Labels Matter

Six years ago, I thought I knew a thing or two about treating my skin right. My collection included an assortment of cleansers, toners, serums, scrubs, creams, and makeup from the drugstore aisle as well as the department stores. A little of this, a little of that. And I felt pretty good about it.

Come to find out, I had a lot to learn. And learn I did after I fought a months-long war against a little skin condition called perioral dermatitis on my face. More on that here.

Since I was newly enlightened about several key ingredients that don’t bode well on my tender skin, I set out on a years-long obsession mission to learn more about what I was putting on my body and how it affected me. And boy, did I learn a lot!

For starters, not all products are created equal. And more expensive does not mean better for you, or more effective. Also, did you know that Europe bans in excess of 1,300 cosmetic ingredients, compared to the FDA list of 11 in the US? Talk about a huge discrepancy!

Your skin is your largest organ. And while it doesn’t absorb everything, there’s no question that it absorbs a lot that your body has to either metabolize, accumulate, or eliminate. (Isn’t the human body amazing?!)

My question became this: Do I have to expose my body to skincare and cosmetic ingredients that may be toxic, or questionable at best? And the answer I discovered, is absolutely not.

Let’s start with three of the big offenders that rear their ugly heads on your product labels.

  1. Hydroquinone. This ingredient is used in many products to lighten pigmentation from age spots and freckles, and is available over the counter in concentrations up to 2 percent, and greater by prescription. In 2006, the FDA proposed a withdrawal of the ingredient from the GRASE (Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective) list. With significant research, “some evidence” was found that this ingredient may be toxic and carcinogenic. (If you’re as nerdy as I am, you can read more here.) Additionally, hydroquinone is listed as a Class C ingredient to avoid for pregnant and nursing women. The ingredient has been shown to cause birth defects in animals, but was inconclusive in humans. If you’re currently using or considering this ingredient, I encourage you to consider if the benefits outweigh the potential risk.
  2. Phthalates. (pronounced “thah-lates”) This is a tricky ingredient, as it’s found in everything from plastics to flooring to adhesives to insecticides. It’s also in your skincare, preserving fragrances and helping lotions penetrate your skin. This tricky ingredient can show up as a few names on your ingredient label, though the most common is diethylphthalate (DEP). So what’s the deal with phthalates? They’ve been linked to a laundry list of issues from breast cancer to diabetes to asthma to infertility. And with respect to keeping our tiniest people safe, The National Academies Press concluded that it is “biologically plausible that adverse reproductive outcomes could occur if specific phthalates or mixtures of phthalates reach the developing human fetus” in a 2008 report. (If you can’t sleep, the entire 188 page report is available here, because hey, sharing is caring.)
  3. Mineral oil. Baby oil, and sometimes also labeled as “paraffin oil” or “white mineral oil,” it is derived from petroleum. Yes, the same thing that formulates the gasoline for your car. Only mineral oil has been refined several more times and added to your skincare. Mineral oil can work its way into the body through both environmental exposure and skin absorption. It has been linked to hormonal issues, endometriosis, ovarian dysfunction, and weakening the immune system. This 2011 article suggests that mineral oil builds up in the body over time by testing subcutaneous fat removed during c-section, as well as breast milk, from postpartum mothers. It was concluded that cosmetic use may be a relevant source of the contamination. I will go on to further point out that this ingredient doesn’t actually do anything for you! It is an “occlusive” chemical, which mostly just sits on your skin, not letting any moisture in. The good news is, this ingredient is highly unnecessary and there are so many  healthier alternatives that will deliver moisture and nourishment to you skin without the harmful accumulation in the body.

With an eye toward stripping out the potentially harmful offenders in your skincare routine, let’s look at a few healthier options that your skin will drink up and love.

  1. Bakuchiol. This plant-based ingredient is an outstanding natural alternative to retinol to treat both acne and signs of aging. This study concluded that after 12 weeks of applying bakuchiol as a finished skincare product, the results showed “significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness and overall reduction in photo‐damage was observed, without usual retinol therapy‐associated undesirable effects.” The Wikipedia page even reports anticancer activity in some preliminary models. I personally use this ingredient daily. Not only does my sensitive skin love it, it’s the first product I’ve been able to use that has improved the appearance of fine lines and brightened my overall complexion, without the nasty irritation and drying I’ve experienced with other ingredients. I was nothing short of shocked when I tried it.
  2. Green algae. Talk about a super-food for your skin! For starters, it’s a great antioxidant, which protects your skin from free radicals that lead to premature aging. And I’m all for aging gracefully, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it early! This lovely green stuff is also rich in proteins and fatty acids, which absorb deep into your skin to lift, firm, and rejuvenate your skin. In other applications outside of skincare, it has been shown to promote heart health, reduce inflammation, and promotes the proliferation of stem cells. What can’t this stuff do?! Sign me up for a double dose, please!
  3. Cotton. Yep, you read that right. Cotton isn’t just for your super soft t-shirt that you wear every weekend. Cottonseed oil is rising in popularity as it is relatively easy to produce and is great for a variety of uses. Dr. David Bank, dermatologist and author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman’s Guide to Looking her Best at Any Age, explains that “cotton and its derivatives are high in vitamin E, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which are all anti-inflammatory, helping to soothe skin and calm redness.” He goes on to add that this ingredient “also fight[s] free radicals, which have been known to inflame skin.” Having personally battled redness, inflammation, and irritation with my own skin, this is yet another ingredient that I can personally vouch for that has helped my skin both look and feel better. Win!

Advances in new ingredients and new skincare technology happen every day, and there is no question that there is growing demand for more natural, botanically based products that are both safe and effective. You may eat organic to keep unnecessary chemical exposure to a minimum, so why treat your largest organ any different?

Those labels matter, so the next time you’re shopping for a new lotion or potion, check out what’s on the back of that bottle.

Cheers To Your Health,

Becky

Don’t cover up. How to deal with Perioral Dermatitis.

It started with what I thought was acne. Tiny, little blemishes that covered my chin. While breakouts were out of the norm for me, blemishes happen to the best of us. I trotted off to the drugstore to grab whatever I could find to fight these sudden pimples. Day after day, I applied potions of benzoyl peroxide hoping my chin would clear up by the next day. And day after day, it was still there.

Not only was it still there, these tiny red bumps got angrier and my poor skin dried out like the Sahara desert. So I did the next obvious thing. I packed a one-two punch with more benzoyl peroxide, and the heaviest moisturizers I could get my hands on. Except this didn’t work. Months went by, and nothing worked. The bumps persisted, and the extreme dryness would wake me up in the night, itching and burning.

After nearly six months trying to simultaneously clear up and cover up my chin, I gave up and made an appointment with my doc. Turns out, this thing happening on my face was not acne, nor was it your usual dry skin. I sat in the doctor’s office in both surprise and relief as she explained this heinous red condition on my skin was perioral dermatitis. Translation: inflammation around the chin and mouth that manifests in painful red pumps and scaly, flaky dry skin. While it usually appear around the mouth (hence the name), it’s possible it can appear around the nose or eyes as well.

While the pros aren’t entirely sure what causes it to appear, it seems to be linked to inflammation, hormones, stress, and is highly reactive to topical irritants.

The course of action was a 10-day stint on some pretty hefty antibiotics, and a steep learning curve to discover what flares it up, and how to keep it at bay. Since this discovery I’ve been able to keep it under control with using the right skincare and paying attention to my diet.

So what worked? Here’s a run-down of my top six strategies that have helped me deal with perioral dermatitis over the past six years.

  1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS).  A common additive in many skin and hair care products, it causes all the foaming and cute little bubbles in your products. But you know what? Those bubbles are absolutely not necessary to the effectiveness of your products. (Fun fact: soap bubbles first became popular in the late 19th century as a result of an advertising campaign, but I’ll save that story for another time.) SLS is a known skin irritant, and the Environmental Working Group ranks SLS as a “moderate hazard” on their Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. If there is one thing you do to deal with perioral dermatitis, get used to reading labels and steer clear of anything containing SLS.
  2. Check your toothpaste. Fluoride is known to irritate and cause perioral dermatitis flare ups, in addition to SLS being common in many toothpaste brands. Read the labels to avoid both, and while there aren’t a lot of options, Sprout’s or Whole Foods usually has at least a few brands that are worth a try. Experiment with a few brands to find something that will keep your skin happy and keep those pearly whites polished.
  3. Just say no to steroids. This means cortisone cream too. While many skin conditions clear up with a topical steroid, this is where perioral dermatitis differs. In many cases the bumps, redness, and inflammation may clear up for a couple of days, only to come back with a vengeance. Even if you’re tempted, just don’t.
  4. Detox. This one was not easy for me. I wanted to cure this problem, and my old ways told me to medicate with lotions and potions. Resist that impulse, friends. Try to go at least a few weeks wearing no makeup, or at least as minimal as possible. Wash your face with warm (not hot) water and a gentle washcloth. Avoid any moisturizer or other products on the affected area.
  5. Go green. No, I don’t mean start recycling, although you should definitely do that too. What I mean is that after you’ve detoxed your skin, give it some TLC. What I’ve found works best is using botanically based products free of SLS (I can’t reinforce this enough), free of synthetic fragrances, dyes, sulfates, and parabens. Seek out products that boast nourishing plant-based ingredients – like cucumber or mallow flower extract – that are safe for sensitive skin. Plain old organic coconut oil is also always a good option to soothe and moisturize your skin.
  6. Look for a policy. If you’re experimenting with new, friendlier products, a return policy is helpful. But that’s not what I really mean. What I mean is to find brands that have an ingredient policy that they stand by. While this may not be the majority of US skincare and makeup brands, there are awesome options out there that stand by a policy to never use known skin irritants, and they should be specific on what that means. This has been one of my biggest keys to success to find quality brands that I trust, and stick to them. My skin has been happier for it.

Yes, you may have to change a few of your habits to adopt this “less is more” strategy to manage your perioral dermatitis. And you are definitely going to have to learn to sleuth out those yucky ingredients that appear on all too many ingredient labels. With a bit of trial and error, you can clear up this pesky skin condition and manage it to keep flare ups to a minimum!

Cheers To Your Health,

Becky