Skin Deep
Read Five Magazine California

Did you know your car and your cosmetic bag may have something in common? Some “moisturizers” carry petroleum based by products that are manufactured in the same factories as gas and certain ingredients Like sodium lauryl sulfate in our personal care products are that also used as engine degreasers/ corrosion cleaners for our automobiles
It seems like common sense that we probably shouldn’t be using petroleum based by-products such as coal tar in our beauty care, and new scientific studies are begining to show that. In the list of petroleum related products “petrolatum” alone has shown contamination concern producing evidence of cancer, allergies, toxicity and endocrine disruption not to mention its effects on the environment, Petrolatum has been banned or restricted by the European Union, but is still used freely in the U.S.
It is understood that sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate (SLS or SLES) once abbreviated, is clinically recognized by the term "skin irritant" which is ironic since it is one of the most commonly used chemicals in soaps. Though naturally a derivative of coconut oil, the International Chemical Safety Card for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate lists these acute hazard symptoms:
-can cause redness and pain on the skin,
-redness/ pain and corneal damage to the eye,
-problems with inhalation including cough, labored breathing, headache, dry throat, nasal congestion
- if ingested there is a possibility of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
SLS is also suspicious of creating hormone imbalances, protein denaturing, and carcinogenicity which can lead to cancer.

Parabens which are used as preservatives have been shown to cause some of the same dangers, but both ingredients have generated a lot of controversy especially on the internet. The general consensus from those who support these additives stand on the belief that they are satisfactory due to their low concentration levels, and long history of safe use. They also express that natural ingredients often don’t work as efficiently and are more expensive with a lower shelf life. General conclusions by opposition focus on the idea that that these products are often used on a consistent basis and can be both internally and externally dangerous to the body even with the low concentration levels and may be causing both short and long term health issues.

You will find the argument stretching across the board from your local drug store to health conscious lifestyle outlets since both are likely to carry products containing SLS and parabens. Natural based company Tom’s of Maine stands by the safe use of SLS/SLES in their toothpaste, but also carry a line that is SLS/SLES free. The Aubrey Organics label is against its use. They are one of most widespread and well respected labels in the natural beauty business and have been around for almost thirty years. They offer 140 products with the Aubrey Organics® guarantee: 100% natural and never tested on animals.

While the Aubrey line seems to be one of the top trusted labels by health advocates and Tom’s of Maine atleast honest about their use of ingredients, consumers must be cautious about products labeled “natural” or “organic”. Some companies use these terms as a marketing gimmick and are made up of very little organic or natural ingredients. The USDA organic stamp which was established for food standards in December 2000 is considered by most as a substantial standard for food, but not necessarily for other products. On a visit to Down to Earth (our local Hawaii health food chain), the assistant in the beauty section assured me that the USDA stamp was actually pretty reliable in personal care and that you can look for a list of other organic certifications. She showed me a product from Avalon Organics which had three certifications on the label and pointed out Oregon Tilth as being one of the best.

I think many of us health conscious individuals are likely to read the ingredients labels on our food, but not our beauty products however after reading several of my own personal products I noticed that it is similar to how we have been taught to understand food labels which is “if you cant even pronounce the name of the ingredients, its probably not good for you.

I decided to go on a little introspection of my own bathroom cabinet and was surprised to find that while most of the products had a nice list of natural ingredients they were still mixed in with parabens and SLS/SLES. The majority of my cabinet is filled with the Kiehl’s line of products which I love because of its light and natural feel, however most of the labels which are environmentally conscious enough to be printed in soy ink still contain either SLS or parabens. Aveda much like Kiehls has a strong statement and campaign for the environment even going as far as to manufacture their products with 100% certified wind power, but I found parabens listed at the bottom of the ingredients label for my Aveda Facial cleanser. I emailed Aveda and they assured me that they do not use SLS in their products and have excluded parabens from every new product released in the past two years. While they stand by the safe use of parabens, their mission and principles are to use as much pure flower and plant essences possible so they are currently researching new alternatives to parabens and phasing them out as they find funtional solutions. At this point I knew there was not much hope for some of other my other faithful favorites including those wonderful Philosophy bath washes, my Frederick Fekkai shampoo, the Squalane (Mayumi Japan) hand & body lotion and even my Tea Tree therapy toothpaste. There was a glimmer of hope however since my tea tree hand soap from Jason and Clarifying Shampoo/conditioner from Avalon Organics were SLS and paraben free which was I found right away because it was stated right on the front of the bottle with some natural certification stamps. My Aveda SPF 15 tinted moisturizer and lipstick looked good for the recommended sunscreen ingredients as well.

In a study from the EWG only 16% of sunscreens on the market were scientifically proven to be "safe and effective" in providing both UVA and UVB protection. What happens to most sunscreens is the ingredients that are suppose to protect us actually breakdown in the hot sun and are therefore useless, not to mention dangerous because once absorbed in the skin, they may actually damage DNA cells which can cause early aging and possibly skin cancer. It is no news to surfers that Zinc and Titanium Oxide are currently considered the most effective ingredients in sun care; a brand called Zinc was very popular dating back to the 80s until people got sick of having pink, green and blue colored faces. Today products like Shiseido’s sun stick are very common for serious sun dwellers since they can see when the thick layer of skin colored cream has worn off and don’t have to rely on claims by the label about when to reapply the product.

If that wasn’t enough we must also be on the look out for mercury and lead in our beauty products. Mercury can be listed in several different names but if it kind of sounds like mercury, it probably is. Thimerosal is another ingredient that contains mercury. It is most prevelant in mascaras, but I was startled to see them listed in a homeopathic eye drop called Similasan #1 which is strange since I use the Similasan #2 and always found the #2 (which does not contain the ingredient) to be much more effective. Another homepathic cream called BHI Traumeel Ointment for joint pain also includes mercury in their ingredients according to the EWG. You should also note that while the government has banned the use of lead in gasoline and house paint, it remains in some of our hair products, mainly hair dyes.

Finally the mystery of fragrance may be the most deceiving of all, since the FDA allows companies to hide the ingredients of their fragrance as being part of their trade secret. Unfortunately, some of these unlisted ingredients may contain neurotoxins and some the top five allergens in the world. If you have allergies there is a good chance you already figured this one out on your own. The simple solution is to buy products that say "fragrance free" and wear a flower.

Though I may not be willing to give up my favorite products just yet, I am certainly considering it. On the one hand you wonder, is it really a big deal, but on the other, why risk it? I hope they will continue studying these controversial products since “long term safe use” is just not enough for me. It makes you wonder if the growing rates of cancer, autism in our youth, and incurable illnesses like fibromyalgia might be simply; skin deep.

by Lane Davey

You can also visit the Environmental Working Groups guideline to beauty products titled skin deep at www.cosmeticdatabase.com which explains all these issues in depth and has multiple links, organizations and recommended products.
The EWG is currently forming a petition that they will send to the FDA once they get 10,000 signatures to force companies to include warning labels for ingredients which can be potentially harmful so if you want to get active in this campaign for health click on this link to fill out the petition and spread the word:

Other Links:

-International Chemical Safety Card for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate:

-To see the list of products which contain SLS or SLES go to National institute of Health:http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=chem&id=98&query=sodium%2Blauryl%2Bsulfate

-Tom's of Maine's fact sheet for why they stand by the use of SLS/ SLES

-Environmental Working Group- http://www.ewg.org/
Skin Deep (a list of products and guidelines to safe products)- http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com/
-Report on Sunscreen:

-USDA Organic Label