As radical as the adage in today’s title may sound, it’s one of the rules I began living by for myself and my family several years ago. Many of us do not realize that our skin is the body’s LARGEST organ. Yes, you heard it right – your skin is an ORGAN (like your liver, kidneys, heart, etc.). While your skin may look radically different than your liver or kidneys, its purpose is just as important. Our skin protects our bodies and all of the body’s systems underneath it, it regulates temperature and moisture levels, it contains a majority of our nerves to allow us to touch, and it importantly serves as a means for toxins to leave our body. Therefore, anything we put onto our skin should be anything but a form of a toxin, yet it happens every day without awareness. Anything put onto our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream within 60 seconds. 60 seconds! Would you want things like 1,4 Dioxane or iodopronpyl butylcarbamate entering your bloodstream within a minute, nonetheless at all?!? The skin of babies is even more permeable than our own, with their brains, nervous system, and organs still developing, so anything “toxic” that enters their body does far more damage than it would to an adult.
After doing much research into the many ingredients that exist in our lotions, creams, soaps, detergents, shampoos, conditioners, and more importantly diapers and baby skin care products, I was appalled that such products were allowed to be manufactured, no or less okayed to be put on our bodies. I became a fervent label reader from that point on, and feeling discouraged over the fact that pretty much every single item I had been using for years needed to be tossed and I needed to start over. What the heck would I use instead? What would I be able to put on my son without having a nervous breakdown? And then there was the issue over diapers…. Believe it or not, I found that taking a “back to basics” approach was much simpler than I thought and sticking to super simple and natural alternatives was not hard at all. Was and am I perfect at eliminating every non-natural ingredient out of all of my products? No. But being proactive about our products and choices and simply making the effort to eliminate as many as possible is what many of us can do to create a much less toxic environment in our bodies…especially for our children. In fact, I noticed a great improvement in my hair, skin, and nails after making the switch. I will include many alternatives and suggestions at the end of the article so you don’t suffer an anxiety attack while reading.
Lab tests done several years ago kicked off the alarm after revealing the presence of a carcinogenic chemical in several children’s bath products – 1,4 Dioxane was found in very popular top brands of diapers, diaper wipes, kids’ shampoos and conditioners, and most disturbing, products that were heavily marketed to children under the brand of famous cartoon characters (Hello Kitty, Huggies, Sesame Street, Gerber, Disney, Scooby Doo, Rite Aid Brand, ‘Lil Bratz, L’Oreal Kids, and Johnson & Johnson). Awesome. Carcinogens and cartoons – just what every child needs wrapped in a neat package for you to buy. So how does this even happen?!?! The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has no legal authority to require companies to assess the safety of their cosmetics. This means that companies can put unlimited amounts of toxic chemicals in cosmetics; the FDA works with manufacturers on a voluntary basis. Hmm. Even more disturbing is that the U.S. has outlawed 8 ingredients for cosmetic use, whereas the European Union has banned more than 1,000! Phthalates (a family of chemicals I wrote about earlier in my toxic cookware article) are among the forbidden in Europe, but legal in the U.S. (and commonly found in beauty products, food packaging, vinyl, plastics, baby books, baby teethers, bath toys, toys, cookware, etc.). The chemicals have been linked to asthma and developmental & reproductive health risks.
Here’s a disturbing sampling of ingredients in some popular brands and products:
Baby Wipes – In a September 2007 sampling, Pampers Baby Fresh Diaper Wipes contained dimethicone, iodopronpynl butylcarbamate, sodium hydroxymethlglyanate, BIS-PEG, & fragrance.
Gerber’s Grin & Giggles Lavender Baby Wash – disodium lauroamphodiacetate, cocamidopropyl betaine, PEG-80, PEG 150 distearate, Quarterium-15, D&C violet #2, & D&C red #33.
Johnson & Johnson Baby Lotion – methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, BHT, fragrance, Red #33.
Huggies “Natural Care” Baby Wipes – potassium laureth phosphate, polysorbate 20, tertrasodium EDTA, DMDM hydantoin, methylparaben.
Other than not being able to pronounce these ingredients, one might think, “What’s the big deal?!? I see this in most of the stuff I buy, so it’s got to be safe…right??” Well, no. All of these ingredients range from bonding agents that can irritate/burn skin; a formaldehyde-releasing preservative; carcinogens; allergens; endocrine disruptors; and chemicals that can cause an increased risk of breast cancer, reduced fertility, pregnancy complications, neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity, developmental/reproductive toxicity, and lung and/or eye irritation.
So what exactly should you be on the lookout for? Check out this quick list (source: http://www.thedailygreen.com) and try to steer clear of anything in your home or store that you currently use or are thinking of purchasing:
6 Beauty Product Ingredients To Avoid:
Examples include petroleum jelly, isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol, methyl alcohol or methanol, butyl alcohol or butanol, ethyl alcohol or ethanol (often used in skin astringents and perfumes or colognes).
- Sodium laureth/lauryl sulfates and other sulfate-based detergents
Examples include sodium lauryl ether sulfate; sodium laureth sulphate; sodium lauryl ether sulphate (most commonly used in shampoos, shower gel, bubble bath)
- Propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol, along with various ingredients formulated with PEGs and PGs
Examples include ethylene glycol (used in firming lotions) and propylene glycol (found in everything from deodorant, mascara, baby powder, after shave and more).
- Formaldehyde & paraben preservatives
Examples include butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben (found in sunscreen, shampoos, shaving gel, toothpaste and more)
- Synthetic dyes
Examples include anything with F&DC preceding it, usually followed by a color and a number. (F representing food, D&C representing drugs and cosmetics), other color additives, including caramel, lead acetate, manganese violet, and more.
- Artificial fragrances
Avoid most perfumes/colognes, which legally aren’t required to list ingredients to protect their trade mark
One very important note to take is just because something says it’s “NATURAL” or even “ORGANIC” does NOT mean that it does not contain dangerous ingredients!! The only way to be sure is to READ THE LABEL! For example, Dr. Mercola published a study showing that:
“A new study commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) found that many leading ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ brand shampoos, body washes, and lotions contain the carcinogenic contaminant 1,4-Dioxane, which is considered a chemical “known to the State of California to cause cancer.” It is a byproduct of the cancer-causing petrochemical Ethylene Oxide, which is used as part of a short-cut process called Ethoxylation, which makes harsh ingredients milder. 1,4-Dioxane is also suspected of being a kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant, among others, according to the California EPA. It is also a leading groundwater contaminant.
Some of the leading organic and natural brands found to contain 1,4-Dioxane include: JASON Pure Natural & Organics, Giovanni Organic Cosmetics, Kiss My Face, and Nature’s Gate Organics.
To avoid 1,4-dioxane, OCA recommends reading ingredient labels and avoiding products with indications of ethoxylation, which include: “myreth,” “oleth,” “laureth,” “ceteareth,” any other “eth,” “PEG,” “polyethylene,” “polyethylene glycol,” “polyoxyethylene,” or “oxynol,” in ingredient names.
The Dirty on Diapers – disposable diapers are a toxic nightmare due to the dioxin content in them. Dioxin is a highly-toxic by-product of bleaching used on the fibers in diapers. Also, other dyes in the diapers can cause damage to the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system. Sodium polyacrylate (the absorbent gel in the diaper itself) has been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome, allergic reactions, skin irritations, and respiratory problems. One way to help combat this is to either use cloth diapers (preferably organic cotton that has not been treated with bleaching treatments) and use a natural detergent to clean them and/or more eco-friendly diapers like Seventh Generation or Naty Baby Care. Yes, these are a little more expensive than other conventional diapers, but think of how much all those diaper creams and treatments cost (plus doctor visits) when your child repeatedly gets diaper rash or reactions from all of the chemicals (not to mention the long-term health concerns).
For natural skin care, check out the following suggestions. Surprisingly, they are cheaper and more effective:
– In place of lotions, use Coconut Oil or Jojoba Oil (preferably organic). My skin has never felt or looked better since I have been using jojoba oil and coconut oil on my skin. Calendula oil also works wonderfully. All three oils are safe to use on babies and children as well. In fact, calendula oil is recommended for babies due to the healing properties of it (it’s often used to treat cradle cap and diaper rash). Coconut oil also works as a natural anti-viral cream. MY skin is prone to break-outs and I don’t experience break-outs at all; besides, it’s not greasy if you don’t use too much and the skin absorbs it quickly. Best of all, if you ate these oils, you would not get sick (in fact, I take coconut oil daily as a health regimen…again…think “what can be put in the mouth can be put on the skin”). All three can be found in stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, pharmacies, natural food stores, or online. From experience, Weleda is a great brand for calendula oil.
– In the shower, instead of heavily-perfumed body washes, try castile soap (they come in a wide array of scents). My favorite is Brommer’s Peppermint. It’s totally natural, cleans better than any wash I’ve used, and I can even use it as a face wash (and my face is prone to break-outs, etc.). Since using castile soap, blemishes have improved. It’s even safe enough to use on babies’ and children’s skin. It can easily be found in many stores or online.
– Shampoos and conditioners – there are many alternatives out there that are not animal tested or containing any of the harmful ingredients listed above. Be sure to read the labels. For a super conditioning treatment, I will put jojoba oil on my hair BEFORE I shampoo. It will feel greasy, but once you shampoo out, you won’t even need conditioner and your hair will look great. I’ve even used castile soap for shampoo as well and it worked fine.
– Natural face scrub – believe it or not, baking soda is one of nature’s greatest exfoliators! You can scrub it on plain with some warm water and let it sit or rinse immediately.
– Skin astringent (good for babies’ bottoms, too, as a diaper area wash) – witch hazel is refreshing and cuts through grease and oil; it also heals any irritation.
– Sunscreens – many sunscreens contain dangerous chemicals. Go for more natural “physical” or mineral-based sunscreens rather than chemical lotions. Read the ingredients and check for zinc oxide. Many natural/physical sunscreens are labeled carefully now, as many consumers are switching. Additionally, mineral-based sunscreens are much safer and gentler on babies and children.
– Deodorants – try using natural deodorants that don’t have all of the artificial fragrances or aluminum to prevent sweating (I know this may be a deal breaker for some of you).
– For a natural body scrub, try mixing the following together:
- coconut oil
- sea salt or Epsom salt
- squeeze of lemon and/or lime
- any essential oils you may want for fragrance
Scrub on hands, feet, elbows, all over your skin and either soak in a tub, or rinse off with castile soap. Your skin will be left feeling and looking great. It can be stored in jars as well for later use (makes great gift ideas!).
Although I was not able to cover everything in this article, I hope it was a decent start to setting you in the right direction for making better choices about what you put on your body (which essentially winds up in your body). You have the power to look at the labels and look for the aforementioned dangerous ingredients.
Stay tuned next week for a lesson on ANDI scores – what they are, what they mean, and how you can use them to your advantage to make healthy choices.