Many patients come to me with skin issues, which can be especially hard to deal with because they are so visible, and many times, intractable. Of course, if you are experiencing issues with your skin, there are many possible causes, many of them stemming from an inner imbalance—usually gut- or hormone-related. Make sure to consult an expert if you are suffering from acne or other skin irritation. But consulting an expert doesn’t necessarily mean going straight to the dermatologist. While this is certainly a valid path, it comes as no surprise that I am a big believer in the power of Chinese medicine to bring your health into balance internally, which in turn, results in outer harmony—whether that be clearer skin, weight loss, or even a new attitude toward the world.
In fact, I have seen many patients come to acupuncture and herbs after being frustrated by the lack of results in the traditional dermatologist route. But even if you are getting acupuncture regularly, stocking up on the appropriate herbal remedies, exercising, eating clean and washing your face everyday, you can still continue to struggle with health issues, acne, dryness or oiliness, irritation, redness, breakouts, dark spots, and yes, fine lines! It can be so frustrating to know that you are doing everything right, everything you can do, and still your skin—and sometimes mind—is out of balance. What is going on?!
Well, you may want to turn your attention to all those little bottles and jars lining your shower, filling the medicine cabinet above your sink, and packing your makeup bag: Have you ever actually looked at the ingredients of the face wash you are slathering on your face every day? What about the mascara and eyeliner that tiptoe perilously close to your eyes? If you’ve read my post on sunscreen, you already know that the cosmetic industry is one dirty business and that many of the products we use every day on our skin, hair, and nails contain dangerous chemicals and may be contributing to a toxic build-up on and in our bodies (not to mention in the environment), the full effects of which are unknown but are very likely extremely harmful. Luckily, there are a growing number of clean beauty companies, including my personal favorite, True Botanicals, that are popping up. The trend is promising! But it’s still important to do your own research, read every ingredient list, and check products against the Environmental Working Group Consumer Guide.
Let’s take a look together at those ostensibly innocuous, but very possibly poisonous, products that are part of the billion-dollar cosmetics industry.
Shampoo, Conditioner & Body Wash
The classic image of “clean” is suds: a head full of lather, a foaming face wash, hands vigorously scrubbing amidst a sink full of bubbles. But, according to an article on the True Botanicals blog, most often, what is creating that high lather is actually “an industrial-grade cleanser called sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), which first made its way onto the shelves of post-World War II America as ‘Gunk,’ an engine degreaser that more than fifty years later is still sold under the same brand name in auto parts shops.” True Botanicals goes on to detail how many of the ingredients in our commercial beauty products grew out of the “World War II chemical revolution” in which companies were vying to tap into the market of making home life easier through technology advances—i.e., in this case, chemicals.
So how do you steer clear of these industrial grade engine cleaners?
MADE SAFE has a great database of safe shampoos, conditioners and body washes:
- I personally like True Botanicals’ own MADE SAFE Nourishing Shampoo; it’s a little pricey, but a little goes a long way and it smells fantastic.
- The EWG skin deep cosmetic database is another great resource for finding out the toxicity levels of your cosmetics and body products.
- I use and love EWG-verified Attitude Shampoo and Conditioner; these actually leave my hair feeling soft and looking shiny versus some of the other natural shampoos and conditioners that leave my hair feeling and looking dried out.
In addition, always look for paraben- and sulfate-free products. When you start looking, you’ll find both of these chemicals in everything from toothpaste to moisturizers to food products, so this tip is not just for shampoos, conditioners and body washes.
- Parabens have been labeled “dangerous hormone disruptors” by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) because of their ability to mimic estrogen and cause breast and skin cancer, sperm and testosterone reduction, behavioral changes and much more.
- As for sulfates or (SLS), they are actually the ingredient that results in the classic lather that I mention above–but they’re much more sinister than their squeaky, sudsy image would suggest: that lather provides a false sense of clean while actually stripping your skin and hair of their own protective barriers and disrupting the moisture balance, leading to major skin and hair irritation and dryness. Another major concern with sulfates is the likelihood of their being contaminated by 1,4-dioxane, deemed as “likely carcinogenic” by the Environmental Protection Agency. This stuff gets into sulfates during the manufacturing process and frighteningly, does not have to be included on product ingredient lists!
So, like I said, always buy paraben- and sulfate-free products!
Makeup & Facial Washes
In 2005, researchers at Virgina Tech found that many household cleaning and personal hygiene products, specifically antimicrobial soaps, contain triclosan, which, when combined with the chlorine present in tap water, forms chloroform, classified by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen. In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics published “A Poison Kiss: The Problem of Lead in Lipstick” in which they found that 61% of 33 brand-name lipsticks contained detectable levels of lead. At that time, the FDA had not set a limit for lead in lipstick even though lipstick is ingested directly and sometimes by children—think about the little girl trying on her mother’s lipstick! This oversight speaks to the larger problem of institutionalized intentional neglect in this industry.
True Botanicals quotes Scott Faber, the vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), as saying:“Cosmetics are sort of the last unregulated area of consumer products law,” a pretty chilling assessment since women tend to use upwards of 12 products on their skin a day. Dr. Sara Gottfried, the author of The Hormone Cure, writes on her blog:
“Our skin absorbs up to 60 percent of what we put on it. Even if a chemical isn’t so harmful that it affects us right away, some bioaccumulate in the body, therefore taking their toll over time.”
Luckily, there’s some good news: a bill was very recently passed that requires cosmetics companies to register their facilities with the FDA and to submit to the FDA cosmetic ingredient statements. If the FDA determines that a cosmetic has a reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences, it may prohibit the cosmetic’s distribution by suspending the cosmetic ingredient statement. If other cosmetics from the same facility may be affected, the FDA may prohibit distribution from the facility by suspending the facility’s registration.
I recognize that it’s not always easy to purchase one brand and one brand only. Sometimes a dermatologist or an acupuncturist will recommend a particular brand, or you’ll need a certain color eyeshadow that only one company makes, for example. Luckily, you can check the toxicity of most products using EWG skin deep cosmetic database, which rates products on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the most toxic or the MADE SAFE database mentioned earlier.
It’s important to always be aware of what you’re putting into your body and what you’re putting onto your body. Knowledge is power! You have the choice to choose clean, non-toxic products. And as we purchase and support the companies providing us with cleaner alternatives, the quicker the markets will follow suit, stocking shelves with more clean, natural and organic products that support our health and the environment.
Below are some of my favorite trusted clean beauty and skincare brands:
One of my favorite shops for natural skin and body products is Credo Beauty, they have a large selection of wonderful clean products to choose from.