What's In Your Skin Care
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Rejuvenating, soothing, healing skin care.
Do you know what Passiflora Incarnata or Sodium Citrate are? Or Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde?
Well, Passiflora Incarnata is a hardy species of the Passiflora family and is used as herbal medicine to treat nervous anxiety and insomnia, and reduce the symptoms of withdrawal from some anti-depressant drugs and cannabis. Sodium citrate is used to relieve discomfort in mild urinary tract infections such as cystitis.
So why are these included as ingredients in a major brand of shampoo? Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, or Lyral, is a synthetic fragrance compound and masking ingredient used in many commercial skin and body care products. It is used because it has a long lasting powerful scent reminiscent of Lily of the Valley. As an alderhyde fragrance, it readily penetrates the skin so is ideal for use in skin creams, hair care, deodorants, after shave and cosmetics. Research shows it causes contact dermatitis and estimates it to have a reactivity rate of 2.7% in the general population. The research also recommends a significant reduction in usage concentrations to prevent contact allergic reactions.
As a growing number of people become more concerned about the toxins contained in our skin and body care, more and more companies continue to jump on the “natural”, “organic” and “ethical” bandwagon, knowing full well that the majority of trustworthy consumers will be buying something not necessarily “quite what it seems”.
It is a well known fact that what we put onto our skin is absorbed into our circulatory system. Skin is our largest eliminatory organ where toxins are removed via perspiration and absorbed through the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. This means that every inch of our skin absorbs most of what we put on it - including all the chemicals and toxins contained in leave-on and rinse-off products.
Cosmetic and skincare companies do not own up or claim that their products penetrate the skin. If they did, they would be more strictly governed as the products would be classed as “drugs”. This is worrying as many companies use ingredients that would never be allowed to be taken orally due to harmful toxins, and why the marketing gurus distort the interpretation of "natural" and "organic". One way this is done is to include synthetic ingredients that are “derived from coconut oil”, Sodium Hydroxysultaine for example. While it may be true that a natural extract is used, it ends being very much synthetic due to the chemical solvent extraction and processing it goes through.
The description “organic” is also misleading, probably more so. Again deceiving marketing is involved to make the true picture blurred. In order to create Cocoamide DEA (a foaming agent found in shampoos), Diethanolamine (DEA), a synethic chemical, is added to coconut oil, which may have been organic as raw material. However, this chemical addition renders it carcinogenic and far from natural! Even more misleading is a skin care companies' definition of “organic” which my dictionary defines as “containing carbon compounds, especially those occurring in living organisms, or denoting the branch of chemistry dealing with these”. In fact carbon is found in all living things, including life from the past. So by using this definition of organic, they are stating that a toxic petrochemical such as Methyl paraben is “organic” because it was formed from natural materials rotted over millions of years to become crude oil, which was then processed to be made into a so-called “safe cosmetic” preservative.
So what can we do?
As a quick guide we should:
read the list of ingredients on the label. It is required by law that ingredients are listed in descending order of their quantity in the product;
not buy products that contain parabens, an ingredient that mimics oestrogen and preserves a product for 24 months should be avoided;
sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium laureth sulphate (SLES). We have been brained into thinking that if it doesn't foam, it doesn't clean. SLS dissolves grease and is found in most of our skincare and laundry products. Alarmingly, it is exactly the same as that used to degrease car engines. And if that doesn't scare you, SLS denatures (or modifies) skin proteins, causing skin irritation and allows environmental contaminants easier access to the lower, more sensitive layers of the skin. SLES is no less worrying; it is contaminated with dioxane, a known carcinogen, and cannot be metabolised by the liver. Its effects are therefore much longer lasting;
These days, in this frantic materialistic and youth obsessed world we live in (thanks to companies that proclaim we are worth it only if we use their products), we are more concerned about what miracle chemical ingredient will cure our wrinkles and halt ageing; but, I ask, think about:
how the cigarette manufacturers maintained for years that smoking did us no harm, that DDT would revolutionise farming and destroy all natural insect pests;
how thalidomide would ease morning sickness, and,
how forced genetic modification would not alter flora and fauna biodiversity.
I digress. But it all amounts to the same conclusion, that by lying about and hyping up products and ingredients which have not been tested for long term toxicity, someone somewhere is making fast money at our gullible expense.
Read more on ingredients that should not be used in skincare. I have listed some of the more concerning ingredients commonly used in commercial skin and body care. Of course, the list is by no means exhaustive, and there are many more ingredients we should not use on our face and body. But, as a starter, it should help the uninformed make choices without the marketing hype.
2-Bromo-2 Nitropropane-1,3-Diol is a drying and very irritating solvent used in nail varnish. It forms nitrosamines when combined with triethanolamines. It is therefore a carcinogenic compound.
Aluminium Hydroxychloride (or Aluminium Chlorohydrate) is a salt used in antiperspirants and acts as a sweat inhibitor, so closing off the skin's sweat pores. This is not helpful in terms of our health, as our sweat glands are key in eliminating waste and toxins from our bodies. It is irritating to the skin, and any damaged to the skin (such as through shaving) enables easy absorbtion.
Animal derived ingredients Chery Lin Skin Therapy only makes vegan and vegetarian skin and body care. Animal by-products used in skincare are often laced with pesticide residues and heavy metals, are obtained from the animal's insides, have chemicals added to prevent it from going rancid and some of which is used in commercially produced cakes and breads. See individual entries for further information.
Anionic surfactants are negatively charged surfactants and include Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES), Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate (ALS), Ammonium Laureth Sulphate (ALES), Potassium Coco Hydrolysed Collagen, TEA (Triethanolamine) Lauryl/Laureth Sulphate, Disodium Oleamide Sulfosuccinate. And the list goes on. Search has shown them to be contaminated with nitrosamines, which can cause cancer in animals, which therefore mark them carcinogenic in humans. They are used in a number of commercial products ranging from beauty products, drain cleansers to car engine degreasers!
Borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate or disodium tetraborate, is extracted from the mineral, Boron altrocalcite. It is often used as an emulsifier by 'natural skincare' companies, but research has shown it to be an irritant and possible carcinogenic. It is used a range of products including skin and body care, detergents, fire retardent and insecticide.
Cationic surfactants have a positive electrical charge and contain quaternary ammonium compounds. commonly known as 'quats' they are used in a range of products including hair conditioners, disinfectants, surfactants, fabric softeners. They originate from the paper and fabric industries and cause irritation and dryness, and the hair to become brittle. Oral intake can be lethal. Look out for ingredients listed as Cetrimonium chloride, Stearalkonium chloride and Lauryl dimonium hydrolysed collagen.
Cocoamidopropyl Betaine is used as a hair and skin conditioner, anti-static and because we tend believe that bubbles equals cleansing, acts as a foam boosting surfactant. In fact it can be quite an allergen, causing skin irritation, lung problems and is linked to immunotoxicity. It can be contaminated with nitrosamines which increases moderately hazardous to high.
Collagen is made from the connecting tissues of young animals, such as calves and piglets. In many countries, such as France, animal foetuses are used. It is contained in commercial cosmetics which claim to reduce or cure wrinkles. But its only real benefit is that it has a moisture retaining effect on the skin. However, this is a temporary effect. Collagen has large molecules so is not readily absorbed by the outer layer of the skin. So it sits on the surface and is removed when you wash.
Endangered species and plants. Despite the overwhelming evidence against supplying and using endangered plants, many companies (including those that claim to be eco friendly and green conscious) continue to use these fragile sources. It doesn't help that their anti-ageing, super healing properties are in demand from therapists and companies wanting the 'natural commercial' edge. Frankly, it's appalling. For example, many species of the rosewoods are listed on the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES - which has more than 7,000 animals and 32,000 plants on its lists) and prohibits the importation of the wood into those countries signed up. However, this does not include the importation of 'finished' products from these trees, including the essential oil (Aniba rosaeaodora). Unfortunately, the UK government does very little to help and does not enforce protective laws, so large amounts of the illegally cut wood and finished products (and other endangered species) are imported. Many of the species used in cosmetics (and other products) are unique to their environment and essential to the balance of their eco systems. These should not be used. Other species of concern include Sandalwood, Arnica Montana, Spikenard, Musk, Elemi and many others.
Formaldehyde is used for the synthesis of more complex compounds and materials which are then made into adhesives for carpets and flooring, insulation, medicines, facial tissue, cleansing products and even make-up. Synonyms include Formalin, Methanal, Formic aldehyde and Methaldehyde; Urea-formaldehyde resin (Urea, polymer with formaldehyde, Polynoxylin etc). Should be avoided at all costs. It is a known allergen, toxin and carcinogenic.
Genetically Modified Organism is an organism that has been genetically altered using genetically engineering techniques known as recombinant DNA technology, where molecules of different sources are combined into one molecule to create a new gene. This modified gene is then transferred into an organism with specific traits. It is also known as Genetically Engineering Organisms (GEO). GMO was previously experimented by cross breeding or by mutagenesis breeding.
This is a highly contentious and controversial and too big a subject for entry here. But I argue that it is unethical meddling with natural life and its' biological processes, which have evolved over millions of years. We do not know the long term consequences of eating and using these organisms, or what effect cross pollination will have on our eco systems. Although we have some evidence already. Indigenous wildlife, having evolved over thousands of years and having resistance to climate, preditors and disease have become extinct or are close to it. This will result in the collapse of natural species, due to the mutation caused by crosspollination and crossbreading, resulting in lost biodiversity.
Hydroxysultaines are used in high, stable foaming products such as shampoos, bubble bath, shower gels and household and industrial cleansing products. Hydroxysultaines are compatible with cationic surfactants and so are often used as antistatic agents.
Isopropyl alcohol, (SD40) also known as rubbing alcohol, is commonly used as a cleanser and solvent. It works as a dehydrator, but strips the skin of its natural acid mantle, making us more vulnerable to bacteria, fungus and viruses. As a petroleum derivative, it may promote ageing and brown spots. Alarmingly, it is twice as toxic as ethanol and in large doses can be fatal.
Kathon CG Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone are used in cosmetics, anti-freeze for cars and preservative for wood. In fact it is a registered class 2 fungicide. Whilst these preservatives are known to cause allergic reactions such as eczema symptoms, boils, peeling and swelling of the skin, research shows them to be carcinogenic and to have a dangerous effect on nerve cells. These chemicals are contained in some very well known hair products and some 'so-called natural' products.
Lanolin is a yellow, fatty substance which is formed in the glands in the sheep's skin (same way as sebum in humans). This fat protects the wool and skin from bacteria, weather extremes and drying out. Lanolin has bad press. It is in fact very nourishing, softening and highly protecting, and can help our skin to retain moisture. However, it can cause allergic reactions on sensitive skins, and worse, can be contaminated with pesticides (such as linden, dieldrin and even DDT) due to the sheep dipping and spraying to kill off any pests living in their fleece. It is virtually impossible to purchase lanolin without pesticide residues, our intense farming methods through the years have seen to that.
Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) are powerful preservatives and biocides used extensively in the cosmetics industry. Recent studies have shown them to be very allergenic, neurotoxic and carcinogenic. They are found in many of your everyday products ranging from hair products, hair colours, deodorants, baby care, paints, floor polishes etc. These chemicals are often mixed with other compounds to make other ingredients used in body care such as Kathon.
Mineral oils are a by-product of the petroleum industy and by undergoing extensive chemical and physical processing, the oils are distilled and procured at different temperatures to make solvents, medicines, textiles and cosmetics. These mineral oils (paraffin, petrolatum, vasaline) coat the skin and clog the pores. They are not absorbed by the skin, do not contain nutrients, suppress the skins ability to function normally and can contain Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can cause cancer. Cosmetic industries use mineral oils because they are incredibly cheap.
Nitrosating agents cause nitrosamine contamination, their formation occuring only under certain conditions such as strongly acidic and frying food. They occur in foodstuffs such as beer, fish byproducts and foods preserved with nitrite pickling salt. Some Governments have established limits on the amount of nitrates used to decrease the risk of cancer. Agents include DEA compounds, formaldehyde, SLS, SLES, ALS, ALES, TEA compounds etc.
Parabens are a group of preservatives used to inhibit the growth of microbial growth in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. They include butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben. Less common parabens include benzylparaben, isobutylparaben and isopropylparaben. Recent research has shown them to be toxic, despite their long history as a safe preservative. Tests show them to display estrogenic activities, which means these chemicals mimic the hormones in our bodies, disrupting the endocrine system (the thyroid, hypothalamus, ovaries). So when used on our bodies or washed down the drain into our drinking water, they are contaminating our bodies, the human milk we feed our babies and fish and other aquatic life. Parabens are known to cause eczema symptoms, eye irritation and are harmful if swallowed.
PEG or Polyethylene Glycol compounds are often listed with a number (eg: PEG-60). This indicates their molecular weight. They are used in products ranging from toothpaste, skincare, laxatives, foam rubber, spandex, oven cleansers etc. Research has shown some PEGs to alter the skin's natural moisture balance and increase the signs of ageing. There are over a hundred PEG compounds, some with low toxicity and some with a higher rating. Natural products should not contain them.
Phthalates are used as plasticisers to increase their flexibility. They are used in a range of products from food wraps, plastic containers, hairspray, nail varnish and (unbelievably) designer skincare. Studies show mothers can pass phthalate exposure during pregnancy onto their children causing sexual abnormalties and deformaties. There is also found to be a high risk of allergies in children and phthalates.
Silk Amino acid is extracted from the mulberry silk worms and used in hair products to strengthen and protect the hair. Silk is a secretion which the silk worms spins into cocoons. It is a known fact that silk worms have to die for their silk, but it is not so well known that the are gassed to death.
Talc more commonly known Talcum powder. It is extensively used in the cosmetics industry, who maintain that it is generally safe. However, although long term research shows talc to be toxin, more recent studies have found even the cosmetic grade talc (which does not contain asbestos-like fibres) causes tumours in animals. It is used in products ranging from make-up, hairspray, anti-perspirants, anti-ageing creams and even baby products.
Tallow is a fat extracted from slaughtered farm animals. It is used in cheap margarine and cake and bread products and commercial soaps, detergents and lipsticks. It is often high in metal and pesticide content, so is not recommended for use.
By Cherylin Nicholson