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The truth about all-natural beauty ingredients

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Beauty myth busted: All-natural ingredients are not all safe

The other day, I picked up a bottle of shampoo that claimed to be "all-natural" and "gluten-free." Confusion ensued. Does my shampoo really need to be gluten-free? And what does all-natural actually mean, when the ingredient list reads like something out of a science lab?

"All-natural" guarantees nothing

What do you think of when you hear the catchphrase "all-natural?" Most people think of fresh fruits and vegetables, vitamins, minerals and high-quality hypoallergenic ingredients. "Truly all-natural products provide the body with immense benefits — similar to eating plants, fruits and vegetables," explained Dr. John Salerno, director of the Salerno Center and an expert on complementary medicine. "Unfortunately," he went on, "use of the term 'natural' is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration." This is why my supposedly all-natural and gluten-free shampoo contained a laundry list of metals and synthetic ingredients.

Sadly, marketers know that consumers scoop up anything with "all-natural" on the label, whether or not it actually delivers all-natural and body-healthy ingredients. Since there are no regulations on the catchphrase, marketers will continue to get away with it unless consumers wise up.

How to find a truly natural beauty product

Before you purchase your "all-natural" product, flip it over and review the ingredient list. "It's important for consumers to understand what they're purchasing," said Salerno. "Make sure that your products don't have high levels of metals or toxins. Look for products you know, like avocado, cucumber, ginger and ingredients that carry vitamins and minerals that are essential for the skin and health."

Another test? A short and simple ingredient list. Salerno added that the product list should have minimal ingredients, void of any long-worded chemicals. And even though you should feel dubious of any beauty product that claims it's certified organic (no such certification exists for beauty items), it's great if the ingredients are organic.

Limitations of the good stuff

Let's say that you review the ingredient list, and the product you want to purchase is free and clear of dyes, toxins and metals. That's a great start, but it's not quite enough for a stellar purchase. "An allergic reaction can happen regardless of a product's status as a truly all-natural product," said Salerno. Case in point: I'm terribly allergic to the seaweed extract in many all-natural ingredients. It's my job to know this, so I can avoid an outbreak.

You can avoid negative outcomes from all products —  natural or not — by knowing your skin's sensitivities and comparing it against the ingredient list. Even natural and organic ingredients can cause problems, so you have to know your needs. Don't expect product labels to do the critical thinking for you.

More about skin care

Dermatologists dish on their skin care routines
Product review: Olay Sensitive Body Wash
11 Things you're doing that dry your skin

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