Skin Care, Naturally
Skin Care Products: A Naturopathic Doctor’s Guide – Part One
by Rahim Habib, Naturopathic Doctor
In North America today, the skin care industry generates billions of dollars in revenue each year and that amount is rising each and every year. Consider the many toxic chemicals in the multitude of cosmetic products that flood the market today. Everyday, more and more research is surfacing, that links exposure to such chemicals with health problems including tumor formation, skin and neurological irritation, hormone disruption, as well as many skin disorders.
When I inquire on the health of a patient, I try to get a sense of their nutrition intake, their digestive and immune functions, how they relate with others and their mental-emotional state, and I also inquire on one of the most commonly missed causes of illness today, their toxic/chemical exposures.
When I ask what kinds of toxins they have been exposed to, most cannot think of anything. However, a significant area, and one of the most common factors of chemical exposure is in the skin and personal care products that they use.
- Did you know that newborn infants are exposed to an average of eight different skin care products which contain an average of 48 different environmental chemicals?
- Did you know that lipsticks often can contain lead, a neurotoxic heavy metal? This is the same toxic metal found in some toys from foreign exporters, in some faux (and very inexpensive) jewellery.
- Did you know that there are high amounts of aluminum found in anti-perspirants, and the liners of baby diapers?
Just ask Gill Deacon, who wrote “There’s Lead in my Lipstick – Toxins in Our Everyday Body Care and How to Avoid Them.” Over the years, the levels of these chemicals can build up in the body, and affect our hormonal, neurological and immune systems, and also displace our nutritional elements as well.
Whether it is sun screen, anti-perspirants, moisturizers, shampoos, perfumes, nail polish, and pharmaceutical skin care products, they all often contain toxins. You may think, “So what?” the skin is a barrier, and any toxic ingredients found in these skin care products will not enter the body or the blood stream. However, what you may not realize is that the skin is the body’s largest organ and whatever we put on the skin can go straight into our blood stream. In fact, skin absorption is exactly what certain topical medications are dependent on, such as smoking cessation skin nicotine patches, female hormone replacement therapy ointments, and various other potentially toxic preparations.
What I have learned over the years of being a Naturopathic Doctor is that whatever chemicals are in our environment, these chemicals inevitably enter our body. In essence, we are our environment, so it is up to us to create a clean, healthy environment while being mindful of whatever we put into that environment, because eventually it will also enter our bodies.
Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Skin Care Products & Healthy Options
The most widely used sun-screening chemical in most products is oxybenzone (also known as 4-MBC or benzophenone-3). However, it has properties similar to human estrogen, and so there is concern over its safety. It has also been shown to readily enter the blood stream, and even make some people sensitive to the sun itself. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are minerals which have sun-blocking properties. However, there is some concern over the newer formulas which incorporate ‘nano-sized’ mineral particles (to reduce the white residue that is left on the skin with the older mineral products), as they can promote free radical damage inside cells. It is important to note that sunscreens are only a part of how to protect against any potential damaging effects of sun exposure. Note that people who use sunscreens, despite having a lower tendency of developing squamous cell skin carcinoma, tend to have a greater risk of developing melanoma, a deadlier form of skin cancer, since people who use sunscreens stay out in the sun longer.
Other strategies are important to incorporate: wearing sunglasses, a hat, shirt, and staying in the shade as much as possible, using a sun umbrella, avoiding the most sun-intense times of the day, and using a more natural sunscreen.
Applying natural plant based oils to the skin, including avocado oil, sesame seed oil, and meadowfoam oil, can provide mild sun protection properties, as an alternative to commercial sunscreen products.
The basic makeup of a lotion includes a combination of water, oil, and emulsifiers, with added thickeners, preservatives, and fragrances. Common problem chemicals found in moisturizers include:
- Propylene glycol (a recognized neurotoxin which can cause contact dermatitis)
- Polyethylene glycol (PEG, also labeled as ‘ceteareth’, these are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen)
- Triethanolamine (TEA, a skin irritant, respiratory and immune system toxicant)
- DMDM Hydantoin & Quaternium-15 are preservatives that can release formaldehyde (carcinogenic). Parabens are also common preservatives in lotions, but they also mimic the effects of the hormone estrogen.
- Synthetic lotions and moisturizers (and sun-blocks) also contain ‘fragrances’ which contain many toxic ingredients including chemicals that can trigger asthma, and hormone-disrupting ‘phthalate’ compounds.
What can you do to protect your skin naturally? Look for moisturizers without these irritating chemicals. For instance, avocado oil is good for dry or aged skin, sesame oil is actually good for oily skin, and apricot seed oil is good for all skin types. Instead of irritating chemical fragrances, using plant-based essential oils gives a pleasant aroma, while providing their own beneficial actions – for example, the essential oil from Rose Geranium provides a beautiful aroma, and particularly helps against oily skin, and also promotes a positive mood.
Fundamentals of Healthy Skin
When we get unsightly skin pimples, redness, itchy, aging, inflamed skin, we usually go to the doctor or the local pharmacy for what to do. However, most conventional suggestions involve quick-fixes, which really are not a fix, more than they are temporary solutions.
Here are the basics to healthy skin:
- Eat Healthy Fats – especially the omega-3 essential fats found in flaxseed, walnuts, and cold water fish. These are diet-based ways of improving the moisture of your whole body, including your outer skin.
- Eat Foods High in Antioxidants – besides berries, there are spices such as turmeric, cloves, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Important nutrients for skin protection are vitamins A, C, E, and the mineral selenium. These are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. In 2010, the University of Alabama Department of Dermatology found that certain plant extracts have ultraviolet photo-protective effects for the skin including from green tea, grape seed, and milk thistle.
- Skin Brush – with a natural bristle brush, move the brush in circular movements, from the tips of your body, toward your heart. This will promote skin circulation and remove layers of dead skin cells.
- Healthy Moisturising – use natural oils, such as avocado, sweet almond, apricot seed, sesame seed, meadowfoam and Argan oils
- Regular Total Body Detoxification (done every change of season) – cleansing the body regularly is what South Asians have done for over 5000 years through Ayurvedic medical philosophy – so what are you waiting for? Cleansing can incorporate dietary change, using saunas and cleansing baths, herbal drinks and skin applications, homeopathic, colon hydrotherapy, and other techniques that promote the body to release the toxic residues we all have in our bodies.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my naturopathic doctor’s guide to skin care products. In Part 2 I will describe other issues with skin care products, and provide insights and options for aftershaves and shaving cream, antiperspirants, baby skin products, cosmetics, mosquito repellants, shampoos, perfumes, and nail polish & removers.