7 (Highly-Effective) Natural Beauty Ingredients that Actually Work

TCM Classics — This story on natural beauty ingredients originally ran in 2016 but we loved it so much we decided to bring it back.

Junk food for your pores? No thanks. When it comes to skincare, we believe that dramatic transformation shouldn’t involve drama or compromise. Sure, some lab-crafted, not-so-natural beauty products achieve impressive, tangible results, but often at the cost of damaging side effects both on your skin and beneath it. Not for us. There has to be a better way!

With roots in Ayurveda and holistic medicine, luxe beauty pro, Shrankhla Holecek of Uma Oils, knows that beauty is more than just skin deep – literally. She’s rounded up a list of seven eco-sound, flesh-friendly beauty ingredient alternatives to give you amazing results without succumbing to harmful synthetics…

Whether you’re an expert beauty buyer or just starting to explore your skincare routine options, chances are you’ve heard the buzz around skin-saving ingredients like retinol, hyaluronic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids and others. Avoiding natural products because you can’t quite figure out the comparable ingredient to look for? These seven natural compounds are just as effective as their chemically created counterparts, but without the potential dangers of absorbing artificial ingredients into the skin. Here’s a breakdown of common beauty ingredients and their natural beauty equivalent…

7 Natural Beauty Ingredient Swaps

Rose Oil for Hyaluronic Acid

Chances are, if you’re a beauty junkie, this ingredient is a common sight on ingredient labels in your skincare arsenal. Hyaluronic acid is a moisture-binding ingredient known for its supposed ability to carry 1,000 times its weight in water. Since it’s so impressively hydrating, you’ll often find hyaluronic acid in anti-aging beauty products. But this synthetic ingredient has an equally potent natural complement: rose oil. Intensely hydrating, rose oil plumps and moisturizes your skin without any potential chemical side effects. Due to its vitamin packed properties, rose oil also acts as anti-inflammatory agent, so it has the added benefit of soothing redness.

Sandalwood for Hydrocortisone

Hydrocortisone, a topically applied steroid, is used to treat skin conditions like eczema and other rashes. Before resorting to this steroid to treat sometimes painful conditions, consider sandalwood essential oil, a rare but effective natural ingredient. Sandalwood is ultra-moisturizing and anti-inflammatory, so it can be used to treat many of the conditions hydrocortisone can. It works with the skin’s natural systems and helps boost overall luminosity and fights hyperpigmentation. That’s a win-win-win for your skin!

Frankincense for Retinol

Beauty aficionados are no stranger to seeing retinol on their product labels, especially those who buy anti-aging products. Retinol is actually the name for the whole vitamin A molecule, but when used in cosmetics, it is artificially synthesized. It’s known for having two appealing effects: It’s an antioxidant, and it communicates with cells to get them to act younger and healthier. The good news is you can get these same powerful, age-reversing effects without putting an artificially synthesized chemical on your skin. Frankincense, revered in ancient times in places like Egypt and India, is the natural replacement for retinol. Frankincense rapidly increases cellular turnover, which means it quickly causes the skin to produce healthier cells to replace aging cells. This effect speedily minimizes the signs of wrinkles and scars. An additional benefit of frankincense? It’s incredibly soothing – it can disinfect the skin and act as an antiseptic.

Lemon Essential Oil for Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid, a top ingredient in many exfoliating acne scrubs, is a potent but unfortunately fairly drying ingredient. Available over the counter, it’s also commonly prescribed mainly for its redness-reducing and pore-clearing properties. For those of you who suffer from acne or oily skin, never fear! There’s a natural solution that’s equally as powerful and – major plus -doesn’t dry out your skin: lemon essential oil. Not to be confused with using the fruit and its juices in your kitchen, this oil is high in vitamin C and works to combat acne and hyperpigmentation. But like many potent essential oils, lemon essential oil is not lightweight, so it should always be diluted before being applied to skin!

Clove + Tea Tree Oils for Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide, another popular acne treatment, is an ingredient with some very strong and potentially damaging effects. This ingredient is often prescribed to treat blemishes because it causes afflicted areas of your skin to dry and peel, essentially hyper-exfoliating your skin. Thankfully, less damaging natural alternatives are out there: Clove and tea tree essential oils have the pore-clearing power to add the right amount of natural oomph to your acne routine. Clove essential oil is especially effective at managing skin sores because it can also rapidly promote cellular turnover. Tea tree essential oil is best known for its soothing and disinfecting properties – qualities essential to treating acne and inflammation.

Grapefruit and Yogurt for Alpha Hydroxy Acid

Alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA, is another go-to ingredient in many beauty and skincare products, especially anti-aging skincare. It works to remove sun damaged cells from the skin and has other properties, all of which can improve the youthfulness of skin. Unfortunately, AHA often comes at the price of causing irritation to sensitive skin. The natural substitute here? Grapefruit and yogurt. (No they’re not just for breakfast!) Grapefruit is known for being revitalizing and circulation boosting. Yogurt contains lactic acid, which is a natural form of AHA. There’s no need to turn to synthetic AHAs when these natural (and delicious) alternatives are sitting in your fridge.

Neroli, Orange + Chamomile Oils for Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone may be one of the more controversial ingredients in the beauty world. Known for its skin-lightening properties, hydroquinone is an attractive choice for many women looking to correct dark spots, especially those that come with age. But if your skin goal is overall evenness, there are three possibilities that don’t involve harsh chemicals: neroli oil, orange oil and chamomile. Neroli oil is derived from orange tree blossoms, and the vitamin-C rich oil improves the elasticity of aging skin and boosts overall luminosity. From the same tree comes orange oil, which contains the same vitamins and nutrients the delicious fruit does. It rapidly repairs damaged skin and acts as a natural antiseptic, leading to overall flawlessness in the skin. In case you need extra convincing to switch hydroquinone out for good, chamomile is another natural counterpart. Chamomile essential oil contains naturally occurring skin compound azulene, which calms a wide variety of skin conditions that cause unevenness in the complexion.


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  1. I’m an esthetician and love the idea of an all natural skin care routine. I’ve tried a lot of natural recipes and ingredients including egg whites for tightening the face, camelia oil for anti-aging, castor oil for growing eyelashes, and coconut oil as a moisturizer. The only one I was impressed with was coconut oil, but only for the body, as it makes some people break out when used on the face… so all that was disappointing for the most part!
    I tend to stick to drugstore products now especially retinol and vitamin c serums because they are ingredients that I know work for me and I don’t like wasting money on natural things if they don’t work. Some of these suggestions I haven’t heard of before though so it’s intrigued me! If only I had money to try all of them lol

  2. Very informative article.Good to know all of these natural alternatives to synthetic and chemically loaded ingredients. I will include these tips in my organic skincare line. These essential oils will complement my powerful Moroccan oils: Argan oil and Prickly Pear Seed Oil.

  3. Beautiful line and beautiful blends and I truly love the presentation. I have a question and I hope you will be able to respond. Can you please explain the content of vitamins in essential oils. Maybe I have missed something in the classroom but to my knowledge there are no vitamins in essential oils. Thank you, Magdalena

    Magdalena Tomczak | 03.26.2016 | Reply
  4. When it comes to anti-aging skin care regimen – me an all organic buff with food and everything else – believe in hands down synthetic retinol and prescription strength retinoids.. I have tried a lot of natural alternatives for retinol – including wasting $350 on True Natural Botanicals serums etc…. Their stuff is simply a waste… If you do not want wrinkles eat right, lot of green juice
    and use prescription strength retinols or if you can handle retinoids…

    Rachel | 03.27.2016 | Reply
  5. Hi Magdalena, this is a great question, and one that is asked often. The general rule is that oils extracted through distillation typically don’t contain significant quantities of vitamins (especially those that are over a certain molecular size). Oils extracted through other mechanisms – such as expression, as many citrus oils are – can carry vitamins with smaller molecular sizes (such as vitamins A and C). Pomegranate oil – though not a citrus – is a great example of an oil with vitamins A,D,E and K (that are great for skin). Hope this helps!

    • Unfortunately your information is categorically incorrect. There are NO vitamins in essential oils. Have you read a GC analysis if lemon essential oil? Not a trace of vitamins. And yes, I am talking about cold pressed essential oils. No vitamins, no minerals, no nutrients of any kind. My lemon oil is 94% D-Limonene, and 0% vitamin anything.

      danielle winkelspecht | 02.03.2018 | Reply
  6. Respectfully, whatever sources were used for information in this article are grossly incorrect. It is absurd to advise readers to use lemon EO on their face. It does not contain any vitamins and is highly phototoxic, even when properly diluted. Nor would I ever advise anyone to use clove EO anywhere on their skin, as it is likely to cause a chemical burn. These types of recommendations are what cause people to injure themselves by using aromatherapy.

  7. Practically all essential oils need to be diluted – but I don’t think that’s the point of the article (it’s comparing synthetic actives to natural actives; synthetic actives definitely need dilution). Both lemon essential oil and clove essential oil are used extensively in Chinese and Indian medicine from dentistry to skincare – and are rather effective, from personal experience. As with any ingredient – be it a retinol or a natural alternative – that’s effective – care needs to be taken to understand how to use, what to mix with etc. but I love that this article educates customers on what’s out there in terms of their natural options.

    Sammy | 03.28.2016 | Reply
  8. Great to see such a thoughtful discussion on what arguably is a nuanced and fascinating topic! It would be worth clarifying – as Sammy notes – that the intent of this article was primarily to provide an educational blueprint for identifying solid, time-tested ingredients to make the switch to natural products. Many of the ingredients listed are powerful as they are efficacious, and therefore require both expertise and care in formulating within skincare (just like in a retinol-based cream, active retinol’s percentage is 0.5% or less). We hope that this provides an early understanding for research and consideration when choosing your natural skincare options out there!

  9. Ms.Koeppen, your attempts to sound like an expert are not just undermined by the thinly veiled plug to your site (which seems like the pyramid scheme essential oil business that all of us try to run from) – but also by your fear-mongering hyperboles about clove oil. My daughter – who struggled with recurring cystic acne for three years – found great relief with Uma’s Deeply Clarifying formulation – which has, lo and behold, clove oil! She has no chemical burns or any damage to speak of – but far healthier skin since she started using the formulation. I wish you’d exercise some judgment (and research based common sense) when sharing these proclamations. Last, this article is not about aromatherapy, which you should know as the site you’re plugging seems to be about that subject matter.

    S Prince | 03.29.2016 | Reply
  10. The link you provided for ‘rose’ oil is actually for rose geranium.

  11. I would love to know the sources of your information! I am currently getting my aromatherapy certificate and love your blog and the information provided. But I am the type of person that needs to see legitimate sources before accepting the information as true. I would love to hear back from you regarding your sources and would greatly appreciate it!

    Brielle Curtis | 05.18.2017 | Reply
  12. Hello Uma,
    You mention ‘rose; oil in your article. Is this the same as, or equivalent to, rosehips? If not, what is the difference, in composition &/or in application?

    Greg | 07.02.2017 | Reply
  13. Hello Uma,
    In your article you mention “rose oil” Is this the same as rosehips oil? If not, how does it differ, in composition &/or application?

    Greg | 07.02.2017 | Reply
    • Rosehip oil and rose oil are completely different. Different plants, different extraction process, different chemical profile.

      danielle winkelspecht | 02.03.2018 | Reply
  14. I thought I’ll jump in and share my knowledge. Rose essential oil (rose oil) is the oil extracted from the petals of the oil-bearing roses (such as Rosa Damascena and Rosa Centifolia, harvested mostly in Turkey, Bulgaria, Morocco) through steam distillation and said to be one of the most complex essential oils (and most expensive). It has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, moisturizing and restoring properties, good for all skin types. Rosehip oil is extracted from the seeds of the rose bush (a different species of rose), mainly grown in Chile or from the Rosa Canina rose, found in more geographies.

    Mariana | 10.05.2017 | Reply
  15. Hi,
    I am constantly reading on the website that Lemon EO cant be used on bare skin. But i have been using it every night since 2 months. I mix 3 drops of lemon EO with Lavender EO and go to sleep.It did singed a lot during the early stages, which lasted for 15-20 mins but slowly my skin got used to it..and now it stings very little can rate 0.5/10 during application and the sting calms down in 2-3 mins. And i am loving my face in the Morning. Its so soft buttery no breakouts an even skin tone..noticed my skin looked 2 shades lighter before this regime.

    I have oily skin and little acne and have hypothyroidism. Because of which i appear like my cheeks have sunken..
    But as i have started using lemon oil.. It plumps my cheeks making them look fuller and firm..Trust me…it worked good on me..
    I am sharing my experience that all..may be neat Lemon EO is not suitable for all skins..
    Its been a week i am on retin a- apply it on night and nothing else and in the morning i apply lot of sunscreen with 3 drops of Lemon EO as i miss my chubby cheeks..so far no irritation. i mostly stay indoor and under AC..when i am out in sun..i only use sunscreen and protect my face with scarf and shades.
    So far no irritation no sunburn as i use retin a in night and lemon EO in th emorning with sunscreen…
    Please note that I am not any skin specialist. I am sharing my experience. Hope it helps..

  16. The article and the comments were all worth to read and learn the alternatives. I was impressed and would like to find more of the articles that suggest natural route rather than all expensive chemical filled synthetic choices in the market.
    The Tiny Eco Spa mentioned about coconut oil. We all have different skin types so every skin excepts and reacts differently. Coconut oil is a heavy oil to use around the eye area or other facial skin as in clogs the pores causing breakouts. Safflower, Argan oil, Jojoba oil are non comedogenic oils safe to use on your facial skin. As I am more on the natural side of skin care I would suggest to try natural remedies over commercial product. I am new in the industry of skin care – Licensed Esthetician
    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge with us.
    Shweta / Nov 20th 2017

    Shweta Lengade | 11.29.2017 | Reply
  17. Um, essential oils do not contain vitamins of any kind.

    danielle winkelspecht | 02.03.2018 | Reply
  18. Very imformative talk, useful info,,,Can I mix all Above 7 essential oil to use on my face at night?

    Sana | 06.02.2018 | Reply
  19. THANK YOU SO Much. I’m 19 and have just started to get into skincare, I was feeling really anxious about just buying chemical acne serums and creams but I didn’t have good alternatives. Your article just saved my skin.

    Julia | 09.27.2018 | Reply
  20. As a product designer i use ess oils extensively for all sorts of conditions in formulae with no complaints dont listen to negative comments

    Peter bamford semi ret NATUROPATH | 11.05.2018 | Reply
  21. Wow, I am using Frankincense essential oil & Lavender essential oil but I didn’t know that frankincense works as retinol. Thank you !

    Fatema Tuz Johora | 06.14.2019 | Reply
  22. I used to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on fancy skincare products and they worked really well, but I got tired of the long routines and shelling out so much of my budget for these items. So, I decided to do a “skin cleanse” and stripped everything back. I use Dr. Bronner’s to wash, EVOO to moisturize, Elta MD SPF, and for a daily mask I use a raw, unfiltered honey and/or B.Powered, which is raw honey, propolis, bee pollen and royal jelly. I just slather it on every morning while working out/eating and then rinse off in the shower. My skin has never been better and my wallet thanks me. Love essential oils but I use them for other purposes.

    Netta | 06.26.2019 | Reply
  23. This is all great… but where can I get specific instructions on how to dilute, with what, which ones I can combine for each application…thanks!!

    Karen-Anne | 06.27.2019 | Reply
  24. To everyone here using essential oils ,and on their face, undiluted- STOP NOW!!!! Just because it hasn’t hurt you YET doesn’t mean it won’t. EO’s ESPECIALLY LEMON can burn the skin and the face is even more sensitive. Repeated usage on the same area in high concentrations WILL EVENTUALLY CAUSE ALLERGIES, to the point that you cannot even smell the scent and have a reaction. PLEASE DILUTE your oils, especially for children. For proper dilutions and to make your own products check out these pages: Aromatherapy by Soul Essentials Duo, Tisserand Institute (Robert Tisserand is the Wayne Gretzky of EO’s), School of Natural Skincare, Formula Botanica, and Aromahead Institute (you can take courses on EO safety here as well). Having proper dilutions is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT and can be very dangerous if used incorrectly. EO’s are DRUGS and can alter how medications affect the body as well. If you want safe, non-toxic beauty products use Beautycounter like I do. I was tired of trying to make my own and wasting a ton of time, product, and money so now I use theirs. Be safe!!!

    Kristen | 07.03.2019 | Reply
  25. I appreciate the overview of this article, but like so many others commenting I spend the whole time thinking “what kind of ‘rose’ oil? what kind of lemon “oil”? essential oil? essential oil diluted in another oil? Do you put this stuff on the face? Do you diffuse it? Put it on your feet at night?” SO many questions. Some of these I shudder to think of putting on my highly sensitive, rosacea prone skin. I’d love to see an article like this with more explicit direction.

    Julia | 12.10.2019 | Reply
  26. Really very nice information on this site. Thanks for sharing this nice information.
    watch trending live video online

    neetu kumar | 01.02.2020 | Reply
  27. look up adipostat, there in lies the answer

    Dnai | 01.24.2020 | Reply
  28. Thanks for this post. I agree with u to some extent because of I have been using clove oil for sometime now for acne and it has bin so effective. Before now I was using prescribed combination therapy of benzoyl peroxide 2.5% for about 3 months now but it did work for me. I tot of using clove and honey as facials every other day and it has bin a sweet experiment and experience for me. It didn’t stop at clearing the acne it cleared the scar and brightened my skin.

  29. My 12-year-old daughter have been suffering from acne for the past year. Dermalmd blemish removal cream has accomplished wonders. It has cleared her pores and skin without the drying results of other acne products. She uses it once a day – before bed. Her skin is moisturized, vibrant, and healthy. I’m so satisfied we found this acne cream.

    Florence | 05.08.2020 | Reply
  30. I think a positive spin on the article is thinking about how to detox and sleep. I’ve lost 40lbs by working out consistently (and the kind of work out I’m doing and not eating ‘processed’ foods (can be looked at as detox).

    kalomira | 04.04.2021 | Reply

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