Personal care products are not always a breeze to sell. Shoppers need instructions for use (often custom for their lifestyle), products need to marry well together, consumers want tangible benefits they can see (tomorrow, if possible) and the price has to make sense. On top of that, there are several sticky subjects that warrant some finesse when answering. This piece will give you all the info you need to be prepared.

Vitamin A: Harmful or Helpful? Some consumers love using vitamin A in their skincare regimens, but others want to avoid it for fear that it could be dangerous. What’s behind this split?

The Retin-A form of vitamin A was developed more than 30 years ago as an acne treatment, says Bob King, president and CEO of SIBU, Midvale, UT. To this day, dermatologists prescribe it for numerous types of skin problems that would benefit from exfoliation and keratolytics (i.e., inducing shedding of the outer layer of the skin). Several counterparts are sold on the cosmetics market, including topical vitamin A forms available from natural products companies.

Andreas Papas, Ph.D., M.Sc., science advisor for A.C. Grace Company, Big Sandy, TX, and Scott Smith, director of marketing and operations at the company, believe, “While some vitamin A derivatives such as tretinoin (Retin-A) should be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional, the use of vitamin A can play a significant role in skin health. It is synergistic with vitamin E and can help in reducing oxidative and inflammatory stress and reduce the risk of photoaging and some cancers.”

On the cosmetics front, Kimberly Heathman, chief marketing officer at MyChelle Dermaceuticals, Louisville, CO, says topical vitamin A (which also comes in forms like retinol, retinal and retinoic acid that some natural products companies use) is one of the most recommended nutrients for supporting smooth skin and to prevent photodamaged skin.

Even though these benefits are clear, there may still be some hesitation on the parts of shoppers to buy vitamin A products. Are they safe?

“One of the most common misconceptions of vitamin A is the product will make skin more sensitive to the sun,” says Heathman. However, she says this isn’t true.

Nonetheless, there is a connection to the sun that feeds some shoppers’ concerns about the ingredient. Heathman says that “UV/sun exposure can deactivate the ingredient,” so it is best applied at night.

And, some experts feel that using vitamin A in the sun could cause other problems. Speaking of its use in sun care products, particularly the retinyl palmitate form of vitamin A, Kate Solomon, founder and CEO of Babo Botanicals, Scarsdale, NY, states, “Oddly enough, that may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer. Vitamin A is used to decrease the ‘signs’ of aging, so it is not necessary in a sunscreen. It is best to choose ones without it.”
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years for their numerous medicinal, aromatherapy and beautifying benefits. —Katie Shaw, Nature’s Gate
In addition, some shoppers feel that vitamin A is irritating to the skin. King points out that uncomfortable side effects may include redness, burning/stinging, peeling/exfoliation and increased sunburn potential. “These side effects are real. Although there are three decades of successful dermatological use, consumers should be careful to follow the directions for use carefully,” King states.

Natural product companies, however, are finding new ways to offer the benefits of vitamin A in as comfortable a way as possible. For instance, a MyChelle formula (Remarkable Retinal Eye Cream) uses retinaldehyde for healthy skin renewal. Says Heathman, “It is clinically proven the most effective and least irritating vitamin A form available without a prescription, making it a perfect ingredient for all skin types.”

Austin Bideaux, general manager of White Egret Personal Care, Roy, UT, says retinyl palmitate is often easier on the skin than other forms. “We use this form in our products because it is more easily metabolized by the skin’s enzymes. It is important for shoppers to understand that different forms can cause different results, and to pay attention to what form is being used in their products,” he explains.

Is Trust in HABA Waning? In April, Hain Celestial announced it would remove the wording “no harsh chemicals” and “no sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate,” from certain Earth’s Best personal care products (1). The Wall Street Journal had previously uncovered in its testing that products like Earth’s Best baby shampoo contained sodium coco sulfate (SCS), a coconut-derived surfactant that is said to cause irritation in high concentrations. SCS may also contain sodium lauryl sulfate, an ingredient Hain said it would not use. While Hain has been working to reformulate and remove this ingredient since 2015, could shoppers lose faith in natural personal care products?

It’s possible, says Katie Shaw, education manager and in house product expert at Nature’s Gate, Chatsworth, CA. She states, “There might be a small decline in consumers’ trust for the Hain kids’ care products. However, they did the right thing in alerting their consumers and removing the statement.”

In the end, it’s key for retailers to show off very clean products in their baby and child care offerings. “Parents want safe, responsible products for their kids as well as their entire family; they are highly educated about what is happening within the industry and which ingredients are being deemed unsafe,” says Shaw.

Hot Product Launches in 2016

WholeFoods Magazine asked those interviewed for this piece to describe their most unique and innovative product launches of the year. Here is what they had to say:

EO Products brought to market Baby Collection and Aromatherapy from its everyone brand. EO Products Co-founder Susan Griffin-Black says the Aromatherapy for everyone line helps simplify essential oils. “We’ve found that people are often intimidated by the confusing information out there on essential oils. With our everyone blends, we’ve done a lot of work to take the confusion out of aromatherapy.” For instance, an Uplift blend and a Calm blend points shoppers to how and why each product is beneficial. “We’re pretty excited about demystifying essential oils. They’ve been around for thousands of years. They shouldn’t be so hard to grasp,” she states.

Kimberly Heathman, CMO of MyChelle Dermaceuticals says her company has a new sun protection product that is non-nano zinc oxide-based, water resistant and reef safe: Sun Shield Clear Stick SPF 50. She says it glides on clear, delivers UVA and UVB full-spectrum protection and contains avocado, vitamin E and jojoba oils.

Other new sunscreens come from Babo Botanicals. Kate Solomon, founder and CEO, says her company’s new sheer zinc sunscreens have a high percentage of non-nano zinc oxide as the only active ingredient and is packed with organic antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients. “The textures are sheer and lightweight while giving you, your baby or anyone with sensitive skin 80 minutes of water or sweat resistance. They are so innovative, so environmental (even our sprayer doesn’t use a propellant) and so healthy,” she adds.


Badger Company has also been hard at work on sunscreens. The company recently launched a new daily sunscreen lotion (SPF 25) for face and body and a new all-natural bug bite itch relief product for use by the whole family. The non-nano uncoated zinc oxide sunscreen has a base of aloe and antioxidant-rich sunflower oil. Badger’s new After-Bug Balm has cooling menthol and 10% soothing colloidal oatmeal to soothe itchy bug bites and minor skin irritation.

Meanwhile, White Egret Personal Care has been focused on expanding its Magnesium Oil line. “Magnesium is very important for overall health, and can help aid skin’s hydration when placed on the skin,” says Austin Bideaux, general manager of the company. He says his company uses an environmentally friendly product to harvest the oil that involves natural solar evaporation.

Also focusing on hydration is Nature’s Gate. According to Katie Shaw, the company’s education manager and in-house product expert, Nature’s Gate launched nine new products infused with hydrating and nourishing botanicals for hair and skin. They include Jasmine+Kombucha Shampoo and Conditioner, Lavender+Peony Shampoo and Conditioner, Coconut Body Lotion/Body Wash, Lavender Body Lotion/Body Wash and a 3-in-1 Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash.

A.C. Grace Company recently reformulated its topical Unique Derma line, which is known for delivering its signature Unique E ingredient. For instance, Unique E Natural Moisturizing Cream “helps soothe tired skin, moisturize aged derma layer and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” Ingredients include vitamin E mixed tocopherols, tocotrienols and vitamins A and D. This unique formulation combines skin moisturizing with strong anti-aging and wellness benefits.


For Shaw, this includes cruelty-free and vegan products that are void of GMOs, parabens, mineral oil, aluminum free, carrageenan, sodium lauryl/laureth/coco sulfates, phthalates, EDTA, butylene glycol and artificial colors and fragrances.

Securing trust in natural HABA products may also be a matter of pursuing stringent certifications that are appropriate for topical products. Says Solomon, “For so long, there has been no regulation when it comes to claims in the natural world. Now that consumers are becoming more educated and it’s a more diverse and developing marketplace for natural products, claims are being examined.” In the case of Hain, the investigation came from a Wall Street Journal reporter, who was also examining the validity of claims made by other companies like The Honest Co.

Solomon says HABA companies should look into appropriate certification programs (and be thankful for the efforts) of organizations like the Environmental Working Group, the Natural Products Association, NSF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the last of which manages the National Organic Program. While the USDA certification was designed with food products in mind, some HABA companies abide by their guidelines in an effort to achieve a clean label. She says, “We have a long way to go, however—all the way down the supply chain.”

How Can I Safely Use Essential Oils? The use of essential oils is a growing practice as topical support for a variety of purposes that include both the physical and the emotional.

Susan Griffin-Black, co-founder at EO Products, San Rafael, CA, says mood support is one way to use essential oils in that they “help relax your mind, body and spirit.” One of her favorite end-of-a-long-day combinations includes lavender, ylang ylang, vetiver and evening primrose oil. “These oils create a calming synergy that truly soothes my soul when I massage some of this lovely oil into my skin,” she states.

Other oils may have a physical effect on the skin. Griffin-Black says that using light oils such as jojoba mixed with other targeted essential oils “can help ease the visible signs of aging, such as wrinkles and rough skin texture.”

Expanding on this point that oils can be used for visible benefits, Solomon says she is currently developing an eczema product that is “packed with essential oils that have incredible soothing and healing benefits.”

Bideaux’s firm also uses essential oils for more than the aromatherapy aspect. He states, “[Essential oils] are also useful for detoxification, and can help boost certain attributes within the body for overall health, such as the immune system when a person starts to feel sick.”
The key to safe and effective usage of essential oils is based in consumer education. Do your homework and due diligence before randomly engaging in the use of oils for topical support. —Bob King, SIBU
And, some oils offer both physical and emotional support. Shaw says her company has a new body wash and body lotion with lavender essential oil “that not only provides the aromatherapy benefits of lavender to help relax and calm the mind, but also helps to soothe and cool tired, stressed out skin.”

As word spreads about the good essential oils can do for the body and soul, make sure your shoppers are up on the best ways to use them.

Also, Papas and Smith say that “Essential oils are prone to oxidation, especially those with high degree of unsaturation (double bonds). Oxidized essential oils not only are not beneficial, but they are also harmful by contributing to oxidative stress and inflammation.”

Retailers should talk to manufacturers about how they ensure their oils are fresh and not oxidized and seek advice for storage and shelf life. You may find that one important way manufacturers protect oil is with vitamin E. According to Papas and Smith, “Vitamin E as natural tocopherols and tocotrienols has been shown to protect oils from oxidation and to have significant benefits including reduction of damage from radiation, environmental pollutants and skin conditions associated with disease such as diabetes. For this reason use of essential oils should be combined with vitamin E."

Griffin-Black says that retailers must remind shoppers that essential oils are sold in a very concentrated format and usually aren’t intended for use on the skin undiluted. “Always dilute your essential oils with other plant oils before applying them to your body,” she states.

King agrees that education is key in this market segment. He states, “The key to safe and effective usage of these oils is based in consumer education. Do your homework and due diligence before randomly engaging in the use of oils for topical support.”

What Should Anti-Aging Look like for Millennials? When was the last time your store reached out to shoppers in their 20s and 30s about skincare targeted to their age group? It won’t be wasted time, says Wendi Coombs, brand ambassador for SIBU. “Consumers, particularly women, are becoming more and more educated on the ingredients they apply to their skin and where they come from,” she explains. “Women in their 20s and 30s appreciate quality and value like never before.”

There’s an interesting trend among young women and men to be very proactive with their skincare. Why wait until it’s too late to worry about wrinkles, sagging and dark circles? Retailers may want to consider hosting a workshop or store tour for Millennial (ages 18–35 in 2015) and younger Gen X (36–40 in 2015) clientele to learn about the most important ways they can support skin health in the long term. What should be on your agenda (in addition to sampling and demo-ing)?

Solomon feels mineral sunscreen should be a top priority. “I wish I used more sunscreen in my 20s,” she states.

Why? Ultraviolet (UV) light can lead to wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and premature aging, not to mention the highly dangerous melanoma, explains Shaw.

For all these reasons, sunscreen is also on the “healthy skin trifecta” for Heathman. “Every day, 365 days a year, an environmentally safe, broad-spectrum (zinc oxide), daily UVA/UVB 100% mineral sun protection to reduce early aging and the risk of skin cancer,” she states.

You can stress to your audience that companies have improved formulas greatly in recent years. “Now, sunscreens are so much sheerer, lighter weight and fragrance free—so why not use it daily?” asks Solomon.

Papas and Smith also feel that attention should be paid to prevention and care of sun-damaged skin. They say, “Photoaging and damage from UV radiation and exposure to pollutants account for over 80% of skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancers.” They believe vitamin E—especially tocotrienols—can be used in skin care to help reduce oxidative stress, inflammation and damage from radiation, all of which contribute to photoaging.

Other important antioxidants for support outside of suncare for anti-aging are vitamins C and A. Heathman explains that vitamin C is critical in the form of l-ascorbic acid because she believes it is the “only active form naturally occurring in the body that can effectively penetrate the skin to help strengthen, smooth, combat signs of aging, and improve overall skin tone.” Meanwhile, she supports the use of vitamin A as retinaldehyde (retinal) for promoting healthy skin renewal, targeting hyperpigmentation and diminishing skin discoloration caused by acne.

Speaking of problematic skin, you can also highlight ingredients like colloidal oatmeal, tea tree oil products, green tea extract, witch hazel, willow bark, aloe and other natural ingredients for those concerned about acne. Meanwhile, Coombs says her company focuses on omega-rich sea buckthorn in its natural skin care products to support problematic skin. “The seed oil of sea berry has been used for centuries as a topical anti-aging treatment. It nourishes and improves the look and feel of the skin. It can be used as an all-over beauty oil or as a spot treatment for problem areas,” she explains.

She feels that combining topical products with internal supplements containing omega-7 to support healthy skin, hair and nails is the way to go to create a “one–two punch for healthier, more beautiful skin at any age.”

And don’t forget to coach your shoppers in some basic lifestyle habits that can have a positive effect on the skin over time. First, Griffin-Black says getting enough sleep is critical: “The old ‘beauty rest’ really is the most important thing you can do for your skin and hair.”

Also, pay attention to diet, she advises, especially consuming whole foods as much as possible, since skin and hair will benefit from the nutrients.

When discussing lifestyle issues, advise young women not to sleep without cleaning their face—regardless of whether or not they use makeup. Says Bideaux, “The skin can pick up dirt and other environmental particles that can leave it feeling clogged.” He says one option is an oil cleanser that gently cleans the skin without irritation. Also, he advises shoppers to consider a weekly exfoliation routine and moisturize daily. His company focuses on ionic sea minerals in its moisturizing creams because “we feel it is important to keep a body mineralized as well. And as important as moisturizing is, it is also important to keep your body hydrated on the inside.”

Last, avoid synthetic scents or petrochemicals in skincare products, says Griffin-Black. “The cumulative effect of years of phthalates and petroleum-based chemicals has devastating effects on the human body,” she states. “Your skin absorbs around 60% of what you put on it, so be mindful about what you put on your body.” WF

Reference 1. “Hain Celestial To Drop ‘No Harsh Chemicals’ Claim on Personal Products” WholeFoods Magazine, 39 (5), 9 (2016).

Published in WholeFoods Magazine September 2016