About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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Are Your Cosmetics Making You Sick?

There is nothing better than finding a new shampoo that leaves your hair feeling healthy and shiny.  It’s even better if that shampoo smells really good, too.  But what if that wonderful new shampoo contained ingredients that weren’t good for you?  In fact, what if not only your shampoo, but all of the products you put on your body routinely contained ingredients that irritated your skin, messed with your hormones, or even had the potential to cause cancer?  Well, guess what?  Many of them do!

That’s right–I’m talking about all those soaps, moisturizers, lotions, lipsticks, nail polish, perfumes, and anti-aging creams you use daily.  In the past, most of us didn’t give much thought to what we were applying to our skin. However, you’re seeing more organic, and chemical-free products on the store shelves for a reason. Many of the ingredients in the stuff you’ve been putting on your skin for years may not be so wonderful after all.

Part of the problem is that the ingredients in cosmetics and skin care products aren’t regulated by any agency. Manufacturers must list their ingredients, but for the most part, anything goes. In addition, many creams and lotions have added ingredients to enhance their absorption deeper into your skin and ultimately into your bloodstream. If you’re thinking that these chemicals are harmless because they’re only going on the surface of your skin, think again.

These are products that you use frequently and in abundance. The average woman uses about twenty products with about 200 ingredients–not just once in awhile, but every day.

If you’re not convinced, think about this: All the chemicals from soaps, shampoos, etc. are being washed down the drain and into our rivers, streams, and drinking water. In a study conducted by the EPA and Baylor University in Texas, researchers found that chemicals used in fragrances and cleaning products are polluting our waterways. They found that the chemicals not only make their way into the water, but also into the tissues of fish living in those rivers and streams.

In Chinese medicine, your Lung organ system protects the exterior of your body, especially your skin. As the guard of your exterior, your Lungs also control your immunity. Immunity is seen as a kind of protective bubble surrounding your body. When you put toxic ingredients on your skin, you’re weakening your protective bubble, negatively impacting your health, and compromising your immune system.

What chemicals exactly are posing a problem? There are many. A short list of some of the most common include:

Parabens, which are used as a preservative, are a concern because they’re considered to be hormone disruptors. This means that they can mimic estrogen or interfere with your body’s natural hormone and reproductive processes. If you check labels, you’ll find they’re in almost everything.

Mineral Oil, paraffin, and petrolatum. These bad boys are basically petroleum products that coat your skin like plastic, clog your pores, and create a toxic buildup. They can slow cellular development, actually creating earlier signs of aging–and who needs that? They are also considered hormone disruptors.

Sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), also known as sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). SLS is found in over 90 percent of personal care products! It breaks down your skin’s moisture barrier, dries your skin out, and causes premature aging and skin irritations. SLS is also a prime offender because it easily penetrates the surface of your skin allowing other chemicals easy access, and can combine with other chemicals to become a nitrosamine, which is a known carcinogen.

Fragrance on the label of your moisturizer is seemingly harmless. However, the term “fragrance” is a red flag, because manufacturers aren’t required to label what’s in it. All kinds of chemicals can be hiding behind the fragrance door, one of the most frequent is phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors. Fragrances made from essential oils are okay.

So what can you do to clean up your skin care act? The most obvious answer is to become a label reader. However this can be a problem that’s apparent if you’ve ever looked at the label of your favorite moisturizer. There are a lot of ingredients; some are unpronounceable, most are unfamiliar.

One simple solution is to go to www.cosmeticsdatabase.com, and see how your products rate. This is the website sponsored by the Environmental Working Group, which scores thousands of personal care products. A score of a perfect zero means your eye cream is clean; if it rates a 7-10, then the ingredients are considered hazardous and you may want to consider throwing it out.

You can also buy personal care products that have very few ingredients, shop at your local co-op, or other natural foods store. Most have a good selection of effective and chemically clean shampoos, soaps, lotions, moisturizers, etc

By choosing clean, less toxic skin care products, you’re taking a small step to help clean up the environment.  You are also sending a message to the manufacturers of these items with your wallet. These companies will stop using harmful chemicals in their products if fewer people buy them.

3 comments to Are Your Cosmetics Making You Sick?

  • Reenie Rogers

    Dear Lynn,
    A friend is in Acupuncture school and will be practicing learning the meridian lines by drawing lines on my body with various colors of pen ink. The ink is NOT nontoxic, so I have concerns. I have tried to locate a cite that has study tools for acupuncture students, but no luck yet with that. Do you know if they make henna ink pencils, or something like that, in various colors, that is nontoxic and would be a useful tool for someone wanting to draw lines on a live body? Thank you for your reply, Sincerely~reenie rogers, Tallahassee, FL

  • Lynn Jaffee

    Renee-
    We used grease pencils when I was in school. No ink, and the color jsut rubs right off. For marking acupuncture points, we used sticky dots. You should be able to find both at an office supply store.

  • […] theory is that some of the synthetic chemicals in household products and personal care products are considered hormone disruptors.  These chemicals are absorbed by the body and mimic certain […]