The latest breakthroughs in skin-care science wed technology and organics, meaning that patients may choose “natural” medicine and remedies over traditional, chemical-based products. And, increasingly, physicians are beginning to embrace and learn about the nature of this brave, new skin-care world.


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  • Genesis Biosystems
  • Jan Marini Skin Research
  • Medicalia
  • Physicians Complex
  • Skin Health Solutions
  • Stiefel

Currently, one of the big trends in the cosmetics industry is an ever-increasing consumer demand for skin care products based on organic materials.

As consumers become increasingly interested in what they’re eating, they are also interested in what they’re applying topically to their bodies.

We have come a long way since the time when a reference to “natural skin care” meant a recipe of fruits, vegetables, honey, and other garden ingredients that were ground into mask in your kitchen.

Baby care products have a long-standing tradition with all things natural, fueled by new parents’ desires to avoid chemicals and preservatives in their child’s food and drink.

However, over the past 10 years, almost every major skin care company has started to include some version of natural products in its product lines, just to keep up with the consumer interest and demand.

National beauty retailer Sephora, San Francisco, now categorizes products it sells as “natural” or “organic.” The vendor community is jumping on the bandwagon, at least to appear to be more eco-friendly and socially responsible.

According to a report by TNS Media Intelligence/CMR titled “US Market for Natural Personal Care Products,” retail sales of natural/organic skin care, hair care, and cosmetics reached more than $3.9 billion in 2003 and is expected to reach close to $6 billion this year.1

Sales of organic personal care items reached $350 million in 2007, an increase of $68 million over 2005, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in Greenfield, Mass.2

The customer is fueling the unprecedented growth in organic skin care products. In large numbers, consumers are trending toward inner and outer well-being, which is impacting their spending behavior and decisions—from the foods they eat to the cosmetics they use.

The term “natural” is not regulated by the FDA, which basically leaves each vendor to set its own standards for what the term means.

For example, some brands marketed as “natural” are formulated with high concentrations of plant-based and naturally derived ingredients, and fewer parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates, petrochemicals, and synthetic fragrances or dyes.

Labeling standards that are open to interpretation allow some skin care makers to call their products “natural” even if only a few ingredients, or a small percentage of ingredients, could technically fall under that umbrella.

The requirements for labeling a product as “natural” are far less defined than the requirements for labeling a product as “organic.”


The accepted definition of “organic” refers to products containing ingredients grown and processed without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides.

In the United States, these regulations fall under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s standards for organic foods.

Only as recently as 2006, the USDA began allowing beauty companies to use its organic seal on products that meet its requirements for food.

A product must contain 100% organic ingredients to bear the USDA organic seal, and must contain at least 70% of organic ingredients to use the term “organic” on its label.

However, there is a surprising lack of standardization overall in the growing natural and organic skin care market, and a notable shortage of clinical data that actually proves that these products are effective.

There is a lot of misunderstanding right now in the skin care and spa industry over which ingredients are healthy for the skin.

Regardless of origin, each ingredient can be safe and also have the potential for adverse effect.

“When it comes to organic and natural, it’s important to keep in mind that ‘organic’ describes how it was grown,” says Howard Murad, MD, a dermatologist and founder of Murad Inc, El Segundo, Calif. “An orange is natural, and it can be grown using organic methods. An orange has ascorbic acid and citric acid, but ensuring purity and obtaining equal levels of these ingredients from one orange to another is a challenge. Therefore, ascorbic acid is synthetically produced to maintain purity and equal activity levels.”

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of women’s, public health, labor, environmental health, and consumer-rights groups, had this to say on its Web site (

“The chemicals in any one consumer product alone are unlikely to cause harm. But unfortunately, we are repeatedly exposed to industrial chemicals from many different sources on a daily basis, including cosmetics and personal care products.

“Many of these chemicals have gotten into our bodies, our breast milk, and our children. Some of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and other health problems that are on the rise in the human population.

“Some chemicals found in a variety of cosmetics—including phthalates, acrylamide, formaldehyde, and ethylene oxide—are listed by the EPA and the state of California as carcinogens or reproductive toxins.”


Major loopholes in federal law allow the $35 billion cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products with no required testing, no monitoring of health effects, and inadequate labeling requirements.

According to the FDA, the regulatory requirements governing the sale of cosmetics are not as stringent as those that apply to other FDA-regulated products. Manufacturers may use any ingredient or raw material, except for color additives and a few prohibited substances, to market a product without a government review or approval.

The current FDA policy on cosmetics, according to its Web site (, is: “The FDA’s legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives. However, FDA may pursue enforcement action against violative products, or against firms or individuals who violate the law.”


The European Union (EU) has more stringent and protective laws for cosmetics than the United States does. In January 2003, the EU amended the Cosmetics Directive (76/768/EEC) to ban the use of chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation, or birth defects. This amendment went into force in September 2004.

The EU also is proposing to change the way it regulates all chemicals, in order to better protect human health. The EU wants to require chemical companies to test chemicals for health effects before they are put on the market.

The Bush Administration has been working to stop Europe from passing these protective laws.

In our health-conscious society, a growing segment of consumers want to be sure that the products they use on their face, hair, and body contain the healthiest ingredients and do not contain synthetics and chemicals.

These products are reinforcing the direct link between the senses and the skin for consumers. Many consumers see natural ingredients as “safer” and “healthier” for their skin.

One of the biggest issues facing the “green” consumer is ignorance about, say, the moisturizer that claims to have all natural ingredients. Does it also contain some synthetic chemicals?

Reading the product’s label seems like a logical first step, but unless you have aced a course in cosmetic chemistry, it may be very perplexing for the average consumer to understand.

The lax labeling standards allow some makers to call products organic, even if only a few ingredients or a small percentage of ingredients are organic.

The lack of consistency in labeling stimulated the USDA, which regulates the labeling of organic crop and livestock products, to allow beauty companies to use its organic seal only on products that meet its requirements for food. The USDA accredits official certifiers who handle certification of these companies.

According to the FDA, chemical names are the only way ingredients can be listed because that is what they are.

However, many ingredients are marketed with trade names that often do not include an explanation of the identity and intended use of the material.

Trade names in the ingredient list can cause confused consumers to compare similar ingredients in similar products.

Some trade names may include mixtures of raw materials; for example, an ingredient combined with a preservative. Then the matter becomes even more complex.

The FDA considers the labeling of vitamins in cosmetics a separate issue, and does not recognize health claims made about them in cosmetics. A product that features a vitamin, such as Vitamin E, must list its chemical name, tocopherol, on the ingredient list.

Listing E as a vitamin in the ingredient statement would give the misleading impression that Vitamin E in the product offers a nutrient or health benefit.

The fear of unknown ingredients with names that are hard to pronounce, as well as the politically correct concern for overall wellness and the environment, is prompting many consumers to go all natural.


The current rise in popularity of natural ingredients is driving an interest among many skin care marketers to communicate a contemporary philosophy to their customers and find their place in the natural cosmetics market.

Getting back to natural is proving not to be just a short-term trend. Based on industry growth predictions, it has a promising and profitable future in the cosmetics business, to which many companies have already caught on.

Hair and skin care are the first entry points for natural personal care consumers and will continue to drive new consumers into the category.

Many consumers are still buying their favorite big brands of makeup even after they have changed over their hair and skin care to more natural products. However, the next frontier will be the “greening” of cosmetics.

Mineral makeup still has tremendous potential for growth due to its increasing popularity among consumers with a green philosophy.

“With mineral cosmetics, you are getting clean makeup that is comprised of micronized minerals with no chemical dyes and preservatives that could irritate your skin,” according to Theresa Robison, vice president of sales and marketing, jane iredale The Skin Care Makeup, Great Barrington, Mass.

“Essentially, you are giving back to your skin by protecting it from airborne pollutants and helping to keep it healthy by not exposing it to talc, parabens, and synthetic chemicals that are often found in other makeup brands.”

Eager to capitalize on this consumer- and media-driven trend, we are seeing a recent proliferation of brands that claim to be organic and natural—it is a chore to sort through them all.

It can be exhausting for consumers to differentiate between the true natural brands and their generic counterparts.

Differentiating between the levels of quality within the natural sector is proving to be a great challenge for skin care experts, physicians, and retailers alike.

Organic and natural products were formerly found only in niche brands distributed in nontraditional channels, such as health food stores and online.

Lately, a wide assortment of ranges featuring these products can be found across all channels, including prestige department stores, beauty retailers, drugstores, and more recently, medical spas and physicians’ offices.

Even private-label manufacturers are adding natural ranges to their offering in order to meet customer demand.

Of the emerging organic products, those from Janson Beckett, Cherry Hill, NJ; DDF Skincare, Martinsville, Va; Juice Beauty (; and Laboratoires Luzern ( stand out.

Long-standing Estee Lauder-owned Origins ( has added a “certified organic” range to keep up with pressure from new competitors invading its niche.

Origins created Origins Organics, marketed as the first full line of prestige skin, body, and hair care products to be certified under the USDA National Organic Program.

Products in the popular Provencale beauty range—Occitane, for example—are certified organic by ECOCERT.

An independent inspection and certification body founded in France in 1991, ECOCERT ( conducts inspections in more than 80 countries, making it one of the largest organic certification organizations in the world.

When it comes to what types of natural skin care product formats are in demand, those that contain ingredients that have benefits for dry, sensitive, and reactive skin types are at the top of the list.

The popularity of fragrance-free products are also on the rise. Dermatologists generally relate that 80% of their patients report some sensitivity to fragrance.

On the mass-market level, Aveeno ( is one of the most successful brands in the natural segment, with its skin care range based on Johnson & Johnson’s patented active natural ingredient Feverfew, as well as soy, oats, and shiitake mushroom.


Many consumers look to avoid artificial additives in the food they eat, and believe the same criteria should apply when choosing cosmetics, toiletries, and fabrics.

In tune with the natural and organic trend, pure plant-based ingredients from unpolluted environments and regions of the world are becoming highly coveted among eco-conscious consumers. Synthetic fragrances may contain phthalates, which have been linked to health problems.

The media has drawn attention to consumer concerns about additives and chemicals, causing many to avoid certain ingredients, even if they do not fully understand their safety profile or purpose in a cosmetics formulation.

Among the most common culprits are parabens and petrochemicals, which are largely considered to be toxic to the human body and the environment.

Some brands are picking up on this selling point by incorporating a “chemical-free” or “preservative-free” message into their product labeling.

This development fuels skin care product makers to seek out alternatives, as more natural preservatives and emulsifiers are emerging.

Large chemical and cosmetic ingredient companies are investing in developing cosmetic ingredients to replace synthetic chemicals that are perceived as potentially harmful.

The challenge for skin care formulators is to ensure that the performance of these new ingredients is up to par with what is available in conventional products.

See also “Cosmeceuticals Roundup” by Wendy Lewis, in the September 2007 issue of PSP.

As R&D investment intensifies in this sector, we can expect to see more natural replacements and novel botanical ingredients being used, which will naturally trickle down to the physician’s office.

The key message for the medical skin care sector is that green is good, at least in the mind of a growing segment of patients seeking cosmetic procedures.

“I believe in ethnobotony, the study and use of plants indigenous to specific regions,” Murad says. “We use standardized extracts whenever possible, and while natural and organic ingredients are good, real results are derived from using the best of science and nature.

Wendy Lewis is a consultant and writer in the field of aesthetic medicine, and the author of 10 books, including Plastic Makes Perfect: The Complete Cosmetic Beauty Guide (Orion, 2008). She is Editorial Director of MDPublish, a medical publishing group. She can be reached at


  1. Natural ingredients drive US body care. [removed][removed][/removed][/removed]. Accessed March 25, 2008.
  2. Pucker up: Industry sees rise in organic makeup. [removed][/removed]. Accessed March 25, 2008.