Saturday, April 9, 2011

Decreasing my chemical exposure part 1: daytime skin care

What are the toxins in my environment? When I consume or inhale a toxin, how long does it stay in me? What impact do toxins have on my health? Which ones should I fear the most? Cheery questions, right? But if I want to get serious about disease prevention,  I believe I need to start learning about the connection between my health and toxins in my environment.

First up, learning about the chemicals in my personal care products, specifically, my daytime skin care. In 2004, environmental advocacy organization the Environmental Working Group started the online database Skin Deep.  Skin Deep is a searchable safety guide consumers can use to learn more about what the ingredients in their personal care products may be doing to their health. The Skin Deep database links to more than 50 toxicity and regulatory databases to produce current data on what the known health risks are. Think of it as a little new found transparency for an industry that historically hasn't been terribly interested in being transparent.

To help you learn about how the site works, I'm going to share my experience using it. Feel free to use my learning if you want. Better - go there yourself to check out what you have been using and see if you think you need to consider alternative products.

Typically, I use one of three moisturizers and two sunscreens on my face during the day:
  1. Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream SPF 15. Nuts. This isn't listed but they have tested the lighter Neutrogena Healthy Skin Face Lotion SPF 15. It gets a rating of 7 out of 10 which means by their standards it is a hazardous product and is not recommended. Ingredients in it have been linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, allergies and a whole passel of other things. Ugh. (Note: you can click on the product names to see the detailed ingredient breakdown and the related hazards.)
  2. Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 45. Crap. This gets a 7 as well. Next.
  3. Olay Total Effects 7-in-1 Anti-Aging Daily Moisturizer Fragrance Free. This is a little better. It gets a 5 making it a moderate hazard and, even though they have been linked to almost everything else, ingredients in it have not been linked to cancer. I am comfortable using up the rest of my current bottle while I try to find a less hazardous product.
  4. L'oreal Ombrelle Sunscreen SPF 45. Again, this one isn't listed! So if I want to keep using it I should sit down with the ingredient list and do the research myself on this one.
  5. La Roche-Posay Anthelios 40 Sunscreen Cream. Woo hoo, folks, we have a winner. My ridiculously expensive sunscreen (which I buy once a year for the summer months because I had a basal cell carcinoma removed when I was in my early 30s) gets a 2!!! I can continue to use this product for as long as my pocketbook will allow me. Interestingly, I had been recently considering upping my SPF protection by switching to one of their SPF 60 products but those products get ratings of 7. :-( I'll have to remember to plop on my hat and stay in the shade this summer to give me the boosted protection instead.
So, I will back out of my own searches, and start paging through what I will consider their recommended products, those numbered 0 and 1 on the hazards scale. One thing I notice right off the bat is that while there are a lot of low hazard products listed in the database, I haven't heard of most of them. That's a problem. I want to locate products that are easily purchased in my local stores. I will make a note of some of the more popular low-toxin brands to look for online and in my local health food store and Whole Foods. But my priority today is finding something I can pick up in my neighbourhood. Doing that, this is what I come up with:
  1. Daytime moisturizer  - if I want a facial moisturizer with a built in SPF, I can't seem to get much below 4 on the hazard scale. At least not with the moisturizers at my local stores. So, let's say I switch to a sunscreen-free moisturizer used in conjunction with a separate sunscreen. There are a few examples from my expensive  friends at La Roche-Posay (for example, Toleriane Soothing Protective Facial Cream gets a 2) but I will start with Kiss My Face Organics Under Age, Ultra Hydrating Moisturizer (a 1) or, if I can't find that, Burt's Bees Carrot Seed Oil Complexion Mist (also a 1).
  2. Sunscreen - if I want a less expensive sunscreen than my La Roche-Posay, and if I want to be able to find it easily at my drugstore, I could opt for Neutrogena's Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 50 with Purescreen. It gets a 4, making it only moderately hazardous. Better, I could go with Jason Natural Cosmetics Sunbrellas: Mineral Natural Sunblock SPF 30 which gets a 2 and is half the price of my La Roche-Posay.
My verdict? The Skin Deep website is an easy to use, comprehensive resource. If the science behind the findings they present has any integrity, than this is an important tool for people looking to lower their exposure to toxins.

Try it out!


    1. Thanks Cyn I will do this as well. I use that Neutrogena cream with spf 15 just finished the bottle...will not buy another. Now I will commence my I went to the health food store and got the boys their bath bubbles and shampoo, bought Fred shampoo as well. I am cleaning house in more ways than one!!