By Christina Shepherd McGuire
Parabens, a swearword among breast cancer survivors, sneak their way into many of our everyday beauty products. According to researchers, these questionable preservatives can mimic the hormone estrogen, cause endocrine disruption, and accumulate in fatty body tissues. In fact, a 2004 study performed by Dr. Philippa Darbre and released in the Journal of Applied Toxicology cited traces of these hormone mimickers in the breast tumors of twenty patients. Since then, Dr. Darbre teamed up with colleague Lester Barr of University Hospital of South Manchester in England to collect 160 samples of breast tissue from women undergoing mastectomies from 2005 to 2008. And the results were astonishing! Ninety-nine percent of the samples collected contained at least one paraben and 60 percent contained five. Darbre’s studies, and other similar investigations, raise concerns over the fact that parabens may play a role in breast cancer formation.
But before we start freaking out, running to our bathroom and wiping the contents of our shelves into the garbage can, let’s first uncover a little more scientific info. True—certain chemicals such as parabens, pesticides, and industrial by-products can interact with estrogen-receptor molecules in the body. And research has proven that increased estrogen levels are known to enhance the development, growth, and progression of breast cancer. But what amount of these chemicals, if any, actually lodges onto our sensitive tissues? The answer is complex and somewhat inconclusive. While parabens are easily absorbed through the skin and by the digestive tract, the body also readily converts them into an acid, quickly excreted via urine. Additionally, according to Marianne Marchese, ND in her 2010 Natural Medicine Journal article, the metabolism of parabens takes place in the skin, “which likely will result in less than one percent unmetabolized parabens available for absorption in the body.”
But not all parabens are the same, a point that draws further attention to studies like Dr. Darbre’s, causes cancer-activist groups to take notice, and inspires consumers to put pressure on the industry to adopt safer practices.
What are parabens?
Parabens are FDA-approved, broad-spectrum preservatives widely found in lotion, shampoo, mascara, foundation, sunblock, pharmaceuticals, and thousands of other personal care products. The most common parabens, methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben, inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungus, and other microbes. These everyday microorganisms—sometimes found lurking in the damp environment in your bathroom—can cause skins infections, rashes, and other uncomfortable conditions. In addition to thwarting microbe growth, parabens also enhance the shelf life and integrity of your everyday products.
But while no one wants to use mildewed makeup or separated shampoo, are these chemicals really safe? After the release of several controversial study results, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) board, in conjunction with the FDA, decided to re-open the safety assessment study on parabens. The FDA’s conclusion: There is no reason for consumer concern.
I’ll let you decide for yourself.
What are the health risks of exposure?
Endocrine disrupters are all around us. Without knowing it, we breathe them in our air, drink them in our water, and wash them down our drains. But when it comes to putting them on our skin, we have a choice. Dr. Elizabeth Smith, who has written numerous articles on xenoestrogens, claims, “Anything absorbed through the skin may be as high as ten times the concentration of an oral dose.”
Xenoestrogens, like parabens, can bind to hormone receptors in our bodies and put us at risk for certain types of cancers, primarily breast cancer. A 2011 study done by doctors at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco took noncancerous breast cells from high-risk patients, grew them in a laboratory, and found that once the cells were exposed to methylparaben (and bisphenol A or BPA’s), they started behaving like cancer cells. The same study also noted that these estrogen mimickers can actually block the drugs used to treat estrogen-sensitive cancers.
In addition to potentially raising the body’s estrogen levels, parabens can also cause skin irritation, rash, contact dermatitis, eczema, and allergic skin reactions in sensitive individuals. Facts like these should persuade us all to read the ingredients of our coveted beauty products and consider adopting practices to seek out safer alternatives.
Pre-kids, I paid marginal attention to the ingredients in my skincare products. But once my first child was born, I intuitively knew to avoid chemical-laden baby products. I started acquiring natural baby shampoos, soaps, and creams, and ditched the alcohol-clad wipeys for more gentle options. This newly adopted mindset caused me to scrutinize the products I was putting on my own body, too.
Thankfully, natural and paraben-free products were cropping up like weeds. Now, not only can you buy safer alternatives at your local health food store, but you can also find them widely available in chain grocery stores. And no, these natural products aren’t festering on the shelves just waiting to be purchased, because—contrary to popular belief—they contain earthly ingredients that help with preservation. Cocoa butter, coconut oil, and olive oil all contain antimicrobial properties that enhance the shelf life of moisturizers and creams for up to eighteen months. Pop into the Jackson Whole Grocer or Barrels and Bins in Driggs and peruse the racks for safe beauty products, scrubs, and cleansers.
Do they Work?
Okay—so if you’re like me, you’ve lived most of your adult life in the Mountain West and your skin, well, it’s showing the effects of the sun, dry climate, and wind. You’d like to be okay with your aging complexion, but there’s a part of you that longs for an even skin tone that is wrinkle-free.
This is where I come in, ’cause—you see—I’m not embarrassed by my little twinge of vanity and I’ve really done my homework. True, I may splurge for some expensive natural alternatives around the holidays (they last me all year, by the way), but I’ve adopted a daily skincare routine utilizing relatively inexpensive and easy-to-come-by options. I remember—way back—my friend and Ayurvedic practitioner, Cate Stillman, advised me against lathering my skin with anything I would not eat. It was then that I started using oils.
You may equate castor oil with the likes of ipecac syrup. Believe me, my memory is scarred with images of my grandmother chasing me with spoonsful to thwart my sickness. However, castor oil’s unique combination of fatty acids, antioxidants, and minerals are extremely beneficial to the skin. When applied to the face, castor oil’s high concentration of vitamin E can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Castor oil also increases circulation to the skin by delivering oxygen and vital nutrients to the cells.
My wintertime wrinkle serum consists of a tincture bottle full of castor oil with twenty-five drops of rose essential oil. Right before bedtime, and soon after a gentle scrub, I spread a dropperful onto my face and neck and sleep on it. In the morning, my skin looks perky and radiant. I’ve tried expensive wrinkle creams and serums, but the effects I’ve gotten from castor oil beats them all. For a lighter summertime preparation, substitute coconut oil for castor oil.
Okay—so you like the idea of going au natural, but you’re not quite game for slathering food-grade oil on your face. If that’s the case, there are a few lines of skin products, carried locally, that I personally recommend.Eminence Organics is a Hungarian skincare line made from organically grown fresh fruit pulps, plants, and exotic spices. They source ingredients from worldwide farms and then mix them in small batches to assure both potency and quality. Eminence’s natural and holistic approach to skincare centers on their philosophy that nature provides the healthiest and most effective choices for healing and rejuvenating your skin. And, best of all, Eminence products are free of parabens, petrolatum, mineral oils, propylene glycol, and sodium lauryl sulfate.
The Eminence line, consisting of best-selling products like Coconut Age Corrective Moisturizer and Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant, is available for purchase at the Chill Spa in Hotel Terra (Teton Village) and Body and Soul Salon and Spa in Jackson. And while their products come at a price, they last a long time and yield results. According to Brandy Chaplin, Chill Spa esthetician, “…it’s okay to emulsify [add water to] Eminence products to make them last longer. It will not affect the results. And keep an eye on how much product you are using…a thin layer of a masque will be just as effective as putting it on thick.”Sourcing natural makeup options can be tricky. Luckily for us, a few mineral-based makeup lines are available locally. The Jane Iredale line, carried at the Stillwaters Spa at Teton Springs Resort, benefits both the body and skin. Jane Iredale makeup contains pure mineral pigments for color and coverage, includes only natural preservatives, and harbors no nano-sized particles—particles easily inhaled or absorbed by the skin that can toxify the lungs and body. Another similar brand that adheres to strict nano particle specs is Colorescience, available in Jackson at the Body Sage Spa, Reincarnation Medical Spa, Sena Spa, and Teton Dermatology. Or try Arbonne, a line sold locally by Stillwaters Spa hairdresser and esthetician Nicole Ratajczak. “Arbonne’s Sheer Finish Tinted Moisturizer delivers sun protection and natural-looking coverage,” Nicole says, “while restoring and maintaining optimal moisture balance. I love this product for the natural girl who doesn’t wear a lot of makeup but wants a fresh look that protects her skin from the sun.”
If you need a little something, but are turned off by cakey creams and over-the-top eye decoration, these makeup lines are right up your alley. Their products cover, moisturize, block the sun, and liven up your complexion in a totally natural way. For a subtle midwinter pick-me-up or a quick powdery sunblock, keep some bronzer on hand. I swear—it will last you all year.You see, we can make healthy body care choices when armed with a little knowledge. And cherry-picking products that contain natural ingredients will still give you a peace of mind, whether or not you believe the paraben safety hype. If you’re like me and covet a healthy glow—despite our regional environmental complexion hurdles—combo up the DIY option with a luxurious splurge now and then. No chemistry degree required.
Homemade Makeup Palette
Mica, a sheet mineral found in many rock formations, produces a glimmer in direct light. Available in many tints, mica is a suitable bronzer for different complexions. And you don’t need to mine it out of a quarry to create your own makeup. fromnaturewithlove.com stocks mica in various shades.
2 tablespoons beeswax
4 tablespoons jojoba oil
1 tablespoon evening primrose oil
8 tablespoons distilled water
3 tablespoons emulsifying wax
Mica in desired shade
Melt the beeswax and combine it with the jojoba oil and evening primrose oil. Remove the mixture from the heat and add distilled water and emulsifying wax. Allow it to cool and gradually sift in the mica. Go slowly. You always can add more, but you can’t remove it once it’s in. Store in a glass container.
Those with sensitive eyes will benefit from the natural nature of this accentuating shadow. Formulated from ingredients you’d traditionally find in the baking aisle, homemade eye shadows are safe even for allergy-prone ladies. This homespun mixture blends just as well as expensive pressed shadows.
1/2 teaspoon arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon magnesium stearate
1/2 teaspoon jojoba or coconut oil
Mica in desired shade
Slowly add mica to the arrowroot powder, magnesium stearate, and oil mixture. Store in a glass container.
You might not equate beets with makeup when you first pull them from the ground, laden with dirt. Yet, as a resourceful earth goddess, you can easily muster up a concoction suitable for a night on the town.
1/4 cup beeswax
1/4 cup castor oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Wash and run beets though a juicer, yielding approximately 1/4 cup. Melt 1/4 cup beeswax and combine it with 1/4 cup castor oil, 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, and the desired amount of beet juice. Store your gloss in a glass container.