July 29, 2014
Natural and botanical skin care products have become very popular in recent times because many think that the do not contain synthetic chemicals and provide benefits superior to products produced in a laboratory. Many people are surprised to hear that many of these products undergo a significant amount of chemical processing before they are incorporated into skin care products, which affects their activity. Additionally, there are many things that occur in nature that are dangerous when applied to the skin, for example poison ivy.
Many so called laboratory grade products, both prescription strength and over-the-counter strength, are originally discovered in naturally occurring products. For example, retinoids such as retin-A and retinol are vitamin A derivatives. Hydroquinone, the strongest available brightening agent, is found naturally in coffee, beans, beer, wine, and vegetables; we consume it daily. Other naturally occurring skin care product ingredients include glycolic acid, salicylic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid, and hyaluronic acid.
The most important difference between natural or botanical products and those developed in a laboratory is the consistency of the active ingredient. Laboratories have very sophisticated testing measures to ensure that the product is both pure and free from contaminants and at the exact strength required. There is a high degree of variability of active ingredients when they are derived from plants. This is due to inconsistencies in the plant source (leaf, root, fruit, etc.), growth conditions (soil, water levels, climate, etc.), harvesting conditions including transportation, and preparation method (crushing, boiling, distilling, etc.).
Another important difference between plant derived skin care products and those produced in the laboratory is that plant contain many other ingredients in addition to the active ingredient, some of which may not be beneficial. Laboratory grade products are pure and contain no other ingredients except those required for stability or cosmetically pleasing effects.
Finally, there is a tremendous amount of data to back products that are produced in the laboratory. This is due to rigorous testing requirements set forth by the FDA. For instance, some of these required tests compare patients who use the product with those that do not. Additionally, the products are tested to make sure they do not cause allergic reactions. It usually takes a few years before a product is approved by the FDA. Botanical products are not subject to these testing requirements and often there is little to no evidence that they actually work.