You are told all the time that it is essential to be careful what you put into your body. Most people know that they need to watch out for chemical additives and toxins in their food. But it is just as important to be careful about what you put onto your skin.
Your skin is capable of absorbing 1-2kg of what is put on it! Skin care, hair products, sunscreen, cosmetics, hand cleaners – the chemicals in all of these are absorbed through the skin and into your bloodstream where they can then be taken to anywhere in your body.
If you stop and think about what this means it gets quite scary. Why? Because all the regulations about labeling these products are very sketchy. As well, enforcement of accuracy and truthfulness about ingredients, or effectiveness of the product, in both the labeling and in the marketing, is pretty well non-existent. Many countries don’t even require that manufacturers list all the chemicals that have been added. Terminology is misleading. Claims of fantastic results don’t have to be proven until the manufacturer is taken to court, and that rarely happens because who has the money to sue the giant skin care companies. Basically, there is no way of knowing the details or the truth about what the products do, if anything, and what is in them.
This means that a product that is labeled as “natural” or “organic” could easily have nasty and quite toxic ingredients in it without you even knowing it.
Here in Australia cosmetics don’t have to have the ingredients listed on the product or the packaging – they only need to be displayed at the point of sale, and that can just be on a slip of paper, or the shelf label. Seriously, how many people can read the label in the shop and remember what all the long, unpronounceable chemical names are, and which ones are harmful. This is pretty serious given that many women wear make-up every day.
Most people are receiving far more than safe quantities of these toxic or questionable chemicals on their skin and into their bloodstream every day. Using the fictional chemical’x’ here is the reason why. The levels of chemicals that are deemed to be ‘safe’ in a product are calculated with that product in a stand-alone scenario. That is, this particular amount of chemical ‘x’ in this single product, is regarded as within the safe guidelines if it is absorbed into the body. However, chemical ‘x’ will then be used in product after product. Given that most women use an average of twelve personal and cosmetic products each day, and most men use an average of six, you can see that the amount of chemical ‘x’ they are putting into their body is way in excess of the amount deemed safe.
This little book turned this whole dilemma right on its head for me. It is small enough to sit in the bottom of my shopping bag and lists all the additives you are likely to find in foods, skin care and cosmetics. Beside each additive it tells you what products it is normally added to, why it is added to the product, whether it is benign, harmful or very harmful, and what effects it normally has on the body. Pretty comprehensive!
If you carry this little gem when you are out shopping you won’t have to remember the confusing names of dangerous chemicals. For anyone who is near my work I always carry a few for sale, but otherwise you should be able to order online.
It is a real eye opener to read that a chemical added to make a skin care product feel more moist as it is applied actually dries out the skin. It is amazing how many chemicals added to skin care and cosmetics cause dermatitis, flaky scalp or other skin problems!
You can read about some of the worst additives here, but chances are not great that you will remember their names when your’re at the cosmetic counter.
Let’s hope that as more and more of us start to demand accurate information these deceptions will start to stop, but in the meantime, let’s get informed and bring about change with our shopping dollar.
“I was blessed to come across The Chemical Maze as a teenager and have always bought the updated editions of the book. Bill’s knowledge is incredible and I respect him, his work and his commitment to making a difference to others.” Miranda Kerr xxx
I’m always amazed how so many high end/high price skin and hair care products claiming all manner of nourishing and rejuvenating benefits, contain so many ingredients toxic for your skin and hair. Often the toxic chemicals they contain are actually the cause of dehydration, dermatitis or other skin problems.
Often products we use to prevent skin problems actually cause those same skin problems, so why do we continue with this crazy behaviour?
We’re all susceptible to great advertising campaigns and because most rarely know what those long chemical names actually are we’re all quick to accept the recommendation of the advertisers.
Of course even if you do know which chemicals are harmful it can be impossible to read ingredient lists printed in microscopic script, if indeed they’re included on the product at all. Legislation only requires the list of ingredients be displayed but not necessarily on the product – it can just be a card sitting at the point of sale, which you may not notice or stop to read!
We’re also easily seduced by nice smells, creamy texture, pretty packaging in our favourite colour, prestige brands, outrageous claims, or simply brand loyalty.
Organic Skin Care Claims
In Australia a product can be labeled ‘organic’ if it contains any carbon in it at all. Given that there’s carbon in all plant and animal matter it’s pretty well a ‘free-for-all’. Technically, the inclusion of any vegetable oil or herbal preparation renders the product ‘organic’.
The word ‘organic’ on its own means zilch.
If the product contains ingredients grown according to accepted organic farming practices it will be labeled ‘Certified Organic’ or ‘Australian Certified Organic’. If ‘Containing Organic Ingredients’ is emblazoned on the packet be careful! There may only be a few drops of one certified organic essential oil in the largish container, while all the other ingredients are not organic and may be quite nasty chemicals.
Companies are ‘put on trust’ and don’t even have to substantiate any of their claims about a product unless they’re challenged. Can you afford the legal fees to prove that you really will look younger when you use their product? It rarely happens.
Getting RoundThe Hurdles
You do need to learn to read the label, even if just to know the main things to steer clear of. If you want natural, beneficial products then you need to be able to search for them. It’s up to you whether you want to settle for products just a little “cleaner” or get one that is really top-quality.
It’s also important to remember that although there may be only small of amounts of each of the harmful ingredients in the product they are cumulative and are present in every product you are using. You use many of these products every day, as well as other products around the home that contain these toxic additives – which all adds up to quite a significant toxic, damaging load.
Small exposures add up and may result in disease later on in life.
Chemicals To Avoid
The first few ingredients on the label are the most important. All ingredients must be listed in the order of quantity, that is, the one that there’s the most of is listed first and the one there’s least of is last.
The Worst Ingredients
The most problematic ingredients, and thus the ones you DO need to avoid, found in almost all skin/hair care products are these:
1. PETROLEUM PRODUCTS: (Mineral oil, Paraffin, Petrolatum): They coat the skin like plastic which clogs the pores, and interferes with the elimination of toxins allowing their build up and leading to acne and dermatitis. They slow skin cell development which results in premature ageing. They are often used in lip products to protect chapping and sun damage but as mineral oils promote skin photosensitivity (sun damage) and interfere with the body’s own moisturisation, they actually lead to dry and chapped skin.
2. SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES: They can cause skin irritation, rash, headache, dizziness, vomiting, coughing, and hyperpigmentation. They can also affect the central nervous system and cause depression, hyperactivity and irritability. Because they contain up to 4000 ingredients, many toxic or carcinogenic, there is no way to know exactly what they do contain. If you want products with a fragrance then look for ones that use essential oils instead.
3. PARABEN PRESERVATIVES (Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben): Widely used and known to be highly toxic, they are a preservative used to inhibit microbial growth and extend shelf life. They cause many allergic skin reactions and skin rashes, irritate eyes and respiratory tract, and are connected to cancer. They also disrupt homrmonal process in the endocrine system as they mimic oestrogen
4. PROPYLENE GLYCOL: A synthetic petrochemical, it inhibits skin cell growth, weakens cell structure, causes allergic reactions, dermatitis, skin irritation, conjunctivitis, and kidney/liver abnormalities. It is used as a ‘moisturizer’ and also found in fragrance oils. It is toxic and dangerous and the EPA requires workers handling it to wear protective gloves, clothing and goggles and to dispose of it by burying it in the ground. In spite of this, there is no warning label requirement for products like stick deodorants even though the concentrations are higher than in most industrial applications.
5. SODIUM LAUREL/ LAURETH SULPHATE (SLS or SLES), AMMONIUM LAURYL SULPHATE (ALS): The synthetic substance that builds the ‘foaminess’ in shampoos, they dehydrate skin and inflame and separate the skin layers. They cause eye irritation, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf like dandruff, allergic reactions, they break down the moisture barrier in the skin, and they turn into a carcinogen. They are found in over 90% of personal care products that foam including shampoos, skin care and even toothpastes as well as engine degreasers and garage floor cleaners. Don’t be deceived into thinking it is ok if it says ‘comes from coconut’.
6. TRIETHANOLAMINE (TEA) – (it will often have a number added): It is a synthetic emulsifier which is severely irritating to body tissues and can cause allergic reactions, eye problems, dry skin and hair, and can be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time. Over 40% of cosmetics containing it have been found contaminated with nitrosamines (potent carcinogens). The Material Safety Data Sheet actually advises wearing a face shield if there is danger of eye contact.
7. POLYETHYLENE GLYCOL (PEG) – (sometimes with a number added): They reduce the skin’s natural moisture factor and leave it vulnerable to bacteria. They also contribute to the appearance of ageing. Very commonly used and connected with liver and kidney damage and a carcinogen, you will also find them in caustic spray-on oven cleaners.
8. STEARALKONIUM CHLORIDE: Highly toxic, it can cause allergic reactions. Originally developed as a fabric conditioner it is now used in creams and hair conditioners because it is cheaper than herbals or proteins. Over time it causes hair to become dry and brittle
9. DIAZOLIDINYL UREA: The American Academy of Dermatology established it as the primary cause of contact dermatitis. It is the most commonly used preservative after parabens. It contains formaldehyde which is toxic if inhaled. It causes skin nose, eyes and throat irritation coughing and difficult breathing. It is toxic.
10. SYNTHETIC COLOURS: They are used simply to make products pretty. Avoid anything with these added as animal studies show almost all are cancer-causing agents and serve no beneficial purpose in the product at all.
Here are a few more to avoid, although they’re just a few of the huge problem.
Toulene – (benzoic, benzyl) A well known poison affecting many organs and found in synthetic fragrances, it is fatal if swallowed and harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Oxybenzone – (or benzophenone-3): It is found in any product offering sun protection – it inactivates the skins own antioxidant system (which leads to premature ageing),disrupts hormones, and causes cancer. Ironically, it reacts under UV light (ie: in the sun) to potentially damage DNA and affect development.
Retinal Palmitate – decomposes under UVA rays into chemicals that cause cell mutations. Being photo-toxic it causes skin ageing but is often found in anti-ageing products!
Children Are At Greater Risk
The EWC (Environmental Working Committee) offer this advice on how to read a personal care product label. They recommend paying particular attention to products for children and babieswhich contain the same harmful ingredients but pose a greater risk. Children are so much smaller than adults so they’re relatively far more exposed to the dangers of the contaminants. Their organs are immature and far less capable at dealing with the assault.
Other Ways These Chemicals Affect You
The effect these toxins have on you isn’t just about how your skin or hair looks and feels. Many people also have a huge improvement in other health problems after they change their hair, skin or cleaning (personal and clothes) products. Switching from products containing the above ingredients to more natural products that don’t contain the nasty chemicals can have a huge impact on their health.
If you do seek out products made from more natural, healthy ingredients you may find that problems like allergies start to go away. Even simply changing to products that don’t contain artificial colours or synthetic fragrances makes a significance difference and is a great place to begin.
No doubt in the past you’ve found some products were good for your skin and others not so good. Natural skin and hair care products are no different. If you find one isn’t good for you then try another. The right one for your own individual skin and hair will be there and it’s simply a matter of finding which it is. I tried many different natural, healthy shampoos and conditioners before I found the one that suits my hair and leaves it beautifully soft.
Not All ‘Natural’ And ‘Organic’ Products Are Ok
Here is a great article by the Wellness Warrior, Jess Ainscough, called ‘8 Beauty Brands You Would Think Are Natural’ where she challenges the ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ claims made by big companies. She examines one randomly chosen product from each range for just how many toxins it contains. She reinforces just why you do need to know your stuff and should really get you asking questions.
A List To Use When Shopping
To make it easier to navigate your way through the jungle of scientific names here’s a list of the ingredients above. Copy it and keep it in your bag. Then you can check the ingredients in products before you buy them.
Personal care products are supposed to enhance our skin and hair. Make sure that the ones you use are in fact food for your skin and not toxins for your skin.
All information and opinions presented here are for information only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before trying any of the treatment suggested on this site.