Is Your Skincare Doing More Harm than Good?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably like us: a dedicated Biohacker doing everything in your power to optimize your health and minimize the stressful, aging effects of modern living. The last thing you want to find out is that the expensive skincare products you’ve been using are not just cleansing your skin, but also aging you and your skin.
In order to protect our skin and your health, it’s best to educate ourselves on the ingredients of commercial skincare products and their actual physiological impact, looking beyond their proclaimed properties.
Looking Beyond the ‘Benefits’ of Common Skincare Products
We purchase and use skincare and beauty products trusting that they’re doing us good, especially fancy, high-dollar products. However, the truth is that most commercial skincare products have a long-list of undisclosed, negative health effects. In short, most commercial skincare products contain a variety of chemicals that are known endocrine disrupting carcinogens. Surprisingly, a lot of the chemicals that are supposed to cleanse the skin actually irritate them and cause inflammation.
To name a few…
- Emulsifiers: These soap-based substances are responsible for drying and aging your skin. Specifically speaking, these are chemicals with names like polysorbate, stearate, steareth, cetearyl, and ceteareth. They are emulsifying waxes that are used to bind the oils and waters together in skin creams and lotions – this way you don’t have to shake them together every time you use them. While seemingly convenient, this is a small job that comes at a huge expense to your health. You see, while the water-based ingredients and oils might absorb into your skin, the emulsifier is left behind; leaving a soapy residue that disrupts the pH of your skin. Healthy skin has a normal pH of 4.5 to 5.3, which is slightly acidic to fight off pathogens. But emulsifiers put the skin around 6 or 7, which weakens the immunity of the skin (making it less effective at killing pathogens). Additionally, in attempt to rebalance itself, the skin will produce excess oil that can lead to acne, oily or dry skin and worse. Lastly, a healthy skin pH is an essential part of its defense mechanism – when the pH is balanced, the skin makes healthy fats to protect and heal. So, if the skin’s pH is not correct, its ability to heal itself becomes impaired. This can weaken the skin’s ability to act as protective barrier system, weakening your immune system as well. Also, emulsifiers bind with your skin’s natural oils, so when you wash your skin, you’re not just washing away the emulsifier, you are also washing off your skin’s natural oils. This leaves your skin dry, dehydrated and susceptible to aging, while increasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 1 2
- Parabens: These are chemical preservatives used to increase the life of products. You might know of them by their names, methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben. Parabens are known endocrine disruptors, meaning that they interfere with the proper functioning and regulation of the endocrine glands, and therefore your entire hormonal system. Considering the fact that the endocrine system affects the whole body, there is a potentially endless list of side effects caused by parabens. However, we do know with certainty that parabens have been found in breast tumor biopsy samples. Parabens are most common amongst personal care products including cosmetics, body lotions, moisturizers, shampoos, cleansers and more. 3
- Dioxins: Another toxic ingredient present in common personal care products is the emulsifier byproduct known as 1,4-dioxane. While emulsifiers may only decrease the quality and health of the skin, dioxins are known human carcinogens, meaning they cause oxidative stress and can lead to cancer. In fact, California includes 1,4-dioxane on a list of chemicals known or suspected to be cancer-causing agents, while many European counties have outright banned it. However, in the United States, the FDA still allows it, just in reduced amounts. And here’s the problem, you won’t find 1,4-dioxane listed on the ingredient deck, because it isn’t required by law. So here are the ingredients to look out for: Polyethylene, Polyethylene glycol, PEG, Polyoxyethylene, along with any word ending with “oxynol”, or “eth” such as
- Phthalates: Phthalates are “plasticizer” chemicals, meaning they make plastics more flexible and harder to break. In cosmetics and skincare products phthalates are used as dissolving agents to breakdown plastic ingredients – plastic in your personal care products anyone? Everything from common soap, facial cleansers, lotions, creams, shampoos, conditioners and other commercial hair and skincare products contain a variety of phthalates. Aside from the obvious, phthalates are highly toxic to the human body. There are various studies confirming the cancer-causing effects of phthalates. Because phthalates are estrogenic, they can lead to prostate and breast cancer. According to one study, a type of phthalate was shown to promote cancer cell proliferation by upregulating the gene expression of c-myc and cyclin D1, and by downregulating the expression of p21. Additionally, in one vivo mouse model, tumor volume of mice exposed to i-n-buthyl phthalate was increased. Common phthalates to look out for include Di-n-octylphthalate (DNOP), Diethyl Phthalate, Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), Di-n-butyl Phthalate, and Di-n-octylphthalate (DNOP). However, to be safe, it’s probably a good idea to just avoid all phthalates. 4
The Estrogenic Dangers of Conventional Skincare
There are many toxins present in modern skincare products (parabens, phthalates, stearates, xenoestrogens, dioxins, etc.) which are known endocrine disruptors that negatively modify hormonal responses, over-stimulate cells and manipulate the immune system. While their content is small, chronic exposure to them early in life, can cause negative life-long changes.
Of all the downsides to conventional skincare, perhaps the most threatening to our health is the estrogenic factor, mostly from phthalates. While estrogen is a necessary hormone, it must be in balance with other hormones. For women, estrogen needs a proper ratio amongst other estrogens like estrone and estradiol, along with progesterone. For men, estrogen must be lower than total androgens (testosterone and progesterone).
When estrogen levels are chronically elevated (greater than androgens,) this is what is known as estrogen dominance and as we will discuss, can lead to many health problems.
Excess estrogen can occur in a variety of different ways:
- Stress: the excess stress hormone cortisol increases estrogen.
- Biological Weaknesses: the glands are not producing enough hormones.
- Phytoestrogens: plant-chemicals that mimic estrogen like soy, beans, flax, licorice, hops and alcohol byproducts.
- Xenoestrogens: synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen.
Xenoestrogens are perhaps the most pervasive, considering they are found in just about everything we use today including everything from plastics and household cleaners to personal care products, skincare & cosmetics, perfumes, shampoos, conditioners, and many other regular items that most people use many times per day on a daily basis.
These estrogen-mimicking chemicals act as endocrine disruptors replicate and can modulate the normal function of the whole endocrine system, especially the thyroid.
Here are just a few of the ways excess estrogen, from chronic exposure or environmental estrogens, can affect the body:
- Estrogen blocks respiratory energy production, which can cause cell death. (Cortisol, estrogen, polyunsaturated oils have this effect, especially on thymus cells.)
- Estrogen and stress cause increased levels of free-fatty acids to circulate. The polyunsaturated fatty acids are immunosuppressive, anti-thyroid, diabetogenic, and can inhibit cellular respiration.
- Estrogen has a ‘feedback loop’ with cortisol, activating the production of cortisol. e. increased estrogen = increased cortisol. Cortisol is a “wasting” stress hormone that can impair the cellular utilization of glucose and lead to accelerated aging.
- Estrogen inhibits thyroid function.
- Estrogen increases the production of prolactin, a “molting” hormone that can lead to impaired fat metabolism and when paired with excess estrogen and cortisol, can lead to hair loss.
3-Step BioHacking Routine for Glowing, Alitura Skin
As a dedicated BioHacker, the morning is an opportune time to nourish and energize your body for the day. It also happens to be a great time to BioHack your skin; this 3-step morning routine is the perfect way to do so. The following steps will deeply, yet gently cleanse your skin, while hydrating and nourishing it.
Step 1. Emulsifier-Free, Pearl Cleansing: The first step in the morning towards radiant skin is to clear away the dirt and debris from the night before. Sleep is a time our bodies go through detoxification, so unclogging the pores will help to reveal fresh skin cells. However, it’s highly recommend that you steer clear from harsh cleansers that contain soaps and the other emulsifiers & toxins we covered. For this, we recommend the Alitura Pearl Cleanser. Not only is it free of harsh chemicals and skin-clogging emulsifiers, it contains a rich array of medicinal botanicals that assist in the regeneration of skin cells. It contains freshwater Pearl, which can help to brighten the skin and promote the production of melanin for an even, glowing complexion.
Once you have your natural cleanser of choice, use warm, filtered water to wet your face and open the pores. Apply your cleanser and massage to increase blood flow and to better allow the active ingredients to absorb into the skin. Only use your hands to massage, and not a washcloth in order to avoid aggravating the skin – you want to be careful not to over-exfoliate in the morning, considering your skin will be exposed to the environment all day long. Save deeper exfoliation for the evening just before your skin enters its natural nightly repair time.
Step 2. Moisturizing: After cleansing, we want to replenish any lost oils before the skin reacts by producing excess sebum. For this, we suggest the Alitura Moisturizer or Gold Serum. Apply a generous layer of this powerful, anti-aging moisturizer to rehydrate, protect, and energize your skin. A quality moisturizer like one of these works to restore the minerals in the skin, while improving skin respiration and cell renewal. Don’t forget to moisturize gently around the eye, upper eyelids, and neck, and behind the ears!
Step 3. Nightly Exfoliation: So far, we’ve prepared the skin for the day. In the evening we want get the skin ready for its nightly renewal process and clean away the day. After a long day of being exposed to environmental toxins, sweat, and sun, the skin is ready for deep cleansing. The evening is the perfect time of day to utilize the therapeutic powers of the Alitura Clay Mask. Healing Clay can deeply detoxify the skin from all sorts of impurities. Clay also has potent circulatory-enhancing effects, which further facilitate the detoxification of the skin, and also the renewal and regeneration of skin cells. You can get the exact details of how to properly use The Clay Mask by watching this video.
Other BioHacks for Truly Healthy Skin
In addition to proper skin hygiene, keep in mind that the skin is an organ, and is therefore affected by other factors such as the health of our other internal organs, metabolism, digestion, nutrition and even psychological stress.
With these things in mind, here are some other holistic, lifestyle-based ways to promote beautiful skin from within:
- Avoid PUFAs: Starting off with what not to do, let’s talk about PUFAs or polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are chemically unstable fats or oils, they include the liquid vegetable oils like canola oil, soy oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, fish oil, flax oil, etc. They are also present in foods like grains, seeds, nuts, legumes and conventional dairy, eggs and poultry. These fats have a volatile chemical structure that makes them highly reactive to oxygen, light, and heat, causing them to oxidize (spoil or go rancid) easily. This results in the development of free radicals, that when consumed cause oxidative stress in the body. Free radicals can damage the skin cells, and cause glycation and development of AGEs (advanced glycated end products), which cause wrinkles and the degeneration of collagen. You can learn more about how PUFAs ruin your skin here. 5
- Eat Healthy Fats: Unlike the unsaturated fats, saturated fats, such as coconut oil, grass-fed ghee, butter, and other animal fats are protective and healing to the skin. Saturated fats are highly stable, very rarely go rancid, and have beneficial effects on the skin. In general, saturated fats nourish the thyroid and therefore the metabolism, they support the mitochondria in respiratory energy production, and they safe-guard the skin from oxidative stress and inflammation. Coconut oil is especially wonderful for the skin considering it contains anti-microbial agents that protect the skin from the inflammatory effects of bacteria. 6 7
- Get the Right Light: The concepts of photo aging are interesting. While it is important to avoid overexposure to ultraviolet light, most skin damage that we identify with photo aging is mostly a product of our diet. The truth is, Sunlight and red light is incredibly healing for the body and skin. First off, sunlight is necessary for Vitamin D synthesis, which supports many physiological functions including proper thyroid function and optimal calcium-to-phosphate balance. When thyroid function is low, dry skin and other skin problems can arise. When dietary phosphate is higher than calcium, there is an increased functioning of parathyroid and prolactin, which tend to overload the cells with calcium and increase nitric oxide, leading to inflammation that damages the skin on many levels. On the contrary, there are certain types of light that we should be avoiding. Since the 60’s it’s been common knowledge that blue light inhibits respiratory enzymes and interferes with mitochondrial energy production. In fact, it is well-documented that cells die in the presence of blue light. How does this relate to skin health? Well, without basic biological energy, our skin cells are vulnerable to aging and death. We need optimal mitochondrial energy production for proper cellular regeneration. The good news is that mitochondrial function is activated by red light and sunlight. Not to mention, a light tan always looks great! 20 minutes of sun exposure at a time on a sunny day is efficient enough to reap the benefits. 8 9 10