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Looking after your Skin

Your Skin is your largest organ and you need to take care of it.

By the time we finish our morning routines, we have often used shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, toner, facial moisturiser, deodorant and body lotion. Have you ever actually wondered what goes into all those products? We did; so we started researching and what we learnt was quite disturbing.

While you would never even think of ingesting or inhaling toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde or acetate, many of us apply a large number of them to our bodies and faces on a daily basis. As we all know, our skin is our largest organ and it is just as susceptible to what we put on it as our body is to what we injest or inhale. In fact, biomonitoring studies have found that cosmetics ingredients – such as phthalate plasticizers, paraben preservatives, the pesticide triclosan, synthetic musks and sunscreen ingredients – are common pollutants in the bodies of men, women and children. Many of these chemicals are potential hormone disruptors. Cosmetics frequently contain enhancers that allow ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin. Studies have found health problems in people exposed to common fragrance and sunscreen ingredients, including increased risk of sperm damage, feminization of the male reproductive system and low birth weight in girls. (Data Sources include SkinDeep®, Miessence, The Green Beauty Guide)

Luckily in many countries (including Singapore where we live) it is mandatory to name all of the ingredients in cosmetics. Learning to look for and eliminate products that contain harmful ingredients in your body care products could make great improvements to both your appearance and your health. Unless you are already taking care when buying your products - do this quick test. Go to your bathroom and look at your shampoos, body washes, lotions etc, to find one product without at least one of the toxic ingredients listed below. This is a great test and doing this was a real wake up for us.

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_viperagp'>viperagp / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

What ingredients should I avoid?

Dimethicone and cyclomethicone (silica) are used as emollients to give products a silky and smooth texture. However, they are not easily absorbed by the skin which will lead to results such as clogged pores and blackheads. Some may end up having severe side effects such as irritation to the eyes and skin (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in mouth and chest; swelling of the face, mouth, lips or tongue) to name a few. In the USA, the FDA and Cosmetic Ingredient Review have deemed it safe for cosmetic uses under 15% but if you have any reactions such as these it could be one of the causes. It's toxicological properties have not been thoroughly investigated.

Mineral Oils (Paraffin oil and wax, Liquid Paraffinum, Petrolatum) are also are being used to 'seal' in moisture. It, however, completely seals the skin like a plastic coating and will clog and suffocate the pores, which will prevent the skin from eliminating toxins and will result in acne and other problems. The use of mineral oils will actually result in premature ageing, do not believe the hype about it being beneficial and safe for the skin.

Propylene Glycol (PG) and Butylene Glycol are rancid oils that form free radicals and damage the skin. They will penetrate the skin and the protein and cellular structure will weaken. Propylene Glycol has been associated with causing dermatitis and hives in humans. PG is considered so toxic that workers in contact with it are required to wear protective gloves, clothing and eye protection. The The American EPA has concluded that the brain, liver and kidneys can be affected through skin absorption. The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep® database (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/) lists nearly 6,000 products containing PG.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (from coconut) is a cheap detergent and foaming agent (anionic surfactant) composed of 4 known carcinogens; formaldehyde, dioxane, ethylene oxide and Acetaldehyde. A major concern about SLS is its potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen. These combinations can lead to a host of other issues like kidney and respiratory damage. They also dry out the skin and cause irritation. Besides severe skin irritation, other effects that animals that have been exposed to SLS during testing have had are damage to the eyes and nervous system. As well as resulting in depression, difficulty breathing, diarrhoea and even death. Surfactants (anionic and cationic) include:

  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
  • Disodium Oleamide Sulfosuccinate
  • Disodium Dioctyl Sulfosuccinate
  • Lauryl or Cocoyl Sarcosine
  • Potassium Coco Hydrolysed Collagen
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate
  • TEA (Triethanolamine) Lauryl Sulfate
  • TEA (Triethanolamine) Laureth Sulfate
  • Benzalkonium & Benzethonium chloride
  • Cetrimonium chloride
  • Cetalkonium chloride
  • Lauryl dimonium hydrolysed collagen
  • Stearalkonium chloride
These ingredients can often be found in shampoo, body wash/cleanser, mascara and acne treatment.

Cocoamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine is a multi-use ingredient aiding in foaming, conditioning, thickening and anti-static. This in itself can cause stinging, redness and even burning of skin if sensitive. Since cocoamidopropyl hydroxysultaine is very effective in helping deliver the other ingredients deep into the skin it can be even more harmful if the other ingredients it is combined with are toxic. It's toxicological properties have not been investigated at all.

Toluene, also listed as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane, methylbenzene, is a petrochemical derived from petroleum or coal tar sources. Toluene is a potent solvent able to dissolve paint and paint thinner. It can affect your respiratory system, cause nausea and irritate your skin. Expecting mothers should avoid exposure to toluene vapors as it may cause developmental damage in the fetus. Toluene has also been linked to immune system toxicity. It can be found in nail polish, nail treatments and hair color/bleaching products.

Triethanolamine is used to balance pH in cosmetic preparations. Triethanolamine can severely irritate the body's tissues, be corrosive to the eyes, as well as effect the immune and respiratory systems. It turns into a carcinogen after reacting with nitrosating agents.

Volatile Alcohols (Isopropyl) are used often to cleanse and disinfect. Though some companies may use ingredients that naturally have alcohol in them, volatile alcohols should be avoided. They irritate, dehydrate and strip the skin of its natural barrier and bacteria.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone is used as a preservative in cosmetics, specifically for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It is actually harmful by skin absorption. This ingredient can cause corrosion and burns to the eyes and skin and the damage done to the eyes could be irreversible. It is also a nitrosating agent.

Parabens are used to extend shelf life and are cheaper than natural preservatives. Methyl, Ethyl, Butyl and Propyl are chemical preservatives. They are quickly absorbed into the skin and are often the cause for eye and skin irritation, allergies and can affect the respiratory tract. Mythel Paraben is the worst since it combines benzoic acid with the chemicals of the methyl group leaving it very toxic. Parabens possess estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer. These chemicals are absorbed through the skin and have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors. They can be found in makeup, body washes, deodorants, shampoos and facial cleansers.

Talc or talcum powder has been linked to increases in the onset of ovarian cancer when there has been routine application to the genital area.

Synthetic Colours, like FD&C Yellow No. 6, used only to give products their color, causes allergic reactions and can trigger asthma. It is carcinogenic and banned in some countries. There are others beside Yellow, stay away from products with D&C and FD&C followed by a number. Synthetic colours are suspected to be a human carcinogen, a skin irritant and are linked to ADHD in children. The European Classification and Labeling considers it a human carcinogen and the European Union has banned it.

Fragrance may be one ingredient on the list but it in itself can contain up to 4,000 separate ingredients. Allergic reactions, headaches, dizziness, skin irritation, violent coughing and even vomiting might result. Try to select products fragranced by essential oils.

And finally, just a few more toxic ingredients to stay away from:

  • Bronopol
  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
  • Butylated hudroxyanisole (BHA)
  • DMDM Hydantoin (contains formaldehyde)
  • Eugenol
  • Germall 115 (Imidazolidinyl urea)
  • Germall II (Diazolidinyl urea)
  • Isothiazolinone
  • Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Nitrosamines
  • Phthalates
  • P-Phenylenediamine
  • Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
  • Sodium Sulfosuccinate
  • Thiomersal (contains mercury)

What should I look for in my skin care products?

Organic ingredients are generally better. If the ingredient isn't organic there is the risk that the surrounding soil contains herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals, they would be absorbed and cause damage to the nutrients in the plant. Organic products do not use herbicides, pesticides etc. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to source organic ingredients and in some cases they just too expensive, but if you select products with a good selection of organic ingredients you will be on the right path.

Aloe Vera Juice is an essential first aid necessity. There are over 400 species of Aloe Vera. It's a potent healing and regenerative agent especially for burns, rashes or sunburn. Aloe Vera juice can also be taken internally to aid digestion and has been effective in soothing stomach ulcers and improving regularity of the colon, among other benefits.

Rosehip Seed Oil is very high in linoleic and linolenic acid (Vit F) which are essential skin nutrients; Vitamin A, which helps with cell regeneration, collagen and elastin production, leading to firmer, smoother and more elastic skin; and essential fatty acids (Vit E), which help achieve healthy skin. Studies show its regenerative success with skin problems such as scar tissue, burn scars, acne scars, surgerical scars, stretch marks, dermatitis, psoriasis, premature aging, UV and radiation damage, reduction of wrinkles, and improved overall appearance of skins natural tone and color.

Avocado Oil (Persea Gratissima) is a rich and nourishing moisturizer that penetrates deeper into the skin than any other plant, making it ideal for mature skin. It is high in vitamins A (helps with cell regeneration), D (a powerful anti-oxidant and ant-carcinogen). If you don't eat meat or fish and avoid the sun, avocados and eggs are primary sources for this essential vitamin. It is also rich in vitamin E (considered the youth mineral due to numerous benefits for anti-aging such as reducing wrinkles and fine lines, protection from UV rays, pollution and other free radicals. It also has the form of an effective, natural alcohol making it anti-bacterial and also helps regulate vitamin A). Avocado Oil is know to help stimulate collagen metabolism and slow down the visible signs of aging.

Jojoba Oil (Simmondsia Chinensis)) a wax ester, which are naturally found in skin, is the closest in composition to the skins natural sebum so it's very easily absorbed and rarely causes reactions. It has a very slight odor and can be used as a carrier for other ingredients and oils. Jojoba oil is rich in vitamins E, and B as well as minerals such as copper, zinc and silicon chromium. Plus it has antimicrobial properties and it nourishes and revitalizes the skin.

Sweet Almond Oil (Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis)), rich in vitamin D, protein, glucosides, minerals, oleic and fatty acids, is and excellent nourishing emollient helping condition the skin resulting in younger, softer looking skin. Sweet almond oil is particularly useful in relieving itchy, sore, dry and inflamed skin experienced during pregnancy.

Grapeseed Oil (Vitis Vinifera)) is easily absorbed and does not leave a greasy residue on the skins surface. It is a light oil rich in vitamins, minerals proteins and GLA and low in saturated fats. Grapeseed oil helps strengthen tissue cells and has very nourishing properties.

Tangerine Oil (Citrus Nobilis)) is a god send for mothers-to-be. It's an extremely calming and refreshing oil which relieves fatigue, stress and fluid retention while preventing stretch marks.

Shea Butter (Butyrospermum Parkii)) is also very nourishing and rich. It is an excellent skin protector and effective in the treatment of scars, stretch marks, eczema, burns, acne, blemishes, severely dry skin, chapped lips and can also be used to repair very dry and damaged hair.

D-Panthenol (Vit B5)) is a natural humectant used in shampoos and conditioners. It binds the hair shafts and seals the surface. It is very healing and soothing.

Organic Sugar-Cane Ethanol is a natural solvent for herbs and delivers beneficial ingredients deep into the skin.

Unrefined Beeswax (Cera Alba), another wax ester, is very hydrating, increases the essential moisture and protects the skin.

Marshmallow Extract (Althaeu officinalis) traditionally used to treat inflammation. It is believed to help soothe, soften and heal skin.

Witch Hazel Extract is a natural astringent and anti-inflammatory derived from the steamed distillation of twigs and shrubs. Witch hazel has been the natural toner for over one hundred years.

Calendula Extract (Calendula Officinalis) is extracted from marigold blossoms. It has anti-irritant, soothing, regenerative, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and healing properties.

Neroli (Citrus Aurantuim Amara) carries an intense scent and is best used sparingly or mixed with jojoba oil. It can be used by all skin types and is particularly beneficial for fragile, mature and dry skin.

Lavender (Lavendula Angustifolia) has been known to improve circulation which actually helps in reducing cellulite and water retention. For skin troubled with acne, lavender can help due to its antiseptic and antibiotic properties. Its regenerative, calming and healing properties are suitable for all skin types.

Grapefruit Extract is a potent antibacterial and anti-fungal agent that can heal and soothe. However, watch out for this one and make sure it is only real grapefruit extract. Companies often want to avoid liabilities and opt for industrial 'grapefruit extracts' that have harmful additives such as benzethonium chloride. So it depends on the product.

Olive Extract is perfect for removing make-up. It is high in vitamin E and full of anti-oxidants. It is an excellent skin protector and helps prevent wrinkles.

Vitamin E (Tocopherol Acetate) has very high amounts of essential fats and antioxidants which help accomplish sloughing away dead skin cells and replacing them with healthy new cells leaving moisturized, soft and smooth skin. It also in an anti-inflammatory.

Natural Gum, found in various trees (acacia, tropical, asian) and plants, is a natural thickener, emollient, binder and skin softener.