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Are You Getting the Real Thing

When it comes to choosing healthy personal care and household products, it is important to understand two modes of transportation that are used to carry vitamins, nutrients and other healing substances to the body.

Research shows that the two most efficient methods for obtaining healing substances are absorption and inhalation. These two methods are better than digestion because they do not compete with the acids in our stomach or the foods we eat. Absorption refers to the uptake of substances into cells and the bloodstream through the skin. This process happens when we use creams, oils, soaps and shampoos with nutrients (or on the negative side, toxins) on the top layer of the skin to achieve a desired affect through the deeper skin layers and into the body.

Inhalation is the intake of vapors or gas through the nose or mouth into the lungs. Healing vapors and pleasing aromas (or negatively, toxins in the air) are absorbed from the lungs into the bloodstream. This is the basis of “aromatherapy.” Products that are introduced into our bodies by inhalation include room fresheners, diffuser oils and steams, and household cleaning products.

In Greg Horn’s book, Living Green: A Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability, five simple concepts are listed to help people who are interested in healthy and natural personal care products. These following concepts are the basic rules for what to (and what not to) put on your skin:

  1. Don’t put it on your skin if you wouldn’t eat it.
  2. Don’t buy it if you can’t pronounce all the ingredients easily.
  3. Look for products made from natural oils, herbs, vitamins, and minerals.
  4. Read labels carefully and be aware that certain types of products tend to be worse than others. Your skin will absorb chemicals into your system that are in products ranging from soap to shampoo, moisturizers to hair dye, deodorant to sunscreen.
  5. Use the natural and/or hypoallergenic body products on the market, as many of them are made from natural clays, waxes, organic oils, essential oils, and herbs.Horn explains that it’s not just what you put in your body, but what you put on it that can have a profound effect on your health and the health of our planet. Your skin is the largest organ of your body. It is porous, so what you apply to your skin is quickly absorbed into your entire system. Typical cosmetic products are formulated from more than 3,000 ingredients based on petrochemicals. There is no mandated requirement for safety testing on these products before they go to market, and the FDA has no power to regulate before there is a known problem (after a product has been proven to be hazardous). It is your responsibility to know what’s in personal care products and make your choices based on your own knowledge. 2

Here are seven natural skin care tips I found on a very useful site, www.pioneerthinking.com

  1. Read product labels. Be aware of the rule of thirds: The top third of the ingredients label lists the ingredients that comprise around 90-98% of the product. The middle third represents approximately 5 – 8% of the product. The bottom third represents around 1 – 3%.
  2. “Natural skin care” is not always natural. The dictionary defines natural as: “Existing in or, formed by, nature.” The cosmetic industry definition: “An ingredient derived from a natural substance.” For example, “Cocamide-DEA derived from coconut oil: may be from coconut oil, but diethanolamine is used in the extraction process.
  3. Organic doesn’t mean what you think. Organic products must contain 95% organic ingredients including water and salt/minerals, with a small allowance for natural, non-organic ingredients. Legally, the cosmetics industry is allowed to label any product that contains carbon as ‘organic’. If the product contains petrol, it is organic. How much water is in the product? When companies put ‘73% organic at the top of the label, that means they could basically place a few organic teabags in a vat of water and let them infuse into the water. Because the water constitutes 70+ percent of the overall product, the manufacturer is allowed to claim that the product is 74% organic. If you removed the water, the organic content of those herbal infusions would be 0.05% of the product.
  4. Be aware of inconsistent labeling standards. Some ingredients that are not allowed in certified organic foods are allowed in organic personal care products. If it’s on your skin, you’re drinking it!
  5. Miracle ingredients don’t exist. The quality of the skin is the function of feeding the body and skin high quality nutrients over time and keeping the toxin levels of the body low. When you use high quality organic or natural products, ALL of the ingredients are active; there is no one “miracle ingredient.”
  6. If it harms lab animals it will harm you. These substances can also give rats cancer or Parkinson’s disease, when they are injected. They are some of the same chemicals that you will find in your cleverly labeled organic skin care, personal care and cosmetic products.

Because the cosmetic industry and home cleaning products are not adequately monitored due to proprietary “trade secrets,” companies can get away with incomplete and often misleading labeling. It is important to follow some simple guidelines to ensure your health is not being compromised.

Choose products that list all the ingredients. Since no legal definitions exist for natural, nontoxic, and hypoallergenic, those words don’t always signify a healthier product .

Examine the list of ingredients to check that the word “fragrance” does not appear. “Fragrance” is a lovely word for synthetic. Look for essential oils in the ingredient list instead of fragrances; they are usually listed separately. Be prudent because even if the label advertises “unscented,” some manufacturers use masking agents that block our ability to perceive odors; so not only is fragrance still in the product, but even more chemicals are present.

And always inspect labels because formulas often change. For more information on the importance of “decoding” a product label, go to: www.naturalsolutionsmag.com.

There are some personal care products that should be used with extreme caution when choosing commercial brands. Horn offers sage advise in identifying the worst culprits:

  1. Antiperspirants: Virtually all antiperspirants contain aluminum chlorohydrate, the active ingredient that blocks sweat glands and prevents wetness. Aluminum in deodorants may also contribute to the buildup of aluminum in the body, and has been linked to brain disorders, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, aerosol sprays are often inhaled, propelling aluminum chlorohydrate through the optic nerve right to the brain. Aluminum is one of the few substances that can cross the body’s natural defense system, the blood-brain barrier. These salts create estrogen-like effects in the body and can spur growth of cancer cells. Antiperspirants are applied very near the breast, often onto a shaved armpit. Shaving creates small nicks that can ease the absorption of aluminum near the breast tissue. Deodorants that are not antiperspirants often contain a bacteria-killing ingredient called triclosan, which has been shown to cause liver damage when it is absorbed through the skin.
  2. Sunscreens: Sunscreens and sun blocks have grown from an $18 million annual business in 1972 to over half a billion dollars a year in sales by 2005. Sunscreens can protect from UV damage and ultimately skin cancer. Although skin cancer incidence is growing at 6 percent a year, it is responsible for only 1 percent of all cancer deaths. This protection from skin cancer exposes our skin to carcinogens, including diethanolamine and related ingredients (DEA, TEA). Other ingredients are suspected endocrine disrupters: benzophenone (oxybenzone), homosalate, octyl-methoxycinnamate (octginoxate), and parabens (methyl-ethyl, butyl-, propyl-). Children are especially vulnerable to disruption of the hormonal system. Not only are these chemicals bad for you, they’re bad for the environment. Diethanolamine has been found in waterways, posing a threat to animals and humans. Benzophenone has been found in surface water, groundwater, soil and air and may affect the liver and bone marrow of those ingesting contaminated water. These and other endocrine disruptors in sun protection products can also enter the water system when we swim or bathe, winding up in fish, amphibians and marine wildlife, posing a threat to the animals’ reproductive cycles. Your body needs natural sunlight to manufacture vitamin D, a crucial vitamin that has strong protective effects for over a dozen types of cancer. In order to enjoy the sun without getting burned by potentially toxic sunscreens or the sunburns they intend to prevent, get some sun every day. Ten to fifteen minutes of unprotected sun on the face and arms is enough to manufacture crucial vitamin D. Use sunscreens/blocks that rely on titanium or zinc oxide to scatter the sun’s rays before they can burn your skin. Seek the shade between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Cover up with a broad-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt. Research suggests that every one-inch of hat brim cuts the odds of skin cancers on the face and neck by 10 percent. Eat your carotenoids and apply personal care products high in carotenoids to your skin. Plants don’t have sunscreen. Instead, they manufacture carotenoids, colorful nutrients that protect plants from the harmful effects of the sun. Carrot juice and oil, as well as red palm oil, are examples of sun protecting ingredients.
  3. Soaps: Many soaps contain petroleum-derived synthetic fragrances, artificial colors and mineral oil that cause skin rashes and other allergic reactions. Look for vegetable oil-based soaps without artificial fragrances or antimicrobial agents. Note: The active ingredient in antimicrobial soaps causes nerve damage. The ingredient is called MIT (methylisothiazolinone), and is also found in a surprising number of personal care products. This chemical promotes the breeding of resistant strains of bacteria, and interferes with a healthy immune system (that is our primary prevention from getting sick).Shampoos: Even though your hair can’t directly absorb toxins that can enter your bloodstream, the thin skin of your scalp can. This is especially important since shampoos and conditioners make their way to the scalp during bathing, when warm water opens the pores, increasing potential for absorption. These hair care products are commonly made with formaldehyde as a preservative, often labeled quarternim-15. This known carcinogen can also be an irritant to skin, eyes, and respiratory passages. Although the government requires some products containing quaternium-15 to carry a warning label, shampoo is exempted from this requirement. Dandruff shampoos contain selenium sulfide, which can cause vital organs to degenerate. Resorcinol, another absorbed ingredient in dandruff shampoos, can cause skin and eye irritation, drowsiness, unconsciousness and convulsions. Coal tar is another popular dandruff remedy that is particularly carcinogenic.
  4. Body Washes and Bubble Baths: These products contain chemicals that look like an alphabet soup: BNPD, TEA and DEA that can combine at random to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. “The label on bubble bath describes a ‘bath that will gently cleanse your skin, helping to leave it feeling soft and smooth.’ Yet if you read the active ingredient list, it includes sodium laureth sulfate, cocamide DEA, sodium chloride, parfum, glycol stearate, tetrasodium EDTA, formaldehyde, polyquaternium-7, propylparaben, sodium hydroxide. Sodium laureth sulphate is a substance that can reduce the surface tension of a liquid and thus allow it to foam or penetrate solids, It is also an industrial grade detergent, or degreaser. It attacks grease or oil, thereby cleaning a surface. However, the human skin contains glands that deliberately secrete grease or oil onto itself to keep it waterproof, supple, soft and smooth. Sodium laureth sulphate strips the natural oil from the skin leaving it rough and dry. Garages use it to clean engine oil from their floors, as it is very corrosive. It is also known to attack the formation of essential proteins in the eyes leading to cataracts and preventing children’s eyes from forming properly. Sodium laureth sulphate and sodium lauryl sulphate can both react with other chemicals found in cosmetics to form nitrosamines and 1,4 dioxin, both known carcinogens.
  5. Toothpaste: Most toothpastes include petrochemicals, artificial colors, sweeteners, mineral oil and fluoride. We have been sold on the idea that fluoride in toothpaste and in our water supply reduces the number of cavities. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that there is little cavity protection in fluoride, and is toxic at relatively small levels. Fluoride have been proven to cause potentially crippling bone conditions and may cause cancer and nerve damage even at very low levels.
  6. Mouthwash: If you have seen a mouthwash ad you know that it “kills germs by the millions, on contact.” That’s not good. Those germs are in your mouth and digestive tract for important reasons, such as starting the digestive process, nutrient assimilation, and immune health. Mainstream mouthwashes use broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents like triclosan that indiscriminately kill all kinds of bacteria – both good and bad.
  7. Skin Moisturizers, Conditioners, and Cosmetics: These products are particularly easily absorbed because they are typically put on our most fragile skin and remain on our bodies for hours at a time. An FDA study shows some daunting results: 13 percent of the preservative butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and 49 percent of the carcinogenic pesticide DDT (still found in synthetic lanolin) is absorbed through the skin.
  8. Lipstick: This is the most toxic cosmetic product of all. It frequently contains several carcinogens, including polyvinylpyrroilidone plastic, saccharin, mineral oil and artificial colors. Lipstick is particularly dangerous since women actually swallow it by licking their lips, eating or drinking and then reapply it several times in the course of the day. According to Glamour magazine, the average woman swallows four to nine pounds of lipstick in her lifetime!
  9. Mascara: Usually contains formaldehyde, alcohol, and plastic resins. These harmful chemicals can get into your eyes and irritate them, then enter your bloodstream through the mucous membrane.
  10. Face powder, Body Powders: These are all made from talc, a lung irritant that is contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos.
  11. Perfumes and Aftershaves: A soup of chemicals, solvents, and natural essential oils in a base of alcohol, which can include toluene, ketone and other hazardous substances. Approximately 95 percent of the ingredients in perfumes are derived from petrochemicals. In fact, one single scent can have 600 or more chemicals.4

Authors Julia Kendall,5 Mia Owen,6 and Greg Horn7 all speak of the importance of reading labels. I have compiled a list using information from all of these experts, advising what ingredients to avoid because of their toxicity, potency and their innate danger to our health:

  1. Phthalates (also seen as Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) are a class of petrochemicals commonly added to cosmetics, soaps, body lotions, and perfumes. Phthalates are estrogenic even in small quantities, and are suspect in a variety of health problems including early puberty, breast cancers, and low sperm counts. Some studies suggest phthalates may cause birth defects in early pregnancy.
  2. DEA and TEA (diethanolamine and triethanolamine) are ammonia compounds used to keep ingredients from clumping together and to create foam. They are found in cleanser, foundation, sunscreen, hair color, moisturizer, anti-aging products, mascara, styling gel, eye cream, shampoo, body wash, facial cleanser, acne treatments, and exfoliating scrubs. They interact with other chemicals in the products, forming carcinogenic nitrosamines. DEA and TEA are often shown attached to other ingredients, so the label may say “cocomide-DEA” or TEA-sodium lauryl sulfate”.
  3. Sodium Lauryl (or Laureth) Sulfate is the foaming agent in cleansers and bubble baths that creates bubbles and lather. This harsh ingredient is used by mechanics to strip motor oil and grease from their garage floors and it will certainly strip your skin of its natural protective barrier! Not only is it extremely drying to the skin, it is known to be a common allergen and fosters infections. It is a common “natural ingredient” in your children’s fun bubble bath experience. If it gets into the water system, it will harm plants, birds, and fish.
  4. Formaldehyde is used as a preservative and often listed as quaternium 15 (which releases formaldehyde). This toxic chemical can cause nerve damage, allergies, enhance your sensitivity to other chemicals and cause cancer.
  5. Bronopol is a pesticide and fungicide found in bug repellent. Its effects include carcinogenicity (cancer causing), reproductive and developmental problems, neurotoxicity and acute toxicity.
  6. Dimethyl dimethyl hydantoin is a microbicide found in a wide range of products from hair conditioners, shampoos, hand soaps, baby wipes and sunscreens. DMDM hydantoin breaks down to ingredients that trigger skin reactions and sensitivities. It also wipes out the natural bacteria in the body, setting the stage for autoimmune problems and the development of “super bugs.” This ingredient is used in the products that tout the ability to “kill millions of germs on contact.”
  7. Parabens are preservatives that inhibit microbial growth in products, giving them a longer shelf life. They have been found in breast tissue samples of women with breast cancer. Parabens are found in shampoo, conditioner, styling gel, hair lotion, body lotion, sunscreen, antiperspirants, and many types of makeup. They have a greater-than-normal potential for causing allergic reactions, and may interfere with hormonal action. Preliminary research has linked them to an increased cancer risk.
  8. Imidazolidinyl urea is the most widely used preservative in cosmetics and body care products. Classified as a known toxic chemical by the FDA, the safety of imidazolidinly urea is under investigation by the National Cancer Institute.2
  9. Acetone is found in cologne, aftershave, perfumes, nail polish, and nail enamel remover. It is listed on the EPA, RCRA, CERCLA Hazardous Waste Lists. This ingredient is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant.
  10. Benzaldehde (Benzyl Alcohol) is found in perfume, cologne, hairspray, deodorants, Vaseline lotion, shaving cream, shampoo, soap and air freshener. It is a narcotic anesthetic and CNS depressant that causes headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, CNS depression, and death due to respiratory failure. It can also cause irritation to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, and lungs; and it has been snown to cause kidney damage.
  11. Ethanol is found in perfume, shampoo, shaving cream, soap, and Vaseline lotion. Symptoms include fatigue, irritation to eyes and upper respiratory tract. Inhalation of ethanol vapors can cause initial stimulation followed by drowsiness, impaired vision, ataxia and stupor. Ethanol also is linked to CNS disorders (brain and spine) including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
  12. Ethyl Acetate is found in aftershave, cologne, perfume, and shampoo, and nail polish. This is a narcotic on the EPA Hazardous Waste List. It is irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract. Its defatting effect on the skin may cause cracking and other damage. It also causes anemia with leukocytosis and damage to the liver.
  13. Limonene is found in disinfectant solutions, perfume, cologne, soap, shaving cream, deodorants, aftershave. It is very carcinogenic.
  14. Linalool is found in perfume, cologne, soap, shampoo, hand and body lotion, shaving cream, aftershave, and deodorant. It is known to cause respiratory disturbances, ataxic gait, and reduced motor activity.
  15. Methylene Chloride is found in shampoo, cologne and aftershave. Although banned by the FDA in 1988, no enforcement is possible due to trade secret laws protecting the chemical fragrance industry. This carcinogenic is absorbed, stored in body fat, metabolized into carbon monoxide, reducing oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
  16. Pinene, Terpinene and A-Terpineol are found in perfume, cologne, Vaseline lotion, soap, aftershave, deodorant. These chemicals are damaging to the immune system. Aspiration into the lungs can produce pneumonitis or fatal edema.
  17. Petrolatum is a mineral oil derivative used to soothe and soften the skin. It is found in lip balm, moisturizer, facial moisturizer, products with SPF, styling gel, and anti-itch cream. It’s a by-product of petroleum, so it’s not biodegradable and comes from a non-renewable energy source. It also may contain low levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are suspected carcinogens. Products containing petrolatum (such as chap stick) are often claimed to “be addictive,” causing symptoms of withdrawal when usage is limited.
  18. Propylene Glycol is a synthetic used to retain moisture in the skin. It is found in facial moisturizer, moisturizer, anti-aging products, facial cleanser, shampoo, conditioner, styling gel, hair color, body wash, and deodorant. Like petrolatum, it’s made from nonrenewable fossil fuels and causes the same environmental damage. Propylene glycol is known to be a skin and eye irritant.
  19. Benzophenone-2 is a chemical that blocks the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It is found in sunscreen, facial moisturizer, anti-aging products, shampoo, aftershave, and acne treatments. Benzophenone may have endocrine disruptive properties that can interfere with hormone regulation in the body. Like DEA, benzophenone may be harmful to aquatic life.