Updated: May 27
“I don't think many people including health professionals are aware of some skincare issues and it would be great if people were better informed. Knowledge is power when it comes to skincare.”
- Dr. Maria McGee, Founder of Marble Hill Skincare.
Now, more than ever, we need to be cognisant of what products we are putting on our skin.
Many cosmetics and skincare products are packed with chemicals that health advocates and experts say could be connected with a host of skin problems.
In this article, I explore ways of adjusting your skincare routine to be kinder to your body. I also speak with Dr. Maria McGee, skincare and wellness expert and Founder of Marble Hill to discover more about ingredients that work.
Beauty & Wellness Products: A Public Health Scandal?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been ignorant of the ingredients used in some of my favourite skincare products. But after speaking with experts, the reality is that some are causing MUCH more damage than good.
We all know that there are a huge number of ingredients that go into some beauty and wellness products.
Yet, for many of us, there’s an assumption that because these products have been tested and deemed fit for shelves, that they are safe to put on our skin.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Maria McGee, Founder of natural skincare and wellness brand Marble Hill explains the psychology behind purchasing and why this could be dangerous for our bodies.
“As consumers we WANT to be happy with our products, we are highly motivated to go along with what we are shown, it's merely human nature.
Often the more we pay, the higher our expectations; some high end cosmetics have undesirable ingredients but if you are paying a big price you don't really want to hear that. We often buy into the message that we will be better if we pay more."
Marketing also plays a huge role in what we buy and why we buy it.
Big companies have spent years marketing their products in a way that has shaped our ideals of what we look for in our products. And unfortunately, the impact they have on our health is not at the top of that list.
Maria also notes the role journalists and influencers have played in the popularity of healthcare and beauty products.
“If someone we trust says it’s ok, it’s ok.”
Trending products and the latest ‘must-haves’ we read about online and in magazines often advocate results that aren’t real. Maria develops this argument, saying:
"Sometimes it frightens me, there can't be a new miracle product every week, it defies reason. Our skin is the same from generation to generation after all.”
A worrying concern in the industry is that some products may be harmful to our health.
There have been cases of known or suspected carcinogens like formaldehyde found in some keratin hair treatments, body wash and nail polish.
Furthermore, coal and tar has been found in some hair dyes and shampoo. Even heavy metals such as lead have been seen in lipsticks and clay-based products.
These findings were raised by Nneka Leiba, the Director of Healthy Living Science at EWG (Environmental Working Group) a corporation that has been monitoring chemicals in cosmetics for over a decade.
She further went on to link the use of dangerous skincare and cosmetics products - especially ones used in intimate regions of the body - to some worrying and unexplained disease trends, particularly in women.
“Cancer is on the rise, infertility is on the rise, allergies in children are on the rise, and people can’t figure out why.”
Maria eased these concerns when I caught up with her, explaining that when it comes to synthetic detergents,
“All of these products have been tested and passed as safe, they are not toxic and they will not give you cancer. Most people have no problem with them and they are so convenient and of such good value that they are not motivated to question their contents.
However for a proportion of the population they cause problems including excessive dryness, allergic contact dermatitis and irritation - which may be related to overuse in some cases.”
If you’d like to find out more about the harmful contents included in some products, Maria recommended looking at the “Allergen of the Year” list.
The increased focus on the damage the beauty and wellness industry could be having on people cannot come quickly enough.
Natural Is IN
We are currently living in a global health crisis and there is a lot of fear in the air concerning how we can successfully stop the spread of Coronavirus.
We are washing our hands more and realising that doing so is causing damage to our skin. There has been a rise in dermatitis and queries about dry skin.
Generally, this outbreak has made many of us think of how we can better take care of our bodies and now is the time to question what products work and which ones don’t.
The issues with harmful products and ingredients not being widely known about in the past is hopefully starting to change.
Dr. Maria McGee explains why up until this point, consumers haven’t looked deeply into more natural alternatives.
“People haven't searched elsewhere because products can be cheap and do the job people want them to do. There's the further argument that if you are coping, why would you change? They can simply go out and buy a moisturiser or if it's problematic get something from the doctor.”
She further explains the impact that beauty has upon skincare, healthcare and wellness products.
“Products that cause issues such as dryness are actually the most superficially attractive to us. They smell great and they look great (pearlescent anyone?) The fragrances used can cause allergies, but quite simply, smell is a HUGE part of skincare. Actually, one of Marble Hill’s problems we’ve faced is that when customers open our Neem soap or plain creams, they don’t reel back saying “That smells DIVINE…!”
The reality is that if the current crisis has made us change the way we view our health, we will start putting the skincare brands that champion our skin and health first.
Furthermore, we’ve seen the generous and compassionate side companies who have donated money to help causes that need it during this time. Or who have even pivoted their factories and production lines to produce much needed PPE.
They’ve put people before profits to help their communities. We will have to see if this continues when lockdown is over. Will they forgo cheaper ingredients to make products that are kinder to our skin?
In recent weeks, I’ve also been running live conversations with leaders in ecommerce and beauty. During these discussions, we explored how people are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of their health and are moving towards taking care of themselves.
If we’ve learned anything from this unsettling situation, it’s that there is opportunity in uncertainty.
By working together, we can come up with solutions that benefit everyone’s health.
Skincare: What Should We Be Doing?
What is natural in skincare?
Maria recommends searching for products made from pure plant oils if you have sensitive skin. These include:
Maria also used Lavender, Peppermint, Rosemary and Tea Tree essential oils where the product demands it. But warns against the use of artificial fragrances or preservatives as they are not necessary when the products are water and chemical free.
“I always tell people that there are no rules, they should use whatever suits them best, as skincare is so individual. That said, if they want to avoid allergy and irritations they are unlikely to go wrong if they keep things as natural as they can.”
Ethics, Value, Mission: Marble Hill Skincare
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I haven’t always considered the negative consequences that skincare products can have upon my skin and general health.
Maria has helped change this.
In fact, helping people understand more about how to effectively eradicate skin issues is at the very heart of Maria’s business. She is driven by a moral and ethical compass to not only produce better skincare products, but to help people live a better life.
Here is more about Maria’s journey in her own words:
“I became involved in natural skincare when my family moved to Northern Ireland and we became responsible for the family farm.
I qualified as a medical doctor in 1979 but I did not want to return to medicine after we moved and instead focused on doing something with the farm resources and happened on the pure spring which had provided the family's drinking water for a hundred years.
Enjoying crafts and chemistry I decided to make cold processed soaps and while developing my recipes I found that by carefully balancing the ingredients, I could produce a soothing and conditioning 100% natural soap containing shea butter and neem oil which was very beneficial for my son's eczema. He had become sensitised to detergents and other skincare ingredients as an infant and had suffered from severe eczema ever since.
This started the whole project and since then I have developed award-winning creams and soaps with the aim of providing effective natural alternatives for skincare needs.
In response to demand from people who were benefiting from them I began Marble Hill. (named after the Blue Flag beach in Co. Donegal, Ireland which is next door to our farm)
Wherever possible we use Fair trade ingredients to produce highly effective natural skincare options and provide stable long term employment in this seriously economically deprived area.
We have recently added an ultra-gentle liquid handwash made with pure sunflower and coconut oils which is proving very popular and demonstrates that you can make natural liquid soap without using allergenic synthetic detergents, fragrances and preservatives. We call the range "Marble Hill True Natural", the Bodywash and Argan oil shampoo are ready for launch next and are scheduled to be on the shelves in May.
My team already includes three people who were made redundant from a local manufacturing business and we are involved in helping young people who have experienced health issues make a return to the workforce, which is very satisfying.
Our charities include Diabetes UK and St Columb's Animal Rescue and Rehoming (a local animal charity) and my ambition is to expand and provide more secure jobs locally as we help improve the quality of life of those who use our skincare range.”
When speaking with Maria for this article, what came through first and foremost was her compassion. Right now, I’ve been inspired by many people taking selfless steps to better the lives of others - Maria is one of those people.