I’m excited to dig in to the skincare conversation with you for the next few weeks!
I’ve deemed May “skincare month” around here, and I’ll be talking all month long about some of the key issues we need to be aware of, dispelling some myths, and sharing some of my favorite products (and people!)
I’ll also be fielding questions that have come in… if you have a skincare related question, ping me an email and I’ll see if I can answer it in subsequent posts.
Because our skin is our largest organ, and is also one of our 6 organs of detoxification, which helps to usher out some of the toxins that end up inside us.
And because sooooo many of the chemicals that are used in products intended for the skin (think: lotions, shower products, make up, etc.) are made with chemicals that can negatively affect our health.
So let’s go – this is a long one!
Today I want to pull apart one of the biggest myths I see perpetuated online just about every single day, including by some people in the health & wellness world that I respect.
While you might think this myth is related to conventional, chemical laden skin care products, it’s not. (There are certainly other myths they spread!)
Instead, this is a myth that people in our community are guilty of spreading – those of us who are trying to engage with our clients, patients, customers, friends, and family around decreasing toxic chemicals in our lives.
This makes it that much worse, and that much more important to address, which I’ll explain in a moment.
Have you ever seen this image, or ones like it on blogs, articles, and Facebook posts?
I’ve literally seen it everywhere, including in conference presentations by amazingly smart people!
So what gives?
How is THIS a myth?
Our skin can absorb chemicals, this is definitely true. We know this because certain pharmaceuticals are delivered transdermally (birth control patch, nicotine patch, etc.), and because chemicals used in skincare products routinely show up inside our bodies. Things like phthalates & parabens to name a few.
But it’s not true ALL the time!
There are plenty of chemicals used in personal care products that are not absorbed into the body – at all.
Think about the zinc oxide used in physical barrier sunscreens: it’s job is to stay on the surface of your skin and act as a barrier to the sun. If it was absorbed into the body, it literally wouldn’t work.
Additionally, while there may be some chemicals that can enter the bloodstream within 26 seconds, it’s not accurate to say that ALL chemicals to do this.
There are sooooo many variables that determine whether a topically applied product can in fact enter the bloodstream: molecule size, whether the product contains penetration enhancer ingredients, the skin’s integrity, hydration, relative humidity to name a few.
Given all those variables we just cannot make a blanket statement about how quickly chemicals can enter the skin.
While I understand the true intention of images like this (it’s good!) and it’s use as a kickstart into a bigger conversation about ingredient safety, making inaccurate statements like this does more harm than good.
It contributes to the rumor mill, spreads fear, and takes a sensational approach to the conversation. A conversation that a lot of people already view as fringe, or sensational – i.e., it doesn’t help!
My point in sharing this and starting our month long dive into the skin conversation is this:
I want us to be speaking from a place of fact. From a place of accuracy.
The 26 seconds image isn’t hyperbole, because hyperbole is not meant to be taken literally… yet this statement is intended to be taken literally.
It’s just not accurate.
If we want people to take us seriously (and we do), then accuracy matters.
Notice how all the blogs, articles, and images never cite their source for this stat? Literally none of them. It’s one of those “studies say…” bits, with no reference to the actual study.
This is what I call “internet true.”
It’s not actually true in real life, but it’s true on the internet.
Seeing this image online makes me react like this:
So here’s the bottom line:
- Our skin DOES absorb chemicals
- Our skin does NOT absorb ALL chemicals
- There are too many variables that determine whether and how fast a chemical CAN enter the skin
- It’s important to share accurate information
And…. and... we still need to be diligent about our skincare ingredients, regardless of how long they take to get inside us!
(If you’ve shared this image yourself, considering this a loving reminder to fact check before posting something!)
So, what kinds of chemicals are showing up inside of our bodies that are used inside skincare products?
Let’s briefly look at some of the key words to be on the lookout for on ingredient labels!
I’ll circle back to some of these later this month, but for now:
- “Fragrance “. If you see this ingredient, move on. “Fragrance/Perfume/Parfum” are catch-all terms that can include upwards of 300 different chemicals. The specific formulation of a products signature scent is protected as a trade secret and manufacturers are not required to disclose ingredients.Commonly found inside this mixture are phthalates, a class of chemicals that fix and hold both color and scent. They are what help the fragrance in the product stick to your skin, and last a long time.According to the CDC, “phthalate exposure is widespread in the US population”; 98% of people tested had metabolites in their urine. They also found that women have higher levels of urinary metabolites due to their use in personal care products.Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body, and are linked to everything from allergies to autism, and obesity to thyroid disorders.In other words: STAY AWAY. This ingredient is easy to spot, so look for “fragrance” and if it’s there, don’t buy it!
- Parabens.  Parabens are a class of chemicals (meaning, there’s more than one kind) that are used as preservatives in personal care products. They’re used to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria, which is important, but like phthalates, they’re endocrine disruptors.And like phthalates, they’re ubiquitous: CDC has measured these chemicals in 99% of people tested! And again, adolescent and adult women had significantly higher levels than men. They point to women’s use of personal care products as the reason why we are more exposed than men.Parabens have similar health effects to phthalates, and should be avoided for all the same reasons.Product preservation is important – something we’ll be talking about later this month, but there are less toxic ways to do it!Parabens will be clearly listed on ingredient labels… there are a number of different types, so if you spy anything ending in -paraben, move on!
- Polyethylene glycol or PEG’s. Remember how I said some products contain chemicals that can increase skin penetration, thereby increasing the amount of chemicals that can enter your bloodstream? PEG’s are penetration enhancers, and should be avoided.PEG’s are often contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a possible carcinogen.
Here’s the good news though! By avoiding products with these chemicals, you can drop the levels of them from your body almost immediately!
The HERMOSA (Health and Environmental Research on Makeup of Salinas Adolescents) study published in 2016 found that teen girls were able to drop the levels of phthalates and parabens significantly after only THREE DAYS of avoiding personal care products that contained them!
Over the rest of this month, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite products that are free of these nasties, so that we too can drop our levels!
I know this is a longer than usual email, but I have so much to say about skin care!
Let me know what you learned, or what action you’re planning on taking, and be sure to email me back if you have other specific questions about skin care products!
“Factsheet: Phthalates.” CDC: National Biomonitoring Program. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Dec. 2016. Web. May 2017.
Zota, Ami R., Antonia M. Calafat, and Tracey J. Woodruff. “Temporal trends in phthalate exposures: findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001-2010.” Environmental health perspectives 122.3 (2014).
Dodson, Robin E., et al. “Endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals in consumer products.” Environmental health perspectives 120.7 (2012): 935.
Miodovnik, Amir, et al. “Endocrine disruptors and childhood social impairment.” Neurotoxicology 32.2 (2011): 261-267.
Holtcamp, Wendee. “Obesogens: an environmental link to obesity.” Environmental health perspectives 120.2 (2012): A63.
Boas, Malene, Ulla Feldt-Rasmussen, and Katharina M. Main. “Thyroid effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals.” Molecular and cellular endocrinology 355.2 (2012): 240-248.
Calafat, Antonia M., et al. “Urinary concentrations of four parabens in the US population: NHANES 2005-2006.” Environmental health perspectives 118.5 (2010): 679.
Harley, Kim G., et al. “Reducing phthalate, paraben, and phenol exposure from personal care products in adolescent girls: findings from the HERMOSA Intervention Study.” Environmental Health Perspectives (Online) 124.10 (2016): 1600.