Aesthetic Dermatology Update

‘Clean’ and ‘natural’ beauty products


Clean beauty products have taken over the skin care market. A wave of new indie brands has entered the skin care market, some of which have garnered fame from bloggers and celebrities and via social media. There has also been a shift towards larger, more-established brands developing and marketing cleaner alternatives to their established skin care lines.

Dr. Lily Talakoub, McLean (Va.) Dermatology and Skin Care Center

Dr. Lily Talakoub

As consumers, physicians, and parents, we all want nontoxic products. However, as highlighted in a recent editorial by Bruce Brod, MD, and Courtney Blair Rubin, MD, of the department of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, the Food and Drug Administration has “failed to define clean and natural, leaving these labels open to interpretation by nondermatologist retailers, bloggers, and celebrities who have set out to define clean beauty for themselves” (JAMA Dermatol. 2019 Sep 25. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2019.2724). This vague interpretation has given rise to a billion-dollar industry of products that is unregulated and may, in fact, not be safer than other products.

For the last decade, consumers and patients have been asking for clean beauty or “natural” products, but skin allergies, skin sensitivities, and reactions to skin care products have also been on the rise. Some of the ingredients deemed toxic include petrolatum and parabens, which have good safety profiles and clinically, are among the least allergenic ingredients in skin products, particularly among patients with the most sensitive skin. In contrast, botanical oils, essential oils, and plant-based natural fragrances are chronic culprits of contact sensitivities and severe skin allergies.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley, a dermatologist who practices in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley

I encourage all dermatologists to read this viewpoint as this topic will inevitably be a point of discussion with many patients. Large studies and expert consensus of safety profiles of chemicals – particularly those deemed carcinogenic, endocrine disruptors, and environmental hazards – are often lacking, leading to confusion for consumers. Our professional organizations and industry should be leading the efforts to establish standardized definitions and FDA regulations of skin care products deemed clean and natural so that the differentiation between marketing taglines and true, substantiated FDA-supported claims are clearer for consumers.

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Dr. Talakoub and Dr. Wesley are cocontributors to this column. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. This month’s column is by Dr. Talakoub. Write to them at [email protected]. They had no relevant disclosures.

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