If you’re reading this article, chances are, you’ve either already hopped on the clean beauty bandwagon or you’re highly considering it. Either way, you’re taking a huge leap forward in the name of good health and self-care. As consumers become increasingly aware of the ingredients being used to make the skin care products they’re slathering on their face and body, more and more companies are stepping up to the plate to deliver formulas that don’t disappoint. These brands are introducing products that avoid the use of potentially harmful ingredients and instead replace them with organic ingredients that are safe for the environment, explains Marisa Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery (MDCS) in New York.
The issue with clean beauty, however, is that the FDA doesn’t strictly regulate the labeling of such products, so it can be difficult for consumers to know what is truly “natural” or “green.” Papri Sarkar, M.D., a dermatologist in Boston, Massachusetts, suggests being especially suspicious of the term "chemical-free," because, as she points out, everything is a chemical—even water, sugar and olive oil. “I think the FDA does a decent job of making sure that our skincare ingredients are safe by delineating how much of certain products can be found in our products, but I still think it’s important to be aware.”
So what should you look for when it comes to clean beauty ingredients? According to dermatologists, these are the cream of the crop.
This ingredient, which is being hailed as a natural retinol alternative, is derived from the seeds of the Psoralea corylifolia, also known as the babchi plant and has been found in Ayurveda and Eastern Medicine for centuries, explains Dr. Garshick. “It is thought to stimulate skin cell turnover, improve skin tone, texture, fine lines and wrinkles and is thought to be a good option for those with sensitive skin or those who cannot tolerate a retinol as it is thought to be less irritating,” she says. You can use bakuchiol like retinol, but even use it during pregnancy since it is a natural ingredient.
“Thought to be a natural alternative to salicylic acid, as it is a plant extract that contains salicin,” explains Dr. Garshick. “When taken orally, salicin is converted to salicylic acid, though the topical benefits are not fully understood.” Although the research isn’t decided over whether or not the exfoliating benefits are quite as effective as using salicylic acid, Dr. Garshick believes that willow bark extract is likely to have anti-inflammatory benefits and can be used to help reduce breakouts and inflammation.
You’re probably familiar with this honey, which has been used for thousands of years to treat a myriad of conditions and diseases. “It’s derived from the flowers of the manuka bush, which grows in New Zealand and is thought to have antibacterial benefits related to a compound known as methylglyoxal, which is a natural antibiotic,” says Dr. Garshick. “Additionally, it can help with wound healing as it provides a protective barrier to help prevent infection as well. It can be found in moisturizers and various wound healing creams.”
You might recognize these ingredients from the labels on your sunscreens. “These well-known mineral blockers are alternatives to chemical filters such as oxybenzone, as they provide UV protection by sitting on top of the skin and physically blocking UV rays,” explains Dr. Garshick. While anyone can use physical blockers, she especially recommends them for children, pregnant women, those with sensitive skin and those with conditions that make them more sensitive to the sun.
From olive and coconut to sunflower seed and almond, oils of all kinds have been used in skin care since the dawn of time. Many skin care products in the “clean beauty” space contain a variety of oils mixed together to form a special facial oil. “In this case, the oils help to seal in your skincare steps and help to minimize water loss from the skin,” explains Dr. Sarkar.