Parabens and other additives in skin care – What are you really putting on your skin?

One of the most important elements of Susan Kallal ™ SkinCare is my devotion to natural ingredients and their properties.  “You are what you apply to your skin” is just as true as “you are what you eat”, and as our skin is the largest organ we have, almost all products we apply are absorbed into our bodies to some degree. Can the products we put on our skin be harming us?

parabensWhat has become apparent to me during over twenty years as a pharmacist, and then a dermatologist, is the number of chemicals in most skin products. In more recent years, with the increased interest in natural ingredients, I have seen a trend of highlighting a natural ingredient on the front of a product label, only to find out the product in fact does contain many artificial chemicals. The “bait and switch” of skincare is widespread.

One of the common additives in skin care products is “parabens”. Parabens are used as preservatives in thousands of cosmetics products, from lipsticks to body lotions and face creams. Usually the paraben is preceded by a prefix such as methy, ethyl, butyl or propyl.

The concern regarding parabens is that they have estrogen like properties, and may disrupt the normal hormonal balance, and possibly increase the risk of some cancers. In fact, parabens have been detected in some breast cancer tumors.  Children in particular have a greater body surface area relative to their mass, and as a result they are proportionally ingesting more of a chemical applied to their skin.

Another group of chemicals commonly found in skin care products goes under the name “fragrances”. Artificial fragrances are widespread in skin care, and their exact composition is protected as proprietary information. A single artificial fragrance can contain over one hundred chemicals. Phthalates are one of these ingredients, and along with parabens, are in the category of hormone disrupters. Other chemicals in artificial fragrances can trigger asthma and even have effects on the central nervous system leading to headaches and irritability.

The argument from major companies has been that the amount of any chemical absorbed is so small, that the health risk is negligible. The truth is we don’t really know what amount of a chemical is safe to ingest, and when multiple products are used throughout the day for several years, the amount of chemicals ingested increases significantly.

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