In order to stay healthy, we know that we have to exchange processed foods for whole, minimally processed foods and we know that we need some form of daily, consistent exercise. We know this, we understand this (we may not always do this), and we agree with this idea that healthy eating and daily movement in some form is good for our bodies and our minds. So, why don’t we apply this same thinking to our “beauty” routine?
I’m not just talking makeup here, fellas. I’m talking about our skincare products, hair products, soaps, body washes/lotions, deodorants, sunscreens, shaving cream, etc. On average, a person may apply 515 personal products throughout the day. I know that seems like a lot, but think about it. How many times do you go to the bathroom and wash your hands? Maybe you follow it up with hand cream so that your hands don’t become chapped. That hand soap is a “personal product.” So is that hand cream. Lip balm, shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant, perfume or cologne, etc. These are all products that feature in our daily routine whether they think about it or not. Additionally, did you know that roughly only 10% of our skin’s damage can be attributed to the “natural aging process?” That means that we are responsible for other 90%! Our daily habits and choices directly impact the health and appearance of our skin.
Our skin is our body’s largest organ. Anything applied to its surface travels to the bloodstream in less than 30 seconds (this is why products like the nicotine patch are so effective). Blood transports oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body so that they can keep working. That includes our other organs! Keeping that in mind, would you willingly inject poison into your bloodstream? Of course, not. Therefore, it’s just as vital that we become more mindful about the ingredients found in the products applied to our skin as it is to be mindful about what we eat. Think of our bodies like a computer. My dad had a saying that he liked to repeat when I was in college and complaining that my computer wasn’t working correctly – “crap in, crap out.” The computer was only as good as what I inputted. It didn’t come delivered with a virus installed on the hard drive. I downloaded one by carelessly clicking things I shouldn’t have. The same applies to your body. You put garbage in, that’s what you’re going to get out of it. Healthy inside equals a healthy outside.
Another problem that we run into here in the US is that the ingredients in our food and personal products are not as regulated as in the European countries. A soda purchased in a grocery store in the UK will have a different ingredient listing than a soda purchased here. European countries have banned over 1,200 ingredients in skincare products. The US? 12. That means we need to be more proactive about reading the labels found on the products that we purchase.
Common ingredients (and should be avoided) found in our personal products are: Parabens (found in makeup, moisturizers, shaving gel, shampoos, personal lubricants, and spray tan products) – disrupt hormone function by mimicking oestrogen. Too much oestrogen can trigger and increase breast cell division and growth of tumors, which is why they’ve been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues.
Fragrance (found in moisturizers, face creams, deodorants, lotions, shampoos, conditioners) – the real issue is that Federal law does not mandate companies to list on a product’s label the chemicals in their fragrance mixture, so you really have no idea what falls under a product’s umbrella of “fragrance.” Many chemicals in fragrances are known to be hormone disruptors.
Aluminum (found in deodorants, antacids, dyes, shampoos, cosmetics, lotions) – studies have shown that frequent exposure to high levels of aluminum have been linked to neurotoxicity, Alzheimer’s, and breast cancer.
Phthalates (found in detergents, lubricating oils, nail polish, hairsprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, and other fragrance preparations) – can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.
Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid, and retinol – (found in anti-aging products, lip products, and sunscreen) retinol products become carcinogenic in sunlight, making it important to only use products with retinol in it at night. So, why should it be found in sunscreen?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)/Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) (found in shampoos, conditioners, soaps, foundations, face wash, mouthwash, and toothpaste) – has been shown to cause or contribute to skin irritation, canker sores, disruption of the skin’s natural oil balance, and eye damage. It’s also widely believed to be a major contributor to acne.
Petroleum distillates (found in mascara) – petroleum-extracted cosmetic ingredients may cause dermatitis and are often contaminated with cancer-causing agents.
Hydroquinone (found in skin lightening products) – a frequent skin irritant and has been associated with altered immune function. It has increased the risk of certain cancers in animals, which has prompted the E.U. to ban the ingredient. In some patients, long term exposure has also led to a condition called ochronosis.
Formaldehyde (may be listed as DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium 15, bronopol, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1, 3 dioxane, and hydroxymethylglycinate) (found in nail products, hair straightening treatments, detergents, makeup) – can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. High levels of exposure can lead to some types of cancers.
Triethanolamine (found in lotion, eye gel, moisturizers, shampoos, and shaving creams) – can cause carcinogenic compounds.
Polyethylene (PEG) (found in scrubs, body wash, makeup, toothpaste) – these synthetic chemicals are frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which the US government considers a probable carcinogen. PEGs are also a known skin irritant.
Coal tar (found in shampoos, scalp treatments, soaps, hair dyes, and lotion) – Coal tar is a byproduct of coal processing and is a known carcinogen. Europe has banned many of these chemicals from their hair dyes.
Oxybenzone (found in sunscreen) – acts like estrogen in the body and has been associated with endometriosis in women. Studies on cells indicate that oxybenzone may disrupt the hormone system.
People are starting to become more educated and aware regarding unsafe ingredients in personal products. As such, we see more and more brands on the market promoting natural, safe ingredients. In fact, these companies are capitalizing on the public’s awareness as part of their marketing campaign. “Buy us, we only use safe ingredients.” Even so, I encourage you to read the labels of every product you buy. As a general rule of thumb, if a product/brand is not promoting the following buzz words/phrases on the front of their packaging, it’s probably not a safe choice – paraben-free, sulfate-free, without mineral oil, cruelty free, fragrance-free, vegan, organic. The brands that are openly advertising these qualities want you to know that their product is a safe choice.
Try not to be lulled into a sense of security by the phrase “natural ingredients.” That can be very deceiving (in food as well) as it doesn’t actually carry a lot of weight as it’s not federally regulated. All that it means is that the ingredient isn’t artificial, which can encompass a lot of good stuff…and a lot of bad stuff.
Personally, I’ve been using Arbonne’s skincare and makeup products for years. They’ve been formulating and selling clean and safe products since 1980 before it became trendy to do so. While Europe has banned more than 1,200 ingredients from their skincare products, Arbonne has boasted a “Not Allowed” list that includes over 2,000. All of their formulas are botanically-based as opposed to chemically derived, cruelty free, and vegan. When I first began to convert my personal products over to “clean” options, Arbonne was one of the few companies available for me to take advantage of at a price point that I could afford. Thankfully, there are now many other companies stepping up to the plate on this front. Just be sure to read the label before buying!