Natural Ingredients for Your Skin

Not Everything Natural Is Good for Your Skin — Here’s How to Pick What’s Best

Most of us think that "natural" is code for better. Unfortunately, just as there are good and bad synthetic ingredients, there are good and bad natural ones. To help you with your selection, top skin-care experts share the natural ingredients that have been proven to be the most effective. These natural wonders can help battle breakouts, soothe irritation, treat uneven pigmentation, and even prevent sun damage, in some cases.

Next time you go shopping, scan the labels for the following ingredients:

  • Beta carotene
  • Green tea extract
  • Licorice
  • OatsSoy
  • Vitamin C
  • Willow herb
  • Witch hazel

And more specifically, here’s what you should know about these good-for-your- skin ingredients:

Beta Carotene Helps Protects Against Sun Damage

Red, orange, and yellow fruits and veggies, like carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins, are packed with beta carotene, a nutrient with many benefits for your skin, says Ido Leffler, cofounder of the Yes To skin-care line. Your body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, an essential nutrient for healing wounds, protecting against sun damage, and encouraging cell turnover.

You can find it in Burt's Bees Complete Nourishment Facial Oil ($15.19) and Yes to Carrots Daily Facial Moisture with SPF 15 ($8).

Green Tea Extract Is an Excellent Anti-Inflammatory for Skin

This healthy drink contains high levels of antioxidant chemicals — including catechins, such as epigallocatechin gallate, and flavonoids, such as kaempferol and theaflavin — to help prevent and reverse UV damage to the skin, explains Neal Schultz, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and creator of BeautyRx Skincare. These same chemicals make green tea an excellent natural anti- inflammatory and skin soothing ingredient in skin care.

Look for green tea in Innisfree Green Tea Balancing Cream ($18.49) and St. Ives Blemish Control Gel Cleanser, Green Tea ($13.61).

Licorice Extract Helps Treat Redness and Rosacea

The anti-inflammatory properties of licorice extract make this one of the best natural ingredients to treat redness and rosacea. And the plant has also been shown to reduce uneven pigmentation by blocking the production of melanin. Dr. Wu suggests looking for licorice extract in eye treatments because one study found that a cream containing the ingredient helped lighten dark under eye circles.

You can find licorice extract in Eucerin Redness Relief Soothing Night Cream ($10.29) and C. Booth Black Licorice Eye Cream ($8.85).

Oats Soothe Eczema and Other Skin Irritation

Colloidal oatmeal is one of the few natural ingredients that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved to treat skin irritations, such as eczema, dry skin, poison ivy, poison oak, and insect bites, says Wu. "Oat lipids and proteins help replenish and maintain the skin barrier," she explains, "and oats contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant chemicals."

Look for colloidal oatmeal, which Wu explains has the greatest benefits and the most research behind it. It's in Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment ($6) and Gold Bond Ultimate Eczema Relief Skin Protectant Cream ($10).

Soy Helps Brighten Dull Skin and Is a Good Alternative to Stronger Prescription Products

"Look for this ingredient if you'd like your skin to look brighter and more even-toned," Wu says. "Topical soy has been shown to lighten discoloration due to melasma and sun damage by inhibiting skin's overproduction of melanin skin pigment."

Soy-based products are a particularly good option for those looking for an alternative to prescription-strength ingredients, like retinoids and hydroquinone, says dermatologist Michael Gold, MD, the medical director of Gold Skin Care Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Gold recommends Aveeno products like Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer SPF 15 ($13.47).

Vitamin C Helps Battle Aging and Sagging Skin

You may think of vitamin C as an essential defense against the common cold, but the nutrient also battles the common signs of aging skin: sagging and dullness. Vitamin C aids in collagen synthesis, which is essential for firmness and smoothness, Wu explains. Plus, it has antioxidant benefits to help fight free-radical damage, and lightens dark spots. As if this little vitamin didn't already work hard enough, C can also regulate sebum production to prevent acne and decrease inflammation.

Not only should you eat plenty of citrus fruits to ensure your skin benefits from vitamin C, look for it in serums like Claire-ity Skincare 25 percent Vitamin C Serum ($15), to maximize the antioxidant powers on the surface of your skin.

Willow Herb Has Anti-Microbial and Antiseptic Properties

Willow herb, a wildflower, is a unique anti-microbial, anti-irritant, and natural antiseptic that has long been used to sooth common skin irritations, including rosacea and eczema.

One of the little flower's benefits includes the ability to kill Propionibacterium acnes bacteria, the nasty microbes that cause acne, which makes the natural ingredient a great option for treating breakouts, says Paula Begoun, founder of the skin care and cosmetics brand Paula’s Choice.

Look for willow herb (sometimes also listed as epilobium angustifolium extract on ingredient labels) in Pangea Organics Facial Cleanser — Australian Wild Plum & Willow ($34).

Witch Hazel Helps Control Oil, but Hydrates, Too

Witch hazel has been a staple home remedy for centuries, says Renée Rouleau, a celebrity esthetician. She explains that witch hazel is an excellent ingredient in toners and moisturizers to control oil while also offering hydration and reducing redness.

"Witch hazel can be used on sores, bruises, and swelling," says Dr. Schultz. That's why you'll often see the ingredient in aftershaves, he says. Rouleau offers this note of caution: "The witch hazel astringent found in drugstores usually contains alcohol and is not recommended as it will strip your skin of moisture."

You'll find witch hazel in Ahava Dead Sea Water Mineral Body Lotion ($45) and Thayer's Rose Petal Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel With Aloe Vera Formula Toner ($8.27).

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