The Most Effective Clean Beauty Ingredients

  • Written By:Julia McVeigh
  • Photography:Jon Paterson
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“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” It’s an adage that largely rings true, if not taken literally. After all, most of us can acknowledge that consuming a diet plentiful in real, whole foods – apples included – is a sensible step for fostering good health. And while said diet plays a massive role in skin health (just look in the mirror after a night of eating and drinking poorly), topical application of ingredients is important, too.

As I favor using clean beauty ingredients wherever possible, I wanted to know: Which ones are most effective for promoting healthy skin?

To be fair, that’s not exactly straightforward question. For one, “healthy skin” means different things to different people. As a busy mother in my 30s, I struggle with dehydration, so I seek out heavy-duty moisturizers; my 17-year-old-self pined for Clearasil-perfect pores, so I coveted acne-fighting solutions; I’d imagine my 70-year-old-self will want ingredients that target fine lines and wrinkles.

To determine the “good apples” in the world of clean beauty – sorry, I had to – I enlisted the help of Dr. Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City’s Tribeca. Ahead, Dr. Shah shares her picks for the most efficacious natural beauty ingredients to target specific skin concerns.

DEHYDRATION

For those desiring long-lasting but not smothering hydration (ahem, me!), Dr. Shah recommends squalene oil. This all-natural oil is derived from squalene, a chemical compound found in plants like wheat germ, amaranth seed and rice bran as well as our skin’s sebum and natural lipid barrier. As such, it does double duty, with Dr. Shah noting, “Squalene not only moisturizes the skin but it can also help strengthen its natural barrier.”

Find it: Indie Lee Squalene Facial Oil

Curcumin, its active component, has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

INFLAMMATION

We’ve all suffered from skin inflammation at some point. And while I can’t say this with full confidence, I’m willing to bet that everyone has also disastrously applied a product to said inflammation and made it that much worse. (Cue: Home Alone scream face.) It’s reassuring, then, that Dr. Shah proposes using chamomile to help mollify inflamed, irritated skin – an ingredient that I often sip in tea form to soothe what ails me. For those more adventurous types, she also recommends turmeric, explaining, “Curcumin, its active component, has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.”

Find it: Acure Organics Seriously Soothing Cleansing Cream

ACNE

If you grew up fighting zits with a stinging, bright pink spot treatment like I did, an all-natural acne solution is a welcome concept. Enter: tea tree oil, previously favored Mother Earth types and Dr. Shah’s smart recommendation for addressing spots. She comments, “Tea tree oil has both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, with studies showing that it can help improve acne.” With that said, don’t expect tea tree oil to necessarily be gentler than a conventional treatment; she cautions that this essential oil is potent and needs to be diluted properly prior to topical application.

Find it: S.W. Basics Tea Tree Oil

PORE CONGESTION

Salicylic acid is often touted as the holy grail of skin exfoliation, but synthetic versions can cause my sensitive, temperamental skin to become red, inflamed and raw. As such, Dr. Shah recommends seeking out products that contain natural sources of the ingredient, noting that white willow bark possesses its potent astringent and pore-clearing properties.

Find it: Eminence Organic Skin Care – Clear Skin Probiotic Cleanser

Vitamin C can help target fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen and elastin synthesis and acting as an antioxidant.

UNEVEN SKIN TONE / DARK SPOTS

My mom’s beauty routine is decidedly low-fi –she considers her washcloth to be her biggest investment – but I know she’d be willing to upgrade for something that effectively addressed her dark spots and skin discoloration. To promote bright, even-toned skin, Dr. Shah suggests kojic acid. She explains, “It’s been show to inhibit melanin synthesis – which can cause skin discoloration – and therefore can potentially lighten dark spots.”

Find it: Tracie Martyn Enzyme Exfoliant®

FINE LINES AND WRINKLES

Spoiler alert: Dr. Shah recommends retinol, which she characterizes as a “tried and true anti-aging ingredient.” If you’re shaking your head because of bad, face-on-fire experiences with drugstore-brand retinol creams, I hear you. But naturally-derived sources are available, in the form of ingredients that contain Vitamin C. She elaborates, “Vitamin C can help target fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen and elastin synthesis and acting as an antioxidant.” How ‘bout them apples?

Find it: 100% Pure Retinol Restorative Overnight Balm

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