Mother Nature vs. Man-Made – Which Approach is More Effective for Treating Skin?

As the natural products industry expands, more and more skin care products derived from natural or organic sources are being incorporated into professional regimens. While some swear by the less-aggressive treatments offered by such products, others voice concerns about their overall effectiveness. The simplicity of the natural approach is certainly less likely to cause side effects, but synthetic products may produce faster results. Of course, your decision will rely on specific clients’ needs, but there are strong arguments from both sides of the fence.

Is Natural Enough?
“Natural products certainly have validity and a place in the esthetics world,” says Anna-Dee Rinehart, a Texas-based nurse, esthetician, esthetics instructor, and author of Fundamentals and Practice of Medical Aesthetics. “But in the end you have to go with what gets you the best results for your client.”

Using the naturally derived herbal green tea peel as an example, Rinehart points out a few of the flaws in this approach. The treatment is said to visibly diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, smooth and soften skin, increase hydration and suppleness, balance irregular skin tones, and improve oily/acne prone skin. “The herbal green tea peel exfoliates the epidermis, which in itself is a good thing,” Rinehart says. “But how long does it last, and how much does it penetrate?”

Rinehart feels that chemical peels offer a stronger alternative. “Chemical peels have a way of penetrating more than just one layer of skin,” she says. “If you know the [chemical peel] is going to give you greater results and longer duration, that’s much more for your consumer’s money. A reliable chemical peel is going to slough off layers of skin and penetrate much deeper. That, in turn, will stimulate and revitalize the skin by creating new skin cells. If you’re going to charge $150 to $200 for a procedure, a chemical peel is going to get more results.”

Rinehart also points out that using natural products does not guarantee your client won’t experience unwanted side effects. “For example, you can use a rose oil — which is naturally derived — but on some people it can have a toxic effect,” she says. “They might have headaches and dizziness.”

Martin Hansen, an esthetician and store manager of Apothecary Tinctura in Denver, Colo., refutes the idea that a natural approach to bodywork is less effective than with synthetic products. In fact, he believes that holistic care is the only way to truly stimulate skin to do its job. “Natural, holistic care treats the skin as an organ that reacts to its internal and external environment,” he says. “It supports the cycles and function of skin as an organ. Synthetic products subdue skin function, taking over and inhibiting the skin from doing its job properly, creating a dependence on the product.”

Hansen is trained to use Dr. Hauschka‘s facial and body care products, which are holistic and biodynamic. According to Hansen, the line is designed to support and encourage the skin’s ability to take care of itself, in the process restoring balance and health to the skin. Instead of offering a quick fix, the Dr. Hauschka process seeks to provide a long-term solution to skin problems.

“The process takes longer with natural products,” Hansen says. “You’re dealing with the skin’s natural cycle, which is anywhere from 28 days to three months.”

A classic Dr. Hauschka skin care treatment begins with a warm, sage footbath and a foot and leg massage. Central to the process is the unique lymph stimulation. According to Dr. Hauschka training, the esthetician uses rhythmic, sweeping brush strokes and gentle hand movements and gently stimulates the lymph fluid, purifying and strengthening the immune system.

“I’m interested in skin care. If I was interested in it as a service or a way to make money, I’d be in there peeling with chemicals,” Hansen says. “The skin requires many more products [when dealing with synthetics].” Hansen also notes that using natural or organic products doesn’t necessarily mean the skin is being treated holistically, which requires a supportive, whole-body approach.

An Ethical Question
Proponents of the natural perspective subscribe to the “simpler is better” approach. The ingredients found in chemically based products have been known to occasionally exacerbate existing skin problems, such as acne and dry skin.

For Sara Petersen, a certified massage therapist at the Boulder Body Center in Boulder, Colo., running her business naturally is, at least in part, a matter of personal politics. “I want to use my spending power as a small business to support companies that are Earth-friendly, whose products are cruelty-free, and use ingredients that are as righteous as possible,” she says. “I don’t want the bad vibes [that come from using less than Earth-friendly products].”

As a result, Petersen tries to use as many naturally derived and organic products as possible, right down to the soap she uses to clean up after a session. She’s convinced the absence of chemicals in these products is in her clients’ best interests.

“I just think using a lot of chemicals does not behoove the body,” Petersen says. “If your skin has to detox a bunch of chemicals from the products you’re using, that’s taking away from the overall therapy. And personally, if I’m going to be handling these [products] all day long, I’d prefer they be as natural as possible.”

Weighing the Pros and Cons
Ultimately, your decision rests on weighing the pros and cons of each approach or finding a happy medium between them. Synthetic products may make a bigger difference faster, while holistic treatments may bring about higher functioning skin.

By Tyler Wilcox a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colo.
Originally published in Skin Deep, August/September 2005. Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.


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