The False Reality of “Natural” Skincare

Did you know that “natural” skincare can actually be worse for the environment than engineered formulas? When mass producing natural ingredients, consider the amount of water that must be used for crops and consider the amount of plants that must be picked for just a bottle of skincare. This process consumes a lot of resources. For example,  palm oil is one of the most demanded “natural ingredients.” At the same time, it is one of the primary drivers for deforestation and greenhouse emissions. Deforestation releases more than 17% of all emissions, and in addition, the carbon dioxide stored in vegetation from cleaning our air is released back into the atmosphere when plants are cut down (National Resource Defense Council, 2010).  

Despite this, natural ingredients have  garnered vast popularity because of their propensity to be “non-irritating” or “clean.” But what if we could render that same effect inside of a laboratory setting that only requires minimal water and minimal land? While many companies say that natural formulas such as oils and strictly plant-extracted ingredients are better than lab synthesized ones, natural ingredients have a disproportionate  impact on our environment.

So, could there be a “natural” alternative to “natural” skincare? Phyla skincare is a vegan skincare line that utilizes bacteriophages (live organisms) to target and kill cuitbacterium, acne-causing bacteria.

Yug Varma, co-founder of Phyla and microbiologist says,The phages we've discovered and folded into the Phyla formula kill only the bacteria associated with acne - cutibacterium acnes, or C.  acnes. It's naturally present in healthy skin and is 100% safe and natural. Bacteriophages are harmless organisms that target and kill bacteria. Once they get inside of the pore, they attach themselves to the bacteria, inject DNA into the c. acnes cell,  and replicate themselves until the cutibacterium burst. From that point, more phages are released to attack more of the c. acnes bacteria.” 

In contrast to a natural acne remedy like tee tree oil, minimal resources are used to produced an even more potent effect. Phyla is also natural skincare in the sense that it mirrors a function that already exists within the skin. Likewise, it reduces one’s chances of irritation whilst also reducing damage done to the environment. Plus, the function of harvesting plants, greenhouse emissions, extracting oil, clearing land for farming, and water usage are greatly reduced or non-existent during this process.

Additionally, unlike other formulas, it is truly probiotic skincare because it employs live microorganisms for the effect of fighting acne. Over the years, the label “probiotic skincare” has come under fire. Allure Magazine even called probiotic skincare “a lie” because bacterial ferment filtrate and bacterial lysate, strands of dead bacteria, are most commonly used in "probiotic" skincare formulas. However, Phyla is truly probiotic skincare because live microorganisms are being introduced and benefiting the host (our faces). 

Not only that - but Phyla skincare is vegan! Did you know that most probiotics, especially the lactobacillus species, a very common bacteria on the market, are actually extracted from the gastrointestinal tracts of animals? Additionally, probiotic mixtures or “cultures” are bred in something called a nutrient broth. Unfortunately, the majority of nutrient broths contain blood agar. Typically,  blood agar consists of 5% sheep blood and a base containing a protein source (e.g. Tryptones) which is often obtained from beef.

Yug Varma says, “We’ve been working on Phyla for 7 years, and the broth that we use for our cultures, the stuff that we grow our probiotic in, is vegan. It’s actually hard to find a non-animal derived version of it, but we found one, and we’ve used it from our research from day one.” 

Maria Cho, the other co-founder of Phyla also conveys, “We know how this impacts consumers, and we were very conscious of keeping the entire chain free of animal products. But yes, it did take longer. We would never want to compromise our integrity as a brand or as scientists." She continues, "Once the product is finished, we put them in a recyclable container and ship them.” 

Cho mentions integrity which is a very interesting thing to think about when it comes to sustainability. Although many skincare companies have good intentions behind “natural” skin treatments, we also have to consider the consequences of their intentions. In real life, good and natural ingredients are not always good for the environment. So, let’s focus on brands that not only have good intentions but good and sustainable outcomes.

Coverphoto cred: the triple bottom