4 Natural Alternatives to Your Favorite Ingredients

If there’s anything the rise of clean beauty has taught us, it’s that we’re dying to get back to our roots, with many of us opting for plant-based ingredients over lab-made ones. Of course, not all synthetic ingredients are harmful to the skin — but when you’re dealing with a dermis that’s super-sensitive, choosing natural over artificial may be the smarter way to go. 

If you’re finding traditional acne-busting, anti-aging, or brightening ingredients to be a little too harsh for your skin, a natural alternative might be your better bet. See below for gentler, plant-based alternatives you can use instead for brighter, more youthful skin — without the added irritation.

The ingredient: Physical Scrubs

The swap: Bromelain

Why we love it: Bromelain enzymes are the hero ingredient naturally found in pineapple extract, and can help to lightly exfoliate the surface of the skin — think a gentle peel, without the harsh redness and flaking. Unlike scrubs, which can slough off the top layer of skin and then some, leading to microtears, proteolytic enzymes found in pineapple extract help to break down specific proteins, including keratin proteins in the outer layer of our skin. That keeps the new, healthy skin underneath intact.

“This helps dead skin cells slough off, leaving the skin smoother and softer and decreasing discoloration,” says Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Enzymes are a great choice for those with sensitive skin who cannot tolerate other exfoliants, as they provide a more gentle way to exfoliate and brighten the skin.” Plus, they’re safe to use while pregnant, so you don’t have to worry about switching out your exfoliants. You can find it in the Pineapple-C Bright Serum, where it works alongside vitamin C to brighten and even out skin — naturally.

The ingredient: Salicylic Acid

The swap: Willow Bark Extract

Why we love it: While willow bark isn’t a direct substitute for the powerful salicylic acid (a.k.a. beta hydroxy acid, or BHA), it is a close relative. (To be technical about it: Willow bark contains salicin, an ingredient that can be converted to salicylic acid via multiple chemical processes.) While it might not be as intense as salicylic acid, it’s still a good option for those who find salicylic acid to be too irritating. “Salicylic acid can cause dryness and irritation of the skin — as it breaks down the bonds between dead skin cells — and can therefore remove the superficial layers of the skin and cause more dryness and irritation,” explains Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco, CA.

Willow bark is also beneficial in its own right, helping to reduce inflammation and the telltale redness associated with it. And as for breakouts (which are in part caused by bacteria), “willow bark may have an antimicrobial effect,” explains Dr. King. It works alongside betaine salicylate in the Watermelon Glow PHA+BHA Pore Tight Toner; the latter is another derivative that acts similarly to salicylic acid — just, again, on a gentler level.

The ingredient: Benzoyl Peroxide

The swap: Tea Tree Extract

Why we love it: Not only can benzoyl peroxide ruin your colorful sheets or clothing, but it can also wreak havoc on your skin, too. Tea tree extract, on the other hand, might not be as powerful as benzoyl peroxide, but also isn’t as drying or irritating, either. (Also worth noting here: Tea tree extract isn’t as potentially irritating as tea tree oil, which is more concentrated.)

“According to this study, tea tree has similar properties [to benzoyl peroxide], but it’s slower to work, so it’s not quite as potent,” says Dr. King. Both tea tree extract and benzoyl peroxide have antibacterial properties, but tea tree extract proves to be less irritating to acne-prone skin types than its harsher alternative — well worth the extra wait time, especially if you have sensitive skin. You can find it in Watermelon Glow PHA+BHA Pore Tight Toner, where it works alongside willow bark to clear out pores.

The ingredient: Synthetic Alpha Hydroxy Acids

The swap: Botanically-Derived AHAs

Why we love it: As an exfoliant, AHAs go above and beyond. Sure, they remove the superficial layers of dead skin cells, but they also even out skin tone, smooth skin texture, lower inflammation, clear pores, and minimize the look of fine lines and wrinkles. They can even hydrate skin — so, obviously, we wouldn’t skip this. However, many formulas with AHAs use synthetic versions, which can work a little too well, leading to redness and irritation.

The good news: Plants are a natural source of AHAs. They’re gentler yet as effective as their lab-made siblings. Derived from flowers — in the Watermelon Glow Lip Pop and Watermelon Glow Ultra-Fine Mist, for instance — they deliver the same benefits with little risk of irritation or inflammation. In fact, one study found that hibiscus extract even outperformed popular AHAs like glycolic and lactic acids. You can also find AHAs in sugarcane, as is the case with the Sweet Chef Sugarcane + Vitamin C Lip Sleeping Mask.

If you want to learn more about plant-based ingredients:

SHOP THE LOOK

Glow Recipe

Pineapple-C Bright Serum

$49.00

https://www.glowrecipe.com/collections/all/products/glow-recipe-pineapple-c-bright-serum

Sweet Chef

Sugarcane + Vitamin E Lip Sleeping Mask

$15

https://sweetchefskincare.com/products/sugarcane-vitamin-e-lip-sleeping-mask

Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow Lip Pop

$22

https://www.glowrecipe.com/products/watermelon-glow-lip-pop

Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner

$34

https://www.glowrecipe.com/products/watermelon-glow-pha-bha-pore-tight-toner

Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow Ultra Fine Mist

$28.00

https://www.glowrecipe.com/collections/all/products/glow-recipe-watermelon-glow-ultra-fine-mist