Written by Rachel Erwin, Registered Nutritionist
There is a growing awareness regarding what we put in our bodies but many of us still overlook the importance of what we put on our bodies. With poor regulation and misleading advertising, it can be hard to tell if ‘clean’ skincare is just a marketing ploy and how important it really is. Read on to learn about the top myths surrounding skincare.
Myth 1: If an ingredient was truly dangerous, it would be banned by the government
In a 2014 cosmetic ingredient review, it was reported that 89% of skincare ingredients have not been evaluated for safety. In some ways this is not surprising as skincare manufacturing companies don’t have to prove their ingredients are safe, they simply have to show there is no evidence to prove they are unsafe. This means there are thousands of ingredients used on a daily basis that are simply labelled as ‘likely safe’ while in reality we don’t really know what the long-term implications of using this product daily are, if it is safe for all including children and pregnant women, if it is safe in conjunction with other skincare products etc. Many people are uncomfortable being the guinea pigs for potentially dangerous ingredients and there are numerous activist groups lobbying for greater regulation within the skincare industry. However, for now it is up to us as the consumer to educate ourselves and protect ourselves against toxic or potentially toxic ingredients in our skincare.
Since 1938 only 8 of the 12,000 chemicals added to skincare have been banned. These banned substances include mercury, chloroform and certain cattle organs like cow intestine.
Myth 2: If it says ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ then I know it’s safe
For food there are strict regulations regarding what you can and cannot put on a label. Consumers are also familiar with logos indicating certified organic, certified gluten-free, non-GMO and other symbols of safety. However,for skincare there is very little regulation. For example, it may be labelled “organic” but only contain one organic ingredient. Plus, there may be no certification to really prove that the ingredient is organic while some companies have even gone so far as to use water as their key organic ingredient!
Other labels like“natural”, “clean”, “non-toxic” and “hypoallergenic”may sound nice but have no clear definition according to the FDA, and therefore can be interpreted at the will of the manufacturer (i.e. it’s pretty meaningless).
Always look for certified organic and natural labels including NATRUE (Germany), CosmeBio and EcoCert (Europe). It’s also good practice to start checking the ingredient list and eliminate products full of unpronounceable chemical ingredients.
In the 2008 OCA report, at least one toxic, cancer-linked chemical was found in over 40 percent of products labelled "natural.
Myth 3: Only a tiny amount is actually absorbed by the skin
As the largest organ in our body, our skin is highly permeable and allows for many substances to pass through. In fact, studies show our skin absorbs an average of 64% of what we put on it. For certain areas like underarms, absorption rates can go all the way to 100%!
Moreover, when our skin is exposed to warm water, like when showering, it can absorb a greater amount of what is on it. During or after washing is the time when most skincare products are applied, so in reality, absorption through the skin is likely much higher than 64%.
In the last decade there has been another factor driving skin absorption through the roof –penetration enhancers. These chemicals dilate the top level of the skin, which increases the space between skin cells, allowing more of your skincare product to penetrate into deeper levels. If your skincare is completely safe then this might not be such a problem but if the product contains penetration enhancers, it is likely full of other chemical additives that are harmful to our health.
Common skin penetration enhancers include alcohol, ethanol, glycols and surfactants like sodium stearate common in soaps.
Myth 4: Skincare ingredients can’t really cause much harm
In some ways what we put on our skin is more dangerous than what we put in our mouth as the skin has a more direct line to our bloodstream. Unlike the gut, with many mechanisms in place to extract the beneficial compounds in food and excrete the rest, the skin doesn’t differentiate and in only 26 seconds, whatever on the body is in the body.
Moderate adverse effects include skin irritation, allergic reactions, dryness, dizziness and headaches. However, several studies are suggesting much more sinister health implications from infertility to increased risk of cancers. These are primarily from animal studies, as it would be unethical to perform the same trials on humans, however they still report disconcerting evidence that may extend to humans. Just because many skincare companies find these levels of risk acceptable, it doesn’t mean you have to!
From skin irritation all the way to fertility problems, skincare has a large impact on our health. Although many ingredients may be only potentially dangerous, we know that regulations are extremely lenient allowing for untested ingredients to flood the market. Look for certified natural and organic products from brands that have a long-standing commitment to natural, safe, effective skincare.
U.S. researchers report that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors.
Asbestos has been banned for many years but it's still found in our cosmetics! The Mesothelioma Center, an advocacy group, has been raising awareness about asbestos in our cosmetics and explains that "because talc and asbestos are minerals found close together, when talc is mined it may contain traces of asbestos. Talcum powder is still an ingredient in a number of cosmetics brands. As recently as November 2020, a study found 14% of the talc-containing makeup tested also contained asbestos." Read more about asbestos contaminated talc in this link here.