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

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

 How skin-savvy are you? According to the EWG, using risky chemicals in cosmetics impacts our health.

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, the FDA Cosmetic Review Panel has only assessed 11% of the 10,500 ingredients used in cosmetics for safety. The 89% of remaining ingredients are found in more than 99% of all products on the market.

“What’s the point?” you may ask. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health reported that cosmetic products frequently contain nearly 900 toxic chemicals. 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, using  risky chemicals in cosmetics leads to diseases such as cancer. 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” are half drug, half cosmetic.

Even more interesting is that scientists have found common cosmetic ingredients in many human tissue. Industrial plasticizers called phthalates are in urine. Preservatives called parabens have entered breast tumor tissue. Persistent fragrance components like musk xylene are in human fat. But because they are not yet required, no studies have tested 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 while 70% 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 may lead d 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. Toxins accumulating in the body faster than they can be eliminated, damage  our cells, creating disease. Elimination is very stressful to the immune system, with the liver taking the brunt of this process.

Ideally, use natural skin care products 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 some of the highest known sources of antioxidants, can prevent radical damage, thus having an anti-aging effect on the skin. It is critical that the essential oils used are a pure steam distillation of organically grown plants.

Try to avoid the following common toxic ingredients used in body care products: 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, freshly prepared whole food.
  • 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% 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.


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