What if you drank your facial cleanser? I am by no means advocating that you rummage through your bathroom and start downing your skin care products over ice but what we do everyday when we lather on lotion or serums affects us internally, not entirely unlike the way the food and drink we consume can affect us. Did you know that at least 60% of what we put on our skin gets absorbed into our bloodstream? According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), while there might be some chemicals that are too large to enter the bloodstream, many are small enough to penetrate. What we put on our skin does not just remain on the surface. It gets absorbed and either helps us or harms us. Think nicotine patches and birth control patches – they are designed to be placed on the surface of the skin and deliver chemicals that are absorbed by the skin into the bloodstream to have the intended effect. Just like we consume food through eating, we basically consume chemicals in personal care products through our skin.
The FDA does not currently test or approve cosmetic products and many contain toxic ingredients that have been known to have negative health consequences – things like hormone disruption, cancer and severe allergic reactions. Since we don't have much federal oversight, it's up to those of us who are interested in consuming ingredients that are beneficial and healthy for our skin, to do our own due diligence to make sure that we protect ourselves and our families.
We are all on this journey to making more Sustainable, Healthy and Ethical (SHE) choices together. Kudos for SHE choices! Seeking perfection can be overwhelming and paralyzing so I want to make it easy for you. I would like to arm you with some practical tools you can use to begin making steps towards choosing healthier skin care products.
There are two things to consider as we make the shift to healthier skin care. The first is what level of exposure we have to the personal care product every day and the second is which chemicals have the potential to harm us most. By exposure I mean what products do we use the most often and which ones cover the largest surface area of the skin for the longest period of time. For example a hand wash that you use to clean only your hands and then quickly wash off constitutes less exposure than a body lotion that you baste all over your body and leave on for the entire day. It's more effective to begin by focusing on making shifts in products we have higher levels of exposure to. Identify lotions, moisturizers and serums that you use on your face and body every day that remain on the skin for long periods of time and consider replacing those with healthier options.
Once we identify which products we would like to replace, the second focus is to identify the most harmful chemicals to stay away from.
Here are my top five:
Parabens are preservatives found in many personal care products. They include methylparaben propylparaben and ethylparaben among others. Studies have shown that parabens mimic estrogen and can act as potential hormone (endocrine) system disruptors. Estrogen exposure has been linked to breast cancer development and progression. While there is disagreement about whether the levels of Parabens found in skin care products is enough to cause cancer, I recommend that we err on the side of caution and avoid these altogether.
2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
Sodium Lauryl Sufate is a surfactant used in thousands of cosmetics products. It's the ingredient that makes many of them foam. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) SLS has shown links to irritation of the skin and eyes, organ and reproductive toxicity and possible mutations and cancer.
The state of California and other authoritative bodies has classified phthalates like dibutyl phthalate (DBP) as a reproductive and developmental toxicant, and the European Union has banned the use of this ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products. Phthalates are sometimes not listed on the label but may be hidden in ingredients like “fragrances”. It's important to look for products that explicitly say they do not contain Phthalates.
4. Diethanolamine (DEA)
DEA is another ingredient used in personal care products to provide lather. The World Health Organization has found it to show limited evidence of carcinogenicity.
Fragrance may seem like an odd ingredient to include in my list of harmful ingredients. I am specifically referring to synthetic fragrances here or “fragrance” ingredients that are not listed as natural. The term fragrance can be used to mask a combination of toxic chemicals, some including the ones I've listed above.
No guide is complete with only a list of don'ts. Let's get to the fun part of safe and effective ingredients and SHE choices for skin care.
Do use products with the following:
1. Essential Oils & ingredients derived from natural sources
2. Wildcrafted ingredients – these are ingredients that have been grown in the wild without human intervention
3. Organic ingredients – these are ingredients that have been certified organic by the USDA
I hope you feel empowered and excited to begin a journey of wholesome personal care and skin care. If you've already begun the journey, I hope you feel inspired to kick the SHE shifts up a notch. What has been your perception or experience with natural skin care?
This blog was originally published as a contribution to SHE Changes Everything - a site focused on Sustainable Healthy and Ethical choices. You should check them out.