According to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, there are 30,000 commonly used chemicals in the European Union that have never been tested for any risks they might pose to humans and ecosystems. The umbrella word ‘parfum’ can include any of 200 synthetic chemicals, which manufacturers are not required to list on product labels.Even baby shampoos can contain sodium laureth sulphate detergent, parabens and propylene glycol which are found in antifreeze. Aluminium from deodorants and antiperspirants is commonly found is breast tissue of breast cancer sufferers. Aluminium compounds are toxic to the brain and have been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
To make things even more complicated, the cosmetics industry has eagerly embraced nanotechnology which causes these tiny particles penetrate much deeper into the skin, into the bloodstream and reach various organ systems. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics looked at preliminary scientific research which warns that ‘many types of nano-particles can be toxic to human tissue and cell cultures, resulting in increased oxidative stress, inflammatory cytokine production, DNA mutation and even cell death. They can penetrate cell walls, including organ tissues, and are known to be highly reactive.’ The sad thing is that the majority of consumers are not aware of the health risks associated with this particular technology as well as synthetic compounds we so willingly rub into our skin, apply to our lips, nails and hair in the name of beauty.
So how can we protect ourselves against this ever increasing army of man-made chemicals? We need to start making conscious choices rather than running after big brand names and start reading the labels. This can be fascinating reading indeed! As a rule of thumb, avoid those cosmetic products which have long lists of ingredients which are hard to pronounce and sound synthetic. Avoid such nasties as sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate, parabens, lanolin, synthetic fragrances, colourants, petrochemicals, phthalates, formaldehyde, urea, PEGs, DEA, TEA which have many negative health effects.
Look for natural, plant based and organic products that list fewer ingredients which you can recognise such as shea butter, oats, aloe vera, rosehip, calendula, seed oils and essential oils, Dead Sea minerals, honey, coconut butter, jojoba oil, extracts from vegetables, fruit and berries, vitamins C and E, beta-carotenes, zinc oxide, etc. These are safe, tried and tested ingredients which will benefit not only your skin but your general health. The hunt for these products is not so daunting as it used to be. There has been an emergence of new, ethical and health-aware brands in response to a higher demand for pure, organic and natural cosmetics and care products in the last couple of decades.
However, you will need to remain vigilant - unlike in the food industry, there are no laws to regulate claims for words ‘organic’, ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘natural’ on cosmetic labels. Many products advertised as ‘all natural’ may still contain synthetic ingredients, toxins and petrochemicals. The product name may turn out to be just a marketing gimmick. The only way to establish what’s in the product you are buying is to read the list of ingredients. Go for products that contain natural essential oils rather than ‘fragrance’. Be aware that some products may say ‘un-scented’ but still contain fragrance or parfum to cover up the other chemical smells. Try water-based nail polish and remover which are odour free and have a very low health hazard rating. Conventional nail polish and removers contain toluene, phthalates and formaldehyde which are linked to cancer and reproductive system disorders. Mineral makeup is usually a safer alternative to mainstream cosmetics. Look for mineral makeup without talc, nano-particles, petrochemicals, mineral oil and bismuth oxychloride. Use milder soaps based on olive, hemp, avocado, coconut and other vegetable and plant oils. The fewer cosmetic products you use daily, the better for your health!
Remember that our bodies have to break down, detoxify and excrete any substances that we absorb through the skin. If these substances are harmful, we put extra toxic burden on the liver which is the main organ of detoxification. When we use natural organic care products we enhance and support our bodies instead of putting toxic burdens on them. Antioxidants, essential fatty acids, vitamins, amino acids and numerous phytochemicals in botanical products promote health. So go natural, pure, organic!
Marina Townsley, ND
Master Herbalist AMH, Nutritional Therapist BANT