The Stratum Corneum
The stratum corneum or surface of skin contains about 25 layers of dead skin cells and is approximately 15 to 150 microns thick or the thickness of a human hair. While the stratum corneum is relatively thin, it is also very tough. Its resilience is primarily because of its keratin protein composition, which is resistant to water and many chemicals.
What is a green cream or lotion? It should be an emulsion – a mixture of water and unprocessed oils blended together with an emulsifier. Ideally it contains an infusion of botanicals in water (tea), plant oils, a natural emulsifier like soy bean lecithin, vitamins, and other nutrients from organic sources. The preservatives used are preferably natural and non-toxic.
Appearance and Texture
One reason many skin care product manufacturers add chemicals in their creams, is because they seem to care more about its appearance and the way it feels, than its performance. For years, we’ve assumed that all creams and lotions must be white and fluffy. However, if a lotion is truly made from natural ingredients, it can’t be white (unless it was made from snow!).
For example one popular “smoothing” ingredient is dimethicone, which is derived from silicone and commonly used as a skin conditioning agent and emollient. According to the Environmental Canada Domestic Substance List, dimethicone is bioaccumulative in humans and wildlife.
Earlier this year, a woman who represented a polymer manufacturer at a cosmecuetical summit in Orlando gave me a demonstration of how one of their polymer products worked. She put some on my arm and let it dry. We were then able to peel it off like a piece of saran wrap!
If I put her polymer in my products, she assured me, “it would make my cream feel expensive.” But in reality, it wasn’t really my skin that felt smooth. It was the plastic-like film it created on top of my skin that was smooth!
What to Look Out For in Your Lotion
“It’s not in question that many consumer products contain toxins – they do,” says Alan Green, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and author of Raising Baby Green (Jossey-Bass, 2007). “Most are felt to be in too tiny of a quantity to pose any real risk. But sometimes, very small exposures can have large impacts.”
As medical science continues to sort out how the chemicals we put on our skin affects our health, you want to choose safe and effective product lines for your clients and thoroughly review each product you put on their skin. Don’t forget to read the entire list of ingredients!
Ideally, the products you use on your clients are organic and plant-based. Why organic? You want the ingredients to be free of toxic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides and to come from environmentally clean areas. They should also be free of trans-fats, toxins, and chemical solvents. But sometimes reading the ingredients isn’t enough. Lovely sounding botanical ingredients can be dissolved in toxic solvents that by law don’t have to be put on the ingredient list! Common Ingredients to avoid include Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA), and MEA (Monoethanolamine. DEA and DEA-related ingredients are used as emulsifiers or foaming agents in cosmetics, or to adjust the acidity (pH) of a product. In 1998 The National Toxicology Program (NTP) completed a study that showed a link between the topical application of DEA and certain DEA-related ingredients and cancer in laboratory animals. While it did not show a direct association between DEA and cancer in humans, there was a carcinogenic response and the study suggests that it’s connected to possible residual levels of DEA. Although DEA is no longer used in many cosmetics, DEA-related ingredients are still widely used. The following are some of the most commonly used ingredients that may contain DEA:
- Cocamide DEA
- Cocamide MEA
- DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
- DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
- Lauramide DEA
- Linoleamide MEA
- Myristamide DEA
- Oleamide DEA
- Stearamide MEA
- TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is often described as being “derived from coconut”, disguising its toxic nature. SLS is commonly used in shampoos, toothpaste, foaming facial and body cleansers, and bubble bath. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, both SLS and SLES are irritating to the skin, and SLES cannot be metabolized by the liver. According to The Journal of the American College of Toxicology: SLS enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, lungs, and brain from skin contact. SLS denatures protein, impairs proper structural formation of young eyes – damage permanent. SLS can damage the immune system; cause separation of skin layers and cause inflammation to the skin.
Propylene Glycol, Polyethylene Glycol, and Ethylene Glycol: All of these compounds come from petroleum and are used as solvents, surfactants, and wetting agents. They easily penetrate the skin, and can weaken proteins and cellular structures.
Propylene Glycol (PG): According to the American Academy of Dermatoligists Inc., Propylene Glycol can cause several reactions and may be a primary skin irritant even in low concentrations. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) states that PG “may be harmful by ingestion or skin absorption.” It may also cause eye and skin irritation, while repeated exposure can cause gastro-intestinal disturbances, nausea, headache and vomiting, and central nervous system depression.
Mineral oil is another petroleum derivative (from crude oil) that is commonly found in face and body creams, as well as cosmetics. Believe it or not, baby oil is 100 percent mineral oil! It coats the skin like a plastic film, and can clog your client’s pores. Clogged pores prevent the skin from eliminating toxins, which can lead to acne and other skin disorders. Other petroleum-based ingredients to avoid include paraffin wax, paraffin oil, and petrolatum.
A Word about Artificial Fragrance
Many people do not understand the difference between artificial fragrances that can contain toxic chemicals and natural fragrances derived from pure plant essences. Although plant essences offer aroma therapeutic and other benefits, most conventional skin care products contain synthetic fragrances made from chemicals.
Back in 1986, the National Academy of Sciences cited synthetic fragrances as one of the six categories of chemicals that should be tested for neurotoxicity problems. According the report, 95 percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are actually synthetic compounds derived from petroleum. These include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxics and sensitizers, which can cause cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and allergic reactions.
To preserve skin care products with only natural ingredients is a big challenge. Many cosmetic formulators don’t believe it’s possible without using synthetic chemicals. The question becomes, for how long do we want to preserve them? For mass-produced commercial lines, it must be a year. But for fresh, handmade specialty products six months is enough. That’s because skin care products should be made fresh like good food, in small quantities and sold and used within that time frame.
So when it comes to the creams and lotions we use on our skin, we are faced with the same choice as we do with our food: Do you want a “spongy” loaf of bread preserved with chemicals that make it last for a very long time, or a freshly baked, aromatic loaf which will harden in a few days, but will taste so much better!
I believe that finding the perfect combination of natural substances to preserve each skin care formula is actually an art form. It’s worth the effort though, because by avoiding the use of toxic chemicals to preserve the lotions and creams we put on our skin – we help preserve our health as well.
Commonly Used Preservatives to Avoid
Parabens – Parabens are chemicals that are widely used as preservatives in cosmetics. They include: methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben, or any ingredient you see that includes the word “paraben.”
According to lead researcher and oncology expert, Philippa Darbre at the University of Reading, in Edinburgh, the chemical form of parabens was found in 18 of the 20 tumors tested! The results indicated that the tumors originated from a substance applied to the skin, most likely antiperspirants, creams, lotions, or body sprays.
Unfortunately, some manufacturers are able to hide potentially toxic preservatives in their products by using trade or brand names in their ingredient lists. For example Germaben II, which is used to prevent microbial, yeast, and mold growth in skin care products, contains parabens. However, all the manufacturer has to include on its ingredient list is “Germaben” – no need to mention the parabens.
An easy way to find out if an ingredient contains additional toxic ingredients is to do an Internet search for the name. By law manufacturers of chemical compounds like Germaben have to provide material safety data information.
Another example of this can be found in formaldehyde. This popular toxic preservative can be found in skin care products and is a suspected carcinogen and neurotoxin.
But instead of seeing it on an ingredient list you may see Germall Plus contains Diazolidinyl urea which acts like a formaldehyde releaser. So, again a toxin is just hiding inside a compound with a trade name.
According to the Safe Shopper’s Bible by David Steinman & Samuel S. Epstein, the following compounds may also contain formaldehyde, may release formaldehyde, or may break down into formaldehyde:
- Diazolidinyl urea
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Quaternium 15
The good news is that effective skin care products can be created free of toxic preservatives. They can be preserved with colloidal silver and essential oils with strong antimicrobial properties like: cinnamon bark, clove, geranium, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, oregano, rosewood, sage, and thyme. Other natural preservatives that work include: potassium sorbate (a fungi inhibitor) and powerful antioxidants like vitamin E (Tocopherol), rosemary (Oleoresin), and others.
What to Look for in a “Green” Lotion
The Case for Seasonal Adjustments: I also believe that skin care products should be adjusted seasonally because in two or three months your skin can become acclimated to a particular formula and it will stop responding the same way. Also, as you know, your skin has different needs during different seasons. For example, most of us need more emollient creams and lotions in the winter, and lighter formulations in the summer in order to compensate for the effects of hot and cold weather.
I believe that skin care formulations should only include whole, natural ingredients to take advantage of the nature’s ability to provide just the right balance of nutrients. After all, how can you expect to benefit from a botanical or vitamin that has been preserved in a toxic base, or chemically processed in some way? Nature provides her own perfectly balanced nutritional cocktails and does not need our help by isolating ingredients from the harmony of nature! Here are some beautiful ingredients that, when derived from whole, organic sources, will help heal and feed your client’s skin:
- Seabuckthorn Oil – Seabuckthorn oil is exceptionally rich in unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, carotene, flavonoids, phytosterols, serotonin, amino acids, and trace elements. Traditionally the medicinal value of seabuckthorn oil lies in its ability to help regenerate and rejuvenate the skin and mucous membranes. It also helps heal sun damaged, irritated, dry, and
- Baltic Amber – The healing properties of baltic amber have been known for ages. Roman ladies of the court used to play with it, holding it in their hands and stroking it to maintain a youthful look. Baltic amber is three to eight percent succinic acid.
- Succinic Acid – “For aged people, succinic acid has proved to be indispensable,” writes Dr. Veniamin Khazanov of the Russian Academy of Science, Institute of Pharmacology at the Tomsk Scientific Center. “It is capable of restoring the energy balance at the cellular level, which is often upset as the years go by, and helps the patient regain his youthful energy.”
- Spirulina – This blue-green algae provides an incredible blend of phytonutrients for the skin. Spirulina thrives in warm, alkaline bodies of fresh-water. Its name, “spirulina” comes from the Latin word for “helix” or “spiral”, because it’s composed of swirling, microscopic strands. Spirulina is a great source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and also contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), linoleic acid (LA), stearidonic acid, and others, as well as vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinamide), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), vitamin C, D, and E. Spirulina also includes many natural pigments. like chlorophyll-a, xanthophyll, and beta-carotene.
- Arnica (Arnica Montana) – this has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500s and remains popular today. Europeans and Native Americans have used arnica to soothe muscle aches, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds. It is often the first remedy used for injuries such as sprains and bruises.
- MUMIO – this is a wonderful source of natural skin nutrients and is a product of mountain bees mixed with mineralized herbal remnants. It contains many minerals like calcium, phosphor, magnesium, iodine, sodium, and iron, as well as trace elements such as nickel, cobalt, chrome, molybdenum, copper, and zinc; remnants of organic substances and some essential amino acids. It has been well known as a remedy for a number of diseases for thousands of years.
To look and be our very best, we would do well to avoid emotional, as well as environmental stress. We also need to reduce our toxic intake, and choose wisely when it comes to what we eat and what we “feed” our skin. I believe we can get everything we need for beauty and wellness from organic gardens, clean forests, and pure oceans. The beauty of nature can be reflected in us, but only if we protect our unique little planet from ourselves!
CFSAN/Office of Cosmetics and Colors, December 9, 1999; Revised, October 27, 2006
The Journal of the American College of Toxicology; Vol. 2, No 7, 1983.
(“Toxicological profile for ethylene glycol and propylene glycol (update).” Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), 1996. Atlanta, GA; U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, Public Health Service.)
Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace (Report by the Committee on Science and Technology. U.S. House of Representatives, Sept. 16, 1986) [Report 99-827].
This research work on parabens is from Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumors by P.D. Darbre, A. Alijarrah, W.R. Miller, N.G. Coldham, M.J. Sauer and G.S. Pope, and appeared in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, 24, 5-13 (2004).
Elina Fedotova is an organic skin care innovator, cosmetic chemist, herbalist and aesthetician. For more than a decade her handmade, organic, trans-dermal skin care products have been featured in the finest clinics in the world. She is also the CEO of Elina Organics www.elinaskincare.com, and the founder of the Association for Holistic Skin Care Practitioners www.holisticskincarepractitioners.org. Elina’s goal is to promote a holistic approach to beauty, health and life.