About Face

The Power of Clean Beauty and Natural Skincare with Dr. Catherine Harrison

Green. Natural. Organic. Plant based. These are words that have moved beyond just food and diet, as more Americans are concerned about not only what goes in their bodies, but also what goes on them and is absorbed by the skin. Two years ago, nearly half of American women who used skincare products reported looking for those labeled as natural or organic, according to market research—the chief concern being avoiding “toxins.” However, toxins aren’t well defined, said Dr. Catherine Harrison, a local scientist turned natural skincare brand founder. 

“There are a number of chemicals used in mainstream cosmetics that have detrimental health effects,” she said, “like preservatives that can affect your hormone levels, and they’re generally not as good for your skin.” Mainstream cosmetics companies use these chemicals in their skincare products because the natural alternatives are very expensive and trickier to formulate, which is why natural skincare is generally more expensive, she said. “But the benefits [of using natural alternatives] are higher-quality products that are better for your skin and overall health—and better for the environment.”

Dr. Harrison’s Dayton area-based natural skincare company, Willowdale Botanicals, works with health-friendly, skin-friendly, environmentally friendly alternatives that are cruelty free and vegan. Herbs are distilled into hydrosols on Dr. Harrison’s Lewisburg, Ohio, regenerative farm and used in place of water to make Willowdale’s products, things she said are impossible for mainstream cosmetics companies to do because of overhead costs related to having manufacturers and distributors.

Dr. Harrison’s journey into the skincare business was inspired by a study she conducted before retiring as a civilian research scientist in the Air Force Research Laboratories at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. Her study of the physiological effects of herbs and essential oils on military members with PTSD led her to explore and pursue using plants’ healing properties on the skin, thus creating natural anti-aging skincare that she named Willowdale Botanicals.

“I never stopped being a scientist; I just became a scientist of the earth,” she said. “I have come to understand the power of plant extracts to address inflammation and oxidation damage on the skin, and I have focused on developing products that fight those very things.”

Purchase Willowdale Botanicals natural skincare products online, at WillowdaleBotanicals.com; locally, at downtown Dayton’s 2nd Street Market; or at any of South Dayton’s three Dorothy Lane Market grocery stores. 

Tips for a Clean Beauty Routine:

  • Be gentle with your skin; avoid mechanical rubbing and scrubbing and excess heat (warm is okay, but hot is not), because all of these things can cause irritation and breakouts. 

  • Avoid harsh cleansers, such as those that contain sulfates, a foaming agent that can overdry the skin and actually cause it to overproduce sebum. Look for products that contain natural oils and plant extracts.

  • Avoid ureas, formaldehyde and parabens. Often used as preservatives in skincare products, they can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, and danger to your health and the environment. Formaldehyde has been classified as a human carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent, and urea can release formaldehyde. Parabens are a known endocrine disruptor that can increase the risk of developing cancer in the breast and reproductive system.

  • Choose skincare companies that understand the science of natural skincare. Some companies use plant ingredients that are actually irritants or allergens, or are comedogenic (pore clogging, breakout causing). Coconut oil, for example, while wonderful for some people, can cause people with acne-prone skin to break out.

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