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When was the last time you read your cosmetic labels?

The modern world is a busy place, we are constantly faced with choices, what to eat, what to wear, how to spend our leisure time. So much information but how much of it do we really understand?

Nowadays the labelling on the packaging means we can see goes into our food and onto our skin and sometimes we can become concerned by all the ingredients on the labels.

I can only speak for myself but particularly when it comes to skincare I am happier using something simple and natural, for a variety of reasons.

Firstly I like to feel that I am using something that will work with my skin, supporting the natural processes.

Jojoba plants produce oil which is virtually identical with the oil – sebum- that our own skin manufactures. Argan oil contains squalene – again found in our own skin. Apricot and Peach oils contain important vitamins and camellia oil has been shown to help in the production of collagen.

Although they have a very important role in modern skincare, chemical alternatives can seem almost barren by comparison.

For example, how many of us realize that when we use petroleum jelly or mineral-based baby oil on our skin (“petrolatum” or “paraffinum liquidum” on the label) we are actually using the residue of the distillation of the same crude oil from which we get our car fuel.

Consequently the reason baby oil smells so nice is that artificial fragrances had to be added to it to mask the smell of the mineral oil.

Millions of us use these chemicals every day with no ill effects whatsoever but when you realize that mineral oil is used as a lubricant in industry somehow it just doesn’t sound the same, does it?

The second reason I use skincare based on natural plant oils is that sometimes the modern alternative works TOO well.

My family has very sensitive skin and I found that they were suffering from drying and itching when they used the products I brought home from the supermarket.

Commercial soaps were bad enough but when I tried liquid washes all hell broke loose. Most people, and up to then that included me, do not realize that these washes are based on detergents, essentially the same as washing up liquid. Two common names you will find on the labels are Sodium Laureth sulphate and sodium lauryl sulphate, both highly effective ingredients which are regarded as safe all over the world. Nonetheless, many people find that they are little bit better at what they do than they might like!

I did some research a while ago and I found that after the introduction of these handwashes, shower gels and so on, sales took off very fast. They are very popular and it is easy to see why; they are cheap, effective and hygienic to use – no slimy bars of soap anymore – and what’s more, they smell fabulous.

What is less well known is that shortly after we all started using these products to clean our skin the sales of moisturisers shot up as well, but at TWICE THE RATE of the wash products. We were literally washing the oils out of our skin, leaving our skin parched.

Most people get away with it and find that their skin is fine -or nobody would be buying them- BUT many people whose skin is prone to dryness live with a chronic low level itch and discomfort and an almost subconscious sense of something not being right that is only eased by applying – often quite expensive – moisturisers.

Ask yourself — do you remember your mother having to cover you with creams or did you have dry cracked skin on your hands when you were a child? Did you have to stand and wait for your all-over moisturizer to dry off before you could get dressed twenty-odd years ago?

Probably not.

Another group of women who have trouble with dried out hands, the skin on their knuckles cracked and sore, are new mothers who have to wash them a lot.

Think about it: by using detergent based liquid washes/gels you are essentially washing your hands in washing up liquid. Who would choose to do that?

In fact a good hot, long shower with these products is pretty much like standing the roasting tray in a basin of hot water with Fairy liquid after Sunday lunch. Both you and the tray come out spotless and gleaming with all the stuck on grease (in your case your body oils) washed down the plughole. Small wonder those oils need replacing.

Don’t mistake me- these products are not toxic, they are not going to give you cancer or make your hair fall out, but they are very, very good at their job. These chemicals are everywhere, there is sodium laureth sulphate in toothpaste, it is the stuff that makes it nice and foamy and I am not about to give up that Colgate ring of confidence in a hurry. However if you find that your skin is itchier than it used to be or that you are getting sore, cracked  hands ask yourself if you could be overusing these wash products or whether like my family they are just not for you at all and maybe find an alternative that suits you better.

You are unlikely to have to go to the lengths I did and make your own but changing your shower gel or handwash for something you find less drying is simple, inexpensive  and may well leave you feeling more comfortable, less itchy and less irritable; it’s got to be worth a try.

Bear these facts in mind the next time  you shop for skincare products, knowledge is power and we can all do with a bit of empowerment!

However, it is not enough to know what to avoid ; I look forward to telling you about some of the fascinating new alternatives we now have available which have been beauty and skincare secrets in different parts of the world and which are now available to us all.

For more information on Marble Hill check their website at www.marblehillonline.co.uk

Dr Maria McGee MB ChB is a medical doctor and Natural Skin Care expert.  She founded Marble Hill to produce her own range of Natural Skin Care products to offer a natural alternative to commercial cosmetics.  Marble Hill manufactures their natural skin care range in Northern Ireland using only pure natural plant oils and water from Dr McGee’s family’s well in Co.Donegal. Their products can be bought online at www.marblehillonline.co.uk .