Guide to Decoding Ingredient Labels and Identifying Toxic Exposure
Navigating the Latin ingredient list, in tiny font, on the back of your favourite product can be daunting. Difficult to pronounce words, disguised ingredients and an unregulated industry. No wonder our eyes surrender to the fancy packaging and health claims on the front. Skin is the largest organ of the body and acts as a protective barrier between the external and internal environments. It’s also the most diagnostic organ; it communicates to us and gives us hints as to our overall health. Shouldn’t this make us vigilant in identifying potential toxins? Yes; this would even include checking the ingredients in your favourite collagen facial mask. Let’s unmask your common hidden toxins (pun intended).
Parabens (phenoxyethanol and ethylhexylglycerin):
Parabens are an ingredient in 90% of our skin and body care. It's used to lengthen the shelf life of a product. The issue with parabens is they are known hormone disruptors. Parabens mimic estrogen in our body. This is a problem. Actually, this is a big problem if you are already experiencing hormone imbalances. If a product is paraben free what does that really mean? Manufactures are smart. They know a conscious consumer looks for toxic free products, so they substitute with other ingredients to imitate the role of a paraben. All the while touting “paraben free”.
Now we do need preservatives in any product that has a water component in it-- a cream, lotion or soap. A preservative prevents bacteria and mold from developing in the product which would harm the consumer. There are natural preservatives that will aid with shelf life without compromising hormone health. This comes back to being educated on labels, ingredients and ultimately a company that supports natural products free of synthetic additives.
Sulphates (SLS- sorbitol lauryl sulphates):
Sulphates are a chemical contained in products to encourage foaming, hand soaps, cleansers and Shampoo. Foaming does not equal clean. These ingredients can also be found in floor and car cleaning products (at a lower level of course). When we are cleaning the skin with sulphates, we are stripping its natural-occurring oils and creating an imbalance. Think of stripping the wax, that nice sheen, off your floor. Same chemicals. If you are still not convinced on sulphates, read on. This may show up as an irritation, dermatitis, on your skin. Giving the impression of sensitive skin, whereas it's actually a normal reaction to sulfates or ingredients. In fact, only a small percentage of suffers have a true “sensitive” skin type. Similar to the way silicone makes your hair shine, while blocking moisture; sulphates give a false sense of improvement by having a tight and clean feeling on the skin. The irony is, sulphates send a message to the body "we need to produce more oil". This creates more congestion, more breakouts (comedones). The endless cycle begins foam cleansing, oil stripping and congestion. Knowing safe substitutions is important when decoding an ingredient list. For example, sodium cetearyl sulfate may sound scary but, in actuality, it is a natural derivative of oils and fats in plants. Commonly used in natural skin care products, as an alternative to toxic sulphates, without compromising health and function.
We are so driven by smell. It is the very reason why Fall scented candles are so popular. Manufactures know how seductive smells are and capitalize on this by using fragrance in their products. The reality is, fragrance is a loophole ingredient that can contain up to 1000 chemicals and toxins. Not so sweet smelling now is it? It is the only black-box ingredient that gets a free pass on non-disclosure from the FDA. A safe alternative is to look for products that contain essential oils. These have protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the skin, as well as a wonderful aroma (carcinogenic free!).
Phthalates is a class of chemical long used in the production of a wide array of household products. It is used as a binding agent, helping to make plastics more flexible. However, over the past near 2 decades, phthalates have been under mounting scrutiny, dating back to 2003 when the US Center for Disease Control published a research document highlighting their recommendation that phthalates be further investigated for effects on human health. The research that has followed has been nothing short of being highly concerning. Of the Phthlalates chemicals which have been studied, a large number have already been established as being significantly problematic. Of these chemicals, research has been able to find links between these phthalates to asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, type II diabetes, low IQ, breast cancer, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, male fertility issues, and more. It is without question that companies that continue to use phthalates-class chemicals as an ingredient should do so with caution. For consumers, understanding that the risks associated with exposure to a phthalates chemical is important when reading ingredient labels and considering a product. The issue however, goes one step further, as phthalates are used in such a wide array of household items, avoiding them can be difficult since they are often not listed on product labels.
The best thing a consumer can do in their journey towards greater wellness, is to seek out products that distinctly state their ingredients come from natural sources. With this distinction, you can be confident that the product contains no phthalate chemicals.
Triclosan is a chemical agent with powerful antibacterial properties, and typically found in cleaners, soaps and even toothpastes. Studies have shown evidence that triclosan may in fact be detrimental to our health in a variety of ways. Firstly, triclosan has been linked to decreases in thyroid hormones in both men and women. Early research is also being conducted linking long term animal exposure to triclosan with skin cancer. The greater problem, however, associated with human exposure to triclosan, is its ability to produce bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. While this is concerning at the individual level, at the societal level, it has the potential to pose a much deeper threat to public health. Currently, the FDA is monitoring Triclosan, reviewing the safety and effectiveness being compiled from the research. The easiest way to avoid this chemical is by searching for soaps, like this one, that are made from natural organic ingredients, containing no triclosan or other ingredients that may be harmful to our health.
Gut and Skin
The gut and the skin talk to each other. The gut and skin are closely related; for example, a food allergy will manifest as a skin reaction. The skin is a good reflection of what’s going on with our gut health. We’ve all heard the expression ‘beauty starts on the inside’, but this could not be truer. We can slap on all the products we like, but if we ignore our health within, we’re only doing half the job. What is the other half? Feeding our skin with the same natural ingredients we often reserve for the goal of a healthy gut. The next time problem skin flares up, instead of exhausting a rotation of products and treatments, consider transitioning to a natural skin care line. Often the power of clean, plant-based ingredients is underestimated. For example, the snow mushroom holds a thousand times its weight in water. Found in this natural face serum, it makes the skin supple and plum like hyaluronic acid. Another is green tea, which can aid gut health by having a prebiotic and probiotic function when found in applied skin care products.
Now that we have covered some of the usual suspects as it relates to the toxic ingredients commonly found in our household products, and tying it back to our gut and skin health, you may now be realizing that we’ve only peeled back one layer of the onion. Understanding the whole picture, of course, becomes more complex. While this may seem as daunting as it did at the outset, there is good news! Ninety percent of navigating wellness is awareness. By making a conscious decision to be educated on the hidden toxins and the benefits of naturally sourced plant-based products, your overall wellness is improved, because you now have a foundation to make healthier decisions for you and your family. In a world where more and more things are seemingly becoming outside of our control, being informed on critical matters, like our health and wellness, empowers us to take back some of that control. We should feel good about our choice to use natural and honest products. It will improve and protect our overall health. With the use of intelligent ingredients, our revitalized skin will communicate the calm and balance of our internal and external environments. And while reading ingredient lists with words written in latin may continue to feel foreign to us, the act of making informed and healthy decisions for ourselves, will not.