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Many common skincare products contain some pretty nasty ingredients, the safety of which is questionable. Here’s how it works - your skin is your largest organ; it lives and breathes. Many chemicals used in common household cleaning, body care and baby care products are known skin irritants, breaking down the skin's fatty acid protective layer, and creating some not-so-nice health problems such as eczema and dermatitis. The person ultimately testing the safety of these chemicals, is you. Which is why we think it makes sense to take care.
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Opting Out of Nasty Chemicals
Your skin is an organ which lives and breathes. It’s your largest organ making up 12-15% of your entire body weight. One of the core functions of your skin is to provide a barrier against pathogens, with a natural fatty-acid protective layer.
Many chemicals used in common household cleaning and body care and baby care products are known to be irritants to the skin; they can break down the fatty acid protective layer creating potential health problems such as eczema and dermatitis.
Children and particularly babies are more susceptible to skin irritating chemicals as their skin has a thinner fatty acid protective layer.
Perspiration and other moisture from your body can reactivate harmful chemical residues left in clothes and sheets from laundry detergents, irritating the skin and exacerbating pre-existing skin conditions such as eczema.
Your skin is porous at a microscopic level. Through its millions of tiny openings, some substances which are applied to it can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream, by-passing the enzymes of the digestive system and liver (which play an important role in attacking and breaking down undesireable substances).
Over a lifetime, the average person living in our part of the world uses 656 bar soaps takes 7163 baths and 28,433 showers. Residues from laundry detergents are also up against their skin, in clothes or linen 24/7. Which is a lot of exposure to some potentially harmful and unnecessary chemical ingredients.
Not all chemicals are bad (water is a chemical after all), but there are some chemicals that it pays to look out for. Here are some nasty chemicals which are commonly found in everyday body and baby care products on supermarket shelves, which can be avoided by buying healthier alternatives like eco products.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent used in soaps, hand washses, toothpastes and cosmetics. It is currently under review by the FDA and the NICNAS in Australia has determined it is hazardous and should be classified as an irritant to skin, eyes and respiratory system and toxic by inhalation.
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate / Sodium Laureth Sulphate
SLS is a widely used cleaning agent which also happens to be used in soaps, washes, baby care products. When up against your skin it strips the skin of its natural oils and increases the rates of skin absorption of other chemicals used- like nasty detergents, preservatives and fragrances.
Optical brighteners these are added to laundry powders to make clothes appear whiter and brighter by absorbing UV light and reacting to make whites appear bluer. In order to work they need to stay in your clothes after washing and can cause allergic skin reactions when exposed to sunlight.
Enzymes found in laundry detergents can stay in your clothes and bedding long after washing, and can be re-activated by moisture (i.e. sweat). This means they start breaking down fats and proteins in your skin, causing allergic reactions and other health problems.
Parabens are chemical preservatives used in skin care, hair care and cosmetics to stop mould by preventing normal biological activity. Methyl, Ethyl, Propyl and Butyl parabens have been found to be mildly oestrogenic which means they have the ability to mimic female hormones in your body when applied to the skin. Parabens occur in so many products that there's a risk of them having a cumulative effect.
This ingredient can be irritating to the skin. Having a small molecular weight it can be absorbed through the skin. Has been shown to cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage in laboratory animals.
At latest count, there are around 84,000 chemicals in existence for commercial use today, with 1000 new chemicals developed every year around the world.
Legislation can’t keep up with chemical development and many regulations worldwide are woefully out of date.
- In the US, outdated chemical laws make it extremely difficult to ban or restrict a chemical's use. Regulators must prove a chemical poses a clear health risk, but the Environmental Protection Agency has sufficient health and safety data for only about 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in use. For example asbestos (a known carcinogen) can still legally be used.
- In NZ Triclosan, a widely used antibacterial agent used in soaps, hand washes, toothpastes and cosmetics, has been determined by the Australian National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) as hazardous and should be classified as an irritant to skin, eyes and respiratory system and toxic.
Internationally some retailers are starting to act. For example, Walmart, in the absence of legislative progress, has recently banned PBDEs (a common flame retardant).
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an international non-profit organisation set up in 1993 to provide public information and push for tighter legislation for the protection of human health and the environment.
The EWG Skin Deep website
is a useful safety guide for finding out the toxicity of ingredients used in body and baby care products and some cleaning products.
Avoid products with nasty chemicals. Use the EWG’s website
for checking out ingredients in your body care products.
Don’t succumb to fear tactics. The antibacterial craze that sweeps through NZ every winter is based on little more than fear. Washing your hands with plain soap and water gets rid of common household bacteria without requiring nasty chemicals.
The latest in skin care is… your laundry powder. Residues from laundry detergents are up against your skin, in clothes or linen, 24/7. Find a brand that uses more plant based ingredients and discloses what they use on their packaging.
If the chemicals you clean with give off nasty fumes, then chances are, they're probably not safe to inhale. Look for products that do not smell as strong, always clean with a window open and avoid cleaning with strong chemicals in the same room as your baby or child.
Try eco products. They can be better for your health as well as the environment. If you buy a well known and trusted brand, they should work as well as mainstream brands and are now more readily available on supermarket shelves.