As an advocate of eating safely gathered wild foods, it only stands to reason I am a fervent label reader when shopping. In addition to reading food labels, it is equally important to read the labels of the personal care products and cosmetics you purchase – you owe it to your health, especially to the health of your skin.
At the thickest point, our skin is only a few millimeters thick yet it is our heaviest and largest organ. Depending on your height and weight, your skin weighs between 3.5 and 10 kilograms (7.5 and 22 pounds) and has a surface area of 1.5 to 2 square meters. This indicates how important skin is for our body and metabolism.
What Our Skin Does
Skin is a stable but flexible outer covering that serves several important functions. The obvious function is that it acts as barrier, protecting the body from harmful substances in the outside world such as moisture, the sun’s harmful rays, even germs and toxic substances.
Our skin is a huge indicator of our age and health. Changes in skin colour or structure can be a sign of a medical condition. A good example of this is that those who have few red blood cells may have a pale complexion and of course, those who have hepatitis have yellowish skin.
Skin plays a critical role in:
- Regulating body temperature;
- Producing hormones that are important for the whole body;
- Storing water and fat; and
- Healing skin when injured.
There are three layers of skin; the deepest layer is the subcutis, the middle layer is the dermis and the outer layer is the epidermis. We know that “skin breathes”; but how much? In a published 2002 study titled: “The cutaneous uptake of atmospheric oxygen contributes significantly to the oxygen supply of human dermis and epidermis”, it was shown that under normal conditions, atmospheric oxygen can supply our upper skin layers to a depth of 0.25–0.40 mm. This means that our entire epidermis and the upper corium can be supplied with oxygen from the atmosphere. (Our skin also gets oxygen from our blood.)
So what does all this scientific information have to do with what personal care products you purchase? Many health care professionals say: “if you are not willing to eat it, why put it on your skin”?
Personal Care Products
Deodorants and Antiperspirants: There is conflicting information out there about both types of these products, especially antiperspirants. Many sources say they can cause cancer (mostly breast cancer) yet some sources refute that. Regardless of claims on both sides, we are supposed to sweat and by forcing our body to prevent this natural process, I feel, is not good. Most antiperspirant formulations use some type of metallic salt, like aluminum chloride or aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex to mechanically block sweat from reaching the surface of the skin. In fact, there is a specific “chamomile” scented product on the market that contains 20.2% aluminum chlorohydrate, a substance that Environment Canada Domestic Substance List says, on organ toxicity, it is classified as expected to be toxic or harmful. (Not to mention there is no chamomile in this specific product.)
In a healthy person, fresh sweat basically has no odour. It is mostly water, which by evaporating cools the body. It contains a variety of ions, such as sodium, potassium and chloride, commonly referred to as electrolytes, along with small amounts of metabolic by-products such as ammonia, lactic acid, amino acids and fatty acids.
So if fresh sweat basically does not smell, what causes odour in some people? Body odour is caused by bacteria breaking down sweat and is largely linked to the apocrine glands. Most of the apocrine glands in the skin are located in the groin and armpits. It is actually the result of bacteria breaking down protein into certain acids. This is known as bromhidrosis, osmidrosis, or ozochrotia – or more simply stated B.O.! Each person’s unique body scent (or odour) is influenced by diet, health, and medication.
Reading labels on cosmetic products is also very important if you are concerned about what goes on your skin (and ultimately into your body). The beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar industry with a plethora of claims that you will look better if you use their product. True skin health, in my opinion, does not come in a bottle; it comes from diet, exercising regularly and the air we breathe.
Choose your personal care products wisely. For those who are label readers, if you are not willing to eat what you put on your skin – then why would you put it on your skin? For those who are inclined to do so, making your own products is fun and relatively inexpensive. By using wildcrafted plants and a few store-bought natural products, making personal care products can be empowering.
Regardless of all the science out there, we may choose to read labels, or we may not want to – we all need to make our own choices.
Links to easy-to-make personal care products: