Skincare, Wellness

Facial Oils Edit: Non-Toxic Skincare

I have previously written a post about my switch to non-toxic skincare products. In that post, I have detailed why I decided to discard my chemical-ridden skincare items. I also discussed how to read the ingredient labels of your products and identify the most common and harmful chemicals. I highly recommend that you read the original post if you are interested in knowing about non-toxic skincare. 


So, facial oils, han! Everyone and their mothers are talking about facial oils. Growing up in a very desi, Pakistani home, I remember my grandmother using pure mustard, olive, and coconut oils to moisturize her body. I saw a sharp contrast during my teen years, as all my friends wanted oil-free skincare to avoid breakouts. Neutrogena and Clean & Clear were all the rage. Now in my twenties, I see facials oils becoming increasingly popular worldwide, especially in Europe and North America where I have lived my adult life.

My first foray into facial oils was in 2014 with the Josie Maran 100% Argan Oil I purchased at Sephora. It cured my dry, flaky skin in the harsh New England winter. So after discarding my old skincare products in February this year, I naturally turned to using facial oils in light of good past experience.

I could not find the argan oil I had previously used in Amsterdam, therefore I turned to using coconut oil as a make-up remover and sometimes moisturizer even. I assumed that since coconut oil is natural–and so hyped on social media–it should be good for my skin. Truth: no. It caused clogged pores, little white bumps under the forehead skin, and small black and white heads around my nose. I knew coconut oil was the culprit because I was not using anything else on my face at the time.

Why coconut oil, the miraculous superfood of our age, was congesting my skin when argan oil did not? I did my research. Turns out coconut oil is not as miraculous as we have made it out to be–not for the gut, not for the skin, not for the heart, and surprisingly not for hair even. For the sake of this post, we will only focus on the topical uses of coconut oil, as that is what I focused most of my research on. 

92 percent of coconut oil is saturated fat. While that may be good for some skin types, oily and breakout-prone skin types do not benefit from it. Craig Austin, MD, explains why:

“There are a few issues with putting it on your face as it’s considered a comedogenic product. When you use coconut oil, you’re applying an oil to your skin in combination with bacteria and dead skin cells—the oil essentially aids in ‘clogging’ the pore. Coconut oil is one of the thicker oils, and the thicker the oil, the harder it is to get adequately absorbed by your skin, so it essentially sits on top of the dermis and forms a film over the pore. Bacteria and dead skin cells will then fester under the skin and cause your body to produce excess sebum, which can result in acne.”

Austin refers to coconut oil as a comedogenic product. What does that mean? Comedogenic means the tendency to cause blackheads by blocking pores. Trends would have us believe otherwise, but coconut oil is consistently rated 4 out of 5 (5 being severely comedogenic) on the comedogenic index. Argan oil, however, has a comedogenic rating of 0, so that explains why when I used it long ago in winter, acne did not flare up. There are studies that challenge the comedogenic ratings being widely used by researchers and scientists, but they appear pre-mature and scarce.

Besides the comedogenic tendency, there are other factors to consider before slapping an oil on our faces. Lily Talakoub, MD and Naissan Wesley, MD write for The Dermatology News:

The chemical constituents of plant essential oils differ among species. Factors influencing these constituents include geographical location, environment, and stage of maturity of the plant. Furthermore, the stereochemical properties of essential oils can vary and depend on the method of extraction. There are over fifty different types of fatty acids in oils, and each oil has its own unique composition.

Choosing the right oil, however, is not easy. Most consumers shy away from pure oils because they fear breakouts or increased “oiliness” of their skin. Understanding the properties of the oils can help determine which oils will benefit specific skin types. Argan oil and sunflower oil, for example, are rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin E, which hydrate the skin and have antiaging properties. Tea tree oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities which are great for acne-prone skin.

In addition, be wary of essentials oils that can irritate facial skin in some people. I had used the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate which is made up of many different oils, including essentials oils. It really plumped up my skin, but I must admit I occasionally got a rash from it. I did not understand why then, but after my research on oils and evaluating the ingredients of the concentrate, I conclude that it was due to the essential oil irritants in the product that caused me the occasional itch and rash.

At this point, we can say there is no one magic oil for all. How our skin reacts to an oil depends on many factors, including the oil’s composition, our genetics, and lifestyle. Prior to using an oil, check its comedogenic rating here–that can be your starting point for research. Mostly, it is learning through trial and error. That said, I will share the two oils that have worked for me. For reference, I have dry skin in the winter and combination during summer, and argan and rosehip seed oils have been tremendous to my skin.

Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil

Between 2014 – 2016, I used the Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil. It served as a great moisturizer day and night in the harsh New England winters. The oil is lightweight and absorbs quickly. I experienced no break outs or black heads. At the time of using Argan oil, I did not use any other moisturizers. I would recommend this oil for people that have dry skin. Whether or not it applies well under face make-up, I do not know because I did not wear any.

Buy in EU, UK and US.


Trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil

This is my current favorite face oil. With a comedogenic rating of 1, I have not found rosehip seed oil to block my pores. It has a nice orange color and light consistency. There is a strong smell, which does not bother me and disappears rather quickly.

I do not use this oil everyday, but I use two to three drops whenever I use a clay mask. It instantly restores the moisture in my skin and makes it glow slightly. When my skin is going through a rough, dry patch, I use rosehip seed oil on top of my regular moisturizer and I find my skin finds its moisture balance overnight. I have also traveled with this oil and used it as a moisturizer day and night–wears beautifully under concealer.

There are claims that rosehip seed oil reduces hyper-pigmentation, wrinkles, and more. I could not find any scientific evidence for these declarations. My hyper-pigmentation is lighter than it was when I switched to a natural skincare regimen, but that could be attributed to the general cell turnover and not necessarily a particular product that I started using. I guess I will never know, and that is okay! 🙂

Buy in EU, UK, and US.

I hope this post was informative, especially for those of you that sent me messages about facial oils. It has taken me a long time to write because of the research that has gone into the post, so thank you for sticking around. I will also be posting about non-toxic skincare beyond oils, sun-care, and body-care in the upcoming posts, so stay tuned!

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave me a comment or send an email. If you know something that I have not mentioned in this post, please do share your knowledge. 🙂


Skincare, Wellness

Why I Discarded My Skincare Products

Not many people do, but I enjoyed my best skin during my teen years. I never got acne and I was too lazy to slather any products on my skin. I washed my face with the same soap that I washed my hands with and that was that.

Fast forward to turning 16 and moving to the US, I discovered a whole new world of skincare: cleansers, moisturizers, oils, wipes, serums, and whatnot. I gaped at drugstore aisles stacked with “promising” products, but was still largely unaffected by the marketing because I had no skin concerns to treat.

That changed in my senior year of undergrad for two reasons. Number one: I got acne for the first time in my life because of the stress of being *potentially* unemployed after graduation (silly me). Number two: I discovered the world of YouTube beauty gurus who made me aware of skincare “problems” I never previously considered, for example “pores”–aren’t we just supposed to have pores?

Top the stress of finding employment with the stress of planning my wedding, which was scheduled six months after my graduation, and you have a manic 22-year-old trying to do it all. In those months of vulnerability, I broke my bank buying every product the YouTube beauty gurus swore by. Nothing changed the state of my skin. I remember sitting with my mom and friends with an egg white mask on my face a day before the wedding. In retrospect, that is hilarious.

After the wedding, I moved to Amsterdam and finally did what I should have in the first place for treating acne. I saw a dermatologist. Within a month of proper treatment, my acne was gone. Phew. At that point I should have stopped using the products I was using, but I did not in hopes to treat hyper-pigmentation left from the acne.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year when I was diagnosed with a rare skin illness. It was clear that the illness was not prompted by the products I was using, nonetheless it made me curious to learn about what makes up the products I slather on my skin day and night. I was startled to find so many questionable chemicals in my everyday skincare products. I asked myself if those chemicals were doing anything significant for my skin, and the answer was a resounding no. So, I decided to throw out nearly all of my skincare products.

A list of all products I have thrown out (and why) is on my Instagram story highlights for anyone interested. In this post, I want to share a more general overview of chemicals that I found in my skincare products and the resources I used to identify those chemicals. There is a ton of conflicting information online, so let’s try and walk through it step by step in this post?

Here are the most common potentially harmful chemicals that I found in all of my skincare (each name is linked to the Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working Group):

1. Sodium laurel sulphate

*most common foaming agent in personal care products *known skin irritant *read more here and here 

2. Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, and more)

*common preservative *strongly evidenced to disrupt the human endocrine system among other concerns *read more here  and here

3. Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs)

*mixture of various compounds *used as an emollient and emulsifier *often contaminated with toxic impurities like Ethylene Oxide and 1.4 Dioxane, which are strongly linked to cancer * read more here

4. Fragrance/Perfume

*mixture of “secret” chemicals used to scent personal care products *linked to allergies, immune toxicity, carrying carcinogens, dermatitis, and more *read more here and here

5. Urea

*used as a preservative *although a natural compound, most urea used in cosmetics is man-made in labs *releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen *read more here

6. Silicones (ending with cone or siloxane)

*not necessarily toxic to the human body, but proven to increase absorption of ingredients that may be toxic *pore-clogging *non-bio degradable, so toxic to the environment

7. Propylene Glycol

*linked to organ system toxicity *proven to increase absorption of ingredients that may be toxic *classified skin irritant *read more here and here

Several studies conclude that chemicals like sulphates, PEGs, parabens, and fragrance are harmful, whereas others declare that those chemicals–as long as used in small amounts–are not harmful.

What are small amounts though? At least, I do not know. And in all honestly, most of the products I discarded had questionable chemicals listed within the first six ingredients. The ingredients of a label are listed according to their concentration in the product, so first listed ingredient is supposed to have the highest quantity and the last ingredient the lowest.

Oftentimes brands hype up the product by one miraculous natural ingredient, making us believe that the ingredient largely makes up the product. For example, one product I discarded is the Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. If you see the picture on the left from Kiehl’s website, the key ingredients  of the cream are Antarcticine and Imperata Cylindrica. Now look at the picture on the right which is the list of full ingredients. The “key ingredients” come much after questionable chemicals. Why do we need a larger amount of chemicals to preserve a smaller amount of natural ingredients?

Similarly, oftentimes the packaging of a product claims it is 100% natural or organic. Considering the packaging in the beauty industry is not regulated, those claims do not have to be true. It is therefore important to check the list of ingredients to validate the claims on the packaging.

One brand that I am conflicted about is Lush. I have loved using their products. They are marketed as if they are “straight from the tree,” an insta follower of mine Sundus aptly puts. That is unfortunately not true. If you look at the ingredients of a Lush product, you will find parabens. For example, this pictures contains the list of ingredients for Lush’s Sympathy for Skin body lotion.

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 11.16.47 AM

It contains four questionable ingredients: Triethanolamine, Methyparaben, Fragrance, and Propylparaben. The Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working group classifies these ingredients as toxic both to the environment and the human body. Lush claims that it uses those parabens in quantities that are not harmful. That may or may not be true. I wish I had a definitive answer. I have not thrown out my Lush body lotion because the chemicals appear towards the end of the ingredient list, but I am not sure if I will repurchase my Lush products that contain controversial chemicals.

One reason why I am wary of the “quantity” argument is that one product may contain the quantity suitable for daily use, but let’s be real. How many products do we use on a daily basis? Far too many! The cumulative amount of ingredients from all the products we are feeding our bodies may be far greater than the suitable amount.

What is the bottom line? Personally, I do not think products filled with a long list of chemicals are worth my hard-earned money. The chemicals in our personal care products not only impact our skin, but also our internal organs like respiratory, reproductive, and endocrine. May be it is not a coincidence after all that more than half of my circle of friends is battling PCOS or some other kind of hormonal imbalance?

That said, I strongly believe in the “to each their own” philosophy. That is why the links I have added in this post are balanced not sensational, so all of you can make informed decisions for yourself. I am not 100% toxic-free in my personal care products, but I do want to slowly start taking away chemicals from my lifestyle.

When I threw out everything, I went to using apple cider vinegar as a deodorant, castille soap as my body and face cleanser, and coconut oil as a body and face moisturizer. That may be stretching it too far, but hey, I was afraid and wanted to do my body good. Since then, however, I have been doing research on natural skincare brands and will be sharing my findings in a later post. 🙂

Until then, hope you have found this post helpful. If you have questions or comments, feel free to share them so we all can educate ourselves better.