Many of us faithfully eat organic foods, knowing the value of nourishing our bodies with a healthy diet. And while you may have made this healthy switch to being more intentional about what you put IN your body, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at what you put ON your body.
Natural vs Synthetic Ingredients
Naturally derived ingredients such as olive oil, jojoba, argan oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, etc. are extracted from plants, nuts, and seeds. Real ingredients may cost a little more; but in the long run they are a good investment in your health and present a salutary alternative to synthetic ingredients like mineral oil. Mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum and prevents the skin from breathing. Naturally occurring oils penetrate and nourish the skin with healthy fatty acids and vitamins. Think of them as value added ingredients – that is, they feed, nourish and support your skin and body in a way synthetic ingredients cannot.
Unfortunately, there is little Federal oversight when it comes to regulation of ingredients in body care products. The FDA does not have the legal authority to approve body care products and there is no pre-market testing required for most body care ingredients. Cosmetic companies may use almost any ingredient they choose with no oversight, and sadly, there are a lot of cheap, unsafe ingredients being used. Following are a few tips to help you choose cleaner, greener body care products.
Natural ingredients to look for:
Parabens & Phthalates
Parabens (methylparaben, propyl-, butyl-, ethyl-) are preservatives used in lotions, hair care, and other products to increase shelf life, but can act as foreign estrogens that build up in the body. Safer preservatives are available, but generally cost more.
Phthalates are ‘plasticizers’ that are sometimes found in conventional nail polish, hair sprays, perfumes, and fragrance mixes.
Phthalates build up in fatty tissues and negatively influence endocrine function, especially in children.
Fragrance or Parfum
Be cautious of ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ in the ingredients. Companies do not have to disclose what is included in their ‘fragrance’ as it can be considered a ‘trade secret’, and may include any of over 3,000 chemicals used in the industry.
Synthetic fragrance can trigger allergic reactions, and may contain phthalates.
Note that some companies will use the term ‘natural fragrance’ to specify the use of essential oils, which does not pose the same hazard.
Best Selling Lotions at the Co-op:
A body care product carrying the ‘USDA Organic’ Seal can be certified under the National Organic program regulations of the USDA, and by law must contain a minimum of 95% organic ingredients.
Be wary of the terms ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’ on products, as the term is not regulated, and can be virtually meaningless.
USDA Organic Body Care
Badger Damascus Rose Facial Care
Evan Healy Facial Hydrosol Toners
Moon Valley Organic Lotion Bars
Good: Mineral Based Sunscreens
When choosing sunscreens, consider a mineral based sunscreen. Many health professionals recommend using mineral based sunscreens rather than synthetic chemical sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens employ zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide that sit on top of the skin and act as a physical barrier. The minerals reflect and absorb UVA and UVB rays, affording broad spectrum protection from the sun. Titanium dioxide works best when paired with zinc oxide, as it doesn’t protect as well on its own against UVA rays. Mineral sunscreens present safer options, as they don’t contain harmful compounds found in the chemical based sunscreens.
Bad: Oxybenzone & Octinoxate
Two of the most harmful sunscreen ingredients are oxybenzone and octinoxate. Although these two chemicals are still being used in many commercial sunscreens, the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org/skindeep/) recommends avoiding them due to safety concerns, especially for babies and children. Studies have associated them with endocrine disruption and possible cellular changes.
Oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin in significant amounts, and according to the CDC is found internally in 97% of the population.
The same sunscreen chemicals mentioned above that pose healthy concerns in humans also present dangers for coral reefs. Oxybenzone and octinoxate can kill or bleach coral at extremely low concentrations. Hawaii and Key West recently banned these sunscreen chemicals in an effort to help protect reef areas. The term ‘reef safe’ is unregulated, and some unethical companies falsely use the term, while still using the chemicals! The only sure way to know if your sunscreen is reef safe is to read the list of ingredients and check for the offending chemicals.
For true ‘reef safe’ sunscreen options, your best bet is to choose sunscreens that use either zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, are biodegradable, and water resistant.