Consumer Perspective—Skin Care From Nature

In Europe, the natural and organic cosmetics market has grown despite the economic downturn. Consumers are increasingly concerned about skin care ingredients they see as posing potential health risks, due in large part to media hype. This has led many to look for natural ingredients on product labels.

This interest may have been a driving force behind the record attendance at the Natural and Organic Products Europe event, held Apr. 7-8, 2013, in London. Further, the Society of Cosmetic Scientists’ 6th Annual Scientific Symposium, held April 30–May 1 in London, also focused on naturals. Here, co-author of the Green Beauty Bible, Josephine Fairley, stated that 17,000 women who tested skin care products reported natural fragrances as having drawn them to botanical beauty ranges; however, they were also confused by eco-certification symbols. [For more on certification, see “Labeling for Legitimacy: Certifications for Natural and Organic Personal Care” on Page 522 of this issue.] Even so, it is without a doubt that natural and organic skin care is a stronger category than ever before.

The Power of Nature

The affinity of consumers to naturals is especially strengthened with the growing awareness of how nature is a part of their daily life. Internally, nature can have a restorative and therapeutic effect on the mind and body; enhancing mood and improving self-esteem, in turn extending lifespan and imparting a happier, more relaxed feeling.1 Research also has shown that people who live closer to nature are often more physically active and less likely to become overweight.2 Even rates of recovery from surgery improve when patients can view green spaces from their hospital windows,3 as gardens near hospitals have been shown to reduce stress, help patients come to terms with an incurable conditions, or provide a relaxed setting for face-to-face interaction.4

Externally, the consequences of climate change are a concern, which can be discussed at length. Global temperatures are expected to rise during the next generation’s lifetime to levels that none have experienced in the past million years. Beyond ecology, skin in particular is exposed to the negative effects of climate change including increased UV radiation, extreme temperatures and humidity changes. However, this shift can be slowed with environmentally responsible or green practices. Sustainable, socially responsible and eco-friendly practices in manufacturing, such as recyclable packaging, ethical sourcing and support for local communities, should therefore aim to protect the natural environment. These practices make consumers feel better internally, and bring them closer to nature—both factors contributing to the growth of the natural personal care market.

Proven Plant Benefits

Many skin care ingredients from nature induce a sense of well-being and provide beneficial sensory attributes. Medicinal plants are an important part of skin care in every tradition around the world. For instance, dermatology research has shown the benefits of polyphenols from Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel), Camellia sinensis (green tea) and Polypodium leucotomos (fern) in skin care. These antioxidants protect the skin from sunburn and photoaging.5

In acne therapy, Mahonia, tea tree oil and Saccharomyces may have the potential to become standard treatments. However, the safety risks of plant extracts, particularly those related to sensitization, i.e., citrus essential oils, require further investigation.6

Plant scents are attributed to secondary metabolites, terpene and phenolic substances that protect the plant from predators and pathogens. Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender), for example, yields an essential oil with antiseptic and calming properties for the skin. Research also indicates that the scent of lavender decreases the level of stress hormone cortisol and enhances free radical scavenging activity, thus preventing the oxidative stress implicated in inflammation and aging.7 Notable to formulators, however, these essential oils are volatile at ambient temperature and sensitive to light.

Organic and Biodynamic

Within the naturals segment, consumer research indicates a preference for certified organic products,8 and this author would be amiss in this respect to not name Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients, who is a champion of such products.9 His mission is to “make beauty products that are good enough to eat.”

Rechelbacher sees no alternative to organic skin care, and in fact stresses reducing exposure to non-plant based materials in skin care. The recent upsurge in plant stem cell technologies he believes is “going above and beyond organic,” to sustain and protect plant species. Rechelbacher uses seed oils from cranberry, raspberry, black cumin, red grape and pumpkin for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. He terms these materials “embryonic foods,” as they can be ingested or applied topically. He also works with the natural aromas of organic essential oils to reduce stress and provide other therapeutic benefits.

In relation, this author’s clients have shown interest in biodynamic skin care—i.e., products based on a spiritual, ethical and ecological approach to agriculture. In fact, the Biodynamic Association10 has recently been accredited to certify according to the NaTrue standard. The group’s Demeter logo, a truly biodynamic product certification, is difficult to obtain for skin care. In the U.K., some skin care brands including biodynamic ingredients are Weleda and Dr. Hauschka.

Integrating Approaches

In this author’s view, the best approach to skin care is consumer-centered and integrative. In parallel, integrative medicine combines the latest scientific advances with ancient healing systems and complementary medicine—although this often invites critique from advocates of science and evidence-based medicine. One successful example is a treatment mix of biomedicine, yoga and Ayurveda, pioneered by The Institute of Applied Dermatology and Department of Dermatology at the University of Oxford, which has been described as the “best practice in contemporary dermatology.”11 The future lies in applying this concept to skin care, creating a green, holistic approach with emphasis on the consumer and their product application, lifestyle, relaxation and nutrition, all while caring for the environment.

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1. Skin Care for All, The International Society of Dermatology, available at (Accessed Jun 11, 2013)
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3. RS Ulrich, View through the window may influence recovery from surgery, Science, available at (Accessed Jun 13, 2013)
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5. J Reuter, U Wölfle, HC Korting and C Schempp, Which plant for which skin disease? Part 2: Dermatophytes, chronic venous insufficiency, photoprotection, actinic keratoses, vitiligo, hair loss, cosmetic indications, J Dtsch Dermatol Ges, available at (Accessed Jun 11, 2013)
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7. T Atsumi and K Tonosaki, Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decreases cortisol level in saliva, Psychiatry Res, available at (Accessed Jun 11, 2013)
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9. C Turner, Behind the brand: Horst Rechelbacher, Get the gloss, available at (Accessed Jun 11, 2013)
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11. TJ Ryan, Integrative medicine selects best practice from public health and biomedicine, Indian J Dermatol, available at (Accessed Jun 11, 2013)

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