Consequences of Chemicals in Products used on the Skin
Why Replace Chemical “Actives” in Your Skin Care with exceptionally performing Botanical ones
You probably already know that your skin is the largest organ of the body. Did you also know that the skin has an all-important job to do, protecting the body from external harm? These dangers can occur from the sun’s UV lights, allergens in the air or microorganisms like bacteria. And our skin also protects us from environmental chemicals — which can be found in many of the lotions and serums we lather on to our skin each day.
Our Body’s Armor
Skin is part of the integumentary system, which also includes nails, hair and glands. A mix of our own body oil and other secretions on our skin help to keep most of the harmful microorganisms at bay, so the integumentary system does an excellent job of protecting the body from external harm. Skin, however, is porous and it readily absorbs whatever is placed on it. The skin soaks up the ingredients from the beauty products we use and these ingredients are then absorbed into the blood and lymph system, traveling throughout our body.
We are often unaware how easy it is to contaminate our bodies by what we place on our skin. We may think that “approved” beauty products from well-known and well-respected brands would protect us from ingredients in beauty and personal care products that can be hazardous to our health. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Lotions, creams and serums containing undesirable, and even harmful ingredients, can be found across the aisles of sparkling and attractive looking boxes of products in our favourite shopping outlets. For example, many cosmetic ingredients are endocrine disruptors, disturbing our body’s hormones and how they function. The more these ingredients build up in our bodies, the greater the effect is.
The best way to protect ourselves is to develop an awareness of the products we use. Knowing which ingredients are detrimental to the body and the skin can help us make informed decisions about the cosmetics we use. These days we have become more aware of food labels and we may look for the sugar content in the food we buy, for example. If we apply that same thinking to the products we put on our skin, we can improve both our skin and our health significantly.
Would you like to be more knowledgeable about your beauty choices? We’ve put together a list of “baddies” most commonly found in skin products.
Mineral oil is found in a variety of beauty products, from cosmetics to hair care. Because it’s colourless and odorless, mineral oil is easily incorporated into beauty formulas. The term “mineral oil” sounds so benign that it’s hard to believe that it could be bad for your skin. Mineral oil (and petroleum jelly) are both created from petroleum and, for many people, mineral oil can be occlusive, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.
Silicone is a synthetic product found on ingredient lists under the following names — cyclohexasiloxane, cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone, and cetearyl methicone. When used in skin and hair products, silicone creates a smooth and silky feel. However, to create that smooth texture, silicone leaves a film that traps dirt and oils, leading to acne and irritation. What’s more, silicones are environmentally hazardous because they are bio accumulative. When removed during a bath or shower, silicones get washed away and accumulate in bodies of water, posing a risk to aquatic life.
Propylene glycol is an excellent humectant and is, for the most part, well tolerated by skin. As a humectant, propylene glycol increases moisture in hair and skin and is found in many beauty products. Unfortunately, the very factor that contributes to propylene glycol’s popularity as a beauty additive also makes it harmful to the body. Propylene glycol encourages moisture to soak into the skin — which also invites harmful toxins to penetrate into the skin — reducing the skin’s effectiveness as a barrier.
Like propylene glycol, PEG (Polyethylene Glycol) enhances penetration of other ingredients into the skin. PEGs can’t differentiate between what are beneficial ingredients and what is toxic to the body — it encourages overall absorption. Therefore, the application of PEGs can promote the penetration of toxins into the skin.
ALES is an acronym for Ammonium Lauryl Ether Sulphate, which is typically found in shampoos, body washes and hand soap. Because it’s a foaming agent, it causes the sudsy wash that most people associate with showers and baths. The truth is that those soapy bubbles aren’t making your skin any cleaner and they could be damaging it instead. ALES can lead to the development of scalp irritations, dry skin, and dandruff. ALES may also mimic the effects of oestrogen. leading to endocrine disruption and toxicity.
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, also known as SLES, is an emulsifier found in cleansing agents like shampoos and body wash. Although SLES is efficient at removing dirt from skin and hair, it also has a drying effect by damaging the upper layers of skin, resulting in water loss often resulting in skin rashes. SLES can also become destructive to skin over time, reducing skin’s ability to serve as a barrier to microorganisms.
We all like to smell fresh and lovely but added fragrances can cause more problems than we’d like. For many people, it’s typically the added fragrance in a product that causes skin reactions and irritations. Synthetic fragrances can cause adverse effects like headaches, nausea, eczema, hives and they can even trigger asthma attacks.
Synthetic musk is made to smell like natural musk but are created artificially. Used in perfumes, colognes, personal care and cleaning products, the human body can recognize synthetic musk as hormones — therefore affecting the endocrine system. Polycyclic musk also bioaccumulate in bodies of water which harms the environment.
The acronym GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, which is an organism whose genetic material has been genetically engineered. Most people think of food when the term GMO comes into the conversation but GMOs can also be found in cosmetics. For example, corn starch, glycerine and alcohol can all come from GMOs and are ingredients in many beauty products. People who are concerned about the health risks of GMOs need to consciously look for cosmetic products that are labelled as non-GMO.
Petrolatum, otherwise known as a paraffin wax, is made from the distillation of petroleum. Often found in face creams and lotions, paraffin makes skin feel soft and moisturized. Unfortunately, this effect is temporary. In the long run, paraffin can clog pores and cause irritation.
Parabens are typically used in beauty products as a preservative, keeping the product free of mould and bacteria for longer periods. Most cosmetics contain more than one type of paraben to eliminate a broader range of bacteria. Because the body recognizes parabens as oestrogen, parabens can disrupt the endocrine system.
Ethanolamine is a clear, thick liquid that smells like ammonia. It’s found in cosmetic products like eye shadow, blush and hair dyes to help control the pH and emulsify the ingredients of a cosmetic product. Using ethanolamine can irritate the skin and result in skin inflammation. Prolonged exposure may affect the kidney, liver or nervous system.
Many synthetic dyes found in cosmetics can increase skin sensitivity, making skin more prone to breakouts or rashes. Most synthetic dyes are made from coal tar, which is a known carcinogenic. When used for cosmetics and lotions, synthetic dyes are absorbed into the skin, increasing the risk of illness.
Phthalates are chemicals usually used in plastic products, making them flexible and more difficult to break. In cosmetics, they’re used as a binding agent and are found in products like nail polish, hairspray, and shampoo. Like many of the products on this list, phthalates have the ability to affect the endocrine system and cause hormonal imbalance. Recent studies have also linked phthalates to miscarriage and gestational diabetes in pregnant women.
Synthetic retinol is a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, the same vitamin found in carrots. Used in cosmetics, synthetic retinol is thought to reduce wrinkles and dark spots, making skin look younger. Unfortunately, synthetic retinol can amplify the effect of sunlight — increasing the risk for skin cancer. Rather than making skin smooth, this ingredient can be harsh on the skin, causing severe irritation and redness.
We are including this as an awareness issue rather than a direct health one. Although animal-by-products are used less frequently in cosmetics than they were a decade ago, many popular brands still use them. For example, some “non-chemical” fragrances can contain ambergris as a fixative which is taken from the digestive system of a whale – either extracted from their waste product or directly from their intestines. Products that contain Guanine, such as skin lightening creams and in eye shadows giving a pearlescent element, may not be aware they are applying a product derived from fish scales. For vegans and those opposed to animal use in cosmetics for whatever reason animal-by-products can be avoided by checking that the term “No Animal-By-Products” is on the labelling.
No Animal Testing
Animal testing is still used, even today, for personal care and beauty products. As beauty product manufacturing companies now have the ability to use innovative and animal-free testing methods to ensure the safety of their products, animal testing is no-longer necessary.
No Nature Identical
Last on this list is the term “nature identical.” The term is deceptive, because it uses the word “nature,” but a “natural identical” ingredient is not natural at all. Nature identical ingredients are produced synthetically to be chemically similar to their natural counterparts. For example, some essential oils are nature identical — smelling like their counterpart and chemically similar but not the same. As nature identical products are synthetic chemicals, they can be grouped into all of the problem spaces above depending on their ingredient list.
Staying Away from the Baddies
Checking labels and choosing product ranges labelled as not containing the above chemicals makes it relatively easy to avoid these products and helps us all to choose those companies that are choosing to use more natural “actives” – active ingredients from plants scientifically demonstrated to provide the same – or better – fantastic results without the health risks.