Natural and Synthetic Skincare Products: Which is Better for Your Skin?

Natural vs Synthetic skin care

Take a look at the beauty aisle at your local Target, and it’s clear: More and more brands are focusing on clean and natural formulations.

But what do these terms really mean, and is it really that important?

Here at DRMTLGY, we ascribe to a science-meets-nature approach to skincare. The research tells us what works, and we act accordingly.

However, you may be looking for different things in the products you choose. You might be venturing into natural skincare products for the first time. You might be wondering whether organic compounds or synthetic chemicals are more effective for acne.

No matter the reason, we encourage you to make choices based on the information available to you. When it comes to your skincare journey, you’re in the driver’s seat.


Are Natural and Organic Skincare Products Really Better for You?

Synthetic vs Natural Skin Care

There are a host of terms beauty brands use to distinguish themselves from the competition. Vegan, organic, natural, clean, nontoxic -- it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.

After years of hearing people tout the benefits of this lifestyle, almost everyone knows that “vegan” means free of animal products. But what about the rest?

“Organic” typically refers to products that do not contain synthetic chemicals, pesticides, and the like.

The last three are a bit harder to place. Although buzzwords like “natural” and “nontoxic” can make you feel good inside, they don’t really mean anything. Usually, they will refer to products that are free from chemicals known to cause damage or irritation to the human body. But because these terms are vague, it’s almost impossible to prove their validity.

So are natural ingredients better for your skin? The short answer: it depends.

Your body doesn’t make a distinction between natural and lab-made ingredients. Regardless of how it was made, a synthetic molecule will work exactly the same as its natural counterpart (or vice versa).

In times like these, with a universe of knowledge available at your fingertips, your best bet is to first decide where you stand when it comes to natural and organic ingredients.

Is your priority a truly organic lifestyle? Or would you prefer to use synthetic ingredients if they were more effective than natural options? Does “better” mean you’re only interested in nontoxic ingredients, product efficacy, or something else?

Drawing a line in the sand will show you what to prioritize and will guide you in choosing the best products for your lifestyle. From there, it’s all a matter of research. Investigate the ingredients in your current skincare lineup and any future purchases to find out if they’re compatible with your skin and your ideals.


What Clean Skincare Brands Won’t Tell You about Natural Ingredients

The natural movement started in the food industry, when people didn’t know what was in the food they were eating. A push for transparency resulted in more organic and pesticide-free options becoming available.

Now, we’re starting to see something similar happen in industries across the board: fashion, hospitality, tech, and of course, beauty.

The amount of natural ingredients that are beneficial for your skin would make for a long, impressive list. However, many organic ingredients have the potential for harm as well.

Water is considered a chemical, yet it brings you dozens (if not hundreds) of benefits. Your body is full of chemicals and requires the intake of even more through food, skincare, and other means to sustain the biological processes that keep you alive.

On the other hand, many of the natural foods you eat contain miniscule amounts of toxic chemicals. A quick Google search reveals that tuna and lobster contain mercury, cinnamon contains liver-damaging coumarin, while peaches and other stone fruits carry cyanide in the pit.

With that said, the nature of a compound doesn’t automatically ensure its helpfulness or effectiveness.

After all, many drugs that save lives are also man-made in a laboratory, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not extremely helpful for those that need them.


The Case for Synthetic Ingredients

The truth is, despite all of the great things that natural and organic ingredients can do for you, some things are better left to synthetics.

Take retinoic acid, for example. The gold standard in anti-aging products is a derivative of vitamin A produced in a lab. Unlike other man-made ingredients, scientists have yet to find a natural alternative to retinoids that is just as powerful.

Some chemicals, like hyaluronic acid, were originally discovered in animals but are now recreated in a lab. In fact, most ingredients today are made in labs -- and that news is far from bad.

Because they’re created in a controlled environment with precise procedures and regulations, you can be sure that they have been tested for quality and efficacy. The addition of preservatives, another synthetic creation, ensures that your products last longer and stay effective for longer as well.


Let’s Talk about Safety in Skincare

As we discussed earlier, “natural” doesn’t automatically mean it’s safer or better for you, especially when it comes to skincare and beauty products. Anything in excess can be harmful.

The most important thing you’ll want to keep in mind is the science and the research that back your products. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself about ingredients in the products you own:

  • Has it been proven to be safe and effective?
  • Does reliable research support this claim?
  • Is this an effective formulation (the interplay of ingredients in a product)?

For example, some natural skincare brands denounce paraben preservatives as harmful after a 2004 study found a link between these chemicals and breast cancer. Today, however, that study has been discredited. More research has shown that, far from being toxic, parabens are one of the safest preservatives we use today.

Don’t just listen to what brands say either. Most of it are marketing ploys to increase sales, and you’ll want to get your information from an unbiased third party. And with the rise of influencer marketing, brands are finding opportunities to get influencers with millions of followers to parrot the features and benefits of their products too.

Thankfully, more and more companies are moving towards transparency in their formulation and production processes -- and people are responding to them.

Skincare and the beauty rituals you follow are based on very personal decisions; make choices based on what you think is right, rather than what your favorite company or beauty guru tells you. Get educated on the ingredients that are effective for your skin’s unique chemical makeup and know which ones to avoid. Start checking ingredient lists before buying a new product.

And if you’re ever unsure? Feel free to ask the company directly via email or social media. This is 2020, after all.

To get you started, here are some popular natural skincare ingredients that you actually want to avoid:

  • All essential oils
  • Fragrance
  • Alcohol
  • Citrus juice, oils, and acidic solutions like apple cider vinegar
  • Witch hazel


Just as in the case of parabens, skincare research is constantly changing. Staying informed and taking an information-driven approach to your regimen ensures that you’ll always have the best answers possible.

You might not know the results of every research project taking place right now, but you do the best with the knowledge you have. Once you know better, then you can adjust your routine to accommodate the new information.

Start by taking a look at the skincare products you own now. Are there any ingredients that stand out to you?

Get in touch with one of our experts if you’d like to learn more about our formulations, or even about skincare ingredients in general. We’d love to help!





Journal of Applied Toxicology, January-February 2004, Volume 24, Issue 1, pages 5-13


International Journal of Toxicology, 2008, Volume 27, Suppl 4, pages 1-82

All information is created for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.