Before we walk out the door in the morning it is said that everyday we apply over 200 chemicals on our skin from our skincare and personal hygiene products, with many females using even more. It might be considered that what we are putting on our skin could be just as an important factor to our health as what we put in our mouth.
Our digestive system has some brilliant defence mechanisms in place that protect us somewhat against many assaults we may throw at it, though our skin has no such armour. What is applied to our skin is absorbed into our blood stream in a matter of seconds, this action is often utilised medically by administering drugs through the use of skin patches.
This would not be a concern if all skin care products out there were safe and tested though unfortunately to the trusting consumer ‘they wouldn’t put it in there if it wasn’t safe’ cannot be said about skincare / hygiene products. The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) closely regulate products for medicinal use though when it comes to the manufacturing of cosmetics and skin care they are only checked after release and only after a complaint or query is submitted by a consumer.
So should we reach for ‘Natural’? If only it was as simple. There are many loop holes when it comes to marketing and product labels and the words ‘Natural’ or even ‘Organic’ have minimal to no guidelines or regulations. A product may be marketed to be natural it may only need 5% natural ingredients included, which are then most often than not preserved in synthetic emollient bases to increase their shelf life and profit margin.
It’s quite understandable to think ‘but I have been using these products all my life and I am fine’ and it may not feel justified to go and change all of your products when you can’t actually see a problem with them now. It’s a bit like ‘if I eat this burger it’s not going to kill me’. Yes, that is most likely right, though we need to start to consider the accumulative effect and what processes in our body these chemicals interfere with.
Take into account all of your personal care products, environmental chemicals (that includes the plastic water bottle leaching BPA into your water), cleaning products, pollution, air fresheners and the list goes on. When we get all of these chemicals applied day after day and then they all combine, there is no research to know what occurs at this point. Think back to the science lab days at school and what happened when we mixed chemicals together!
What is known for sure is that many chemicals used in personal care products do cause reactions within our systems to a point where the science world have called some of them ‘obesogens’. Obesogens are foreign chemicals that enter our body and cause Endocrine disruption meaning it messes with how our hormones work. They have been labelled obesogens for good reason – science is linking them to weight gain which contributes to our risk of Type 2 Diabetes, liver disorders and other metabolic diseases. Our adipose tissue (fat cells) is considered an endocrine organ and can be manipulated by obesogens to increase storage in fat tissue and interfere with our brain’s signalling of appetite and feeling of satisfaction. So there is a possibility that all the chemicals we put on our skin and in our hair may contribute to how much we weigh and how much we eat.
Some chemicals you might like to avoid in your next skin care purchase are –
Preservatives such as Parabens, especially Butyl-, Isobutyl-, Propyl- and Isopropyl- and Poly-parabens. According to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products parabens mimic estrogen in the body disrupting the endocrine system and may cause reproductive and developmental disorders. The effect of parabens needs more research, though a 2004 study found concentrations of parabens in 20 human breast tissue samples. Parabens can be found in liquids, creams and moisturisers use to preserve and extend the shelf life of the products.
Propylene glycol – used as a skin conditioning agent which has been found to cause irritation, allergic contact dermatitis or urticaria (hives). This chemical may be found in personal care items such as baby wipes, lotions, deodorant, skin creams, ointments, shampoos, conditioners, mouthwash and body wash. Also processed foods such as salad dressings, modified corn starch, margarine, cake mix, soft drinks, frozen desserts like ice-cream and frozen yogurt, icing and flavoured coffee.
Triclosan / Triclocarban – this is found in those antibacterial products we like use everywhere. Overuse actually works in the opposite and promotes bacterial resistance, reduces our protective bacteria on our skin, disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones.
Oxybenzone – Found in many sunscreens oxybenzoate has been found as a hormone disruptor.
Resorcinol – Commonly found in hair colour and bleaching products. This chemical exposure is actually regulated in the workplace though not restricted in personal care products. It is classified as a skin irritant, toxic to the immune system and a common cause of allergy to hair dyes.
Fragrance – It’s in everything and we all love those ‘natural fruit fragrances’ in our shower gel. Air fresheners – seriously does ‘Ocean Breeze’ really smell like that? What’s in it? Who knows? Federal law does not require the chemicals included to make a fragrance to be listed, though some have been found to contain over 200 ingredients and is rated amongst the top 5 allergens in the world.
Finally, though not last or least – Phalates. Phalates are used in plastic products to make them soft and bendable, think baby toys, play mats, rubber duckies, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, blood bags and tubing in hospitals, nail polish and hair sprays. It’s also used to make synthetic fragrances last longer in shampoos, hand creams, fabric softener, scented candles and that ‘new car smell’. Phalates have which have been linked to causing damage to the male reproductive system, linked with higher risk of metabolic syndrome, increase menopausal symptoms, and disrupting sex hormones, adrenals and thyroid.
It’s impossible to totally avoid all chemicals, and there are plenty that are made naturally in our environment too. The best we can do is be aware and make choices that can minimise our exposure and risk.
Here are a few easy swaps to get you started –
- Ditch the fake smells. For air-freshener we can open a window or diffuse some pure essential oils.
- Purchase skin care products that are fragrant free.
- Use glass jars for food storage rather than plastic containers.
- Use a stainless steel drink bottle instead of plastic ones.
- Replace fabric softener with ½ cup of white vinegar and a couple of drops of eucalyptus or lavender oil.
- If you use a clothes drier – put 10 drops of essential oil onto a face washer and put it in the drier with the clothes.
- Make your own surface cleaner in a spray bottle with 1 cup vinegar, water and 10 drops of essential oil. Great antibacterial ones include lemon oil, tea tree or clove oil.
- Invest in a water filter rather than buying bottled water in plastic bottles.
- Replace plastic bags for your vegetables with reusable cloth bags. Check out some great products at Biome
- Invest gradually in some low-tox make-up products. For some trusted brands check out the website Nourished Life
By Tanya Jones