A big skin concern for many people is the appearance of brown spots caused by sun damage. Avalon Organics' Intense Defense with Vitamin C Facial Serum (formerly Vitamin C Renewal Vitality Facial Serum) claims to help diminish those spots and fight signs of aging. Unfortunately, it also contains some ingredients that could make dark spots worse, which is why it earns our lowest rating (more on that in a minute).
First, the positives: This serum, which has more of a lotion texture than a serum texture, is lightweight and glides on, sinking into skin without feeling greasy. It has a convenient pump-style dispenser and opaque packaging, meaning its beneficial ingredients are protected from light and air.
Speaking of those ingredients, there are some good ones to be had, particularly on the moisturizing front: There's glycerin, squalane, sunflower seed oil, and cocoa butter, just to name a few. It will definitely feel hydrating on normal to dry skin, and some of these ingredients have antioxidant properties as well.
Unfortunately, they're right alongside a host of potentially-irritating citrus extracts and fragrance ingredients. We're talking bergamot oil, orange peel oil, and lemon peel oil, which, in addition to potentially causing pro-aging inflammation, can have phototoxic potential. That means that if you go out in the sun while wearing this product, there's a greater chance to develop skin discolorations—the exact opposite of this serum's goal! (See More Info for details on why these ingredients shouldn't be in skincare products.)
Even if Intense Defense with Vitamin C Facial Serum didn't have these ingredients, it still isn't likely to do much at all to reduce the appearance of brown spots. While it does contain a form of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) that is research-proven to diminish skin discolorations, there's such a small amount present here that it's likely not going to have an impact—particularly given this products ingredient flaws.
Though Avalon Organics' Intense Defense with Vitamin C Facial Serum does contain some good moisturizing ingredients, the fact that it can't reduce dark spots—and might in fact increase them—mean it's a product we don't recommend. For superior options, see our list of Best Skin Lightening Products.
Ingredients that Have Phototoxic Potential: This product contains specific essential oils or extracts, like bergamot, orange, or lemon-peel derived oils/juice, that are loaded with a class of substances known as furanocoumarins (psoralen) and coumarins. These substances are primarily responsible for what's known as a phototoxic reaction when skin is exposed to the sun. The potential result of UV exposure while wearing this product—even when wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen, as none are 100% effective—is that skin may become discolored (Journal of Food and Agriculture, 2013 and Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 2007).
That's aside from the irritation potential of these essential oils, which is a result of their fragrance compounds (fragrance-free is the best way for all skin types to go for all skin types) that can damage healthy collagen production and impair skin's ability to heal (Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2008 & American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2003).
Avalon Organics At-A-Glance
Strengths: Avalon Organics provides complete ingredient lists on their Web site; excellent lip balm; a few well-formulated moisturizers and serums.
Weaknesses: Several products contain irritating plant extracts and/or fragrant oils; moisturizers contain only a tiny amount of state-of-the-art ingredients; none of the sunscreens have UVA-protecting ingredients; there are repetitive formulas within the sub-brands (and the only differences between them won't make any difference to your skin); average to poor cleansers and toners; no AHA or BHA options; no anti-acne or skin-lightening options; jar packaging, which leaves the air-sensitive ingredients unprotected and subject to deterioration after opening.
Avalon Organics is one of many companies owned by Hain-Celestial, a company that specializes in marketing "natural" products. Along with various food and beverage brands you often see lining the shelves of health food stores, Hain-Celestial is also behind several other cosmetics lines, including Alba Botanica, Jason Natural, and Zia Natural (and just to be clear, none of these are all natural in the least).
Avalon Organics is most similar to Alba Botanica, but strangely enough, Avalon in many ways is the inferior line. Relative to the Alba Botanica line, Avalon Organics products cost more and their formulas aren't nearly as state of the art. A major thumbs down for Avalon Organics is the fact that none of their sunscreens contains sufficient UVA-protecting ingredients. In addition, many more of the Avalon Organics products contain irritating plant oils (lavender, orange), and almost all also feature a plant tea concoction that includes not only lavender but also arnica, a problematic plant if ever there was one (Sources: American Journal of Contact Dermatitis, June 1996, pages 94–99; and www.naturaldatabase.com). It is these natural ingredients that sabotage many of the Avalon Organics products.
Avalon does include several helpful natural ingredients (among them willow herb, licorice, borage oil, and aloe), but their benefit is diminished when they must overcome the potential skin problems presented by the not-so-helpful plants. Moreover, several Avalon Organics products contain a blend of unidentified essential oils. These are used for fragrance, but Avalon opted to list the generic term "fragrance" as "other essential oils," which means that consumers do not know exactly what oils they're applying to their skin. This goes directly against FDA regulatory requirements: "other essential oils" is not a legitimate ingredient term.
It is indeed admirable that Avalon Organics is dedicated to organic farming and to sustainable agricultural practices that improve the environment, but such a mission doesn’t translate into great skin-care: farming is one issue, but brilliantly formulated products is another. In this case you can't rely on Avalon products to take care of your skin without some careful consideration. There are a handful of recommended products to consider, especially if you prefer a ratio of ingredients that favors natural over synthetic. (Note, however, this is not an all-natural line, any more than munching on Skittles candy is like eating real fruit.) But taking "the time to honor yourself" (Avalon's statement) by using products only from their line, or being swayed by this brand's "Consciousness in Cosmetics" for the sake of your skin, would be a mistake.
For more information about Avalon Organics, call (888) 659-7730 or visit www.avalonorganics.com.
Note: Avalon uses the term "other essential oils" on their ingredient lists, which does not comply with FDA or international regulations. These regulations state that you must list by name ALL the individual ingredients you include in your product for this category of ingredients.
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