GreenYour Facial cleansers
Use an eco-friendly acne treatment
Acne is often battled with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide-based solutions, which present a host of environmental and health concerns in their production and application. Natural alternatives, like tea tree oil-based products, provide a health- and earth-safe solution using plant-based ingredients with proven antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
What to look for when choosing an eco-friendly acne treatment
- Avoid benzoyl peroxide: The chemical composition of this common acne treatment can damage ecosystems and threaten wildlife and human health. Benzoyl peroxide's antibacterial properties are related to those of triclosan: a recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that triclosan can be linked to cancer in lab animals, may disrupt hormone function in humans, and is a non-biodegradable toxic agent that pollutes ecosystems and threatens wildlife when it is discharged into the water stream.
- Look for natural, plant-based ingredients in place of petroleum-based salicylic acid: Petroleum is a non-sustainable resource whose extraction and production has caused major environmental damage to soil, surface and ground waters, and local ecosystems, and contributes to global warming.
- Avoid chemical agents that may dry out your skin: Alcohol, acetone, and the foaming detergent diethanolamine (DEA) can dry out skin, and they're no friend of the environment or your health either: alcohol is petroleum-derived, acetone can pollute indoor air quality, and DEA is a known carcinogen.
- Go organic: Because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spends only a tiny portion of its budget investigating the chemical composition and toxins in skin care products, soaps can tout their use of organic ingredients and still have up to 30 percent synthetic materials, even the ones labeled "organic" or "made with organic ingredients." The only way to be sure that the product you are purchasing is, in fact, organic is too look for the USDA Organic Seal on the label. This seal guarantees that every ingredient is organically produced as defined by the National Organics Standards Board, which bans the use of harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic engineering.
- Look for acne treatments that do not contain animal fats or employ animal testing: While you're contemplating green attributes, you may also wish to join the cruelty-free movement. Just keep in mind: a company may claim that they don’t employ animal testing for their products, but without third-party verification, it’s hard to know whether these statements are in fact completely true. So stick to those products certified as cruelty-free by looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo. You can rest assured that no bunnies (or monkeys or cats for that matter) were harmed in the making of these non-animal-tested products.
Find it! Eco-friendly acne treatments
Below, we've highlighted some of the cleanest and greenest over-the-counter topical acne remedies out there, ranging from quick fixes to multi-step zit-zapping systems. If you're looking for something even more pared down, look into straight-up tea tree oil. It's the active ingredient in many natural acne lotions and potions and is often the most budget-friendly choice for topical acne treatment.
This potent, 99 percent natural zit zapper from Burt's Bees is ideal for folks looking to control breakouts with simple, easy applications two to three times daily. The stick's active ingredient is exfoliating willow bark, Mother Nature's version of synthetic salicylic acid.
This blemish banisher contains tea tree, willow bark, rosewood, and lavender and boasts the three A's ideal for natural acne treatment: anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.
The products in this five-step kit—cleanser, toner, moisturizer, spot treatment, and a special skin-improving tea—are based on herbs and plant extracts that banish blemishes, not harsh chemicals that can make oily ordeals even worse.
Get your green face on with the Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion from coveted skin and body care line Kiehl's. A longtime staple in the GY Blog's medicine cabinet, (well, blogs can't have medicine cabinets but you get the drift) this cruelty-free toner sports witch hazel, camphor, and menthol, and is ideal for oily skin and post-shave healing.
This handmade soap targeted toward problematic, pimply skin contains saponfied coconut, palm, and vegetable oils along with tea tree and eucalyptus essentials oils. The secret ingredient? Healing, anti-inflammatory emu oil from an emu ranch in Montana.
This sweet-smelling UK-based purveyor of natural handmade goodies for body and bath offers Mask of Magnaminty, a vanilla-mint scented remedy for pimple-prone skin that contains various organic and/or natural and safe synthetic ingredients, such as honey, evening primrose seeds, and peppermint oil.
Pimples? History. Blackheads? Banished. Whiteheads? Yesterday's news. Acne? Annihilated. This gentle formulation deep cleans with the aid of various organic and wildcrafted essential oils and herbal infusions.
The Oeco (a combination of "organic" and "eco-friendly") Acne Treatment System is comprised of three products—a treatment, a cleanser, and an oil control lotion—that use the patented OrganiClear formula (certified organic extracts and essentials oils) to clear up skin without irritation or redness.
From this Australia-based purveyor of everything tea tree comes this powerful blemish buster. Tea tree oil's natural antibacterial properties kill acne without the aid of benzyol peroxide while chamomile sooths inflamed skin.
Before you buy
It should go without saying, but just in case: before turning to any serious acne remedy that goes beyond simple spot treatment, check in with your dermatologist for consultation.
Also keep in mind that if you choose an acne treatment concocted with green ingredients in lieu of an easy-to-find variety, you'll likely be confronted with a higher price tag as chemicals generally come cheaper than botanical, organic-certified ingredients. For example, a .3 fluid ounce Burt's Bees Herbal Blemish Stick retails for $8.59 while 65 Noxzema Triple Clean Pads go for $4.49.
Using an eco-friendly acne treatment helps you green because...
- Eco-friendly acne treatments rely on ingredients found in nature, not health- and eco-unfriendly chemicals, to keep skin clean and pimple-free without causing additional derma-woes.
- Like other conventional skincare and cosmetic products, medicated over-the-counter acne remedies may contain petroleum-derived components. Petroleum is a non-sustainable resource with various eco-repercussions.
- Many makers of eco-friendly acne treatments also follow green business practices, such as using recycled packaging and harnessing renewable energy sources like wind power.
For most, the primary worry over the active ingredients found in many popular acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide (Clearasil, etc.) and salicylic acid (Stridex, etc.), is whether they will be too harsh and result in burning, redness, and further irritation. However, as synthetics, both are also equipped with eco-issues.
The two chemicals are different in purpose and composition. Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria and is in the chemical family of substitute benzenes, the same family inhabited by parabens, which are known endocrine disrupters that are not only detrimental to human health, but also destructive to animal hormones and development. (Studies have found higher levels of parabens in tumors from human breast tissue, but, because the potential damage to the endocrine system has yet to be proven, the controversy surrounding the toxicity of parabens is still being debated.) Another relative of benzoyl peroxide is the potent synthetic antimicrobial agent triclosan, which has been found in 55 percent of streams examined in 2002 at levels high enough to disrupt the natural life cycle of frogs. Triclosan can cause skin and eye irritation, and can form dioxin and chloroform in the right circumstances, which are both probable carcinogens. Another common synthetic to look out for in products containing benzoyl peroxide is DEA, a foaming detergent. While DEA is infrequently used in skin and hair care products because it is a known carcinogen, the more commonly used chemicals TEA and MEA are often contaminated with DEA.
Salicylic acid—most famous as the active ingredient in aspirin—is effective in preventing whiteheads, blackheads, and aids in unclogging the pores and exfoliating the skin. It is a beta hydroxy acid that can be found naturally in the bark of willow trees, and can also be made synthetically. When this is the case, it's formed by combining petrochemical products or byproducts. Petroleum is a non-sustainable resource whose extraction and production has caused major environmental damage to soil, surface and ground waters, and local ecosystems, and contributes to global warming. The petroleum industry results in 2.6 million gallons of oil spilled every month during transportation and about 71 million pounds of toxins released into the air and water during refinement.
Acetone, the key ingredient in nail polish removers, can also be found in many conventional acne remedies, usually in combination with alcohol. Acetone occurs naturally in forest fires, volcanic gases, the breakdown of human body fat, and vegetation, but unnatural, industrial release of the substance is more prevalent. It can enter water supplies via hazardous spills and landfills. Levels of acetone in the air are usually higher in urban areas compared to rural ones; the presence of the substance also tends to be higher inside homes than outside due to the use of chemical household products containing the substance.
With little to no regulation of terms like organic and natural in personal care product labeling, many companies have been accused of "greenwashing", claiming that their product is safe and natural without any third party verification that that is true. Many consumers report that these claims, at times, can be confusing and misleading. Making sense of environmentally friendly standards is an important part of being a wise consumer.
Understanding organic labeling
One murky area is the term “organic.” While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains clearcut standards for organic food, the same can’t be said for body care products. The industry is in turmoil trying to agree upon a set of standards. Some companies use the USDA certified organic food standard, which requires 95 percent of the ingredients to be organic. Others use the less stringent California state standard for organic cosmetic products, which requires at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients. And still others label their products organic without meeting any external criterion.
In the meantime, a nonprofit standard-setting group called NSF International has released a draft set of rules for organic personal care products and a group of 30 cosmetic companies recently devised their own set of specifications called Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS). How it all washes out remains to be seen.
Related health issues
Acne is a medical condition that should be treated seriously. Before starting an acne-fighting regimen using either a prescription or over-the-counter medication or using a natural, non-prescription remedy, consult your doctor or dermatologist as side effects may occur and worsen the condition. For more on acne and your health, please see Health911.com and WebMD.
- benzoyl peroxide: This antibacterial agent is the active ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription acne medications, geared toward those suffering from mild to moderate acne.
- parabens: This family of synthetic preservatives (which includes methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and butyl-parabens) can possibly disrupt the endocrine system.
- salicylic acid: This substance, found in plants but also synthesized, is used as a food preservative, an antiseptic in toothpaste, as a peeling agent in psoriasis treatments, and a sloughing agent in acne treatments.
- triclosan: An antibacterial agent that may form dioxin and chloroform in the right circumstances, both probable carcinogens.
- Acne Magazine
- American Academy of Dermatology
- MayoClinic.com - Natural acne treatment: What's most effective?
- Ideal Bite - Got a hot date or big event, and out of nowhere a zit suddenly appears? What's a Biter to do?
- Environmental Working Group - Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Before you wage war against pimples, see where your favorite acne treatment ranks on the hazard scale.