You eat well, you’re active and you take supplements to help your body function at its absolute best each day. But are you aware of the chemicals that could be lurking in your personal care items? Chemicals that can be absorbed into your body through your skin…
Some books and blog posts say 60% of whatever we put on our skin gets absorbed into the body, but this is just an estimate.
- Different chemicals found in personal care products have different absorption rates.
- Some theories suggest that chemicals entering through our skin are more dangerous than those entering through our mouths, as we don’t have digestive enzymes to help break them down. Other theories suggest that chemicals from personal care items can enter our skin even more easily in a hot shower or bath because our pores are open.
- To top it off, each of us uses different products (containing different ingredients) every day, often layering them one over another.
While we can’t really estimate how much of the chemicals that we apply to our skin is getting absorbed, we do have a pretty good idea of what is getting absorbed.
Recent studies have made some scary discoveries about which chemicals are getting into our skin and contributing to what’s often called our “body burden1.” Here’s what we know:
- A recent study confirmed that chemicals within sunscreen are getting absorbed at uncomfortably high levels into the bloodstream2.
- Another study found a decline in urinary cosmetic chemicals when people stop using conventional personal care products. One hundred young women were asked to switch from using their usual personal care products for three days—instead, they were given unbranded personal care products containing NO phthalates, parabens, triclosan, and BP-3. Participants had a decline of 27–45% in urinary concentrations of certain phthalates, certain parabens, triclosan, and oxybenzone after just 3 days of abstaining from conventional personal care products3.
- In an even more recent study, the same research group from the University of California examined the personal care products used by 100 young women (they even went to their homes and photographed the products used on hair, face, body and teeth). The greater the frequency of using these products, the higher the urinary chemicals. The study provides more evidence that mass-marketed personal care products are associated with higher exposure to, absorption of, and consistent toxic burden of, phthalates, parabens, triclosan, and benzophenone-34.
- Beyond personal care products, a recent study found that BPA found on store receipts can be absorbed into your skin5.
Here’s a quick recap of where you’ll typically find these chemical ingredients, and why they’re a concern:
- Phthalates are plastic-like chemicals used as binders in personal care products, cosmetics and fragrances that are known endocrine disruptors.
- Parabens are often used as preservatives in personal care products and toiletries, and carry concerns due to their ability to mimic estrogen in the body6.
- Triclosan is used in so many products that it’s estimated that 75% of the US population is exposed to it, and it has known impacts on aquatic life. Although it was banned from soaps in 2016, triclosan is still found in toothpaste, mouthwash and hand sanitizer7.
- Benzophenone is an ingredient often found in fragrances and sunscreens that carries concerns over links to endocrine disruption and organ system toxicity.
- BPA is often used in plastics and as a coating in food cans and store receipts and has been linked to issues with fertility and infant health.
Luckily, there are a few ways to reduce your exposure to these chemicals in your personal care products:
- Upgrade your shower routine: Switch over your body wash and body lotion to natural alternatives that are free from these chemicals first. “The skin on your body has the largest surface area, so it’s best to start there,” says Phil LeBeau, co-founder of basd body care. Switch out your regular body wash and moisturizer for clean options. “Plus, quality clean products just feel better—basd body wash and lotion are made with aloe vera juice as a first ingredient, making them super hydrating,” he adds. “And if you use a body scrub, switch to something made from coffee, sugar or sea salt rather than synthetically-produced microbeads, which also have an environmental impact.”
- Encourage the men in your life to do the same, because men are buying fewer clean personal care products than women. “On average, men use 6 products a day and women use 12 products. there are hundreds (if not thousands) of ingredients being exposed to our bodies,” says Lily Tse, the founder of Think Dirty, an app that helps educate consumers on cleaner options.
- Look for cleaner sunblock containing mineral protection rather than chemicals like oxybenzone.“To make sure you understand ingredients, use think dirty to check out products before shopping,” adds Tse. Think Dirty lets you scan different brands and see which is cleanest based on their rating.
- Support your liver, as it’s the organ that is tasked with removing these toxic chemicals from your body. Exposures add up! So make sure you support both phases of liver detoxification, as in some cases when the liver breaks down chemicals, they can actually become more toxic (Phase I) before they can be eliminated in the second phase. Look for foods rich in vitamin C (including strawberries, parsley and citrus fruits), sulphur-containing vegetables (like broccoli and broccoli seed, cabbage, kale and bok choy), dandelion, artichoke, amino acids (such as taurine, glycine and cysteine), and other ingredients like milk thistle (which not only assists in detoxification, but also helps to protect the liver) and alpha lipoic acid.
- Harley KG, et al. Reducing Phthalate, Paraben, and Phenol Exposure from Personal Care Products in Adolescent Girls: Findings from the HERMOSA Intervention Study. Environ HealthPerspect. 2016 Oct;124(10):1600-1607.
- Berger KP, et al. Personal care product use as a predictor of urinary concentrations of certain phthalates, parabens, and phenols in the HERMOSA study. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2019 Jan;29(1):21-32