Chemical ingredients to avoid.
Unfortunately, it has become common practice to slather the skin with all sorts of products either to protect it from the elements or to try and rejuvenate it. What many people do not realise is that some of these products contain chemical substances that can actually cause harm and damage the delicate cells of the skin.
ABSORBED IN BLOODSTREAM
In his 24th May 2008 newsletter, Dr.Joseph Mercola, claims that putting chemicals on your skin or scalp may actually be worse than eating them! He explains, “When you eat something, the enzymes in your saliva and stomach help to break it down and flush it out of your body. However, when you put these chemicals on your skin, they are absorbed straight into your bloodstream without filtering of any kind, going directly to your delicate organs. Your scalp has a very rich blood supply that is more than capable of transporting the toxins in hair dyes, for instance, throughout your entire body. Once these chemicals find their way into your body, they tend to accumulate over time because you typically lack the necessary enzymes to break them down”. Regarding daily skin care, a good rule is not to use anything that you wouldn’t eat.
Skin preparations, vitamin-containing oils, Epsom salts baths and other traditional topical skin treatments work by providing nutrients via the skin rather than through the digestive tract, but similarly many substances that are toxic can also penetrate the skin. There are literally thousands of chemicals used in personal care products for both men and women, and many of the same poisons that pollute the environment are also lurking in the jars and bottles that line the typical bathroom shelf.
The fact that substances can be absorbed so readily through the skin is good reason to avoid topical treatments containing hormones or steroids. These can make their way into the blood stream and cause serious side effects. Many skin preparations contain hydrating substances that increase the absorption of healing or fortifying compounds, but that can also apply to toxic ingredients.
INDUSTRIAL CLEANERS ON YOUR SKIN?
Take for example, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) and ammonium laurel sulphate (ALS). These are detergents and emulsifiers used in thousands of cosmetic products; the same ones that are used in industrial cleaners to remove grease. SLS is present in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair colour and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundations, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents and bath oils/bath salts.
Dr. Mercola warns “ Although SLS originates from coconuts, the chemical is anything but natural. The real problem with SLES/SLS is that the manufacturing process (ethoxylation) results in SLES/SLS being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic by-product of ethylene oxide. On the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) site, it is described as "probably carcinogenic to humans," toxic to the brain and central nervous system, kidneys and liver. It is also a leading groundwater contaminant”.
A study appearing in Exogenous Dermatology confirmed SLS to be a very "corrosive irritant" to the skin, irritation which persisted in research subjects for 3 weeks. SLS exerts its damage by stripping your skin of protective oils and moisture.
It is not just the repeated exposure to one chemical that is of concern, it's the combined, cumulative effect of thousands of small chemical exposures day after day that is worrying. The long term effects are not known.
Looking at the list of ingredients (with a magnifying glass) on a well known brand of moisturiser, I counted no less than 43 items, many of which were chemicals with names that were virtually unpronounceable. The aloe and cucumber advertised on the bottle came 9th and 20th respectively on the list. Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order by volume, meaning the first few ingredients are the most prominent. That indicated to me there was not a great deal of aloe and cucumber in the lotion.
Sally Fallon Morell, President and co-founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation describes the skin as the largest organ system in the human body, accounting for 16 percent of total body weight and covering sixteen to twenty-two square feet of surface area. The skin serves to waterproof, cushion and protect the deeper tissues, excrete wastes and regulate temperature. In humans, the skin additionally provides vitamin D synthesis and is also the attachment site for sensory receptors to detect pain, sensation, pressure and temperature.
FUNCTIONS OF SKIN
The skin is made up of several layers. The epidermis, or top layer of skin, provides waterproof protection for the body. It is actually translucent, containing no blood vessels.
Most of the cells in the epidermis are keratinocytes or horn cells, so called because they produce keratin, a fibrous protein that provides waterproofing. The horn cells are formed at the base of the epidermis and gradually migrate to the surface, where they are sloughed off as skin dander. During this journey the shape of the cells changes from rounded to flattened. The skin produces about 10 grams (2 teaspoons) of dander per day. The fine flakes of skin make up a large proportion of house dust that is eaten by dust mites. The formation, growth and sloughing off of the horn cells takes place in twenty-eight days—one moon cycle.
The dermis, the middle layer of skin, is composed of loose connective tissues that give elasticity to the skin, allowing it to stretch and be flexible, while also resisting distortions, wrinkling and sagging.
Sweat glands and hair follicles (roots) with their associated sebaceous glands originate in the dermis. The skin contains about 300,000 sebaceous glands, which together release up to three grams of sebum, an oily, waxy substance, per day. The sebum plus sloughed off horn cells create a protective coating on the skin. In all, two million sweat glands produce about half a litre of sweat per day without any awareness that you are sweating. Major physical effort and a warm environment can increase sweat volume to as much as ten litres per day. Sweat contains all the compounds in urine, but in lower concentrations.
The skin is the main organ for regulating human body temperature, somewhere between 98°F and 100°F when the ambient temperature varies between approximately 68°F and 130°F. The skin does not “breathe” in the sense that the lung breathes; nevertheless, the skin takes in 1.9% of the oxygen and gives off 2.7% of the carbon dioxide converted in the organism as a whole.
NOURISHMENT OF SKIN
Like any other organ of the body, the skin requires the nourishment of vitamins and minerals from food. First and foremost for skin health are the fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Rough, dry and prematurely aged skin is a tell-tale sign of vitamin A deficiency, which often appears as rough, raised skin on the back of the arms.
Vitamin A is critical for the repair process, including repair as a result of sunburn and damage from toxins. Severe acne is found in those with low levels of vitamin A in the blood. The standard conventional treatment for acne is Accutane, a synthetic form of vitamin A, but cod liver oil and other vitamin A-rich foods can work just as well, without side effects such as joint pain, hair loss, low energy, depression and aggressive behaviour. It is said that cod liver oil should be considered the front line remedy for skin problems, from eczema to psoriasis. Vitamin A applied externally can help clear up impetigo, boils, carbuncles and open ulcers and helps repair wounds faster.
Vitamin D is a major contributor in the process of skin cell metabolism and growth, which may explain why skin texture improves after sunbathing. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, can reduce the effects of too much sun exposure on the skin, as well as dangerous free radicals. Deficiency of vitamin E is also associated with acne. Magnesium deficiency can make one more prone to allergies including eczema. Nuts, whole grains, bone broths and unrefined salt are the best sources of magnesium.
PROTEIN FROM ANIMAL PRODUCTS
Other minerals that play key roles for skin health include zinc, iron and selenium. Zinc deficiency is associated with acne because zinc helps control the production of oil in the skin. Good iron status produces a rosy glow in the cheeks. Selenium supports tissue elasticity and protects against free radical damage. Red meat, liver and seafood are the best sources of these vital minerals. Healthy skin depends on complete protein from animal products. Adequate intake of sulphur-containing amino acids is very important for the health of connective tissue, joints, hair, skin and nails and these are found in meat, especially pork, eggs and dairy products.
CAUSE OF WRINKLED SKIN
According to Sally Fallon Morell, the type of fats most definitely associated with wrinkling are the industrial, polyunsaturated oils, the type of oils that those wanting to avoid saturated fats are most likely to consume. In a study on premature aging carried out in conjunction with the Research Foundation for Plastic Surgery in Los Angeles, dermatologists looked at more than one thousand patients over a two-year period.
When all the possible contributory factors in premature aging of the skin were noted, the researchers computed a final score and compared it with the patient’s chronological age. The result was that of those who admitted to being on a diet high in polyunsaturated oils (more than 10 percent of the diet), at least 78 percent showed marked signs of premature aging of the facial skin, with some appearing more than twenty years older than they were. When this group was compared to an almost equal number who made no special effort to consume polyunsaturated oils, the difference was profound. Only 18 percent of the latter group were judged to have outward physical signs of premature aging. In other words, there were more than four times as many people who looked markedly older than they really were among those who deliberately included large quantities of polyunsaturated oils in the diet.
HEALTHY GUT IMPORTANT
The health of the skin and the gut are intimately linked, in fact the lining of the gut is a special type of skin, requiring the same nutrients as external skin. Zinc and vitamin D, for example, are the key nutrients supporting a healthy gut barrier. A healthy gut is lined with a biofilm made up of billions of beneficial bacteria, just as healthy skin is home to a variety of bacteria, most of them beneficial.
When undigested proteins, pathogens and toxins pass through the gut, which happens constantly in those with poor gut integrity, the so-called “leaky gut”, they can no longer be eliminated through the faeces, and must be carried to another organ of elimination, the skin. Recovery from rashes and skin lesions often calls for a very restricted diet, such as the GAPS diet (see article in the February 2012 newsletter), along with cod liver oil, plenty of butter, bone broths rich in collagen and lacto-fermented foods needed to restore gut health. As the gut heals, so will the skin.
INFANTS WITH ECZCEMA
Proof that gut and skin health are linked comes from studies revealing that infants with poor intestinal flora often develop eczema. One study from Sweden showed that children with only a limited variety of bacteria in their faeces one week after birth, more often developed atopical eczema (an allergic response within the body following exposure to external irritants) by the age of eighteen months. A diversified intestinal flora seems to be better at stimulating the immune defence. The composition of a child’s bacteria flora is dependent on the mother’s micro flora, since she is the primary source when the baby passes down the birth canal.
RECIPE FOR SKIN HEALTH
While many people spend small fortunes on external skin care in the form of creams, potions and facials, a healthy skin must start on the inside, nourished by a healthy diet. A diet low in refined carbohydrates and high in animal fats, rich in fat-soluble vitamins and the proteins that support skin and collagen integrity, is the basic recipe for skin health. Coffee, tea and caffeine-containing beverages can cloud the skin’s natural glow.
WASH THE SKIN LESS!
Sally Fallon Morell, referring to the external care of the skin, advises people not to wash so much. Of course, it is important to wash hands before treating the sick or handling food, but in the shower or bath it is not necessary to soap the whole body and certainly not the face. Soap depletes the body’s natural sebaceous protection and also removes some of the beneficial micro-organisms that inhabit the skin. Scientists are only just beginning to appreciate the role of microscopic life on the skin. They have discovered, for example, that germs inhabiting naturally oily regions, such as the outside of the nose, feed on the skin’s lipids and produce natural moisturizers to prevent skin from becoming chapped. Expensive creams are not necessary and may do more harm than good. Sally Fallon Morell suggests using coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil on the face at night and on areas that may be dry. Walnut oil is beneficial too.
CHEMICALS IN COSMETICS
Of all the chemicals used in cosmetics, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health reported that nearly 900 are toxic, and that estimate may be low. As the skin is extremely permeable some chemicals may penetrate it in significant amounts, especially when left on the skin for long periods, as in the case of facial make-up. One study showed that 13% of the cosmetic preservative butylate hydroxytoluene (BHT) and 49% of the carcinogenic pesticide DDT (which is found in some cosmetics containing lanolin) is absorbed through the skin.
The best advice is to choose cosmetics that contain the lowest number of ingredients; these are still effective. As the list of a product's ingredients grows, so does the possibility that it could cause adverse reactions, including allergy, irritation, and even cancer.
Spray-on antiperspirants should be avoided. Not only do many of them contain aluminium but the spray can scatter onto the delicate tissue of the breast.
PETROLEUM BASED COSMETICS
Dr. Mercola casts suspicion on products derived from petroleum such as mineral oil, paraffin, and petrolatum that are often found in cosmetic creams and hand lotions. They coat the skin like plastic, clogging pores and creating a build-up of toxins, which in turn accumulate and can lead to dermatological problems.
Products that are fragrance-free are preferable. One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds, if not thousands, of chemicals. Fragrances are a major cause of allergic reactions. Toluene, a chemical made from petroleum or coal tar is found in most synthetic fragrances; it is harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Chronic exposure is linked to anaemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage, and may affect a developing foetus. BHT contains toluene while other names may include benzoic and benzyl.
PARABENS FOUND IN BREAST TUMOURS
Parabens, also derived from petroleum, are synthetic preservatives commonly used to increase the shelf life of cosmetics, shampoos and conditioners, facial masks, body lotions, deodorants and even children's products. Parabens can cause skin irritation, rash, contact dermatitis, eczema, or allergic skin reactions. In laboratory testing, parabens have been found to mimic the hormone oestrogen. They are easily absorbed by the body and can enter the bloodstream after being applied topically to the skin. A comprehensive study of women with breast cancer, published in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Applied Technology, found parabens in nearly 100% of all cancerous breast tumours. Dioxane is in compounds known as PEG, polysorbates, laureth, ethoxylated alcohols and is common in a wide range of personal care products. The compounds are usually contaminated with high concentrations of highly volatile 1,4-dioxane that are easily absorbed through the skin.
LOOK AFTER YOUR SKIN
Daily use of ordinary, seemingly benign personal care products like shampoo, toothpaste and shower gel can easily result in exposure to thousands of chemicals. According to an article in The Telegraph, a woman who uses make-up every day could absorb almost 5 pounds (2.2 kg) of chemicals and toxins into her body each year.
The skin is vital to good health, so it is important to know what you are putting on it! If people were more discerning, looked at the labels and refused to buy the products that contain harmful ingredients the manufacturers would soon get the message.