Simple Advice for Healthy Skin

Skin Detox unscented soap made with organic oils and cosmetic clay

Skin Detox unscented soap made with organic oils and cosmetic clay

Hi Mary,

Nice to make your virtual acquaintance! I was talking with our friend, Sarah, recently about natural skin care solutions – I don’t really know a lot about the subject, but I’ve found myself buying more and more expensive products while wondering if there’s a better way to take care of my skin. I asked Sarah if she had ever tried any homemade skin solutions, and she referred me to you :)

My biggest trouble is moisturizing – my skin seems to dry out a lot, and I also get small, single hives on my face pretty regularly, which exacerbates the redness and irritation. Do you know of anything that might calm that down?

Katie

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Hi Katie,

I don’t claim to be an expert on skin care, but I can point you in the right direction. I have had a long-time routine of washing my face with just soap (real soap made with oils, not commercial “soap” which is actually petroleum-based detergent), then using a light moisturizer. The simpler, the better. I also stay away from foundation, which tends to clog my pores and dry out my skin.

Many facial products contain chemicals that can dry out and irritate your skin. I recommend that you check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which lists various personal care products that don’t contain harsh chemicals. You can also look up the ingredients in your current products to see if they are associated with irritation, etc.

Also, it seems that our skin is like the canary in the coal mine, letting us know that something we are putting on our skin or in our bodies is hurting our systems in a bigger way. Here are links to a couple of articles on the most commonly found harmful ingredients in personal care products, one from Care2 and the other from Mother Earth Living magazine.

It also helps to keep an eye on your diet. You might want to keep a food diary for a month to see if there are any correlations between what you are eating and any hives you develop. I, for example, have found that if I eat certain foods, I am more prone to breakouts or hives the same or following day.

Hope this helps, and please feel free to ask me to clarify any of this.

Thanks!
Mary

We Are the Champions, My Friends

Today, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released a new report, Market Shift, which documents how they worked with cosmetics industry leaders over the past 7 years to raise awareness about personal care product safety. Through the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, companies voluntarily pledge to avoid chemicals banned in other countries, avoid harmful ingredients whenever possible and fully disclose their product ingredients. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, increasing consumer demand for products made without hazardous chemicals has made natural and safe cosmetics the fastest-growing segment of the $50 billion cosmetics industry. This is great news for consumers looking for healthy options, and great news for companies that work hard to provide the safest, purest products for them.

I am proud to announce that Herban Lifestyle is one of the 432 companies that have achieved “Champion” or “Innovator” status by meeting the goals of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ Compact for Safe Cosmetics! In fact, Herban Lifestyle achieved Champion status, which means that we:

• Comply with the European Union’s Cosmetics Directive, widely considered the global gold standard of cosmetics safety regulation,

• Disclose all ingredients, including ingredients in “fragrance,” which in the United States can be claimed as “confidential business information,” even when it contains hormone disruptors, carcinogens and other harmful chemicals,

• Publish and regularly update product information in EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database,

• Comply with any additional ingredient prohibitions and restrictions under the Compact and substitute ingredients of concern with safer alternatives, and

• Participate in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

If you go to the Campaign’s Skin Deep Database, you will see that Herban Lifestyle products contain the safest ingredients available.

Market Shift shows how the Champions and Innovators (who range from small mom-and-pop businesses to some of the largest businesses in the natural products sector) are working toward higher standards of safety for personal care products, and are doing so successfully. As Mia Davis, organizing director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said, “Their ability and willingness to work toward the Compact requirements shows not only that it is possible to make products that far exceed current safety standards in the United States, but also that making safe personal care products can be part of a successful business model.”

[Note: I have seen similar posts to this one on other sites that have attracted comments emphatically stating that there is no need for safer cosmetics because the FDA already assures that cosmetics are safe. It is true that the FDA has standards around cleanliness of facilities and non-contaminated products, which is very important. But safety in this context means that a product doesn't have the potential to put you and your family at higher risk for cancer, diabetes and a host of other chronic diseases that are not as immediately apparent as a rash, but certainly have more dire long-term effects. For more details, please see the President's Cancer Panel Report, which was released in April 2010. Also, today's news on the FDA and contaminated cosmetics products indicates there is still some work to be done in this area, too.]

Borax: Safe or not?

Last weekend, I had the good fortune of viewing Frog Chemical Water You, one of many wonderful films that were part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. Frog Chemical Water You is a 17-minute film on how chemicals affect our environment. I liked the film because, even though it is quite clear regarding the harsh facts of the impact of our use of chemicals on the environment, it includes simple steps we can take to reduce our chemical footprint. One step is to create our own kitchen cleaner (the recipe is included at the end of this post).

As a member of Team EcoEtsy, a group of crafters with Etsy stores who are dedicated to following sustainable practices, I have been privy to several discussions on making your own household cleaners. Recently, the topic of Sodium Borate (Borax) came up, along with the issue of how safe it is.

According the Mountain Rose Herbs’ data sheet on Borax, it is a mineral, which “naturally occurs from the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes.” While it is natural, Mountain Rose Herbs does warn that Borax is “Not to be ingested, large doses may be fatal. May cause irritation if exposed to the skin, eyes, or if inhaled. Handle with caution, and keep away from children and pets.”

A report published in the International Journal of Toxicology stated that “Sodium Borate and Boric Acid, in concentrations of ≤ 5%, are safe as cosmeticingredients when used as currently recommended (not in food products). However, cosmetic formulations containing free Sodium Borate or Boric Acid atthis concentration should not be used on infant or injured skin.”

And a post on the EcoEtsy team listserv listed one article that advises caution in using Borax, while another says that it is safe to use in your home. Not having a chemistry background, I was not sure how to weigh and balance all of this information.

So, when two producers of Frog Chemical Water You offered to take questions after the film, I was the first one to step up to the mike and ask them about the safety of Borax. Dr. Shirlee Tan (a biologist who specializes in environmental toxicology, wildlife toxicology, and cellular and molecular biology) and Dr. Christiana Grim were very helpful. They said that overall Borax is pretty safe and has a low toxicity profile.

Because of the conflicting information I have come across in trying to determine the safety of various ingredients, I asked them for definitive sources of scientific information on chemicals. They suggested I search the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which I already use all the time as a resource. They also recommended looking at the Materials Safety Data Sheets for any given chemicals (here is one for Borax). Being unfamiliar with the nomenclature of Materials Safety Data Sheets, I found this resource helpful in deciphering the information.

After sifting through all of this information, I have come to the conclusion that Borax is safe to use in homemade cleaning products, as long as you use common sense in handling it. Don’t handle it if you have cuts, abrasions, or burns on your hands, don’t ingest it, and definitely don’t let your kids and pets get into it.

Recipe for Homemade All-Purpose Household Cleaner

  • 3 cups of hot water
  • 2 Tablespoons of vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of Borax (sodium borate)
  • 1 Tablespoon of phosphate-free dishwashing liquid (like Seventh Generation)

Mix well and store in a spray bottle. Use as you would any commercial cleaner.