For all of us who love a good beauty DIY trend or brand new cosmetic item, there’s a fresh game-changer in town. The name is activated charcoal, and it’s been making headlines in the beauty world. While it’s not new, per se, it’s definitely on trend. Don’t be fooled by the name: although charcoal might bring along thoughts of being on Santa’s naughty list, there are many beauty benefits to this lightweight black carbon.
An ounce of activated charcoal powder is as cheap as three dollars and can be the perfect ingredient to many DIY beauty projects. Whether you want to concoct your own beauty project or you’d prefer to head straight to the store, one thing is for sure: activated charcoal has plenty of cosmetic uses and won’t break the bank in the process. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular uses.
Activated charcoal for pearly whites
When we think of having nice white teeth, we certainly don’t imagine a fog of darkness smeared across them, do we?
Oddly enough, activated charcoal has been hitting the shelves of many retailers for its teeth whitening advantages. Activated charcoal is known for pulling toxins and removing stains, so it only makes sense to apply it to your teeth, where unwanted staining can occur from delicious hot coffee, tea, a glass of red wine, or nearly anything else.
Surprisingly, after using activated charcoal on your teeth, all of the blackness washes away and will leave your teeth feeling clean, polished, and smooth. It might look unpleasant when you stare into the mirror, but after continued use, you’ll more than likely notice results.
Many popular toothpaste brands have even included charcoal in some of their products. Examples include:
If you’ve been experiencing less than desirable skin conditions, you’ll be amazed by the multitude of benefits that activated charcoal can provide. To begin with, this miracle carbon draws out some of the nasty things that negatively impact your skin, such as an overabundance of the wrong types of bacteria, dirt and built-up dead skin cells.
With activated charcoal, you can easily draw out oil, dirt, and any other substance that is causing clogged pores. It does this through its mighty powers of adsorption.
A fresh and glowing face is completely achievable thanks to this super-ingredient for your skin. Applying this product to your face in the form of a facial mask, scrub, cleanser, or on-the-spot treatment like black drawing salve will quickly draw out dirt and other skin imperfections.
Now, you might be tempted to stop reading this post and go order some charcoal powder for your face right now; but before you do that, you should know that like the previous hack, some popular brands have also taken advantage of the rave and created their own charcoal mask products.
These commercially prepared masks have different ingredients that may make them better or worse for your skin type and goals, so it’s best to read reviews to help you determine which activated charcoal mask is perfect for you before jumping in.
For gorgeous hair
Now that we’ve covered teeth and skin, it’s time to review how activated charcoal can make a difference for your hair.
Just like how it removes toxins from your teeth and skin, activated charcoal does the same to your hair. If you’ve experienced anything unpleasant such as clogged hair follicles, dandruff, or even scalp infections, activated charcoal should be one of the first beauty items you reach out for.
Did you know that using activated charcoal on your hair not only improves its overall appearance, but can encourage hair growth as well?
That’s right – charcoal works its magic by pulling out toxins and pollutants that restrict and compromise the health of your hair, making it grow faster and look healthier. Dirt and other substances weigh down your hair and regular shampoos are not only incapable of removing as much as activated charcoal, but they actually leave back more residue as well.
Final word on activated charcoal
Although activated charcoal has been around since practically the beginning of time, we’re now finally appreciating its detoxifying advantages on teeth, skin, and hair. Whether you decide to opt for a fun DIY project or premade mask, toothpaste or shampoo, you can rest assured that you’ve made the right decision for your pocket and your beauty – which is rare!
Pro tip: when going the DIY route, you might want to opt for the activated charcoal in capsules. They’re less messy and make it easier to gauge proportions.
About the author:
Thanks to today’s guest writer, Trish Sutton for this fabulous article! Trysh is a wife, mother, strategic leader and teacher. She runs a website called Pure Path, which is a naturopathic wellness site that promotes healthy living and healing through the use of essential oils and sustainable living.
You can follow her on social media to learn more about the benefits of essential oils, and healthy living practices.
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Is activated charcoal part of your skin, hair, or oral hygiene routine?
How do you like it? Please share your experience in the comments below!
*This post contains affiliate links.
There are a lot of things that signal to us that the seasons are changing–though it seems lately, the weather isn’t one of them. One of definitive sign though, is skincare articles about how to adjust your beauty routine to account for drier winter weather. Am I right? Once those pumpkin spice lattés start steaming, blogs abound without tips for how to combat common cold season skin woes. I’ve written articles about seasonal skin health here, and also on the Nutritional Aesthetics® Alliance’s blog, but today I wanted to approach it from a slightly different angle. This is also the time of year the humidifier comes out of the hall closet (at least in my house), so naturally, the topic of humidifiers has on my mind. I’ve had friends who swear by using a humidifier for dry skin, to get them through winter without their skin completely freaking out. I’ve even recommended humidifier use for my clients with super-dry skin.
However, it’s always been in the back of my mind–especially when I teach about microbial growth associated with excessive moisture in Create Your Skincare, that humidifiers pose risks as far as bacterial and fungal growth. So I decided to do a bit of research on the subject. Here’s what I found–both the pros and cons–of using a humidifier for dry skin.
Why use a humidifier for dry skin during winter months
During cold, winter months–whether it’s due to the fireplace or your heating system–indoor air has less moisture in it. From a dry throat or hacking cough, to chapped lips and bloody noses, you have surely experienced some of this wrath.
Many people use humidifiers to ease these symptoms. Humidifiers emit mist, thereby increasing the amount of water in the air of a given space. This can especially be helpful when dealing with winter colds (especially if your humidifier has an essential oil well), as the extra moisture helps to ease congestion. Some parents find this useful for easing cold symptoms in children who are too young for conventional medication, or who choose to try natural and holistic means before medications.
Not only can humidifiers help deal with symptoms of colds, some may even lend a hand in preventing them. The moisture in the air helps to maintain the mucus membrane that lines your nose and throat; part of your body’s important defense against respiratory infections.
In certain climates, dry conditions may persist all year long. Dryness can also result from air conditioning and heaters, so if you run yours most months of the year, your house my might be chronically dry.
In addition to your nose and throat, your skin is also affected by how much moisture there is in the air. You’ve probably experienced what your skin looks like in high humidity (for me the effects are pretty amazing). Well, winter dryness has the opposite effect, essentially dehydrating your skin–the dry air actually can “suck” the moisture out of your skin, which is technically called trans-epidermal water loss (known to us aestheticians as TEWL). Not only does this exaggerate the look of fine lines and wrinkles, it can also exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea, and affect the skin’s immune function.
A good moisturizer containing rich emollients certainly helps!
Click HERE to learn to create and customize two simple, highly emollient skin moisturizers at home.
But if you’re constantly exposing your skin to dry conditions, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Thus, many people find it effective to humidify a room or two in their homes to mitigate dryness.
Types of humidifiers and their risks
Not all humidifiers are created equal. At the simplest level, humidifiers can be broken down into warm mist and cool mist.
Warm mist humidifiers create steam that cools before leaving the machine. The process of boiling the water before it enters the air kills off bacteria, making this type a generally more clean option.
Cool mist humidifiers vaporize but do not boil water. The pros of using this kind is that there is no risk of burning yourself, and they use less energy.
For parents who uses humidifiers in their kids’ rooms, cold mist if often preferred to prevent accidents. However, bacteria can accumulate quite quickly in standing water, and without boiling it first, this bacteria can be spread through the air, infection people in the room.
Sicknesses contracted through airborne bacteria emitted from humidifiers is not common, but is more likely among the immunocompromised, children, and the elderly.
Some cool mist humidifiers use UV light to kill microbials. I found this Health article to be a pretty helpful guide to a few different brands and types of humidifiers on the market. Since I have not used these, I’m not endorsing a particular one, but it’s a good overview of some of the price points and features available.
In addition to the threat of bacterial build up, mineral build-up can also be a problem. There was a case study at the University of Utah on an infant who was injured by breathing in airborne minerals from a humidifier. In this regard, distilled water is the ideal choice for filling your humidifier. There are also some humidifiers that claim to inhibit mineral buildup, which you’ll find in the above Health article.
Regardless of which type of humidifier you use, you should wash it every three days or more often to prevent the growth of bacteria, and if it uses a filter, change it often. You should also avoid filling the humidifier with tap water, which is not microbe free. The best option is to boil the water first, or use distilled water.
I’ll also caution you that sometimes humidifiers break–and you won’t always see it coming. I remember one night when my older daughter was really little, she came into our room in the middle of the night because she couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t she breathe? Because her warm mist humidifier went rogue and turned her bedroom into a tropical rainforest. It was literally raining from her ceiling, and we had to undergo preventative mold remediation just to be on the safe side. I will say though, that this particular humidifier was probably not the best quality–and as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
But that dewy complexion though…
There are risks associated with using humidifiers, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I hadn’t communicated them in addition to their benefits. However, with proper usage and cleaning, they really can be an amazing tool for getting through the winter,
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology recommends a humidity level between 45 and 55 percent. Running central air in your home can reduce it down to a whopping 10 percent! This is a serious difference and can really affect your skin and respiratory health.
So many people trudge through winters, cursing how dry their skin looks and feels everyday. Dull, dry, lifeless… it’s not a fun look OR feeling. I don’t suffer as much now that I make my own skincare and am pretty diligent about my diet, but I still have my days.
In addition to drinking lots of water, using a heavier moisturizer, and limiting your time in steamy showers, consider adding a humidifier to your routine. Choose the type that’s best for you and clean it and change the filters often, and you may be on your way to taking your best holiday photo yet.
Do you notice a difference when you use a humidifier for dry skin? Positive or negative?
Please share your experience in the comments below!
Matt Freije – ‘Home Humidifiers – Reducing Your Exposure to Harmful Bacteria’
“What One Sees” by Ryan Cadby, “Drought” by Katie Tegtmeyer, “Plume” by Ryan Hyde
Ah, the great outdoors! I wouldn’t be a true holistic health advocate if I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in the power of getting outside and experiencing nature. But in our current climate of car-clogged highways and pollution-exuding factories that never sleep, sometimes outdoor air isn’t exactly fresh. Does that mean we should spend more time indoors? Hardly. Indoor quality is often just as polluted, if not moreso, than outdoor air. When we breathe in polluted air, day in and day out, our bodies must work overtime to remove them. Out of the five main detoxifying organs of the body (kidneys, lungs, colon, liver, and skin), the lungs and the skin tend to become most taxed in the presence of constant air pollution. While all of our organs and systems are interdependent on each other for optimal functioning, the lung-skin connection often gets ignored.
You hear a lot about associations between skin health and heart, liver, gut, and endocrine health. But when our lung health is compromised, we our skin reacts too, often with chronic dryness, eczema flare-ups, and premature signs of aging such as hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. While our organs all perform multiple tasks to keep us healthy, the lungs and the skin have those of respiration and detoxification in common.
The lung-skin connection is well known in Eastern healing modalities.
Both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine share the school of thought that says that skin eruptions and flare-ups that occur on certain areas on the face are linked with certain health issues. Sometimes called face mapping, it tells us that we see pimples popping up on a certain area of our face, it’s a signal that we need to be examining different areas of our health.
Acute flare-ups and sudden skin changes are more often associated with the liver, however more chronic skin issues are associated with the lungs. The lungs are associated with air, metal, and movement. When toxicants enter into the lungs, they must be expelled, otherwise they can build up and cause stagnation, mucus build-up, and inflammation. The skin, too, acts as a semipermeable barrier between outside pollutants and our inner organs. If the skin can’t “breathe” due to overexposure to toxicants or improper usage of skincare products, then similar stagnation-related problems also occur.
Lung health and wrinkles
It’s widely known that smoking has a powerful negative affect on the appearance and health of the skin.
Click HERE to read about how smoking affects the skin.
But toxicants in the air also take a huge toll on the way we age, and there have been a couple studies that have demonstrated this.
The Journal of Investigative Dermatology published a study that examined 400 women between 70 and 80 years old for signs of skin aging. They also took into consideration where these women lived and took measurements of general traffic emissions as well as ambient particles from fixed monitoring sites.
Here’s the one I thought was hilarious. They also tested dust in the women’s homes and analyzed it for pollutants. Imagine having your home scientifically analyzed for how clean or dirty it was. What a nightmare!
But I digress. Using what they measured about these women’s environments and how much their skin had aged, they found that air pollution was significantly linked to visible signs of skin aging, including hyperpigmentation, age spots, and wrinkles.
Traffic pollution was associated with twenty percent more age spots on the forehead and cheeks, and all types of pollution were found to be linked with more pronounced smile lines.
Now, women are beautiful no matter how we age, and our worth is certainly not correlated with how deep our wrinkles are. I am, however, realistic in knowing that for many women, this is a concern. If knowing these statistics motivates you to take care of your lungs, I’m happy.
Another study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science reviewed pollution and skin. They looked at research that had been done so far, collaborating with experts on environmental health, clinical research in dermatology and cosmetic dermatology. They looked only at studies that examined the effects of pollution on skin.
Their findings confirmed that air pollution damages skin, ozone depletes skin antioxidants, and that pollution-induced skin damage is a global problem.
The air, your lungs, and your skin
The EPA has a grim list of potential risks associated with breathing bad air. It’s not pretty.
Ozone, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide are among some of the airborne materials that can irritate or damage lung tissue, putting you at greater risk for infections. Repeated or high levels of exposure to some of these can cause permanent damage, cancer, or even premature death.
Many of these symptoms aren’t observed right away. During fire events it’s more obvious that air quality is low, but on a normal day you may not be aware that what you’re breathing isn’t totally healthy.
Air quality isn’t something we have much control over, but we can benefit from being aware of our local air quality, its fluctuations, and knowing what we can do to help our lungs stay healthy.
Where’s the good air?
Different factors affect the air quality in the place you live, such as topography (valleys tend collect smog), amount of cars on the road, density of trees, number of factories and other high-emission buildings, and incidents of fires.
My friend Dr. Trevor Cates wrote an article on air quality and health and in it she shared this awesome resource for checking the air quality in your city. Don’t worry– if your city doesn’t score well, you’re not completely doomed. I share this because it’s always better to know what you’re dealing with, so you can put some attention on nurturing and protecting your lungs.
Depending on where you live, the air quality inside your house and can actually be worse! In fact, the EPA ranks indoor air quality among the top five environmental risks to public health. Off-gassing of chemicals from carpet and furniture, household cleaning supplies, as well as toxins brought into the house on clothing and shoes can accumulate and wreak havoc on your home air quality.
Here are some solutions for dealing with poor air quality both inside and outside the home:
Outdoor air pollution:
- Avoid exercising on high pollution days or near heavy traffic areas.
- Spend time in your local forests or highly vegetated areas.
- Do your part to improve the air quality in your region! Reduce your use of wood burning stoves, drive as little as possible and don’t idle your vehicle, and support local efforts to reduce pollution.
Indoor air pollution:
- Open your windows whenever possible to circulate fresh air throughout your space.
- Invest in an air purifier, especially if your outdoor air quality is poor and thus opening the windows isn’t always the ideal solution.
- Fill your house with plants that clean the air such as Spider Plant and Dracaena
- Vacuum often if you have carpet.
- Diffuse essential oils, especially those that support the lungs (keep reading to find out which herbs I recommend!)
In next week’s post, we’ll continue this discussion, and I’ll share some herbs with you that you can use to support healthy lung and skin health inside and out.
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you noticed a lung-skin connection in your own health? Please share in the comments below.
Image credits: Air-pollution.JPG: Zakysant at the German, designmilk
Have you noticed that gemstones are everywhere these days? While just a few years ago, it seemed they were abundant in the more metaphysical/spiritual circles, but lately they’ve been gaining mainstream exposure. Int he skincare world, again–they’ve been long embraced by the more holistic aesthetic modalities; but this past year at the spa shows I’ve attended, I’ve seen more gemstone infused products, gemstone-infusing water pitchers and bottles, and actual gemstone jewelry exhibited throughout the sea of otherwise still fairly conventional aesthetic products and treatments. I’ve touched on the subject of gemstones in skincare a few times, but I’m talking about it again today due to this influx of attention (or maybe I’m still feeling the vibes from the gemstone jewelry I bought at the Long Beach show–who knows!).
It’s a somewhat common sequence of events–an ancient practice goes relatively untalked about for years and years and then–Booom!–the secret gets out and everyone wants in.
Inevitably there are questions. Does it work? Is it expensive? Is it right for me?
I’ll try to make this one crystal clear for you.
Gemstones in skincare
When it comes to natural skincare, we mainly think of plants — cold-pressed oils, healing herbs, potent extracts… But precious (and ones considered “semi-precious”–I consider them all precious) gems are just as natural, and it turns out that they can also play a pretty magical (and scientifically-backed) role in organic skincare.
Use of minerals in skincare dates back to ancient Egypt, when the mineral malachite was used as eye paint (can you imagine how vibrant that color must have been?!) Even Saint Hildegarde of Bingen, an abbess and writer in Germany (1098-1179), recommended using amethyst to help remediate acne.
I’ve written about gua sha as well, a traditional massage technique that involves scraping or pulling on the skin with a smooth stone to move lymphatic fluids and release tension in the face. It is most commonly done using rose quartz or jade, and there’s evidence that shows that it increases circulation in the face, which can help relieve pain in addition to revitalizing the skin.
So it’s clear that we’re not the first era to discover that minerals and gems can play a role in your skincare routine.
It Seems woo woo, But…
Even some mainstream skincare brands use minerals in their products. For example, Aveda has a product that uses tourmaline to naturally energize the skin. I’ve seen these stones-of-many-colors pop up into organic products here and there over the years too, though they’re definitely getting more attention lately.
One of the explanations for why crystals have such a healing effect on the skin is that our bone structure is similarly crystalline. And if you want to get even more woo woo (clearly I do), many spiritual lineages of old and new believe that there are crystalline aspects to our DNA. Because gems and minerals have a naturally higher frequency, they can literally travel towards weaker skin cells, to balance them.
Here is another way to say it that involves a cool new vocab word (or it was for me, anyway): piezoelectricity.
Piezoelectricity is the charge that builds up in certain materials when they are exposed to mechanical stress. These materials include DNA, certain ceramics, and (you guessed it), both bones and crystals. This charge is reversible.
Crystals tend to hold their energy and have the natural ability to support energy fields. When you put them in your skincare, they transmit this energy to your skin.
So, where are the jewels?
Gems can be incorporated into skincare products in a few different ways:
- Water infusion – Gem is soaked in water before being used in a formulation. This is sometimes done under moonlight for additional benefits. The results of this infusion are also referred to as gemstone essences or elixirs.
- Oil infusion – The same process as above is done in oil instead of water.
- Tincture – An elixir is preserved with alcohol to extend its shelf life.
- Powder – A gem is ground into a powder and added into a skincare formulation.
A study done by the Journal of Cosmetic Science looked at the use of tourmaline in skincare–specifically its ability to raise skin temperature and thus increase circulation.
They determined that a product containing 1% of the gem powder was sufficient to provide this effect.
And while crystals have in common that they affect the skin through their vibrational energies, you may have guessed (or already knew) they each crystal has a unique effect on the skin. Some are specific to certain skin conditions and some might not work for everyone. How they work, similar to plants, also depends on that individual person’s physical and energetic constitution.
How to choose the right gems for your skin
There are people who make entire careers out of helping people choose the right crystal and use it for healing; and like with plants–I feel it takes more than one lifetime to learn all the stones and ways they can help.
Some of my rose quartz, jade, and marble gua sha, acupressure, and facial massage tools.
So here’s a very introductory guide to some different properties crystals have, as it relates to skin:
- Jade protects the skin and increases circulation. It is the most common tool used to gua sha, the facial massage technique mentioned above.
- Rose quartz is one of the most common crystals used to improve the skin. It is popular for reducing fine lines and wrinkles and smoothing out rough skin. Also used in gua sha, this stone improves circulation while calming nearly every complexion.
- Moonstone gives skin a youthful glow and helps balance your yin-yang energies.
- White gold is known for its graceful aging properties and its abilities to treat sun-damaged skin.
- Rubies are thought to be great blood cleansers, removing toxins and clearing up acne. They also recharge your energy, helping you feel powerful and in control.
- Amethyst eases nerves
- Tourmaline crystals warm as they are rubbed onto skin, becoming positively charged on one end and negatively charged on the other. This unique feature increases skin absorption, meaning that when tourmaline is in your skincare, you absorb all those delicious ingredients better. This energizing stone is also said to make the skin more radiant and youthful.
- Citrine’s optimistic and creative energy makes it useful for dealing with seasonal depression and bringing about opportunity.
- Malachite is a deep energy cleaner and is often used for healing and bringing positive change
- Sapphire helps us face difficult situations and see them clearly. On the skincare front, it can be a great ingredient to keep complexions smooth.
Choosing the right stone for you can be as simple as moving towards whichever you resonate with. Or, choose based on the skincare or emotional concern you’d like to address.
My experience with gemstones in skincare
I wrote about gemstones in skincare a while ago. Those who know me or read my blog often know that I am a big fan of using them not only in skincare, but in my jewelry, throughout my living space… pretty much anywhere I can squeeze them into my life.
In the blog post mentioned above, I talk about my process of choosing the right stones for me, plus I interview a friend of mine who practices stone medicine and simply blows my mind with the work she does. Gemstones have played an important part in my life since I was a child, and once I started working with them more purposefully, I absolutely believe they’ve helped me have skin today that no one ever believes, ever had stage 4 or cystic acne. While other changes had to happen for me to achieve my skin and health goals, during that time, my stones were always with me.
I hope you’ll consider incorporating crystals into your skincare, whether it’s through gua sha, an infused product, or simply keeping them nearby.
Do you want to learn to make professional quality gemstone-infused skincare products?
You’re in luck! In the Bonus Module of my online course, Create Your Skincare, there are multiple lessons about gemstones in skincare, and how to use them. Throughout the rest of the course, you’ll also learn how to work with the energetic and physical properties of plants to create balanced, customized, and effective skincare regimens for any skin type or skin tone.
Click HERE to learn more and save your spot in our next class now!
One of the biggest reasons people switch to natural skincare and personal care products is because they experienced some sort of allergic or irritant reaction from synthetic chemically-based products. What’s important to understand, though, is that even natural products can cause allergies, and because many plant-derived ingredients are called something other than the plant they were actually derived from, it’s not always possible to identify common allergens in skincare just by reading the label.
As I mentioned in my article about gluten-free skincare, it’s not always necessary for people with food intolerances and sensitivities to avoid the ingredients topically–however, it only takes exposure to a single molecule of an allergen to trigger an allergic reaction.
To be clear, the most common allergens in skincare are synthetic chemical ingredients–NOT natural ingredients.
I’ve seen many articles lately claiming that natural products cause allergies, and while it’s possible for anyone to be allergic to anything, synthetics are more likely to cause problems. According to WebMD, the most common skin allergens are preservatives such as parabens, imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, phenoxyethanol, methylchloroisothiazolinone, and formaldehyde. Synthetic fragrances and perfumes are also known as one of the most common causes of skin and respiratory allergic and irritant reactions. Unfortunately, the labeling terms “hypoallergenic” and “non-allergenic” are not strongly regulated, and are often meaningless.
It is absolutely true that a natural product does not mean an allergy-free product, because the term “natural” is also not strongly regulated; and while “organic” does have some oversight, they often contain synthetics which, while they might be approved for use in a natural or organic product by organizations like ECOCERT, NaTrue, or have Made Safe’s non-toxic certification; they might still contain potential allergens.
It’s not possible to list out every single potential skin allergen, because, again–anyone can be allergic to anything, even if they do not have a history of allergies, and even if they have been using the ingredient for years. Instead, I’m going to give you a list of common allergens in skincare that I’ve come across in my own experience as a custom formulator and educator, and share with you what alternatives I use instead.
My caveat, again, is that unless you are making your products yourself, you might not be able to find out the source of certain synthetics in your products-even your natural ones. And if you are making products for other people, it is your responsibility to make sure you are disclosing your ingredients ethically, and clearly stating if your products contain common allergens either as whole plant ingredients, or as a source of your naturally derived ingredients.
Also, the alternatives I suggest are not the full range of potential alternatives–they are just some of the most easily accessible ones. And it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, if you have an allergy, are allergy prone, suspect you have an allergy, or want to know if you should use a specific product or ingredient, always consult with your licensed medical practitioner–preferably a holistic or naturopathic one!
Here are 5+ most common allergens in skincare, and what you can use instead:
1. Tree nuts
Many, many whole plant skincare ingredients are pressed or expelled from nuts. Coconut oil, hazelnut oil, macadamia oil, palm oil, peanut oil, and sweet almond oil are common examples. Instead, look for butters and oils pressed from seeds or pits, such as olive oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, apricot kernel oil, or rosehip seed oil. If you want a firmer consistency than a liquid oil, you can try adding beeswax or candelilla wax to mimic a butter-like texture. A note about shea butter: though it technically is a tree nut, “recent research indicates that shea nut butter does not contain any detectable protein residues and does not contain detectable residues of proteins from peanut or various known allergenic tree nuts (walnut, almond, pecan, hazelnut). Since allergens are proteins, this research indicates the absence of detectable allergens in shea nut butter.”
In addition to whole plant ingredients, people with tree nut allergies may potentially react to ingredients derived from them. Many naturally derived surfactants, antimicrobials, emollients, and emulsifiers are sourced from coconuts, palm nuts, or peanuts. These include, but are not limited to coco glucoside, decyl glucoside, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, sodium laurylglucosides, sodium methyl cocoyl taurate, caprylic/capric triglycerides, stearic acid, cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate, arachidyl behenate, Cocamidopropyl betaine, and sodium lauryl sulfate (though, if you’re reading this, you probably know to avoid this ingredient anyway!). I’m going to be dead honest and tell you that it is VERY difficult and potentially expensive to make natural emulsions (creams and lotions) that are completely coconut or palm-free. It is much easier to do so with anhydrous products such as oil serums, butters, and balms (learn to make these free HERE). Which emulsifiers, preservatives, and surfactants are required vary depending on each individual formulation. If you are interested in exploring these alternatives for your range, I would be happy to advise you personally in the Create Your Skincare Mastermind, or Create Your Skincare Live online courses.
Soy is another ingredient that is used both as a whole food skin ingredient–soya or soybean oil or wax, primarily; but may show up on your skincare labels or ingredient descriptions in products marketed as vegetarian or vegan, such as soy amino acids, peptides, and keratin blends containing hydrolyzed soy proteins. Soy is also a common source for many other ingredients such as lecithin, Vitamin E, and vegetable emulsifying wax. Instead, look for lecithin and Vitamin E sourced from sunflower oil, and use a different plant-derived emulsifier such as Phytomulse, or Olivem-1000.
3. Wheat and other gluten-containing grains
See my blog post about gluten-free skincare for specific ingredients to look for on labels that are sourced from these grains.
4. Vitamin E
Though it’s noted for its multiple skin benefits, Vitamin E is a common skin allergen. There are several different sources of the tocopherols used to create Vitamin E, such as soy and sunflower oil. However not all are created equal, and not all are used at the same percentage in products because Vitamin E can be used solely for its antioxidant function, but also as a performance ingredient. Many of my students prefer bioidentical Vitamin E, because it is known to be less allergenic (though there are other considerations that make it not a good choice for all formulators); but others choose alternative antioxidants such as rosemary oleoresin or alpha lipoic acid to keep oils and other anhydrous products from going rancid.
While it’s rare to see actual milk used in natural products, because, let’s face it–it is a perishable food, and foods must be STRONGLY preserved (with preservatives that are stronger than the natural antimicrobials we currently have available), in order to be safe for use in a cream or lotion. You will, however, see it made into soaps and milk powder used in bath soaks, face scrubs, and face masks. Why would milk be in a product? It’s a whole food, bioavailable form of lactic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid) known for its gentle exfoliating, softening, and naturally hydrating properties. However, many, many people are allergic to milk. Some alternatives that also deliver softening, gentle exfoliating, and hydrating properties are fruit enzyme extracts, colloidal oatmeal, raw honey, certain algae extracts and bioferments, and rice water. You can also make milk-like consistencies with your emulsions–one of my students’ favorites is our Micellar Cleansing Fluid that I teach in Level 3 of Create Your Skincare.
Other common skin allergens to be aware of:
Others you might consider avoiding are extracts or seed oils from tomatoes, and strawberries. Also, herbs from the Asteracea family, as helpful and full of benefits as they can be, are common allergens. If you do use them in your products, make sure you let your customers know that if they have seasonal allergies, or known allergies to asters, they should not use your products that contain them. Here are a few:
- Arnica (Arnica montana)
- Burdock (Arctium lappa)
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis or Matricaria chamomilla)
- Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis)
- Echinacea (Echinacea augustifolia)
- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Overwhelmed by this information?
Don’t be! There are so many alternatives, and in my course Create Your Skincare On Demand, I am dedicated to helping you make products that are ideal for your unique skin and your own needs. If you’re making products for your clients or as part of your skincare brand, I can help you choose the best ingredients to suit your ideal customer’s needs–AND I will teach you what you need to know about how to label them properly and compliantly in Create Your Skincare Live and Mastermind. Learn more and register today!
*Macadamia nut image by Malcolm Manners. Asteraceae image by Alvesgaspar, Tony Wills (10) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Gluten-free is big business these days. I remember just a few years ago when my father-in-law was first diagnosed with Celiac disease how difficult it was to adjust to the gluten-free lifestyle. Food shopping was difficult, as only boutique food markets and health food stores sold gluten-free bread and pasta (and there were very few choices), eating out was even more challenging (and stress-inducing). Well nowadays, just about every grocery store has a gluten-fee aisle, and most restaurants have a good variety of gluten-free offerings. There are even gluten-free food stands at stadiums and boardwalks. Though I still wouldn’t say it’s easy (or cheap) to be gluten-free, it’s certainly more accessible. Gluten-free is also big business in non-food categories like Play-Doh® for kids, shampoo, and of course–we can’t ignore the gluten-free skincare market.
I’m often asked for gluten-free skincare, hair care, nail polish, and makeup recommendations.
Though most people who ask don’t have Celiac disease, many of them do seek to avoid gluten due to allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities that may be the cause of their skin problems. As I wrote in my bestselling book, Love Your Skin, Love Yourself, gluten is a member of the Skin Trigger Trifecta, and is known to perpetuate conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema. But is gluten something that really poses a problem when applied topically? Or are its adverse effects only related to internal consumption?
I’ve looked at the research from both the nutritional and topical perspectives, and here’s what I’ve concluded at this point, bearing in mind the fact that new research comes out all the time, so this conclusion may change.
First and foremost, if you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease, wheat or gluten allergy, or functional diagnostic testing you’ve had indicates that you have a sensitivity or digestive intolerance to gluten or wheat, I recommend you consult with your licensed health practitioner on this matter, and my rule of thumb is that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk whether or not topical exposure to gluten poses a risk to those with known gluten-related health issues.
As of now, the scientific and medical communities agree that Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and gluten sensitivity–in addition to certain skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, or dermatitis herpetiformis (a type of eczema specifically linked to gluten intolerance) is caused by the autoimmune response that occurs from internal consumption of gluten or gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley, spelt, or cross contaminated grains such as oats. Research does not indicate that topical application of products containing any form of gluten is problematic, since gluten is a molecule too large to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin where it could be absorbed into the blood stream. Doctors do acknowledge that these ingredients could enter the body through broken skin, mucus membranes, and of course accidental ingestion (lip balm, lipstick, or even eating with one’s hands after using a hand cream containing gluten)–but it’s unlikely that ingested gluten would exceed 20PPM (the FDA’s cutoff point for gluten-free designation).
From a topical perspective, it is true that gluten itself is a large molecule, like many other proteins (collagen’s a common one), that when applied topically, will not penetrate the skin without help. By help, I mean with the assistance of steam, electric current (iontophoresis, nanocurrent, LED), oils (may allow the ingredients to enter via hair follicles), or special processing pre-formulation. Another issue is that cosmetic ingredient manufacturers and formulators know about penetration issues, which is why proteins and other large molecule substances are hydrolyzed and may also be packaged in a phospholipid or other type of liposomal delivery system to increase the likelihood of penetration and bioavailability. We see this often with collagen and hyaluronic acid–two common cosmeceutical ingredients with molecular size issues.
As a formulator myself, I can tell you that the majority of cosmetic or pharmaceutical grade ingredients have been hydrolyzed or packaged in a penetration-enhancing delivery system. It’s not always possible to know how much gluten a product actually contains. “Unfortunately, suppliers of raw materials don’t always certify the concentration of gluten in the raw materials that they provide skin care companies. And since the raw materials are not standardized with each batch (meaning they adjust each batch to contain a constant amount of gluten) the gluten content could fluctuate…” according to Dr. Diana Howard, in an article from the International Dermal Institute.
That being said, it’s still hard to say how much of the ingredient will actually be absorbed.
It’s absolutely true that the skin is designed to keep invaders out, and since many (but not all) gluten-containing ingredients are water soluble, they will already have a tough time penetrating through the skin’s lipid barrier. However, that’s assuming that the person’s barrier function is intact–and an intact barrier function requires all the immune functions of the body to be working optimally, and for there to be little presence of inflammation. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, and the presence of food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies also often indicate the presence of inflammation and autoimmunity. Because of that, it’s safe to say that many people–especially those with known autoimmune disease and food-related health issue–have compromised barrier functions. Therefore, the ingredient’s chance of penetrating and absorbing is increased.
We also know that ingredients absorbed transdermally bypass the digestive process and therefore may not go through the same metabolic processes that lead to the autoimmune and inflammatory responses that happen when gluten is ingested internally. That being said, if someone has an allergy to a substance, any form of exposure to even a single molecule of that substance is enough to produce a reaction. Sensitivities act similar to allergies, in that the substance does not have be internally consumed and digested for it to cause a reaction. The difference is that the reaction is typically delayed, and is more mild than an allergic reaction. So if someone who has gluten intolerance or Celiac disease knowingly uses a topical skincare product containing some form of gluten and they get a rash or other sign of a reaction, it’s possible that they are having an irritant or allergic reaction, not an autoimmune reaction. It’s also possible that the reaction might be from something else in the product, such a synthetic fragrance or preservative.
What’s my verdict about gluten-free skincare?
Again–if you have a known gluten-related health condition, or are experiencing allergy-like symptoms that haven’t yet been explained, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. However, the judicious use of the term “gluten-free” in skincare and personal care products has become just as problematic as the terms “cruelty-free,” “organic,” and “all-natural.” It’s just another form of greenwashing, or in this case, healthwashing that is more meaningful to the company’s bottom line, than it is for actual benefit. That being said…
Here are the most common gluten-containing ingredients used in skincare, hair care, and cosmetics.
There are many versions of these ingredients, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid products that have any mention of the English or Latin names of wheat, barley, oats, corn (Wait, corn? Keep reading to find out why…), and other gluten-containing grains.
Oats don’t inherently contain gluten but are often stored with and processed with and contaminated by gluten from wheat and other gluten-free containing grains.
- Oat Hydrosolate–hydrolyzed oat protein
- Oat Extract–Lactobacillus/Oat Ferment Extract Filtrate
- Colloidal Oatmeal
- Oat amino acids (avena sativa)
- Sodium cocoyl hydrolyzed oat protein
- Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acids
Wheat–triticum vulgare, triticum aestivum:
- Wheat amino acids
- Wheat germ extract
- Wheat germ oil
- Wheat seed extract
- Hydrolyzed wheat protein
- Hydrolyzed wheat gluten
Corn–maize, zea mays:
Corn contains its own form of gluten which is not the same as that from wheat, barley, etc. Some people with Celiac tolerate gluten from corn just fine, others do not. So if you’re using gluten-free skincare and are still having weird reactions, check to see if your products contain contain corn-derived ingredients.
- Hydrolyzed corn protein
- Corn silk
- Corn hydrosolate
- Glucono delta lactone/gluconolactone
Other cosmetic ingredients that are either sourced from or contain blends of glutenous grains:
- Beta gluten (this is often derived from oats, wheat, and barley though it is possible to source it from mushrooms)
- 1,3 beta glucan
- Samino peptide complex, sodium C8-16 isoalkylsuccinyl
- Vitamin E –tocopherol–(may be sourced from wheat germ, though this is less the case these days–GMO soy is a bigger issue. I recommend either sunflower derived or bioidentical forms of Vitamin E)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein–questionable sources, wheat, oat, barley often in the mix
- Plant-based keratins–contain hydrolyzed corn protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein
- Beer extract–very trendy these days! May contain wheat, barley, hops
- Plant-based peptides: hydrolyzed wheat protein or hydrolyzed wheat gluten. Examples are Trylagen® PCB, Aldenine® PBC, Pentacare® NA-PF
- Ferulic acid–often sourced from the grasses of wheat, oats
- Different blends–enzymes, antioxidant complexes, etc–often contain wheat germ
- Enzyme-modified gluten
- Malt extract
- Phytosphingosine extract
- Whole grain flours, ferments, or extracts
This is just a sampling of ingredients. New ones enter the market constantly and go by many names. It’s always my belief that just like with the food you eat, the only way to know what’s in your products (and how much of each ingredient, the source and quality of the ingredient, etc) is to make them yourself. You may see it recommended on other health and wellness websites to just use coconut oil or jojoba oil. While this might be OK for some people, your skincare routine really should be something that’s customized to your skin’s unique needs.
Learn to make your own customized, natural facial oil and facial butter in my free online class!
Do you use gluten-free skincare?
What’s been your experience? Please share in the comments below!
*Image 2 by Madhero88 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image 3 by Christopher Exley (http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/C3EM00374D) [CC BY 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image 4, public domain. Image 5 by Celinebj (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons