“If you’re putting it on your skin you should be willing to put it in your mouth…”. Our patients hear this from us all the time and for good reason. The ingredients in our personal care products should be safe enough and recognizable to the point that we would be willing to ingest them if we had to! No- we aren’t asking our patients to taste their facial cleansers or nibble on their soap bar! We are however teaching them how to identify and eliminate toxic ingredients not only from the foods they eat, the household products they use, but also from their skin care products so that they can greatly reduce their body’s toxic burden. Why is this important? “Toxic burden” refers to the total accumulation of toxins in the body. This can include anything from dangerous metals like lead or mercury, to pesticides, unsafe food additives, or fluoride — just to name a few. This accumulation usually happens over years and years of continuous exposure. Our bodies have built-in mechanisms to detoxify these harmful chemicals, but because we are exposed to so many different toxins in our environment these days, our bodies have a hard time keeping up. Eventually, if we expose ourselves to more toxins than our bodies can eliminate, they accumulate in our fatty tissues and organs which pose a big threat to our ability to maintain health. In the 2017 the CDC updated their “Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,” reporting that the average person in the United States has at least 212 chemicals in their blood and urine.
Since our skin is our body’s largest organ and whatever we put on it is absorbed systemically and eventually has to be detoxified or “biotransformed” by the liver— it’s important that we use the safest skin care products possible. This is because we don’t want these chemicals to increase our body’s toxic burden and also because once absorbed, many of the ingredients in the products we use actually behave as hormones and/or hormone messengers. These chemicals are also known as endocrine disruptors– meaning they interfere or “disrupt” hormones, and they can be synthetic or natural (like phytoestrogens).
An easy solution would be to just get a list of the harmful “hormone disruptors” and avoid them completely, right? Unfortunately, so many of the chemicals used in our personal care products are not well regulated in the US. The Food & Drug Administration doesn’t require skin care product companies to disclose what the specific chemicals are that they are putting in their products and no premarket safety testing is required for the industrial chemicals that go into personal care products. According to the Office of Cosmetics and Colors at the federal Food and Drug Administration, “…a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from FDA.” (FDA 2012) Furthermore, the FDA does no systematic reviews of safety and in over its 36 years, it has only rejected 11 ingredients as unsafe in cosmetics (keep in mind that personal care products are manufactured with 10,500 unique chemical ingredients) . By contrast, the European Union has banned hundreds of chemicals in cosmetics because they have been considered unsafe (European Commission 2012).
A particularly harmful category of endocrine disruptors are called Xenoestrogens. These chemicals mimic the effects of the estrogen our body produces naturally and bind to estrogen receptors which can then block the action of our hormones that our bodies naturally produce. This can affect our thyroid function, can cause children to start puberty earlier and have been associated with numerous health conditions such as endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts, thyroid disease, decreased testosterone in men and increase in breast and uterine cancers—just to name a few.
We understand that it can be expensive and overwhelming to all of a sudden inspect the ingredients in all of your personal care products and throw everything out that contains harmful chemicals. So we made a list of the more common endocrine disruptors found in personal care products and recommend that you start by avoiding skin care products that contain them.
- Parabens- These chemicals are used as preservatives. Avoid Methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and butyl- paraben. They are commonly used preservatives in most skincare products.
- Benzophenone—These chemicals protect products from being broken down by UV light and are found in numerous sunscreens. Oxybenzone is a derivative and is found in many sunscreen products as well.
- 4-MBC methylbenylidene camphor- an ingredient in sunscreen
- Fragrance- This is listed as a single ingredient but is made up of many different chemicals. The FDA does not require companies to disclose all the ingredients in “fragrance”
- Triclosan- antibacterial in many soaps- both body soaps and antibacterial hand soaps/ sanitizers
We recommend going to the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” cosmetics database to get more information specific chemicals and ingredients used in skin care products, and a downloadable free guide on how to choose safer personal care products.
At Nourish Health & Wellness, we have done a lot of our own research on safe skin care products and we found that the company BeautyCounter has an excellent skin care product line that is free of harmful chemicals. They use more stringent safety standards than the Europeans when crafting their products. We definitely recommend BeautyCounter products but there are many other skin care product lines that also only use safe, natural, and organic ingredients as well such as True Botanicals, Andalou Naturals, Desert Essence, and Mychelle Dermaceuticals to name a few.