By Sherina Jamal
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2001.
The use of chemicals in cosmetics has been increasing over the last several years and although some natural alternatives to these chemicals exist, many cosmetic companies won’t use them because they are more costly and less readily available.
Some of these chemical ingredients have been found to cause skin irritations at the very least and some have recently been banned due to their toxicity to the skin. Most skin care courses do not provide information on natural ingredients for the skin or on the effects of certain cosmetic chemicals on the skin. However, this information can be helpful when looking for the best products to offer in your clinic or spa.
There are numerous chemicals which are used when creating skin and body care products; some are necessary and non-toxic to the skin, while others have no necessity in the skin care product and can be toxic not only to the skin, but to the client’s internal system and the environment.
For example, preservatives can be considered necessary chemicals. Pre-bottled products must contain a good preservative in order to control the growth of bacteria, yeasts and molds. Often bacteria can grow in an unpreserved product within just a few days. Although there are some natural preservatives that can help stabilize the product, a cosmetic chemical preservative is required in order to ensure proper protection. Yet, most products on the market contain an overly-high percentage of preservatives in order to achieve a longer shelf life. Usually less than 1 percent of the cosmetic preservative is required to adequately stabilize the product and provide a shelf life of one to two years.
The following is a list of a few cosmetic chemicals to avoid when looking for skin, body care and hair care products for yourself or your clients:
• Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Laureth Sulfate, or Ammonium Sulfate — A chemical lathering agent used in products that provide a lather or foam, such as cleansers, body wash, shampoos or bubble bath. This ingredient is drying to the skin and can cause irritation. It can also coat and clog the pores and can be one of the causes of hair loss. Some companies claim SLS is naturally derived from the coconut. This is untrue. Although one of the original ingredients to create this could have been coconut, the process to create the end product results in a purely chemical compound that has no nutritional value.
• Propylene Glycol — Derived from petrochemicals, this ingredient is used as a preservative and humectant (to help retain moisture). In higher concentrations, proplyene glycol is found in anti-freeze used for car engines. It can cause allergic and toxic reactions, and is found mostly in lotions, creams and cleansers. • Mineral Oil — Unlike other natural carrier oils, the manufacturing of mineral oil strips away its nutritional value, leaving a synthetic oil which can clog pores and dry out the skin. Mineral oil is found in many products such as body oils, creams, moisturizers, lotions, etc.
• Petrolatum — Derived from petrochemicals, petrolatum is similar to mineral oil. It can clog pores and coat the skin, blocking moisture from entering, thus leading to dryness.
• Hydraquinone — The Food and Drug Administration is now banning the use of this bleaching agent in some countries. Hydraquinone is added to skin lightening creams, and has been found to be toxic and carcinogenic to the skin. Most skin-lightening creams which use this ingredient do so in quantities of about 1 percent-2 percent; however, some prescription forms add up to 4 percent hydraquinone.
• Artificial Fragrances — When the ingredient list on the product label reads fragrance, it is referring to synthetic fragrances or perfumes. These are found in most products on the market, including baby products. The fragrances can cause skin and eye irritation. Some companies which claim to use essential oils instead use cosmetic grade oils which are poor quality and do not provide the same benefits as high grade pure essential oils.
• Artificial Colors — F, D and C colors are usually listed in the bottom of the ingredients list. Although they are used in very small percentages, they have been found to cause allergic reactions and skin irritations.
While most products cannot be 100 percent natural (due to the growth of bacteria), there are many natural alternatives to some of the harsh chemicals which can be both helpful and effective for the skin. Manufacturers are now looking to the past and using exotic herbs, flowers and oils that were used thousands of years ago. If used in high enough percentage, many of these natural ingredients can be effective for skin cleaning, rebalancing and reducing the signs of age.
Beware of false claims. Some companies make claims their products are 100 percent natural. Often the chemicals, such as cosmetic preservatives, are “hidden” in the ingredients list. For example, a company can claim their product contains no preservatives, although the product has a shelf life of a year or more. If you look at the ingredients list you may not directly see a preservative listed, but it could still exist within other ingredients. For example some products may contain a high percentage of alcohol that can act as a preservative. Products containing alcohol in high percentages — such as skin toners — can be dehydrating and irritating to the skin. Don’t be fooled by false claims. Research the products before purchasing.
So which ingredients might replace the harsh chemicals and still prove beneficial for skin and body care?
• Corn and Sugar — These two ingredients, along with others, can undergo a process that produces a mild lathering agent. Some products found in health food stores have begun using this natural lathering agent in shampoos.
• Natural Carrier Oils — The alternative to mineral oil, natural carrier oils such as apricot kernel, almond, jojoba, vitamin E and more, can help to nourish, moisturize and soften the skin. They are excellent for body massage and can be blended and used directly on the skin. Pure essential oils (see below) can be added for additional benefits.
• Pure Essential Oils — High-grade essential oils are extracted from flowers, herbs, leaves, stems and roots by a steam distillation process. Each essential oil has its own unique properties and can be helpful both externally, when applied topically, and internally via aromatherapy. Look for products which contain high quality essential oils for maximum benefit.
• Natural Colors — There are alternatives to artificial colors such as carrot oil, chlorophyll, naturally-colored clays, etc. However, as mentioned earlier, most cosmetic companies avoid using these as they are difficult to find and are much more expensive.
• Herbal Extracts — Most quality natural herbal extracts are created with the use of grain alcohol or glycerin. Herbal extracts are more concentrated and can be beneficial to the skin. Some of the more popular extracts include:
Chamomile — Good for sensitive skin. Helps to soothe.
Marigold — Helps to heal and repair the skin.
Kelp/Seaweed — Provides essential minerals and nutrients to the skin.
Aloe — Soothing and healing to the skin
Green Tea — Helps to renew the skin and prevent premature aging caused by free radicals.
Horsetail (Silica) — Helpful in toning and tightening.
• Oatmeal — This is an excellent skin cleaner. Oatmeal gently removes dead skin cells while cleaning and softening the skin. It can be found in facial masks, body masks and facial scrubs. Many facial scrubs contain ingredients such as kernels, walnut shells, etc., which can be too rough for the face. A gentle ingredient, such as oatmeal, is a much better alternative.
• Fruit Acids — Fruit acids and alpha hydroxy acids can be helpful in removing dead skin cells, thereby enabling new cells to grow. In general, these fruit acids should be used on those who do not have sensitive skin, as the acids can be too strong. Select products which contain AHA’s and other fruit acids in lower percentages (1 percent-3 percent).
• Natural Fruit Enzymes — Papaya and pineapple contain enzymes which can help to gently remove dead skin cells, renew the skin and improve circulation.
• Natural Preservatives — These can be found in many forms, including Grapeseed extract, food grade preservatives (such as Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid, Orris Root Powder, Sodium Benzoate), pure essential oils, and vitamin E oil or extract. These can help control some growth of bacteria and assist in maintaining shelf life. There are some products which do not need the addition of a cosmetic chemical preservative and are fine with the natural preservative — body/bath oils, bath salts, salves, powdered clay or grain-based products, to name a few.
Many of these natural alternatives can be found in good quality spa products. Opt for creating new and unique spa treatments for your clients using products which contain some of these natural ingredients. Here are some suggestions on what to look for when purchasing products for specific in-house spa treatments:
• Body Clays or Masks — Select body clays or masks that have been created with natural grains or clays that offer vital minerals to the body. Ensure the claims the company is making about the minerals or healing properties of the mud or clay are truthful.
• Body Exfoliants — Natural ingredients such as oatmeal, rice, seaweed and mineral salts can provide gentle and effective removal of dead skin cells.
• Body Massage Oils/Creams — Select body massage products that do not contain mineral oil, but have been created with pure natural carrier oils and high-grade essential oils.
• Body Wraps — Wraps are often used for body contouring and reduction of cellulite. Look for wrap products that contain green tea, seaweed, natural clays, sea salt, fruit acids, fruit enzymes, dried herbs and essential oils for detoxification.
• Facials — Avoid chemicals in the list provided earlier. Incorporate the use of dried herbs for facial steaming and products that contain natural oils and herbal extracts.
• Manicure/Pedicure — Rather than using a chemically-based foaming hand/foot soak, try soak products which have been created with natural herbs, milk powders and pure essential oils. Or, a few drops of pure essential oil such as peppermint or tea tree can be added to a hand/foot bath.
Industrialized countries have opted for products made mostly from ingredients that are fast and easy to produce and are inexpensive. The result has been skin and body care products containing harsh chemicals which can be harmful to the skin and body, both internally and externally. Over the last few years, there has been increased awareness of the many benefits herbs, oils, grains, flowers and other elements have on the skin. However, much more needs to be learned from the past, when nature’s ingredients were used in their pure and natural state. We are just beginning to see what other countries, such as India, Thailand, Bali and China have known for thousands of years — true health lies in balancing the body internally and externally using the gifts Mother Nature has wrought.
Continuing to educate yourself and your clients about natural ingredients will enable you to make the best decision about the products you use and carry. Taking additional courses on topics such as herbology and aromatherapy can be useful when creating new treatments for your spa, your clinic or yourself.