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Sunday, November 11, 2012

40: Don’t Put It on Your Skin – Part II

A health regimen is a work in progress, continually evolving. It’s only two weeks ago that I first wrote about skin care, and now I’ve already changed my mind. (It’s a prerogative of my gender.) I said that I washed my face with Pears soap or good old Ivory. But it seems that Pears, the lovely clear amber bar whose packaging boasts that it is “a 200 years old brand” is quite up to date ingredient-wise, in its use of sodium laurel sulphate and a long list of other chemicals. And Ivory’s old recipe, sadly, is recently replaced with one new and not-so-improved.

Sodium laurel sulphate (SLS) and its shirt-tail cousin sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are harsh, inexpensive chemicals that cause our soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, and detergents to foam up in that pleasing way that makes us feel the product is really doing its job: i.e., effectively cleaning. It’s the identical agent that is used in car washes, and even in garages for degreasing car engines. Heavy duty stuff.

These chemicals are extremely drying to the skin and hair. It can cause permanent eye damage in infants and young children, and the exposure need not be directly to the eyes but even indirectly through the skin. It is retained in the tissues of the body, for as long as five days after using a single drop. It can cause damage to the hair follicles, leading to early balding. It denatures skin proteins, causing irritation and also allowing other environmental toxins to gain entry to the deeper and more sensitive layers of the skin. In this light it may be implicated in cancers of the skin.

Once it has been absorbed into the skin, one of its many effects is that it mimics estrogen. This can have all kinds of health implications, including PMS, menopausal symptoms, male infertility, and increased incidence of breast and others female cancers.

Long story short: I went hunting and found a very gentle, natural soap containing only three things: saponified olive oil, sea salt, and natural fragrance. Saponification is the process whereby lye is combined with vegetable oil or animal fat, causing a chemical reaction that produces soap and glycerin. Interestingly enough, many of the commercial, mass-produced hand soaps on the market today have had the naturally occurring glycerine with its inherent moisturizing properties removed to sell as a separate commodity, generating higher profits.

As you are inspired to read labels before buying personal care products, there are some ingredients (in addition to SLS and SLES) to watch out for and avoid:
Petrolatum, also known as petroleum jelly, is a semisolid mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum. Its presence in skin products reduces oxygen absorption and suffocates the skin, causing the death of skin cells and thus premature aging. It increases acne and causes skin irritations and rashes. It causes skin photosensitivity and promotes sun damage. Petrolatum may also interfere with the body's moisturizing mechanism, leading to dry skin and chapping, some of the very things it’s used to combat.

Mineral oil is made from petrolatum, therefore I think we can safely assume that the foregoing side effects apply here as well.

Parabens are preservatives used extensively in personal care products and even foods. They are implicated in breast cancer and also adversely affect the secretion of testosterone and the function of the male reproductive system.

Phylates or phthalates are used as plasticizers or solvents. They are found in nail polishes, deodorants, fragrances, hair gels, and sprays, and hand and body lotions. They are endocrine disrupters, wreaking absolute havoc on the hormones especially of boys and men. For a sobering and frightening video on the subject, check out the following link:

This list of must-avoid chemicals is by no means exhaustive. And as bad press leaks out about a given ingredient, companies work overtime to replace it with another unknown chemical so they can get back below the radar. So my rule-of-thumb will remain, “If you don’t know what it is, don’t put it on your skin.”

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