing but necessary for your health."

When asked whether artificial and synthetic ingredients really cause harm, Kurz points out: "Often you can't prove a problem until the damage is done.

"There's a place for synthetics, for example if a teenager needs steroids or medicinal treatments for acne because her condition causes psychological problems," Kurz adds, "but not for six years."

Questions You Should Ask About Natural Cosmetics

Consumers should ask these questions, warns Kurz. Where do the ingredients come from? Do they cause environmental damage? Are there short and long-term effects? What are the economics around the product?

Whether you choose natural or synthetic products you can be certain they've been scrutinized by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, a non-profit scientific group and comply with FDA and other regulations.

Most producers are members of the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Association www.ctfa.org, which offers a Buyer's Guide to help consumers track the 10,000 ingredients and 40,000 trade names. The site also answers Internet rumors about hazardous products.

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