SOS: Save Our Skin (and the Environment)

We know the rules for preserving the environment: recycle, reduce fuel and water consumption, and keep chemicals from infiltrating our waterways, among them. We are careful about what kinds of fertilizers and herbicides we use on our lawns and what kind of cleaning products we use in our homes. The former goes into the groundwater, the latter down our drains, both contaminate our water supply. We don’t put our skin care products into the same category as those harsh chemicals, but we should. Notice how we put on gloves to protect our skin when treating our lawns and cleaning our homes, but then we freely apply any number of chemicals all over our bodies. Not only are those chemicals eventually going down the drain, but our skin is drinking them right up. 

Many (perhaps I could say most) commercial beauty products contain synthetic colorant, synthetic fragrances, mineral oil and petroleum that our skin is absorbing. Are we going to drop dead on the spot if we apply a specific product to our skin? Will we need to be rushed to ER? No. But even the most reputable and knowledgeable scientists do not yet know the long-term effects of those ingredients. The one thing we can be sure of is that they aren’t helping, so why risk the potential (and very likely) harm? 

 

“You are what you eat.”

We’ve heard that many times. It’s just as true that we are what we put on your skin. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and it absorbs 60-70% of what we put on it, which makes its way into our blood stream and then travels to tissues and other organs. If we think of skin care products as food for our skin, we would make very different choices in what we use. We’d follow the same rules as we do for a healthy diet.

 

“Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

It’s time to starting asking. We have been complicit in the beauty industry’s reticence in providing proper information about ingredients by not asking, nay, by not demanding to know just what we are putting on our skin.   

It appears that no one wants to know. Skin care products are largely unregulated. A company can claim that a product is "natural" and "all-natural" if only 10% of it is natural. The label can say “Made with organic . . .” if 70% of the product’s ingredients are certified organic. That leaves 30% of the formula open for a wide range of harmful chemicals. Unless a chemical has been scientifically proven to cause harm, it is classified as GRAS: generally recognized as safe. The GRAS classification is backed by the U.S. FDA. “Generally recognized” is not reassuring. What comes to mind is, “Damning with faint praise.” 

We need to educate ourselves to be able to “interpret” ingredient lists and product labels. Among the many harmful and most common ingredients are phthalates, lead, aluminum, sodium lauryl sulfate, BHA, boric acid, fragrance (or parfum) and parabens. These substances have been linked health problems that include allergies, headaches, asthma and respiratory issues. Some are known or suspected carcinogens. In addition to threatening our well being, they are also a threat to the environment and our planet’s natural eco-system.

Don’t worry that you’ll have to memorize all the sketchy ingredients. I can make it easy: If you don’t know what it is, if you can’t pronounce it, if you wouldn’t eat it, put it back on the shelf.

Also, don’t worry about the trouble and expense of replacing your whole beauty repertoire all at one time. “Slow and steady wins the race.” Replace the products one at a time. When you run out of, say, moisturizer, replace it with an organic one. And so on. Soon your skin care will be all green! You will be making a difference in your life, that of your family and your planet.

Keep in mind that women all over the world have been using organic resources for their skin care for centuries (if not millennia), and they tend to have the most beautiful skin.

We need to be more cautious consumers. Read the labels and patronize the companies that make safe and environment-friendly products. Send the other companies a much-needed message by not buying their products and see how fast they reevaluate their practices and policies. Once the harmful ingredients are no longer profitable, they will go green also!

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