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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Safer Alternatives in Skin & Beauty Care

Walk into a beauty salon, cosmetic section, or skin care line aisle and it is easy to get enveloped in the wonderful smells and appealing promises of slick packaging and advertising. You may wonder what the big deal is with the ingredients. I mean, you would think if there was something potentially harmful in these products they wouldn't be on the shelves in the first place. But it all comes down to what is most cost effective for the company and to satisfy the customer. Visual appeal, scent and the feel upon application are all factors in consumer choice. Additives are there for a purpose and as long as they are legal within limits they will continue to be in our products.

Our health is our own responsibility, therefore it is up to us to be willing to educate ourselves and search and check the labels on these products. The skin is our body's largest organ, and anything we apply to ourselves enters through the layers of skin into the bloodstream. The cosmetic industry claims the amount of these ingredients are not high enough to pose a threat, but the problem lies in the fact that we use these products day in and day out.  Our kidneys and liver do their best to eliminate toxins but what about those that over time have been stored within the fatty tissues of the skin. The long term effects are a concern. The body reacts by way of allergic and inflammatory reactions, the havoc played on the the endocrine system is not always fully understood and the source of the problems are often hard to pinpoint.

It was very surprising for me to learn how vague the labeling laws are in the perfume and cosmetics industry. Unlike the food industry, there are no legal standards for organic or natural personal care products sold in the United States.

The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics has a cartoon video which is a real eye opener.

The ingredients of skin care and cosmetic containers can seem like a foreign language to understand but below is a list of the "ten most wanted" put out by the Organic Consumers Association. 
Try to become familiar with these terms so that you will recognize them when you do check labels.

1.  Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea
Commonly used preservatives after the parabens. Trade names are Germall II and Germal 115. The American Academy of Dermatology have established them as a cause of contact dermatitis.

      Formaldehyde
Used in deodorants, nail polish, shampoo, shaving cream as a disinfectant and preservative.
Health concerns include problems with the immune system, skin toxicant and carcinogen

2.  Methyl and Propyl and Butyl and Ethyl Paraben
Widely used for microbial growth inhibitors to extend the shelf life of products. Are known to be contributors for allergic reactions and skin rashes. Parabens are used extensively as preservatives due to their low cost. They mimic human estrogen and though there isn't conclusive proof to date for its link to breast cancer, it is advisable to avoid them if possible.

3.  Petrolatum
Paraffin or Mineral Oil is a by-product of the distillation of gasoline from crude oil. It is used as an inexpensive form if skin softener and barrier that adds shine and doesn't spoil. Petroleum based products have been implicated in cases of eczema and may disrupt hormonal activity.

4.  Propylene Glycol
Used as humectants which are a means of helping the skin retain moisture. If this term sounds familiar it is because it is used in anti-freeze and brake fluid. When used on the skin it may cause irritation as well as kidney and liver problems.

5.  PVP/VA Copolymer
Petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays. Particles may aggravate the lungs of sensitive people.

6.  Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sulphates are foaming agents commonly used in shampoos and soaps. They deplete the natural oils from skin and hair and build up within the heart, liver and brain. Another human estrogen mimic.

7.  Stearalkonium Chloride
A chemical developed as a fabric softener, it is used in hair conditioners and creams. Considered toxic, it is used because it is cheap.

8. Synthetic Colors
Consumers want their products to look pretty therefore companies give their products visual appeal by way of FD&C or D&C additives. These synthetic colors are believed to be cancer-causing agents.

9.  Synthetic Fragrances
There is no way to know what ingredients are used since the label only has to say "fragrance". There are up to 200 possible ingredients for various scents, any of which can cause headaches, dizziness or rash.

10.  Triethanolamine
Used to adjust the pH for cleansers, it can cause allergic reactions and be a problem if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.
        Diethanolamine (DEA)
Used to adjust the pH in sunscreens, hair color and moisturizers

What to do as a concerned consumer for yourself and your loved ones?
Do your homework and look for natural ingredients in the products you buy. Any product that can sit on a store shelf for months must utilize synthetic additives and preservatives. An alternative is to find a reputable source and shop for products that are made as needed with the intent of being used within a few months.

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