It's The Caveman Diet For Your Skin

Over the past few years, Paleo eating plans have taken the blogosphere by storm — with celebrities and foodie bloggers continuously gushing about the popular "caveman diet." But we're not here to talk about diets. The Paleo lifestyle has become such a thing that we've seen Paleo products (from brands like Primal Life Organics and Araza Natural Beauty) pop up in the beauty aisle, too.

Such products easily fall into the natural-beauty category, but their low processed-ingredients composition is what really sets them apart from the rest. They take a cue from the Paleo diet, focusing on using whole and unprocessed ingredients that our cavemen ancestors would have used (although there's no meat). Sounds a bit gimmicky, yes, so we reached out to some experts to find out more about the Paleo beauty regimen.

“Paleo is all about eating real, healthy, unprocessed foods, and it's the same for beauty,” explains Maia Singletary, CEO of Astrida Naturals. “Products feature ingredients like coconut oil, unrefined shea butter, and avocado oil. While some naturally derived ingredients still require preservatives, chemicals, and alterations in a lab, paleo skin-care ingredients are usually unprocessed.”

A Back-To-Basics Routine
Paleo beauty might be suitable for those who are seeking a more toxin-free alternative to commercial beauty products. “Paleo beauty staples include coconut oil, olive oil, sweet-almond oil, [apple-]cider vinegar, baking soda,” says dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD. "Some followers include sugar in their regimen, which doesn’t cause inflammation in the body, but can exfoliate the skin.”

The routine depends on the person. “The regimen is relatively the same as any other quality, natural skin-care program,” says Frownies CEO and naturopath Kat Wright. “Cleanse...with a gentle cleanser, moisturize, and nourish the skin twice daily, just like any good skin-care regimen.”

Some cleanse with natural clays, tone with apple-cider vinegar, and moisturize with face oils. Others take a more extreme approach, avoiding bathing and shampooing to properly keep up with the back-to-basics philosophy. “Some Paleo followers might slowly reduce hair- and body-washing to one to two times a week,” says Dr. Shainhouse. “Some also don’t use shampoo or conditioner...as they will use eggs, vinegar rinses, coconut oil, or just plain water.”

A Nontoxic Approach
Because Paleo beauty products are made with minimally processed ingredients, some argue that they're a lot less toxic than your drugstore favorites. “The Paleo lifestyle promotes minimally processed ingredients, and that’s always a good idea,” says CAP Beauty cofounder Kerrilynn Pamer. “Ingredients like cold-pressed coconut oil, raspberry-seed oil, and shea butter are miracle workers filled with hidden benefits.”

Dermatologist Valerie Goldburt, MD, also applauds the Paleo-beauty approach. “Coconut oil is a fantastic makeup remover, as you can melt some in your hands, pat on your skin, and tissue off,” Dr. Goldburt says. “Likewise, beet juice can be used as a natural stain, while coconut oil can also be rubbed on the lips, for natural moisturization.”

Trina Felber, Paleo skin-care expert and CEO of Primal Life Organics, developed her own line of products solely made with food-based ingredients. “There’s a big difference between Paleo beauty and more mainstream products,” Felber says. “Paleo beauty often looks at skin care from a food standpoint, as Primal Life Organics is made from vitamin- and mineral-rich foods that aren’t toxic, and helps your skin heal. 'Big-cosmo' [or mainstream] products are usually filled with cheap chemicals that only make skin conditions even worse.”
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Paleo-Certified
Some brands, such as the above-mentioned Araza Natural Beauty, are Paleo-certified — displaying a label obtained through organizations like the Paleo Foundation or Paleo Friendly if they properly adhere to their guidelines. “All certified products that follow the standards...are given the rights to use Certified Paleo logos, trademarks, and certification marks to indicate they are certified Paleo,” explains certified pharmacist Dr. Avni Mahiji.

Though the Paleo label may lend some authenticity, some skin-care experts believe that these product-approving organizations don’t hold much credibility. “There are a number of small organizations that offer Paleo-product certification, but this feels like marketing hype,” Singletary says. “It's hard to say how much authority these organizations hold, and I'm not sure certification is worth it at this point. In my opinion, brands are better off spending their time (and money!) educating customers about ingredients, and practicing authentic labeling and transparency.”

Not An Acne Cure
Just because Paleo products boast more natural ingredients doesn’t mean that a full-on Paleo skin-care routine is entirely beneficial. POREspective founding esthetician Alissa Chasen notes that some Paleo skin-care products can actually worsen acne-related conditions — especially if your routine is oil-focused. “Paleo skin-care lines contain pore-clogging ingredients like shea butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and essential oils,” Chasen says. “While these ingredients smell good and are natural, they are absolutely the worst ingredients to treat acne, because the molecule is so small that they penetrate the pores quickly.”

To treat acne effectively, Chasen strongly suggests using non-Paleo products formulated with salicylic acid to cleanse pores. But if you still want to adhere to the Paleo lifestyle, she recommends focusing more on the diet as balanced eating leads to clear, beautiful skin. “You can supplement strong dermatology skin-care products with a gut-healing Paleo diet (the inside-out approach), but that will not be enough to get someone clear,” she says. “You have to start with topical products that work directly on the pores.”

Is It Legit?
Wright says that "natural" products are actually quite hard to define. “I have studied many ingredients over the years as a skin-care formulator, and Paleo seems like a marketing gimmick to me,” she says. “Paleo skin care is not a bad thing, as the products look simple and clean. But Paleo was a diet by definition, and you cannot apply most of the dietary principals to skin care.”

But with all the confusing labels on the market, Felber finds that Paleo-tailored products take the trickiness out of shopping for natural beauty products. “Natural products just aren’t natural,” Felber says. “A lot of 'natural,' and even 'organic,' moisturizers contain chemicals and water ingredients that can be both toxic and dehydrating to the skin. Paleo products, on the other hand, feed your skin with food-based ingredients you actually need.”
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