What does natural, organic skincare means to me?

Posted by Teresa Foo seet Wei on

I have many customers asking me what does natural organic means to them and why they should buy these products over conventional skincare with synthetic ingredients. I will do my best to help you understand this niche and growing market better.

I am sure many of you are still very confused about what makes a natural and/or organic skincare. It's no wonder consumers are confused about natural organic skincare when there is so much Greenwashing in Asia. Or even worse, you can't even see any list of ingredients on their labels and have no way to find out what ingredients are in the products except the common "No parabens, No SLS, No EDTA, etc". (It's against the cosmetics regulations not to list ingredients on product labels according to ASEAN Cosmetics Directives).

According to Greenwashing index: "It’s greenwashing when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimise environmental impact." (source)

You may find personal care products that are labelled as natural, naturel, au naturel, naturals, organic, organics, etc under the brand name. Technically speaking, it does not mean much especially if it is used mainly for marketing and sales purposes. Most often, you will find there are only a few natural or organic ingredients on the label and the entire product or brand will claim that it is a natural organic brand.

Natural can mean using ingredients that are obtained from nature or naturally derived (such as an emulsifier that is derived from Olive oil, Sugar, Coconut oil, Palm oil, Rapeseed oil, etc). Organic includes those raw cosmetic ingredients that are certified organic by various organic certifying bodies such as ACO (Australian Certified Organic), USDA Organic (United States Department of Agriculture), Soil Association (UK), ECOCERT (EU), COSMOS (EU), etc or the brand has obtained organic certifications. To add to the confusion, these organic certifying bodies have their own sets of accepted raw cosmetic ingredients.

A personal care brand can claim to be certified organic only when they have obtained certification by these various certifying bodies (listed above). Otherwise using certified ingredients in the products do not make the brand a certified organic brand. (At Balm Kitchen, we use certified organic ingredients but we do not claim we are a certified organic brand as we did not pay for those licenses). Also if businesses claiming they are an organic brand without license can get themselves into deep trouble with the relevant certifying organic bodies or cosmetic regulatory bodies.

Why choose natural organic skincare over a conventional skincare with predominantly synthetic ingredients? Let's look at the Argan hair oil treatment as an example.

You can see from the chart that the natural organic Argan hair oil treatment only comprises of botanical oils, vitamin and essential oils while the conventional product contains synthetic ingredients with three at the top of the list. Those three ingredients are synthetic silicones and silicon based polymer. They coat the hair shaft and make the hair feels smooth. You will also find these synthetic ingredients in many shampoos. That is why when you use hair products loaded with synthetic silicones or polymers, you will have 'perfect hair' that falls flat and feels smooth and silky to the touch.

The difference between natural organic ingredients such as using just botanical oils in a hair oil treatment is that the ingredients not only provide moisturisation and hair smoothing properties to the hair shafts, the oils contain vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fatty acids. These properties will not be found in synthetic ingredients such as silicones, polymers or mineral oils. 

[ How to read a product label: The percentage of ingredients are written on product labels with the highest at the top to the lowest at the bottom. ]

Most often, you will also find brands stating their products are natural or even organic but the products contain ingredients that are not accepted in organic skincare (some ingredients are accepted in natural skincare).

Take a body shower gel for example, the word natural, organic is displayed prominently on the label and it caught your attention and you picked up the item. When you turned the product around to look at the list of ingredients and you see: "Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Glycol Distearate, Propylene glycol, PEG-7, Phenoxyethanol, Ceteareth-20, methylchloroisothiazolinone, PEG-40 Hydrogenated castor oil, Polysorbates 20/80, etc, these ingredients certainly are not natural nor organic. These ingredients are not accepted in organic skincare formulations by the organic certifying bodies because these synthetics are derived from petroleum (Propylene glycols), toxic method of manufacturing is used to process the raw ingredient (PEGs, Polysorbates), and can cause allergic reactions (methylchloroisothiazolinone - banned in Europe). However some of these ingredients can be found in natural skincare and that is due to the fact that natural have 50 shades of gray. Some brands claim that Polysorbates are derived from natural ingredients but the process of manufacturing does not make it all that natural (PEGs are byproducts of the ethoxylation process, "1,4-Dioxane" which is a known carcinogen. They are usually filtered out of the final product during the ethoxylation process).

Do take a closer look at the list of ingredients the next time you pick up a personal care product and you may try to identify if the above ingredients are in them which can tell what type of product it is. 

The decision to switch to Clean and Green personal care products is a conscious choice in wanting to be part of a movement to be environmentally responsible, using true natural and/or organic ingredients to beautify our skin, and harnessing the power of botanical ingredients for our skincare solutions.

We do hope that more natural organic skincare brands would declare the list of ingredients on the product labels (not only necessary for the consumers but also a legal requirement) and also not use fear mongering tactics such as 'No chemicals in our products' when everything is a chemical whether it is made synthetically or from nature ( do read our earlier blog post on Chemophobia). Do join us in our journey to help spread Clean and Green beauty to everyone and share the benefits of using natural organic skincare to maintain healthy skin barrier.

Have you made your switch to Clean and Green Beauty yet? We would love to hear your experiences. 


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Do you exercise with your makeup on?

Posted by Teresa Foo on

I am a big fan of exercise and have been working out regularly. I work out at least twice a week with a minimum of 30 minutes each session. Regular Exercise not only keeps my body physically healthy (makes me look younger too!), it also makes my heart stronger. Exercise releases good endorphins that can help us to destress. Exercise have shown potential that "changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills" according to Harvard Health Blog (source). 

Regular exercise also keeps our skin looking healthy. During a workout, our heart starts to pump faster (cardiovascular exercise going on there) and carries oxygenated blood throughout our body. Hence we will get a flushed look during and after we have exercised. In other words, our skin 'glows' with regular exercise. We also perspire a lot in the process. Here are some fun facts about our sweats (source). 

There is a rising trend in wearing makeup during workout which the products are called Athleisure makeup. These makeup are formulated to stay on your skin no matter how much you perspire. Sounds great? Probably not. I spoke to Alexia Buttigieg, an experienced Esthetician, on her views about wearing makeup when you exercise.

Alexia, can you share with us does makeup gets absorbed into the skin?

"Before I answer the question of makeup absorbing into the skin, we must understand that not all cosmetic ingredients are absorbed by the skin. Cosmetics only penetrate the first layer of dead or dying cells. Cosmetics do not go beyond that otherwise they would be classified as drugs or Pharmaceutical products! We do not want cosmetics to go beyond the first few layers of the skin i.e. deep into the dermal layer, as it would affect cell metabolism.

Makeup falls under cosmetics and it does penetrate into the first few layers of keratinised cells but not absorbed into the dermal layer which leads to the blood stream (which is good news). Makeup can get trapped in the horny layers with bacteria and sebum (the natural oil that our skin produces)."

What are the reasons why we should not wear makeup when we work out?

"Athleisure makeup may sound trendy but it is not a good idea to wear makeup during a workout as it can clog pores and disrupt the skin barrier. The foundation, loose powders and blushers are made of colouring agents and other substances (occlusive ingredients) which are meant to stay on the surface of the skin. They may penetrate into the epidermis during a workout. Our body produces heat (burn calories) when we exercise. As a result, skin metabolism rate increases. Pores become dilated (enlarged), and bacteria can get trapped in them. With a cocktail of sweat, bacteria, dirt and makeup, skin cell inflammation can occur and leads to irritation, redness, acne flare-ups and clogged pores.

Cleansing the skin before a workout is ideal, and highly recommended. As mentioned earlier, skin is highly active during a workout and may absorb whatever is on the surface. Even if you do not wear any makeup before starting your workout, your skin should be cleansed prior to any high-intensity activity. You should cleanse your skin with a gentle cleanser and apply a light and fast penetrating facial serum. If the workout is performed outdoor, a sunscreen with non-nano zinc oxide should be worn so it will stay on the surface and not have the possibility to get absorbed into the bloodstream (nano-sized zinc particles do get absorbed into the bloodstream).

Our skin should be cleansed thoroughly again after a work out to remove excess sweat (and a cocktail of dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells too!) and whatever the skin would have expelled. Gently pat your skin dry with clean tissue instead of wiping with the wet towel to reduce irritation.

TIP: Makeup should be applied at least 30 minutes after the workout (onto freshly cleansed skin) so that the body has enough time to cool down. Our skin will still be in the 'active' state after shower and cleansing. The heart will require some time to slow down the blood pumping action. Your skin should be cool to the touch before applying any makeup especially foundation. 

Most often, girls and women wear makeup during their workout because they want to look good in their selfies or probably due to lack of self-confidence. Would you like to offer a few words of encouragement to all our female readers on embracing their natural beauty sans makeup during exercise?

"You will notice that exercise makes the skin flush which gives an impression of making you look younger and healthier. We should not be uncomfortable in our own skin. Almost no one has the perfect complexion so I believe we should all go bare-faced during a workout and let the skin do it’s own 'workout' too."

Photo courtesy of Alexia and friends sans makeup after their Zumba workout session.

Thank you Alexia for sharing with us. Let us embrace our natural beauty and exercise to your hearts' content sans makeup! Wear your natural flushed look with confidence! 

"Do not let beauty define you. You define beauty.

[ Alexia Buttigieg is a Holistic Therapist who is passionate about everything that can help people feel better in a more natural approach, from massage to self-therapy to essential oils and reflexology. She believes that stress cannot be avoided but nature has given us all we need to reduce it, and live a more balanced existence. She started her career as a Beauty therapist and has achieved diplomas in Esthetician and Physiatrics, where she was able to understand the anatomy and physiology of the human body. She furthered her studies by achieving diplomas in Reflexology (including palliative care) and Aromatherapy. Other certificate courses include tui na, facial analysis and Ayurvedic stone massage. In these past years she has ventured into natural cosmetics and read for a diploma and an advanced diploma in organic skincare formulation, which harmonises her passions for Aromatherapy and organic skincare treatments. Alexia still feels like her first role is being a mother to her daughter and prioritises family and their well-being. She may be contacted at naturannis@gmail.com ]


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How should I cleanse my skin?

Posted by Teresa Foo on

Most of us if not all wash our face with some kind of facial cleanser at least once or twice a day. I am picking up a three times a day! That is way too much washing in one day even in our humid climate. There are some of us who only wash your face with water. Is that enough? What facial cleansers should I be using? There are literally hundreds of facial cleansers in the market to choose from and any consumers will have a hard time making a decision.

Let's start with how many times you should be washing your face.

When you wake up in the morning, you should wash your face with a gentle cleanser. You need to do so because your facial skin is coated with a cocktail of dead skin cells, sebum from your facial pores and scalp, mold, mildew, fungus, dust mites and mites’ feces. Ewwwwww…You get the gist. All of them are found on your pillow. (Pssst, you need to change the pillow covers at least once a week.) 

No fret. Washing your face with water only cannot remove these cocktail of microorganisms. With the help of gentle facial cleansing products in the morning after you wake up, your skin is clean and you can continue with your usual skincare regime of toning, moisturising, sun protection and maybe makeup.

You go about your day commuting to work, school, volunteer work, shopping, doctor’s visits, etc. During the day, your skin starts to get coated with a layer of dust, pollen, air pollutants, smoke and sebum. At the end of the day, you will remove your makeup/sunscreen and follow through with a thorough cleansing.

Twice a day of facial cleansing, one in the morning and one when we get home/before bedtime are sufficient for daily cleansing. Washing your skin more than twice a day can put a lot of stress on the skin barrier as it is stripping away too much of the skin’s natural moisture i.e. disrupting the skin's acid mantle.

What type of cleansers is suitable for me? Let’s take a look at the common facial cleansers available to you. There are gel and foaming cleansers, cream cleansers, oil-based cleansers, clay, oleogel cleansers and also facial soap bars.

This is a general guideline on selecting facial cleansers for the common types of skin:

  1. Normal resistant skin
    You are one of the lucky ones on this planet! You can use just about any type of facial cleansers that you like, as your skin is neither dry nor oily, and do not react to any cosmetic ingredients.
  1. Normal to dry/mature/aged/dehydrated and also sensitive skin
    Cream cleansers, oil-based cleansers and oleogel cleansers will not leave your skin feeling like it has been stripped of it’s natural moisture. Since these type of cleansers usually include botanical oils, they have refatting properties that will leave your skin feeling moisturised after cleansing.
  1. Normal to oily/acne skin
    Gel, foaming, clay cleansers and even oleogels (self-emulsifying oil cleansers) will be suitable for this skin type. Your skin is usually oily around the T-zone. These types of cleansers leave a refreshing sensation on your skin without feeling like it has been coated with a layer of oils. Make sure to look for gentle, pH balanced skin as you do not want to wash away too much of your skin’s natural moisture. 

Natural facial soap bars are usually made with botanical oils, extracts and essential oils. The pH of the soap (pH 7-9) is usually higher than the skin’s natural pH (between 4-6). After cleansing your skin with a facial soap, it can leave your skin feeling tight. Using a moisturiser after cleansing will remove the tight skin feel. We do not recommend facial soaps for dry/mature/aged/dehydrated or even sensitive skin.

Now you know the importance of facial cleansing and how to select facial cleansers for your skin type. 

Look out for our next post where we share our views about the latest trend of wearing makeup during exercise or Athleisure makeup.

We have gentle facial cleansers for your daily cleansing needs. Simply Fresh Cleansing Oil is great for makeup and sunscreen removal. It is also suitable for dry/mature/aged skin as it is gentle and do not strip the skin of it’s natural moisture. Our Fruity Gelly Wash is pH-friendly and does not leave your skin feeling squeaky clean. Formulated with 100% organic Witch hazel hydrosol, it helps to reduce redness on your skin while giving your skin gentle enzymatic exfoliation from tropical fruits.

Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Festive eating and your skin

Posted by Teresa Foo on

Have you recovered from the 'food coma' after the Christmas feasting? I hear a 'NO' and now we're onto another episode of festive feasting again! Lunar New Year is just round the corner and with the many reunion dinners and company lunches, I am sure many of you have had a few kilos added to your weight. 

There is always a risk of excessive eating and not forgetting alcohol bingeing during festive seasons. We get carried away when we meet our friends and relatives whom most of us only see them once a year due to our busy schedules.

Do you know that festive eating can have a negative effect on your skin besides your body putting on a few kilos? Yes you heard me right. Let's take a look at what many of us will be consuming over this Lunar New Year.

Kueh Lapis, Pineapple tarts, Kueh Bangkit, Kueh Susu, Bak Kwa, Glutinous rice cake (年糕), Yu Sheng, Egg rolls, assortment of nuts, copious amount of cookies, chocolates, Arrowhead crackers, and the list goes on and on. Oh throw in the numerous cans of soft drinks, sugared teas, beers and wine we will have during our visits to friends and relatives' home.

What does all these food tells us? They are all high in Glycemic index (high GI). We will be consuming lots of refined flour, high sugar and fats and alcohol too. These will cause our blood sugar to rise which will induce excessive production of insulin. 'Elevated insulin levels stimulate the secretion of androgens and cause an increased production of sebum, which plays a fundamental role in pathogenesis of acne vulgaris.' (Source). Most often, we will experience breakouts after festive season and in some, exacerbate existing Eczema (Dermatitis) condition. Also due to the insufficient intake of fibre, many may experience constipation too.

Excessive alcohol consumption within a short time or long term duration can lead to dehydration of the skin. 'Alcohol can produce urine flow within 20 minutes of consumption; as a result of urinary fluid losses, the concentration of electrolytes in blood serum increases.' (Source). Try and limit the intake of alcohol and remember to replenish with plenty of water.

So how do we ensure we get to have our share of the New Year goodies and also maintain healthy skin? It is easy to indulge in all the festive goodies but our body will suffer which will eventually affect our skin. Therefore prevention is better than remedy. Let's be honest and we know we cannot avoid eating all the New Year goodies but it is wiser to practice mindful eating. 

 Meanwhile, I wish everyone a Happy & Prosperous Lunar New Year,新年快乐,身体健康,心想事成! Huat ah! 


Further reading:
• Guide on Sugars intake for adults and children: http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/guidelines/sugars_intake/en/
• The Science of 'Breaking the seal': Urge to urinate comes more often with inhibition of Anti-Diuretic hormones: http://www.medicaldaily.com/science-breaking-seal-urge-urinate-comes-more-often-inhibition-anti-diuretic-hormone-316382

Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Meet the Skinpreneurs – Cosmetic Chemist

Posted by Teresa Foo on

Our last guest for Meet the Skinpreneurs is Elham Eghbali from Skin Chakra in Germany. 

Meet the Cosmetic ChemistElham is a Cosmetic Chemist, Chief Saponification Officer and is a former Associate lecturer at Formula Botanica. Many of you will have come in 'contact' with a Cosmetic Chemist in the form of your skincare, body care, household cleaners, etc. They are the Scientists for cosmetics formulations. Let's take a closer look into the world of a Cosmetic Chemist.

Elham - Cosmetic Chemist

• • •

Elham, what is Cosmetic Chemistry in a nutshell and what is a typical day as a Cosmetic Chemist?

Cosmetic Chemistry is the chemistry related to cosmetic ingredients and manufacturing of cosmetics. This is a very broad definition.

Each day is a unique day on its own. It can start with making new formulations, tweaking some existing formulations. Checking the stability of prepared formulations, running measurements, observing samples under microscope, reading new articles, searching for some ingredients etc. There is no “routine” at least in my “formulation development” part of cosmetic chemistry.

What are your favourite ingredients and why do you like to work with them?

Except for avocado oil that I love and try to apply in most of my projects, I can not name a certain “favourite” ingredient. Each single project demands application of a series of ingredients.

Consumers shun the word ‘chemicals’ like plague. What is your opinion on chemophobia?

This is a very sad story and I believe the scientists are as responsible to promote or support “chemophobia” as those who earn their livings from it. Scientists are so busy in their labs and offices that most of them have lost contact to the public whereas “panic makers” are making a fortune by distributing silly and unrealistic stories about chemicals in our everyday life. I think we shall consider the good and evil in each ingredient, product or device we’re using and shall not discard the baby together with the bath water.

You are also a Chief Saponification Officer. What kinds of soaps do you enjoy making and could you tell us the benefits of using handmade soaps vs industrial soap/surfactant based products for cleansing?

I find each soap making session a unique experience. It is the alchemy of the soap that I find fascinating. In soap making we deal with real “chemical reactions” and it is different to all our other formulation experiences such as making an emulsion or a serum. I personally like cold process soap making.

The most significant advantage is their being natural or naturally derived, although there is a chemical reaction involved in saponification, you're still working with plant oils as they are pressed out of the nuts, fruits or kernels. There are now "naturally derived" surfactants available but even the mildest of them and those which are accepted to be used in "organic & natural" skin care have a light de-fatting effect over skin. With natural soaps (I mean those based on fatty acids and triglycerides) you have a re-fatting of skin and not stripping the skin from its own protective barrier. Another advantage is that by applying a "natural soap" you're not only using the triglyceride, you're applying all those amazing non-saponifiables accompanying the virgin oils. You can not find this quantity and quality of vitamins, phospholipids and antioxidants in any syndet based soap or cleanser.

We know how generous artisan soap makers are with applying macerated oils and herbal infusions. In mainstream products, these additives are applied (if at all) to the lowest possible concentration just to enable the manufacturer bringing the name on the label. The mainstream is still deeply convinced that paraffin and synthetic surfactants and ingredients work better than "natural" ingredients. They apply low concentrations of "natural ingredients" about whose function and efficacy they are not convinced at all just to fool the customer and to swim with the stream.

We have seen many skincare in the markets promoting no preservatives used. Could you share with us why such practices are happening and why do we need preservatives in skincare especially those containing water and those that will come into contact with it?

This goes back to your previous question about “chemophobia”. I’m not sure if the consumer, I mean the consumer without any background in chemistry is aware of the role and function of a preservative in a cosmetic product. They correlate “preservative” with something toxic, harmful, carcinogenic. Some “unnecessary evil” that the industry is adding to the consumer products just for fun. This is why I mentioned before that scientists have greatly failed to inform the consumer. I always repeat “Paracelsus” in this case : “Dosis facit venenum”: the dosis makes the gift.

A cosmetic product containing water (and specially “natural” cosmetics with all those plant oils and extracts) are susceptible to contamination. A contaminated product causes more damage and harm than the most notorious “preservative”. We know by experience that a major part of “natural” cosmetics consumer are people with a compromised immune system. These consumers are extremely susceptible to contamination. There are several cases of dangerous outbreaks of infection and even death because of applying a contaminated product. These cases are unfortunately only being published in scientific journals. It seems that the scientists are communicating among each other and totally neglect the “real” world outside. Anyway, making the long story short: a contaminated product is more dangerous and harmful than the applied preservatives which serve to protect both the product and the consumer from dangerous contaminations and their consequences.

Thank you Elham for sharing with us and you can find her at Skin Chakra. We hope you have enjoyed our Meet the Skinpreneurs series!



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