When I was in naturopathic school, one of my favourite classes was herbal medicine lab where we would make tinctures, creams, balms etc. out of wild-crafted herbs. Of course, my handmade products didn’t look quite as “perfect” as commercial products, but I loved that I knew exactly what was in each creation I carefully made. More importantly since then, I’ve realized that there are so many extra ingredients contained in most commercially-made products. These ingredients are used to increase shelf life, “enhance” the look, smell or texture and add antibacterial properties – characteristics of skin care products that I’m not looking for. What’s worse, some of the ingredients have known health risks and other ingredients have yet to be tested for safety. This has made me more and more careful about choosing skin care products.
How important is it to choose clean skin care products? Short answer – very important.
You don’t have to be a professional painter or work in a chemical lab to be exposed to toxic chemicals. Food, food containers, flame retardants (on furniture, clothes, electronics), air pollution, cleaning products, personal care products all commonly contain chemicals of varying toxicity (or unknown toxicity). In fact one study showed over 100 toxins in the umbilical cord of newborn babies – you barely have to be born to be exposed to toxins.
To make matters worse, there is little regulation on commercial skin care products. For example, there are products on the market that contain ingredients we know are linked to hormone disruption. There are also ingredients that remain untested for safety. This is concerning as one Environmental Working Group (EWG) study found that adolescent girls on average use 17 personal care products per day – and this is at critical time for hormone development on immune, reproductive, adrenal, brain and bone health. I thought 17 products was a ridiculously high number but when I counted, it turns out, I easily use 12 skin/hair products every day!
So the responsibility of safety largely falls on manufacturers – and us.
In my experience, most products I come across contain harmful or questionable ingredients.
So with these factors in mind, I recommend homemade alternatives whenever possible: You can use common household oils to moisturize your skin, lips, hair and scalp. Popular natural ingredients include shea and cacao butter; coconut, argan, avocado, jojoba, olive or almond oils.
Using homemade alternatives is inexpensive, readily available and generally well tolerated. Keep in mind, it can take a little preparation and the products tend to be more perishable than store-bought products. Also natural essential oils can trigger skin reactions or irritations too so use them sparingly.
When choosing commercially made products, look out for these families of chemicals: phthalates, triclosan, musks, and parabens.
Ingredients to avoid
- Trichlocarbon, triclosan (in soaps, toothpastes)
- Retinyl palmitate or retinol (in daytime cream, lip products)
- PEG, ceteareth, polyethylene, parabens (propyl, isopropyl, butyl, isobutyl), DMDM hydantoin (in hair products)
- “Fragrance” – companies don’t need to list exactly what ingredients are being used for fragrances; some companies are referring to essential oils while others are using synthetic perfumes – check with the manufacturer if possible
- Sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate (shampoos, soaps)
Reading labels is recommended but can be time-consuming and overwhelming. Here are some handy resources to help us clean up our beauty routine:
Click HERE for Ewg’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database Check your current products to see how “clean” they are & look for cleaner substitutes for cosmetics, hair products, sunscreens etc.
Click HERE for the Toxic Ten Pocket Guide from Environmental Defence A printable, portable list of common toxins to look out for & ways to reduce toxin exposure.
Lastly, skin health is an indicator of internal health. Optimal nutrition, cellular hydration (water intake, electrolytes), avoiding foods sensitivities/allergies, quality sleep, lymph drainage, stress management, etc. are still the foundations for healthy skin.
I’m currently using jojoba oil for washing my face, Dr. Hauschka toner and lip balm and Gabriel cosmetics. I’ve found that good quality sleep and a nutrient dense diet are the most important part of my skin care routine.
This is definitely a work in progress. I’ve been gradually switching out products over the years, trying to find cleaner products, that work for my skin, my schedule and my budget.
For those, like me, who have a tendency to hormone imbalances, cleaning up the products we use is particularly important to address but I think this is a worthwhile endeavor for everyone’s health, our shared environment and for eventually improving quality of all personal care products.