Body and Skin Care

The skin is capable of absorbing many different types of substances – for example, pain medication, contraceptive hormones and nicotine can all be administered through patches placed on the skin. It stands to reason, then, that personal care products such as creams, lotions, shampoos and soaps should be as free of chemicals as possible, since toxins or unwanted substances may be absorbed through the skin. Lipstick or lip balms may also be ingested and absorbed through the intestinal tract.

Cosmetics, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, are among the least regulated products on the market. The FDA has no authority to require pre-market safety assessment as it does with drugs, and does not review what goes into cosmetics. Many ingredients have never been evaluated for safety.

Many body care products now tout that they are “natural” or “organic,” but these words have no legal meaning when used to describe cosmetics or body care products. A product may contain mostly synthetic chemicals with a few drops of an herbal preparation and be labeled as “herbal,” “natural,” and “organic.” Even in health food stores, products may not be what they appear to be.

Because the body care product market is large and continually changing, we have few specific companies or products we endorse (see the Resources page for these). As with packaged food, it is necessary to read labels and judge what is best of the products available. You can also make your own lotions and bath products; one of our staff has evaluated some skin care product recipes and made her suggestions available on our site.

Some resources to help evaluate products:

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: general articles and resources about cosmetic safety.

Skin Deep: the Environmental Working Group’s database of cosmetic safety, which allows you to search for their evaluations of products and ingredients. The product evaluations also give you suggestions of less toxic alternatives.

Organic Consumers Association’s Coming Clean Campaign: a discussion of fraudulent claims of “organic” materials in body care products, and a listing of makers of certified organic body care products.

Terressentials’ The Healthy Person's Guide to Personal Care Ingredients: a great overview of natural and synthetic ingredients used in body care products.

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