Over the past few years, many of us have become familiar with the ever-growing presence of organic food in our supermarkets and greengrocers. Maybe you’ve already started introducing organic foods into your home. And you’ve no doubt done this because you recognise the benefits of consuming food that has been processed through agricultural methods that exclude the use of synthetic or chemical pesticides, fertilizers and bioengineered genes (GMOs).
Well, the same can be said for cosmetics and personal care products. After all, your skin is your body's largest organ and has the ability to absorb much of what you put on it. And this is a real concern when you consider that many of the popular and well-known branded beauty products, skin care, hair care and personal hygiene items on the market today contain synthetic ingredients and chemicals that are harsh and/or toxic and could pose a risk to your health.
Scientific studies have shown that some of these undesirable ingredients can cause skin allergies, irritation and rashes. More alarmingly, however, is the fact that some ingredients have the potential to cause more serious health problems, such as organ toxicity, interference with hormone function and even cancer. For example, preservatives such as parabens, which are designed to prolong product shelf life, can cause allergic reactions. They can also mimic oestrogen and disrupt your hormone (endocrine) system and have been detected in breast cancer tissue, raising further questions about their safety. Other synthetic preservatives can release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Also, synthetic colours (labelled as FD & C or D & C plus a number) have been recognised as carcinogenic.
In addition to all of this, many of today's popular commercial cosmetic brands also test their products on animals. These tests are cruel, painful and completely unnecessary. Ask yourself, if a cosmetic brand believed their ingredients were safe, couldn’t they just test them on people instead of animals?
Of course, we acknowledge that just because something is
natural doesn’t mean it is necessarily harmless. We’ve all heard about certain
poisonous plants, mushrooms, and the like. The point is that whether synthetic
or naturally based, products meant for use by humans on their bodies should not
contain ingredients known to be harmful.
Fortunately, there are many wonderful brands these days offering alternatives that are based on natural and organic ingredients designed to nurture and nourish your skin without toxic consequences. There are natural skin care products formulated from active botanicals, organic ingredients and extracts that have anti-oxidant qualities to fight free radicals and promote healthier looking skin. There are natural cosmetics that are mineral based and free from parabens and artificial colours and fragrances to bring out your natural glow. And there are natural hair care and body care products free from sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate, propylene glycol and mineral oils.
You should be aware, also, that words like “natural” and “organic” on product packaging may not necessarily mean what you think they mean. Lack of Government regulation in the cosmetics industry allows manufacturers to make these claims even if the “natural” and/or “organic” content forms a very small percentage of the product’s total ingredients and even if the product includes other potentially harmful ingredients.
But how do you know which ingredients are better for your body and which ones you should probably avoid. A good place to start is the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. This helpful website provides tips for safer products and allows you to look up information about certain branded products as well as individual ingredients. Products and ingredients are rated on a scale of 1-10 based on data available. A score of 1-2 represents a Low Hazard, 3-6 is Moderate and 7-10 denotes a High Hazard. Of course, ratings can only be determined based on data available for each ingredient. Some ingredients, like water for example, have been extensively researched and the data is robust. But for other ingredients, there may be little data available and so the EWG bases its results on what evidence there is in existence to date. This database allows you to familiarise yourself with ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products and is just one of many useful tools that can help you on your journey to sourcing better products for you and your family.
So, next time you reach for that bottle of moisturiser, shampoo or roll-on deodorant, take a moment to stop and think: is there a better, more natural and organic alternative for me?