Discerning product labels of skin care products can be confusing, leaving consumers to rely on intuition, and a blind trust that one is buying a product that seems as benign and derived from nature as the advertising implies. After all, when the product derives its name from botanicals, such as “green apple shampoo,” or “oat and honey body wash” it sounds good enough to eat, so why not apply it to the skin? Knowing a few important things to look for on that label, and with simple research, one can emerge a more educated consumer, confident that one’s skin is absorbing only things it should.
Natural skin care is important beyond a simple “feel-good” philosophy to purchase close to the source, but a commitment to one’s own health. Our skin is a living organ, and absorbs about 64% of what is applied to it. When skin care products (and I am referring to all skin care products- shampoo, lotions, deodorants, etc.) contain irritating preservatives, additives, emulsifiers, artificial fragrances, and solvents, the liver, kidneys, lungs, and the skin itself, which is also an eliminative organ, must process these substances. Some of these ingredients are known or suspected carcinogens, hormone disruptors, allergens, or comodogenic, meaning they will clog your pores, and certainly do nothing to promote the health of the skin.
The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit agency dedicated to consumer awareness and their web-site, www.ewg.org, is a great resource to tap into for skin care product information. Their cosmetic database, Skin Deep, rates products on a scale of 0-10 based on ingredient safety, and highlights the potential harm associated with those ingredients. It also reveals whether the manufacturer conducts animal testing, and is a signer of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.
Products manufacturers are required to list all ingredients on the label, in the order of the greatest volume. Surfactants, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, water, and oils will typically head the list, with the additive ingredients following. If the botanical ingredients fall at the bottom of the list, it factors as a low percentage of the actual product, which may decrease its ability to affect the skin beneficially. Of course, some natural ingredients do not require much volume to be effective. Essential plant oils, for example should be one of the last ingredients listed as they are so potent, and could be irritating in larger quantities.
Not all scary sounding, unfamiliar names in a product label are ones to avoid. Glycolic acid, for example is derived from sugar cane, titanium dioxide is a mineral, lactic acid is derived from milk, acacia gum is a tree-derived thickener. The Environ-mental Working Group’s web site can help sort out what is truly natural from what simply has an unfamiliar name. One can streamline efforts in this search by being aware of some common ingredients that would be wise to avoid. These include: methyl and propyl paraben, sodium lauryl and laureth sulfate, petrolatum, mineral oil, oils which are not labeled cold-pressed, and fragrances (those not listed as pure essential oils).