Transitioning from conventional beauty products to non-toxic ones is quite an undertaking. Researching ingredients can feel like a time suck and replacing tried and true (and toxic) favorites with healthier unknowns can get costly. Is it really worth it? Here’s my take.
Transdermal Absorption is a Real Thing
The skin is the largest organ in the body. It is highly permeable and has no filtration system. A study in the American Journal of Public Health reports that skin absorbs an average of 64% of the chemicals found in drinking water — the kind of water we bathe in every day. Or practically everyday, because let’s be honest, some days require you to binge watch Netflix in your pajamas and not be bothered with things like “bathing”.
Our skin care routine doesn’t end at “bathe daily” (or, again, almost daily). Most of us use a variety of oils and lotions on our bodies and faces to keep our skin hydrated, soft, and to protect it from sun damage. We put a number of products in our hair to tame fly-aways and boost volume. On days we’re rushing out the door, we apply concealer and mascara at a bare minimum and we add primer, foundation, highlighter, blush, eye shadow, eyeliner, and at least one color of lipstick if we’re going somewhere exciting or are feeling particularly dedicated. Most of these products have a long list of ingredients. Our skin has the ability to absorb up to 64% of each and every one.
Pretty, Pretty Poison
Many of the beauty and skincare products available today contain chemicals that are linked infertility, immune system toxicity, and endocrine system disruption. Some even contain carcinogens, which are substances that are capable of causing cancer.
But how can this be? Aren’t there laws in place to regulate this? Yes. There’s one. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) of 1938. Written in 1938 and updated… pretty much never. While Europe has utilized the advancements of modern science over the past 80 years and banned more than 1,400 chemicals we now know pose serious risks to our skin and overall health, the U.S. has banned or partially banned a total of 30.
Some of the ingredients still allowed:
- 1,4-dioxane is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and present in many products with ingredients ending in “-eth”, such as sodium laureth sulfate, but you’ve never seen 1,4-dioxane listed on a label. Why? The chemical is not an added ingredient, but is instead a reaction to ingredients and chemicals used in the manufacturing process so the FDA does not require it to be listed.
- Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics and can act as estrogen, creating hormone disrupting signals in the body. This study from scientists at Harvard School of Public Health linked one type of long-chain paraben to infertility in women.
- Phthalates are used to hold color and are used regularly in fragrance, which is why you won’t often see the term “phthalate” actually listed on the label. Phthalates are considered reproductive toxicants, especially to men. This study found consistent indications that exposure to phthalates increased risk of allergy and asthma in children and also linked phthalates to adult male infertility while this study linked exposure to dibutyl phthalate (DBP) to altered sex hormones and increased likelihood of fetal loss in female laboratory rats who were chronically exposed to the chemical.
These are some pretty serious offenses. We purchase products with the intent that they will enhance our natural beauty, but the list of harm associated with the use of chemicals in conventional beauty products is not at all pretty.