More Than Skin Deep

Every moment of every day, your skin is working for you. It protects you against heat and light, injury and infection. It regulates body temperature and stores water, fat and vitamin D.

The skin is our body’s largest organ. It works so efficiently, we don’t even stop to think about it. The only time we do consider our skin is when we slather it with lotion to keep it soft, or put makeup on it to cover uneven blotches or an unsightly blemish.

Or perhaps we use our skin as a way to deliver one of the many medications now available in patch form. From birth control to medications for osteoporosis, large Band-aid-like patches adhere to the skin, delivering the correct dosage, which moves from the surface of our skin to our bloodstream within about 20 minutes. But wait – think about this. If medication can go from skin to bloodstream, what about the other products you put on your skin? Is it possible that those seemingly benign beauty products you slather, rub and pat on your skin, might also make it to your bloodstream? And if so, what do you know about what’s in them?

Read the label of any beauty product, and you’ll feel like you’re reading a foreign language. With dozens of ingredients you can’t pronounce, it is unlikely you even know what they are. And this is what manufacturers are counting on. Beauty products are not governed by the Federal Drug Administration. In fact, they are not governed by anyone at all; there are no safety regulations to be adhered to. And this is a huge problem.

In February, 2007 an article, “Should You Trust Your Makeup?” was published in the New York Times. In it, author Natasha Singer writes, “… momentum has been building for greater oversight of the chemicals in everyday products …” And Senator Carole Migden, of San Francisco concurs. She sponsored a bill called, The California Safe Cosmetics Act, which took effect in January of 2007. The bill mandates that manufacturers reveal potentially poisonous ingredients. “I hope that the bill will lead manufacturers to voluntarily eliminate suspect ingredients from cosmetics.”

So what are these suspect ingredients? Surely they aren’t in the beauty products sitting on your shelf — right? Not true. And given the fact that a woman puts an average of five pounds of beauty products on her skin each year, it’s important to understand just what these ingredients are. The California bill cited above requires cosmetic companies tell state health authorities if ingredients in their products contain chemicals currently on government lists that are known to cause cancer and hormonal changes in lab animals. Below are just a few of the ingredients to watch for:

Parabens are synthetic chemicals used as a preservative in many beauty products. They are known to cause cancer and hormonal changes in scientific studies. As concern about the safety of parabens has grown, the industry is beginning to take notice. Consumers can now look for labels indicating, “Paraben-free.”

Phthalates are used for many different purposes in beauty care products. The most common, DMP, DEP, and DBP are used to make the product better. DMP and DEP are used to make fragrances longer lasting. DBP makes nail polish more chip-resistant. But making the product better is not without its risks, as all three ingredients are known carcinogens. In fact, Phthalates are banned in Europe because of safety concerns. Many of the same companies which add Phthalates to their products in the United States reformulate them for their consumers in Europe, without the Phthalates. But as American women become more informed, some manufacturers are changing their formula. Three cosmetic companies have recently announced they’re removing Phthalates from their nail polish. They are Essie, OPI and Sally Hansen.

Lead is found in many hair dyes, especially in those that work gradually. Lead is a known carcinogen and disrupts hormone levels. It is easily absorbed through the skin and accumulates in the bones. When Xavier University of Louisiana studied a number of common brands of hair dyes, they found many of them contained up to ten times the amount of lead allowed in household paint. In an October, 2007 newscast, “ABC News” reported some lipsticks are contaminated with lead. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics randomly purchased more than 30 lipsticks, with both drugstore and designer labels and sent them to a lab for lead testing. More than half came back positive for lead.

But the truth is there are many more ingredients of concern able to be listed in one short article. To find out what is in your beauty products, go to There, you can look up your particular cosmetic brand. By clicking on the link, you can see exactly what ingredients it contains and what the concerns are for each one. Also, each product is rated on a scale of one to ten according to how safe it is.

Your skin plays a vital role in your overall wellbeing. By understanding what is in the products you put on it, you can be assured your body’s largest organ continues to work efficiently. For more information visit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at


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