How to Properly Read a Skin Care Label

Our skin absorbs 70% of what we put on it, making it of major importance to be mindful of the ingredients we are choosing to lather on. It’s a bit frightening to know the types of chemicals allowed into skin care products, and even more so how they can build up in one’s system, causing an accumulation of toxins throughout the body. Not only can this contribute to a variety of health ailments, but also work against the skin care goals they’re attempting to achieve. To illustrate, preservatives and fragrances added to many products will have a drying effect while acting as an irritant, promoting eventual inflammation of the skin, irritation, and breakouts. Even more, since the skin acts as one of our primary organs of elimination, a build up of toxins in the body will have to eventually leave, amounting to this toxic debris leaving the skin’s pores in unsightly ways.

Therefore, you can see how learning the art of reading a skin care label is paramount! Here’s what you need to look out for:

Stay Clear of the following Ingredients

  • BHA/BHT – a common preservative in skin care and cosmetics, it can induce allergic skin reactions, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified it as a possible human carcinogen. It’s also detrimental to the environment as it is harmful to fish and other wildlife.
  • Parabens – the most talked about harmful preservative, an estimated 75-90% of cosmetics contain them. They easily penetrate the skin, and the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has them listed as a ‘Category 1 priority Substance’, given their capacity to disrupt hormone function. They’ve also been linked to increased skin aging (ironic in a skin care product) and DNA damage.
  • Parfum a.k.a Fragrance – a very sneaky label that can include a wide array of chemical additives (up to 3000 different kinds!), and sadly it’s used in almost every personal care product. As well, even “fragrance-free” or “unscented” can still contain these chemicals, instead with a masking agent to disguise the aromatic compounds. This long possible list of irritants have been known to trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma, while possibly even prompting the development of multiple chemical sensitivity. Unless you’re using solely a base of essential oils, ALL perfumes are chemically laden!
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate – a popular foaming agent found in shampoos, cleansers, and bath products, that is usually contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. These are classified by the International Research on Cancer as a known human carcinogen, and possible human carcinogen respectfully. There is also evidence demonstrating their harm to the nervous system and possible developmental toxicity.
  • PEG Compounds (i.e. propylene glycol) – these are the petroleum based compounds that act as a “penetration enhancer”, allowing harmful ingredients to be more readily absorbed through the skin. Like Sodium Laureth Sulfate, they are also usually contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, posing a carcinogenic health risk.
  • Siloxanes (i.e. ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone” – used as a softening, smoothing, and moistening agent in many moisturizers and deodorants. They’re considered to pose a risk to endocrine activity, act as a reproductive toxicant, and are also harmful to fish and other wildlife.
  • Triclosan – used in products that purport an antibacterial quality, this is suspected to be another endocrine disrupter, while also contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. It also has the potential to bio-accumulate in the environment, causing long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.

This is not an exhaustive list of the myriad of chemicals that could be found in your skin care and cosmetics, but it is part of the “Dirty Dozen” outlined by the David Suzuki Foundation to absolutely avoid. Given the high potential for harm with use over time, you can see how essential it is to seek out only those products that are made of natural and organic ingredients. Not only will you be protecting your body from toxic accumulation, but you’ll also be benefiting your skin’s health more with natural products than any other. And why choose fake when the real thing is so much better?

Don’t be Fooled by Misleading Marketing

  • Often products will claim “Dermatologist-tested” however, this does not mean that the product has been endorsed by a dermatologist, which can be falsely re-assuring.
  • The use of earth-friendly pictures or colors on a product is a common tactic, although it may have no correlation with containing actual earth-friendly ingredients. So, always read into the product label.
  • Seek out meaningful claims. If a product states that it’s “100% natural” or “environmentally friendly”, seek out verification through the company website (or by being a pro at reading ingredients!) as these can be generic claims with little support. Unfortunately, there is no official regulation to the statement “all-natural”, so you’ll need to investigate this yourself! You can also look for a seal or certification mark from an independent third party to verify product claims.

Another important thing to remember, is that if it’s truly a great product, the company will proudly stand by their claims and answer any questions regarding ingredients. Feel free to inquire and only lather your skin with the very best!

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