We’re used to ‘counting calories’ when it comes to the food that we eat, but what about how we nourish our faces and bodies? Why don’t we pay as much attention to the labels on our skincare and cosmetics products as we do those in our shopping baskets? Rosie spent a week tracking her ‘chemical calories’ – and the results came as quite a surprise…
I grew up with the mantra “you are what you eat” and it has always guided my nutritional choices: we all know to avoid anything with a lengthy ingredients list, that E-numbers are the enemy, and that organic is best.
But when it comes to what I feed my skin and hair, I’m much less stringent. When I was younger it tended to be whatever was both good value and smelled appealing – memories of my early teens are redolent of Impulse body spray – while better pay checks and an increasingly refined palate prompted a transition to the premium brands I now use on a daily basis.
Perhaps for that very reason – they’re premium, and they cost an arm and a leg, so they’ve got to be good for you, right? – I’ve never thought twice about what actually constitutes the creams I slather on my skin every day, lured by their promises to delay the onset of wrinkles and ageing.
The Organic Pharmacy challenged me to track my ‘chemical calories’ for a week, and I was completely unprepared for the shock that was in store: I discovered that, despite my skincare regime costing a fortune, I was still ingesting all sorts of nasty ingredients on a daily basis – the sort of carcinogenic, hormone-altering substances that would hit the headlines were they to be found in the water we drink or the bread we eat every day, yet seem to have escaped widespread media attention to date.
My typical day begins by washing my face with what is described on the bottle as a ‘gentle’ face wash. A glance at the label’s dizzying list of ingredients reveals this is anything but: it contained a whole host of parabens in varying forms – look for ingredients ending in ‘-paraben’ or ‘-ester’, as well as Benzoic Acid, Fragrance, Potassium Salt, Methyl, Probyl, Buthyl, Ethyl. Founder of The Organic Pharmacy Margo Marrone explains that parabens, widely used as preservatives, “have been found in a small study sample of human breast tumours (and) are used in many cosmetic products where they have the ability to penetrate the skin and mimic the hormone oestrogen”.
Moving on to make-up, I noticed that my mascara and foundation were also ridden with these dangerous chemicals. Not exactly the news I wanted to hear first thing on a Monday morning, when only a thick layer of foundation can hide the bags under my eyes: I couldn’t even wash it off without scrubbing more of the offending face wash into my skin. The week hadn’t got off to a good start.
And it only got worse: my deodorant was laced with Polyethylene Glycol, which according to Marrone “is often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane – both known carcinogens”. Not just that, but PEG also works as a ‘penetration enhancer’, making the skin more permeable – which allows for greater absorption of the product’s harmful ingredients.
My shampoo and conditioner were also major offenders, containing both phthalates, which Marrone describes as “a hormone disrupting chemical that may be linked to breast cancer and premature breast development in young girls, as well as creating interference with reproductive development in male foetuses”, and sulfates, “a detergent linked to skin irritation, cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity and endocrine disruption”.
After a few days of unhealthy food many of us crave some sort of detox to cleanse the system, and that’s exactly how my skin and hair felt after digesting – if you’ll pardon the term – the bitter truth about the rubbish they’d been fed for so long. I’ve committed to swapping my most commonly-used items with ‘healthy’ alternatives from The Organic Pharmacy, and my skin is glowing – at no greater cost than the supposedly virtuous products I used to purchase from renowned brands.
Tracking macros may be a thing of the past, but rehauling your skincare diet could save you from serious health problems in the future. I’d advise anyone who wants to look and feel their best to consider giving it a go – you’ll be amazed at how many unwanted chemicals you’ll shed.