My name is Lisa Tsakos, Registered Holistic Nutritional Consultant, corporate speaker and author. This blog provides professional advice from a nutrition and weight loss expert (me!) about corporate and family health. Here you'll find recipes and articles that address work-related challenges like eating on-the-go and maximizing your productivity with the right foods. You'll also find out about how you can help your children develop strong immune systems and healthy bodies. As a nutrition instructor, I often found myself thinking, "When I have kids, this is how I will feed them." With two toddlers, I have the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching and to try out my theories. So far, they seem to be working! Follow me on my journey and also on Twitter @NuVitalityHW.

26 Feb 2012

What's Getting Under Your Skin? The hazards of body care products

One of the purchases I most dread buying is body wash (which doubles as shampoo) for Olivia. The popular brands (you know the one's I'm talking about) pretend to be safe and emphasize their 'tear-free' formulas, but that isn't as important to me as the chemicals they contain. 

Unfortunately, because the chemical-free products (or those that include fewer chemicals) are typically much more expensive, my search for a well-priced, clean product starts well before we run out of the bottle we're using. Sounds like a pain, and you're probably wondering why I just don't buy a bunch when they're on sale, but with a young child, repeated exposure to the same ingredients - even natural one's - can lead to allergic reactions, so I buy a different product (or a couple of them to rotate) each time.

What you put on your body – and on your child’s skin and hair – is just as important as what is put into it. If you’re reading food labels, you’re probably reading the labels on skin care product too, but the ingredients are even more confusing than those on food labels!

Adults use about nine personal care products daily - shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, body lotion, shaving products and cosmetics - that expose us to a whopping 126 chemicals every day. And our kids? Wipes, hair and body wash, diaper cream, baby powder, sunscreen, bug repellant… all sorts of chemical-containing products are designed for children, even the one’s labeled ‘natural’. Most people use such products without giving them a second thought because they are believed to be safe. You’ll have to see for yourself.

Synthetic skin care ingredients are Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins (PBT), which means they build up in the body over time. We absorb them in faster than we process them out. Since human skin absorbs about 25 percent of what we put on it (think smoking cessation patches), be aware that questionable ingredients such as parabens and phthalates are absorbed through the skin, into the bloodstream, and then carried to every tissue and organ in the body.

Here’s a list of some of the main ingredients to avoid. Look for these on skin care, shampoo, and cosmetic labels:

Parabens (sometimes listed as Methyl Paraben, Propyl Paraben, Butyl Paraben and Ethyl Paraben). One of the most commonly used ingredients, parabens are added to inhibit microbial growth and to extend the shelf life of products; however, they are notorious for causing skin rashes and allergic reactions. Worse, studies show they are weakly estrogenic and can mess up your hormones (that means tinkering with your menstrual cycle and efforts to become pregnant, and much more).

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate. This inexpensive foaming agent is very commonly used in shampoos and toothpaste. When applied to the skin, it dissolves natural body oils and leaves the area dry. Often derived from petroleum, SLS is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the phrase "comes from coconuts." (This is why it takes me so long to shop!). It may cause eye irritation, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, skin rashes and other allergic reactions. Studies are showing numerous long term effects from the use of SLS, including damage to the eyes if it isn’t properly rinsed away.

Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA)
. These are often used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and/or foaming agents. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. DEA and TEA are "amines" (ammonia compounds) and can form cancer-causing nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates (the same thing happens when you eat bacon).  

Diazolidinyl Urea & Imidazolidinyl Urea are widely used preservatives. The American Academy of Dermatology has found them to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis. Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals contains a good antifungal agent, so they must be combined with other preservatives. Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic (and of course, which is the ingredient used to embalm dead bodies).

Petrolatum. Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties in cosmetics. It has no nutritional benefit for the skin and can actually interfere with the body's own natural moisturizing mechanism, promoting dryness and chapping. Why do manufacturers use petrolatum? Because it’s cheap.

Propylene Glycol. In food, this ingredient is usually a vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol, both of which are natural, but in skin care products, often a synthetic petrochemical mix is used as a humectant. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. It's sometimes labeled as PEG.

Artificial Colors. You don’t want these in your food, and you don’t want them in your skin care products either. Whether on or under your skin, many synthetic colors can cause allergic reactions and some are carcinogenic. If any product contains them, don't use it.

Synthetic Fragrances. The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can contain as many as 200 chemical ingredients! There is no way to know what they are, since on the label it will simply read "fragrance." Some problems caused by these chemicals include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation—the list goes on. Advice: Don't buy a cosmetic that has the word "fragrance" on the ingredients label.

As always, read labels on ALL products carefully, and let me know which great products you've come across. I'd love to try them too.