Girl Planting seeds

Ladies_at_SpaOver the past 35 years, it’s been wonderful to watch as many people have embraced the idea that what we put in our bodies affects our health.   Believe it or not, back in the 70’s, when I began my fascination with nutrition; the general understanding of the critical role diet played in our health was not quite where it is today.  In those days, no one was discussing the pro-inflammatory effects of sugar, or the fact that eating foods high in antioxidants were anti-inflammatory.  Heck, we didn’t even know that inflammation played a role in chronic health problems!  We also weren’t asking for gluten-free options, or discussing the fact that dairy is top on the list of allergenic foods.  But now, these discussions are common place.   We definitely have reached a sort of tipping point in our understanding of the fact that what we put in our bodies plays a major role in our health.        

The next great awakening in terms of preventing illness and maximizing our health seems to be in the area of what we put on our bodies.   Did you know that most of what we put on our skin (approximately 80% of lotions, potions, sunblock, oils) enters our blood stream within 26 seconds?  Additionally, it is estimated by the Environmental Working Group that the average woman’s daily personal care products contain over 160 chemicals (most of which have never been tested for safety?)

In her excellent series of books Green This!,  NY Times best-selling author Deirdre Imus notes:  “more than 10,500 ingredients are used in personal care products and only 11% of those have been reviewed for safety.  That means that we have no idea if almost 90% of what we put on our bodies is toxic or not.   The Food and Drug Administration, the government agency that regulates personal care products, doesn’t have the authority to test any products before they hit the stores shelves and doesn’t do any systematic reviews of safety once they’re other there”.     

Additionally, with four industry-hired lobbyists for every one congressperson in Washington, you can imagine that the removal of a potentially harmful substance (especially if it’s a real money- maker) doesn’t happen very often.

What’s a Consumer to Do? With the help of watchdog organizations like the Environmental Working Group and Green America, we must educate ourselves and make smarter choices about what we put on our bodies.  According to a publication by Green America (a network committed to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society) the following ingredients should be avoided in personal care products.  For further information go to, a website maintained by the Environmental Working Group.   


1.      Parabens:These are hormone disrupting (estrogen- mimicking) chemicals found in shampoos, moisturizers, conditioners, foundations, baby lotion etc.  They can alter hormone levels causing “estrogen dominance”, possibly impair fertility and potentially raise your risk of certain types of cancer.


2.      Mineral Oil:  Mineral oil is a by- product of the petroleum industry (it may be listed as paraffin, toluene or xylene). It is contained in many skin care products including: shampoos and soap.  Since your skin is your biggest eliminative organ (meaning it helps your kidneys, liver and intestines get rid of toxins), you want the skin go be able to “breathe”.  Mineral oil “clogs the skin preventing it from releasing toxins.


3.      Phthalates: (listed as Dibutyl Phthalate or DBP, Diethyl Phthalate). Used as solvents and plasticizers.  Studies have shown these chemicals can induce birth defects, low sperm count and other reproductive problems in animals.   One study showed high levels in girls with precocious puberty (developing breasts before age 8)  and another showed higher rates of male genital abnormalities, liver and kidney lesions and higher incidence of childhood asthma and allergies.    Phthalates have been banned by the European Union but continue to be used in many products in the US.


4.      Lead: A potent neurotoxin found in popular brands of lipstick and men’s hair coloring kits.    



5.      Mercury:   After Uranium, mercury is one of the most toxic substances on the planet! Mercury is a neurotoxin often listed as “Thimerosal” still used in some cosmetics, mascara and certain vaccines.


6.      Formaldehyde:   A known carcinogen, commonly used as a hardener in nail polish and often contained in bath products.    


7.      Fragrance:  The FDA requires companies to list their ingredients in food,, drugs and body care products- but chemicals used to make up a fragrance (which potentially contains hundreds of volatile compounds in one  secret “scent”) do not have to be listed.   


8.      Nanoparticles: Found in lotions, make up and especially sunscreen these untested ingredietns are so small many scientists are very concerned about their potential health effects as they can penetrate cell walls and are highly reactive.   Although their risks are mostly unknown, concerned consumers are checking to see if their products contain these substances at or


9.      Tricolosan:This is a main ingredient in anti-bacterial soaps.   It also has hormone disrupting properties and has been linked to the emergence of resistant “super bugs” (which are unresponsive to antibiotic therapy and cause MRSA and other untreatable bacterial infections)


Other Considerations: Dr. Nicholas Perricone, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Yale and author of The Wrinkle Cure and The Perricone Prescription advocates not only avoiding toxins in skin care products and using more natural alternatives, but for healthy skin he also recommends  lifestyle factors such as: an insulin-stabilizing diet (consisting of lots of organic vegetables and lean protein),  minimal amounts of sugar, alcohol and caffeine, optimal levels of Omega 3 fatty acids and other anti-inflammatory foods, and plenty of pure filtered water and 7-8 hrs of uninterrupted sleep. 

Skin Mistakes If you are like me, you’ve made some “skin mistakes” along the way. I can’t believe it now, but when I was a child and teen, I literally “baked” for hours in the Jersey Shore sun without applying skin block.  Yes, my Vitamin D level is good, but now my 100%- Irish skin is quite sun-damaged and shows the foolishness of my youth.    Unable to change the past, I do what I can to care for my skin by paying attention to my diet and by using the most natural (and still effective) skin care products I can find.     

Now that many more people are waking up to the idea that what we put on our bodies is just as important to our health as what we put in our bodies, it only makes common sense to avoid using products that contain questionable ingredients.  I don’t think we were meant to have flawless skin at any age, and trying to be perfect or look young forever can be futile and exhausting.  Using the gifts provided by Mother Nature however (healthy food, botanicals, herbs and natural skin care products) can go a long way in keeping the effects of Father Time at bay.     Most importantly, beyond everything we eat, or put on our bodies, feeling good about ourselves and loving the skin we are in are the keys to happiness--- and that I’m learning is the best, most natural beautiful skin care secret of all!   



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