In this edition of the skincare report I will discuss one of the most controversial topics of today when it comes to cosmetics and hygiene products: science vs. nature. In other words if whether ot’s best to stick with natural ingredients with synthetic ones. And this is not just a topic that should concern women only. After all, men are also using a myriad of products to cater to their basic hygiene / grooming needs, so more and more become more conscious about what they are using. What is this whole controversy about?

Coincidentially, “Science vs. Nature” is the name of an event I attended last month at SpaceNK in London (part of this retailer’s Beauty Festival, a celebration of their 20th Anniversary). This event was about networking, the opportunity to get your makeup and nails done (maybe even a massage) and the main event, a panel discussion with top skincare experts Dr. marko Lens (from the brand Zelens), Lisa and Lauren Goldfaden (from the brand Goldfaden MD) and the always superb Caroline Hirons (skincare expert and blogger extraordinaire)

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Waiting for the panelists

It was an interesting mix of people which added great insight into the debate. Goldfaden MD is a skincare brand created by dermatologist Dr. Gary Goldfaden that formulates its products with naturally based ingredients. Zelens is the skincare brand of Dr. Marko Lens that formulates its products with high-tech, research-backed effective ingredients. Both brands are innovators that have harnessed the best by using powerful ingredients with proven results. It was very interesting to hear their arguments together with moderator Caroline Hirons. Others raised very interesting points. Even more interesting is how there was never disagreement between whether natural was better than synthetic. Ever.

  • One brand thought, “hey, nature has some pretty awesome resources we can use to improve the skin condition. Let’s use them!”
  • The other brand thought, “hey, science has had sme pretty awesome ingredient breakthroughs we could use to improve the skin condition. Let’s use them!”

At no point did one say “ewww, synthetic ingredients are bad and toxic, and very likely carcinogenic”. Not did the other say “seriously? All natural? They can’t be as effective as someof these high-tech synthetics, and let’s face it, some of them may do more harm than good!”. Their choice of ingredients in their formulations was a matter of context, philosophy and principles. Dr. Goldfaden specialized in naturally based ingredients and decided to stick to what he knew best with his brand. Dr. Lens has done extensive research on high-tech ingredients and decided to stick to what he knew best with his brand

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From left: Caroline, Lauren, Lisa, and Dr. Lens

There are all sorts of ingredients today that compose our personal care products; “civilians” like us don’t understand 95% of what composes that bottle of cream, shampoo of deaodorant, so it’s understandable when an individual or organizations calls out “this is the most effective ingredient EVER” or “this is the most toxic ingredient EVER”, a lot of us would pay attention. Even if we are in the age of information when it is ever so available to click a button and read the extensive research substantiating a product / ingredient claim, it’s not like most of us would understand this. I feel like I have done extensive research, yet I still feel like a chemistry degree would come in handy in most cases!
One of the points discussed by the panel was the waves of fad ingredients we get hit with, some are good, some we just don’t know. Nowadays things like peptides, hyaluronic acids, algae and huge and there is a lot of research out there that says these babies work. There are also numerous products with “plant stem cells” which right off the bat can tell you, might not be what it plays out to be…. After all, a big challenge for stems cells to effectively work, is for them to be alive. Unless your ant-aging cream comes with a drip attached to a livepotted plant, chances are, they won’t do much… And these days we don’t just have fad ingredients, we also have what I like calling “toxins du jour”. Have you ever heard of parabens? You probably have and feel just reading the name may put you at risk for cancer. The bad press about parabens has been enormous and all because of a couple of research studies taken completely out of context. Dr. Lens said how parabens are some of the most powerful anti-oxidants in the market today, but he couldn’t put those on his products with the horrible reputation they now have.

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Beauty networking in action

A big argument in the science vs. nature debate is whether the product in question is effective or not. There are plenty of marketing gimmicks claiming products can do amazing things for you, whether they are natural or synthetic. It is very important to understand that nowadays regulation regarding personal care products does not require the extensive testing pharmaceuticals require. This means companies can claim whatever they want and no one holds them accountable. That is of course unless it’s something extremely toxic for humans.
Most reputable companies would do some some sort of testing that would justify their claims, but even then, how reliable are these tests. Let’s think about what such research projects entail:

  • In vivo vs. in vitro testing: in vivo testing means on a live organism, whether it’s animals or humans. In vitro means n a petri dish. The former comes with the ethics dilemma of animal vs. human testing. The latter does not take into consideration the nuances of living organisms and the effects of these ingredients in questions.
  • Sample size: there is a huge difference between testing something on a group of 10 people vs. 100. Not to mention a proper clinical trial involves having a group testing the clinical protocol and a control group on a placebo, this means you need a considerabley large sample size to pull this off.
  • Research objective: this is a really important aspect of clinical research of a product. You can have 50 women using a certain anti-aging cream and your entire study riding on the subjective opinion of the group on its effect on their skin. Or you can objectively measure depth of wrinkles and quantity. But you can imagine which of the options will cost you more (and if you don’t really have to, why would you for pricey?)
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Enjoying a delicious fancy-schmancy beverage with some delectable designer canapes (not pictured – not enough hands)

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In an earlier consultation with Dr. Lens he told me wine is bad for my poor rosacea skin.I then promptly disposed of my champagne and drank this fancy-schmancy (I’m digging this term!) lemonade with orange blossom and something something. It was good, and that’s al that matters!

To summarize, in the debate science vs. nature, we should be more critical of whether a product is good and effective rather than whether one type of ingredient is best than the other. And it may seem like a daunting task considering most of the industry jargon can only be understood by a handful of chemists, but your common sense may be a more powerful tool than you may think:

  • As Caroline Hirons very aptly put it, if a product claims to reverse aging, or regenerate tissue, or affect your DNA, shouldn’t that same principle apply to a person paralized from the waist down? Could we just smear that cream all over her until she is able to walk? Exactly.
  • Research has shown certain ingredients to be incredibly effective n a wide variety of concerns, but changes will not be self-sustaining. Once you stop a cream, your skin will go back to its old self rather quick.
  • And before maligning a certain ingredient in your cosmetics, ask yourself, what research backs up those claims? In what context is the research making those claims? Is there a direct causal between the claim and the ingredientin question or are these mere correlations?
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Another Lady Hirons photo for my collection!

How do you feel about the formulations of your personal care products? Are you concerned about certain ingredients? Do you nature or synthetic is best? Look forward to your comments!

Cover photo source