Many people, mostly those who advocate for synthetic skin care, will have you believe that our skin is a barrier and protector from the contaminants of the outside world, that it is virtually impenetrable and water-tight. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Our skin is our largest organ, and is capable of absorbing up to 60% of what we put on it. Pathways for absorption include hair follicles, sebaceous glands and sweat ducts. Once absorbed, substances that we put on our skin, including water, vitamins, minerals, oxygen and many potentially carcinogenic ingredients spread rapidly and widely throughout our body, providing nutrition to cells on one hand, and a toxic load on the other.
There is no question that more and more of us are becoming very savvy in regards to the foods that we eat. Whole, organic, and local foods are valued for their ability to help us not only in attaining optimal health, but maintaining it as well. We know this as fact and thus make eating well a priority in our lives. However, what about what we put on our skin? Are we as savvy here? For a long time I knew I should be, but for some reason it took me awhile to come around. It just didn’t seem that important, or I wasn’t able to justify the added expense. The more I learned however, the less I could deny the impact that what I put on my body day in and day out, could have if I didn’t make a switch.
Think of your skin as a curious toddler wanting and willing to put anything and everything into its mouth. Whether it tastes good or not, whether it’s healthy or not, is of no concern. It’s simply curious and more often than not, what goes in doesn’t come back out (the way it went in anyway . When what we put on our skin is pure and clean, we have the opportunity to feed our body, helping not just the skin, but also our whole system to stay healthy and vibrant. On the flip side of that, when we put toxic chemicals on our skin, we’re adding to what seems to be an already overwhelming burden to our bodies. We’re depriving not just the skin of the nutrients it needs, but our whole system as well. Take mineral oil for example, it is a byproduct of the distillation process of petroleum, and is found in many skin care formulations. It is in fact one of only two ingredients in baby oil (the other being fragrance). Mineral oil is readily available, cheap, clear and odorless, but certainly not natural. According to Johnson and Johnson, mineral oil “creates a silky, protective barrier”. What it actually does however is create a barrier because it isn’t absorbed well by the skin, depriving it of oxygen and trapping in bacteria and dead skin cells, ultimately clogging pores. What amount is finally able to be absorbed into the skin, enters the blood stream and finds its way to the stomach where it interferes with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins.
Each ingredient is different and will have different health affects on our bodies. Some of the more common symptoms from the toxic synthetic ingredients in skin care products include: headaches, nausea, weight gain, joint inflammation, dizziness, heart palpitations, nervousness, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, acne, eczema, mysterious rashes, and more. These symptoms are rarely if ever attributed to what we put on our skin, and are often diagnosed as another type of illness altogether. In the long haul, some of these chemicals are also associated with cancer, birth defects, developmental and reproductive harm, and untold others.
How can all of this be? If the ingredients were so bad, wouldn’t the FDA ban them from use, you ask? Unfortunately, because the FDA takes the stance that the skin is unable to absorb what we put on it, the beauty and skin care industry is left virtually unregulated. This hands-off approach assumes that there is no harm until harm is proven. There is no required testing of products before they go to market, and unless health complaints have been filed, there is no on-going oversight regarding the safety of these products either. Over 10,000 ingredients are used in personal care products. In 71 years, the FDA has banned or restricted only 11 of them. Compare that to the EU, which has banned over 1000 chemicals due to their potential health concerns. Can I just say WOW?!
So what do we do? I always dislike it when I read stories about things that are scary when they don’t seem to have an easy solution. Luckily, there is one here. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as reading the front of a bottle and/or buying a product labeled “Organic” or “Natural”, as those can be meaningless when it comes to skin care. So instead, begin to familiarize yourself with ingredients to avoid and then go on a search for a company that upholds the standards that you require – a truly natural product will actually be safe enough to eat (not saying it would taste good, just that you could). Luckily, there are a number of companies that meet this standard. Yes, the products will cost more upfront when compared to your average Olay moisturizer, but the savings to your health are immeasurable. Many companies offer trial size kits so you can start off small to make sure they work with your skin before you invest in full size products. Also, because these products are so pure, not only will they work for you, but they’ll be safe enough for your little loves as well (my 6 year old daughter loves using my Nightly Repair oil on her face). Embrace this change and I have no doubt that you’ll find that not only do you feel better because you’re using a safe product, but you’ll probably find that your skin starts looking better than ever!
About Amy Paolinelli
Amy is a mom of 3 lively kiddos, a wife, and an advocate for natural living. Prior to having children, she worked as a Marriage and Family Therapist with high-risk youth. After having her first daughter, she found her passion in pregnancy, childbirth, babies, and natural living. She is now an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice, a student of Herbal Medicine for Women, and cofounder of 3Girls Holistic - a truly pure herbal skin care line. She loves getting her hands dirty in the garden and spending time near the water. You can find more of her writings at www.3girlsholistic.com