by Linda Sechrist
At age 25, Paula Begoun, author of The Original Beauty Bible and other bestselling books on skincare, makeup and hair care, read her first label on a skincare product she was using. Although she’d tried many different products to control her acne and eczema since age 11, she hadn’t thought about the contents, which was partially why she was distraught to discover that acetone (nail polish remover) was the fourth ingredient listed.
That moment became the inspiration for Begoun’s lifetime devotion to skincare research and education and customer advocacy. Today, as founder of the Seattle-based Paula’s Choice Skincare, she continues to help women understand when product claims are misleading or factual.
Buyer Be Aware
One of Begoun’s core conclusions is that the terms organic and all natural are largely responsible for fueling the misconception that all synthetic ingredients in cosmetics are automatically bad and that all organic or natural ingredients are automatically good. She further notes that many products labeled organic and natural include synthetic chemicals, meaning that the term “organic” doesn’t apply to the entire formula. Fragrances are common synthetic ingredients, as is the triethanolamine that’s often used to adjust the pH or as an emulsifying agent to convert acid to salt, or stearate, as the base for a cleanser.
To help consumers avoid overpaying for skincare products, which may not be as natural or organic as touted, Begoun encourages skepticism regarding marketing messages. She suggests that an important key is to choose the best formulation for an individual’s skin type and specific skin concerns.
“There are no FDA-approved standards for the organic labeling of skincare products sold in salons and spas or over-the-counter. As a whole, the cosmetics industry hasn’t agreed on one set of standards either,” explains Elina Fedotova, a cosmetic chemist, aesthetician and founder of the nonprofit Association of Holistic Skin Care Practitioners. Fedotova, who makes her professional skincare line, Elina Organics, by hand in a laboratory, compares the difference between salon and commercial products to fine dining versus fast food.
“Salon products are made in far smaller quantities than mass-produced brands and offer higher concentrations of ingredients. They are generally shipped directly to the salon and have a higher turnover rate. Because they don’t have to be stored for indeterminate periods or endure warehouse temperatures, they are fresher and more potent,” she says.
Although a facial can easily be performed at home with salon or commercial products, Fedotova, who owns spas in Chicago and Kalamazoo, Michigan, recommends having a professional facial every three to four weeks. Charlene Handel, a certified holistic esthetician, holistic skin care educator and owner of Skin Fitness Etc., in Carlsbad, California, agrees.
Handel chooses treatments that penetrate and nourish the layer of skin below the epidermis, the outermost layer, consisting of mostly dead cells, with 100 percent holistic (edible) products and freshly brewed organic tea compresses. “Without a gentle exfoliation, the first step in any effective facial, not even skin care formulas with penetration enhancers, can nourish the lower layer of live cells. One key nourishment among others is vitamin C, an antioxidant which brightens, protects against sun damage and promotes collagen production,” advises Handel.
She explains that skin cells produced in the deepest layer gradually push their way to the epidermis every 30 days and die. Dead cells can pile up unevenly and give the skin’s surface a dry, rough, dull appearance. As we age, cell turnover time increases to 45 or 60 days, which is why gentle sloughing is necessary. This can be done at home three times a week with a honey mask.
Microdermabrasion, another form of exfoliation performed in a salon, uses aluminum oxide crystals to gently buff away the surface layer of skin. An additional option is a light chemical peel with alpha or beta hydroxy acids that can be purchased over the counter, to help build collagen and deliver a more even skin tone.
Treatment serums, moisturizing lotions and eye and neck creams are all elements of a complete facial. The simplest sequence of application is layering from the lightest to heaviest—eye cream, serum and moisturizer. Give them a minute or two to absorb. Most importantly, no facial is complete without a sunscreen, applied last.
Linda Sechrist is a Natural Awakenings senior staff writer.
“The skin, your protective organ, is meant to be ‘worn’ for life. It is not a luxury, but a necessity to take the best possible care of it.”
~ Charlene Handel