Earlier this year, the Roots Whole Health monthly challenge was to detox your cleaning supplies, as a way to reduce your indoor toxic exposure. But what else is your body exposed to on a day to day basis that could be harmful to your health? Something that is more up close and personal than the cleaning products that we use? The many cosmetics/personal care products that we are putting directly on our bodies every day. And with the average adult using about 9 personal care products a day, that’s a lot of chemicals going directly onto our skin on a daily basis.
Our skin is not an impermeable barrier. Many of the chemicals we put on our skin are absorbed into our bodies and can have a whole host of health effects.
This month I challenge you to detox your cosmetics. Our monthly challenges are about making small, manageable changes to support our health and wellbeing. Choosing safer, non-toxic cosmetics can have huge impacts in your long term health. So, let’s dive in.
So what exactly is in our cosmetics that is so bad for our health? Where do I start?! The list is LONG, and because we don’t have safety data on a lot of the chemicals in our cosmetics, we still don’t have a complete picture. However, we do know that there are some commonly used ingredients that have harmful effects on our health and the environment. Below are a few of the biggest culprits and their health effects:
Aluminum: Found in antiperspirants, this metal has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been found in breast cancer tumors, a disproportionately high incidence of which are found in the upper outer quadrant of the breast (the location where antiperspirant is applied).
Coal Tar Dye/Ingredients (Often listed as CI+5 digit number): Found in hair dyes and shampoo. Coal tar is a known carcinogen, and many of the coal tar derived chemicals found in cosmetics have been banned in Europe, due to health and safety concerns.
Formaldehyde: Found in hair treatments, including the Brazilian Blowout, and some nail polishes. It’s a known human carcinogen, and can also harm the nervous system and irritate the respiratory tract.
Fragrance/Parfum: This is a tricky one! Why? Because it could mean so many things! Companies are not required to list the chemical soup that comprises their “trade secret” fragrances, so can simply lump together and hide a bunch of chemicals under the label of “fragrance” or '“parfum”. Many fragrances have been found to contain allergens or endocrine disrupting chemicals, so it’s best to avoid anything with the ambiguous “fragrance” or “parfum” ingredient listed.
Parabens: Added to various cosmetics as a preservative and fragrance. You’ll know a chemical is a paraben if it ends with “-paraben,” ex. isobutylparaben. Parabens are endocrine disruptors: they interfere with normal estrogen function in the body, and can cause reproductive disorders and developmental disorders in children. They have also been linked to cancer and many of them have been banned in Europe.
Phthalates: These chemicals are often masked on the ingredients list under the ambiguous label of "fragrance". They are known endocrine disruptors, which means that they interfere with human hormones, and can damage male reproductive function. They are also toxic to the lungs, nervous system, immune system, liver and kidneys. Phthalates are often found in nail polish, perfume and cologne, as well as hair gels, deodorants and lotions.
Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS): Found in body wash, toothpaste and bubble baths, is linked to acne and perioral dermatitis. It can also cause eye irritation and is toxic to aquatic environments.
Tricolosan: Antimicrobial agent added to soaps, which studies show may interfere with normal immune and reproductive function. On a more global scale, tricolosan overuse may contribute to bacterial resistance, and it is toxic to aquatic environments.
DETOXING YOUR COSMETICS
It can be overwhelming to have to figure out the safety of your cosmetics yourself. And to complicate matters further, just because something says it is "natural" or “herbal” on the label, does not mean it is non-toxic or safe! For example, the popular Herbal Essences shampoo contains a whole host of harmful chemicals. That said, the good news for you is that the Environmental Working Group has a fantastic resource for assessing the toxicity of your cosmetics, called Skin Deep: Cosmetics Database. It provides a safety rating for over 70,000 commonly used cosmetics. Over 1300 of these are “EWG verified,” which means that they meet the EWG’s highest standards for health and safety. I would recommend using this valuable resource to assess how safe your current cosmetics are and, if they are not rated as safe, to use the resource to find alternatives that are better for the health of you and your family. Another helpful resource you can use to directly scan cosmetics to how “clean” they are is the Think Dirty app, which was created to help the public make healthier choices when choosing cosmetics.
If you’re the crafty, DIY-type, another option would be to make your own non-toxic personal care products/cosmetics! There are so many recipes for non-toxic cosmetics available in books and on the internet now, that you can really get creative with what you make. If you do want to make your own natural body care products, you’ll find that you slowly build up a non-toxic cosmetics “toolkit” over time, with simple ingredients such as honey, apple cider vinegar, Castile soap, clay, cocoa butter, carrier oils (ex sweet almond, jojoba, argan), beeswax, essential oils, etc. But remember, you don’t need to get super fancy to treat your body to non-toxic beauty products. For example, using plain ol’ organic coconut oil is a great option to use as a body moisturizer, or even to condition the ends of your hair.
If you discover non-toxic products you love, or DIY recipes you enjoy, please feel free to share on the blog! <3
Dr. Khaira, ND