Since Siam Botanicals burst (ahem) onto the twitter scene a few months ago, we’ve ‘met’ lots of like-minded people. But in spreading the word with regard to the benefits of natural skin care, it’s important that we make a concerted effort NOT to scaremonger and exaggerate the dangers of all non-natural products. It could put off the very people we’re hoping to attract: ‘There are bad chemicals in ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING!’, we hear them cry in despair. ‘What difference will changing my face cream make if there are cancer-causing substances in everything I eat and touch and breathe?’
If we, the natural skin care companies of this world, are trying to establish consumers’ trust by being honest and transparent about our ingredients, we need to make sure – to the best of our knowledge – that we are not perpetuating myths or half-truths that are just as misleading, in their own way, as those peddled by mainstream companies. We should concentrate on the many benefits of our own products rather than denigrating our competitors’; otherwise we risk sounding like hysterical evangelists.
There are various questionable facts and statistics out there, but the one I’ve chosen to talk about in this blog post – because it’s the one I see perhaps most often on the internet, disseminated by credible companies and expert bloggers alike – is that our skin absorbs 60% of everything we put on it. I will admit that I read and retweeted this myself a while back. But what exactly does it mean? And is it really true?
Does my body soak up water like a sponge when I bathe? Not that I’ve noticed. If I pour wine on myself, will I get drunk? That would be a waste of wine. How long would it take for my skin to absorb, say, 60% of a slice of cake? Hmmm.
First of all, skin care products are (in broad terms) designed to penetrate the skin’s outer layer, where they help to hydrate the skin by reducing moisture loss. If, instead, most of them are sinking straight through all layers of the skin and into your bloodstream, they’re not really doing their job as a skin conditioner. So the 60% rule, if true, doesn’t really reflect too well on any skin care products, natural or not.
If something is absorbed into the skin’s outer layer, it does not necessarily follow that it is also absorbed into the blood. There are several layers of skin that would need to be penetrated before absorption into the bloodstream occurs, and the rate of penetration (of the skin) and subsequent absorption (into the bloodstream) depends on the weight of the molecules in question and their solubility – many are simply too heavy to get past all those layers. It also depends on the condition of the skin, and where the skin is (because some areas of skin are thinner than others). Penetration and absorption are not one and the same thing, and often the distinction is not made, or not understood, or perhaps even wilfully ignored because it suits someone’s agenda to convince people that dangerous doses of lethal chemicals are maliciously invading their bodies every day.
So, with so many variants, it cannot be an incontrovertible fact that the skin absorbs exactly 60% of everything you put on it. Let’s briefly deal with another version of this factoid: that ‘up to 60%’ is absorbed. Meaning, I presume, that it could be 59.9% absorption, or 0.01% absorption, or anything in between. Which is about as vague and unhelpful a statistic as you can get. I’ve even seen ‘between 60% and 100%’ – which is, I hardly need to point out, very different to ‘up to 60%’. It would be good news for that wine, though; I hate wastage.
These different versions of the same ‘fact’ can’t all be true. And how are they helpful anyway? You don’t need to absorb 60% of certain chemicals for them to have a negative effect; even tiny amounts on a regular basis could be harmful. There is no doubt that some substances DO pass (to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the chemical) into the bloodstream. This is far from ideal. But the body is very clever, and is designed to filter out and excrete potentially harmful matter. So, if a certain synthetic chemical is found in urine, that’s the body is doing its job. When, however, a potentially harmful ingredient does slip through the skin and isn’t excreted – and there is no (credible) blanket statistic for how often this happens – it can accumulate in our bodies. In many cases, the possible effects on the human body, over time, are as yet unknown or insufficiently researched.
At Siam Botanicals we believe that natural products are best, not only because they don’t contain potentially harmful synthetic chemicals but, even more importantly, because they do contain botanical ingredients that have benefits not found in synthetic alternatives. For example, synthetic lavender fragrance is added to non-natural products because it smells nice (and because it might make customers think there’s actual lavender in there). It serves no other purpose. Lavender essential oil, on the other hand, is an ingredient in our natural products because it has antibacterial and antiseptic properties. And – BIG added bonus – it happens to smell divine! Siam Botanicals products contain no synthetic preservatives either, because they offer no benefit to the user (and can be a health hazard or a skin irritant). And also because they are not necessary; we have the advantage of being a small-batch producer and can achieve a shelf life of 18-24 months for our products using only natural botanical ingredients.
Our message is simple: it’s better to use a product that contains no synthetic chemicals at all – especially when they are there purely for the convenience of the manufacturer and have no skincare benefit. This makes sense, even without recourse to unsubstantiated statistics.
Products with active botanicals sell themselves, so let’s not undermine our own credibility by resorting to questionable facts, half-truths and scaremongering as a marketing strategy. Let’s not ignore inconvenient facts or make claims that are just as ‘creative’ as the ones we like to criticise and ridicule. We’re better than that.