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“If It’s Natural, It must be safe…”

True or False?

What Are Coconut Alkanes?
Alkanes are a chemistry term for paraffins.  You are probably more familiar with paraffins in terms of their association with waxes, but they are also a group of compounds used as solvents, fats, and even natural gases.   Coconut Alkanes are basically naturally-derived paraffins which are commonly used as an emollient (product which softens and hydrates the skin) in skin care formulations, or even on their own. They are virtually synonymous with coconut oil, as they are reduced and isolated through hydrogenation (turning a liquid to a solid through combination with hydrogen) from the fatty acid of coconut oil.  In other words, they are a solidified and concentrated form of coconut oil.
HOW / WHY ARE THEY USED?
Once in the solidified form, coconut alkanes can be combined into formulations for their emulsifying, hydrating, and spreadable surface smoothing qualities. Similar to silicones, which are a common ingredient in skincare and cosmetic products which claim to minimize pores (or rather, achieve the LOOK of minimized pores via filling in the gaps) and smooth wrinkles, they sit on top of the skin, creating a blurred, velvety, photo-filter appearance. Many cosmetic and skincare lines such as Bare Minerals, Drunk Elephant, Beauty Counter and Juice Beauty use coconut alkanes and similar derivatives such as coco caprylate/caprate with the intent of keeping with their mission of producing clean products for consumers.  The idea is that chemical free and natural ingredients are preferable to synthetic or laboratory manufactured.  We couldn’t agree more… HOWEVER… Drunk Elephant, Bare Minerals, Beauty Counter, and Juice Beauty do not have the privilege of caring for acne patients on a daily basis for the past two decades.  These companies sell popular products with the right intent; however, they sell without clinical knowledge or cumulative perspective.  They may believe their product is fantastic and clean.  They may have customers and reps who believe their products are life changing.  BUT, their products are not for everyone – ESPECIALLY patients prone to acne and blemishes.  
WHAT’S THE STORY?
This article was actually inspired by a slew of patients who came to me within the same week and insisted that their acne was not improving even though they had done X, Y, and Z.  A couple of these patients had had a history of acne flares, while three were entirely new to acne (all three in different decades of life).  Upon digging a little further and reviewing regimens with each, it was apparent that each of these specific patients had something in common: They each referenced their natural and clean skincare or a new “clean” makeup they had been using for the past few weeks to months.  Moreover, they were each equally incredulous that I would ask them to compare their ingredient labels with my “Acne’s Most Wanted” comedogen list.  This is a list of top synthetic and natural comedogens, or, compounds which block pores and frequently cause acne.  I compiled it to help my patients cross check ingredients which may be maintaining or worse, aggravating their acne.  I often like to visit this, first, before discussing a prescription regimen, depending on the severity of acne.   As per usual, persuasive labels, brand initiatives, consumer reviews and paid for plugs had each of my patients strongly convinced that this was the last thing causing their acne. The short long of it (or is it the long short of it?), everyone did their homework and came to the same realisation.  These products all contained coconut alkanes or a similar derivative, and even after scouring Dr. Google, they could not find a legitimate resource stating that coconut paraffins were not comedogenic.  That’s because, on the comedogenic scale of 0-5, coconut alkanes are a 4 or 5 as concentrations and derivatives vary. Though there was still some skepticism, I was able to convince most of the patients in reference to discontinue their prized regimen, even at least temporarily, and try a different approach (customized for each of their needs).  Unsurprisingly (this is a very common problem and was not by any means the first time I’ve had to walk someone through this process of recognition), the lesions cleared up and new lesions stopped forming.   Every now and then, I get a skeptic who goes back to the products they purchased (because who wants to waste a perfectly pricey skincare product?) ((been there)) and gives it a little test – only to validate my words of caution, further.  
WHAT CAN WE LEARN?
And it’s okay.  It’s a learning process. And if I could pick five quick lessons to convey in writing this, I would hope that you will walk away knowing: 
  1. To read labels and know the function and purpose of ingredients you’re putting onto and into your body.
  2. Just because something was great for someone else’s skin, doesn’t mean it won’t break you out, cause an allergic reaction, or effect your skin or body differently.
  3. Coconut Alkanes are comedogenic. Period.  If you have acne, just a few popular products to look out for include:
    1. BareMinerals –  DELUXE COMPLEXION RESCUE™ TINTED MOISTURIZER – HYDRATING GEL CREAM, Oil Obsessed Total Cleansing Oil and Good Hydrations Silky Face Primer
    2. Beauty Counter: Nourishing Eye Cream, Nourishing Cream Exfoliator, Nourishing Day Cream, Nourishing Night Cream, Countercontrol Matte Effect Gel Cream, Counterman oil-free face lotion (<–notice how it’s labeled as oil-free… it’s still comedogenic, the coconut oil is only compounded slightly differently) (just to name a few)
    3. Drunk Elephant:  “B-Hydra” hyaluronic acid serum
    4. Juice Beauty: Illuminating Primer Face Makeup (and virtually all their makeup for that matter) (Sorry, Ms. Paltrow – we still think you’re amazing!)
  4. Some other popular brands which use coconut alkanes in their products include Dermalogica, The Ordinary, Josie, ESPA, and Indie Lee, Honest, Alba and Labaratoire Biarritz.  This does not mean every product produced by these manufacturers will break you out – it only means that some of their products contain these highly comedogenic ingredients – so check the labels before you buy.
  5. Just because it’s “natural” and marketed as “clean” doesn’t mean it’s always good for you.  Dermatologists not only see acne as a result of certain natural (or synthetic) ingredients, but we see allergic contact and irritant dermatitis’ as well.  
Lastly, if you have skin goals and you want to reach them, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your local board certified dermatologist.  You can trust our clinical experience and guidance more than you can trust a 2D label.  Great skin is accessible to everyone, but sometimes it takes some trial and error and enough time on the right track to get to where you’d like to be.  Working with the right Dermatologist will just get you there alot sooner and save you the expense of over the counter products which may aggravate your condition. The best part is, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own! On Your Side, Your Aesthetix Team        We all have to learn the story of our own skin – which is a byproduct of many “chapters” – no two stories being exactly the same.  The good news is that many of our stories are similar enough that we can all share our experiences. Dermatologists have the honor of seeing enough of these experiences over their career lifetime which equates to what is known as ‘clinical experience’.  We are privileged to combine specific knowledge garnered from timeless and up to date studies along with what we have experienced through our history of caring for patients.  And we can apply it through practice.   The other privilege we are privy to is the ability to teach and learn together.  It’s always rewarding when I can teach a patient how to be a more educated consumer.  You can’t really fix a problem unless you have figured out what the cause of the problem is.  There is so much misinformation out there; so much intentionally misguided branding – that most people are not equipped to question or do anything other than trust that a product is going to perform as it leads you to believe it will perform.  Because… well, why shouldn’t it? The fact is, times have changed and the beauty industry is BOOMING.  Everyone wants a piece and while their message may sound transparent or promising, even when good intent is present, when you market to the majority, someone will undoubtedly pay a price.  At Aesthetix Skin & Surgery, we believe that skincare should be practiced holistically and based upon the individual.  If something worked for one person, it may not necessarily be in your best interest.  That is why our goal is to educate our patients – because YOU are the most important part of your healthcare team.  And your understanding and commitment plays a large part in your own success.   So what did we learn here, today?
  1. Read labels and know the function and purpose of ingredients you’re putting onto and into your body.
  2. Just because something was great for someone else’s skin, doesn’t mean it won’t break you out, cause an allergic reaction, or effect your skin or body differently.
  3. Coconut Alkanes are comedogenic.  If you have acne, just a few popular products to look out for include:
    1. BareMinerals –  DELUXE COMPLEXION RESCUE TINTED MOISTURIZER – HYDRATING GEL CREAM, Oil Obsessed Total Cleansing Oil and Good Hydrations Silky Face Primer
    2. Beauty Counter – Nourishing Eye Cream, Nourishing Cream Exfoliator, Nourishing Day Cream, Nourishing Night Cream, Countercontrol Matte Effect Gel Cream, Counterman oil-free face lotion (just to name a few)
    3. Drunk Elephant  “B-Hydra” hyaluronic acid serum
    4. Juice Beauty
  4. Some other popular brands which use coconut alkanes in some of their products include Dermalogica, The Ordinary, Josie, ESPA, and Indie Lee, Honest, Alba and Labaratoire Biarritz.  This does not mean every product produced by these manufacturers will break you out – it only means that some of their products contain these highly comedogenic ingredients – so check the labels before you buy.
  5. Just because it’s “natural” and marketed as “clean” doesn’t mean it’s always good for you.  Dermatologists not only see acne as a result of certain natural (or synthetic) ingredients, but we see allergic contact and irritant dermatitis’ as well.  
Lastly, if you have skin goals and you want to reach them, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your local board certified dermatologist.  You can trust our clinical experience and guidance more than you can trust a 2D label.  Great skin is accessible to everyone, but sometimes it takes some trial and error and time on the right track to get to where you’d like to be.  Working with the right Dermatologist will just get you there alot sooner.  The best part is, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own!