From the incense-scented corners of new age herbal shops to the bright fluorescents of conventional grocery shelves, natural body care has transitioned into the mainstream of American beauty culture. No act symbolizes this more aptly than the acquisitions by major beauty care companies of natural skin care products and brands. Last year, AVON purchased Liz Earle’s naturally active skin care (Lenas) product line, a UK-renowned beauty and skin care brand. In 2007, Estée Lauder Companies Inc. agreed to acquire the Ojon Corporation, a privately held company in Canada that markets naturally-derived shampoos, conditioners, styling products and treatments. The Clorox Company acquired natural cosmetics innovator Burt’s Bees for nearly $1 billion. According to Spins, a national research group, natural products sold through food, drug and mass merchandiser stores account for over $13 billion dollars in retail sales and have been among the fastest growing categories. So what exactly is natural body care and why is it gaining in popularity?
for Every Body
By George Christian
Consider for a moment that the skin is the largest organ of the human body and the body’s first line of defense. The CDC notes that chemicals are in fact absorbed by the skin, and studies from The Herb Research Foundation show that your skin absorbs up to 60 percent of what is applied to it and chemicals it comes in contact with. The absorption level can vary depending on what area of the skin is exposed and the ingredient that it is placed in contact with the skin. Proponents of natural body care products point to nicotine skin patches, antidepressant skin patches and even birth control skin patches as proof that the skin does freely absorb ingredients.
Unlike food that is processed through the liver for purification, chemicals absorbed through the skin remain unprocessed, stored in fatty tissues under the skin and in organs throughout the body. Some chemicals absorbed through the skin can directly enter the bloodstream. According to Environmental Working Group (EWG) research, many personal care products contain carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, and surfactants. An EWG survey found that “one of every 13 women and one of every 23 men are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable human carcinogens every day through their use of personal care products. “
Those who support more regulation by the FDA and other organizations, cite the following as the some of the most unwanted ingredients for personal care and beauty products. Controversial claims about these ingredients have been reported, but there is only inconclusive evidence as to whether or not they should be banned from skin and beauty products. Based on the amount, how it interacts with other chemicals and its use, these ingredients may still be safe, but there is concern nonetheless.
• Isopropyl Alcohol is found in hair color rinses, body rubs, hand lotions, aftershave lotions, fragrances and many other cosmetics. This petroleum-derived substance is also used in antifreeze and as a solvent in shellac.
• Baby oil is 100% mineral oil which is also used in plastic wrap. It coats the skin like plastic and prevents the skin from ridding toxins which can cause acne and other disorders.
• Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) is used in making cleansers to dissolve oil and grease as well as to thicken products. PEG’s are found in many personal care products. They contribute to stripping the Natural Moisture Factor, leaving the immune system vulnerable.
• Propylene Glycol (PG), as a “surfactant” or wetting agent and solvent, is actually the active component in antifreeze. It is also found in most forms of make-up, hair products, lotions, after-shave, deodorants, mouthwashes and toothpaste.
• Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are used as detergents and surfactants with closely related compounds found in car wash soaps, garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers. Both SLS and SLES are used widely as one of the major ingredients in cosmetics, toothpaste, hair conditioner and about 90% of all shampoos and products that foam.
• DEA (diethanolamine) MEA (momoethanolamine) TEA (triethanolamine) are commonly found in most personal care products that foam, including bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps and facial cleansers. These are hormone disrupting chemicals which are known to form cancer causing nitrates and nitrosamines.
• FD & C Color Pigments can cause skin sensitivity and irritation.
• Fragrance is present in most deodorants, shampoos, sunscreens, skin care, body care and baby products. The National Academy of Sciences reports that 95% of the chemicals used in fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including known toxins capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions.
• Imidazolidinyl Urea and DMDM Hydantoin are two of the many preservatives that release formaldehyde (formaldehyde- donors). Formaldehyde and formaldehyde- releasing preservatives are used in many personal care products. These chemicals help prevent bacteria from growing in water-based products, but can be absorbed through the skin and have been linked to both skin sensitivity and cancer.
The view that these products are completely unsafe is not supported by the FDA or the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC). The Personal Care Products Council is the leading national trade association representing the global cosmetic and personal care products industry. In conjunction with the FDA, and as a general summary, their research shows that most of the body care ingredients identified by groups as being harmful to your health are in fact safe to use given extensive research and subsequent regulations established by the FDA in conjunction with the Personal Care Products Council. For more information on research that has been conducted and detailed and summaries specific to ingredients used in beauty care products, go to the Personal Care Products Council website www.personalcarecouncil.org.
What is startling to groups not in agreement with the FDA or the PCPC, is that the United States does not mandate full exposure of ingredients. “Transient” ingredients, those that are not technically added by the manufacturer but are contained within the individual ingredients themselves, are not required to be listed on body care product labels. In other words, there could be potentially harmful chemicals in your night cream that you’ll never even know about.
But don’t feel blue about that perfect loose powder that covers your age spots and fills your crow’s feet. Fortunately, there are options for you to look and feel great.
Before you use beauty care products, know your companies and stick with brands that you trust to provide full disclosure of ingredients. Also, use a resource guide to check labels, such as A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter, which outlines safe and unsafe body care ingredients.