That Natural Glow
Radiant Skin with Fewer Health Risks
by Marlaina Donato
For basic hygiene and improved appearance, we wash, slather, hydrate, scrub and cover up, often forgetting that our skin is our largest organ and much of what we expose it to can be absorbed and accumulated in the body over time. If we are using products with potentially toxic additives, we are putting ourselves at a higher risk for hormone disruption, reproductive cancers and allergic reactions.
Many chemicals that have been banned or controlled in Japan and some European countries are still being used on an unregulated basis in the U.S. Even products labeled “organic” and “natural” can have harmful elements alongside the good stuff. Recent research from the University of Vermont Cancer Center has linked phthalates, the “forever chemicals” used as bonding agents in many personal care products, to a higher risk of cancers in children. The encouraging news is that with a little savvy preparation, these hazardous ingredients can be avoided, and we can have glowing skin with fewer health risks.
Knowledge is Power
Being an informed consumer is important when it comes to what goes into the body, and reading labels is just as vital for what’s applied on the outside. “The beauty industry can become fascinated with chemical-based ‘quick-fixes,’ but so often what you find is that these interventions can have long-lasting effects that may actually damage the skin,” says Tammy Fender, founder of Tammy Fender Holistic Skincare, in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Liver-compromising and potentially cancer-causing formaldehyde, phthalates and parabens are plentiful in shampoos (including baby shampoo), soaps, deodorants, antiperspirants, body lotions and moisturizers, and have been linked to breast cancer and other malignancies, kidney damage and depression. While some sources claim these substances to be low-risk due to minimal amounts in skin care products, looking at the broader picture can be disturbing when we consider long-term use and the number of products used daily.
On a superficial level, the skin just responds better when it is exposed to fewer toxins. “Our skin is our biggest organ and absorbs up to 60 percent of whatever you put on it. When you eat healthy, your body feels great. The same goes for your skin,” says Shannon Reagan, owner of Glimmer Goddess Organic Skin Care, in Frisco, Texas. “Throughout my life, I’ve tried just about every product in the stores looking for something that wouldn’t irritate my skin. I found that the cleaner the products, the better my skin looked and felt.”
What Our Skin Loves
An outstanding resource for information about a particular product’s safety is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database at EWG.org/skindeep, which evaluates and grades more than 88,000 personal care products for toxicity. When shopping online or in a store, nixing any that have long, difficult-to-pronounce ingredients is key. Any label that simply lists “fragrance” is also a red flag for hundreds of possible chemicals. Instead, opt for skin care products with Latin botanical names for herbal and essential oil-based scents.
“Natural products may cost a bit more than store brands, but the benefits far outweigh the incremental cost. They contain vitamins, phytonutrients, antioxidants and flavonoids that help heal, rejuvenate and protect skin,” says Reagan.
Fender, a holistic aesthetician and pioneer of clean skin care, concurs, “There is so much care that comes through the plants. Nature is generous.” Her favorite go-to ingredients in her organic skin care line range from white lily to citrus. “I love rose for its powerful rejuvenating benefits. I also love chamomile, an ancient calming and soothing remedy, which is so beneficial for sensitive skin.”
Fun in the Sun
Chemicals found in conventional sunscreens such as avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, oxybenzone and PABA activate free radicals in the body, but natural sunscreens offer total protection without the elevated cancer risk. Reagan, whose products offer broad-spectrum sun protection, explains, “Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin while natural sunscreens (mineral-based) sit on top of your skin, blocking the sun’s rays at the surface. Natural sunscreens such as zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide are usually thick like a body lotion texture. They work by reflecting UVA/UVB rays away from the skin and start to work right away.”
Essential oils like red raspberry seed and carrot seed are also reliable ingredients to look for in any natural sunscreen, and may even be helpful for certain types of precancerous skin lesions caused by UVA/UVB rays.
Overall, healthy skin comes from a well-balanced lifestyle. For Fender, it is truly a holistic approach. “I love how inspired and educated my clients are these days. They come to the treatment room with insightful questions, and they understand that caring for the skin is not separate from caring for the soul.”
Marlaina Donato is an author, composer and painter. Connect at WildflowerLady.com.