The skin care products you use everyday may be doing more than giving you a sun kissed glow and wrinkle free eyes. Today, natural and organic cosmetics and skin care products are the fastest growing segments of the beauty industry in North America. One of the primary drivers of this growth is believed to be an increasing, and widespread concern over toxic ingredients. Parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, butylated hydroxytoluene, phthalates, petrolatum – the list of questionable ingredients is long and confusing, with safety records that are increasingly being called into question.
On the one hand, consumer protection organizations such as Environmental Working Group are raising serious concerns over the safety of these ingredients; while manufacturers on the other hand are claiming all the hype is nothing more than hysteria. The question is, as consumers, should we really care about all this? In one word, yes; in five words, we should care a lot.
Everyone knows skin is our body’s largest organ, but we often forget it is also a vital organ. In fact, healthy skin is as important to our overall well-being as good lungs and a sound heart; but while we exercise regularly and watch what we eat to maintain the strength of our lungs and heart, we often ignore the interests of our skin by applying products that contain ingredients that are proven to be harsh and irritating at best, harmful and dangerous at worst.
Transdermal drug delivery systems (think smoking cessation and birth control patches) are a clear demonstration that our skin can absorb what we put on it. In the case of cosmetics and skin care, questionable ingredients such as parabens and phthalates are absorbed through our skin into our bloodstream, and then carried to every tissue and organ in our body. While many manufacturers will tell you their products contain these toxic ingredients at concentrations that are well below the maximum permitted by the FDA, and well below what is known to be dangerous, they are not taking three very important facts into consideration.
First, synthetic skin care ingredients are persistent bioaccumulative, which means they build up in our systems over time. We absorb them in faster than we process them out.
Next, we absorb these chemical ingredients from numerous products, not just one. Phthalates, for example, are found in face wash, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, face cream, serums, and scrubs (not to mention dish detergent, laundry detergent, candles and room deodorizers).
Finally, the safety research that the concentration guidelines are based on is often old and outdated. Many scientists now believe, and data backs them up, that any concentration of some of these ingredients is too high. Our bodies were not meant to synthesize these complex synthetic compounds.
So how do you protect yourself against these questionable ingredients?
The best defense is a good offense. Educate yourself on which ingredients are healthy and which ingredients are potentially dangerous. Learn how to interpret manufacturer health claims because many are quite misleading. And most importantly, once you know what to look for, read the label on every skin care product you buy. Everything you need to know is right there.
Five quick tips for choosing healthier skin care:
- Skin care ingredients are listed on the label in descending order of concentration; choose products with botanical and naturally derived ingredients close to the top.
- Watch for ingredients that are acronyms (BHT, PEG, etc.) – these are typically synthetic or derived from petroleum.
- Avoid “fragrance” or “perfume/parfum” in your beauty products – these terms refer to synthetic scents. Natural scents list the botanical source (eg: Mentha spicata is Spearmint essential oil).
- Choose a ‘preventative’ skin care regime (moisturizers and sunscreens) over a reparative skin care regime (wrinkle removers).
- Don’t believe everything you read on the front label – if a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.