Preservatives, sunscreens — Should we be worried?

Like good food, good skin care depends on superb, nutritious ingredients. It’s based on natural ingredients that can help soothe and hydrate the skin and boost its natural radiance.

Unfortunately, skin care labels now read more like pharmaceuticals – propylparaben, iodoproprnyl butylcarbamate, triethanolamine … and the list goes on. We can hardly pronounce the ingredients on our cosmetics labels, much less understand what they may, over time, do to our skin.

To be sure, nutritious food also helps build healthy skin.

Antioxidants* in our fruits and vegetables, such as lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein, appear to increase the skin’s protection against environmental stress and UV radiation. They also improve the skin’s texture, smoothness, thickness and elasticity.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids, found in salmon, sardines and herring, help reduce inflammation, which is associated with skin redness and wrinkling. Omega-6, found in seeds and nuts, play a role in keeping the skin moist and supple.

So why can’t the lotions we spread on our skin be more like the food we find in the grocery store produce section? Well, they can.

Truly natural** skin care products are made with plant-based ingredients that are processed only to maintain purity. They avoid ingredients suspected of posing a health risk and don’t perform animal testing. They also use biodegradable ingredients and environmentally sensitive packaging.

Natural skin care products are the “little sister” of “Certified Organic” products, which must meet rigorous standards relating to how the plant is fertilized and harvested and how it’s stored and processed. That ranking is expensive to achieve and the expense is passed on to the customer.

Like all skin care producers, makers of natural products must concern themselves with preservatives.

Preservatives are necessary to protect skin care products against microbial growth. Parabens (like methylparaben and propylparaben) are the most common preservatives in mainstream skin care lines. But parabens have recently been called into question because they can act like estrogen.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says parabens have been shown to produce much less estrogenic activity than what naturally occurs in the body. The agency says parabens are used at low levels and that consumers don’t need to be concerned about their use.

But parabens aren’t the only preservative in town. Makers of natural and organic skin care can choose from several natural and organic preservatives that have been shown to be effective. They include Leucidal, an organic preservative based on peptide technology involving fermented beets, and Tinosan, an anti-microbial that’s a silver salt of citric acid.

Since we live near the beach, we should also pay attention to the safety of sunscreens.  The Cancer Prevention Coalition and the Environmental Working Group have asked the FDA for greater scrutiny of many sunscreens, particularly oxybenzone. Those groups also worry that sunscreens give sun bathers a false sense of security, encouraging people to stay out longer than they would otherwise.

The University of Zurich in Switzerland released a study last year (2010) stating that it found eight sunscreen ingredients in women’s breast milk. However, the study said, the effects on the infant remain unknown.

The jury is still out on the safety of sunscreens as more studies are getting underway.

It’s true that people are demanding more of their skin care, especially baby boomers like me who aren’t aging without putting up a fight. But let’s not forget nature’s power to produce beautiful skin. Most of our demands can be met by products made with carefully chosen and blended natural ingredients.

*A free radical is an unstable molecule that causes cell damage in the body. An antioxidant prevents cell damage by neutralizing free radicals.

**The term natural skin care refers its source (plant-based ingredients). Chemical refers to its structure. There are natural chemicals and synthetic (man-made) chemicals.

*** The FDA has limited oversight of cosmetics and skin care. Except for color additives, cosmetic ingredients aren’t subject to FDA approval.


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