The beauty world often careens from one extreme to another. This is particularly striking these days in the “natural vs. clinical” beauty product debate: it can seem as though you have to make a choice between mixing your own SPF in your kitchen or using products that feature human stem cells.
But there are many shades of gray in between. And to me, this is what the choice actually is: you can view that gray area as a) a crazy-making mess of products that are out to get you, or b) a freeing, exciting smorgasbord of options from which you can shop independently with a little expert guidance and a lot of plain common sense.
Unsurprisingly, given that I grew up in a state where the license plates say “Live Free Or Die,” I choose option b. We all deserve to use beauty products that really work, and that do so without harming us—and there are plenty of them out there.
In our shop, I don’t draw a bright line between “green” or “dermatological”; I carry what works, and works safely. For expert advice, we welcome renowned doctors like Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas (pictured above with me) along with holistic facialists like Julia March and Kristina Holey. And after numerous discussions with some of the best skin experts out there, I believe you don’t have to go all organic, all the time. But an enormous amount of evidence supports switching to a cleaner beauty regimen overall.
Here are three pieces of advice that I offer to anyone who’s ready to embrace a beauty regimen that’s healthy and effective—whether natural, clinical, or somewhere in between.
1. Research Smart
You have to do a little cherry-picking to find effective beauty products with a clinical bent and cleaner ingredient lists, but there are plenty of guides out there that can help you figure out if a product you’re considering contains any real no-no’s. Here’s a basic one that we follow; the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Red Lists are helpful, too. Whatever guide you use, it should be simple and backed by good research and good resources. There’s a lot of scary, unhelpful, and untrue stuff to be found on the web on this topic. Don’t fall down that rabbit hole. If you don’t have the time or inclination to comb through ingredient lists, just shop at a place you really trust for a good selection of clean, effective products and straight answers on product safety. One of our favorite new products at Ayla—which beautifully illustrates a cross between clean & clinical—is the Force de Vie Nuit night cream from Luzern Laboratories. Its ingredient list is clean as a whistle, and it features retinol and a host of other hardworking anti-agers.
2. Some People Can’t Use Essential Oils! Synthetics Are Fine Replacements
Don’t be afraid of using products with synthetic ingredients; there’s no need to be able to eat everything you put on your skin and hair. In some cases, products containing synthetic ingredients can present you with perfectly healthy, effective options where natural and organic products may not. For example, if a customer can’t tolerate essential oils—which are in a lot of natural and organic brands—we often suggest products from the BioRecept line, which is a cult favorite at CityPharma in Paris (BioStrata is particularly wonderful) or from the M Picaut line, which is one of Sweden’s best selling skincare brands (Precious Oil is a non-greasy blend of skin-loving oils and plumping peptides). There are heaps of synthetic ingredients that are safe and beneficial for the skin and that aren’t on the no-no lists mentioned above.
3. Replace What You Use Everyday First; Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy
Use a good dose of common sense as you evaluate your beauty regimen. If you absolutely love the decidedly non-organic blush you use on date nights, you don’t really need to drive yourself nuts looking for a replacement. Focus first on things you use every day, especially those that you use over larger areas of your skin, and try to get those as clean as you can.
Then, relax a little. You surely have a long list of things in your life to worry about. If you’ve taken the steps mentioned here, the safety of your beauty products doesn’t need to be on there — you’re in good shape.
Here’s what a medical esthetician buys from the Whole Foods beauty section.
Plus: the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens, and what we recommend.
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