Admit it. If you were to take the time right now to read through all the ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products, you would probably find a list of unfamiliar chemicals with long names you can hardly pronounce.
Although the history of cosmetics dates back thousands of years, it wasn’t until the advent of the Industrial Age that ready-made products became so widely available and cheap. Incidentally, it was around this time that synthetic and petrochemical ingredients became pervasive. Today, the great majority of cosmetics and personal care products still consist of synthetic chemical ingredients which have a tendency to irritate our skin and cause allergic reactions. What’s worse, it is difficult to evaluate their long-term effects on our health.
As the largest organ in our body, our skin’s main function is to act as a barrier from external harms (i.e. bacteria, UV radiation, etc). There are many statistical claims that may scare people into believing that the skin absorbs everything upon contact. But our skin is actually incredibly good at keeping things out. The likelihood of a chemical penetrating and being absorbed by our skin depends on different factors, such as its quantity and the condition of the skin. For example, broken or porous skin is more permeable.
Once a substance actually penetrates and is absorbed through the skin, it can directly enter the bloodstream and pose harmful effects to our health. The most dangerous of these effects have been linked to carcinogenic chemicals, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors which can negatively affect the reproductive system. The controversy and uncertainty surrounding the ingredients found in conventional cosmetics is ongoing. But certainly, there are more and more people who wish to reduce their risks to these health hazards and have thus increased their demand for safer and more natural cosmetics.
Natural invites caution
“Natural” should not automatically be equated with “safe.” There are many things in nature which are harmful for us. Some essences from flowers and herbs can be toxic when used in highly concentrated form. It is important to understand that there is an art and science involved in selecting natural ingredients and mixing them in appropriate amounts to obtain a safe and desirable effect. What’s more, there are many cases in which cosmetics manufacturers have misused the word “natural,” either through ignorance or greed in order to jump on the natural products bandwagon and enrich themselves at the consumer’s expense.
One simple way to determine whether a product is truly natural is by reading the ingredients list. Some products contain only a small fraction of ingredients that are from actual natural sources. If the first ten ingredients seem like a page out of a chemistry textbook, then chances are the word “natural” has been misused. If however the first and second ingredients are derived from names that are familiar to you, such as the names of plants and flowers, then you may actually have a natural product in your hands.
What is the difference between Natural and Organic?
Natural products are made from plants and minerals that occur in nature and have not been produced in a laboratory. Organic products are also made from natural ingredients; but they have been grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. This means, unless a product is labeled as both “natural” and “organic” it can still contain harmful chemicals and pesticides which can be absorbed through our skin. If you do not understand why so many people have advocated the reduction of the use of pesticides, you can read this peer review by the NCBI which clearly concludes that exposure to pesticides is positively related to the development of certain types of cancers and leukemia, especially among children.
The Advantages of Natural and Organic Cosmetics
There is no doubt that using products which have been deemed as both “natural” and “organic” has the principal advantage of protecting our health. Just as we prefer to eat pure, natural and wholesome foods so should we use the purest and most natural products to nourish our face and our skin.
The second advantage is that natural and organic products can be safely returned to earth once we have used them. Because organic farming eliminates the use of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers, the impact on our environment is minimal. Also, organic farming restricts the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which pose a significant threat to both human and environmental health. The principles of environmental health and balance are much the same for the external world and our internal world. The same pollutants which are causing us to be sick are also affecting the health of our planet. When we treat our bodies with respect by using the most natural and organic products, we are also showing the same respect for our planet’s natural, delicate balance.
In future posts, I will continue to describe the importance of and realities surrounding safe cosmetics. I will also give a written guide for all the different natural and organic labels which we’ve come to rely upon when shopping for products. In the meantime, I invite you to watch this video: “A Closer Look at Cosmetics Safety”