At Health Works Institute, we are constantly exploring ways to make skin care not only results-oriented but also safe for our students and our clients. More and more manufacturing companies claim that their products are “natural,” but what does that really mean? Let’s take a deeper look at the importance of truly natural ingredients and explore some tips for avoiding unsafe ingredients.

Skin Care Products Safe and Natural

It turns out beauty is more than skin-deep: The average person slathers, lathers, rubs and sprays, 10 different skin care products on his or her body every day–and since our skin acts more like a sponge than a barrier, we absorb the nearly 130 chemicals we regularly expose ourselves to. Cosmetics companies and the FDA maintain that these chemicals are safe, and many of them are–in small doses at least. But consider that the average woman wears makeup every day, and you begin to understand how a little dab here a quick spray there begins to add up. The fact is, no one really knows how certain chemicals affect us over time, or how they react in our bodies in combination. Other chemicals have known dangers: Phthalates, for example, which are often found in artificial fragrances, are a class of hormone disruptor which can be linked to birth defects, sperm damage, infertility, and the feminization of baby boys, for instance.

Almost 90 percent of the 10,500 cosmetics and skin care ingredients known to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have not been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, the FDA, or any other publicly accountable institution, according to the Environmental Working Group. To be fair, no one’s dropping dead after a using a mascara wand or a body wash, and manufacturers have an interest in creating products that don’t harm their customers. But complex chemicals with potential unknown side-effects lead us to follow the Precautionary Principle. That is to say, if we’d prefer to err on the side of safety until we know. We’re not the only ones who feel this way: More than 1,110 personal-product ingredients have been banned for use in cosmetics in the European Union because of concerns that they may cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive ills. By contrast, only 10 are banned here in the U.S.

Natural Skin Care: By the Numbers

Lipstick

4 pounds: Average amount of lipstick a woman will ingest over her lifetime.

11: Percentage of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal-care products that the U.S. government has documented and publicly assessed for safety.

1,110+: The number of ingredients banned in cosmetics in the European Union.

10: The number of ingredients banned in cosmetics in the United States.

600: The number of companies that have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.

20: Percentage of personal-care products that contain at least one chemical linked to cancer.

22: Percentage of cosmetics contaminated with possible cancer-causing impurity 1,4-dioxane.

$160 billion: Amount spent annually on skin and hair care, makeup, cosmetic surgery, fragrances, health clubs, and diet products.

Now that you understand just how important natural skin care is, here are some tips for choosing the safest, non-toxic products for your skin, as well identifying the most noxious ingredients you should avoid.

 Make Sure “Natural” Is Really Natural
Toxic synthetic chemicals are the biggest issue in the beauty industry today, so it pays to hone a keen eye when it comes to examining product labels, and choosing a great product for your client’s needs. For example, it’s counterintuitive, but unfortunately, the words “natural” and “all-natural” are not regulated labeling terms. A great resource is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database site, http://www.ewg.org/skindeep which rates popular cosmetics and personal-care products with hazard scores on a scale of 0 to 10, depending on their toxicity.

 Say No to Fragrance
A loophole in federal law doesn’t require companies to declare any of the dozens of toxic chemicals that a single product’s fragrance mixture could contain. Artificial fragrances, which frequently contain phthalates, can also trigger allergic reactions in your clients and other health problems. Be mindful of the hidden dangers that “fragrance” or “parfum” listed on ingredients labels can pose.

 Choose Nontoxic, Recyclable Packaging
You can never go wrong with glass because it’s recyclable and has no danger of leaching toxins into the product contained within. As far as plastics go, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), also known by the recycling code #1, and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), #2, are most frequently accepted by municipal curbside recycling programs and are considered safe; polycarbonate (#7), may leech the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A, or BPA. Polypropylene (#5), another food-safe plastic, is also a good alternative, though less easily recycled. (To find a polypropylene recycler in your neighborhood, visitEarth911.org.)

Avoid containers that bear recycling code #3 and the letter “V”, which refers to polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Dubbed “the poison plastic,” PVC poses great environmental and health hazards from manufacture to disposal. In addition to releasing hydrochloric acid, cancer-causing dioxins, and other persistent pollutants into the air, water, and land during its production, PVC also contains additives and chemical stabilizers–such as lead, cadmium, and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (a suspected carcinogen that is known to cause a host of reproductive and developmental defects)–that can leach, flake, or off-gas from the plastic throughout its life.

 Ask How Company Values Stack Up
A skincare company is more than the sum of its products. What about its philosophy and values? Visiting a website is always enlightening. Does the company test on animals, for example? Has it signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to remove harmful chemicals from ingredients lists and replace them with safer alternatives? How committed is it to reducing its impact on the environment?

 Choose Organic Beauty and Grooming Products
Organic ingredients are those grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, which is healthier for the planet and healthier for our bodies. Better yet are botanicals grown using biodynamic farming methods, which go beyond organic by emphasizing an even more holistic relationship between the soil, plants, and animals. The USDA National Organic Program has been certifying personal-care products since 2003, and an increasing number of organic skincare products now bear the USDA organic seal. To tell if a product is biodynamic-certified, look for Demeter U.S.A.’s stamp of approval on the label.

 Sidestep the Petrochemicals
Used to make emollients for face cream or found in the form of coal tar for scalp-treatment shampoos, petroleum byproducts can be contaminated by cancer-containing impurities. A non-renewable and environmentally unfriendly resource, petroleum barely belongs in your car, let alone on your client’s skin. Identify it on labels as petrolatum, mineral oil, and paraffin.

 Educate your Client on Making their Own Green Skin Care Treatments
The best way to know exactly what goes into skincare products? Making your own. Not only will they save money and packaging, but they’ll also get the satisfaction that no preservatives or toxic chemicals were used in the process. Whipping up a simple, effective face mask using little more than honey and coconut oil, or making a vegetable toner, or creating an acne-fighting toner with green tea. And that’s just for starters.

Sources: Treehugger.com; Reporting by Manon Verchot; Campaign for Safe Cosmetics; The Environmental Working Group; The Economist

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