Health is not only about what we put into our bodies but also what put on our bodies. Since the skin is our largest organ, anything put on the skin can penetrate in varying degrees. Many substances absorbed through the skin can be detected in the bloodstream, which can affect other organs of the body.
Many nutraceutical products are used transdermally (on the skin) to be absorbed for treatment and healing purposes. Unfortunately, chemicals in cosmetics and body products are also being absorbed. This can have a negative effect on many people.
According to Jane Houlihan, who directs cosmetic safety research for the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization, cosmetics and other personal care products contain numerous ingredients such as phthalates, parabens, triclosan and sodium lauryl sulfate. “What we put on our skin often ends up inside our body, and it is every bit as important as what we eat, drink, and breathe when it comes to minimizing exposure to things that are not healthy for us.”
Research has shown that many conventional personal care products contain chemicals that can disrupt hormones, and blood sugar levels, cause allergies and damage the skin explains Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. Many ingredients used in cosmetics and body products are toxic.
Some can cause skin reactions, but of greater concern is that some commonly used ingredients can be carcinogenic. From 1978 to 1980 the FDA analyzed 300 cosmetic samples for carcinogenic contamination. Forty percent of the samples analyzed contained carcinogens. In l991 to l992 they found that 65% of the cosmetic products sampled contained carcinogenic ingredients. A report in the Journal of Hazardous Material in 2010 examined the ingredients in a broad range of lipsticks, and discovered they often contain significant amounts of heavy metals namely cadmium and chromium. In 2012, Pat Thomas, author of Skin Deep: The Essential Guide to What’s Really in the Toiletries and Cosmetics You Use urged, women to be aware of chemicals in lipstick, especially lead and triclosan. She states that – “lists of permitted ingredients lag seriously behind research and safety”.
The liver is responsible for detoxifying chemicals that enter the body. This includes substances we put on our skin. Because our world has ever-higher pollution levels in the air, water and food, the liver is kept busy detoxifying these environmental exposures. If overloaded, the liver is unable to sufficiently clear the bloodstream of toxins.When this happens, other symptoms may appear—skin rashes, headaches, hormone disruption and digestive problems, to name a few. These symptoms may manifest differently in each person.
Labeling of ingredients can be misleading. It is very important to read ALL labels when buying cosmetics and body care products. An important fact to know is that the ingredients are listed in descending order. This means the ingredient present in the largest amount will be listed first. However, the ingredients themselves may be confusing. Listed below are several phrases and ingredients often found on the labels of personal care products and cosmetics:
- Natural—There are no standards or what “natural” means. It can be mostly natural, but several synthetic ingredients may be added and the product can still be called natural.
- Alcohol-free—The product does not contain ethyl alcohol, but may contain fatty alcohols like cetyl or stearyl alcohol, which can be drying to the skin.
- Sodium lauryl sulfates—“Sulfates” is a fancy name for soap. Although they are effective cleansers, they can strip the skin of its natural moisture, which leads to dryness.
- Mineral oil—Mineral oil is a base for many cosmetics. It is derived from petroleum. It forms a coating that can clog the pores.
- Methylparaben, propylparaben—These parabens are popular because they extend shelf life. But studies have shown they are dangerous because they can mimic the effects of estrogen and can cause damage to cells. They have also been shown in studies to release potentially dangerous carcinogenic chemicals.
- Propylene One of the most commonly used ingredients in skin care products; it can trap toxins in the skin. Propylene glycol is used for industrial antifreeze and hydraulic brake fluid. While binding moisture, it also acts as a replacement for water, which the skin can not utilize
- Triclosan Used as a preservative in many lipsticks, triclosan has been linked by muscle and heart problems. May also cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics and turn into superbugs.
These are just a few examples of problematic ingredients found in many body care products and cosmetics. This is why it is so important to read all labels carefully. The rule I use is if you can’t pronounce it, or have never heard of it … don’t use it! In Ayurvedic medicine I have heard it said “If you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it on your skin.”
Luckily, now there are many products on the market produced by small companies that truly use natural ingredients. They use carrier oils like jojoba oil, olive oil, rosehip oil and coconut oil, or butters like cocoa butter and shea butter. For fragrance pure essential oils are used like lavender, sandalwood and lemon. Herbs and spices may be used in natural cosmetics for coloring and as natural preservatives.
In January 2007 more than 500 companies signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, agreeing to replace ingredients linked to cancer with safer alternatives.
So regardless of what is advertised, read the label and decide for yourself.
Be informed and search out companies that use safe ingredients.
We all can look and feel beautiful as well as stay healthy.
For a listing of some companies that have promised to eliminate toxic ingredients from their products, look at SafeCosmetics.org.
Louise Rossi is a registered nurse and certified clinical nutritionist practicing in New York City. She graduated from Hunter/ Bellevue School of Nursing in 1975 and worked in hospital critical care areas. She became interested in nutrition and diet after solving many of her own chronic health problems, earning a master’s degree in biology/nutrition adding Ericksonian Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy to her nutritional consulting practice. Later she added many types of bodywork and energy work to her practice as well. Louise feels that the body has infinite wisdom, and that when the physical and emotional needs are met, true healing can begin.