Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What you need to know about organic skin care

Living a healthy life can be confusing.

Stores are stocked with so many “natural” and “organic” food options that claim to keep your body free of chemicals and pesticides, it’s hard to know what to eat. Now, the organic movement has spread to skin care.

Like organic food, organic beauty products are touted as having fewer chemicals, pesticides and preservatives than traditional brands. And the demand for them seems to be growing.

But are organic beauty products more hype than help? It depends on whom you ask.

“If you’re trying to live an organic lifestyle, organic products have an environmental payoff,” said Patricia Tortolani, senior editor for Allure beauty magazine. “Supporting organic farming is a good thing, but we still aren’t certain if these products actually work better than traditional skin-care products. We are interested to see what organic beauty means and getting a better understanding of it.”

According to dermatologists, Tortolani says, most of the ingredients that actually help heal blemishes, exfoliate and reduce acne are not natural, such as alpha hydroxy acids and parabens.

“It is important to recognize that there is no regulation of organic beauty products,” she said, so virtually any company can claim that their product can help improve the skin.

There are some noted organic lines, such as Dr. Hauschka, Jo Wood Organics, Juice Beauty, Kiss My Face and Nature’s Gate. Fashion designer Stella McCartney has introduced a fragrance and skin care line made from organic ingredients and plant extracts. Often, organic products are priced higher at health-food and department stores, but drugstores and discount retailers offer brands that are inexpensive. Wal-Mart recently debuted Noah’s Naturals, a line of skin, bath and hair products, $6.99-$14.99.

Regardless of price, organic products aren’t always the best solution.

Tortolani says there’s a perception that organic or natural shampoos, facial cleansers, moisturizers and sun screens are pure, meaning they have no harsh chemicals. But even organic ingredients can irritate the skin.

“You have to be careful if you have sensitive skin,” warns Dr. Rajani Katta, associate professor of dermatology and director of the Contact Dermatitis Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. “A lot of women who have problems wearing makeup are allergic to plant-based, all-natural products.”

Katta says fragrances in makeup often cause allergic reactions. Even if a product claims to be organic, hypoallergenic or fragrance-free, it may still contain botanical extracts, which have a scent and can cause irritation.
What is organic, really?

•Check ingredients. The word “organic” on a beauty product may not mean much because the industry isn’t regulated. Any product can claim to be “organic,” but if the word appears high on the ingredients list, you may be getting what you pay for.

•Test the product. Organic or natural products aren’t necessarily better than synthetic ones, says Dr. Rajani Katta, a dermatology professor at Baylor College of Medicine. You still can be sensitive. She suggests testing facial products twice a day for a week on your forearm.

•Be skeptical. No studies have proven that organic products are better for your skin than nonorganic varieties.

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