Skin, so strange, and spectacular - if you really think about it. It is our largest organ, our interface with the outside world. Incredibly, it has the ability to take in vitamins and nutrients, protect us from harmful bacteria and frankly, holds our insides together, keeping it from spilling out into world. The countless receptors in our skin signal our body how to react to stimuli (think FIRE) and adapt in terms of body awareness, balance, and stability throughout the entire system.
On a deeper level, skin mirrors our wellness. The nutrient density of our movement, eating, and sleep patterns coupled with our stress and happiness levels are all reflected in our skin's elasticity, clarity, tone and texture. It is directly connected to our liver and our ability to flush out toxins. Given all of its functions, feeding our skin, from the inside out and outside in, really should be right up there next to breathing, with regard to priorities in my humble opinion.
What are some ways to show your skin love? Today I won't be taking a deep dive into movement, food, stress management or sleep. I'll cover those topics in a later post. Instead I'd like to steer the conversation to ingredients in products and slightly more fringe skin health concepts.
Did you know that the EU has banned over 1300 chemicals from cosmetics, while the US bans only 30? With this in mind, we need to be our own detectives and label scourers.
What are some ingredients to BEWARE of? Here is a list of our top 11 (there are many more).
1. SLS or Sodium Lauyl Sulfate. This ingredient is found in shampoos, body and face washes, makeup mouth wash, toothpaste as well as cleaning products. It is that thing that makes products foam up. It messes with the skin's microbiome, is an eye and lung irritant, and a hormone disruptor. If you get acne around your chin, SLS may be one of the causes!
2. Formaldehyde. This preservative used in many skin care products to prevent the growth of bacteria, is a known carcinogen. It has been linked to several types of cancers, weaken the immune system and cause allergic reactions on the skin. Formaldehyde can be found primarily in nail polishes and other nail products, but also in shampoos, conditioners, cleansers and eye makeup.
3. BHA. A known human carcinogen, butylated hydroxyanisole, or BHA, can cause the loss of skin pigmentation and liver damage, and can interrupt normal thyroid function. It can be found in skin exfoliants, perfumes and colognes.
4. Parabens. These are preservatives used to prevent bacteria and are commonly found in moisturizers, shampoo, shaving cream and makeup. They are estrogen mimicking and problematic, as excess estrogen can disrupt thyroid function. They can be linked to almost every type of cancer, as well as infertility and skin disease. Some other terms for paragons are: benzylparaben, butyiparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben,isobutylparaben. Be on the look out!
5. Phthalates. This group of chemicals are known endocrine disruptors, linked to insulin resistance, breast cancer and reproductive defects in both men and women, and developmental problems in children. They are used to increase pliability and softness of plastics can be found in just about everything from nail polishes, lotions, moisturizers, to perfumes and hair spray. They are tricky additives as in the US it is not required specifically disclose their inclusion on labels and are often hidden under the "fragrance" umbrella.
6. Petroleum. In case the question popped up in your head, yes, this is the same stuff you find in motor oil. The EPA classifies this as a probable cancer-causing carcinogen because it contains 1,4-Dioxane. In addition, it forms a barrier on the skin, not allowing the skin to breathe or moisture to be absorbed from the environment. Be aware that it hides behind some other names including liquid paraffin, mineral oil, xylene, toluene and petrolatum.
7. Triclosan. Technically, this is a pesticide and in addition to being a hormone and thyroid disruptor, is terrible for the environment. It is used as an antibacterial in soaps, deodorants and toothpastes.
8. Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid and retinol. These highly carcinogenic ingredients rapidly oxidizing in sunlight and are common ingredients in moisturizers and sunscreens and damage the skin when applied topically. You can safely say they are aging-accelerators for the skin.
9. Fragrance. In the US, the term "fragrance" is a mystery and could mean just about anything. The FDA allows companies to keep these ingredients hidden to protect them from being copied, but this lack of regulation opens the doors to health anarchy. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average fragrance has over a dozen "secret" chemicals in it, many of which are linked to hormone disruption and allergies.
10. Hydroquinone. This is the active ingredient in skin lighteners. It decreases the formation of melanin and is a bleaching chemical. In high concentrations, it can potentially cause ochronosis, a permanent skin pigmentation condition. Products with this are often paired with toxic mercury, which can cause severe brain inflammation, among many other unwelcome issues. Steer clear of anything with the words "mercury, calomel, mercurio or mercurio chloride" in the ingredient list.
11. Synthetic Colors and dyes. Artificial coloring and dyes are made from carcinogenic coal tar, known to irritate and cause sensitivity by depositing heavy metals on the skin. Keep your eyes peeled for anything with FD&C or D&C in it.
What TO look for.
Basically, you want to know that if you ate your skin products, although they may not be pleasant to the taste buds, they would do you no harm. Why take such a strong stance on this? Anything you put on your skin is absorbed right into your bloodstream. As I mentioned earlier, your skin is a reflection of what is going on internally, both physically and psychologically. If your organs are bearing a heavy toxic load, it will inevitably be reflected in your skin.
Some of my favorite ingredients: jojoba, coconut, avocado, olive, almond, argan, and tea tree oils, coconut, cacao, mango and shea butters, apple cider vinegar, raw honey, aloe vera, sea salt and essential oils such as lavender, geranium, palmarosa, sandalwood, rose, frankincense, helichrysum, carrot seed, lemon seed, neroli, sea buckthorn.
And other "fringe" skin secrets.
1. Photobiomodulation. As most of us learned in elementary school, light is not simply what it appears to be to the naked eye. Just as food can be broken down into vitamins and nutrients, each supporting a specific function, so can light be broken down into several colors, each having a different effect on our bodies. There is research dating as far back as the late 1800's describing the benefits of red light on health.
Light therapy, or photobiomodulation, is basically specific wavelengths of light applied to areas of the body to improve the functioning of that particular affected tissue. With regards to skin health, I am talking the appearance of scars and boosting collagen production (hello fresh young skin)!
Bonus side note: This type of therapy also helps with a broad range of ailments from pain, muscle aches, osteoarthritis, and depression. It boosts testosterone production and even improves eye sight. The idea is that light, red light in particular, has a profound effect on energy metabolism. While the other colors of light, ultraviolet, blue, green and infrared, are absorbed by the skin and not able to penetrate it, red light and near-infrared light are able to activate enzymes associated with mitochondrial respiration, in other words, affecting cellular health. Powerful indeed! Our favorite device for this type of therapy is the Joovv light. While not the most pocket friendly piece of equipment out there, given all of its benefits, it is definitely worth the investment. (We have the Joovv light original).
If you want to learn more, here are a couple of studies to satisfy your inner geek.
2. Derma Rolling. This basically involves stabbing your skin repeatedly with tiny needles. Doesn't that sound great? I've tried it and its actually not painful at all. Why would you do that? Micro-needling your skin has been around for several years. We've talked about hermetic stressors in the past, and this is one you can apply to your skin. By creating micro-punctures in your skin, you induce an inflammatory response which stimulates cell growth, oxygen and blood flow. It also a pathway for nutrients to enter the body so that incredible, organic, edible mask, moisturizer and skin serum you just bought can have an even more pronounced effect! I use the one from Alitura Naturals. In fact, I love most of their products. The clay mask and night cream are my absolute favorites.
3. MELT Method 50-Second Face Lift. This may sound crazy, but let me tell you from personal experience, it works! Sue Hitzmann, the creator of the MELT Method, developed a quick hydrating treatment that stimulates the cells and relaxes the entire face using the Large Soft Ball from the MELT Hand and Foot Treatment Kit. She calls it the 50-Second Face Lift. She has another face lift treatment as well using the MELT Soft Roller. The entire MELT Method has been a game changer for us in terms of body maintenance and definitely worth checking out.
4. Prebiotics. Your skin has it's own microbiome that needs feeding, just like your gut. Many of the cleansing products out there will strip the skin of its natural oils and good bacteria, starving your skin of the "food" it needs to keep itself healthy. Skin probiotics encourage the growth of necessary strains of bacteria and can be super helpful in treating conditions such as eczema and rosacea, calming the skin and controlling breakouts. Our family uses Aleavia body wash and mist. The lavender is great too, and smells delicious!
5. Contrast Therapy. This may be the easiest and most affordable treatment for the skin of all. Showers with alternating between periods of cold and hot water temperatures have significant health benefits, one of them being an anti-aging effect on the skin. They help boost circulation and the removal of toxins and waste products from the tissues and also have an anti-inflammatory effect. Other health benefits are increased mental and physical alertness, the upregulation of oxytocin (happiness hormone) and the ability to convert white fat (responsible for fat accumulation) to brown fat (stimulates tissue to burn fat for energy). There are several ways to do this. Some ideas: Start with 30 seconds of cold followed by 30 seconds of hot, ending with a cold cycle. Or, take a normal shower and end with 1-5 minutes of cold, particularly on your head, neck, shoulders and upper back regions.
(Full disclosure: We are affiliates of a few of these brands listed above. While we make a little bit of money if you make a purchase using our links, it is at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, we honestly wouldn't be recommending them if we didn't believe in them)!