Skincare: Holistic versus Mainstream

by Magdalena Tomczak

I often come across discussions about skin care which bring up a lot of frustrated commentary and not much else. They usually lead to very little progress in understanding or broadening of horizons between the opposing parties and I find that in the end, a discussion like that is a plain waste of time.

Attempting to talk about skincare without first acknowledging if you come from a holistic or mainstream school of thought is very similar to an attempt at having a constructive discussion about health without recognizing both germ and terrain theories. We must first recognize that the existing theories are by their nature at odds with each other and then we may proceed to carry on a respectful discussion. I trust that we will agree that when two people are measuring something it’s best if they are using the same ruler.

My intention is to provide a clear and straightforward description of both holistic and mainstream approaches to skincare and to demonstrate the impact each has on the health of the skin, our psyche and general wellbeing.

MAINSTREAM SKINCARE

We can say that the mainstream skincare approach comes from the human intellect whose nature is to dissect everything into smaller and smaller pieces in order to understand form and function. This is why mainstream skincare sees the skin as separate from other systems of the body and treats it as such. It is grossly focused on one’s appearance, pursuit of youthfulness and removal of any signs of aging.

This school of thought tends to offer treatments and products which interfere with or disrupt the natural function of the skin to achieve the desired results. Chemical peels are a good example. A chemical solution is applied to the skin in order to burn its surface so it peels off. The baby skin cells which are now forced to the surface usually give a smoother, tighter and less wrinkled appearance. At the same time the “new, younger skin” without its natural protective barrier now stripped away, becomes more sensitive to the sun, environment and water loss and is greatly compromised.

As a continuum driven by intellect whose nature is to dissect, mainstream skincare favours working with lab engineered ingredients and isolated compounds rather than whole plants.

There are many serious questions being asked about the health and safety of many such ingredients (for example hormone-disrupting parabens or carcinogenic formaldehyde) yet they are persistently being used as part of mainstream skincare products and treatments.

The mainstream approach seeks fast, surface-focused results. In my opinion it treats the skin very much like aspirin treats a headache: without much thought given to why the headache was there in the first place. There is not much depth in the approach as it relates to physical or mental aspects of skin health. As an example, acne can have a variety of systemic causes from hormonal imbalances, and stress, to digestive issues. The mainstream approach insists on using invasive, skin function-suppressing treatments and products as if they were able to bypass the need for addressing the root causes of the internal dysfunction which is merely presenting itself through the skin.

The sole focus on treating the surface gives way to developing a dependency on the products and treatments as the only solution. It prevents an individual from looking deeper and developing a more meaningful relationship with their body and their wellbeing. I would go as far as to say that a very limited level of consciousness is required for this type of engagement with the self. Since the actual cause of the problem is never addressed and will keep recurring, one is stuck on the path of the never-ending search for an effective topical solution.

Also, consistent mainstream messaging is put out through aggressive advertising. I would argue that it has deeply influenced how people view themselves, how they feel about themselves and how they value themselves. Disempowering words targeting emotional responses in consumers are used over and over again propagating the fight against aging, pursuit of a youthful appearance, fixing, covering up and whatever else sells products, treatments and trendy cosmetic procedures. I will suggest that sadly, profits over wellbeing drive most of the mainstream skincare companies and their goal is to sell, sell and sell some more.

My final thought is that the mainstream skincare school of thought requires little conscious commitment from an individual. All you really need to do is purchase, apply or show up for your treatment or procedure. Its focus on the surface of the skin leads individuals to a ‘surface’ relationship with themselves, with their body and their beauty.

HOLISTIC SKINCARE

If you are looking to be an active and conscious participant in your skin health journey, then holistic skincare will probably feel like the school of thought worth adopting. But get ready because there is some work involved.

In general, holistic skincare is driven by the principle of wholeness; that every cell, every part of us is interconnected and that we are intimately connected to our environment. This principle is also applied by many who practice various disciplines of natural medicine. Rather than treating just the physical symptoms of the disease, we take into account the whole person: their mental state, their lifestyle, the environment which they live in, even the cycles of nature and their effects on one’s health. All of these aspects (and more) can affect the health and appearance of your skin.

Such is skincare perceived through the holistic lens. It recognizes the wisdom within each individual, the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of nature. It embraces all seasons of life as equally beautiful, equally important and equally valuable. Beauty doesn’t disappear because wrinkles are showing up on a woman’s face. If anything, the holistic approach celebrates each year lived and the wisdom and beauty that come with it.

It actually sees limitations in perceiving through intellect alone since life force, which is present in all living beings including plant life, can not be dissected into pieces or fully explained with words generated by the intellect.

There is a cultural bias that suggests that holistic health and beauty practices are not proven, nor scientific, and are inferior to the mainstream. Even though they stand very firmly on the principles of eastern medicine philosophies like Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine and are backed by ages of herbal medicine and aromatherapy wisdom and years of manual therapies. For some of us that is more than satisfactory as we appreciate knowledge gathered through thousands of years of careful observation and application, the true scientific method.

Holistic skincare formulas are very different from mainstream cosmetic products, both in their ingredient list and their purpose. Holistic skincare formulas are prepared from plant based organic ingredients. Medicinal herbs, unrefined cold pressed oils, essential oils and hydrosols are the foundation.

Freshness and purity of all ingredients are the top priority because ultimately the ingredient quality is where the integrity and effectiveness of the formula starts.

The purpose of holistic skincare products is to support healthy skin function, to strengthen its natural protective barrier and immune responses and to provide it with pure, wholesome nourishment. In short, the skin knows what it needs to do, it just needs for the obstacles to be removed. And the obstacles are not acne, or wrinkles. The obstacles are that the skin is not getting its proper nutrition, or that metabolic waste is building up, emotional pressure is building up in the muscles and skin tissue which leads to stagnation and lack of vitality. The objective of holistic skincare is healthy, resilient skin which will, as a result, naturally look and feel vibrant.

Rather than forcing the skin into desired behaviours, such as with chemical peels, the holistic skincare practitioner chooses to support skin function through improving circulation and providing building blocks such as antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients that come directly from whole plants. Providing this fresh, whole plant nutrition for the skin is a very important aspect of holistic skincare. There is a transfer of life force from the plant to the skin. Like with the food that we eat, you can never really compare the value of the live, wholesome, organic salad with taking a synthetic vitamin supplement. And such is the difference between holistic skincare formulas and mainstream cosmetics.

Holistic skin care practitioners will apply organic whole plant formulas, aromatherapy and various face massage techniques like lymphatic drainage, acupressure, connective tissue work, subtle energy work. They rely on their skilled hands. Machines and sophisticated equipment are usually not part of their treatment room. However a few choose to include selective modern technologies in their tool kit.

Skin problems can arise from various sources. For example, they can be caused by the use of harsh products, extreme weather conditions and are often from systemic imbalances.

How much sense would it make to treat acne caused by poor diet by applying a cream and continuing to eat fries and burgers?

When skin problems present themselves as a result of systemic imbalances, holistic skin care practitioners will often refer the individual to seek help from a qualified natural medicine doctor/practitioner (unless they have such qualifications themselves). Changes to diet, lifestyle and stress management will be prescribed and become part of a holistic skin treatment. Now healing of the skin can happen both from the inside and out. Nutritious organic food, herbal medicine, homeopathy, breathework, exercise, meditation, mindful skincare practices, organic whole plant skincare formulas and face massage may be prescribed to support skin healing, to maintain healthy skin and to increase its vitality.

And the person will need to do some serious work on themselves.

Of course, this type of approach requires teamwork between the practitioner and their client. It also requires the client’s full commitment to self.

Although the holistic skincare approach spells more work than applying a product or showing up for a treatment, it also empowers each one of us to assume full responsibility for our beauty, health and wellbeing.

This brings us to the point of how and at what level of consciousness we choose to engage with ourselves and with life itself. Of course, the holistic approach to skincare requires more energy but if you choose to live an empowered conscious life; if you want to be a conscious parent, a conscious partner, a conscious employee or business owner, adopting a disempowering mainstream beauty model will not be congruent with the rest of your life. There will be a misalignment there which will creep in, undermining the empowered and fully conscious being that you are striving to be.

Engaging in a deeper way of holistic skincare will certainly support all areas of empowerment in your life in profound and meaningful ways. I dare to say that it will help you rediscover your whole, beautiful self.

* Please note that organic skincare doesn’t equal holistic skincare. Many aestheticians work with organic skincare products yet apply a mainstream skin care approach in their work.