There’s a major shift happening in the skincare industry. With access to information (literally) at our fingertips, we’ve become smarter, healthier consumers who demand more from the products we buy. It’s from those demands that the natural/organic/clean beauty movement emerged – and that movement has now grown to incorporate all sorts of philosophies and approaches that make health and well-being their priority.
Holistic skin care is one such philosophy that often gets lumped into the natural/organic/clean trend. But this term encompasses so much more than just ingredients. Although holistic skin care is intrinsically linked to great ingredients, to be holistic refers to an entire lifestyle and comprehensive approach to your health and balance.
To unpack exactly what holistic skin care is and how it benefits you, your environment, and your community, we sat down with two top holistic beauty experts: Barbara Close, esthetician, herbalist and Founder of Naturopathica, and Founder of LANIMA, Debbi Symes. They help us explain what makes holistic skin care different from the larger trend and how the top holistic beauty brands are making an impact at more than just the individual level.
WHAT DOES HOLISTIC SKIN CARE MEAN?
Holism is exactly what it sounds like. It’s based on the universal natural law that a whole is made up of the sum of all of its parts. When one part of a whole is off balance, the rest is affected. In wellness, this philosophy claims that healing is a whole-body practice, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “whole-istic.”
Your whole body refers to your physical body, your mind, and your spirit. These three components making up an individual are interrelated and interdependent. For an individual to function at their peak, they must have balance in all areas.
In terms of skincare, that means that you can’t treat the skin as separate from the rest of your body: “a ‘holistic’ approach means that we look at the whole individual—from their skincare to their diet and lifestyle habits—to address the root cause of imbalances, not just the symptoms,” says Close.
A holistic skin care approach, therefore, treats skin conditions from the outside in, as much as the inside out. “The most common skin imbalances—acne, sensitivity, and premature aging—can all be linked to inflammation, so it’s important for us to understand how factors like stress, sleep and hormones play into what’s happening on the surface. Armed with that information, we create holistic regimens including our potent herbal skincare and curative teas and tinctures, complete with lifestyle tips to help manage stress and heal from within.”
As opposed to other approaches, holistic skincare maintains that treating your skin with topical products results in only short-term improvements. That’s because skincare conditions are only a symptom of bigger problems – and treating that bigger problem is at the heart of having beautiful, youthful skin that lasts.
HOLISTIC SKINCARE AND CLEAN INGREDIENTS
By now, you’re well aware that many skincare products contain irritating and often toxic ingredients. Common ingredients such as alcohol and fragrance can cause irritation, redness, sensitivity and contribute to conditions like rosacea and eczema. But there are also toxic ingredients such as parabens and phthalates that are linked to cancer, reproductive issues, nervous system issues, and other serious health problems.
The clean beauty movement is a rejection of those ingredients that put your health at risk. And, as a philosophy that focuses on your overall health and well-being, holistic skin care is logically linked to clean ingredients.
According to Symes, “the two concepts are inextricably linked. ‘Clean’ is a buzzword in beauty, especially right now, but to me, it’s an interpretation of nature’s infinite wisdom—its purity and potency—and there’s something sacred about that… This is an intricate dance only nature can orchestrate. Why would I disturb that with fillers and all those nasties?” For her, holistic ingredients are “ingredients that vibrate at the frequency of the whole body. You feel them. You sense them.”
It’s easy to think of holistic skincare as part of the organic/natural/clean movement because holistic skincare products tend to have clean ingredients. But holistic skin care is actually so much more than that. The concept of holistic skin care isn’t skin deep – to truly treat your mind and body, the best holistic skincare brands represent the connection between your own wellness and the wellness of the community and environment in which you live.
HOLISTIC SKIN CARE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Some holistic skincare brands are taking the philosophy further than just the individual. From their viewpoint, your wellness and health are deeply connected to the environment in which you live.
Symes tells us that this is their reason for working with women’s cooperative and ethical suppliers. She’s adamant that “It’s not enough to just use organic and high-quality ingredients anymore, there also has to be a consideration for the quality of the lives of the farmers who grow them.” In this way, sustainable practices and ethical sourcing are a key component of holistic skincare products.
Importantly, sustainability and sourcing aren’t just about the effects you have on the environment, but also the quality of the ingredients that go into your products. Close explains that “when sourcing natural ingredients, it’s critical to understand your impact on natural resources and how the ingredients are being extracted—to make sure that you preserve the integrity of the plant material.”
HOLISTIC SKIN CARE AND THE COMMUNITY
In the same way that holistic skincare embraces the environment as an extension of the individual and their well-being, many holistic skincare brands also make giving back a priority. Symes explains this connection through one of their own initiatives: “Our global impact-sourcing initiative aims to impart economic and holistic change, forging a human connection to the source of our ingredients, with an emphasis on buoying small-scale farmers and women’s initiatives in Africa.” For Symes, holistic beauty can be used to create “an ecosystem that connects and elevates all who touch it.”
As another example of the connection between holistic skincare products, the individual, and the community, Naturopathica allows their customers to contribute to a better world community with every purchase. They partner with 1% For the Planet and donate a portion of their profits directly to the organization. In this way, consumers can treat both their skin and their soul.
Even little projects make a huge difference. Close told us about their recycling program, where they are “encouraging clients to bring in their skincare empties to our Naturopathica Chelsea Healing Arts Center & Spa to be recycled, helping to keep our community engaged in a positive way.”
REGULATING HOLISTIC SKIN CARE PRODUCTS
The industry hasn’t quite caught up with the demand yet. Meaning that, although consumer demand is shifting toward clean, organic, natural, and holistic approaches to skin care, there are no regulations governing these terms. This ambiguity causes confusion between the various terms related to skin care. There’s also no easy way to tell whether the brand you’re buying is truly holistic.
Until such time as the FDA steps in to start enforcing regulatory guidelines over the various approaches to skincare, we have to rely on brands self-regulating. With LANIMA, Symes has “set the bar high by personally cultivating relationships with all our farmers and suppliers—usually in face-to-face encounters—and strategically choosing only those who transparently engage in ethical farming and sustainable practices”.
And although she says it’s worth it, creating a product that treats the body, mind, and soul of an individual with clean ingredients and sustainable practices is time-consuming: “It took three years to create my launch line, Sustain, but it was worth the wait. We source only the highest grade, nutrient-dense, organic, and wild-harvested ingredients sourced through fair-trade alliances to support local communities while safeguarding the environment.”
Look for holistic brands that replace fillers, chemicals, and synthetic ingredients with herbs, plant extracts, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and essential oils. They shouldn’t use preservatives and will often contain organic, cruelty-free, wild-crafted, sustainably-grown/processed, and vegan ingredients. Remember too, that the best holistic skincare products are the ones that balance both your body and the greater environment and community in which you live.
THE FUTURE OF HOLISTIC SKIN CARE
As a philosophy that puts well being at the core of skin issues and skin conditions, holistic skincare goes above and beyond clean beauty. It offers a more well-rounded explanation for redness, breakouts, and inflammation and, as such, treats beauty as something that starts on the inside. It also extends the understanding of well-being beyond the individual to incorporate the environment and social justice.
More than just a new age, esoteric term to describe yet another beauty trend, holism is an approach that fits perfectly into the future of skincare and the better world we should all be striving for – and it isn’t going anywhere. Close believes that “Now that consumers have become savvy to ingredients and sourcing, I don’t think that the industry will regress to our former standards.” And as health, transparency, and responsibility become more important to consumers, it’s up to brands to “maintain a level of excellence in sourcing clean, sustainable and effective ingredients that improve well-being and empower healthy lifestyles.”