Our skin absorbs almost anything we put on it. Then, our bodies circulate these substances through the bloodstream to reach all organs and glands. It follows that we shouldn’t put anything on our bodies that we couldn’t safely eat.
However, it can be difficult to spot potentially hazardous elements on the ingredient labels of our personal care products. In fact, some toxic chemicals may even be missing from the list.
For example, traces of lead show up in 61% of lipsticks even though it isn’t listed on the tubes. That’s because it’s considered just a contaminant, but it’s left in there despite lead’s connection to behavioral and learning disabilities.
In addition, this heavy metal is a neurotoxin that can lower IQ and cause various neurological disorders. Lip glosses and hair dyes sometimes contain lead too, so research these companies extensively to scout out a safe product. Watch out for ambiguous words that could be catch-alls for a slew of nasty toxins.
The term, fragrance, is one of these misleading words and quite often translates to a mix of mystery chemicals that can cause allergies, asthma and hormonal disruption. Linked to infertility and reproductive problems, 95% of these synthetic compounds originate from petroleum and coal, and are associated with cancer, birth defects and damage to the nervous system. To stay healthy, choose products made with essential oils or ones with no fragrance.
BHA and BHT
Diaper creams, moisturizers and other skin care products often contain either BHA or BHT. Both are suspected carcinogens that disrupt hormones and cause liver damage. Presently, the European Union only prohibits BHA as an ingredient in fragrances, but with the efficacy of transdermal vitamin and drug delivery, questions arise about their safety. And as the EPA considers the two harmful to wildlife, why would we choose to use them on our bodies?
Often listed on labels as dibutyl phthalate, DBP, DEP or butyl ester, phthalates help creams and lotions to absorb more quickly. Also, they assist deodorants and hair sprays to stay put. Unfortunately, phthalates are endocrine disruptors and can affect genital development in male fetuses. In fact, these chemicals are so dangerous that several types are prohibited in children’s products. Look for these in fragrances, nail polishes and conditioners too.
Another standard ingredient in most lotions and creams are parabens, yet another hormone disrupter that can spark early puberty and growth problems in children. Specifically, parabens like methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben mimic estrogen, so all genders should give these a wide berth. Furthermore, they have a relationship to breast cancer and low sperm count. Select paraben-free products and scour those labels for other hidden enemies.
To protect you and your family, continue research to compile a comprehensive list of harmful ingredients, so when you read labels you’ll be able to spot the offenders. If deciphering all that fine print gives you a headache, ferret out companies that provide safe skin and personal care products. Also, homemade versions might be a little fussy and require refrigeration, but they’re often cheaper and almost always healthier.