Not all skin care products and sunscreens are good for you. Be informed, then read labels carefully.
Not all skin care products and sunscreens are good for you. Be informed, then read labels carefully.

As a skin-care professional I have spent considerable time looking at and studying the ingredients in cosmetics, deciphering product labels and trying to make healthy choices for myself, my family, and my clients.

The EPA has identified 5,000 different chemicals in cosmetics, many of them toxic. Our skin acts as a giant sponge, absorbing up to 60 percent of products applied. Some preservatives in our cosmetics have been linked to the disruption of the endocrine system, to liver toxicity, and to immune system problems.

In 2004 a paper published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, "Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors," by Dr. Phillipa Darbre, caught the attention of the media and of health-conscious consumers who began to avoid products containing paraben preservatives.

Reading product labels on what you're using on your skin is just as important as reading food labels, making healthy choices about what you are eating and what you are putting into your body via your skin. The following is a short list of preservatives, chemicals, and ingredients that have the potential to cause a variety of health problems:

Parabens: They will be in the form of Ethyl-Butyl-Propyl and Methylparaben. Science has confirmed that many of these toxic ingredients can accumulate in human fatty tissues, systemically affecting our health, as well as being detrimental to our skin. Also among the top unsafe ingredients are ureas, synthetic colorings, propylene glycol, phthalates, EDTA, (which contains cyanide and formaldehyde and has been linked to heavy-metal toxicity), fragrance and fragrance maskers.

Sunscreen is also a major issue, with more than 2,000 products on the market. Safety is a simple matter of not using a chemical UV filter that contains avobenzone, octocrylene, or oxybenzone. These ingredients are not photostable, and must be re-applied every hour or so. They are also harmful to the environment, to our ecosystem, and to our bodies and skin. Children and pregnant women have been advised not to use sunscreens containing any of these ingredients.

Manufacturers are not required to prove their ingredients are safe, and the FDA states they intend to address carcinogenicity and other safety considerations in the near future.

According to a study in Archives of Dermatology, octocrylene is an endocrine disrupter, as well as a strong allergen, leading to contact dermatitis in children and adults.

A physical UV filtering sunscreen is much safer, highly photostable, does NOT penetrate the skin, provides full broad-spectrum protection, is safe for babies and children, as well as non-irritating to skin and eyes. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the most common ingredients in physical UV sunscreens, and usually they are organic.

When evaluating any product, the most important considerations should be safety and effectiveness. Carefully examine ingredient labels and make use of all available information, to make the healthiest choice for yourself and for your family.