Choosing non toxic, or at least less toxic, personal care products is one of the easiest and most effective ways to support your healthy lifestyle. Absorption through the skin is one of three ways that toxins enter your body. Ingestion and inhalation are the other ways. Some of the toxins you ingest and inhale can’t be avoided because they come from our air, water and soil. But you have almost total control over what gets absorbed into your skin.
Plus, many experts believe that toxins absorbed through the
skin are more dangerous to us than those we ingest. Toxins absorbed through
your skin go right into your bloodstream, bypassing detoxification by your
liver. For example, Deet, a common ingredient in bug sprays, is easily absorbed
through the skin and once absorbed, it gets distributed through your blood to
all major organs.
Skin is your bodies’ largest organ. It has a layered structure that performs many functions that protect your body from outside influences. Whether or not your skin will absorb something depends on a lot of factors, including skin health and thickness. The skin around your eyes is the thinnest and absorbs substances the easiest, while the hands and soles of the feet have the thickest skin.
The type of substance that your skin is exposed to is
another factor that determines how much your body absorbs. An important
characteristic of chemicals that travel quickly through the skin are that they
are easily dissolved in fat. Many chemical toxins are fat soluble, making them
easily absorbed. Plus, some of the chemicals in personal care products, especially
creams and lotions, are added just to enhance skin absorption.
There are a lot of harmful ingredients lurking in personal care products. They run the gamut from suspected carcinogens such as BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), used as a preservative, to endocrine disrupting chemicals such as Propylparaben, used as a preservative and an ingredient in fragrance.
The use of synthetic fragrances, found in thousands of personal care products, is a huge toxin concern in cosmetics. Considered to be trade secrets, the chemicals used to make fragrances are not disclosed to us on the labels.
In 2010 the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics had 17 products tested to determine which of the 3,100 chemicals used by the fragrance industry were in the products. They found 12 hormone disrupting ingredients and 10 allergens. Half of the ingredients identified were not listed on the labels.
Additional toxins that don’t appear on the product labels can end up in personal care products through contamination. Contaminates are toxic residues left behind from the manufacturing process.
For example, sodium laurel sulfate is too harsh to use on skin so companies use the carcinogen ethylene oxide to turn it into sodium laureth sulfate. The process, called ethoxylation, creates the contaminant 1,4-dioxane, which is a probable carcinogen. 1,4-dioxane is an impurity in almost half of all cosmetics and can be absorbed through the skin in toxic amounts.
The cosmetics industry is the least regulated industry under the jurisdiction of the FDA. The FDA can make recommendations but it has very little power to enforce them. It also relies heavily on manufacturers claims that the chemicals in their products are safe. Colgate is still defending its use of triclosan in its toothpaste based on its research, even though countless independent studies have proven triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and accumulates in our bodies.
Even when a chemical is tested and determined to be safe for use in cosmetics, the testing is not done in the context of the chemical’s use. Let’s say that a safe exposure level was determined for chemical A. Chemical A is added to a lotion and a soap that you use. You have now been exposed to double the amount that is considered safe. Using non toxic personal care products will decrease this unsafe exposure.
Synergy, when the combined action of two
things is greater than the sum of their effects individually, is also not taken
into account when testing the safety of chemicals. With some chemical
concoctions two plus two equals five. An example of this is the chemical cocamide
DEA, used as a foaming agent in
cosmetic products. It is a potential carcinogen in its own right but
when combined with other chemicals it also produces cancer-causing
I hope this information has convinced you that what you put
on your skin can undermine your healthy living efforts. For years I made my own
lotions, potions and soaps because that was the only way to avoid the toxins
found in personal care products. The good news is, now there are lots of
commercially available non toxic options that will make your switch to non toxic personal care products very easy. In this section of Non Toxic for Health you’ll find
information on safer hair dye options, natural shampoo and conditioner, organic body lotions and options for non toxic cleansing and much