Back to Basics

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Angela Buckley developed severely sensitive skin after being exposed to chemicals on the job as a manufacturing engineer, leaving the Dublin woman no choice but to scour the market for soothing, all-natural products. Now, after switching gears to work on her doctorate, she's found time to launch her own all-natural line to help others with similar concerns.

"I look at all-natural products as a twofer," said Buckley, 36, whose Celtic Naturals line includes olive-oil-based soaps and organic lip balms. "It's an easy change of habits that's good for the environment and good for your skin."

Other proponents of natural products also herald their values, saying their chemical-free production process is better for the earth and keeps harsh ingredients away from the body's largest organ.

While individuals locally and nationwide have started making their own lines, large manufacturers like Jergens have also embraced natural products.

But the movement against chemical-filled products isn't without controversy.

First, "all-natural" isn't a term regulated by the FDA, so plenty of manufacturers wanting to cash in on the buzzword are labeling items as all-natural when only one of many ingredients actually comes from nature. Second, not everyone is convinced that natural products are the best way to go.

All ingredients, both natural and artificial, should be duly evaluated, said Dr. Shari Hicks-Graham. The dermatologist at Downtown Dermatology warns that just because something's "natural" doesn't mean it's necessarily safe for all. Menthol, peppermint and other botanicals can cause skin reactions in some folks, just like poison ivy, she noted.

And while Hicks-Graham d oesn't underestimate the ways that all-natural products benefit the environment, she has no medical concerns about suggesting topical treatments that contain things like petroleum jelly, which is derived from petroleum.

"The stratum corneum [the skin's outer layer] is a very secure barrier, and that's why a lot of times, a lot of these products aren't really going to be absorbed," Hicks-Graham said.

Local entrepreneur Amy Mattingly, however, firmly believes that all-natural products are better than chemically enhanced ones-and she's proof that at least some are literally buying into the concept. She's making a living on an East Liberty farm growing herbs and using them to craft handmade scrubs, lotions and soaps.

Mattingly developed Mikamy Meadows after deciding to become more conscious about what she puts on her body and into the earth, she said, and that's what her customers are interested in, too.

" People love to come out to the farm," said Mattingly, who offers classes in canning and soap-making that have been wildly popular. "I can say, 'This is where I make your product.' People love it."

Controversial Chemicals

These chemicals are the most common-and controversial. They are preservatives found in many beauty products. A 2004 study found parabens in breast tumors, but did not prove them to be a cause of cancer. The FDA has since decided that consumers shouldn't be concerned about parabens in cosmetics; they're usually listed on the label as methylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben.


Rumor has it that these chemical cousins, used as cleaning agents in soaps, shampoos and bubble baths to break through oil and grease, cause cancer. But the American Cancer Society says that while SLS is an irritant, it is not a known carcinogen.

Diethanolamine (DEA) is used to change the pH levels of certain solutions and to create foams or emulsifiers. A 1998 study by the National Toxicology Program found a connection between it and cancer in lab animals, but did not prove a similar effect in humans. DEA is much less commonly used in cosmetics now, the FDA has found.

In cosmetics, they're used as a plasticizer in things like nail polish and hairspray. The FDA decided evidence against phthalates is inconclusive and hasn't taken any regulatory action, but is investigating the effects of infant exposure to phthalates. D ibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP) and diethylphthalate (DEP) are common forms in cosmetics.

All-natural products can provide the same effects as their commercial counterparts, but some things might take some getting used to.

*Solid soaps can't be left in dishes with water or they'll dissolve.

*Essential oils have a lighter scent than fragrances. And artificial smells aren't available, so expect lots of lavender and eucalyptus.

*Some things are sold in smaller packages because they don't contain preservatives that would allow them to keep for long periods.

*Products like soap that pumps as foam or liquid soap with suspended herbs or other "decorations" can't be created without chemicals.