Natural vs. Synthetic Skincare: Which is Best?

I have great respect for my friends that are “all natural” “green beauty” “organic only beauty” or whatever term is being used in the skincare world today. But is there conclusive evidence that natural skincare is better than synthetic?

If something is lab created is it automatically a toxic product? Is your skin a giant sponge waiting to absorb toxic chemicals lurking in every jar of cream because it has ingredients you can’t pronounce? Am I biased because I work with synthetic products?

Charlotte Tilbury Beauty Limited US

I’m a former “all natural” only devotee.

I once bought into all the fear mongering because I listened without actually questioning where the information was coming from. You would be amazed how many myths about skincare ingredients are spoken as fact and are not true.

I was actually a “crunchy” granola making, kombucha swilling homeschool mom and no chemicals were going to touch my face or enter my mouth. And then I hit 40 and all hell broke loose on my face.

Suddenly all natural wasn’t going to cut it for the loss of elasticity and collagen. It sure wasn’t doing anything for pigmentation starting to rear its ugly head.  This is also what led me to esthetics school where I learned a thing or two.

To be fair,  that was over eight years ago and in this short time Indie Beauty and so called “natural brands” have come a long way. I’ll definitely begin incorporating some of these brands as cleanser, toners, and such but won’t be doing so because I’m afraid of synthetic ingredients. Deep down inside I’m a conundrum of low maintenance hippie chick with equal parts high maintenance “give me all the shiny things” diva. 

Is natural skincare better than synthetic?
Is your skin really absorbing everything you put on it?

Is your skin a sponge ready to absorb everything you put on it?

When it comes to my serums I want science. I don’t want something that can be whipped up in a kitchen because all that’s going to do is lay on top of my skin. I want delivery systems that will transport performance ingredients. Because contrary to what is being screamed by the natural camp, your skin is not a sponge waiting to absorb everything that comes in contact with it. If it was don’t you think we’d look a little different every time we showered? Would companies spend tons of money on delivery systems if the ingredients were going to automatically penetrate?

The Dose Makes The Poison

Your skin is a complex organ and one of it’s jobs is to protect and act as a barrier. Many ingredients can’t penetrate because their molecule size is too big. Granted, there are some ingredients that do penetrate past your stratum corneum, even more so now that companies are developing nanoparticles. But this is a complex issue and one that needs conclusive research beyond what a brand pays for.

I want lab created actives that came about because of major research and development. I think we will begin to see more “green beauty” brands fuse the two worlds together but so far I haven’t found it. Also, I’m no longer afraid of so called chemicals. Did you know there are lethal doses of water and coffee?

Did you know that parabens are naturally occurring?

So think what you want about parabens but I’m not about to put a mascara near my eyes that doesn’t have some preservatives. You need preservatives so products don’t mold and most preservatives are considered “chemicals” by the green industry. I’ll take a paraben over losing my eye, and that’s not fear mongering-mold and bacteria can be extremely harmful!

If more conclusive studies come out that tiny doses of paraben absolutely cause cancer, I’ll retract what I’ve said. For now I’m waiting for more fact based evidence.

Fear mongering, myths, and the truth

Remember when eggs were vilified as being evildoers? Remember when doctors used to endorse cigarettes? I don’t remember that one but I’ve seen the vintage ads. My point is I don’t trust the powers that be or the studies that are sometimes flawed or paid for by brands with ulterior motive.

If I sound a bit distrusting I come from a family of conspiracy theorists. But seriously, I don’t trust a government that says it’s ok to eat artificial sweeteners and dyes….or margarine. At the same time, I don’t trust a beauty brand that is bashing so called toxic ingredients while trying to sell their own. We are all biased in one way or another.

Take mineral oil for an example. It’s actually a refined version of a naturally occurring material. It’s been deemed “cancer causing, pore blocking, and generally evil.” The truth is its an inexpensive occlusive ingredient that is not attached to any reputable studies that show it causes cancer or harms your skin. For more research, read this article from a cosmetic chemist who knows his stuff:

What is “all natural?”
Is Natural Skincare Better Than Synthetic?

You may wonder why I put terms like “all natural” skincare and “chemical free” in caps. Because it’s BS and a claim that anyone can use as there are currently no standards to regulate this.

I’m not trying to bash on green beauty. In fact there are some lovely companies out there that are not using fear tactics in marketing and are making beautiful products. But some brands need to clean up their act in spreading myths to sell a product. 

I’m looking forward to having the best of both nature and science as technology in skincare gets more exciting each year. Here’s hoping for more transparency and truth in this industry. I just want you to be aware that in this world of natural vs chemical everything is not always as it appears. For now I’m more concerned about toxic friends and food than I am about my skincare routine.

I’m curious which side you land on in the natural vs. synthetic skincare debate?

2 thoughts on “Natural vs. Synthetic Skincare: Which is Best?”

  1. I’m in the middle too. I do pay attention to what I put on my body, and don’t want to use products that contain harmful ingredients, but I agree that everyone has an agenda and It’s very difficult to determine exactly what’s harmful and what’s not. I have the added layer of having sensitive skin and a lot of things both natural and synthetic either give me hives or other type of rash. A lot of the time, for me, it comes down to finding products that don’t irritate my skin.

    • Hi Julie,

      Sounds like you are paying attention to what your skin needs. Sensitive skin can be so tricky, you really need to play detective to find out what irritates it. Yes, botanicals and synthetic ingredients can both irritate.

      I would recommend keeping a journal or photo album on your phone. Every time a product irritates, write down or take a picture of the ingredients. Over time see if you can pinpoint a common ingredient.

      Hope that helps,


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