Interested in dipping your toes into the natural skincare scene but not sure where to start? Here’s your definitive guide of the most important ingredients to avoid–be sure to scan the ingredients list of every product you’re purchasing to make sure it’s free-of these nasties–plus your soon-to-be new natural skincare product obsessions.
Top 6 Ingredients To Avoid
Look for methyl-, butyl-, ethyl-, and propylparaben on the ingredient list: These preservatives are used to prevent bacteria growth in products, but there is evidence that they mess with hormone levels. One study cited a decrease in menstrual cycle length in women with increased levels of parabens in their urine.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are surfactants often used in cleansers to create lather and give a deep clean. They are known to strip skin of moisture and natural oils, which can lead to dryness, redness, and sensitivity.
These chemicals are found in fragrances, helping them last longer, and in some cosmetics (like nail polish and hair spray), to lend flexibility. They’re readily absorbed by the skin and mimic estrogen in the body, which disrupts hormone levels and cycles. Studies have linked them to breast cancer.
A.k.a. polyethylene glycol, it can function as an emulsifier or solvent, allowing other ingredients to better penetrate the skin. The issue? PEGs are often contaminated with ethylene oxide (a known carcinogen) and 1,4- dioxane (a likely carcinogen).
5. Synthetic Fragrances
First, “perfume” or “fragrance” on a label is a catchall term for any number of ingredients that can legally remain undisclosed by manufacturers. (Often, fragrance contains phthalates and skin-drying alcohols.) Second, engineered scent is sensitizing. “It can cause anything from chronic headaches to skin rashes,” says Sarah Villafranco, M.D., founder of natural skin-care company Osmia.
6. Mineral Oil
Liquid petroleum and mineral oil—byproducts of the petroleum refining process and the primary ingredients in standard skin-healing ointments and lip products—are meant to protect skin and prevent moisture loss by creating an occlusive barrier. The downside: They can harm the environment and clog pores too.
The 17 Best Natural Skincare Products To Try Right Now
These are all free of nasties, and full of goodies for your skin.
1. Best Hydrating Serum
When your skin needs an extra drink of water, pat on this serum as your first skincare step. It’s loaded with hyaluronic acid to help draw moisture into the skin–and formulated without parabens, synthetic fragrance, and other harmful ingredients.
2. Best Face Scrub
In need of a good sloughing? This scrub/mask hybrid is your new Holy Grail. Gently massage it into skin (it’s got amazing little scrubbies) then let it sit for a few and let the kaolin clay work its exfoliating and detoxifying magic all while shea butter hydrates.
3. Best Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin
Using an oil to combat breakouts might seem counter-intuitive, but this magical oil helps balance out your skin’s oil production (you can thank the grape seed oil for that). It also has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory helichrysum to help calm red, angry skin. I’ve noticed a huge difference in my breakouts since I started using this over a year ago.
4. Best Eye Cream
The delicate eye area can be sensitive, which is why I’m obsessed with this fragrance-free and essential oil-free cream (essential oils can be sensitizing to some). It has five types of vitamin C–amazing for building collagen to keep the area firm and wrinkle-free, plus it helps with darkness under the eyes. Not to mention, it goes on like butter.
5. Best Face Mask For Oily Skin
There’s a reason charcoal is getting so much buzz these days–it’s amazing at drawing out impurities in the skin. This black mask is also spiked with nutrient-rich kaolin clay and the gold-standard anti-acne ingredient salicylic acid. And unlike many anti-acne masks, this one won’t leave you feeling all stiff and dry afterward.
6. Best Face Cream for Sensitive Skin
Hydrate irritated skin with this calendula-spiked cream. Not only is it richly moisturizing thanks to borage seed oil, it’s also got aloe in it to calm any redness you may be experiencing.
7. Best Makeup Remover
If you’re not on the double cleansing train yet, it’s time to get on board. It’s the only method that truly gets rid of even the most long-wearing, stubborn eye makeup. Start your routine with this organic sunflower and pumpkin seed-oil mix. Rub it directly onto dry skin and massage it into skin to break down your makeup. Then add water and rinse it away.
8. Best Gentle Cleanser
Finish off your double cleansing routine with this satisfyingly-foamy cleanser. It’s super gentle (no sulfates or fragrance, here!), but does a great job of cleansing skin. Your skin will never feel stripped after using this.
9. Best Lightweight Face Lotion
Looking for something light to wear under makeup? You’ll love this gel lotion. It sinks right into skin while nourishing it with prebiotics (think of them like food for your skin), and protecting it against free radical damage with a mix of certified organic grape, apple, and aloe juices.
10. Best Brigthening Serum
Perpetually chasing that glow? This brightening serum uses ascorbic acid (the most stable form of vitamin C) to help nix existing pigment issues, and prevent future spots from forming. It’s lightweight enough that it’s suitable for all skin types.
11. Best Hydrating Face Mask
Skin feeling extra parched? Slather on this mega-hydrating mask infused with hyaluronic acid, prickly pear cactus, and blue agave. You can even leave it on overnight for an extra boos of hydration.
12. Best Body Wash
This formula forgoes synthetic fragrance for a blend of essential oils that have therapeutic properties and can impact the nervous system. Rosemary and lemon (the primary oils in this blend) have proven mood-boosting effects.
13. Best Bath Soak
Many ingredients used in products have the ability to pass through the skin and enter the blood. It’s especially important to play it safe with soaks and salts (this one has organic ingredients) since they’re intended to deeply penetrate skin to heal muscles.
14. Best Bar Soap
Natural versions are often high in glycerin (a by-product of the soap-making process that draws moisture into the skin). They also lack harsh additives, which can kill good bacteria and strip oils. This one has shea butter to soften and clay to remove impurities.
15. Best Body Scrub
Start your day with an energizing bang thanks to the peppermint essential oil in this body exfoliator. It gently smooths skin with pearl proteins and geranium oil.
16. Best Do-It-All Balm
This balm skips controversial mineral oil and instead uses nourishing plant oils like buriti oil to protect and heal skin. You can literally use it everywhere–it’s a pop-in-your-purse must.
17. Best Body Oil
Lotions are a mix of oil and water, and anything with water requires a preservative since it can grow mold, says Dr. Villafranco. “But a body oil eliminates the need for preservatives like parabens.” Apply this botanical blend to damp skin for the same hydrating effects as a cream.
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