The Skinny on Our Skin

Our skin is the largest organ that protects the body from damage. This same system makes us waterproof, helps us retain vital water levels cushions our deeper tissues, protects our bodies from pathogens, excretes waste (through sweat), and regulates our temperature. It is also a keyboard-like interface for our senses allowing us to detect pain, pressure and temperature. When we walk out into the sun, our skin synthesizes our much-needed Vitamin D, which defends the body from microbial invasion and strengthens our bones.

Knowing all of this amazing complexity about our skin, we would all agree that our skin should be supported and be well taken care of. An early Environmental Work Group Study shows that over 25% of women use about 15 cosmetic products a day that make direct contact with the skin. This includes cleansers, makeup, creams, shampoos, perfumes and sprays. This number in my view is conservative, as it may be outdated as product skews have reached an all time high and also because it doesn’t reflect the substances we encounter outside of our homes in public washrooms for example.

Our obsession with cosmetics is certainly not new. In fact the first archaeological evidence of cosmetics usage was found in Ancient Egypt around 4000 B.C. What I find particularly interesting is that the Romans and Ancient Egyptians, not realizing their dangerous properties, used cosmetics containing mercury and white lead. That was in 4000 B.C. and today we giggle at their ignorance while we slather on products made with ingredients that are just as damaging.

Scientists have found many common cosmetic ingredients in human tissues, including industrial plasticizers called phthalates in urine, preservatives called parabens in breast tumor tissue, and persistent fragrance components like musk xylene in human fat. We know it’s penetrating the skin, we know particularly in the case of hormone disruptors, that they may be linked to increasing rates of breast cancer, endometriosis and other reproductive problems in women. In men they are linked to decreased sperm counts, prostate and testicular cancer. Other health problems that are also alarmingly on the rise, like thyroid disorders, diabetes and behavioral abnormalities in children, might also be linked to chemicals interfering with our hormones. 8 and 9 year old girls hitting puberty these days.

Hormone disruptors imitate our natural hormones fooling our bodies to allow these toxins to bind to the same sites to which natural hormones bind, thereby altering, magnifying or blocking the function of the natural hormones.

Thankfully, there is a lot of work being done to get the cosmetics industry to regulate the use of harmful chemicals. One of the biggest issues has been the lack of regulation as the cosmetics industry falls into a black hole between food and drugs. I guess modern science is catching up and making it clear that what we put on our skin, we are putting in our bodies. While waiting for the world to change, it’s been my mission to find the best quality replacements for these hormone disruptive cosmetics so that I could share my findings with you here.

PS: Even thought it’s soooo 4000 B.C., Mercury is still widely used in the production of mascara in 2010…


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