• A question of beauty: science vs nature

    A question of beauty: science vs nature

    Is organic really the way to go and are cutting-edge skincare products just laden with chemicals? Finally, the experts weigh in.

    As technology increasingly takes over the way we run and live our lives, today nanotech isn’t just found in your 50” plasma TV or smart phone, but also in your super serums and face creams. Yet, there are concerns that a cutting-edge lifestyle inadvertently brings. Are you being eco-friendly? How sustainable is relying so heavily on technology? Is this even safe or healthy in the long-run? Even as you invest in your skincare, chances are that of late, you’ve been asking yourself whether it’s time to make a decision – do you go green or do you go hi-tech?

    “Mother Nature offers us a lot of gifts. The key is learning how to use them in the right way,” says Melvita‘s Ceres Yu. “Most natural skin care ingredients have been used and tested by humans for hundreds of years. Lab-created ingredients were created in the last few decades and some are reported allergenics. I have to say organic-certified products are much better, safer for our skin and our health as well. In our daily life, we are constantly exposed to thousands of hazardous chemicals.”

    While yes, some ingredients found in skincare have been deemed as cancer-causing, and commonly-used preservatives such as Methylisothiazolinone have been associated with allergic reactions, ultimately preservatives have been put in place to actually protect you. Ironic, no? Preservatives are what give a product its shelf-life while ensuring it doesn’t go bad immediately once opened and used.

    “The role of preservatives is to protect the product against a range of contaminants and the skin from having any adverse reaction from these contaminants. Yves Rocher’s Botanical Beauty Research Laboratories’ top priority is for its products to be completely harmless on the skin, so we use a very low percentage of preservatives,” says Christine Cheong, training manager of Yves Rocher.

    But, of course, there’s a flipside to this. “Most people view scientific skincare to be ‘harsh’ and ‘chemically’ produced hence unsafe to use. But what people don’t understand is that allergies can also stem from natural and organic skincare,” explains Dr Jason Yip, resident aesthetic physician at DRx Clinic. “Essential oils like bergamot, rosemary and peppermint can irritate or aggravate inflamed sensitive skin. Coconut oil can also cause acne.” That said, Dr. Jason also agrees that lab-created ingredients may not necessarily be better since people can be allergic to all sorts of things; but says the good news is that lab ingredients can be created hypo-allergenic.

    So, why then, do more and more people seem to be taking the all-natural route in selecting personal care products? “Today, people are as concerned about what they’re putting onto their skin as into their body, which has really elevated the quality of skincare,” says Andy Bevacqua, Vice President of Research and Development at The Max Huber Research Labs, where La Mer is formulated. In other words, consumers are becoming knowledgeable buyers, a good way forward for the skincare industry.

    Of course, nature remains a go-to resource, and has been for millennia, when it comes to medication, food and also skincare. According to Dr. Lieve DeClerq, Global Spokesperson of Plant Physiology and Molecular Biology at Origins, there are approximately half a million plant species on earth, each one containing about 10,000 active materials, and that’s barely scratching the surface.

    “One’s approach to skin care should be intelligent. Regardless of whether products are scientifically driven or all-natural, they should be safe and effective,” advises Guiding Dermatologist Dr. David Orentreich, the son of Clinique Founding Dermatologist, Dr. Norman Orentreich. “Today there is a trend towards organic ingredients and products that often claim to promote health. Skincare is no exception and has also felt the trend. In my view, ingredients are safe and effective when there is science to prove that they are,” he adds.

    While the experts themselves have varied preferences as to which ingredients work best, they all agree on one thing – your best bet is to find a balance.

    “There certainly should be a balance between science and nature in skin care; and there is,” adds Dr. Orentreich. “Many effective and safe ingredients in skin care products are found in nature; their precise chemical structure and mechanism of action determined through scientific investigation.”

    And he goes on to give an example of how this synergy works in your little pot of cream. “Hyaluronic acid is a ‘natural’ ingredient found in nearly all animals. However, it took scientific research to discover the precise chemical structure of hyaluronic acid; that it functions as a superb humectant [attracts and holds onto water] and how to produce it without killing animals. This versatile material is found in many top-notch moisturisers. When using scientifically-driven products, it is important to use brands that we trust and understand to be proven both safe and effective.”

    Sustainability has long been an issue within the beauty industry, from fragrances to skincare, and it’s safe to say that most brands adhere to the ethos of deriving from nature without causing harm to the environment. “This is where science can play an important role,” says Global Education Development Vice President of Kiehl’s, Cammie Cannella. “For example, when formulating with extremely efficacious but very rare natural ingredients, in order to protect the earth’s natural environment it may be better to use a version of the ingredient that has been bio-technologically grown in a laboratory, ensuring that it is equally efficacious.” Kiehl’s is also famous for their no advertising policy, claiming that whatever funds they save goes back into their research.

    Even on the luxury skincare front, the attitude towards balance and sustainability doesn’t wane. Bevacqua says, “The line between natural and scientific skincare isn’t as black and white as many people think. If you look at something like plant stem cells – you are using a natural ingredient but a scientific process to extract the most powerful part of the plant. You can grow natural ingredients in a petri dish these days. I think it is best when the two work in harmony.”

    But ingredients are only the beginning. These days, the end product is expected to be a pleasure to use, maintaining an amazing and comfortable texture whilst having an effective delivery system. Suffice to say, what goes into these tubs is both a natural wonder and scientific marvel. So there you have it. As it turns out, there never was a war between science and nature. Instead, the two have been working hand in hand the whole time.



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