Skin is our largest organ, and as an adult, we carry about 8 pounds or 22 square feet of it. Our skin is extraordinary, it acts as a shield, guarding our body from extreme temperatures and damaging sunlight. It’s also a giant sensor, our skin is packed with nerves that help us make sense of the outside world. Beyond all of that, our skin allows us to move freely and in a variety of ways. Clearly, we owe a lot to our skin. Most of us have heard of the metaphor, our skin is like a sponge, well, truer words have never been spoken.
Our skin is constantly absorbing everything from beneficial vitamin D to harmful parabens in our cosmetics. If you are at all like me, this has been a difficult lesson. For years, I have been cautious and thoughtful about what I put inside my body, never giving too much thought to what I put on it. I was distracted by mascara claiming to make my eyelashes look fuller or foundation that would give me a perfect complexion. Little did I know, these products were doing the exact opposite. My sophomore year of college I took a course called ‘Toxic Bodies’. What I learned in this course shocked me, shocked me and then infuriated me. The cosmetics industry is highly unregulated. Besides color additives and a few prohibited substances, cosmetic companies are free to use any ingredient without government review. If you think Maybelline and Covergirl are looking out for you, think again.
There are a number of toxic and harmful ingredients commonly used in cosmetic products. Commonly. Not here or there, not ‘this one time this one company used this horrible ingredient’…cosmetic companies(and when I say cosmetic I mean all personal care products for all genders) are using these ingredients over and over again. It took me a while to realize this, but I truly believe that what we put on our body is just as important as what we put in our body. Luckily, once you understand this, the switch to natural, pure products is easy…easy and cheap. There are many individuals and companies creating pure products that are marvelous for our bodies and the earth. There are also many ways to make products for yourself. I will get there, but first it is important to know what ingredients to avoid, at all costs.
- Parabens: widely used as a preservative to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. Parabens mimic estrogen and are known to disrupt hormone function, which is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. Parabens can be found in makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaving products, among others.
- Fragrance: Fragrance formulas are complex mixtures of natural and synthetic chemical ingredients. Under U.S. regulations, individual fragrance ingredients do not have to be listed. These combinations can be listed simply as ‘fragrance’. This is due to the fact that these combinations of chemicals are referred to as ‘trade secrets’, and companies cannot be forced to tell their ‘trade secrets’. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and possible effects on the reproductive system. ‘Fragrance’ is found in many products such as perfume, cologne, shampoo, conditioner, body wash and moisturizers.
- Phthalates: A group of chemicals, such as dibutyl phthalate, found in hundreds of products to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. Phthalates are linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and organ toxicity. Phthalates are found in deodorants, perfumes/colognes, hair sprays and moisturizers. Unfortunately, many phthalates are hidden under the term ‘fragrance’, so are difficult to detect. Phthalates are banned in cosmetics sold in the European Union.
These are just a few of the most common toxic ingredients. Others include: triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate/sodium laureth sulfate, formaldehyde, propylene glycol, and sunscreen chemicals like benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate and ethoxycinnmate.
Avoiding these ingredients is imperative. You can do so by purchasing products from trusted companies and reading ingredient labels or by making your own products. You can make just about everything, from staples such as toothpaste to hair products and facial products. The internet is a great source for these types of recipes and I would definitely encourage everyone to give it a try. To start you off, here are instructions on two of my favorite homemade personal care products.
This toothpaste is amazing. Seriously, it is so simple, so cheap and my teeth have never felt whiter or cleaner. Here’s what you need.
3 tablespoons organic, unrefined coconut oil
2.5 tablespoons baking soda
25-30 drops food grade peppermint oil
Mix it all up and store it in a jar.
2. Face Cleanser
This one is easy, no mixing required. I use organic jojoba oil to cleanse my face. That’s right, oil.
The website dedicated to this method explains: “The basic concept of this skin care and cleansing method is that the oil used to massage your skin will dissolve the oil that has hardened with impurities and found itself stuck in your pores. The steam will open your pores, allowing the oil to be easily removed. Should you need it, the smallest drop of the same oil formula patted over damp skin will provide the necessary lubrication to keep your skin from over-compensating in oil production.”
First, you will need a washcloth. I like to let the washcloth heat up under running hot water then place the cloth over my face to open up my pores. When my face is nice and steamy, I rub a dime sized amount of jojoba oil all over my face. Then, I use the same washcloth to wipe off all of the excess oil. If by chance I’m wearing makeup, I’ll go through this process twice. The oil does a great job at removing makeup, you don’t need anything else. If I’m feeling like I need some extra moisture, I’ll use a tiny bit of the jojoba oil. Voilà, so simple.
Switching to all-natural personal care products has been amazing for my skin and wallet. To read more about alternative skin care visit my post on making homemade salves!
Nicole Mougin grew up in the Midwest and went to school at Dominican University of California where she studied Humanities and Cultural Studies with an emphasis in Environment and Sustainability. She now lives in San Francisco and is an environmental activist and artist. In her spare time find her running and biking up hills, exploring the bay area, cooking, drinking craft beer and writing at Where The Wild Grows.