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October 2016

The truth about "Organic" Skincare

By Arthur W. Perry, MD October 20, 2016 1 comments

“Organic” may be the most bastardized word in the English language.

The strict definition of “organic” chemicals are chemicals that are carbon based. Somewhere along the line, the term became associated with edible products that did not contain toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, or antibiotics. While the definition was not particularly good, the concept was a welcome one. And over the last two decades the “organic food” industry has been steadily growing.

In the last few years, the "organic" concept has become even more bastardized, with the introduction of “organic skincare”. Real chemists cringe when products containing substances like inorganic zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, talc, and iron oxide are described as “organic”.   We are entering a whole new world of obfuscation…. The FDA does not even have a legal definition for “organic” and so if a company calls their products “organic”, they must follow the US Dept. of Agriculture definition. This is particularly bizarre since inorganic minerals are not agricultural products.

But let’s go a step further and consider why a skincare product should even consider being “organic”. The concept comes from a desire for healthy, wholesome products, made with healthy ingredients. This is a reasonable goal, but consider a skincare product made from organically grown poison ivy. Legally it could be labeled “organic”, but you don’t need to be a physician to know that this is not something you would want on your body. It turns out that essential oils, which make up so many wonderful fragrances, may be organic but also may cause allergic reactions called “contact dermatitis”. In fact, 14% of the population are allergic to one essential oil or another. Synthetic fragrances, certainly not called “organic” but indeed may be created with organic chemicals (in the strictest sense of the word), are often less likely to cause allergies than the “natural” ones.

And that brings us to the definition and benefits of “natural” substances in skincare. Plutonium and cadmium are natural, but you sure would not want those chemicals near your body. On the other hand, phenoxyethanol is a synthetic preservative that is particularly nontoxic and helps keeps your products safe and fresh. But organic or natural? No. So we must all be skeptical of the cosmetics and skin care that describe themselves as “organic” or “natural”.

The truth is that a well formulated product that is carefully evaluated for toxicity and efficacy is what should be created... For my products, I try and keep as short an ingredient list as possible because I know that each and every ingredient, whether “natural”, “synthetic”, or “organic” has the potential to cause toxicity or allergy. I choose my ingredients for for their scientifically proven efficacy and I scour the toxicology database to eliminate anything that can potentially cause problems. That is not as easy as it may seem, because safe and effective ingredients, such as vitamin C, can cause a terrible corneal injury if splashed in the eye. And because of that concept, simple table salt or vitamins are often considered “mildly toxic”.

Skincare is not as simple as it seems, and that is the precise reason I, as a plastic surgeon and biologist, have enjoyed creating safe and effective products for you.

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