Marcie Mom from EczemaBlues.com interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to find out more about product claims and why they’re important when choosing your skin care…particularly if you or your child have eczema.
NATURAL = HYPOALLERGENIC?
Q: I don’t use products labelled ‘natural’ for my baby because my husband who has eczema finds that natural products sting his skin. I understand that natural ingredients do not necessarily mean not allergenic.
A: As you pointed out, many natural ingredients are highly allergenic. Some examples are bees, shellfish, and peanuts in food, and the Compositae or Asteraceae group (includes sunflowers, daisies and asters, and over 20,000 other herbs, flowers, vegetables, and plants) or citruses in skincare. If you are allergic to a substance, no matter how natural or organic it is, you may need to avoid it.
Q: What are some natural ingredients that are considered hypoallergenic?
A: We try to use organic natural ingredients as much as possible because we do want to use less processed ingredients and would like to be more responsible to the planet. But at VMV Hypoallergenics, our mandate is very strictly hypoallergenicity + clinical efficacy. So those are our filters. If a natural/organic ingredient meets these criteria (such as virgin coconut oil and green tea, which are both extremely well studied, with lots of published research, and not on allergen lists), then we will use them. If a natural/organic ingredient is an allergen, or is not proven to be effective, then we will not.
Q: Which natural ingredient tends to trigger allergies but yet commonly marketed as good for skin?
A: Tea tree oil is on published lists of common allergens, as are ylang-ylang, lavandula angustifolia oil (lavender oil), propolis (from honey), and most fragrances — no matter how fresh-from-the-earth-and-farmed-by-your-own-hands they are. These natural ingredients are considered allergenic and are commonly marketed as good for the skin.
All that said, please remember that we are all individuals. Many people can use ingredients that are allergens! Repeated exposure to these ingredients over time can lead to skin sensitivity and other problems later on (like hyperpigmentation or dark blotches) but still, for those who can tolerate these allergens, they could be pleasurable or beneficial. Brands that market these natural ingredients as good for the skin may not be misrepresenting. Vitamin E, for example, is a wonderful antioxidant. It is a published allergen, which is why we’ve reformulated many products to remove it, but it has ample evidence to support that it does, in fact, have many properties that are great for skin. This is why patch tests can be so helpful. Knowing exactly your particular allergens means you don’t need to avoid all allergens…just yours. And if you’re not allergic to your favorite natural ingredient, enjoy it!
And there are natural ingredients that are hypoallergenic. Organic virgin coconut oil, monolaurin (monoglyceride derivative), coconut water, green tea, and rice phytic acid are virtually non-allergenic. Note that olive oil often needs to be preserved because it is a mono-unsaturated oil (C18:1) versus coconut oil, mostly C8, C10, C12 and all with saturated carbon bonds. Coconut oil does not need to be preserved. The gallates preservative of olive oil have been reported to be allergens. Most other oils bought from the shelf are long chain polyunsaturated oils and often are also preserved or contain trans fats from partial hydrogenation and are no longer “natural”. There’s so much more information, of course, but the point is: hypoallergenic and natural are not the same thing. And for compromised, delicate skin conditions like eczema, “natural” may cause more harm than good.
Q: Why so much hype for “natural” products?
A: Great question and let’s break it down. “Natural” seems to have grown in popularity due to a few reasons. I think that these two are good reasons in and of themselves, and should lead to more good:
Reason 1: A growing desire to have safer products.
This might be attributed to the internet’s ability to make so much more information available so quickly, as well as a growing awareness of what we put in and on our bodies. With obesity an epidemic, we’ve also begun to take a closer look at the quality of foods we’re imbibing. One of the biggest concerns has been the amount of processed foods that we consume, for example, which I think has driven a desire to go back to less processed foods, organic foods, locally available foods, etc. There have also been a few scares in poorly regulated foods and cosmetics — products being contaminated by harmful ingredients, for example, or brands not disclosing what’s really in a product. The desire for safety seems to be a driver for the desire for “natural.”
Reason 2: Environmental Responsibility.
While climate change is unfortunately still an area of debate (it really isn’t), thankfully, many of us want to be more environmentally responsible.
These two main drivers, I would argue, are what are behind the “hype” of natural. Again, I think they’re great reasons, but unfortunately, natural ingredients just aren’t necessarily hypoallergenic (and frequently, they’re the opposite).
Q: Is there regulation governing the use of ‘naural’ and what percentage of the total ingredients must be natural before a product can label itself as such??
A: Another great question, and another reason why we don’t tend to look for “natural” ingredients. There is some confusion surrounding the term “natural.” First off, it is not yet regulated. Almost anything natural has to be processed in some way to be able to be used, so regulation eventually needs to be standardized to settle on what amount and what type of processing is allowed. There are certain brands that are spearheading this much-needed regulation, but for now, it’s still pretty ambiguous.
“Organic” is strictly regulated by certifying bodies that physically audit organic farms or manufacturing facilities. Rules are also clear about when a product an claim “certified organic.” “Hypoallergenic” is regulated in many countries’ FDAs (but not all).
In a nutshell, I’d say: if you have a sensitive skin condition, start with a patch test so you know exactly what you need to avoid. If you cannot yet get a patch test, look for products that are hypoallergenic over “natural.”
This article was originally published in eczemablues.com as one of a multi-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skin. Inspired by her daughter Marcie who had eczema from two weeks old, Mei (aka MarcieMom) started EczemaBlues.com with the mission to turn eczema blues to bliss. In this series of interviews, MarcieMom interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to learn more about product claims when choosing products to care for skin with eczema.