Detoxification Series, Part 2: The Skin-Detox Connection

We are exposed to more toxins now than ever before. Although our bodies are equipped with built in defense mechanisms, these systems can only handle so much before they start to break down. Eventually, they become overwhelmed and inefficient.

When it comes to toxic overload, women are at especially high risk. The average American woman applies between 200-500 chemicals to her body on a daily basis. Many women are unaware of the risks these chemicals pose, partly because the cosmetic industry is largely self-regulated. While the European Union has banned over 1,300 chemicals found in cosmetics, the FDA has only banned or restricted only 11. These chemicals go directly into the blood stream and if the kidneys and liver can’t properly filter them, they get pushed out through the skin. This can trigger a variety of skin reactions, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, and dermatitis.

The irony here is that many of the products women are using to treat skin conditions might actually be causing (or at least contributing) to their skin issues! Some of the most toxic additives in women’s products include:

  • Formaldehyde: often found in hair dyes and chemical relaxers.Associated with cancer, developmental delays, scalp burns, asthma, and neurotoxicity. 
  • Fragrance: made with a variety of chemicals associated with respiratory disorders, skin allergies, dermatitis, and reproductive problems. There is no organization that restricts manufacturers from using fragrances. 
  • Mercury/Lead: often found in lipstick, eye liner, foundation, and whitening toothpaste. These heavy metals that damage the kidneys, brain, and nervous system.
  • Parabens: used as preservatives in a variety of personal care products. Linked to reproductive disorders, increased risk of breast cancer, and hormone imbalances.
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG): used to enhance texture in lotions and moisturizers. Linked to cancer, skin irritation, and respiratory disorders.
  • Phthalates: often found in nail polish, perfumes, and hair care products. Linked to thyroid issues, asthma, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders.  
  • Synthetic Colors/Dyes: often derived from petroleum or coal tar. Linked to skin irritation, acne, ADHD, and cancer.
  • Sulfates: commonly used as “lathering” agents. Sulfates are often derived from petroleum sources, and can cause eye and skin irritation.
  • Talc: found in baby powder, blush, and foundation. Associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer and lung tumors. Talc deposits are often contaminated with asbestos, and levels are not tested before talc is added to personal care products.

So how can you tell if your favorite products contain harmful chemicals? Apply the same rules to choosing skin and body care products that you do to food: choose organic whenever possible, emphasize single ingredient items, and avoid ingredients you can’t pronounce or easily decipher. In addition, we suggest you:

Do your research.  Look for beauty brands that are transparent and disclose all their ingredients. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database provides toxicity ratings for personal care products. The organization ranks many common beauty products on a scale from 1 to 10, from those generally considered safe to those with higher toxicity concerns. Silent Spring Institute also has a smartphone app called Detox Me you can use to scan product barcodes in stores and view cleaner alternatives. 

Be wary of product claims. The beauty industry is notorious for misleading consumers, using claims like “paraben free” and “vegan” to make products appear healthier. Many companies remove chemicals that have been highlighted as problematic, such as bisphenol-A or phthalates, only to replace those chemicals with equally toxic ingredients.

Simplify your routine. Many beauty treatments can be replaced with single ingredient products. Various oils, for example, work great as replacements for expensive (and often highly toxic) moisturizers and serums. Try jojoba oil, rosesip seed oil, or argan oil for normal skin; grapeseed oil, apricot kernel oil, or borage oil for oily skin; or coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter, or cocoa butter for dry skin.

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