Reduce Or Eliminate Your Exposure to Common Toxins in Skin Care Products

Given the health implications of prolonged exposure or overexposure to certain ingredients in commercial cosmetic and personal care products, you would think that most companies would at a minimum, be willing to re-formulate some of their worst offenders. You would think ...

Unfortunately, the U.S. lags far behind Europe in this respect. In fact, the European Union did an exhaustive review and revision of its cosmetic regulatory requirements in 2003 and placed an outright ban on certain ingredients that, based on a growing body of evidence, were identified as potentially harmful to pregnant women and their babies. Some of those ingredients include Phthalates (used as solvents to soften plastics, they are the hidden danger in "fragrances"), Bisphenol-A (this is the BPA that is found in certain types of plastics used to make water bottle and baby bottles), and Dioxane.

As a result of those regulatory changes, many U.S. cosmetic and personal care companies selling in the European market were forced to re-formulate some of their products to meet the new, stricter requirements. The rub? Rather than re-formulate these products for all the markets they serve, they chose to re-formulate just those products that were sold in the EU. In other words, the same products marketed here were not re-formulated! These are companies with widely established brands here in the U.S.

If that's not enough to give one pause, I don't know what is. I think the lesson here is if you can no longer rely on companies to "do the right thing" by their customers, then you only have yourself as the last line of defense. That's not necessarily a bad thing. With a little education, anyone can learn to decipher ingredient labels and product claims and find the right combination of products to suit their needs without sacrificing their wellbeing or the health of the environment.

With that in mind, the two most important things you can do right now to avoid or minimize your risk of toxicity are:

1) Read and understand the ingredient labels on the products you use or before you buy

By law, manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order of their concentration. That's why creams and lotions usually have water (or Aqua) listed as the first ingredient. However, manufacturers are not required to indicate how much of each ingredient is used, so if a product contains a lot of ingredients there is simply no way to know how much of each is used. That's where knowing the difference between natural and synthetic ingredients comes in handy.

2) Make the switch as soon as possible to authentic natural personal care products

If you haven't already made the switch then this is a great time to do it! If you've already started using "natural" products but aren't sure how natural they really are, here's a quick way you can tell. Natural Skin Care products are those whose primary ingredients are plant-based. Truly natural products are ones whose primary ingredients are not combined with synthetic or petroleum ingredients, additives, fillers or that insidious term "fragrance."

Many companies combine natural ingredients with synthetic ones and call them "natural," to take advantage of the latest marketing trends. Even organic ingredients are sometimes combined with ingredients like mineral oil, petrolatum, propylene glycol (the main ingredient in anti-freeze), and parabens --to name a few. It's a practice that's called "Green Washing." Be especially aware of lotions, moisturizers, or other products whose water content is high, that claim to be 100% organic since lotions are usually made up of around 70% or more water, there is no such thing as a lotion that is totally organic. In that case you should look to see how much of the non-water content is natural and/or organic to get an idea of how safe it is.

As you become more comfortable and knowledgeable with deciphering labels, your focus should be on learning to identify and avoid or eliminate your exposure to ingredients that have either been widely identified as risky or just appear to be iffy. You can learn more about this at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics web site. You can also look up specific products or companies on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep web site where you'll find an extensive database that includes several thousand well known and lesser-known body care and cosmetic products. The Skin Deep database is the first attempt of its kind to catalog the ingredients in personal care products --the majority of which have never been tested for safety and whose impact on our health is virtually unknown.

The Environmental Group researched and reviewed all publicly available information on the ingredients listed under the products in their database and used the information to rank products on a scale of 1-10 for safety concerns based on their analyses. It is by no means a complete or exhaustive database, and its ranking system errs on the side of overstating potential health concerns by relying heavily on the stated hazards in the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) of individual ingredients. These safety reports look at the worst possible scenario that can result from repeated or even one-time exposure to the ingredient in very high amounts or under very specific circumstances. For example, an ingredient that comes in powdered form may pose a very high safety risk if inhaled but when diluted in liquid may not pose the same threat. If EWG identified it as a potential hazard in one circumstance it flagged it as hazardous regardless of how it appears in the finished product. The assumption is that if it's dangerous to inhale in large quantities, then it is dangerous to absorb into the skin even in very tiny amounts --which may or may not be true.

Nevertheless, it does offer a helpful guideline for comparing the relative safety of different products and brands and provides an opportunity to find new products that might not be readily available in the commercial mainstream. Generally you'll find that products with higher safety concern rankings tend to contain a lot of questionable ingredients.

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