'Natural skincare': While searching for products, derms must weed out imposters

August 1, 2008

As consumers' demand for environmentally responsible medicines and medical practices has grown, so has their desire for "green" cosmetics, cosmeceuticals and skincare products.

Key Points

But selecting effective products requires dermatologists to do some detective work, experts say.

"Natural and organic products have taken center stage in the minds of consumers, pharmaceutical companies and physicians.

A licensed clinical esthetician with a background in herbal medicine and natural health, Ms. Fritchey says it's sometimes "difficult for (physicians) to know where to start when it comes to evaluating healthy, natural skincare alternatives for their patients."

But as consumers learn more about the side effects of pharmaceuticals, "They're looking for alternative elements that will address specific skin issues. And there are very safe, effective options available if dermatology practices are open to botanical elements in skincare products," she says.

Organic? Natural?

To meet the demand for environmentally friendly alternatives, many manufacturers have begun offering products they call "organic" or "natural," Dr. Torok tells Dermatology Times.

But while the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines organic food products essentially as those produced without pesticides, herbicides and hormones, Ms. Fritchey says, "There's no certification process for body products like the ones that exist for food products."

And there's no definition for "natural" products at all, Dr. Torok says.

In a nutshell, Ms. Fritchey says that, to her, "'Green' means pure ingredients that are extracted from natural resources rather than produced synthetically in a lab."

An example: Mineral makeup, made of tinted zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, "is a true 'green' cosmetic skin makeup, because it's pure minerals," Dr. Torok says.

"It's a fabulous product that's catching on quickly with dermatologists and patients," she says.

Even so, with mineral makeups, she says, users should beware of additives, including talc, parabens and other preservatives.

Smart choices

Dr. Torok and Ms. Fritchey offer the following advice for selecting natural products :

Know your sources. With green tea from China, for example, Dr. Torok says, "You don't know if it's been hit with herbicides - which has happened."