Did you know that Skin is our largest organ? I was never introduced to that concept until about 6 years back when I was trying the THC diet. The prescriber told me to refrain from putting any oils on my skin as the diet requires zero fat. I gave her a perplexed face, as I am sure all her new clients did, and she explained that as skin is our largest organ everything we put on it is absorbed into our blood stream. After the 3 months of the diet, I decided to move on; however, the education about my skin got me curious so I investigated.
Skin covers about 18 square feet of the human body and has 2 million holes. That’s right...2 million, so unlike food, which has the convenience of filtering stuff that doesn’t belong through our digestive system, our skin doesn’t really have the same opportunities.
How Can Chemical’s Absorb?
Often you hear that skin absorbs 60% of what you put directly on it, but it isn’t that simple. The three layers that make up our skin (the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous fat), serve as our protective armor. Our skin is our first barrier to fighting illness and disease but it also acts as a direct passageway into our bloodstream. That means unwanted substances, found in every day lotions and sunscreens, can be absorbed. The amount of a product or chemical absorbed by the skin depend on a variety of factors. I’ll try to make this brief but informative:
- Chemical Size: Large chemicals often cannot pass through our skin’s protective barriers; however, certain chemicals are small enough to make it through, while others are developed to penetrate the skin quickly (e.g. medical patches, or nanoparticals designed to penetrate the skin often found in everyday lotions and creams).
- Skin Temperature: Higher skin temperature is correlated with increased absorption.
- Skin Integrity: Damaged skin, like damaged hair, absorbs more quickly and allows larger particles to sneak through.
- Chemical Concentration: The more a specific chemical, or combination of chemicals, tis applied, the greater the risk.
Scary, right? Now take a moment to ask yourself how many products you use in a typical day. Cream, lotion, deodorant, soap, perfume, makeup, lip balm? Now ask yourself how many ingredients are in those products. According to a survey conducted by the Environmental Working Group, the average person uses 9 products daily, which contain 126 ingredients. None of which are really regulated or require safety testing as they are considered “cosmetic.” While the EU has banned over 1300 chemicals, the FDA has only banned 8 and restricted 3.
That’s okay though, we are sure the cosmetic industry wouldn’t use toxic chemicals in their products simply because they are way cheaper and haven’t been banned…X.
Reducing Your Chemical Exposure
Don’t panic…knowing is growing, so now that we know there is something we can do about it. Of course, no one expects you to move off the grid and go lotion and cream free. Realistically, skin defines much of our standard for beauty. Bright, youthful, dewy skin signals health and vitality. Look at JLo! Don’t we all want to have her skin? And remember, proper treated skin protects us from chemical absorption while slowing the aging process. (See Skin Integrity above). Here are some helpful tips to get you started in the right direction.
Start Small: It can be overwhelming, and expensive, to remove so many products from your routine gold turkey, so start small by eliminating those that pose the most risk, such as:
- Products You Use Often: Daily or multiple times a day.
- Products You Leave on the Longest: Cream, lotion, sunscreen, etc.
- Products Used on Babies/Children: Babies have thinner skin so they are at a greater risk for absorption.
- Shampoos + Conditioners: These tend to absorb into the skin due to increased absorption rate of the scalp and also wash over the rest of our bodies.
- Antibacterial Anything: While Some situations call for antibacterial soaps or hand sanitizers, they can cause more harm than good when overused, as they also kill good bacteria.
Take Advantage of Free Resources: EWG Skin Deep is an amazing resource that rates more than 120,000 food and personal care products based on their ingredients. Just scan your product and review it’s rating! You can also visit The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, A project for breast cancer prevention partners, to learn about regulations and chemicals of concern.
- If you Don’t Recognize It, Don’t Buy It: just because a product is labeled natural or organic, doesn’t mean that it’s free of harmful ingredients. Always read the full ingredient lists of products before buying.
- Shop Local: Know where your products are coming from and support companies that you believe in. North sources and vets its beauty brands, many of which are made locally, to ensure they stand behind their labels.
- Wear a Base Layer: If there’s a potential harmful product that you love and just can’t let go of, try wearing a base coat of natural oil on your body or organic lip balm on your lips to help create an extra layer between the product and your skin.
10 Ingredients to Look Out For
If you have ever heard of the dirty dozen, those fruits and vegetables that you must buy organic as chemicals/pesticides penetrate more easily through their skins, think of these as the “To Watch Ten.”
- Phthalates: These help products stick to ski and improve the stability of fragrances; however as they continue to build up in our bodies over time they cause endocrine disruption…toxic to our reproductive glands.
- Parabens (Methyl, Ethyl, Propyl, Iso, Benzyl, etc): These hormone disruptors, used as preservatives, mimic estrogen in the body and are currently being studied for links to breast cancer, especially when applied near the underarms.
- Artificial Fragrances: These are not only harmful to the environment but may also cause skin irritation, allergies and organ system toxicity. PS…chemical ingredients in scents are concealed and protected by trade law so we have no idea what is actually in them.
- TEA + DEA (Triethanolamine and Diethanolamine): Considered so harmful, both are banned from products in Europe as they are known carcinogens.
- Triclosan/Triclocarbon: These chemicals, at the top of the list of endocrine disruptors that encourages resistance to antibiotics, are used to kill bacteria. They have been banned by the FDA in soaps but are still used in most deodorants and cosmetics. They are so overly used in products that 75% of people have detectable levels in their bloodstream.
- PEG/Ceteareth/Polyethylene Compounds: Synthetic chemicals frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen linked to organ toxicity and found over 22% of cosmetic products, including shampoos, liquid soap and bubble bath.
- Sulfates (Sodium Laurel Sulfate, Sulphuric Acid, Alkylbenzene sulfonate, Ammonium laureth or lauryl sulfate, etc): These create foam in products. I often hear people say, “If it doesn’t foam, I don’t feel like its really cleaning.” This has, unfortunately, been brainwashed into our psyches as visions of bubble baths and shampoo suds make for the perfect bathing experience. Those suds, however, are derived from petroleum and often used as an engine degreaser. Don’t really want that on your scalp, do you? PS…they are not sustainable for the environment.
- Lead and other Heavy Metals: Heavy metals like lead, arsenic and mercury are contaminants and found in a wide variety of personal care products including lipstick, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner and nail color.
- Aluminum (Also seen as Potassium or Ammonium Alum): Blocks sweat glands to reduce the amount of sweat you secrete. Easily absorbed by the skin and can accumulate over time in the brain, potentially causing Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer and other neurological conditions.
- Butylated Compounds (BHA+BHT): Used as preservatives in lip products, hair products, makeup, sunscreen, antiperspirant/deodorant, fragrance, creams. They cause endocrine disruption, organ-system toxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, irritation, allergies, immunotoxicity, bioaccumulation. BHA has been banned for use in cosmetics in the EU.
Our goal is not to terrify you or to have you give up skin care all together. Removing products from your and your family’s life can appear daunting, but as I have noticed, more and more people (clients, family, friends) who I know are experiencing health issues…whether it be thyroid-related, stomach, or otherwise. The best weapon we have when it comes to our health is knowledge. Once we know, that much of what we are consuming, through our skin or our mouths, contributes to our body’s depletion, maybe we can all make better choices. I always say, if we can reach for 80/20 (i.e 80% of our choices are responsible while 20% gives us some wiggle room) then we are already winning.
Not to fear, there are safe products out there that are effective. You don’t have to pull oils out of your kitchen to keep your skin hydrated. I learned the hard way about this…initially after learning about all this skin business, I threw out all of my body lotions and kept a tub of coconut oil in my shower. While my skin did feel great and hydrated, if I didn’t stand in my bathroom like a scarecrow until the oil absorbed, I would oil-stain my clothes immediately and have to change three times. Not to mention how hard it is to apply hardened coconut oil in the winter months. Yikes.
This education and many others are what led me to curate North Authentic’s eco-friendly shop. I know we all have little time to check every ingredient of every purchase, so I wanted to create a resource where you can trust that every brand has been vetted. Shop some of our favorite products below to safely replace your skin care products at home.
Founder, North Authentic