Opinion: Why you should switch to natural skincare


Photo Credit: Gabby Dodd

Cali Carlson loves her essential oils much more than conventional skincare products.

Gabby Dodd, Managing Editor

College can be a very stressful time academically, socially, and financially. To make it worse, imagine waking up on a big presentation day to find dozens of angry red bumps dotting your face. This is not only annoying, but can be emotionally damaging.

The first line of defense against stress-related skin flare ups, like acne, might be to turn to conventional products that have harsh ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. However, I believe these ingredients may do more harm than good. I have found natural skin care to be much more effective, but I feel is sometimes overlooked or discredited due to “a lack of scientific evidence,” when there are in fact numerous studies which show the benefits of treating the skin through methods like essential oils, supplements, and diet, which I think deserves even more research.

Stress has been shown in studies to directly deteriorate skin’s health. According to a 2014 study posted on the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “Skin and its appendages are not only targets of
key stress mediators, they are also a local source for these factors which induce various immune and inflammation responses.” While everyone’s bodies might react different to stress depending on their genetic make-up, our skin can’t tell the difference between different types of stress (emotional, psychological, physical, etc.), which means inflammation from numerous different types of stress may be to blame for those breakouts that, in turn, cause even more stress. Stress has even been linked to triggering eczema and psoriasis because
of the dehydration the body experiences when stress causes adrenaline and cortisol spikes.

Now there are many other factors that trigger skin problems besides stress, like hormones, diet, medications, and genetics. I believe for many reasons I fell into this not-so-lovely category of a combination of multiple triggers. However, I never really struggled with my skin until I got to college and stress in all forms began to take over my body. The breakouts I experienced my first year of college were ones like I had never experienced before. Nothing would clear my acne. Nothing. It felt like I had tried everything. Desperate, I made the worst mistake by actually seeing a dermatologist and I was prescribed an antibiotic called doxycycline.

How western dermatology may actually worsen your skin and your overall health

What my dermatologist didn’t tell me is the ugly truth of antibiotics. While antibiotics may work really well for some people and there is definitely no one size fits all approach to skin care, I should’ve done my research prior to the visit about common treatments dermatologists will prescribe. The thing about antibiotics is that they’ll clear the skin, but personally for me, not for long. At first, the treatment worked rapidly and magically. I was so impressed, but then in a desperate attempt to keep the clearing results I first got, my dermatologist let me stay on the antibiotics for over a year.

What I didn’t know then is the danger of long-term antibiotic use. Articles published in Dermatologic Clinics on Science Direct’s website analyzed studies on long-term skin treatments in April this year. The authors from Rutgers University School of Medicine found that long term use of antibiotics increased respiratory infections, skin bacteria, and high glucose levels. All of which can make the skin worse, long after stopping antibiotics. “Recognition that acne is an inflammatory, not infectious condition has led to a call for reduction in antibiotic use,” the analysis study stated.

When someone is on antibiotics for too long the body begins to build antimicrobial resistance. In simple terms, this means bacteria develops to defeat the drugs that are supposed to kill them.

MD Adam Friedman is the Associate Professor of Dermatology, Director of Translational Research at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. In a dermatology blog, he writes, “Drug-resistant bacterial infections result in higher doses of drugs, the addition of treatments with higher toxicity, longer hospital stays, and increased mortality. In the United States, infections due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria add $20 billion to total healthcare costs.”

While another common treatment, benzoyl peroxide, has been proven to be effective and prevent bacterial resistance, it can have negative impacts beyond just bleaching fabrics. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declares benzoyl peroxide “generally recognized as safe and effective,” but requires labels on products containing the ingredient to warn about sun exposure.

The direct link between benzoyl peroxide and photoaging has not been well studied, but benzoyl peroxide induces sun damage which in-turn can cause photoaging to set-in faster. Dermatologists even recognize that benzoyl peroxide can induce hyperpigmentation of the skin.

For me, I had enough with the harsh chemicals commonly found at the store. Benzoyl peroxide alone made my skin feel like it was burning even after only being in the sun for a few minutes. The side effects of conventional products began to feel less worth it.

Natural remedies that are worth looking into if you struggle with your skin

Everyone is different and will respond to treatments in different ways. I am certainly no doctor or dermatologist, but here are some more natural remedies that I have found to be more effective.

Essential oils; they’re not just some unproven hippie folklore. Growing scientific research shows that essential oils work really well at treating the skin. Especially in the case of tea-tree oil. The Department of Dermatology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital conducted a study almost 30 years ago proving that tea-tree oil is effective. “Both 5% tea-tree oil and 5% benzoyl peroxide had a significant effect in ameliorating the patients’ acne by reducing the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions (open and closed comedones), although the onset of action in the case of tea-tree oil was slower. Encouragingly, fewer side effects were experienced by patients treated with tea- tree oil.”

I think what’s important to note about the last part of the study’s findings is that natural approaches aren’t going to make changes as fast, but I have found they work better in the long run and with fewer side effects. Patience is key, and I feel like this is a big part of why people give up so easily when it comes to this type of treatment.

Sierra Nevada College sophomore Cali Carlson has seen the benefits of essential oils on her own skin. She uses oils such as lavender, tea-tree, and frankincense and dilutes them with a carrier oil called jojoba so they have less of a drying impact.

“Normal skin-care products that you buy from the store are just really hard on your skin and doesn’t give your skin natural processing,” Carlson said. “It [natural skin care] just works better, at least me for me and my skin to keep it healthy.”

Essential oils have been growing in popularity and roll-ons combining oils for different effects have even made their way into grocery stores, making availability much easier. However, properly mixing and diluting your own oils is a good way to tailor what you need for your skin and have the peace of mind of knowing exactly what ingredients you are using, which can often be an unknown with conventional products.

I will make one caution that essential oils come in many varieties, some are basically fake or just meant purely for fragrance. Rocky Mountain Oils is a reputable company that labels all oils with what they are safe for. You can even check purity and safety test results that they provide on their website. Burt’s Bees also has great products, just know that even these products will have a lot of other ingredients in them as well. My personal favorite is the herbal complexion stick roll on oil mix.

A general rule of thumb with essential oils, is that if it’s super cheap it is probably too good to be true, or is just meant for fragrance. Higher quality oils that are safe for skin tend to be a bit pricey, but should last a long time.

The true approach to natural skin care though, is getting to the root of the problem which western dermatology doesn’t address. This can be extremely difficult to figure out and may require extensive tests including blood work to check for hormone levels and other factors that could contribute to skin problems.

One way to give your body the love it needs, is by treating it from the inside-out with supplements. I have found supplements to be incredibly useful, but you have to know what you’re buying. Since many companies don’t have regulation of their products from the FDA or other government regulation, it is important to do lots of research before you buy. I have found the company Thorne Research to be reputable and provide high-quality products. Probiotics and turmeric have been the most useful for me. The difference in my skin during the weeks I take the supplements and when I don’t is astounding.

As the largest organ in our body, skin reflects the health of the rest of our working system. It is often hard to get enough probiotics through diet alone, which is why supplementing can help balance the good and bad bacteria in our bodies which boosts the immune system, prevents illnesses, and in-turn positively impacts the skin. I could write a book on what I’ve been learning about probiotics, but if you are interested, I suggest reading Probiotics and Acne the Ultimate Guide on the thelovevitamin.com.

Turmeric has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb and also a cooking spice. Science is beginning to recognize what Indian civilizations have known for years, is that it really is a powerful spice. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine concluded that, “Turmeric is considered a safe, nontoxic, and effective alternative for many conventional drugs due to its distinguished therapeutic properties and multiple effects on various systems of the body.” One of the most profound of turmeric’s properties is its anti-inflammatory response it triggers in the skin, which I have found to be very useful.

Overall, I think natural skincare provides a much more holistic approach when compared to western dermatology. That type of skin care only masks the issue, it doesn’t fix the root of the problem. However, natural skin care is still slow to catch on amongst the medical community. While it is making headway, I think the money pharmaceutical companies can make off of expensive conventional products that sometimes can’t be covered by insurance and have to be prescribed by a doctor, outweigh the need to seriously put more effort into studying other treatments that may be more beneficial in the long run.

Gabby Dodd is the managing editor of the Eagle’s Eye.