Toxic Skincare – does it really exist?

Toxic Skincare Cosmetics

There are a lot of skincare brands out there that play on fear. They want you to believe (or dare we say “need” you to believe) that every other product on the market contains harmful, toxic and dangerous chemicals (ingredients) that will somehow find their way into your bloodstream, cause cancer, may kill you, and so on. There are some outrageous claims being made and it unfortunately usually stems from the “all natural” (green beauty) skincare lines of the world – although the cosmeceutical brands aren’t exempt mind you.

It’s so important to understand that just because something is natural doesn’t automatically make it “better” or “safer” and that just because something is synthetic (made in a lab) doesn’t automatically make it “bad” or “unsafe”.

“All natural” chemicals can and will kill you under the right circumstances. Natural ingredients can be just as toxic as synthetic ones – in some cases much more so. Nature produces some incredibly powerful and toxic chemicals without any intervention from us humans!

You need to keep in mind the following:

  1. EVERYTHING is a chemical (including water).
  2. ALL chemicals can be toxic (including water).

Toxicity is “dose dependent” (first and foremost) and usually requires one or more of following to apply as well:

  1. The area the chemical is applied too
  2. The amount of time you’re exposed to that chemical (exposure)
  3. How often you’re exposed to the chemical (frequency)

Eg. You could have the right ‘dosage’ but your exposure to it isn’t enough to cause any side effects.

Considered safe but also toxic chemicals

Water

Yes, water is a ‘chemical’ and it can also be toxic. Drinking 2-3 litres over the course of a day is considered beneficial to your entire body, however when you increase the amount you drink (dosage) and how often you drink it (frequency), water can become toxic (medically known as hyponatremia).

Eg. Drinking several litres of water every hour throughout the entire day will likely make you very sick.

Of course, I’m yet to come across someone to date that doesn’t drink water because of the above ‘risk’ of it becoming toxic.

Table Salt

Yet another chemical that’s perfectly safe when sprinkled over food in small quantities. Eat an entire jar of the stuff and although you’ll likely survive, you’ll be regretting the decision for quite some time.

Cosmetic Ingredients

The above criteria (dosage, area, exposure and frequency) is no different when it comes to the ingredients (chemical) found in cosmetic products. In the approved dosages and when used as directed, cosmetic ingredients are completely safe (they have to be – it’s regulation). This includes ingredients commonly referred to as “toxic” such as parabens.

Although a particular ingredient may be severely irritating and damaging to the skin/body in it’s 100% natural and unaltered state, when it’s formulated into a product things can change dramatically. In fact, an ingredient’s chemical structure may even change. The ingredient that was once severally irritating (and may be toxic) can actually become beneficial and non-toxic. Botox is a prime example here.

Just because a particular ingredient doesn’t agree with ‘your’ skin, doesn’t automatically make it toxic or harmful. In many cases, the reason some ingredients don’t agree with your skin may simply be an impaired skin barrier due to over-exfoliation. Repair the barrier and you may reduce/remove the sensitivity to certain ingredients.

Toxic skincare, harmful skincare, ‘safe’ skincare etc are nonsense and nothing more than fear mongering and marketing ploys.

All cosmetic products that are placed on the market by LEGITIMATE COSMETIC COMPANIES that know what they are doing, follow the regulatory rules for formulation HAVE TO BE SAFE per regulatory requirements. In Europe, claiming a product is “safe” is actually illegal because it’s misleading.

Is there such a thing as toxic skincare?

Short answer – no, there is no such a thing as toxic skincare/cosmetics.

There is simply far too much that would need to happen for an ingredient in a skincare product to become ‘toxic’ to the human body. The best explanation we’ve come across to date is known as LADMELiberation, Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism and Excretion.

In order to have an effect on/in our body a chemical must first leave the context/formulation it is in. It must be either in its pure form or it must be dissolved in a matrix which it can be absorbed from. We call this LIBERATION(L).

Next a chemical must be ABSORBED(A). How much of a substance is absorbed, into which part of the body it is absorbed and also what happens to it next depends on the application area/where the substance meets the body. Different application areas allow for different types of chemicals and different amounts to be absorbed and also for different speed they are absorbed with.

A substance rarely stays in the exact spot where it was absorbed so the next step is what we call DISTRIBUTION(D).

What happens next is the important part: Our body does not just absorb substances and then they simply stay in the system. The body has a complex machinery of internal mechanisms for ALTERING and GETTING RID of substances that are not part of its system. METABOLISATION(M) is what constantly happens to almost all substances entering the body in any way, shape or form.

After M the body then EXCRETES(E) the altered substances via urine, faeces, sweat, breath and the skin.

In fact M and E are HUGE problems for pharmacists: Because the body constantly metabolises and excretes (nearly) all absorbed substances, it is difficult to achieve a steady and high concentration of any substance including medicine in the body.

Dr. Anke Ginzburg – PharmChem PhD, Cosmetic Scientist, pharmacist

As you can see, there is quite a process that needs to take place.

Is there such a thing as bad skincare?

In reality, there probably isn’t such a thing as “bad” skincare. There is skincare that may cause a reaction or irritation on the skin for certain individuals but again, this doesn’t make it toxic or harmful – nor bad. You just reacted to it for some reason. A good skincare specialist should be able to help you identify potential irritants and find a good alternative.

There is definitely the ‘wrong’ skincare products/ingredients for certain skin types which may cause undesirable effects, lack of results, or poor results. This can generally be avoided by seeking out a skin specialist that knows what they are talking about and can help you pick the correct ingredients/products for your own individual set of circumstances. There are also ingredients that generally speaking shouldn’t be mixed together – some cancel each other out, others can increase the risk of side effects.

Another aspect to consider is formulation – and this is where the cosmetic chemists of the world come in. It’s their job to formulate a product in such a way that it’s safe to use and less likely to cause any irritations or reactions – by taking into account such things as dosage, exposure time, frequency of use, and the area it’s applied to. At the end of the day, formulation is ultimately king. The same ingredients in two different products could yield two very difficult results.

There are also regulations in place that define how much of a particular ingredient can be used in a product. Phenoxyethanol (a common preservative) is allowed to be used in cosmetics up-to a maximum of 1%. At that percentage, it’s is deemed safe and fit for purpose and unlikely to cause the majority of people any issues.

In most cases, if you’re buying skincare made by a legitimate manufacturer that’s following all the rules and regulations, then it’s probably not ‘bad’ skincare. Just because a product worked for your friend doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you, too. Just because you’re friend never reacted to a particular ingredient doesn’t mean you won’t. Reacting to certain ingredients doesn’t mean they are toxic or harmful.

There are some ingredients that probably shouldn’t be in skincare products such fragrances (natural or otherwise) and things like artificial colours, fillers and so on. Again, although these ingredients may not necessarily be harmful or toxic, they don’t help your skin any way, shape or form and can often create issues for certain people. While some people can tolerate some level of fragrance, others react severely to it – but no ones skin can benefit from it.

We hope this helps to put some of your fears to rest.

Toxic Ingredients

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Some people are worried that chemicals (everything is a chemical) from their cosmetics accumulate in their body and reach the concentration or dose where they are not safe anymore i.e. become toxic. To understand that this is NOT an issue, we need to look at how chemicals get from where they are OUTSIDE of our body INSIDE of our body and what happens to them on the inside. In order to have an effect on/in our body a chemical must first leave the context/formulation it is in. It must be either in its pure form or it must be dissolved in a matrix which it can be absorbed from. We call this LIBERATION(L) Next a chemical must be ABSORBED(A). How much of a substance is absorbed, into which part of the body is absorbed and also what happens to it next depends on the application area/where the substance meets the body. Different application areas allow for different types of chemicals and different amounts to be absorbed and also for different speed the are absorbed with.  I will write about application areas or ways how substances can enter the body through absorption- also called ways of exposure- in a separate post. A substance rarely stays in the exact spot where it was absorbed so the next step is what we call DISTRIBUTION(D) What happens next is the important part: Our body does not just absorb substances and then they simply stay in the system. The body has a complex machinery of internal mechanisms for ALTERING and GETTING RID of substances that are not part of its system. METABOLISATION(M) is what constantly happens to almost all substances entering the body in any way, shape or form. After M the body then EXCRETES(E) the altered substances via urine, faeces, sweat, breath and the skin. In fact M and E are HUGE problems for pharmacists: Because the body constantly metabolises and excretes (nearly) all absorbed substances, it is difficult to achieve a steady and high concentration of any substance including medicine in the body. Questions about LADME? Drop me a note. Image credit @paulfuentes_design

A post shared by Dr. Anke Ginzburg (@dr.ginza) on


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