Quick Tips: Can organic facial cleansers work on acne?


When it comes to buying organic skin-care products, remember: Just because something is made from plants doesn't mean that it's good for your skin“When it comes to buying organic skin-care products, remember: Just because something is made from plants doesn’t mean that it’s good for your skin©Andresr/veer

The skin-care industry is full of buzzwords and trendy terms, "organic" being one of the most prominent. Consumers who have become more conscious of what they’re putting in their body are also wondering what they’re putting on their body, and there are plenty of all-natural beauty and skin products on the market to fulfill their needs.

But do these so-called organic formulas work as well as conventional ones to actually cleanse skin and treat (or prevent) acne? To understand the answer to this, one first needs to know what, exactly, organic means in this industry.

Much like foods and beverages, skin-care products can be given varying degrees of "organic" certification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those that contain only organic ingredients can be labeled "100 percent organic," while those that contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients can be labeled simply "Organic."

Additionally, products with at least 70 percent ingredients are allowed to advertise that they’re "Made with Organic Ingredients." Because the USDA does not regulate cosmetics and personal care products, however, there is not a lot of control over companies that decide to use the term "organic" without applying for USDA labeling. [Source: USDA]

Skin-care products that use organic ingredients rather than synthetic chemicals may have some built-in benefits — like natural vitamins and minerals derived from plant-based additives. But there’s no real evidence that they work better — or even as well as — conventional products.

"If my patients want to use them and they seek out natural products, that’s fine," says Jeffrey Benabio, MD, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. "But I don’t generally recommend them over more conventional brands." Just because something is made from plants, he adds, doesn’t mean that it’s good for your skin: "Poison ivy, poison oak, those are all organic, but you wouldn’t want them in your face wash." Plus, he says, products made without preservatives may not have as long a shelf life, and can lose effectiveness faster.

To fight acne, Benabio says, it’s more important to choose a face wash that contains ingredients that are proven to work, like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid — organic or not. (Salicylic acid is derived from the roots, leaves, flowers and fruits of plants, and does appear in some formulas marketed as natural or organic.) The natural ingredient tea tree oil may also be as effective at preventing acne as benzoyl peroxide, although it may work more slowly and has been known to cause dermatitis or make rosacea symptoms worse. [Source: Mayo Clinic]

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  • Benabio, Jeffrey, MD. Personal interview. August 14, 2013.
  • Siddons, Sarah. "Organic Skin Cleansing Products." Discovery Fit & Health. (August 14, 2013) https://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/cleansing/products/organic-skin-cleansing-products.htm
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Acne." October 21, 2011. (August 14, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/acne/DS00169
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Over-the-counter acne products: What works and why." Mayo Clinic. July 18, 2012. (August 14, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/acne-products/SN00039
  • USDA National Organic Program. "Cosmetics, Body Care Products, and
  • Personal Care Products." April 2008. (August 14, 2013) http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5068442


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