You are what you feed your skin
Updated: Jul 23, 2019
Your budget may not allow to buy certified organic or artisan skincare products but there are plenty of alternative options out there to allow you to have a healthy and completely chemical free skincare regimen.
In my local supermarket yesterday I stumbled across one of their weekly offers - a skincare product in 3 different varieties according to skin type. It wasn’t a well-known high street brand but yet well-presented as a ‘typical’ skincare product enriched with natural oils like shea butter and almond oil, presented in visually pleasing packaging - a white plastic container within a small attractive looking box. But what really struck me was the price: DKK 15,- (USD 2,25) for 50ml jar of face cream! That is a bargain - or is it?
Of course the next thing did (I can't help it) was to look at the list of ingredients.
Apart from a few recognisable botanical names along with vitamin E, it was a long list of impossible to pronounce chemical compounds. Now, that in itself does not mean that it is automatically harmful to you but - for me at least - it’s immediately off-putting. If I don’t know the ingredient, can’t pronounce its name or need a chemistry dictionary to understand its contents I’m very reluctant to apply it to my skin.
We all know the saying: ‘you are what you eat’ - implying that whatever we put in our mouths and process through our digestive system has an impact on our health.
This concept also very much holds true with regard to our skin: ‘You are what you feed your skin’.
As the largest organ of the body, the skin has several functions, the most important being to form a physical barrier to the environment, allowing and limiting the inward and outward passage of water, electrolytes and various substances while providing protection against microorganisms, ultraviolet radiation and toxic agents.
However, the skin’s porous nature means what you put on it can penetrate through the superficial layer of the skin and into the bloodstream which in turn can affect your health and sense of well-being, negatively or positively.
There are healthy skincare solutions for every budget. A safe and affordable way is to keep it simple:
A jar of organic coconut oil, good quality shea butter, a bottle of organic almond oil or jojoba oil is not going to blow your budget but it is healthy and nourishing and will leave your skin radiant looking. If you like a bit more complex products you can easily make your own by mixing 3-4 ingredients. There are lots of recipes on the net or you can use some of mine that I have tried and tested or check out my stories on my instagram account @treeandearthcreams for some inspiration on how to get started with your own nourishing skincare products.
Below is a list of chemicals often found in chemical skincare products. Some are considered safe others are definitely not!! Often when one ingredient from this list is found in a product, it's accompanied by several more. When reading skincare product labels you will find that some questionable ingredients are listed, however some may not be. Suffice it to say if you see only one of the questionable ingredients in your products it is probably best to avoid it. There is always a better solution.
I urge you to do your own research and a good place to start is here: EWG's skindeep Cosmetics Database, an online guide with safety ratings for more than 78,000 cosmetics and other personal care products and more than 2,500 brands.
Cetearyl Alcohol - A fatty alcohol obtained from coconut oil or palm oil fatty acids, it's an emulsifying wax that is used to soften and stabilise thick formulations like skin ointments. Even if a compound is ‘naturally derived’ it has been through some form of processing and refining and in order to help preservation efforts of remaining virgin forests (and its inhabitants) it is best to avoid palm oil products wherever possible. If you have super-sensitive skin, certain fatty alcohols and combinations can cause reactions such as redness, inflammation, irritation and clogged pores, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Glycerin - as a humectant, glycerin works to moisturise the skin by drawing water from the air into the skin's outer layer. It can be of vegetable, animal or petroleum origin. Look for Vegetable Glycerin. Glycerin without the vegetable qualifier usually means it is petrochemical by-product.
Capric/caprylic triglyceride - derived from coconut and generally considered safe in skincare. Used as an emollient, dispersing agent and solvent. As an emollient, it quickly penetrates the surface to condition the skin and hair, and provides a lightweight, non-greasy lubricating barrier. Cosmetic formulators value this product for its lack of colour and odour, as well as for its stability. It has such great stability and resistance to oxidation that it has an almost indefinite shelf life.
Glyceryl Stearate Citrate - derived from vegetable oils, it is an emollient that gives skin a soft and smooth appearance
In it also used to make emulsions, and enhance the body and texture of a product. Generally considered safe in skincare products.
Ethylhexyl Stearate, also called Octyl Stearate derived from animal and vegetable fats, is a yellow, oily substance.
It is an emollient, giving skin a soft and smooth appearance while preventing water loss.
In addition, it is also a thickening agent. Can cause acne and breakouts, contact dermatitis, and allergic reactions.
Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, (BMDBM) - sunscreen chemical (UVA filter). Can cause skin rashes, allergic reactions and inflammation; B-MDM's questionable stability in the sun means it may break down into chemicals that inhibit the skin's natural defences against sunlight, leaving it more vulnerable to skin cancer and premature ageing. See this blog post on the complications of chemical sunscreens.
Octocrylene - chemical sunscreen. It makes skincare products containing it water-resistant.
It also helps prevent unstable UV filters from degrading when exposed to sunlight. Octocrylane basically boosts other UV filters and help coat the skin better. A 2006 study, Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin found that Octocrylene is absorbed into the skin and causes the formation of free radicals when exposed to sunlight. Since free radicals can damage DNA, there is concern that octocrylene might have contributed to an increased incidence of melanoma in sunscreen-users compared to non-users. Researchers say further studies are warranted to determine the true health impact of this ingredient.
If you must use an SPF containing octocrylene make sure you are using antioxodant rich serums along with it. Read more in this blog post on the dangers of octocrylene in sunscreen
Tocopheryl acetate is a form of vitamin E, a natural skin-conditioning agent and antioxidant. It is the ester of acetic acid and tocopherol and is often used as an alternative to pure tocopherol (or undiluted vitamin E) because it is considered more stable and less acidic.
Allantoin - By-product of uric acid extracted from urea (may be of animal origin) and considered an effective skin-soothing and skin-conditioning agent. It can also be extracted from plants (comfrey, chamomile) or made synthetically. It softens the skin and enables it to absorb more moisture. It’s particularly effective at treating wounds, burns, skin ulcers, eczema, and any other abrasion in the skin. Generally considered safe.
Sodium Hyaluronate is the salt form of Hyaluronic Acid, a water-binding ingredient that has the ability to fill the spaces between the connective fibers known as collagen and elastin. Sodium Hyaluronate has been used for moisturization and wound healing since its discover in the 1930s. Because the skin naturally loses its water composition as it ages (going from 10% - 20% water to less than 10%), Hyaluronic Acid and Sodium Hyaluronate can replace some of the water lost in the dermis, and potentially fight wrinkles and other signs of aging. Is generally considered safe in skincare.
phenoxyethanol - is the new darling of the skincare industry. It is increasingly turning up in cosmetics, many of which are labelled natural or organic, as a preservative. It is the alternative to parabens. Studies have shown that Phenoxyethanol can be an extreme irritant to the eyes and skin, and can even cause blistering; it is hazardous in the case of ingestion and inhalation as well. The EWG Cosmetic Database rates it as a moderate hazard and notes cancer, allergic reactions, skin, eye and lung irritation, organ and neurotoxicity as possible effects of using products containing Phenoxyethanol. It has shown effects on sensory organs even at low doses, and brain and nervous systems at moderate doses in animals, and causes cell mutation.
Benzoic acid - preservative Studies have shown that it could potentially increase hyperactivity and may be converted into a carcinogenic compound called benzene when combined with vitamin C.
Ethyhexylglycerin - conditioning agent and preservative (alternative to parabens). skin irritant even at low concentrations so people with sensitive skin may experience contact dermatitis.
Polyaminopropyl bigoanide -
The substance polyaminopropyl biguanide (PHMB) has been banned in personal care products since January 2015. PHMB is a preservative that is used in for example makeup removers, body lotions and creams. The substance is suspected to be cancer-causing, it is detrimental to the environment and it is allergenic. Sodium hydroxide - also known as caustic soda is an inorganic compound used to control the pH levels or serve as a buffering agent in cosmetics and personal care products. Sodium Hydroxide is considered a moderate hazard ingredient by the Cosmetics Database
which notes concerns regarding cancer, and moderate concerns regarding neurotoxicty, organ system toxicity and irritation. It is classified as "expected to be toxic or harmful" and one or more animal studies show brain and nervous system, metabolic, and sense organ effects at very low doses and there are warnings regarding using this ingredient around the eyes or mouth.
Dehydroacetic Acid DHA: Also known as Sodium Dehydroacetate. Used as a preservative in cosmetics. Generally considered safe in skincare. Not irritating to the skin or allergy causing, but if ingested, is a kidney-blocking ingredient and can cause impaired kidney function. Large doses can cause vomiting, imbalance and convulsions.
Stay safe, radiant and healthy ☀️