Why What You Put On Your Skin Matters Almost as Much as What You Eat

The news lately is full of stories about toxins like BPA(bisphenol A), phthalates, parabens, PEG’s, and fragrance in our food and personal care products. To some, these stories sound alarmist. To others, they are downright frightening. So how did all of these chemicals make their way into our lives, anyway? Have they always been there? Who’s responsible for protecting us? Do we really need to be worried? Let’s talk toxins.

Did you know that Europe bans 1,371 toxins, but the United States only bans 11? Why is that? The FDA is the agency responsible for overseeing personal care products. So why aren’t they doing more? Let’s take a look at their website. That should clear it up…”Cosmetic products are regulated by FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). CFSAN is responsible for assuring that cosmetics are safe and properly labeled.” Sounds good. But the very next paragraph reads “FDA does not approve cosmetics, although we do approve color additives used in cosmetics. It is the responsibility of cosmetic manufacturers to ensure, before marketing their products, that the products are safe when used as directed in their label or under customary conditions of use.”(emphasis mine)1 Wait, what? Huh? So, let me get this straight, the FDA goes about “assuring that cosmetics are safe and properly labeled” but allowing the manufacturers to decide what is and isn’t safe?!?!?!! Talk about the wolf guarding the hen house. Many companies that sell products both in the U.S. and in Europe(both food and personal care) have separate formulas. They have to use safer formulas in Europe, but we get the nasty stuff here because it’s cheaper and no one is stopping them. This also proves that the companies who state that it would be too expensive to reformulate their products here to remove these chemicals are lying. They have already done so in other countries, so they have the formulas! 

So, how bad are these chemicals anyway? In these icky little chemicals you will find endocrine disruptors, known and possible carcinogens, allergens, and irritants, to name a few. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.2 I think we all know about carcinogens. Parabens have bee used as preservatives for decades. They were originally thought to be safe, but research in the last few decades has proven this to be false. 3 Allergens and irritants can cause symptoms ranging from rashes to breathing difficulty. The list goes on and on. With 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women predicted to get cancer in their lifetimes, it’s time we take a serious look at causes.4

Do you need to be worried if you are only applying them to the skin? Yes. Some molecules are too large to get in, but the skin does absorb a large amount of what is applied to it. Think transdermal medication, like nicotine or birth control patches. The other important factor is that what we apply to the skin does not get the benefit of first pass metabolism. That’s a term we use in the medical word, usually in terms of therapeutic drug monitoring, but it’s very important here. When you ingest something, it goes to the liver before being digested. This is called first pass metabolism. The liver removes as much of the bad stuff as possible before returning it to the digestive system. Some drugs can’t be give orally due to this, since the liver removes too much for them to ever reach therapeutic levels. Those drugs are either given by IV, or, you guessed it, transdermal. Whatever you put on your skin goes straight into the bloodstream without a trip to the liver. Let me repeat that. All of the ingredients in the products that you apply to your skin- usually hundreds per day- go right into your bloodstream. Do not pass the liver. Do not collect $200. 

How does the average consumer avoid these chemicals? You must learn to read labels. It would be great if we could trust that the products we find in stores were safe, but sadly, that’s often not the case. Many companies devote their money to fancy packaging and marketing instead of making safe, effective products. I’m so passionate about this subject that I’ve decided to incorporate finding safe products and educating people on why it matters into my coaching. I also sign petitions and speak out to help get our laws changed to protect everyone. Won’t you join me in my safe, healthy revolution?


1) http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm193940.htm

2) http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/

3) http://www.controlyourimpact.com/articles/deodorants-antiperspirants-parabens-and-breast-cancer/)

4) http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@editorial/documents/document/acspc-044552.pdf