Skin Care Products, Cosmetics, and Your Health


If you’ve been with The Sisterhood for a while, you know that we’re pretty big sticklers on what we put in our bodies – in moderation, of course. Hellooooooo weekend wine (or delicious treat of your choice). But what about what we put on the outside of our bodies?

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), women use upward of 15 skin care products or more per day on their skin. Lotion, hand soap, shampoo, wrinkle-rid-magic cream, makeup primer, sunscreen, deodorant, etc. 

So what? Well, if you’ve got a bottle of lotion close, or lip balm, grab it and read the ingredients. Look like a foreign language? I thought so. Personal skin care products are manufactured with 10,500 unique chemical ingredients, some of which can be related to carcinogens, formaldehyde, and other preservatives that can be broken down into ‘toxins,’ or may have potential harmful long-term effects (EWG). (Parabens and paraben-free have been tossed around in the personal care industry for a while, for example. Check the side panel to learn more about this preservative.) This happens because none of these products have to be tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before they hit the shelves: “FDA does not have the legal authority to approve cosmetic products and ingredients (other than color additives) before they go on the market. We also do not have a list of tests required for any particular cosmetic product or ingredient.”

The good news: Our skin is pretty damn tough. The skin is composed of the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis layers. These layers are made up of cellular barriers and complex structures that make it very difficult for chemicals to actually hit our bloodstream. Cosmetic producers also have a goal of keeping these chemicals on the surface of your skin – once it is absorbed into the body/blood stream, it effectively becomes a drug, which is another ball of wax. That doesn’t mean, however, that these chemicals will never absorb to that level – the higher exposure and potency of the chemical, the more likely it will be absorbed. Even with all the protections that our skin provides, some may undoubtedly make their way into your bloodstream (and even then the body has defense mechanisms of its own).

The bad news: Although our skin acts as a shield for the majority of the products we put on it, we’re often left in the dark of what exactly we’re slathering all over our skin every single day. Labeling guidelines for the cosmetic industry are unregulated by any outside agency. Products that are ‘hypoallergenic,’ ‘natural,’ and ‘animal cruelty free,’ are claims that don’t require further scrutiny. While many of the companies self-regulate, these labels may persuade consumers that they are making a better choice for their skin over another product. According to the FDA, consumers concerned about allergic reactions from cosmetics should understand one basic fact: there is no such thing as a “nonallergenic” cosmetic–FDA knows of no scientific studies which show that “hypoallergenic” cosmetics or products making similar claims actually cause fewer adverse reactions than competing conventional products. In contrast, products that have ‘organic’ claims must comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic certification regulations.

The reality: It would be really really really really really hard and time-consuming to research and eliminate all potential harmful chemicals from personal skin care products from your household. The most effective step is to start with inquiring. There are lists of ingredients to avoid out there – a quick Google search popped up several articles – and the EWG even has a rating system called SkinDeep that will give you a rating from 0-10 of product concern and why based on chemical components (0 being low concern, 10 being highest concern).

The best approach would be to make all of your own skin care products – but who has time for that?! I have made scrubs and lotions, but the only skin care product I consistently make is lip balm.

This subject area can be tricky with a ton of conflicting information, studies, and strong opinions. In researching for this article, I’ve read that we absorb anywhere from 20% to 70% of what we put on our skin (but what does absorb mean? Does it mean bloodstream?). I am zero expert on this subject, but the way I see it is, the more natural food I eat, the better I feel. So why can’t that apply to skin care products, as well?

While I personally try to use organic and plant-based products as much as I can, I’m not perfect (the big company curl shaping spray gel I use has a rating of 6 from the EWG system – I just looked). I encourage you to do your own research and do what works best for you and your skin!

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