There are many resources for learning about natural healing methods, and many voices out there trying to assert what is best for you and what is not. Unfortunately I've found that a huge majority of the sources out there are trying to make money off of you, no matter the cost (ironically) to your health and well-being. I created JP Holistic Therapy to help people make their own best decisions about what goes in and on their bodies, and to empower people to truly ADD VALUE to their lives. Fortunately, more and more people are getting the message that they can promote well-being by minimizing toxicity, and that toxicity itself comes in many forms. But there is still a lot of conflicting information from a lot of sources and it can be hard to parse out what's really true and what's just advertising. relevant for you and your family. That's why I wanted to write this brief piece to highlight the work of an amazing nonprofit organization that I have relied on for years in my personal life for critical information about chemical toxicities, and I hope you will consider using them as well.
They are called the Environmental Working Group. They do a lot of great work on many different causes, but they have one amazing database in particular called "Skin Deep." It contains descriptions of TENS OF THOUSANDS of products that are meant for contact with the skin, including creams, washes, hand sanitizers, and cosmetics. It lists the chemical ingredients in these products, classifies them according to whether and how they are toxic, i.e. - which body systems it affects and how, and ranks the product and/or ingredient on an easy-to-use scale of 0-10 (0 being least toxic and 10 being most).
For example, Blistex Simple Essentials Lip Balm is given a score of 8 on this scale, in part because it contains oxybenzone, a known disruptor of hormone signalling and the endocrine system that also produces increases in reactive oxygen species (those molecules that in large numbers cause damage to DNA and have been associated with a huge range of illnesses). Every ingredient in Blistex is included on the product listing and given a rank, from oxybenzone (7) to "flavor" (ranked 4 for its ambiguous chemical origins) to calendula extract (ranked 0, being of truly natural origin). If you click on the ingredient, you will be taken to another page within Skin Deep that describes the ingredient, what it's used for, the scientific basis for the ranking, and links to published studies about the ingredient (there are over 10,000 studies on oxybenzone ALONE) should you be interested in reading more.
So how do you use this information? Bookmark the Skin Deep database on your browser. When you are out shopping and curious about an ingredient that you don't understand (or, in the case of many products out there - cannot even pronounce!), you can pull out your phone and enter the product name OR the ingredient in question directly into the search bar on the Skin Deep homepage, and you will have your answer about toxicity. If you don't like the number you see, don't get the product. If you do like it, do get it! It's that simple. The Skin Deep database is FREE to everyone. It's a great, simple way to obtain quick and reliable access to the information you want and need to protect your health and the health of your family.
Here is the link to the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database: www.ewg.org/skindeep.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Note: I do not work for the Environmental Working Group and received no inducement to share this database. I just know a good resource when I see one, and want to share it with you - especially when it's free!
This third segment in the “Get to Know Your Products” series covers a few choice ingredients from the Revitanail Nail Strengthener, a popular requested beauty product, in particular here in Australia. In this series, we’re looking at common but harmful ingredients that are likely to be found not just in this product but indeed in many general beauty and cosmetics products, with an eye toward understanding just what they are and what makes them so harmful to our health.
Toluene – Toluene, also known as benzene or methylbenzene, is used as a petrochemical solvent in a number of products, including nail varnishes and polishes. Toluene is strongly neurotoxic, and exposure is associated with serious long-term health consequences. Inhaling toluene in large doses can even lead to death. Exposure to toluene during pregnancy can cause developmental damage to the unborn child. In smaller doses and quantities, damage to the kidneys, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation to the skin and eyes, fatigue, headache, suppressed appetite, lack of energy, and depression have all been observed. It has also been tentatively linked with blood cancer risk, including lymphoma.
Butyl Acetate - Butyl Acetate, or N-Butyl Acetate is another solvent used in nail care polishes, varnishes and strengtheners, but its list of negative consequences is less intimidating than toluene. Butyl acetate is only associated with skin irritations, including to the eyes, skin, lungs and any areas with mucous membranes. (That’s all, right?) Butyl acetate vapours can also cause dizziness or nausea when inhaled, which is problematic since this is often used as a fragrance ingredient!
Formaldehyde – As if the previous ingredients weren’t bad enough, formaldehyde is the one of the most common and most harmful ingredients – and contaminants – commonly found in skincare products. It is a known, strong carcinogen (i.e. - causes cancer) based on well-established studies in animals – and emerging studies in humans. Nasal and nasopharyngeal cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, and leukemia are among the cancers it has been linked to. This chemical can also cause allergic dermatitis on contact. In Europe, regulatory health protections limit formaldehyde concentrations to 1/5 of 1%, with a specific warning required on the label if a product contains more than .05%.
Despite these clear and obvious dangers, this and many other chemicals are either not regulated at all, or are very poorly regulated. The chemicals are used and processed because they are cheap and no one is stopping them. The industry itself that makes your products won’t address this until they have to. Until laws are available that effectively protect you from these products, the only way to fight these companies is to use your purchasing power to SAY NO to these products and these terrible chemicals and chemical residues.
Warning About Preservatives and Other Synthetic Additives in Skin Care Products
The number of ads for commercial skin care products is constantly increasing, with more and more people using and buying these types of products. However, can these products be counted on to support your health? All the ingredients are legally required to be present on the labels of these products, but the reality is that not many people take a close look at them, and even fewer actually understand what they mean. Looking at labels like the one above, it’s easy to understand why: Most of these ingredients are hard to even pronounce, much less understand! But this label is from a common and popular product, Olay's Age Defying Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream. Since all of the listed ingredients are meant to go on your face, it's worth learning more about what it is!
This article is the first in an ongoing series where I highlight some of the common synthetic additives and other toxic substances found in modern skin care products. The goal here is to help you encourage your own health by helping you getto know your products!
All parabens are used as preservatives. They were typically considered to be among the best ones because they usually don’t lead to allergic reactions. However, numerous scientific studies have confirmed that there is a link between the use of parabens, especially propylparaben, and breast cancer. Many countries have already banned this substance.
2. PEG-100 Stearate
PEG(Polyethylene glycol)–100 Stearate is a petroleum-based primary ingredient in many cosmetic and skincare products like sunscreens, moisturizers, body cleansers, conditioners, etc. Its main purpose in these products is to act as a softener, moisture-carrier, emulsifier, and thickener, which is why it often helps form the base for skincare creams. It’s created when a fatty acid known as stearic acid is modified in order to help bind water and oil soluble ingredients together in the products so that they don’t separate. Though PEG-100 Stearate itself appears to be safe, there are growing concerns about its use in commercial skin preparations because of a number of contaminants that often are present within it that often have been linked with cancer, central nervous system issues, and other health conditions as well.
3. Behenyl alcohol
Behenyl alcohol is a type of fatty alcohol. It is used in many different products, but more recently has become quite popular in the skin care industry. This alcohol is used as an emollient. Manufacturers also use it to improve the texture of their products. Although it is not very dangerous, frequent use of products that contain behenyl alcohol can lead to skin irritations.
You might be wondering why manufacturers add preservatives and other synthetic additives at all. The main reasons include to make the product’s final texture more appealing, to mix the main ingredients (which often don’t mix well otherwise, like oil & water), to prevent bacterial overgrowth in the products, and in the case of preservatives, to extend their shelf life.
As such, these toxic products can be found in commercial lotions, sunscreens, creams, mascaras, powders, shades and many other cosmetic products. These synthetic additives and preservatives can lead to a variety of adverse symptoms and health problems like nausea, redness, vomiting, kidney problems, dermatitis, headaches, hormonal imbalances, and in the long run even cancer…and all this from ingredients that were added on purpose, to say nothing of accidental additives, like toxic metal contaminants that can penetrate the body through the skin. Certain products are more likely to contain certain contaminants. Mascaras and eye shades for instance often contain arsenic, eyeliners often contain cadmium, and lipsticks can contain traces of lead, etc.
Most people buy their products under an implicit assumption - that because it is present on a store shelf that it is safe. Unfortunately that is simply not true. For a variety of reasons, the structures and organizations that perhaps should be protecting us from unsafe ingredients or unethical business practices are failing. This leaves us wide open to negative health consequences if we are not careful and conscientious about what we expose our bodies to. It can sometimes feel overwhelming, but if you’re reading this, that means you are studying up on the issues and taking your health into your own hands, and you are on the right path for you and your family.
Fortunately there ARE alternatives to using toxic synthetic products, from truly natural skin care lines to creating your own solutions with natural (and often more effective) products at home. You can read more about natural skin solutions in other articles on this site.
You can always email me an ingredient label from one of your products - anything from hand washes to skin cream, and I will endeavour to answer whether it is healthy in this article series.
James L Poole
I am a holistic health therapist: Emmett Technique practitioner, aromatherapist, nutritional therapist, and Reiki healer. This is my blog about natural healing. For more frequent updates, please check my Facebook group page.