The Top 10 Natural, Scientifically Tested Skincare Ingredients

If you’re like most of us, your skin isn’t just one way all the time. Sometimes it’s oilier, sometimes it’s drier, and it likely also changes with the seasons. In addition, you might be increasingly curious or concerned about buying “clean” skincare and cosmetics, which adds another wrinkle to the product-selection process.

A quick note about natural products: they are not necessarily better than—or even any different from—the synthetic alternatives made in a lab. You also need to bear in mind that the term “natural” isn’t regulated. Any cosmetic company can make this claim, unfortunately, so it’s important to read labels and ingredient lists carefully (rule of thumb: natural products should not contain any artificial ingredients or fragrance.) “Natural is a classic marketing word,” says pharmacist and Truth Treatment Systems founder and formulator Benjamin Fuchs. “To a chemist, there’s no such thing as natural. The distinction the body makes is not between natural and synthetic; it just looks at the molecular structure. If I take vitamin C (from nature) or I create it in my lab, it’s the same molecule. I look at ingredients to see whether the body will recognize them.” That recognition is what translates to real results in your skin. To simplify your search, we’ve found ten of the most effective, scientifically tested, naturally occurring skincare ingredients. Many of these are also synthetically produced, which (as explained above), is just fine. Below, we’ve noted the natural origin of each ingredient, along with how and why it’s effective in skincare.

Top 10 proven-to-work natural skincare ingredients:

Hyaluronic acid

It is a substance that occurs naturally in our bodies, and it’s effective because it holds a thousand times its weight in water. This not only helps skin retain moisture, but also prevents that moisture from evaporating into the air. It’s one of the best moisturizing agents available for both oily and dry skin types. A hyaluronic acid serum is a great addition to many skincare routines, especially during the summer-to-fall and winter months, when plummeting temperatures and humidity levels (not to mention indoor heating) can really dehydrate your skin.

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)n (AHAs)

Glycolic acid and lactic acid are both members of the AHA family. Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane, while lactic acid is derived from milk. The acids allow dead skin cells to slough off, revealing newer skin beneath. They also act as humectants, meaning they draw water from the environment into your skin. These AHAs have also been shown to increase collagen production and increase skin thickness, help treat mild to moderate levels of acne, reduce wrinkles and fine lines, and reduce hyperpigmentation. What’s not to love?

Ceramides

Think of your skin cells as the bricks, and these fats—ceramides are long-chain lipids—as part of the mortar that hold cells together and keep outside irritants at bay. The problem? Ceramide levels drop with age, so it’s important to slather on more to keep skin supple and smooth. The ceramides in beauty products are the spitting image of the real deal (a.k.a. skin identical), even in commonly used synthetic and plant-derived (phytoceramide) forms. And the science is clear that they’re very effective—one Japanese study showed an increase in skin moisture content of more than 100 percent with ceramide use.

Retinol

This Vitamin A derivative is one of the most widely-studied skincare ingredients that’s effective for all skin types. What does it do? “It promotes skin renewal, reduces acne and boosts your skin’s collagen production,” says Whitney Bowe, M.D., a New York City dermatologist.  “It also functions like an antioxidant to help address free-radical damage. It helps to diminish fine lines and wrinkles, and it can even help reverse some of the side effects of sun damage.” A better question might be, what doesn’t it do?

Argan oil

This plant oil, derived from the kernels of the argan tree, has multiple benefits for all skin types: it contains Vitamin E, ferulic acid, carotenoids, and a balanced ratio between oleic and linoleic acid, which means it’s less heavy than some other natural oils. Argan oil is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that helps prevent and treat signs of sun damage, promote skin healing, and moisturize skin. It’s also effective in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, as well as scarring and stretch marks. It’s best for acne-prone and normal to oily skin. If your skin is very dry, we recommend a heavier oil, such as coconut oil.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C sounds simple, but there are actually several different kinds. Ascorbic Acid is the one you want in your skincare products—it absorbs the quickest and has the highest potency when applied topically. Once absorbed, it helps to stabilize and create collagen molecules, making it one of the best anti-aging ingredients on the market. Vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid) is also an anti-oxidant that helps skin repair UV damage, and is extremely effective at reducing hyperpigmentation and evening skin tone. Worth knowing: Vitamin C will destabilize when it comes into contact with the air, so look for small, opaque bottles and/or pump dispensers, so that it won’t lose its potency before you use it.

Vitamin E

“Vitamin E is the name given to [a] family of oil-soluble antioxidants,” explains cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. “There are about eight different types” or forms of vitamin E, and of those, “tocopheryl acetate and tocopherol are most commonly found in skincare products.” Unless you have extremely sensitive, extremely oily or acne-prone skin, Vitamin E can provide a whole host of benefits, helping to hydrate & heal skin and acting as an anti-inflammatory agent. Bonus tip: when paired with Vitamin C, both vitamins work better than they do alone, which is why many serums and creams feature this winning pair.

Vitamin B3

Topical vitamin B3, or niacinamide, provides a number of different benefits for the skin: increasing elasticity, strengthening the skin barrier, evening skin tone and reducing inflammation. Another study showed that pigmentation and age spots on the face were significantly reduced after just 4 weeks of using topical vitamin B3. It also seems to be particularly effective at fighting acne, partly because of its anti-inflammatory properties, and partly because it targets the very first stage of acne (sebum oxidization) and prevents pimples from developing in the first place.

Green tea

The connection between drinking green tea and improved health has been suggested for years, but it may also help to use the plant on the skin. Green tea has Vitamin C, which gives it antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. “The anti-aging benefits of green tea are attributed to polyphenols, a type of flavonoids found in plants,” says dermatologist Harold Lancer, M.D., F.A.A.D., founder of Lancer Skincare. “Early studies have shown that green tea [used in skincare] can reduce sun damage, protect skin from cancer and decrease collagen breakdown,” he explains.

Algae extracts

Algae is the key ingredient in luxury brand La Mer’s famed formula. (“La mer” means “the sea” in French, an homage to this active marine element). All kinds of algae contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Today, there are many different algae extracts, so here’s a breakdown of the most effective skincare ingredients: * -Ahnfeltia concinna (red algae) extract is a highly-tested ingredient that can produce a 128 percent moisture surge with one application. * Spirulina is a great source of chlorophyll, which has cleansing properties, and it also helps your skin retain moisture, helping skin stay smooth and hydrated. * Astaxanthin, an extract from red microalgae, is a powerhouse ingredient. It’s 150 times stronger than Vitamin E, and 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, which makes it one of the most potent antioxidants in the world. It helps improve skin elasticity and reduce the appearance fine lines and wrinkles. * Gigartina skottsbergii and Undaria pinnatifida. The former is hydrating and plumps up wrinkles and fine lines; the latter protects the skin’s natural stores of collagen and hyaluronic acid (helping retain moisture). * Red, green, blue, and brown algae generally have notable skin brightening properties. Brown algae and green algae have particularly high levels of vitamin C, a skin-brightening powerhouse. Red marine algae has beta carotene, which can help treat blemishes like blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts. * Chlorella, a green microalgae, is rich in B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc, which help detox the skin. It can also help treat atopic dermatitis and eczema.

A last quick note

Remember, many of the natural ingredients listed above are also synthetically produced. Again: synthetic equivalents are not inferior to, and are almost always chemically identical to, their “natural” counterparts. Sometimes, a synthetic version might even be better, if the chemical structure is tweaked to make it more stable or readily absorbed.

This article is originally posted on Proven Skincare.
Photo@ProvenSkincare

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