Owing to your personal vigilance, neither a paraben nor a synthetic fragrance has touched your skin in months. You comb beauty ingredient lists for signs of the unsafe and unclean, and promptly reject any additive that raises a flag. You’re a crusader for clean, green, nontoxic beauty products—or so you think. Turns out there may be far more to product purity than steering clear of a few toxic offenders, and our current ideas of purity may not fully take into account the ever-changing composition of our personal-care products.
We wondered, what’s the gold standard for purity in natural personal-care today? Are edible, food-grade beauty ingredients the surest route to safety? Could we be doing more to ensure our exclusive use of safe, clean personal care?
To shed some light on a difficult topic in natural beauty, we asked two pioneers of pure, Dr. Saul Alkaitis, founder of Dr. Alkaitis Organic Skin Care, and Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Intelligent Nutrients, to weigh in. They sound off on the purity of our products today—specifically the ones we call “natural.” As Alkaitis stresses, the concept of purity takes on new meaning when applied to natural ingredients versus synthetics. Synthetic ingredients can be manufactured pure, meaning without contaminants, and still fail to meet our standards for safety when we’re seeking pure and natural as the basis for our beauty routines.
Good enough to eat?
To get there, Alkaitis and Rechelbacher say that edible is essential. Both men tout their beauty lines as safe enough to eat and emphasize that our skin functions as an ingredient delivery system, not a barrier. “Your skin is a two-way street. It’s not a question of whether or not ingredients absorb, it’s a question of how fast,” says Alkaitis, who launched Dr. Alkaitis Organic Skin Care in 2000, when ‘edible beauty’ meant little more than lip balm tasty enough to lick. “Whatever you put on your skin gets into your system,” he says, stressing that food-grade ingredients are also better utilized by the skin than their synthetic counterparts.
Today a growing number of edible beauty lines made with food-grade ingredients stock shelves, echoing the message that edible beauty is food for your skin, and setting a new standard for safe, effective natural products. You may not want to eat these products, but it’s oddly comforting to know that you can. As Rechelbacher admits, there can be notable exceptions to the edible-only ingredient rule: ie, products that function as barriers, like sunscreen: “A sunscreen is not a [nutritive] food but a protective agent. It protects against sun, and that is its benefit. But [any other skincare product] has to be nutritious to the skin.”
Where does it come from?
As more brands adopt food-grade ingredients, quality concerns proliferate. Take an ingredient like canola oil. Is it organic? Genetically modified? In what type of soil was it cultivated, and under what conditions? “What is most important is how [a food ingredient] is grown,” says Rechelbacher. “Is it grown with insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides? That’s an issue because they affect us in very small amounts.” At the moment, it’s not as simple as scanning an ingredient list for answers. “The onus is on us,” says Alkaitis. We, as consumers, have the responsibility to seek out information about the products we buy, and often that means looking at a brand’s policies around sourcing and production—even if their products appear edible and pure. “If even a third of the population did this, we would have a change overnight,” Alkaitis says. Finding a truly pure beauty product is exhausting, but the result may be peace of mind, and safer products.
Food-based ingredients of the future
Looking ahead at edible beauty, there are signs that the food-based ingredients of the future won’t be limited to those in your garden and on your pantry shelf. There is simply no need to sacrifice innovation in order to find pure products that are safe enough to eat, says Rechelbacher. Today plant stem cells top Rechelbacher’s list of cutting-edge ingredients that uphold both a high standard of purity (they’re edible) and efficacy. Stem cells grown from plants, “are as safe as food ingredients, but they’re more effective,” says Rechelbacher. “Stem cells provide maximum nutrition that you cannot get from foods. And, environmentally, they are above and beyond organic.” These ingredients will show up on product labels as, for example, ‘stem cells from chamomile.’ But again, the purity of these ingredients comes down to their source, since even plant stem cells can grow from a toxic host.
At the launch of the Intelligent Nutrients line several years ago, Rechelbacher raised eyebrows when he sipped a goblet of Pellegrino spiked with his Intelligent Nutrients hairspray formula—simply to prove the point that beauty could be pure enough to eat. Today, several leaps ahead, beauty products are commonly viewed as food for the skin. We see increasingly blurred lines between topical and ingestible beauty products with the rise of nutriceuticals. So why not seek out edible beauty? With its promise of pure formulas—and well-fed skin—it just may be time to dig in.
Taste of the Trends
Trending food-based ingredients in natural beauty formulas.
Manuka Honey, found in La Bella Figura Bio Active Purifying Mask ($60; labellafigurabeauty.com) boasts anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, plus healing abilities far more potent than those of your average honey.
Apple Cider Vinegar, the core ingredient in SW Basics of Brooklyn Toner ($24; swbasicsofbk.com), is a natural astringent that heals and prevents blemishes and balances the skin’s natural pH balance.
Coconut, a staple of the Intelligent Nutrients Organic Lip Delivery Nutrition ($12; intelligentnutrients.com) is a versatile ingredient (think coconut flakes, coconut oil, coconut water) that performs a range of duties, from moisturizing to exfoliating.
Turmeric, in Bayberry Naturals Turmeric and Citrus Clarifying Body Scrub ($32; bayberrynaturals.com), reduces inflammation in the skin, exfoliates, and may soothe skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Seaweed, like the five varieties found in Dr. Alkaitis Organic Universal Mask ($55; alkaitis.com) delivers a concentrated source of minerals while it works to brighten and clear the skin.