"Clean" Skincare

By: Bay Area Cosmetic Dermatology


Who doesn’t love the idea of natural, safe, organic, clean products?

As conscientious consumers we look for these labels when shopping for food, nutritional supplements, household cleaners, children’s toys, pet treats and much more. So it comes as no surprise that over the past few years we’re hearing more of you ask for “clean” or non-toxic skin care products, too.

As many of you know from chatting with me in the office, I am a strong believer in organic foods, eating clean and aiming for a mostly plant-based diet. For myself. For my family. For the planet.

What goes in our body matters and impacts not only how it functions but also the quality of our skin, hair and nails.

However, as a cosmetic dermatologist I am also acutely aware of how many of these “clean” products are being sold without little to no oversight. On a weekly basis I see patients with the best intentions using a skin care regimen that is ‘non-toxic’ or ‘organic’ but are either experiencing zero results or worse yet, having adverse reactions to these products.


Unfortunately, there is very little regulation in the cosmetic industry and there is no legal mandate about how companies are allowed to use the word “clean”. We see “clean” popping up all over the place, from high-end department store products to drugstore brands. This can be confus- ing as these words are used interchangeably with “safe”, “green”, “non-toxic” or even “hypoallergenic” and “chemical-free.”

Companies who position themselves as non- toxic and clean don’t have anyone to answer to. They realize we are a savvy bunch who desire ingredients we can pronounce and are especially attracted to products that contain things we could also eat (cue the coconut oil phenomenom.)


To further complicate matters, the term “organic” which we naturally think of as “clean” is unregulated in the cosmetics industry. TheNOP (National Organic Program), the group that regulates organic foods for the USDA, has very specific rules about how food products can be labeled as organic.

But these standards do not hold true for the beauty industry. Straight from the USDA: “FDA does not define or regulate the term “organic,” as it applies to cosmetics, body care, or personal care products.” This leaves the beauty industry to police themselves.


There is a lot of conversation swirling around parabens. Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetics,shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, and even food items. In the absence of parabens, skin care products risk becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus which can lead to serious skin infections and complications.

Natural skincare companies are finding more ways to preserve without parabens but have a long way to go.

Concern about the safety of using parabens is derived from the thought that they have an estrogen-mimicking effect in our bodies. The original studies illustrating this estrogen-like effect were performed on rats with a paraben concentration of 4,000x higher than in commercially available skin care products.

Two commonly used parabens, butylparaben and methylparaben, show no estrogen-like effects in many published studies. Other parabens show weak estrogenic effects, over 100,000x weaker than the estrogens in our own bodies.

Additionally, three published, reliable studies show parabens do not mimic estrogen at all but this research is ignored in favor of a single, flawed study conducted on lab rats. Although many clean movement bloggers will attest differently, the proposed estrogenic effects of parabens have not been shown in humans.

Simply put, I believe the safety of skincare products with parabens outweighs any mis- information about parabens.


Evidence-backed, science-strong skincare is what I choose to sell at Bay Area Cosmetic Dermatology. These products have been rigorously researched, tested for safety and proven to yield results.

Doing your own research? Cosmetic Ingredient Review is a good place to start. CIR is a group of dermatologists, toxicologists and scientists who review and assess the safety of ingredients and publish their findings in peer-reviewed scientific publications, all of which are public and available for download.


It is the goal of both myself and my partners to meet you where you are. We realize many of you are avoiding parabens, gluten or seeking pregnancy-safe products. Please always feel comfortable having this conversation with us and ask questions. Better yet?

Bring in your products at your next appointment and we can review together. For your convenience, we maintain current lists of paraben-free, gluten-free and pregnancy-safe skin care products.

We will continue to read the latest findings, evidence-backed studies and maintain discussions with our fellow board-certified dermatologists to bring you the safest, most effective skin care.

Dr. Kathleen Welsh

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.