How many beauty products do you use every day? Once you start counting, it’s usually more than you think! All too often, we assume these products are harmless – but in reality, less than 20% of cosmetic ingredients have been safety-tested. The US cosmetics industry is self-regulated, which means its products are not subject to pre-market approval by the FDA. Worryingly, not all ingredients are even required to be listed on the label.
The skin is the body’s largest organ, with the ability to absorb up to 60% of products that are topically applied. Most commercial beauty products contain a cocktail of synthetic chemicals, which are then absorbed into our bodies. To understand this concept, we only need to consider the effectiveness of nicotine and birth control patches.
The average woman uses 12-15 personal care products every day, each one containing over a dozen chemicals. It is estimated that this results in the absorption of over 4lb of chemicals every year! Do you ever stop to think about how the absorption of these substances affects your internal system? Clearly, not all chemical substances are hazardous to our health. But when it comes to the long-term toxic effects on our bodies, the jury is still out.
Crucially, how is our health affected by being exposed to a dizzying combination of chemicals on a daily basis? The synergistic effect can often be much greater than the sum of its individual parts. Nobody has assessed the cumulative effect of exposure to these toxic chemicals over the long-term. We carefully consider what we put in our mouths – why not what we use on our skin? Amazingly, it’s thought that absorbing certain chemicals through our skin can even be more damaging than swallowing them. Most dangerous are those products designed to soak into the skin, such as moisturizers and body lotions, rather than those which are quickly rinsed away.
Many commonly-used synthetic chemicals are known skin irritants, hormone-disruptors and carcinogens. Scientists admit that some of these substances are absorbed into the bloodstream – some have even been discovered in the umbilical cord of newborn babies.
What Can You Do?
While it is impossible to completely avoid exposure to synthetic chemicals, by making wise choices we can limit the toxic overload on our bodies. Read product labels carefully and opt for those containing 100% natural ingredients where possible – or experiment by making your own!
What To Avoid
This term describes a group of preservatives that are used to extend the shelf-life of products. Parabens are highly toxic, yet widely used in personal care products and cosmetics. They have been controversially linked to an increased risk of breast and testicular cancer, as well as infertility, early menopause and skin allergies.
A generic term used to protect the secret formula of a product, which often masks a multitude of toxins that can cause cancer, irritate the skin, disrupt the endocrine system, cause respiratory problems or affect fertility.
Often included under the term ‘Fragrance’, phthalates describes a group of chemicals used to provide softness and flexibility, which are often found in cosmetics, hairsprays and nail polishes. Phthalates are known endocrine-disruptors and have been linked to reproductive birth defects, neurological damage, infertility and an increased risk of breast cancer.
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES)
Found in more than 90% of personal care products, these lather-creating chemicals are used in foaming cleansers, shower gels, shampoo, toothpaste and bubble bath. SLS is a possible carcinogen and known to irritate the eyes, skin and lungs.
Commonly found in anti-bacterial hand wash, Triclosan is a potential skin irritant and endocrine disruptor that can also increase the antibiotic resistance of bacteria. There is no evidence that it is any more hygienic than washing the hands with regular soap and water.
This toxic metal is widely used in personal care products, especially antiperspirant deodorants. When applied to the skin, it prevents the natural excretion of toxins and can cause an estrogen-like effect on the endocrine system. Its use has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.