Several years back, I made a conscious effort to clean up my diet and improve my lifestyle. Like most, I did it for health reasons. Fast forward several years and I’ve cut most processed food out of our lives, and made the switch from conventional meat, dairy, eggs and produce to mostly pastured, organic, and grass-fed. During this time, my “nerdy research” about food quality accidentally caused me to stumble upon some other interesting information: the ingredients in personal and skin care products. What I discovered ushered in a whole bunch of other changes for me about how I take care of my body’s largest organ- my skin.
Did you know???
Skin Deep is a non-profit organization that serves to educate the consumer about personal care products available on the market. Launched in 2004, you can search thousands of products for their safety ratings. I relied heavily on their website when researching all things skin care related. They’ve done the work for you, researching and reporting on the various chemicals used to produce all the products that we typically use: shampoos, body washes, deodorant and antiperspirants, sunscreens, shaving cream, etc. Did you know these things about the cosmetics and personal skin care industry?
- The average US citizen uses 9 personal care products per day, 25% of women use 15 or more products per day
- On average, you are exposed to around 126 unique ingredients per day through your use of personal care products
- Over 10,000 unique ingredients are used in personal care products- some are known carcinogens (ie, cancer-causing), known endocrine disruptors (ie; mess with our hormones), or known to be toxic to our reproductive systems.
- The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) DOES NOT regulate the personal care industry! In fact, the industry is left to “police” itself by way of it’s own Cosmetics Ingredient Review Panel. However, there is absolutely no requirement for the industry to follow even it’s own recommendations!
- In addition, the FDA has NO authority to issue recalls on products when there is a problem. Instead, it is up to the manufacturer to decide if they want to recall.
- The European Union has banned the use of over 1,000 different chemical compounds for cosmetic and personal care products. In the U.S? We’ve banned nine.
- Federal laws allow manufacturers to leave ingredients off of their ingredients list, simply by claiming that the ingredient is a “trade secret”.
- Products labeled “natural” or “organic” might be misleading. First, the term “natural” means nothing legally (it has not been legally defined), so seeing the word “natural” on a label is generally just a marketing ploy. Second, products labeled “organic” can contain as little as 10% organic ingredients by weight or volume.
What to avoid?
So what should you be looking for on labels? The folks at Skin Deep have some recommendations on specific compounds/chemicals the consumer might want to be wary of. You can check out their full recommendations here, but I’ve compiled a list of ten substances that I thought my readers would be most interested in making sure they watch out for:
- BHA- this is a known carcinogen, and has been banned in Europe. By the way, BHA can be found not only in cosmetics and personal care products, but also in food storage containers AND our food supply
- Formaldehyde “releasers”; including Bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, Imidzaolidinylurea, Quanternium-15- Yes, formaldehyde! As in the stuff that is used to preserve dead things. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. These ingredients are used as product preservatives.
- “Fragrance”- what’s in “fragrance”? Unfortunately, the only people who really know are the manufacturers themselves, because federal law permits them to not have to list all the compounds that go into it
- Oxybenzone- This is a known endocrine disruptor commonly found in sunscreens.
- Parabens- These are known endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen in our bodies. These preservatives are widely used in the industry.
- Phlalates- Plalates are known to cause reproductive system damage.
- Resorcinol- This is a known hormone disruptor that also frequently causes allergic reactions. It is commonly found in hair dyes.
- Triclosan and Triclocarban- These are antimicrobials that have shown to not only be toxic to aquatic life, but are also endocrine disruptors for us. They are commonly found in anti-bacterial soaps, lotions, or gels.
- Petroleum Distillates- Petroleum, as in, the same stuff that gasoline and oil is made from. These are commonly found in mascara and is a carcinogen.
- Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone, and benzisothiazolinone- Whew! What a mouth full! These are commonly used preservatives. Oh, and they’re also known neurotoxins.
If you remember from 5th grade science class, our skin is our largest organ. It absorbs whatever it is you put on it. Meaning, if you put it on your skin, it’s pretty much the same as if you ate it. I don’t know about you, but I would never willingly eat any of that stuff listed above. But what can you do?
So what is a concerned consumer to do?
Let’s face it: none of us relish the idea of ransacking our bathrooms and tossing aside everything which keeps us from smelling like we just stepped out of the Dark Ages. So, now what? Well, there are several options available:
Use your knowledge to be a more informed consumer, and use your purchasing power to buy commercially available products that are safer for your health
In my case, this meant discontinuing my use of a traditional antiperspirants and deodorant, for a more natural deodorant powder that uses things like baking soda and powdered herbs. I also stopped using toothpastes containing fluoride. Yes, this is a tad controversial, but I believe the evidence is there to support that fluoride is a neurotoxin. Therefore, I determined it was something I wanted to avoid.
Eliminate your use of products
As I said, the average US consumer uses about 9 different products per day. Quite a few of us women use much more than that. Just by eliminating products from your daily arsenal, you’ll cut down on your chemical exposure. Personally, I found it fairly easy to cut down on my use of make-up. Instead of foundation, concealer, blush, eyeshadow, mascara, eyeliner, and lipstick every day, I cut this down to mascara and a high-rated natural lip balm on a typical day. Sometimes I throw in some eye liner; sometimes some bronzer. It helps that I think too much makeup only ages me anyway. I also eliminated conditioner, which was easy since I keep my hair short.
I know what I’m about to say here is super controversial but another thing that I have largely eliminated is sunscreen. As we learned, sunscreens are often packed with harmful chemicals. We’ve heard for years that we have to use sunscreen, or else put ourselves at risk for skin cancer. The problem I see is this: as sunscreen usage has gone up over the last 20+ years…..so have skin cancer rates. I mean, if using this sunscreen stuff prevented us from getting skin cancer, wouldn’t the rates go down??? My opinion is this: skin cancer isn’t just caused by overexposure to the sun. It’s also caused by the myriad of chemical ingredients found in the sunscreens that we are gleefully slathering and spraying on our skin, and our children’s skin. Now, everyone knows that sunburns are not OK. I’m not advocating for abandoning all reason and becoming a lobster every summer. But there are options out there: wear a hat, long sleeves, stay out of the sun during peak hours, or, if you have skin like mine (I do not burn easily), use sunscreen very selectively. I will only use sunscreen at the beginning of the summer (when my skin is most likely to burn), or when we’re on vacation somewhere warm and sunny and I know I will probably get burned. I let myself tan. Once I have a tan, I generally don’t burn. And I generally completely stop wearing sunscreen entirely.
Swap out commercially available products for natural substances
Let’s not be naïve: we’ve already learned that “natural” products are not necessarily everything they’re cracked up to be. If I learned anything from researching this subject, it’s that you really have to know your stuff or it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that you’re doing something good for yourself, when you’re actually being mislead. So what do I mean “natural substances”? One of the biggest changes I made personally is that I swapped out body wash, shaving cream, and shampoo for my homemade soap. Yes, you heard it here: I don’t use shampoo. Instead, I use bar soap that I make myself in my “soap room” that Carrie built for me in the back of our garage. I know every single ingredient that goes into my soap. So, I’m confident in using it all over my body. Generally, commercially available “bars” (they usually can’t call it “soap” as it’s technically not) are actually made from detergents that are often derived from… petroleum. As we’ve already learned, petroleum is a carcinogen. These detergents are harsher on your skin than natural soap is. Natural soap is made from oils (such as coconut and olive) and is generally formulated so that a small percentage of the oils remains in the finished product. This is nourishing on your skin. But, because petroleum-based detergents are far cheaper than oils, manufacturers made the switch sometime back in the 1930’s, convinced the consumer that this new product was better for you than soap and voila the rest is history. Making your own soap is actually fairly easy, but if that doesn’t interest you, I recommend you find a trustworthy source locally. Farmer’s markets and “natural” food stores are good places to look. For those of you who are interested in learning how, look for a future blog post of mine on the subject!
Moisturizers are also commonly used by women on our skin. For about 5 years now, I’ve been using natural moisturizers such as coconut oil and shea butter. Usually, I’ll add a little bit of essential oils, too, for the scent. My favorites are lavender, patchouli, rosemary, and a little bit of tea tree thrown in, too. Sometimes I’ll mix up my own concoctions in my “soap room”. My latest skin moisturizer that has been great for really dry winter skin is a mix of coconut, hemp, castor, and olive oils, with a small amount of beeswax and essential oils for fragrance. I used to get really dry skin in the winter, but some of this slathered all over right out of the shower has stopped that dead in its tracks lately.
Can we control every aspect of chemical and toxin exposure? Of course not. Unfortunately, we are living in a world where exposure to chemicals happens daily. I don’t let that deter me, though. As long as I have things that are under my control, such as what skin care products to use, I will use the information I have to make the most informed decisions that I can. I hope that you will, too.
Feel free to leave me feedback and let me know if you found this post helpful! I’m always interested in hearing from my readers and want to know what things you’d like to read more about!!