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Concerned about Your Natural Personal Care Products?
by Angelica S. Vrablic, PhD

Cosmetics, as defined by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act are "articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body ... for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance" [FD&C Act, sec. 201(i)] of said body. The products included in this definition are skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail polishes, eye and facial makeup preparations, shampoos, permanent waves, hair colors, toothpastes, and deodorants, as well as any material intended for use as a component of a cosmetic product. Based on the aforementioned wording and classification, most would be led to believe that personal care formulas are simply superficial products that affect our exterior without any long-lasting or permanent effects to our interior.

When it comes to the safety of cosmetic ingredients, our concerns may no longer be "superficial." Savvy natural health shoppers are beginning to recognize that certain ingredients found in the majority of personal care products, such as parabens or certain synthetic preservatives, may not be optimal choices for the "care" of our personal health. Parabens may be too harsh to the skin in certain individuals.

Certainly, preservatives are necessary for any personal care formulation. Without them, products could break down and be rendered ineffective due to the contamination of microorganisms. Products without preservatives are neither safe nor feasible, as they may sit on store shelves for months before purchase. However, synthetic preservatives—especially parabens—have been subject to intense scrutiny ever since researchers in the United Kingdom began studying their effects on the body.

Parabens, such as methyl-parabens, ethyl-parabens, propyl-parabens, and butyl-parabens, are used as preservatives in thousands of personal care formulas, as well as in foods and pharmaceuticals. Because of their chemical structure, parabens tend to mimic estrogen in the body. Recently, the same U.K. research group discovered parabens may induce responses in cells similar to those of estrogen. Although there were differences in response between parabens and estrogen, the estrogenic effects of the parabens were clear. The additive estrogenic effect of parabens, combined with other environmental estrogen mimicking agents and estrogen made naturally in the body, can cause an overall excessive estrogen load, and may lead to health consequences such as PMS, infertility, and gynecological cancers. Researchers in France have recently shown that parabens can be absorbed through the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin, with the level of permeability based on the size of the paraben molecule. Parabens migrating through the skin may wind up in the body and may also be irritants. Results of recent patch testing using the extended British Contact Dermatitis Society Standard series collected from nine dermatology centers in the U.K. showed parabens (mixed) had the highest irritancy rate.

There is also the environmental impact of parabens to consider. The continuous supply of these products into sewage treatment systems and directly into recreational waters begs the question: What risks are we taking with the health of aquatic organisms, algae, and other water-dwelling organisms?

In light of all the recent and controversial research surrounding parabens, perhaps now is the time to look beyond synthetic preservatives to more natural, paraben-free personal care choices; formulas that offer a healthier alternative and feature natural ingredients that keep products fresh, shelf-stable, and germ-free. There are a number of gentle and effective preservatives, such as grapefruit seed extract and rosemary oleoresin, that are found in personal care and natural beauty products. I often recommend the Home Health™ line of natural and remedy-specific products for skin, hair, and body because of their paraben-free formulations. A manufacturer of high-quality products for the health conscious shopper, Home Health's products are based on 65 years of tradition, principles, and natural ingredients. Not only are most of the products paraben-free, they contain no petroleum, artificial color, artificial fragrance, or mineral oil. Their labels are easy to read and understand, clearly indicate exactly which ingredients are in the formula, and include a "free of" statement so that customers can easily make confident choices when looking for healthier alternatives in their daily personal care regimens.

Although most still don't know about all the issues surrounding parabens and similar ingredients, looking for well-established brands that offer "clean ingredient" formulas is one way to ensure that you are treating yourself with personal care formulas that are not only naturally good, but naturally good for you!

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