Skin Savvy: What You Don’t Know May Harm You

© 2014 Dr. Sharon Norling

You work hard to stay healthy: you have a natural diet, you exercise regularly, you try to eat organic foods by avoiding hormones and pesticides and you drink bottled water. But did you know that there are hundreds more ways that toxins can contaminate your body?

You may think your moisturizers, shampoo, hair spray, toothpaste, lip balm, tanning products, deodorant and makeup are harmless, but a look at the label will often reveal a long list of chemical ingredients, many of which could be hazardous to your health. Moreover, companies that claim their products are all-natural should contain ingredients that are easily recognizable as natural components and not a list of chemical names. And unfortunately, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the government cannot mandate safety studies of cosmetics. Therefore, only 11 percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in cosmetics and documented by the FDA have been assessed for safety by the Cosmetics Review Panel. The 89 percent of ingredients that remain are used on more than 99 percent of all products on the market.

“What’s the point?” you may ask. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health reported that nearly 900 toxic chemicals are used in cosmetic products. And according to a June 2000 Cancer Coalition press release, “Cancer and health risk experts recently concluded reviews that indicate mainstream cosmetics and personal hygiene products pose the highest cancer risk exposures to the general public, even higher than smoking.”

Not convinced? Take into consideration that we have about six pounds of skin and every square centimeter (half-inch) of skin has:

  • 500,000 cells
  • 32 inches of blood vessels
  • 23 inches of nerves
  • 100 sweat glands
  • 15 oil glands
  • 230 sensory receptors

That said, whatever we put on our skin enters the body through our pores, and travels through the entire body via the blood vessels. According to the EWG, when risky chemicals are used in cosmetics, the stakes are high. These components are not trace contaminants; they are the base product and can easily penetrate the skin while some are ingested directly from the lips or hands. Increasingly, companies are adding customized, futuristic “penetration enhancers,” such as nanotechnology, to drive ingredients even deeper into the skin. Furthermore, many cosmetics have ingredients that are also active ingredients in over-the-counter drugs. These products, called “cosmeceuticals” by the FDA and are half drug, half cosmetic.

Even more interesting is that scientists are finding common cosmetic ingredients in many human tissues: industrial plasticizers called phthalates in urine, preservatives called parabens in breast tumor tissue and persistent fragrance components like musk xylene in human fat. But because they are not yet required, no studies have been conducted testing the risk(s) associated with these levels of toxins.

When the EWG cross-linked ingredient listings in 7,500 products with seven government or industry toxicity databases, they found that one-third of all the products contain ingredients linked to cancer and 70 percent of products may be contaminated with harmful impurities. No legal definition exists for “dermatologist tested,” “cruelty free,” “fragrance free” or “hypoallergenic.” Therefore, the claims may or may not have substantial scientific backing. A 2004 EWG survey of 2,300 people shows that on average, American consumers use nine personal care products every day, with 126 unique ingredients, some of which are linked to cancer and other serious health concerns. The unknown health risks also raise concern.

Everything you ingest orally, absorb through your skin or breathe into your lungs, the body will metabolize. Healthy substances, such as whole, natural foods, support the building of healthy human cells, while the body attempts to eliminate synthetic ingredients as non-food or waste. When toxins accumulate in the body faster than they can be eliminated, damage to our cells can occur and disease results. Elimination is very stressful to the immune system, with the liver taking the brunt of this process.

Ideally, natural skin care products are made with whole plant ingredients.

  • Natural vegetable oils have many beneficial properties for the skin such as coconut oil, sweet almond oil, sesame oil and wheat germ.
  • Natural ingredients such as eucalyptus oil, grapefruit seed extract, sandalwood extract, lemon oil, apricots, aloe vera gel, vitamin E, vitamin A and green tea support healthy skin.
  • Water is a major contributor to the moisturizing process. Drink it!
  • Beneficial botanicals have therapeutic value (e.g., chamomile, comfrey, lavender, rose, myrrh, geranium, seaweeds and more).
  • Plant-based essential oils have been known throughout the ages as the most potent beautifying agents for the skin. Essential oils are some of the highest known sources of antioxidants that can prevent radical damage and thus have an anti-aging effect on the skin. It is critical that the essential oils used are a pure steam distillation of organically grown plants.

Here are the names of a few common toxic ingredients used in body care products that should be avoided: parabens (methyl, poly, butyl), propylene glycol, petrolatum, mineral oil, alcohols (cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl), perfumes, fragrance dyes and color, phthalates, Triethanolamine (TEA) and lauryl sulfates. But there are simple changes you can make to your lifestyle to avoid harmful toxins:

  • Eliminate toxins and free radicals in the body. Consider a mild cleansing or detoxification program.
  • Go to bed by 10:00pm.
  • Meditate daily.
  • Eat organic, whole food that is freshly prepared.
  • Essential fatty acids and extra virgin olive oil lubricate, nourish and create luster in the skin.
  • Avoid microwaving and boiling your vegetables because they lose as much as 85 percent of their antioxidant content. Steaming and sauteing are best.

For most of us, beauty is not a gift but a choice. We all experience the quick and harmful effect on our skin from fatigue and stress, but everyone can be radiantly beautiful with a few healthy changes. Personal beauty and skin health is possible for everyone who is willing to take more control of their health in their day-to-day life through time-tested principles of natural living.

Note: For more information on what’s in your cosmetics, the best and most complete information is on the Environmental Working Group web site. www.ewg.org. Open the link to the Skin Deep Database.

Written By: Dr. Sharon Norling, MBA