Is natural and organic skincare better?

Many people believe passionately that natural skincare ingredients are better for the skin but the truth is this belief has no factual basis or scientific legitimacy. There are lots of natural, organic ingredients that are bad for skin! Dr. Corey L. Hartman says, “like poison ivy. All natural and all bad!” Many of them are lurking in products claiming to be better or safer because they’re natural or organic. However on the upside, many natural ingredients are beneficial for your skin and the trick is in knowing which ones are helpful and which can harm the skin.

We don’t know for certain if it’s due to blissful denial or because they don’t know the research, but lots of cosmetic companies sell products with ingredients that aren't really natural (or contain natural ingredients) and they are a problem for skin. Conversely, just because an ingredient is synthetic doesn't make it a problem for skin. There are good and bad natural and synthetic ingredients.

Are Natural & Organic Ingredients Better for Your Skin?

What you can expect:

  • Is natural skincare really better?
  • What are the disadvantages of natural skincare products?
  • What are the best natural skincare ingredients?
  • Packaging matters!

Is natural skincare really better?

As mentioned, a large range of natural ingredients are good for skin, but the idea that they’re the "best" or only option is not good advice. When formulating products for Paula's Choice Skincare, Paula and her team only select natural ingredients with a proven track record of being beneficial for skin. We avoid using problematic ones because these aren’t doing your skin any favours. Now that's natural skincare done right that the best cosmetics companies follow.

We’re not the only ones concerned about the misguided notion that natural = better: Dr. Linda M. Katz, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Cosmetics and Colors stated that "consumers should not necessarily assume that an 'organic' or 'natural' ingredient or product would possess greater inherent safety than another chemically identical version of the same ingredient. In fact, 'natural' ingredients may be harder to preserve against… contamination and growth than synthetic versions" (Source: New York Times, November 1, 2007). Dr. Hartman says, “not to mention that these terms are not carefully regulated and don’t have strict definitions. So when they are used in marketing skin care products, there is no generally agreed upon standard that they must meet. The terms are just words that appeal to consumers”.

Joan Shaffer, United States Department of Agriculture spokeswoman stated that "…people should not interpret even the USDA Organic seal or any organic seal of approval on cosmetics as proof of health benefits or of efficacy. The National Organic Program is a marketing program, not a safety program. Chocolate cake may be natural and/or organic but that has no bearing on whether it is safe or nutritious to eat.” (Source:

What are the disadvantages of natural skincare products?

Many natural, organic ingredients used in skincare products can cause significant skin sensitivities that build up over time. Some of them can also be harsh and abrasive on skin or trigger an allergic reaction. None of that is good, so it’s important you know what to avoid so you can take the best possible care of your skin.

Skin-irritating ingredients of any kind (natural or synthetic) cause all aspects of skin to break down and become impaired. Ongoing use of irritating ingredients interrupts the skin’s ability to renew and maintain its natural shape and significantly diminishes its ability to defend itself from environmental damage. This is especially true of fragrance ingredients that often go under the misleading category of essential oils.

All fragrance, whether synthetic or natural, causes trouble for skin. Essential oils may be good for your nose, but they’re a serious problem for your skin. We’re often shocked and dismayed at how many natural products are little more than eau de cologne dressed up as a moisturiser, lotion, serum or toner. What's particularly troubling is the fact that your skin is very good at hiding that it’s sensitised. Just because you're using a product with problematic ingredients but not seeing any signs of surface irritation doesn't mean it's not taking place where you can’t see it.

All of the following common natural ingredients can be a problem for your skin in one way or the other. For example, many citrus ingredients can enhance the sun’s negative impact on skin. Many of these ingredients do have beneficial properties (like antioxidant compounds) but they also come with negatives. There are plenty of natural ingredients that give your skin only the positives and none of the negatives. Those are the only ones that should be in your skincare products!

These natural ingredients shouldn’t ever be in your skincare products:

Alcohol / Allspice / Almond extract / Angelica / Arnica / Balm mint oil / Balsam / Basil / Bergamot / Cinnamon / Citrus juices or oils / Clove / Clover blossom / Coriander oil / Cottonseed oil / Cypress / Fennel / Fir needle / Geranium oil / Grapefruit / Ground up nuts / Horsetail / Lavender oil / Lemon / Lemon balm / Lemongrass / Lime / Marjoram / Oak bark / Papaya / Peppermint / Rose / Rosemary / Sage / Thyme / Witch hazel / Wintergreen / Ylang ylang

What are the best natural skincare ingredients?

Since the list of problematic natural ingredients is so long, you may be wondering what natural ingredients are good for skin. There are many! Here are the top ones that only give the benefits of natural skincare and none of the bad:

Clays / Chamomile / Bisabolol / Seaweed / Kaolin / Amino acids / Ceramides / Hyaluronic acid / Grapes / Green tea / Chocolate / Liquorice / Oats / Soy / Willow Herb / Coconut oil / Safflower oil / Canola oil / Shea butter / Honey / Mica / Olive oil / Sunflower oil / Argan oil / Carnauba wax / Meadowfoam / Rice bran oil / Turmeric / Rosa canina fruit oil / Palm oil / Omega fatty acids / Corn oil / Glycerine / Lecithin / Aloe vera / Jojoba oil / Pomegranate / Algae extracts / Sea whip extract / Feverfew extract / Bearberry / Mulberry / White tea / Cocoa butter / Sesame oil / Borage oil / Ubiquinone / Acai oil / Vitamin E / Vitamin B3 / Goji berry / Coffeeberry extract / Evening primrose oil / Tamanu oil / Curcumins / Silybum marianum extract

Packaging matters!

Lastly, keep in mind that with natural ingredients – packaging really, really matters! Think of how long a head of lettuce lasts in your refrigerator and you'll get an idea how the wrong type of packaging (such as jars or clear bottles) will cause natural ingredients to break down. This occurs from repeated exposure to light, air and contamination from repeatedly scooping out the product with your fingers. Dr. Hartman notes that “this oxidation can lead to instability, discoloration and inactivation of the active ingredients in your skin care products”. Be sure to look for opaque, non-jar packaging that minimises exposure to these elements. Then you’ll be getting the most benefit from the natural, organic ingredients that can truly help you get (and keep) the skin you want.

References for this information:

1. JAMA Dermatology, September 2019, ePublication
2. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, October 16, volume 80, pages 226-32
3. Contact Dermatitis, September 2016, issue 3, pages 129-143; October 2013, issue 4, pages 196-230; and February 2014, issue 2, pages 90-97
4. Acta-Demato Venerology, June 2016, issue 5, pages 679-683
5. Annals of Emergency Medicine, April 2016, issue 4, pages 554-556
6. Cutis, October 2015, issue 4, pages 269-274
7. Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences, December 11, issue 1, pages 199-206
8. Food Chemistry and Toxicology, February 2011, issue 2, pages 324-341


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