Is NATURAL Skincare Really Better?

image of natural skincare

I often get questions from patients about which skin care products are best for the skin. Well, there are A LOT of skin care products available to us today…so it’s important to know what to look for, so you can avoid the products that contain ingredients that are not just bad for your skin but will also disrupt your body’s natural functions. Natural skin care products have gained a lot of popularity in recent years. Even skin care manufacturers and companies that have typically produced synthetic skin care products are now starting to modify their products to make them “more” natural. It is a huge shifting trend — mostly because of the public’s demand for natural skin care products.

Unfortunately, the lack of regulation in the skin care industry mixed with a bit of marketing hype and you get a lot of confusion over what “natural” skin care ingredients are good for your skin – and which ones are not. So, today I want to help you weed through all of that so you understand which skin care ingredients are truly natural (and which are not) and what natural ingredients are safe. Also, I’ll share what makes an ingredient effective, so you know what to look for – because we don’t just want our skin care to be natural and safe, we want it to work!

“Natural” Ingredients

hands holding plant

There are many misconceptions about skin care products that claim to be “natural”. When skin care manufacturers and companies use words like natural, clean, safe, green, organic, non-toxic, or hypoallergenic – it can be misleading. Just because these words are on the label, doesn’t mean the product is natural or safe. It also doesn’t mean the product will be effective in getting you the results claimed in the product’s marketing. But unfortunately, there’s no regulations around the use of those words. So the word natural doesn’t necessarily mean that it contains all-natural ingredients or that even half of the ingredients are natural or maybe even 10% – there isn’t any regulation around using the word natural. So, it typically just means that the product contains some plant-based ingredients.

More and more people are beginning to understand the importance of limiting our exposure to harmful chemicals. So, more people are choosing natural skin care because they understand how important it is to avoid those ingredients that are toxic to our skin and our bodies. When you look at skin care products, do you know which ingredients are toxic or can disrupt your bodies proper functioning? Do you know which ingredients are natural? Do you know which natural ingredients are safe? Well, I want to help you be able to identify when a product is truly natural and clean, and be able to identify if a company or manufacturer is being transparent and making honest claims about their products. For example, if a company claims its products are “clean”, then the product should be free of any parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and more.

Natural products are good…but are they safe, and do they work?
Yes, natural skin care is in high demand, and a boon for our planet…but is it effective? After all, if it doesn’t work — what’s the point? So, of course, you need the products to work and you don’t want to compromise on its efficacy – the results – just because you’ve decided to use more natural products. The idea is to find products that are natural, safe and effective for your skin. And, unfortunately, many skincare ingredients can, even natural ones, can be effective but have harmful effects on the body.

For example, there are some ingredients in skin care products that have a potentially carcinogenic impact, and then there are other ingredients known to be endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Which means they can disrupt your hormone balance. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are a class of chemicals that can mimic, block, or interfere with normal hormone processes and end up wreaking havoc on our body. These chemicals have been linked to several different health issues and diseases, such as breast and prostate cancer, as well as thyroid diseases such as hypothyroidism, and autoimmune thyroid disease. These chemicals have been linked to early puberty, or breast development, infertility, and early menopause…and the list goes on and on. Hormones impact our health in so many different ways. Even your ability to maintain your weight — because insulin is a hormone. So, the last thing we want to do is expose ourselves to more of these chemicals and interfere with our hormone functions.

There are many different endocrine-disrupting chemicals that we are exposed to on a day-to-day basis. For example phytoestrogens are naturally occurring substances from plants that have hormone-like activity. They can be very beneficial when used for specific purposes. However, exposure to these phytoestrogen before puberty can disrupt normal hormone balance, like increasing the risk of developing breast cancer in both men and women. Unfortunately, endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be found in our air, water, and food. We’re exposed to more of them now than ever before. Some chemicals are new and some have been around for many years. For example, several pesticides and herbicides. Even chemicals that are banned continue to exist in our environment. Lead is a good example of a banned chemical that continues to exist in our soil and leeches into our food supply, and our water. Even if the chemical is banned in the US it could still be around in other countries and travel over in clouds that rain down into our environment. I don’t want to spend time being doom and gloom on this, and I think I got the point across…endocrine-disrupting chemicals are a big problem and we want to limit our exposure as much as possible!

My Natural Skin Care Journey

Dr. Cates as a child

I want to share with you a little of my experience as a child with natural skin care products and the journey that led me to write Clean Skin From Within and to create The Spa Dr. skincare line. I grew up on an organic farm in Virginia. I remember my parents trying to make and use as many natural products as possible and to use ingredients straight from nature for our skin. For example, if someone had an abrasion or mild burn, we used a leaf from a fresh aloe plant. I still remember the moment my mom would put the leaf on my skin and how cool and soothing it felt. We didn’t use a lot of over the counter medications or skin care products, as you find in a drug store, spa, or dermatologist’s office. We used a lot of things from nature, and life on an organic farm was great!

Unfortunately, we had a mold problem in our home. I remember the little black specs on the walls that my parents would repaint over. I also remember leaving one of my dolls on the carpet in my bedroom for a few days. When I went to pick her up one day, she had mold growing on her…so, we definitely had a mold problem! When I look back now – I think that’s where a lot of my health issues stem from, in particular, I think it triggered my skin issues at the time. Because, as a child I had eczema, itchy skin issues, and hives. One of the natural skin care remedies my mom used to help me was to put me in a bath with raw oats. I remember the immediate relief I felt as soon as the oats would open up and they would get a-kind-of slippery feel to them that would coat my skin.

These experiences with natural skin care left a lasting and positive impression with me. Thankfully we moved out of that house when I was still pretty young, so I was able to get my health back on track. But, these experiences are what led me to fall in love with the healing powers of nature in my own life. I have seen the healing powers of nature and how the body is so wise. When we’re given the right tools and support, our bodies can heal beautifully. Like myself, when I was given the right tools, my skin problems resolved, and my health improved overall. Later on, these experiences were what led me to become a Naturopathic Physician. Because of my interest in skin, my experience with skin issues, and learning that our skin is an outer reflection of our inner health – I became even more passionate about caring for skin naturally. So, this is my journey – my experiences are what led me to create The Spa Dr. skin care line and write Clean Skin from Within to share how to transform your skin from the inside out by following some guidelines about what foods to eat and the skin care ingredients and products to use. I am sure you have a story as to why you’re interested in natural skincare products. Whatever your story is, I’d love to hear about your journey. So, please share.

Choose Wisely

woman shopping

Thankfully, you can control your exposure to harmful and disrupting chemicals – by choosing personal care products that don’t contain these chemicals. Fragrances are something you’ll want to stay away from…a fragrance is not just one ingredient – it’s a whole group of ingredients. For example, Diethyl phthalates is a plasticizing agent that is endocrine-disrupting. It’s used in fragrances to help the smell last longer. Instead, use products that are fragrance-free or have organic essential oils as a nice alternative fragrance. If you want to learn more about how to choose skin care products wisely and what to look for, I go in-depth in my book Clean Skin From Within. You’ll also find a whole list of the different ingredients to avoid, as well as some natural alternatives. What I love about natural ingredients is not only are they clean, but when you use the right ones, they can be beneficial to your health. Essential oils are examples of natural ingredients that smell good and are beneficial to your health. Essential oils are rich in antioxidants, and in certain essential fatty acids that our skin needs to be supple, and help support a healthy barrier function that the skin is meant to provide. All of these things you can get from really great plant-based oils. Some favorites are argan oil, sea buckthorn fruit oil, pomegranate seed oil, and raspberry seed oil. We use all of these essential oils in The Spa Dr. products for their skin benefits. But they’re also known to help lift the mood and make you feel happier — what a great thing to add to your self care routine!

Try All Natural Skin Care

A word of caution – be careful! Not all oils are good and just because something says it’s “natural” doesn’t mean that it’s safe or effective So, start with the product’s ingredients label. Is there “fragrance” listed? if so – it is not a natural product. Yet, many products claim to be natural, but contain fragrance. Next, are there “parabens” listed? if so, it is not safe. Parabens have been detected in breast cancer tissue, so those would be very good to avoid. Are there formaldehyde-releasing chemicals in the product? “DMDM hydantoin” is one of these chemicals, and there are many others that are hard to pronounce (Formaldehyde, Formalin, Urea, Diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Quaternium-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, and Sodium hydroxylmethylglycinate) – so be aware of the ingredients. Another known endocrine-disrupting chemical is “oxybenzone” which is used in a lot of sunscreens. “Mineral oil” is another one – If you see “petroleum” or “mineral oil”, those would be best avoided. To be clear, the concern over these oils is not because they come from the same place that gasoline comes from, but there is a possibility of contamination in the refining process because they commonly contain impurities that have been linked to cancer. Besides, there are so many alternative natural oils that don’t have toxicity concerns but instead can provide actual nourishment to your skin – like essential oils. You can learn more about the benefits of essential oils I go in-depth in Everything You Need To Know About Oils For Skin Care or read about the 6 Skin-Enhancing Essential Oils or the 5 Essential Oils to Fight Acne. You can also find out more about some favorite, effective and powerful Essential Oils and how to use them in this short video.

Natural, Safe, and Effective

aloe juice in a jar

So, in addition to some of the fantastic essential oils we use in The Spa Dr. products. I want to share a few more natural, safe, and effective ingredients you want in your skin care product. As I mentioned before, as a child my family used fresh aloe on our skin. Aloe Vera is a powerful ingredient you’ll want to see in your skin care products because it is very soothing and healing to the skin. Aloe Vera is even in hand sanitizer, which helps make-up for the fact that a lot of those have alcohol, which is drying to the skin. Aloe can add some of that protection and hydration back to the skin. You’ll find Aloe Vera in many of The Spa Dr. products, such as the Daily Essentials 4-Step Skin Care System as well as the Pearl and Rose Petal Facial Exfoliant. Another natural, safe and effective ingredient is Oats. As I also mentioned before, as a child I took oat baths to soothe and heal my skin. The Spa Dr. Body Essentials Collection contains oats that soothe and heal your skin from head-to-toe.

Be careful here as well – some products claiming to be “natural” and advertise their beneficial ingredients – like Aloe Vera, oats or oatmeal, or essential oils. But they will still contain other ingredients that are not natural, so check the label. Additionally, you want to make sure that any oats in the products are gluten-free. Gluten exposure can be an issue for anyone, but especially if you have a gluten sensitivity like my daughter, she is extremely sensitive and intolerant to gluten, even topically. Another natural, safe, and effective ingredient is CoQ10, which is a very protective and potent antioxidant for the skin. And then there are organic teas like herbal tea, green tea, white tea, and black tea, which are all great for the skin and provide antioxidants, tannins, and other beneficial things that can also be fantastic for the skin. Turmeric is another natural, safe, and effective ingredient that is anti-inflammatory for the skin, both internally and externally. But, you want to be careful when using turmeric and DIY skin care because of its bright yellow color. If you were to make a facemask out of it and you have fair skin, it might stay in your skin for a few days if you don’t use it properly. The color of turmeric in skin care products can be diminished – but the beneficial properties of it remain, like in The Spa Dr. Step 3 – RENEW: Enriched Moisturizer. We use turmeric, but the color has been manufactured out.

Arnica is another natural, safe, and effective ingredient that is very calming and restorative to the skin. It is used in first aid, you may have used arnica gel on a bruise or some mild trauma to the skin. If you think about it, our skin is being traumatized every single day. So arnica is a nice lightweight ingredient that helps soothe and heal the skin. You can find arnica in The Spa Dr. Step 1 – CLEAR: Gentle Cleanser. There are so many great ingredients to talk about, but I don’t want to leave out green algae as another natural, safe, and effective ingredient that you may or may not be used in your skincare products. Green algae chlorella is another powerhouse for the skin – it has a purifying and energizing impact on the skin. This powerhouse is found in The Spa Dr.’s Step 2 – NOURISH: Antioxidant Serum, along with Resveratrol, which comes from the skin of grapes and can also be found in red wine – it is a potent antioxidant for the skin. So those are a few of my favorite natural, safe, and effective ingredients.

Some ingredients are natural…but they are NOT safe

shocked woman

Some natural ingredients are not as safe or beneficial for the skin – one example is the ingredient dimethicone. Dimethicone is used in skin care products to help trap moisture. But the problem with that is if you put something with dimethicone on your face and you go to the gym and you’re exercising and you’re getting warm, it’s hard for your skin to sweat, because it’s trapped all of the moisture. It’s also trapping in the heat and so your skin isn’t able to breathe. You might notice that you are more likely to get flushed and overheated, which can be disruptive to your skin microbiome. Skin microbiome is really important for protecting our body. When considering skin care products, including whether or not to use natural skin care products you need to care for this microbiome. The skin’s microbiome is all about the microorganisms that live on and protect your skin. There are different fungi, bacteria, and little mites that live on the skin. When the skin microbiome is healthy, these organisms are normal and beneficial. Problems occur when these organisms grow out of balance and we start seeing issues like acne, rosacea, and eczema. Several skin problems can be – in part – due to the skin microbiome and that barrier function. When the protective mechanism that our skin provides is no longer functioning the way it should – it can lead to leaky skin.

You may have heard of leaky gut, have you heard of leaky skin? Leaky skin occurs when the skin’s protective functioning, which includes the skin microbiome, breaks down. The skin microbiome needs to be supported and protected to maintain a protective barrier. Even if a product is natural, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to necessarily help and protect the microbiome. Ingredients like dimethicone are used to just trap in moisture, but it could set you up for imbalances in the microbiome, which could be detrimental to healthy skin. Use caution with an ingredient like dimethicone. If your skin care products contain dimethicone or other questionable natural ingredients – you should avoid these products, and make sure that even your natural skin care products are clean and clear of harmful ingredients.

Some ingredients are natural and safe…but they’re not effective

pH test

After you’ve made sure that your skin care is natural and safe, you want to make sure that it works. The way we ensure that it works is to consider the skin barrier function. Our skin has a naturally mild acidity to support a healthy skin microbiome. Using cleansers or bars of soap that have a high pH can disrupt the skin’s pH balance. Using natural skin care formulated to have a mildly acidic pH – between 4.6 – 5pH range – will help maintain the pH balance. Any soap that is over 5.5 is going to have a pH too high for our skin. Check your skincare formulas and make sure that it has a lower pH to support the health of the skin. Natural skin care products with a lower pH will help keep the skin free and clear of breakouts as well as help it age more gracefully. The Spa Dr. Skin Care line is clean and free of harmful ingredients, and has a mildly acidic pH that is formulated to support a smooth clear complexion that will gracefully age.

At The Spa Dr. we do a lot of quality control testing. Whenever we get raw materials, we do extensive testing to make sure that the products are clean and pure. Once we make the formulas we test them again for purity and proper pH. We then test several different parameters, which are beyond the standard for the industry. So there are specific questions to ask the manufacturers of the products you love — Ask them questions about their quality control process, where their ingredients come from, and whether their products are truly natural and organic. Do they list all their ingredients, or are they possibly hiding anything? Good skin care manufactures are transparent and always share what is in their products. If they can’t give you all the information, like what the pH is, you can get a simple pH strip and test the product yourself to make sure it’s under 5.5pH – so that it will work effectively for your skin.


If you are still looking for help and have questions about specific products, a major resource is the, (the Environmental Working Group). The skin-deep database has a lot of information about skincare ingredients, including a rating system for different products based on the ingredients. EWG also tests and verifies skincare products to make sure they meet their stringent criteria. If you didn’t already know, The Spa Dr. skin care products are EWG verified.
Also, my book Clean Skin From Within goes in-depth with ingredients, as well as cites research and explains exactly which ingredients are particularly harmful and why. Once your know what to be aware of, look out for, and avoid – you can use that information to find products and manufacturers you believe will always provide clean, natural, effective solutions. You want a manufacturer that will stay up-to-date on the research for each ingredient and make changes, if necessary, to source the highest quality and pure ingredients for your skin.

At Spa Dr., we want you to know that we source nothing but the best ingredients for our formulations. Our products are made to help address all of your skin issues – including skin sensitivity, acne, eczema, and signs of aging. Natural skin care is better!! and you can have healthy glowing skin without exposing your body and your skin to toxic ingredients. Find what you are looking for in our natural, safe and effective products at

Take the Skin Quiz Now

If you enjoyed this blog post, sign up for more helpful tips and special offers from The Spa Dr.

More to explore from the blog

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *