Beauty and the Beast: Cosmetic Carcinogens
Little did I know how life altering that morning would be. I awoke at my usual time early in the morning. I was in a fetal position — my arms bent at the elbows and crossed over my chest. My knees were drawn up to my stomach and I was on my right side. My husband lay beside me, to my right, in a semi-awake state stretching and yawning. I was paralyzed. I could not move my arms, I could not move my legs. There was no question I could not eject myself from bed in my usual way. I could barely breathe.
Alarmed, I said to my husband, "I can’t move." He smiled, thinking I was speaking in a figurative sense. When I repeated more urgently, "I can’t move!" he realized it was not a joke. He jumped up suddenly realizing the urgency of my situation. This would be the first morning for weeks to come in which my husband would slowly coax my body back to life each morning. By slowly moving my arms away from my body and straightening my legs, then very gingerly helping me out of bed after gently (for the pain was severe) wrapping my arms around his neck and helping me to stand on my own, he created this morning ritual of helping the blood return to my stiff and wretchedly enflamed limbs.
When I was first diagnosed with lupus in 1997, I was almost unaware of auto-immune disease and the impact it would have on my life. Many people are still unaware of auto-immune diseases although diagnoses are on the rise. Most who are diagnosed are women, usually in the prime of their lives. Auto-immune diseases are not limited to lupus. They include rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and the list goes on. Traditional western medical treatments consist of varying doses of corti-steroids, anti-malarials, chemotherapy in the pill form, and anti-inflammatories. The cure? There is none. The cause? Nobody has researched this insidious condition fully enough to understand the cause. The common belief is that there is a genetic predisposition to it. What appears to commonly precede an onset is extreme periods of stress and lifelong allergies.
When I was advised of my treatment options by my rheumatologist, I knew immediately that I needed more information. I also knew instinctively that the treatments offered were not an option for my lifestyle. Always having been physically active, conscious of my diet and never imbibing in any habitual abuses of my body such as alcohol or drugs, I knew this was not an acceptable way for me to deal with an incurable disease.
Because I always took great pride in my physical appearance, including enjoying makeup, well-kept coifed hair and other such vain privileges, I also knew that researchers, albeit it so few with so little results, were missing something. They were ignoring a larger picture. Why were women primarily being targeted by these disabling conditions? In particular, why were women who were seemingly taking good care of themselves being targeted? And was there a link to allergies?
When I began to research allergies and environmental toxins and how our immune system behaves, it became clear to me that they played a huge role. In fact, in the ensuing years, the more people with whom I came into contact, the more I was convinced that our environment and the products we were exposed to were key players in auto-immune dysfunctions. This led me to research the cosmetics industry. The reason: women are the major participants in the multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry. There had to be a link. There had to be a reason more women were being diagnosed with auto-immune diseases than men.
There is no doubt that stress is a trigger to the first major encounter with auto-immune breakdown in most of those who are diagnosed. Oftentimes this trigger appears in the form of a sudden, traumatic stress, but given the amount of stress that many people encounter on a daily basis, the stress trigger alone is not enough to be the causative link to auto-immune dysfunction. Some of us remain very healthy under enormous levels of stress. Is it possible that a genetic predisposition is responsible as well? Why environmental issues such as pollutants, contaminants and toxins in products seem to be ignored by researchers is a mystery when the connection seems so obvious.
It is clear that the cosmetics industry has been and continues to be a huge and prosperous industry in our country. It is no secret that the large corporations involved in the industry and the development of cosmetics have been in the news at various times for issues involving toxic dyes, toxic ingredients, even to the extent of using embryos in their foundations! Yet we continue to seek to retain our youth and beauty by supporting the industry. How many of us actually take the time to understand the ingredients listed on these bottles and boxes? How many of us actually understand the language they use to describe the ingredients? How many of us know that propylene glycol is a derivative of antifreeze? And how many of us understand that this is added to give creams and lotions a smooth consistency? This is just one example of what the cosmetics industry silently adds to our products. How about SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate)? This was linked by the FDA to cancer when given internally to rats. Now read your toothpaste contents. How much toothpaste do you accidentally ingest when you brush your teeth? SLS is present as a foaming agent, a detergent, and when added to shampoos, gels, and other such external use products is fairly harmless. However, when SLS is ingested, it becomes an active carcinogen.
Other interesting and seemingly unassuming additives are petroleum-based ingredients. Petroleum jelly (how many of us have been petroleum jelly addicts, slathering it daily on our lips?) is the opposite of a humectant. Humectants seal in moisture and allow our skin to benefit from the moisturizing effects of creams and lotions. Petroleum-based products strip our skin of moisture and force us to continuously use the lotions/creams over and over not realizing that we are not receiving the moisturizing treatment we seek. Using non petroleum-based products actually should only require one application per day. How about aluminum? Aluminum is a metal. This is often added to foundations for coloring and sheen. There are numerous folks now who are becoming aware of the possibility of suffering from heavy metal poisoning and are undergoing chelation treatment, which is the removal of heavy metals from their blood stream.
These are just a few of the more ominous ingredients present in cosmetics which we use on a daily basis. Our immune systems can only fight off so many toxins, among them pollutants in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and, yes, the products we use on our skin! The realization that what we put on our skin is eventually absorbed into our bloodstreams is what prompted me to become more aware of everything I was blindly was using.
Those who may just be embarking on this issue, take heart. There are cosmetics manufacturers with an environmental conscience. There are cosmetics which are mineral-based, organically produced, and bio-dynamically harvested. There are skin care products produced without antifreeze and other potentially toxic chemicals. There are toothpastes without SLS. Simply by being aware and reading labels, we can control the amount of our exposure to harmful toxins. There are products which are safe as well as eco-friendly to use and won’t add to the abundance of environmental pollutants which we may not be able to control. The key issue is to control what we can.
Clearly there are many factors to consider in the whole picture of living with auto-immune dysfunction and product choice is just one part. Yet I know from my own research and experimentation that living a toxin-reduced lifestyle has led me towards living a more normal and healthy life overall. I have been symptom free for over three years and my lupus activity panels show no activity.
My morning rituals now consist of gentle yoga, followed by a regulated intake of select whole food supplements, using organic shampoos and soaps, lotions and skin care, culminating in the application of mineral based make up which is talc free, aluminum free and artificial dye free. My husband, as well, has benefited from the use of these products. His highly sensitive Irish skin has calmed considerably since the introduction of organic and natural products. They do not teach this in medical school. There is a time and place for western medical intervention. The time for an increased awareness about our lifestyle choices is now which may very well delay or eliminate the need for medical intervention.
Adorning the self with makeup and pampering ourselves is a privilege we have been exercising as long as civilization has existed. Egyptians took immense pride in their makeup artistry. Native Americans spiritualized the art of bodypainting with their beautiful and vivid symbolic colors connected to various rites of passages, as did ancient Celtic tribes and African nations. We can enjoy our inner beauty as well as our outer beauty with or without help from cosmetics, but we have to take control over what we use on our bodies instead of allowing a ruthless and uncaring cosmetics industry to make those choices for us. We should not be denied the choice of retaining our skin’s youthful glow by use of creams, serums, oils and such, but we must make educated choices about the products we use.
Summer Fun Beauty Tips
Summer is quickly approaching and with it, some beauty and wellness challenges. The first exposure to sun is usually so joyful to our souls that we forget how to protect our skin from damaging rays and sunburns. Slathering on natural sun screens and sun blocks has become a necessity with our rapidly declining ozone layer. We can also prevent premature aging and freckling by paying attention to the damage that sun exposure can do. The best way to wear sun block on the face is by first applying the usual toner and moisturizer. Sun block is most effective directly under the layer of foundation or powder. Moisturizers which already contain SPF are generally ineffective. The SPF will dilute the moisturizer and vice versa. It is best to invest in two good products. A natural and appropriate moisturizer followed by a natural SPF. The minimum for your face should be 25SPF.
There are numerous natural powder bronzers available and they are preferable to the actual tan. Brushed on they give the effect of a natural “sun-kissed” glow. There are also numerous safe self-tanners. Some are more appropriate for the body. Be sure that you apply to your face the self-tanner appropriate for the face.
Already done the damage? Most folks know that aloe vera works beautifully in relieving and cooling sunburns. Lavender gel is wonderful as well and can soothe and also induce healing.
Lips can take a real beating from wind and sun and many natural lip balms contain SPF18, which is a necessity all year round. These can be worn under other lipsticks or lip glosses. Also helpful are lipsticks or lip glosses which contain aloe and vitamin E. These are equally effective in body and facial skin care products. Shea butters and olive oils are other natural ingredients added to moisturizers which will not only nourish the skin but also help it to retain elasticity.
Foot care becomes very important during summer months. Feet are exposed to the air by wearing sandals and open shoes. This dries feet and can result in dried cracking heels. There are some fantastic salt scrubs available which can be used as a nightly ritual to soften and prevent further damage to your feet. My favorites are those infused with natural oils and essential oils which act as natural antiseptics as well as moisture inducing agents and humectants. Foot lotions are almost a necessity during the warm months. Best are those containing natural healing ingredients such as kanuka and tea tree essential oils.
There are numerous wonderful ways to help us retain our youthfulness and to enjoy our lives outdoors. It’s important to remember that prevention is always the best way for preservation. It may take a little more time before boarding that sailboat or taking that long walk on the beach, but the results are worth it now — and twenty years from now!
My own sensitivity to the sun began with my first lupus symptoms. Having been a sun worshipper at a young age, I quickly learned that the sun was not always my friend. Even for those of us without definitive skin issues, there has been enough research to substantiate the validity of avoiding direct skin to sun exposure. But, that should not keep us from having outdoor fun. Winters are long enough. Let’s enjoy summer activities safely and wisely.
Terry Kelly is the founder and proprietor of the Wellness Store in Newport, RI featuring natural beauty products. Visit Terry at the Wellness Store, #2 Christie’s Landing, Newport, RI or call 401-847-2645.