Why Go Naturally?
Exploring Ingredients in Skin Care and Body Products
In a sense, we are all raised by our culture ...
our family is a great part of that culture
to our young minds, but the society in which we
live also shapes us in many ways. Growing up in
a society that commonly uses mass-marketed products
tends to create inherent buying patterns and
lifestyles, from the food we eat, the clothes we
wear, to the products we use for hygiene or
around the house. All through our childhoods,
these life habits are placed upon us, so that
by the time we reach adulthood, we find ourselves
purchasing certain products without hesitation ...
and, without ever reading the labels.
This article is going to share some
of the information we have acquired while
beginning our own journey into investigating
what goes into some of the skin care products
that are so commonplace, yet may be compromising
our health. We are going to be taking a look
at some of the common ingredients that form
some of the chemical compounds used in,
for instance, antibacterials, preservatives,
foaming agents, and sunscreens.
There is a lot to cover, yet we will only
briefly be touching on the heart of the matter.
So, we hope you will take the time to read
through this, even if you are unable to
complete it in one sitting, as much of this
information is very important to you and
those you care about.
Taking a closer look ...
Lifestyles and practices are passed from
one generation to the next, and although
styles and fashions change, sometimes quite
radically, dozens of times throughout our
lives, some things remain consistent and may
not always be the best, such as our habit of
buying hair or skin products off the store
shelves that contain chemicals that could
threaten the health of our bodies or our
environment, which, always comes back to us.
Without hesitation, many of us may use baby
oil in the form of mineral oil on infants,
which is a petroleum product similar
to petroleum jelly. When we get older, it's
very easy to continue to use mineral oil,
yet it serves no nutritive value to our
skin and can clog our pores. The same story
holds true for many of the personal products
we use everyday.
For decades, the companies making synthetic products
have been marketing their products to us in the form
of glamourous advertising or point-of-purchase
displays and packaging, often "aiming"
their message to teens and young adults in an
effort to create buying trends that will last
a lifetime. Amidst all of this, we can easily
find ourselves distracted to such a point as
to not pay attention to the small print on
the product labels. If we begin to read cosmetic
and skin care product labels, we find that there
are plenty of ingredients listed that are very
unfamiliar to us and we may not have the time to
research these, often mysterious, ingredients.
In researching some of these lifelong habits,
we may find ourselves making conscious decisions
to determine whether or not we wish to continue
with the "traditions," and we may
discover we were unaware that our daily habits
could require more thought on our part.
Personal care products are used on the skin
and hair every day, but there are some
ingredients within those products that could
be harmful to our health when we consistently
use them over a long period of time ...
for instance, over our lifetime.
Our skin absorbs what we put on it, so,
if a product we are using has chemicals
in it, that chemical can enter our bloodstream.
Some toxins can build up over time within our
bodies, and the combinations of these substances,
can be the root of skin irritations, allergies,
or cause illness. Also, there are certain chemicals
that trigger responses within our bodies that can
affect our hormone levels, which we will be
exploring a little later.
Taking a closer look at what we put on our skin
is a good first step in learning a little about
some of the chemicals that are included in products
that are used on a day to day basis that may potentially
be unhealthy for us or our environment.
Suds and Other Stuff
Some product labels are not as simple as they may
at first appear ... for instance, in products such
as body washes, shampoos, and bubble baths, we may
see the ingredients Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS),
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Ammonium Laurel
Sulfate (ALS), Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, and
Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, amongst others.
These chemicals belong to a family of
surfactants, which are commonly used to create suds,
and they can cause irritation to skin and eyes,
extreme dryness, possible endocrine disruption,
as well other negative influences either within
our bodies or in the environment.
According to many articles and studies,
there is a manufacturing process called
"ethoxylation," which means that
the ingredient has been processed with
ethylene oxide, which is a carcinogen.
Substances that have been ethoxylated can become
contaminated with "1,4-dioxane," a
dangerous and carcinogenic by-product of this
ethoxylation process, which can be absorbed
into the skin. Direct contact with ethylene
oxide can cause blisters and burns, with
contact over larger areas of the body causing
frostbite. In other words, neither one of
these substances are benign ingredients.
Many shampoos and body washes are laced with
We can usually tell when substances have
been treated this way due to the "eth"
in their name for ethylene oxide, such as laureth,
steareth, ceteareth, oleth, trideceth, myreth, etc.
For instance, Sodium Laurel Sulfate becomes
Sodium "Laureth" Sulfate when it has
gone through this process. Of course, it is
diluted by the time it makes its way into your
shampoo bottle, but the question of safety for
many of us remains, as it is not simply one
daily chemical exposure that we are
considering, but a combined list of
"insignificant" exposures, multiplied
over and over. Words that include xynol,
oxynol, polyethylene, and polyoxyethylene,
for instance, are also something to look out
for, such as the "eths" when reading
labels. It is these "tip-offs" that
can tell you if the ingredients are what may
be considered marginal to your health.
Some chemicals are "masked" or
"hidden" behind other product or
ingredient names, so now we are going to
explore what some of these may be, as they
are often part of the emulsifier or
preservative in a product. Just as
ethylene oxide can creep into your skin
or hair care products, so can some other
substances that may not be good for you.
Emulsifiers and Preservatives
From blending water and oil, to adjusting
pH, imparting smoothness upon the skin,
making a product waterproof, to
keeping a product free of bacteria,
different chemicals do different things.
An emulsifier is a substance that is used
to bind oil and water together, as it's
a substance that repels neither water
or oil and is "friendly" to both,
so it blends them together as one, such as
in a body lotion or face cream.
There are some common synthetic emulsifiers
that create smoothness in a skin care product,
however, some of them have the "eth
factor" involved, such as "Emulsifying Wax NF,"
although you do not see the "eth" in its name.
It is a compound which includes Polysorbate 60,
PEG-150 Stearate, and Steareth-20. PEG is another
name for polyethylene glycol, (note the "eth"),
an emulsifier or skin conditioner. Normally, PEG
is followed by a number, which has to do with the
number of times it has been treated with ethylene
oxide, such as PEG-150. There are
"contamination concerns" in regard to
polysorbates, another ingredient combined with
the "E-wax" (although the "E"
is short for Emulsifying, not Ethylene, you could
view this either way!) With these types of "hidden"
ingredients, it is easy to understand why we do not
always know what lies beyond the tradename of a
particular ingredient, and why a little research
can go a long way.
A similar circumstance lies in preservative
products that fall under the trade names of,
for instance, Optiphen, Phenonip, and Phenostat,
to name a few. These all contain the chemical
phenoxyethanol, an ethoxylated compound,
(i.e., ethylene oxide), which can be a skin or
eye irritant. Some products may state that
they are free of parabens or formaldehyde releasers,
yet they may include phenoxyethanol in the form
of preservatives under another name. For instance,
"Phenonip" is a paraben-based preservative
containing phenoxyethanol (organic glycol ether),
Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben,
and Isobutylparaben, although it is not a formaldehyde-releaser.
Formaldehyde-releasers are found in some preservatives ...
Imidazolidinyl Urea, Diazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin,
and Quaternium-15, as well as others. This can cause skin
irritation, and some people have allergic reactions to it,
causing hives and blisters or eye irritation. When formaldehyde
is used to treat, for instance, wood products, the
vapors, which are released over time, can be a serious
irritant to some people, especially with asthma, and the
vapors are considered carcinogenic. Direct contact
with it can result in loss of vision, with high level
exposure causing shortness of breath, other respiratory
problems, or severe allergic reactions.
There are many ingredients which fall into the
category of "safe to use" or ones that
are considered to not be any hazard, they just
aren't natural ingredients.
Also along these lines is cyclomethicone,
an ingredient used in body and linen sprays,
or spray-on sunscreens which makes liquid
evaporate faster, absorb quicker, or dry
to a powder ... it's a "cousin" of
silicone. Although it is considered safe
to use, it is not safe for aquatic life.
We may find this to be the case with many
ingredients, including other silicone
derivatives, such as cyclopentasiloxane,
found in some foundation make-up products.
Methylchoroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI)
may appear as a long string of letters that you do not dare
try to form into syllables, much less words, but they
should be taken very seriously. These preservatives may
increase the risk of sensitization or chronic
dermatitis for frequent users of products that
remain on the skin.
Beyond personal safety, environmental and water
contamination concerns are critical to the health
and well-being of people everywhere. The issue
of the effects of these chemicals on aquatic
organisms comes up often, as much of what we
use on our skin ends up in the water, where
these creatures live, polluting their habitat,
and ours. This now brings us to another avenue ...
addressing the issue of where these chemicals
go after we are through using them.
There is no debate that we need clean air
and water to survive. But, there are many
factors that contribute to the loss of our
healthy environment, and pollution is a
major contributor. For instance, it is believed
that some of the ingredients in many shampoos
interact with the disinfecting chemicals used
at water treatment facilities, contributing to
the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines,
which can end up in our drinking water, so it's
important to be aware of the products we
use and the effects they may have.
Nitrosamines are linked to cancer and considered
a serious environmental threat. They form from
a chemical reaction under favorable conditions,
for instance, if diethanolamine (DEA) and
triethanolamine (TEA) are used in the same product,
but there are also others. These can also cause
irritation and are usually found in preservatives
and shampoo, but can also be found in other skin
or hair care products.
In water environments, some chemicals do not
show any physical effects on aquatic critters,
yet under close observation, behavior may be altered,
as in the case of tadpoles when subjected to these
(MCI-MI) chemicals, which can cause increased
susceptibility to seizures; affect visual function,
swimming ability, as well as other behaviors, and
with chronic exposure, abnormal neurological function.
Simply because the use of an ingredient shows no
outward or physical sign of irritation on the skin,
does not mean that it cannot be affecting your
health in some other way. Mercury, which is a
highly toxic chemical, finds its way into skin
lightening, anti-aging, or freckle creams ... although
no longer legal in the U.S., for instance, it may
still be brought in from other countries, but,
it was once a common product. It may not at first
cause any apparent physical problems, yet causes
headaches, depression, irrational behavior, eventual
disease, and it severely pollutes water.
Triclosan and Triclocarban
Of concern to our health as well as the
environment, these chemical anti-bacterials entered
the marketplace in the mid-1980's and are found
in many hand soaps, bar soaps, and deodorants.
They can disrupt hormones, including thyroid
hormones, by either blocking or increasing
hormone activity, or unnaturally inhibiting or
stimulating the action or formation of hormones,
which negatively impacts hormone-dependent organs,
such as the prostate gland. Or, they can cause the
over-production of estrogen or testosterone.
Studies of impaired development of tadpoles is proof
of their damaging effects. Also, they may be
linked to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
When Triclosan is exposed to sunlight, it generates
a specific group of four dioxins, highly toxic
compounds, which are accumulating in rivers,
such as the Mississippi in the United States.
Water treatment plants are not able to adequately
remove these chemicals before they are released
into the environment. These chemicals can
stick to organic particles and sink into bodies
of water, such as lakes, where they accumulate,
leaving behind dangerous waterways for
generations to come. They can make our rivers,
lakes, and streams toxic to fish, filtering to
our ground water, which comes back to us in
the form of drinking water. And, we must not
forget the food chain ... water pollution
contaminates our soils, which, in turn,
taints our dairy products, meat, poultry and fish.
This can cause the immune systems of humans and
other creatures to become compromised, can
cause developmental problems, and cancer.
Let's take a look at one more set of products
that causes both health and environmental harm,
then we'll take a moment to explore what our
endocrine system does and why we should protect
it. (This article will not go into why our
environment should be protected, but please do
not view this omission as something that is
Octocrylene, oxybenzone, octyl-methoxycinnamate,
4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC),
and octyl-dimethyl-PABA ... commonly found in
sunscreen products, can pose some interesting
health-related problems. While octocrylene and
oxybenzone may cause an allergic reaction in
some people, there are more serious issues at
hand in regard to some of the common sunscreen ingredients
in terms of both health and the environment.
Oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, is
used in a variety of skin care products
and it carries with it a variety of concerns.
It falls into the category of hormone disruptor,
causing estrogen and adrenal hormone imbalances.
An interesting thing to note about oxybenzone
is that it is considered a penetration enhancer;
this means that it aids in the skin penetration
of other chemicals. It is linked to cell damage,
low birth weight, and developmental toxicity.
For instance, the prostate relies on androgens
during development and is very sensitive to
deviations of androgen-estrogen, so any
substance present during critical stages
of development that mimics estrogen can potentially
alter the development of the prostate.
A similar scenario also lies with 4-MBC in
terms of development of the prostate gland.
In regard to sunscreen chemicals as a whole,
potential exposure to newborns is a concern,
as traces can be found in human breast milk.
When oxybenzone is co-applied with some other
sunscreen ingredients, (4-MBC and octinoxate),
studies show that during a one week period,
male subjects experienced "a minor, intermittent,
but statistically significant drop in testosterone
Coral reefs are dramatically affected by
these chemicals, bleaching the corals,
which in turn destroys reef communities,
where fish reproduce and live.
Highly lipophilic, most sunscreens are
non-biodegradable and are expected to
accumulate in the environment, posing long-term
effects in humans and wildlife, as fish are
being contaminated, exposing humans through
the food chain. These chemicals are evident
in both surface waters, as well as
downstream of water treatment plants.
Reproduction of some species of fish has
been diminished, as male fish can be found with
female traits due to endocrine disruption,
a serious environmental concern.
Another sunscreen component, octyl-methoxycinnamate,
can cause photosensitisation and photoallergic effects.
Easily penetrating the skin's upper layer, it is
considered to generate free radicals in skin cells,
and may disrupt hormones. It, as well as oxybenzone
(benzophenone-3), 4-MBC, octyl-dimethyl-PABA, and
another one called homosalate increased cell
proliferation in some breast cancer studies.
Titanium dioxide, another component in
sunscreens, is thought to cause intracellular damage
including DNA damage through absorption of ultraviolet
rays, causing free radicals to form, which can mutate
and lead to skin cancer.
Endocrine disruptors are responsible for numerous
environmental pollution problems, which are causing
abnormalities in fish and frogs, for instance, and
they also have the potential to cause birth defects in
humans, as they can have a negative impact on normal
cellular and developmental processes. Many of today's
sunscreens are included in this group of ingredients.
What Do Endocrine System Disruptors Do?
Some chemicals found in body soaps & washes, shampoos,
creams, lotions, deodorants and a wide assortment
of body products can potentially be endocrine disruptors.
This can occur from several sources, such as from the
antibacterial Triclosan or the sunblock Oxybenzone.
There are two more "chemical families"
that fall into this category or are considered
probable endocrine disruptors ... these are
parabens and phthalates. Most commonly, parabens are
found in synthetic preservatives used in skin or hair
care products and phthalates are normally found in the
fragrance portion of the product.
In order to more fully understand the role of
the endocrine system, we will briefly illustrate
what it does. The endocrine system is an
important collection of hormone-producing glands.
It's a central communication center for coordinating
and regulating hormone production and delivery
to vital organs. It's a crucial, highly intricate,
sensitive system that helps to maintain functions
within the body, such as growth, sexual development,
energy levels, responses to stress, etc., as it works
with organs, such as the liver, kidneys and pancreas,
as well as the reproductive and nervous systems.
A network of glands and organs produce, store,
and deliver hormones by releasing them into the
bloodstream, keeping the body working normally,
as different types of hormones create different
effects on the body. When the body requires particular
hormones, they are carried to the specific targets,
such as organs, tissues, or cells. To be healthy,
glands need to be able to carry out these chores
properly, delivering hormones throughout the body,
as hormonal balance is critical for normal development
and function of the brain.
When a chemical is referred to as an endocrine
disruptor, it means that it can interfere with
the natural events that occur within our body's
endocrine system. Irregularities in this system,
called a hormone imbalance, means that something
within this fine network is out of balance, such
as certain hormones being released in amounts too
great or not enough as is required by the body.
Or, it can be that the receptors for particular
hormones are not functioning properly ... in other
words, hormones can only attempt to be delivered,
but cannot successfully find their target.
Health problems due to hormone imbalances can occur
if we are over-exposed to the numerous types of
endocrine disruptors that we may be applying to
our skin, or inhaling, due to the products we use.
Although each product may only have a small amount
of any particular chemical in it, it is the
combination of many of these small amounts
that can create an over-abundance. For instance,
endocrine disruptors can affect the thyroid gland,
estrogen, androgen, and testosterone levels,
with low-dose exposure during early prostate
development altering normal growth patterns.
When it comes to these types of extremely potent
chemicals in terms of their ability to affect the
endocrine system, the amount needed is extremely
small, such as on the level of "parts per
million or parts per billion!"
Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid,
which may not mean much to you, but to identify
them in products, you may check the product label ...
if parabens have been used in the product, you will
see names such as the following shown: methylparaben,
ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben,
Some studies have shown these chemicals to
"weakly mimic estrogen," and
low concentrations have been found in breast
cancer tumors. Their presence in the human body
is suspected to be from topical applications, as
they are shown to have the ability to penetrate
human skin intact.
Recently, there have been serious debates about this,
as some studies have thus far proven inconclusive.
Yet other studies in regard to allergic reactions
and cell toxicity that have been performed to see
if and when a preservative is toxic to cells at
particular usage levels in order to determine
the safest concentration dose to use in a cosmetic
product, show that phenoxyethanol, propylparaben
and methylparaben all display similar results,
but that parabens have the highest level of
genotoxicity, which means they "possess an
affinity to interact with DNA" ... meaning
that they have a potential to mutate cells or
Also, there is information about endocrine
disruptors inhibiting human estrogen
sulfotransferase, an enzyme which is
considered as playing a key role in prevention and
development of human disease. The inhibition of
this enzyme may cause adverse effects on human health;
for instance, its activity may be inhibited when
we are exposed to certain xenobiotics (chemical
compounds that are foreign to our bodies, which
our bodies attempt to break down or detoxify).
This can be from drugs, including salicylic acid;
dietary chemicals, including phytoestrogens; and
environmental chemicals, such as Triclosan and
Bisphenol A. If a xenobiotic enters our body
and reacts with this enzyme, it could affect
natural estrogen levels. This enzyme makes estrogen
water-soluble, to be excreted, so estrogen
levels increase when this enzyme is deactivated.
Conversely, when estrogen sulfotransferase are
increased, beneficial results may occur in
regard to certain cancers, and it has been
found that this enzyme is much more active
in normal breast cells than in cancer cells.
Triclosan is also related to inhibitors of
This group of chemicals is used in many common
products, including some plastic and vinyl
products. They are also found in air freshener,
nail polish, perfume, cologne, as well as some
scented oil. There are various types of phthalates,
but the most common one found in many scented oils
is diethyl phthalate (DEP). These are not considered
carcinogenic chemicals, but they are linked to
endocrine disruption and water pollution.
To avoid these chemicals, look for products
that are phthalate-free.
Moving from Synthetic to Natural
Changing life patterns can often be difficult,
but usually, if we start a little bit at a
time, we find that we can ease into new ways
with less effort than we initially thought
possible. Of course, there are some major
differences between natural products and
synthetic ones, so, the experience may be
quite different. All in all, for many products,
many people find that natural ones are much gentler
on their skin and hair, offering a glow to skin
or resilience to hair. The main difference
is that chemicals are not longer being applied
to the body, which may not be typically
outwardly obvious, but inwardly so.
Many plant-derived or natural products
perform just as well, if not better, than
chemical-derived or synthetic products,
although there are some major differences in
terms of how you store or use them.
Skin care products made with natural
preservatives often have enzymatic preservatives
based on biological properties rather than
chemical reactions, and they will not contain
parabens or formaldehyde releasers. So, you may
not be able to store them for as long.
This could be considered a "down side,"
since they can't be kept locked in a cabinet for
years before using them, yet it has never
been considered safe to keep cosmetics for
long periods of time anyway. Naturally-preserved
products need to used within a reasonable
period of time.
Many synthetically-produced skin care products
have been tested on animals to see if certain
ingredients, for instance, have caused irritation.
When we read some of the test results, such as one
study reported, "skin lesions were observed in
mice following daily topical administration of diethanolamine"
... we know that this chemical (DEA) or
triethanolamine (TEA), which we often see on
cosmetic product labels entailed dermal testing on animals.
Of course, chemicals are diluted when used in cosmetics
or skin care products, so we are using them in lower
concentrations, and some companies are now producing
cosmetics that are certified to be free of animal testing ...
although this does not necessarily mean
that certain chemicals cannot pose any
When we use synthetics side by side we may
often find ourselves in a cycle of depleting
skin of natural oils, without replenishing.
This can be the case with strong surfactants,
such as SLS being used alongside non-plant
derived oils, such as mineral oil, a
petroleum-based emollient devoid of any nutrients.
Skin can become lackluster, too oily, too dry, "broken out,"
wrinkled, too sensitive, irritated, inflamed, taut, etc.,
from the balance constantly being "thrown off."
Natural oils will fortify the skin, delivering essential
nutrients for a healthy balance, without harsh chemicals.
Plant oils, including essential oils, and essential
fatty acids do not merely lubricate the skin, but
restore the composition and balance; with minerals
and vitamins nourishing and fortifying the skin.
The vibrance of healthy skin is often a result
of a healthy lifestyle, which includes a diet
containing fruits, vegetables, and greens ...
it is these same vitamins and minerals that can
also nurture the skin when applied topically.
Soothing cucumbers for tired eyes, mashed
strawberries or apple cider vinegar for skin toning,
avocado face masks for dry skin, ... these are all
long-standing remedies for the skin that work
wonders ... without chemicals.
While some people seem pretty unconcerned about
synthetics in their skin care products, others
are finding out what they wished they would have
learned about years ago ... that our skin is
absorbing these chemicals, some of which remain
on the skin. How can we not think about any
consequences of using them repeatedly over the
years when we hear about them polluting our
waterways, mutating other creatures, or
causing birth defects?
In terms of using synthetic products daily
on children, the cumulative effects really
need to be considered more closely.
Young lives have a greater number of years
ahead of them ... in other words, more time
to develop diseases from early chemical exposures.
Please consider this, especially when using
sunscreens, as dermal exposure of topical
applications is greater to children
than that of adults, since children have
less body weight. Also, a child's developing
organs are more sensitive and vulnerable,
and less equipped to detoxify.
Some of our skin problems may be age
related, diet related, or inherited.
Yet, some may be caused by the products
we are using and have been using for
years. Changing our lifestyle entails
some new habits, such as wearing a hat more often
with less sunscreen, or not expecting a product
to "suds-up" as much or last quite as long
in the jar or bottle ... but, all in all, many
people feel it is a healthier avenue to
take, even if good health takes a little more work!
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