By Becca Newell | Photos by Janna Ashton
Whether it’s a single-source product of organic origin or a combination formula cooked up in a lab, earth’s natural elements have been renowned in the health and beauty realm for decades. And with new products arriving daily on store shelves and more studies validating existing claims, we’re ready to put these nutrient-packed compounds to the test!
For more than 100 years, activated charcoal has been used in tablet, liquid, or powder form to treat poisoning. The substance—not to be confused with the briquettes used for barbecue grilling—has absorptive properties, which means it attracts molecules to itself, like a loose nail to a magnet. Also known as activated carbon, this nontoxic material is produced by treating substances, like coal, wood, or coconut shells, with steam, oxygen, and other chemicals to create a multitude of pores that trap toxins. More recently, activated charcoal has flooded the beauty aisles in an assortment of creams, cleansers, and scrubs that promise clearer skin and whiter teeth. The logic is as follows: when consumed, activated charcoal removes impurities from the body, so surely a similar process occurs when applied to the skin and teeth, unblocking pores and removing buildup, respectively. While the Internet is abuzz with praise for the ashy compound’s ability to quell breakouts, scientific evidence is limited—but positive. One study showed the use of a topical carbon lotion in combination with laser treatments resulted in significant improvement of acne over several months.
Packed with minerals, it’s unsurprising that sea salt—not the variety found on your dinner table (that’s been processed, removing most of the nutrients)—is widely used to alleviate skin inflammation and some rheumatic disorders. One controlled study demonstrated that bathing in a Dead Sea salt solution reduced skin inflammation and improved skin hydration. The study concluded that the solution naturally moisturizes skin and, due to its high magnesium content, improves skin barrier function. Additionally, salt is praised by many as a natural skin exfoliant—although we recommend discussing with your dermatologist before testing any homemade recipes. Wellness sites are ripe with step-by-step instructions on how to create a sea salt scrub that removes dead skin, inevitably helping to stimulate skin repair. Using a DIY salt scrub on your face isn’t recommended as a daily treatment, however, since salt’s drying properties may be too harsh for delicate skin—instead, stick to using granules on the body’s thicker skin.
Spas have offered mud baths, usually with a mixture of the mucky material from the Dead Sea, to soothe tired muscles and aching joints for decades and there are subsequent studies that support this form of therapy. Similarly, studies suggest psoriasis (a condition where dry, itchy patches form on the skin) and psoriatic arthritis—a complication of the aforementioned condition that can cause joint damage—can be improved through this treatment. In one study, two groups were treated for these conditions—one with medicine and one with mud—and improvements were seen in both groups. Another study of mud baths and mineral water found the combination treatment improved participants’ osteoarthritis over the course of one year. It’s also been suggested that mud can be used for skin protective purposes to alleviate inflammatory disorders, like eczema and acne, through its cleansing capabilities.
What Does FDA Approval Mean?
There are products available on the market, particularly those containing minerals from the Dead Sea, that aren’t approved by the FDA. But what does that mean exactly? According to its website, the “FDA does not develop or test products;” rather, the agency reviews “laboratory, animal, and human clinical testing done by manufacturers.” In granting approval, the FDA “has determined that the benefits of the product outweigh the risks for the intended use.” In fact, many personal skincare items, like those promising to plump skin or remove wrinkles, rarely undergo FDA review because they’re classed as a cosmetic—or, more recently, as a “cosmeceutical,” a term not recognized by the FDA—and approval isn’t necessary. However, if the product falls under the “drug” category, investigation by the FDA is required. That’s not to say a cosmetic product hasn’t undergone testing to verify its claims; simply, the FDA doesn’t have to review those studies. Before using any skincare product, especially if you have sensitive skin, it’s recommended to perform a patch test to determine potential allergic reactions.
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