When we think of a detox we think of eating clean, organic food and drinking pure, natural liquids. But did you ever consider that changing your skin care products would be a necessary part of the process as well?
Rather than being an impenetrable barrier, our skin is highly permeable. We absorb up to 60% of what we put on it and kids absorb approximately 40-50% more than adults! It is therefore essential that we know that what we’re applying is completely natural, free from harmful chemicals and, most importantly, is safe for our children.
It is a scary, yet little known fact, that the FDA (American agency that regulates the cosmetics industry) does not regulate skin care products as they should. On their website it says: “Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, cosmetics and their ingredients are not required to undergo approval before they are sold to the public…” As a result, some of the ingredients found in our skin care products include; industrial chemicals, pesticides, plasticizers, degreasers and surfactants. Many of these ingredients are known carcinogens, hormone disruptors and reproductive toxins.
What To Look For
We’ve become very good at reading nutritional labels for what we put in our mouths but we’re still a little clueless when it comes to what we put on our skin. So to help you, here are some of the ingredients to watch out for in your skin care products:
- Sulfates: e.g. sodium lauryl ether sulphate (SLES) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLS).
These are commonly used in foaming cosmetics such as shampoos, cleansers, shower gel and bubble bath. Sulfates are often derived from petroleum or vegetable oils that may be contaminated with pesticides. They can cause eye irritation and skin rashes, and SLS in particular is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane; a possible human carcinogen. To try and avoid 1,4-dioxane all together watch out for any of the following ingredients: myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth (or any other -eth), polyoxyethylene or oxynol.
- Polyethylene glycol: (PEG)
PEG is another ethoxylated compound like SLS which may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. It functions as a “penetration enhancer,” increasing the permeability of the skin to allow greater absorption of the product (including any harmful ingredients!). PEG itself is a breast carcinogen, may harm the nervous system and if used on broken skin can cause irritation and systemic toxicity. It is widely used in cosmetics such as thickeners, softeners and moisture-carriers including baby care products (how scary!) and sunscreens.
Found mostly in make-up; especially lipstick. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause neuro-developmental problems in children. Furthermore, lead in toxic levels has been linked to miscarriages and infertility.
- Synthetic colours & pigments:
These are made from coal tar. They contain heavy metal salts that may deposit toxins into the skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation. Studies have shown that almost all synthetic colours are carcinogenic. To identify them they are labelled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a colour and a number e.g. FD&C YELLOW 5 or D&C RED 27.
From allergens and synthetizers (reactors) to phthalates and neurotoxins, these are just a few of the classes of chemicals that fall under this category. A loophole in the law allows companies to keep from disclosing them on ingredient labels so long as they’re listed under “fragrance”. Phthalates in particular should be avoided (also labelled as DBP, DEP and butyl ester). They are known endocrine disruptors that mimic hormones and may alter genital development, decrease sperm counts and cause birth defects as well as negatively affect liver and kidney health.
Parabens are used in an estimated 75-90% of all cosmetics as a preservative. They have been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen, which can drive the growth of breast tumours. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions, and have been linked with several other health issues such as cancer, endocrine disorders, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation. In addition, studies indicate that certain parabens, when applied on to the skin, react with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage. Parabens may be listed as; Methyl, Ethyl or Propyl paraben (E218, E214 or E216), Butylparaben; Benzyl, Methyl, Ethyl, Propyl, Butyl parahydroxybenzoic acid or Parahydroxybenzoate.
Yes, the same chemical used to preserve dead bodies may also be in your cosmetics! Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15.These ingredients are used as preservatives but also release small amounts of formaldehyde over time. This toxic ingredient is a known carcinogen that may also cause skin and eye irritations and trigger allergies.
Antibacterial compounds such as triclosan and chlorphenesin, are used mainly in antiperspirants/deodorants, cleansers, and hand sanitizers. They are possible endocrine disruptors, environmental toxins and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Triclosan can also cause skin and eye irritations, and is a suspected carcinogen.
Look for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone” or D4, D5 and D6. Siloxanes are used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten the product. They interfere with human hormone function and are possible reproductive toxins that may impair human fertility. The siloxane, D5, can even cause uterine tumours and disrupt the immune system. It can also adversely affect the neurotransmitter dopamine.
- Sunscreen chemicals:
Sunscreen chemicals (i.e. avobenzone, benzphenone, oxybenzone and octylmethoxycinnamate) can disrupt endocrine function. This may cause the abnormal development of foetuses and growing children. These chemicals also generate free radicals, may damage DNA and could lead to cancer. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are much safer alternatives.
Benzoyl Peroxide used predominantly in acne products, may promote tumour growth. It acts as a mutagen in the body causing DNA damage. It is also toxic if inhaled and is an eye, skin and respiratory irritant.
- Aluminium salts:
Aluminium salts found in antiperspirants, are responsible for clogging the pores that release sweat under your arms. Not only does this block one of your body’s routes for detoxification (releasing toxins via your underarm sweat), but the body absorbs the aluminium and deposits it in your breast tissue. Aluminium salts mimic the hormone estrogen which increases breast cancer risk. With prolonged antiperspirant use, the salts can accumulate over time, exposing the body to massive amounts of aluminium. In the body it is a poisonous and highly toxic metal that may be more dangerous than mercury.
As you can see, we need to be more aware of what we put in and on our bodies to maintain better health and well being. As consumers we have the right to know what’s in our skin care products and how these ingredients may be affecting us. Natural, organic and chemical-free cosmetics are becoming much more widely available and feasible (come see our selection at Lifestyle Health). I encourage you to go through your skin care products (especially those of your babies and children), toss out the chemical-laden ones and switch to a more natural (and safer) alternative.