By Alanna Brown, LuxEco Living Editorial Assistant
The largest organ in, or should I say on, our bodies…the epidermis. It is defined by the Online Encyclopedia Britannica, “protective outermost portion of the skin.” So if it is our outermost protective layer, it must be pretty important, right? But what are all the ways our protective layer gets damaged or facilitates internal damage? Forget about the obvious stuff…ultraviolet rays from the sun and air pollutants. Everyone knows about those. What about the things that manage to lurk, ironically, in the most conspicuous places, somehow escaping our attention?
Think about the bed you sleep in; think about the laundry detergent you wash your sheets in and your clothes. Between sleep and the workday, your skin is constantly subject to all toxins harbored in fabrics. Have you thought about the chemicals in the moisturizer you slather on, the detriments of the soaps you wash with, or what that perfume really does as it rests on your skin for hours post-application? Of course, you try to apply these products in the correct places, lips pursed tight, eyes shut. Heed that CHEMICAL WARNING on the back of the bottle, yes! But just because you avoid immediate danger doesn’t mean you are free of long-term consequences. Our protective layer is not by any means impermeable; it is covered in millions of pores. It soaks all those chemicals right in, straight into the blood stream.
So let’s educate ourselves, shall we? We’ll attack this one chemical at a time.
Naturally, having good hygiene means having clean clothes and bedding. But when you empty the contents of your hamper into the washing machine, pour in the common laundry detergent, and leave the load to soak, swish, and spin, do you know what’s really being churned around in there? Some fabrics and dirt of course, along with a harmful chemical ingredient—just one of a handful found in the average laundry detergent—called petroleum distillates (aka napthas). This chemical, refined from crude oil and used to dissolve dirt, is linked to lung damage, lung inflammation, cancer, and damage to mucous membranes. It doesn’t just stop with the washing, though. Even your everyday dryer sheets are highly carcinogenic. With these chemical ingredients, there is no such thing as a gentle cycle.
As you peruse the shelf-content of your local CVS, you become horrified and turn to run, screaming in terror! Well, no, you don’t do that. But maybe you should. Propylene glycol is a key ingredient in many shampoos, conditioners, hand and body lotions, and especially deodorants. It’s also a common additive in candy, foods, and beverages for sustaining artificial flavor, and exists in many pharmaceuticals like local anesthetic, vaccines, cough syrup, vitamins and hormones. While the FDA classifies it “generally recognized as safe” and it is metabolized in the body much like sugar, you might want to know a few other things about it. Propylene glycol is a key ingredient in anti-freeze, brake and hydraulic fluid, paint, and floor wax, among other industrial products. According to Healthycommunications.com, the Material Safety Data Sheet on this chemical says it is “Implicated in contact dermatitis, kidney damage and liver abnormalities; can inhibit cell growth in human tests and can damage membranes causing rashes, dry skin and surface damage.” Pretty scary, right?
Notice that no matter how much lotion you use, your skin seems to be getting progressively drier? That’s because glycerin or glycerol, is another ingredient found in many skincare products. Similar to propylene glycol, it is also used in foods, pharmaceuticals, and industrial products. While marketers claim this chemical to be a hydrating ingredient, it turns out the opposite is true! Glycerin pulls moisture from the inner, newly forming layers of skin, outward. The surface of the skin then feels moist, but at the expense of the deeper layers. In reality, these lotions are drying out the skin from the inside.
What immediately comes to mind when reading the word aluminum? Think about it for a second…Now, what did you come up with? Perhaps a Coke can. Tin foil. A lightweight sheet metal used to manufacture cars and airplanes. A common material in electrical wiring. From now on, I want you to think “Dove”, “Secret”, “Arm & Hammer”, “Ban”, “Axe”, “Old Spice”, the list goes on. These are all brands of antiperspirants/deodorants, and they contain a toxic concentration of aluminum oxide as their active ingredient. Research shows that this sweet-smelling cosmetic is linked to respiratory disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and even breast cancer.
You may think you are creating a safe, sterile environment by using the common cleaner in your household, but no. You are really doing more harm than good. Methylisothiazolinone is the active ingredient in all antimicrobial soaps, hand soaps, dish soaps, and many cosmetic and hygiene products. Studies are finding that this chemical is strongly linked to nerve damage. One organic health website refers to these soaps as “nerve toxins” and says, “Millions of Americans…are literally placing a thin film of nerve agent chemicals on their dishes, and then drinking and eating from those dishes.”
This short list of chemical ingredients is only the beginning. You must learn to read labels, investigate, and make healthy choices. You would not coat your pancreas in anti-aging cream, dip your lymph nodes in cologne, or wash your liver in the kitchen sink. Remember that each muscle and organ is fed by what the body absorbs. And while the epidermis may be our outermost protective layer, it is not a coat of armor.
Now the good news: there are healthy alternatives!