Dermatologist Recommendations for a Healthier Complexion and Environment
Earth Day is almost here, and eco-friendly skin care products are important for you and the environment.
Did you know that synthetic fragrances and disinfectants are among the man-made chemicals that are now beginning to accumulate in the natural environment?
Have you wondered if all the sunscreen that you diligently put on your skin is OK for marine life?
What accumulates in the environment affects all life, fish, foul, animals – and ultimately, comes back to our family in the form of the water we drink and the food we eat.
It means that whether it is the shower gel we use, the lotion we apply to our skin or the sunscreen we slather on at the beach –
it all matters.
This Earth Day, I invite each of you to review your personal product choices in the context of how they impact our Mother Earth.
At the end I'll share a special deal I'm offering for all readers!
Are You Using Eco-Friendly Skin Care Products?
Are there places where you might be able to substitute a current product for a more natural and eco-friendly one?
In general, some of the least
eco-friendly personal skin care products include those made with synthetic fragrances and antibacterial ingredients like phthalates and triclosan. Now, we also have evidence that some chemical and nano-particle sunscreen ingredients are harming marine life.
Are there products you currently use that contain these ingredients, and that you can substitute for more eco-friendly skin care products without significantly sacrificing product performance?
In my own reappraisal of what I use, I found some simple switches that were easy to make. They are also smart, personal care switches because I know that I am reducing exposure for my own body, and the environment, at the same time.
The easiest places to make a big impact are on products that are applied to big expanses of our skin every day.
These products ultimately washed off in the shower to enter our water treatment plants and our waterways. I switched to an entirely natural – no synthetic ingredients at all – shower gel, bar soap and body lotion for everyday use.
These products have no artificial fragrance (and thus, no phthalates as I will explain below), no antibacterial triclosan and no significant preservatives. My skin stays clean and hydrated, I’m exposed to fewer chemicals and allergens and I know I’m exposing the earth to fewer of these, too. I mix and match these products with the use of targeted products for skin problems or fragrance products that I enjoy – but all of these products are used in minute amounts.
What are the most important ingredients to look out for in your personal care products?
They are banned from personal care products in the EU but still allowed in the U.S. They are known endocrine disruptors and linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity and cancer according to Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Phthalates are commonly found in human urine samples. They wash off our skin and into wastewater treatment facilities where they are difficult to remove, and thus, enter the environment. Once in the environment, they can re-enter the water we drink and the foods we eat. I think it’s best to just minimize our use of phthalates.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used “in hundreds of products” according to the FDA
. These include: nail polish, hair sprays, after-shave lotions, soaps, shampoos, fragranced lotions, body washes, and perfumes, to name a few. There are two phthalates in particular that are widely used in personal care products:
1) Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
is used in nail polish and is listed by the EU as an endocrine-disrupting compound of high concern. Some companies have phased out DBP in nail products.
2) Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
is widely used in scented products to help the scent linger. You probably won’t see it listed on labels because it is a constituent of the ubiquitous ingredient “fragrance.”
Other names for phthalates include:
- DEHP (di(2- ethylhexyl) phthalate)
Yes, you are reading this correctly – “fragrance.” The word “fragrance” can be used to hide a bunch of undisclosed ingredients including phthalates. For this reason, I recommend we just avoid artificial fragrance products in general. Fragrance ingredients are also some of the most common allergens in personal care products so avoiding them is a “two-fer” for you skin health.
Choose Fragrance-Free Products.
What is the difference between fragrance-free and unscented?
According to the EPA
- “Fragrance Free” means that the product has no fragrance ingredients added.
- Unscented products may contain masking chemicals to hide the odor of the product base formulation.
Realize this advice about avoiding fragrance is coming from someone who loves beautifully-scented products.
I reconcile my goal to avoid the abundant use of artificial fragrance by choosing scented products with intention based on what really appeals to me. I recommend that we don’t apply scented products to our entire skin and avoid using scented products for housework, too.
To create a personal scent, use a perfume or an essential oil. Apply it to hair, clothing or a very small area of skin in a minute amount. My personal favorite right now is the essential oil, rose geranium. I sprinkle a few drops in my evening bath.
To scent my laundry, I also put a few drops on my Valley Ford Wool Drier Balls
. To scent my home, I apply a few drops of lavender essential oil to dry lavender bundles that I have placed around the house. Yes, it is possible to lead a yummy, sensually-scented life without synthetic fragrances lacing all your personal care products and our homes.
Triclosan is the other ingredient to try hard to avoid.
Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient that even the FDA is not so fond of
. It is present in soaps, toothpaste, lotions, and other personal care products. Animal studies suggest it lowers thyroid hormone levels. It also contributes to the problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Triclosan accumulates in aquatic ecosystems, is only partially removed by wastewater treatment and is highly toxic to aquatic ecosystems. When it comes to triclosan, I recommend we just avoid it.
What about the effects of sunscreen on marine ecology?
Sun protection is important for skin health and to prevent skin aging. I want you to be 100% committed to sun protection.
But, are sunscreens safe for our marine ecosystems?
Wait, I’m a dermatologist. Have I gone nuts?!
No, and I’ve actually worried about this for years. When I escape to sunny beach vacations (a constant goal of mine) I see so much sunscreen-covered skin entering the ocean water that I cringe. Not only do I know that those sunscreens are not going to fully protect the humans using them, but I know the sheer volume of product going into tourist beaches is high. I knew this was not going to end well for coral and marine life, and it’s not.
In recent years, scientists are learning that chemical sunscreens and nanoparticle sunscreens are potentially harmful to marine ecology. Studies show that the sunscreen ingredient called oxybenzone is causing coral damage. Nanoparticle sunscreens are probably also causing harm to marine life, too.
How do you protect your skin and steward the marine ecosystem at the same time?
- Wear sun protective swim wear that covers lots of your skin so that tons of sunscreen is NOT necessary.
- Use a non-nano sunscreen for what little skin is left uncovered.
Yep, sun protective swim wear is brilliant. Wear a rash guard with long sleeves. Your skin will be entirely protected. You’ll be cooler too – trust me, I’m a pro at tropical beach vacations with sunburn-free skin. I love snorkeling and floating in ocean water. I stay in the water for hours, especially when it's really hot and the UVB rays are really intense! Yep, I do. And, I never get burned. I wear a rash guard and swim leggings, really good sunscreen on my fair skin that is not covered, and I put on a hat or use my sun umbrella in the water to shade my face. It works!
This outfit and gear is also super convenient – no reapplying greasy sunscreen all over my body every two hours and after exiting the water! Plus, I can pull off the gear when I’m back in the shade and my skin is clean and fresh. But, when I’m in the sun, I am 100% protected. Low maintenance AND comfortable!
I recommend you use a natural and non-nano sunscreen product like Raw Elements Sunscreen
to protect your exposed face, ears, neck, and hands that are not covered by your sun-protective swim gear. This is the ultimate in smart sun protection that won’t inundate the marine ecosystem with potentially reef damaging chemicals.
I actually also use non-nano zinc oxide sunscreens every day.
My personal list of favorite sunscreens and natural personal care products are listed below.
To celebrate Earth Day, I recommend taking a look at your personal care products. Think about the ones that you use in high volume. When possible, make choices to cut out artificial fragrance and triclosan. Buy yourself some sun-protecting swim gear if you love beach vacations. Find non-nano zinc oxide sunscreens that fit your skin type and activities, and know that you are making choices that are good for both you and our Mother Earth.
Right now we are kicking off a very special Sale Celebrating Earth Day. Check it out here and your order could be 20% off!
Some of Dr. Bailey’s Favorite Eco-friendly Solutions, Including Natural and Non-Nano Zinc Oxide Sun Protection:
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Zota AR, Singla V, Adamkiewicz G, et al Reducing chemical exposures at home: opportunities for action, J Epidemiol Community Health
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, 159 (2011) 1543-1550
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7, Article number 7815 (2017)
Welch, Craig, Do Sunscreens’ Tiny Particles Harm Ocean Life in Big Ways? National Geographic
, May 14, 2015
Dann, Ancrea, et. al., Triclosan: Environmental exposure, toxicity and mechanism of action
, Journal of Applied Toxicology,
31(4): 285-311 May 2011