Let me start by saying that I don’t believe that natural ingredients are better or safer than synthetic ones. Things aren’t as simple as that. Simply put, there are ingredients that work and others that don’t, regardless of their origin. The ugly truth about natural ingredients is that, even when they are scientifically proven to work (and a lot of them aren’t, as yet, as well-studied as their synthetic alternatives), they are often used in beauty products in concentrations that are too small to be effective, or have a nasty consistency or smell that make them unpleasant to use.
Having said that, there are also quite a few natural ingredients that have lots of benefits for skin and hair. It’s always a pleasure to come across one of those and incorporate it into your beauty routine. Here are the ones I can’t leave without:
1. Zinc Oxide
Zinc Oxide is by far my favourite sunscreen ingredient. The reason? It can, on its own, protect against the entire UV spectrum. Plus it is very gentle, so it doesn’t irritate skin. Unfortunately, there’s a catch. Or two. Zinc Oxide, which is a white mineral, can leave an unattractive white cast on the skin and be quite thick, which is why so many people avoid it. But don’t despair. A well-formulated sunscreen, like the tinted Sunumbra Sunscreen SPF30+, will give you the protection of Zinc Oxide without its anti-aesthetic side effects.
2. Shea Butter
Butyrospermum Parkii, commonly known as shea butter, is a godsend for dry skin. All my favourite body creams and lip balms (such as Haus of Gloi Pumpkin Butters, The Body Shop Coconut Body Butter, and I Provenzali Stick Labbra al Karitè) are chockfull of it. Shea Butter contains a bunch of rich hydrating fatty acids, including oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and linolenic acid, that make it a great moisturizer. Studies have shown that it is more effective than mineral oil at preventing transepidermal water loss (TWL). It helps skin recover from TWL within two hours, and after three or four also improves skin barrier. And it gets better: it also has antiaging properties that will help prevent the premature signs of aging.
3. Coconut Oil
I’m not a big fan of coconut oil for skincare. Although it is a great emollient that can improve skin hydration, it can also clog pores, so if you have oily skin, you should stay away from it. But why is coconut oil in this list then? Because I love to use it on my hair. Coconut Oil is one of the few ingredients that can actually penetrate hair, strengthening and moisturizing it from within. The best type to use is virgin coconut oil, but make sure you apply it sparingly to avoid turning your hair into an oily mess.
4. Ferulic Acid
Ferulic Acid, which naturally occurs in the cell walls of whole grains, coffee, spinach, apples, grapes and other vegs and fruits, is a powerful antioxidant that can destroy three types of free radicals: superoxide, hydroxyl radical, and nitric oxide! Very effective on its own, it can also enhance the effectiveness of other antioxidants, such as Vitamins C and E. In addition, a study suggested that it may be an effective treatment for hyperpigmentation. Unfortunately, products with Ferulic Acid can be quite expensive. My favourite, which is reasonably priced, is Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum.
5. Green Tea
Derived from the Camellia Sinesis plant, Green Tea is rich in polyphenols (and in particular in Epigallocatechin-3-gallate which is considered to be 200 times more effective than Vitamin E), a group of antioxidants that has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help prevent premature wrinkles and collagen breakdown, and reduces the redness and inflammation caused by sun exposure. Green Tea is included in my favourite day moisturizer, Olay Total Effects Day Cream SPF 15. Or if you prefer to use only Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, you can find it, together with ferulic acid and a pletora of other antioxidants, in the Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum.
6. Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a wonderful multitasking ingredient that can be used pretty much for everything. It is rich in fatty acids, including oleic, palmitic, and linoleic acids, which make it a great moisturizer for dry skin. It also contains resveratrol, which has antioxidant properties. However, I prefer to use it to take off my makeup, and, occasionally, as a conditioning treatment for hair instead of coconut oil (olive oil is another of the few ingredients that can penetrate hair). Leave it on your hair overnight, and in the morning, your locks will be shiny, healthy and gorgeous. Again, apply only a tiny amount, or you’ll end up with a greasy mane of hair!
What are your favourite natural ingredients?