Mirror, Mirror ~ The Twisted Fairytale of Anti-Aging – True Goods
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  • Mirror, Mirror ~ The Twisted Fairytale of Anti-Aging
  • Elizabeth Wasserman
Mirror, Mirror ~ The Twisted Fairytale of Anti-Aging

Physiologically speaking, skin is your ultimate protector.

It’s time to start returning the favor. So much consideration and resources go into selecting cosmetics, moisturizers, and sunscreens to guard skin from the effects of sun, weather and natural elements and to preserve the look of youth. In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) the average woman uses 12 products containing over 168 different ingredients daily!

Shockingly, the Food and Drug Administration does not review the safety of cosmetics or personal care products before they hit the market. With so many untested ingredients excused from premarket testing and approval, there’s a good likelihood some will be harmful.

Here’s the issue: both beneficial and dangerous cosmetic ingredients can be designed to penetrate outer skin and deep into inner layers. When toxic chemicals make their way inside your body there’s potential to harm skin and other cells along the way on numerous levels, and eventually make their way into your bloodstream.

Lotions, potions, creams and screams!

The appeal is obvious ~ stay forever young! While some ingredients in anti-aging potions may aid in rejuvenation, many are depleting your skin cells’ vitality and causing accelerated aging. Pretty twisted, right?

You’re not alone in your incredulity. Honestly, who doesn’t want to be the fairest of them all? But before you break that mirror, consider chucking your bottle of poisonous potion instead. And while you’re out searching the woods for more natural beauty miracles, here are some key ingredients to avoid:

Alpha / beta hydroxy acids (lactic / glycolic acids): Studies sponsored by the FDA have shown that skin damage resulting from UV rays doubles in users of products containing such ingredients.

Hydroquinone: Moisturizers claiming to lighten skin often contain this ingredient. As stated by the FDA, this chemical can cause a disease named ochronosis causing bluish-black skin lesions.

Vitamin A compounds (retinyl palmitate/acetate, retinol): This ubiquitous anti-aging ingredient is in fact one of the principal guises for accelerated skin damage. When used directly on skin these compounds increase sun sensitivity and cause the breakdown of vitamin A into free radicals, which are toxic and cause dramatic damage to cellular DNA. Beware! These ingredients can be found in a variety of brews, from lotions and sunscreens to lip moisturizers and makeups.

Fragrance: We’ve talked about the health hazards of fragrance before and we’ll do it again. Fragrances are omnipresent and contaminate almost every commercial personal care product in attempt to increase their market appeal. These cloak-and-dagger chemical cocktails are given top-secret status since federal law excuses fragrance companies from disclosing their recipes. Recently, the EWG and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics research teams found 14 unlisted chemicals in 17 of the most common brand name fragrance products. Add those to the whopping 168 ingredients the average woman applies every single day - that’s one bloodcurdling beauty lineup!

Break up with makeup?

Frightening ‘anti-aging’ concoctions can also be found in cosmetics. An episode of “The Doctors” features a this-is-your-face-on-drugs kind of reality montage chronicling the dreadful skin damage caused by constant makeup use. One of the doctors pimps out “botox maintenance” as a handy antidote (nightmare!), while another promotes the au naturel look and more “makeup-free days” (our prince charming…).

Looking for a moderate compromise to beautify, not terrify? To extrapolate Michael Pollan’s famous maxim: Wear makeup. Not too much. Mostly nontoxic. And be sure to avoid these top offenders:

Nanoparticles: A variety of these nouveaux mayhem makers can be found everywhere, including sunscreens and makeup. We’re only just beginning to understand nanotechnology and its health effects, but we do know that at under 50 nanometers in size nanoparticles can be absorbed into your skin. Nanoparticles in cosmetic sprays and powders are also quite dangerous as they can be inhaled and absorbed into your bloodstream via the lungs. A common no-no nano found in most sunscreen products is titanium dioxide, the anatase variety being particularly nasty.

Formadehyde releasers: Used as antibacterial preservatives in personal care products, these releasers trigger slow formation of formaldehyde, a well-known and documented human carcinogen. Examples include quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, ureas, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.

ParabensTop offenders include propyl-, isopropyl, butyl- and isobutyl- varieties, which are known to cause endocrine system disruption as well as both reproductive and developmental disorders in humans.

Petroleum distillates and mercury: Found most often in mascara, these ingredients can cause skin irritation and may contain carcinogenic components. Because mascara is applied so close to the eye, an extremely absorptive and vascular area of skin, these toxic ingredients are particularly hazardous.

So here’s the wrinkle. In pursuit of temporary beautification and a deceptively youthful appearance, we’re often drinking the chemical-laden Cool-Aid of misguided marketing claims, all the while balancing desperate hopefulness with increasing haggardness. In the case of anti-aging products, the price of beauty may be less related to a splurge at the cosmetics counter and more in line with the rising cost of cancer treatment. In this fairytale, your knight in shinning armor may very well end up being your surgical oncologist. How dreamy…

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Questions about particular personal care products or ingredients? Consult EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetic database for updated health hazard reviews and scientific research.

This post is based on the following articles:

  • “Are Anti-Aging Products The Fountain of Youth? Really?” by Thomas Cluderay, EWG General Counsel, and Tina Sigurdson, Stabile Law Fellow, for www.ewg.org on November 22, 2013. 
  • “Exposing the Cosmetics Cover-up: True Horror Stories Of Cosmetic Dangers” by Tina Sigurdson, Stabile Fellow, for www.ewg.org on October 29, 2013.
  • “Top Tips for Safer Products” by the Environmental Working Group on www.ewg.org in 2013. 
  • “Here’s What It Looks Like When You Don’t Wash Off Your Makeup For A Month” video by The Doctors TV Show on www.huffingtonpost.com on September 16, 2013. 
  • “How Does Makeup Affect Your Skin?” by Sarah Siddons: Discovery Fit & Health on www.health.discovery.comin 2013.
  • “Four common formaldehyde releasers to avoid in your cosmetics and skin care” by Danna Norek forNaturalNews.com on July 24, 2013.
  • Elizabeth Wasserman