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.

Glamour Ad 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.

Synthetic Ingredients 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

Bubbles 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 these chemicals.

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

Emulsify 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.

Water 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.

Lake 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.

Aquatic 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 not important.)


Sun 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 levels."

Corals 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?

Antibacterial Soaps 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.

Endocrine System 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, isopropylparaben, benzylparaben.

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 cause cancer.

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 estrogen sulfotransferase.

(pronounced "THA-lates")

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

Calendula 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.

Cosmetic Jar 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 environmental risk.

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.

Natural Ingredients 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!

© www.happy-go-naturally.com 2012-2014
References, Quotes, and Resources:

Household Products Database

Organic Consumers

Women's Voices for the Earth - Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Shampoo Substances

CDC: Americans Carry Body Burden of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical


Breast Cancer Risks

Breast Cancer Action

The Endocrine Society

Endocrine Disruptors -

Environmental Health Perspectives -
"Environmental endocrine disruption: an effects assessment and analysis"

Parabens -

Triclosan - Potent Inhibitor of Estradiol and Estrone

Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs) Inhibit Human Estrogen Sulfotransferase

Estrogen Sulfotransferase - Key Enzyme in Estrogen Homeostasis
(playing a central role in the prevention and development of human disease)

Inhibition of Sulfotransferases by Xenobiotics

Estrogen Sulfotransferases in Breast and Endometrial Cancers

Ethylene Oxide -

Formaldehyde -

Sunscreens -
4-methylbenzylidene camphor - www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0011/ea0011oc60.htm

Sunscreens and Coral Reefs -

High Frequencies of Sensitization by Frequent Use of Certain Preservatives

Cosmetic Testing Facts -

Mercury Poisoning Linked to Skin Products -

Nitrosamines -

Breast Cancer Fund

Breast Cancer Fund - Big Picture Solutions

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