“Natural” doesn’t always mean better…and sometimes, it does. How to decipher bull poop and find the products that work best for you

Like many college girls, I went through kind of a hippie phase back in the day. I tried the “no ‘poo” thing (‘poo=shampoo, this has nothing to do with bowel movements). It was gross; my scalp did not, as I was told it would, “compensate” and produce any less oil, so I used the baking soda wash more often than I was supposed to, and my hair actually suffered a lot of damage. I respect people who use and like this technique, but now that I know more about the actual science of skincare and beauty products, I have some serious concerns about the effects of the extremely alkaline baking soda on the acid mantle of the scalp. I suspect this may have been the main cause of my chagrin; my skin reacts much better when kept within its healthy pH range. The suggested vinegar rinse didn’t help my skin recover as quickly as it does for a lot of people.

I also experimented with the oil cleansing method, which I still like and use, although I modify the method that circulates the internet most frequently. My skin cannot handle castor oil (it seems to dry it out) and I also like to add an emulsifier to make the oil easier to clean off.

The point is, if there’s some kind of “natural” alternative, I have probably tried it. Most of them, like oil cleansing, and the sulfate-free shampoos I stumbled across after my failed no ‘poo attempt, are perfectly great alternatives if you are truly striving to live a greener, cleaner life. I’m not here to tell you that you should be using dish soap to wash your hair or slather your skin in a $500 face cream when your bottle of sunflower oil works great. I am, however, here to tell you that some of your concerns are misguided. The internet has lied to you. I know, it hurts; I’ve been there.

So, here are some internet myths that I will attempt to either debunk, or explain with a fuller picture.

  1. Myth one: mineral oil and petroleum jelly are toxic and will give you cancer and (gasp!) acne and will destroy everything on the planet. The truth: mineral oil and petroleum jelly (Vaseline) are both completely non-comedogenic. The molecules are too large to penetrate the skin, thereby making it impossible to either clog pores or create acne. Additionally, mineral oil is great for sensitive skin specifically because it does NOT come from a plant. There’s nothing in it but hydrocarbons. It’s nonreactive and biologically inert. It doesn’t have any essential oils or phytochemicals that could potentially irritate skin. Of course, sometimes this is why plant oils are nice for skin use. Sunflower oil, my personal favorite, contains ceramides, vitamins, and antioxidants. You won’t get these with mineral oil or petroleum jelly. They will, however, gently remove makeup, seal in moisture to prevent trans-epidermal water loss, loosen blackheads when used as part of an oil cleansing routine, and should not irritate skin except for the rare occasion where somebody might actually have an allergy to mineral oil or petroleum jelly. As for the cancer argument, I’m not sure that one should be ruled out. The best argument that I have seen against the use of petroleum products is that they contain hydrocarbons and that cancerous breast tissue contains more hydrocarbons than healthy tissue does. The place where I read this did not provide a source. Does this mean the hydrocarbon in the cancerous tissue came from Vaseline use, or that Vaseline could even penetrate the skin barrier and get into the body somehow? No. It doesn’t mean that. It also doesn’t mean that this isn’t exactly what happens. If it concerns you, I would try to limit the use of petroleum products used on the lips, where ingestion is much more likely. Also, if the idea of petroleum products bothers you because of your concerns for the health of the planet and atmosphere, that’s a perfectly noble reason not to use them. I encourage everyone to stand behind their convictions. However, to use your ideology to spread misinformation about the safety and efficacy of some of the world’s least expensive and least irritating skincare ingredients is immoral.
  2. Myth two: you should only use “natural” products, because “chemicals” are bad for you. The truth: When the word “chemicals” is used in a statement mirroring the one above, it is used as a fear tactic. “Chemical” is supposed to make you picture bottles of household cleaners with a skull and crossbones, large refineries where the workers have to wear hazmat suits to manufacture your body lotion, and strong acids bubbling away in your high school science teacher’s fume hood. The reality is, the entire universe is made of “chemicals.” Vitamin C is a chemical. Water is a chemical. Chemicals are what give coffee its flavor. Now, let’s take a look at the word “natural.” This is supposed to conjure images of flowers, smiling puppies rolling in grassy meadows. In reality, all the word “natural” means is from nature. Additionally, there is no legal definition or requirements for the use of the word “natural” on a skincare or beauty product. Of course, consumers assume this means that the product’s ingredients come from plants, don’t harm the environment, don’t contain potentially carcinogenic preservatives, etc. While there is nothing wrong with wanting those things in a product, a label that says “natural” simply does not mean anything. Lead, for crying out loud, is “natural.” I would even make the argument that Vaseline is natural. It comes from petroleum, which comes from the earth. It’s basically compressed, aged, dinosaur juice. What’s more “natural” than a frickin’ dinosaur? There is nothing wrong with wanting to leave a safer and greener life. Just please, please realize, that “natural” companies are marketing to you; they want to make money just like everyone else does and they will use any scare tactic they can come up with to brainwash you into buying their products. Personally, that makes me kind of mad. So mad I may just go rub some dinosaur oil on my face.
  3. Myth three: If it is “natural,” that means it’s safer. The truth: NO. No, it absolutely does not. For instance, baking soda is often mentioned as a great do-everything substance. Personally, I love it for household cleaning, and I used to use it on my face to scrub out blackheads. Then I started learning a little more about skincare and I realized that our skin is coated in an oily, acidic layer that helps protect it and kill bacteria. When we introduce something, such as plain old “natural” soap, baking soda, etc that is highly alkaline, this layer, called the acid mantle, is damaged. While many people don’t seem to have any problem with doing this, it’s probably one of the least helpful things you can do for your skin if you are trying to alleviate any kind of ailment such as acne, eczema, etc. Healthy skin will recover its acid mantle within a few hours, restoring the proper pH. Toners can also help bring the acidity of the skin up (SOMETIMES. Many toners contain alcohol which can be drying to your skin, and I have seen very few products that actually list the pH). However, if you are battling skin problems, it’s best to just leave your pH where it’s supposed to be: slightly acidic, 4.5 to 5.5, so that your skin can protect itself, kill bacteria, and hold onto moisture. This is just one example of misinformation, coupled with the “but it’s natural” argument. Another mistake I once made is purchasing a sunscreen from a “natural” company. The bottle claimed that the sunscreen had vitamin c in it, and it used physical sunblocks, which I still prefer for my sensitive skin. I used it for a long time and really liked it. It smelled good, didn’t irritate my skin, and went on smoothly. Come to find out, the product did not actually contain any active form of vitamin c capable of penetrating the skin barrier. While I thought my skin was getting an additional protective boost from the antioxidants, there weren’t any. It did contain citrus oils, which is presumably why they were making the vitamin C claim. Citrus oils actually increase sun sensitivity. It makes me angry that while I thought I was protecting my skin with sunblock, and even giving it a little extra protective boost, I may really have done more damage than if I had skipped sunblock entirely. I have also seen many things on Pinterest that are downright dangerous. For instance, whiten your teeth with lemon juice. Lemon juice is highly acidic and will wear away the enamel on your teeth. If you want dentures by the time you’re 25, go ahead and try this daily, let me know how it goes. Please, if you want to try out something that you’ve read, research it a little. There are plenty of methods and products in the world that will fit your preference for what is “natural” and won’t damage your teeth or skin. Homemade is not always the best route to go. Homemade with thorough research and safety precautions can be awesome. J

Thank you for listening to my rant. Please understand, I have nothing against people wanting to live a healthy lifestyle and eliminate potential carcinogens from their homes. I think that’s awesome. I just think it’s scary that people will buy into marketing hype and sometimes do things that can actually harm their body because they don’t take the time to put a little more research into what they hear or read. When we hear something that fits in with our pre-conceived notions of what is right or wrong, we are more likely to believe it without a second thought. Don’t believe anything blindly; take everything with a grain of salt and do your own research to determine what’s best for you and your family. 

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3 thoughts on ““Natural” doesn’t always mean better…and sometimes, it does. How to decipher bull poop and find the products that work best for you

  1. We agree with your blog and feel it is also important that a consumer understands what type of product they are putting on there skin. Most consumers today purchase strictly because a celebrity indorses a product. It is important to know what that product is made of first not who indorses the product. Thank you for your blog

    • You raise an excellent point, thank you!Marketing is a powerful tool. At some point I should do a post on skincare actives to help people decipher the efficacy of their products 🙂

  2. Pingback: Something Sappy, and Some Beauty Budget Tips | beautiful.

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