Most of us are aware that nutrition and exercise are key to health and vitality. Much attention is paid to what we put ‘in’ our body. However, very little attention is paid to what we put ‘on’ our body. Our skin acts as a barrier to our environment, and we eliminate toxins through it. But it also has the potential to absorb whatever it comes into contact with; including some of the chemicals present in conventional cosmetic and body care products. Although, the degree and rate of absorption is influenced by many factors, including the physicochemical properties of a substance, and factors relating to the skin. Such as age (e.g. infant skin has a much higher rate of absorption than adults).
On average men use 6 topical products a day with approximately 84 artificial ingredients in. Women on the other hand use twice this amount, and can be exposed to over a168 different chemicals. Shampoo, body wash, facial cleanser, deodorant, moisturisers & lotions, lip-balm, makeup, hand soap, perfume and sunscreens during the summer months, are used or applied on a daily basis. We don’t tend to think of these products as being harmful. However, the majority of high street products contain a cocktail of chemicals (most with baffling names), that can penetrate skin, and accumulate in our bodies and other living systems. Many have been shown to enter the bloodstream and lymphatic system (and from there, can travel onto other organs). These toxins have been detected in blood samples, breast tissue, placenta, mothers milk and in urine samples.
A growing body of research has demonstrated that many of these chemicals can mimic and disrupt hormones (known as endocrine disruptors). Studies have linked exposure of endocrine disruptors to obesity, type 2 diabetes, developmental and reproductive toxicity and shown that they have carcinogenic effects, and promote the growth of cancer cells. In females, endocrine action can affect puberty, the menstrual cycle, fertility, and increase the risk of spontaneous abortion, endometriosis, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer.
Here we’ll take a closer look at a few ingredients in one product in particular, sunscreen (seeing as it’s supposedly summer ;) When used recreationally, sunscreens are applied to large areas of the body – repeatedly. They’re usually comprised of organic (chemical) and non-organic (physical) UV filters, and other widely used chemicals that act as preservatives, emulsifiers, anti-caking agents, and texturisers. The following are just a few examples. See if you can spot any of them in your sun cream or cosmetic products.
CHEMICAL UV FILTERS
OXYBENZONE belongs to the Benzophenone family. It is said to be a human and environmental contaminant. It does not biodegrade, and can bioaccumulate in humans and other biota; and has produced a variety of toxic reactions in coral and fish, ranging from reef bleaching to mortality. It is an irritant, and studies have linked it to cancer, organ system toxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption. One Danish study found that approximately 4% of an applied dose was absorbed into the systems of healthy children and adolescents and was detected in their urine samples. Benzophenones can be found in baby sunscreens, lip balm, nail polish, foundations, fragrance, shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, moisturisers, and foundation.
ALSO KNOWN AS: anything with the word benzophenone or benzone in (for example benzophenone-2 or BP2, oxybenzone, benzophenone-3 or BP3, sulisobenzone, sulisobenzone sodium.
OCTINOXATE (along with Oxybenzone) has been banned in Hawaii to protect coral reef. It has been shown to affect reproductive and neurological development in animal tests, and has been detected in human urine, blood and breast milk. Studies have also reported endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and organ system toxicity. It is also found in hair dye, shampoos, lipstick, nail polish, and skin creams also.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Octyl methoxycinnamate, OMC, parsol, parsol MCX, parsol MOX, escalol, 2-ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, 2-ethylhexyl 4-methoxy cinnamate.
OCTOCRYLENE belongs to the Cinnamate family. It is also harmful to coral reef, and has been shown to bioaccumulate in fish and interfere with developmental processes in the brain and liver, as well as metabolic processes in the liver.
AVOBENZONE may not be as toxic as other UV protectors. However, it is unstable and degrades in sunlight which leads to loss of protective effect. Therefore, other more harmful chemicals (Including the previously mentioned) are generally added to stabilise its effect.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Parsol 1789 or butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane.
4-MBC exhibits a toxic activity as an estrogenic endocrine disruptor.
ALSO KNOWN AS: 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, Parsol 5000 and Eusolex 6300.
OTHER COMMON INGREDIENTS
PARABENS AND TRICLOSAN are widely used preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast in products. Triclosan is highly toxic to algae and exerts reproductive and developmental effects in some fish. It is also a potential endocrine disruptor.
Parabens can easily penetrate human skin, and are found in many children's products. They are an endocrine disruptors (found to mimic estrogen). Studies also indicate that sun exposure of parabens (methylparaben) applied on the skin may react with UVB leading to increased skin aging, skin cancer and DNA damage. They are ubiquitous and found in a wide array of make-up and body care products (and are also used in some food and pharmaceutical products)..
ALSO KNOWNS AS: Methylparaben, Propylparaben, IIsoparaben, Butylparaben. Ethylparaben, Butylparaben isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, other ingredients ending in –paraben.
PETROCHEMICALS AND SOLVENTS can extend the shelf life of products. Propylene glycol, a solvent derived from petrochemicals; is probably one of the most widely used ingredients in skincare products, as it enhances skin absorption. Good news when the goal is antioxidant permeation into the skin; however, it does not discriminate, so when used with potentially toxic chemicals the likelihood of dermal absorption increases. Numerous studies have been published on Propylene glycol toxicity in adults. It is known to cause skin allergies and is potentially toxic to the liver and kidneys. However, toxicity in vulnerable populations such as infants is of particular concern.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin, and solvents toluene and propylene glycol 1,2 propanediol (derived from petrochemicals). There are literally 100’s of petrochemicals to look out for including propylene, ethylene, butadiene, benzene or xylene. This site has a great list to refer to.
FRAGRANCE mixtures can be comprised of hundreds of individual chemicals, and they don't have to be listed on the label (pure essential oils are the only natural smelly stuff ;). In addition to “scent” chemicals, perfumes and colognes also contain solvents, stabilisers, UV-absorbers, preservatives, and dyes.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Fragrance, perfume, parfum, essential oil blend, and aroma.
PHTHALATES Butylphenyl methylpropional and phthalates are two common ingredients in fragrances. Both are endocrine disruptors. Phthalates are a family of industrial chemicals used to soften plastic and as solvents in cosmetics and other consumer products. Studies have reported damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive systems — particularly the developing testes (according to animal studies). They are a known endocrine disruptor and should be avoided by pregnant women.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Dibutylphthalate, DEP, DBP, also butyl ester and DEHP and Fragrance (see above).
NANO-PARTICLES such as metal oxides; zinc oxide & titanium dioxide, scatter and reflect UV rays. They are usually a sa