Transdermal Toxins: What is Your Skin Eating?

I’m horrified, although I shouldn’t be, given what I know about food. I just got home from a workshop all about ingredients of what goes into our lotions, our makeup, our sunscreens…even the baby wash and powder we put on our little ones. I proudly signed on to be part of Beautycounter’s mission just over a month ago when I learned what they were all about and what they stand for. And now, the more I learn, the more sure I am of the importance of educating not just women, but anyone who uses anything at all on their skin, is something I have grown equally as passionate about. OK, so here’s the deal. It’s really, really bad. I didn’t want to know how bad it was. I got keratin treatments in my hair; I’ve had it for the last five years and before that, I was getting Brazilian Blowdrys. I used DiorShow Mascara because ‘it works’… but it has ingredients in it that are known carcinogens. Did you read that? They cause cancer. And disrupt endocrine function. In 2006, the European Food Safety Authority said propyl paraben could no longer be used in food. The decision was based on research that showed the preservative affected sex hormones and sperm counts in young rats1. But here in the US, there seems to have been no issue with keeping them in products we apply directly to our bodies… and yes, even eyelashes count. And, mixed in with the luxury night balms and eye creams I was buying from the spa where I was getting facials, in a pinch, I’d sometimes pop out to the pharmacy to buy the # 1 face wash that my dermatologist recommends- Cetaphil because, in her words, ‘it’s gentle’. Shame she never mentioned it also contains Propylene glycol, a humectant, solvent and preservative in food, tobacco products, “e-liquid” and cartridges used in electronic cigarettes, coffee-based drinks, liquid sweeteners, ice cream, whipped dairy products and soda2. Oh, and that very same ingredient is also used as antifreeze3. As I listened to the presentation in the workshop I attended, I actually began to feel sick. And all along I used to think, how bad can it be? It’s just a little bit of a product on my nails, my lashes or my hair and I feel fine, so no big deal, right? Wrong. Turns out it’s not just a matter of what happens after using something once or twice, the way we might see if it we do a patch test on our forearm for a new lotion to see if we react. There’s something called the Threshold Principle, which is that after a period of time of using impure / untested / unsafe ingredients or a combination thereof, our bodies ‘suddenly’ start to show signs of build up.  And we think it’s just beginning to happen when the symptoms start to rear their ugly heads, but it’s taken months, years or decades for this build up to occur. And then, depending on just what we were exposed to, we might become sick, or very sick. The level of gross nondisclosure of what goes into products is beyond obscene. Without exaggerating, anything can be put into our shampoo, our foundation, our nail polish, the mild bath soap we wash our babies with and we don’t even know about it! This piece isn’t about me suddenly claiming to be a skincare expert or having the top ten beauty must haves; it’s about the realization that what I’ve been preaching about for years in terms of what the FDA doesn’t tell us about what goes into our ‘food’ is identical to what we’re not being told about what goes into our cosmetics and skincare. Anything goes.  Literally. From the FDA’s own website4: “The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act does not require cosmetic products and ingredients to be approved by FDA before they go on the market, except for color additives that are not intended for use as coal tar hair dyes. However, they must be safe for consumers under labeled or customary conditions of use. Companies and individuals who market cosmetics have a legal responsibility for the safety of their products and ingredients.” Think about it.  Whether or not you trust the FDA (I don’t), they’re being completely transparent here and telling us they’re not even regulating this at all! And I find this appalling. Do you? Then do something! Some of the ways you can help:

  1. Support EWG. The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, they drive consumer choice and civic action. They are a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.
  2. Support The Breast Cancer Fund (BCF) works to prevent breast cancer by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease. The Breast Cancer Fund is a founding member and national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a broad- based coalition working to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products.
  3. Support Healthy Child Healthy World,  which empowers parents and caregivers to protect children from harmful chemicals. Their easy actions and tips help families create safer environments where children can flourish.
  4. Join Beautycounter’s mission. Empower, educate and make your voice heard. This is just unacceptable.


  1. “Analysis Finds Hormone Disruptor Used in Cosmetics in Nearly 50 Different Foods.” EWG. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2016
  2. “What is propylene glycol?”. MedUSA Juice. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  3. “Evaluation of Certain Food Additives and Contaminants (Technical Report Series).” World Health Organization. p. 105. ISBN 92-4-120909-7
  4. “U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” Cosmetic Ingredients. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2016.