Organic beauty: essential or indulgent?

SKIN FOOD: Have you thought about what kind of chemical cocktail you could be slapping on your skin everyday?
SKIN FOOD: Have you thought about what kind of chemical cocktail you could be slapping on your skin everyday?

Going organic is touted as the solution to everything from children's behavioural problems to niggling allergies, all dished up with a side order of good health and vitality.

However, many argue that organic products shouldn't be limited to the food we eat, but also pertain to the products we put on our skin.

So is organic the secret ingredient to glowing skin and lustrous locks or is it an overpriced gimmick that taps into our desire to go green?

The thirst for all things natural is on the rise. A 2011 survey by Kline & Company found sales of "natural" personal care products had risen 15 per cent to more than $25 billion.

Naturopath Jacqueline Evans formulated a line of organic skincare products after her studies revealed the questionable nature of ingredients used in cosmetics and skincare products.

"We're careful with what we put into our bodies, we should be equally considerate with what we put onto our bodies," she says.

"After all, the skin is the body's largest organ. We should treat it with the same respect we treat our other organs."

Evans says we should think of beauty products as food for the skin and body. She says the safest approach to chemicals is never putting anything on your skin that you wouldn't be willing to put in your mouth.

"It is well proven that when you apply chemicals to your skin, they enter the bloodstream and become integrated into your body's tissues," Evans says.

"The skin is alive, so it needs other 'alive' ingredients to play with. Synthetic ingredients cannot give life to the skin."

Harmful ingredients are most commonly used because they're cheap, readily available and have a long shelf life, she says.

Evans lists the following as the worst offenders:

Petroleum based products such as mineral oil, paraffin and petrolatum - These nasties coat the skin like plastic, clogging pores and creating a build-up of toxins that in turn accumulate and can lead to dermatological issues. They may also slow cellular development, which can cause you to show earlier signs of ageing.

Parabens - Widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic industry. "An estimated 13,200 cosmetic and skincare products contain parabens," Evans says. Parabens also have hormone- disrupting qualities that mimick estrogen and can interfere with the body's endocrine system.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) - Found in car washes, engine degreasers, garage floor cleaners and over 90 per cent of personal care products, SLS breaks down the skin's moisture barrier to easily penetrate the skin and allow other chemicals to follow. SLS is sometimes disguised with labelling that says "comes from coconut" or "coconut-derived".

Knowledge is power, and once you know what to avoid it's a matter of studying the list of ingredients on your products. Evans practises the rule that if she can't pronounce or read the ingredient, it's probably best to steer clear of it.

Like organic food, clever marketing can mislead customers and "certified organic" is the term that shoppers should look out for.

Before cleaning out your cosmetics drawer, however, dermatologist Dr Michael Rich says botanicals, although natural, can still lead to skin-related complications, especially with the higher concentrations found in some organic skincare lines.

"Irrespective of whether a skincare product is organic or not, it is important to be certain that, firstly, it does not irritate the skin or cause an allergic response and, secondly, that the ingredients have some therapeutic benefit, such as minimising the effects of ageing," he says.

"A non-organic product that is non-irritating and non-allergenic and has evidence to support its therapeutic advantage has more value than an organic product that doesn't."

- Daily Life