More and more, people are taking caution with the foods they eat. All the new buzzwords and different diets circulating around are a huge reflection of this. Paleo, Keto, Whole 30, Clean Eating, Gluten Free, etc.
People are concerned with the quality of their food and where it comes from. Are the meats hormone-free, grass-fed, humanely raised? Is the produce organic and non-GMO? Are the eggs free range and farm fresh? These are a few of the many questions a great number of us (including myself) ask now when perusing through the grocery store.
Yet, a much tinier amount of people take a moment to question the products they slather on their skin every day. The skin is the largest organ, after all. With all that surface area, there’s a ton of potential to be absorbing a toxic slew of chemicals into your bloodstream all day, everyday.
So what’s a savvy consumer to do?
Read the Ingredients!
As many have said, “If you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not good for you.” Generally, this is true. But make sure to use discretion. Some personal care products use the latin names for botanical plants on their ingredients list. So when you see “simmondsia chinensis” on a conditioner label, you may be inclined to think that it’s a toxic ingredient because it’s not easy to pronounce. In actuality, it’s just jojoba oil!
However, botanical names are the exception and not the rule. There’s 1,4-Dioxane; a carcinogenic petroleum by-product. There’s Diethylhexyl, Dibutyl, Dimethyl, and Diethyl Phthalates; associated with low sperm-motility, liver cancer, and birth defects. There’s Toluene; used to create gasoline. There’s Triclosan; contaminating rivers and associated with heart disease (1).
Another ingredient getting well-deserved bad press lately is aluminum in deodorants and antiperspirants. It’s been proven that aluminum is in fact a neurotoxin. The abstract for a study on the negative effects of aluminum states “Prolonged exposure to even low levels of aluminum permit its chelation and subsequent transport to brain where it is non-uniformly distributed” (6). The health of your brain is the price you’re paying to prevent excessive sweating and body odor.
You apply more toxins than you realize…
The above are just a few of the large array of toxic substances added to personal care products. According to the Environmental Working Group, women put 168 different chemicals on their skin every day. For men, they apply 85 different chemicals on average (2).
Although the article goes on to claim that most of the chemicals used are “probably safe”, (2) that is certainly a dubious claim. The reality is, very few substances have undergone proper testing to ensure and verify their safety.
Cosmetics don’t have to be FDA approved.
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act actually does not require cosmetic products to be approved by the FDA before being sold (except for color additives). On the FDA’s site they do say that companies have a “legal responsibility for the safety of their products and ingredients” (4). This leads to many potential problems.
First of all, the company may not even undergo testing at all to ensure a chemical is safe to use. Second, if they do test the materials, there is more than likely no research to show the material will not do damage with long-term daily usage. Finally, there are inherent risks to putting safety research into the company’s own hands. This is a clear conflict of interest. Who is to say the company in question will not fudge the numbers a little bit to skew results on the side of safety?
Even if they get that far, it isn’t required for companies to share their safety information with the FDA. Consumers are totally blind as to the safety of the products they purchase.
So how do you know what is safe vs. what is not?
Well, The Environmental Working Group has created something called the Skin Deep Database. You can search over 64,000 ingredients used in personal care products and see how risky they are to use on a scale from 1-10. It will also list what body systems the material may affect. You can find the database at the link below:
Not Every “Natural” Product is Immune to Scrutiny.
If you’re anything like me, after doing some research you’re going to want to pull away from man-made ingredients completely. Even supposed “all-natural” skin care products can be misleading.
Many natural skin care lines use propylene glycol as a main or minor ingredient. Traditionally, the ingredient is derived from natural gas, although it can also be sourced from vegetable oils.
According to a search from the Skin Deep Database, “Propylene glycol is a small organic alcohol commonly used as a skin conditioning agent. It has been associated with irritant and allergic contact dermatitis as well as contact urticaria in humans; these sensitization effects can be manifested at propylene glycol concentrations as low as 2%” (3).
Now, this material is only rated a 3 out of 10 on the database, so it’s really not that bad. It just has the potential to irritate your skin. Nonetheless, this is not a whole ingredient. It is an isolated compound, which I do not necessarily think is the best of the best.
Isolated Compound vs. Whole Ingredients
I’ve personally found that even though an ingredient may be derived from plants, that doesn’t always mean it’s the greatest. Oftentimes the nutritional value of a plant to your skin is sacrificed for texture or viscosity.
I did a little more digging to see if my instinct was true. Although I couldn’t find sources related specifically to personal care products, I did find one related to isolated supplements versus whole food supplements. Considering personal care products are technically dermal supplements, I imagine the same logic would apply to our skin.
The idea behind this is that when one isolates a compound from a plant, how do we know that it will work just as well as when it was in a whole food? Does it contain the amino acids, the minerals, and enzymes needed to fully break down and be absorbed? (5).
Not to mention the lack of knowledge we have currently about ALL the chemical compounds within a whole plant material and the ways they interact with each other to provide a specific effect. The whole food is also what our bodies are accustomed to. Do our bodies really know how to handle high concentrations of an isolated compound in the same way it does a whole plant? All the components of a whole plant provide the context our bodies understand. (5).
According to the article, “Research shows that 90% of a fruit’s or vegetable’s antioxidant power is in the peel or just below the skin.” You’re missing out on all of that nutritional value when using a natural product that just contains isolated compounds instead of a whole, unrefined oil like avocado oil (5).
There’s a nourishment in whole plant materials that just isn’t present when using isolated parts of the plant. That’s why I only use whole, unrefined oils and butters for the bases in my products. This is how I ensure you get the most nutritional value out of each use.
I hope this has inspired you to take a serious look at what skin care products you use. If you liked this post, please take a moment to sign up for my newsletter on the right side of the page. I send out an email about once a month to send updates about my whereabouts, new products, discounts, and more!
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