While there may be legitimate reasons for concern, there are many unknowns about chemicals used in skin-care beauty products. “The question becomes at what concentration or exposure level do these chemicals become an issue?” says Chwalek. Many of these studies have been conducted on rodents that are exposed to a far greater concentration than normal, so more research is needed, says Garshick. There’s also the issue that these ingredients are used in various other products (including food), so there’s the question about how these fit into the larger picture of total exposure — and exactly what that means.
Unfortunately, we don’t have all the answers yet. In the meantime, you can choose the skin-care products that align with your values, your skin-care goals, and your budget. Naturally derived ingredients can be efficacious, our dermatologists say, and natural or organic products can also be expensive. If they don't fit in your budget, you can work with your dermatologist to find alternatives that will work for your skin.
It seems as if everyone’s about clean beauty right now. You can see it on social media, where influencers claim that going all-natural has helped their skin look better than ever. You can see it on store shelves, where countless products market themselves alongside pictures of beautiful plants and use lingo like “nontoxic.” In fact, the market for natural skincare is expected to nearly double, to $12.27 billion, from 2021 to 2030, according to 2022 market research carried out by the Brainy Insights.
Problem is, the term “natural” is pretty vague. “There’s no formal system that regulates ‘natural’ or a legal definition of what this term means,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. “This gets complicated for consumers, as companies can make a claim that a product is natural even though it contains ingredients that don’t constitute as natural,” she says.
Often, the terms “nontoxic” or “natural” suggest that the product is free of synthetic chemicals that may be linked to health problems or that many people get irritated by (or both), says Jennifer Chwalek, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. These chemicals may include fragrance, dyes, and certain preservatives, such as parabens, she says. But that’s more of a consumer perception than a promise.