Food Freedom Friday Edition 178 - Better Beauty
It’s a common belief that if a product is on the shelves, then it only contains ingredients that are considered safe. Some people even think that if a product is available commercially, it has undergone testing to verify its safety.
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Skincare and cosmetics are not regulated.
As a consumer, your best bet is to learn about the ingredients used commonly in skin care so you can understand which are potentially harmful, and what their natural alternatives are.
At this point, you may be asking: What’s the big deal? Why devote so much time to vetting skin care companies and studying the ingredients they use in their products?
Your skin absorbs up to 60 percent of what you put on it. Even if a chemical does not appear to effect you right away, some accumulate in the body, taking their toll over time. When you’re dealing with chemicals that are carcinogenic, interfere with hormones (endocrine disruptors), or are even toxic to your nervous system, the goal is to minimize exposure as much as possible.
Many of these ingredients aren’t being used because they’re effective. They are added to products simply because they’re cheap or readily available.
There are millions of skin care products on the shelves, and thousands of ingredients in those products. Where to start?
Start with ten of the most common and toxic chemicals that might be in your skin care, makeup, or body products.
Parabens have gotten a lot of attention in the past few years. However, they’re not new. Pharmaceutical companies started using parabens to preserve products in the 1920s. By the 1980s, they were being used in over 13,200 formulations on the shelves. Parabens have been shown to be estrogenic, meaning they compete with estrogen for binding sites in the body, potentially affecting hormonal balance.
Why would a hormone-mimicking ingredient be used in skin care? Parabens are used to suppress microbial growth in everything from shampoo, conditioner, perfume, toothpaste, soaps, and other hygiene products. When buying skin care, look for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben on the label, and avoid these products.
A more natural preservative is aspen bark extract, which naturally inhibits the growth of mold, yeast, e-coli, Saureas, subtilis, and other microscopic bugs. If you think about it, it’s in a tree’s best interest to keep these little critters away, so they naturally produce compounds that do so.
2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS)
In a typical household, you’ll find five or more products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate. Think of the products you have that create suds (lather) when you use them. Your shampoo, your body wash, and your facial cleanser are most likely to contain it.
The main problem with this ingredient is that it’s corrosive — it wears away at the protective lining of your skin. SLS have actually been used in clinical studies to irritate skin so researchers can test healing solutions. Right, a chemical used to purposefully irritate skin for research is being used in tons of products that are considered safe for you. It doesn’t really make sense.
Understandably when this research is done, they’re using a lot more of it than what you’ll find in your shampoo. But washing every day, or even every other day adds up.
SLS also affects skin aging and has been shown to have a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties. Protein denaturing means that the protein structure is disrupted and possibly destroyed. Skin aging as a result of sun exposure is believed to occur because of protein denaturation.
3. Mineral oil
It’s counterintuitive because minerals and oils are both things that are good for us. However, mineral oil is a different thing altogether.
Mineral oil is a byproduct of the production of crude oil. It’s very costly to dispose of, so oil companies are highly incentivized to find a use for it. Thus, it’s very inexpensive for skin care companies to obtain mineral oil to use as a humectant (something that helps bind moisture to the skin).
It never spoils, which is something that’s good if shelf life is your top concern, but not so much if you’re looking for something that promotes healthy skin.
Your skin doesn’t absorb mineral oil well and it can clog your pores. Beyond cosmetic problems, mineral oil is often tainted with other chemicals during the refining process. Think of all the chemicals that are used to produce crude oil. You don’t want any of those on your skin.
The natural alternatives are endless. Coconut oil has gotten a lot of press lately as being a highly moisturizing oil, and it deserves every word. And there are tons of other oils you can use. Depending on your skin type, you can moisturize with avocado, grapeseed, jojoba hazelnut, and sunflower seed oils. Look for jojoba in anti-aging formulas, because it’s similar to human oil. Consider grapeseed oil if you tend to have breakouts because it moisturizes while preventing acne.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are disruptive to the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. Such interference can lead to developmental, reproductive, and neurological damage. Specifically, phthalates are shown to worsen a woman’s egg quality and quantity.
Phthalates are used to plasticize products, making them more flexible or better able to hold in color and scent. In everything from deodorant to nail polish to scented lip balm, these chemicals can be grouped under and listed as “fragrance.” Companies claim their fragrance formulas as “trade secret,” and therefore don’t have to specify on the label which ingredients are included.
When you look at a product label, avoid products that list “fragrance” and instead opt for those that use essential oils to make the product smell lovely.
You are told to protect our skin from skin cancer, that daily sun exposure increases our risk and that you should lather up accordingly. Most sunscreens on the shelves contain a harmful chemical called oxybenzone, which has been shown in some studies to be carcinogenic and hormone-mimicking. One might wonder if it’s better to brave the sun alone than to wear a sunscreen that’s toxic.
Some studies have shown that it penetrates the skin and then increases the production of free radicals when exposed to light. You definitely don’t want a sunscreen ingredient that reacts to the sun by increasing free radical production. This is one way in which oxybenzone is considered a carcinogen.
Consider sun protection that contains skin-healing ingredients like avocado oil and aloe vera. That way, you can block UV rays while healing past damage.
You probably know that lead is bad. That’s why it is no longer in paint. It’s a proven neurotoxin linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility, and delayed onset of puberty for females. Lead turns weak stress hormones into stronger stress hormones.
So why is it showing up in foundation, lipsticks, and even whitening toothpaste?
About seven years ago, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found lead in over half of the 33 brands of lipstick they tested. A more recent study by the FDA tested popular brands and found 400 that contained up to 7.19 ppm of lead.
Lipstick is a product that should be cleaner than clean. How many times have you gotten lipstick on your teeth? For those who wear it regularly, this could harm your health. In fact, the average woman eats 10 pounds of lipstick over her lifetime.
Color additives are some of the most common sources of lead in cosmetics.
The best way to avoid lead is to buy makeup from companies that make products in small batches and avoid contamination, or to buy products colored naturally, like with fruit pigments or alkanet root.
Aluminum is most famously used in antiperspirant deodorants, which are a daily must-apply for a lot of people out there.
Classified as a neurotoxin, some studies have linked aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease, though recent research calls that into question. Other studies suggest a link between aluminum and breast cancer and other brain disorders.
It is unclear what the consequences are of ingesting aluminum (both through your mouths and through your skin). The average person will internalize three pounds of aluminum in their lifetime.
Triclosan is included in antibacterial formulations to do just that — remove bacteria from your skin.
But do you want to constantly be removing bacteria from our skin? The nutrition world has reveleaved the importance of bacteria your health — necessary actually. Constantly removing bacteria from your body using antibiotics, hand sanitizers, and the like. is not a health-promoting habit.
Of course, this is harder for those in the health industry, who constantly have to worry about spreading their germs to those they work with. But for everyday purposes, soap and water works perfectly
9. PEG Compounds
Polyethylene glycols, or PEGs, are petroleum-based compounds that are used to thicken, soften, and gelatinize cosmetics, making them a common ingredient in cream-based products. The main issue with PEGs is that they are often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
Ethylene oxide is a known human carcinogen, potentially harmful to the nervous system and human development. 1,4-dioxane is a possible human carcinogen that can remain in the environment for long periods of time without degrading.
PEG compounds also enhance the penetration of other ingredients into your skin, which is great if these other ingredients are healthy, but not so much if they are harmful. The number next to PEG indicates how many units of ethylene glycol they comprise, such as PEG-4 or PEG-150. The lower the number, the more easily the product absorbs into your skin.
If you see PEG on the skin care label, put it back on the shelf.
This ingredient is most commonly used to lighten skin. Those with age spots, sun damage, or acne scars may use it to lighten marks and make skin tone more even.
There are several reasons not to use hydroquinone.
First, in 2006 the FDA announced that more testing was needed to verify its safety. There was a proposal to withdraw their earlier ruling that hydroquinone was safe when used at a concentration of 1.5 to 2 percent. They ultimately decided to allow this concentration in over-the-counter products, with concentrations over 2 percent available only by prescription.
It could also be a carcinogenic when taken orally. Since hydroquinone is an ingredient that has the ability to penetrate deep into the skin, topical use is concerning as well. 
Using hydroquinone long term can decrease your skin elasticity. This isn’t what you want.
There are several natural ingredients that can lighten and brighten your skin. A few are licorice root, vitamin C, and turmeric. Look for these ingredients, or those that help heal the skin, such as avocado oil or aloe vera. Your skin tone will become more even over time without the harmful side effects.
If you have products in your cabinet that you’ve been buying for years, it can be really hard to make the switch. My advice would be to start slowly, swapping out products one by one until your beauty regimen is full of natural oils and aloes and herbs and rainbows (just kidding on that last one).
Finally, consider that your skin will detox when you upgrade what you’re applying (especially when you switch up your whole routine at once). So it’s a good idea to swap products out one by one, maybe starting with with your moisturizer, then switching up your cleanser, then tackling your makeup. You skin will be happier and your body will, too.
If you’d like a skin care product recommendation from me, Beautycounter is high operforming, effective, made with cleaner, better ingredients and is committed to providing better beauty for everyone! They also have a luxurious smell and feel, and when you put them on your skin, you can rest easy knowing that they don’t contain any of the toxic chemicals you’ve read about in this article. Since I found this line, I’ve been recommending it to my family, friends, and entire team. Check out the entire line (for you and your family)