It is often said in health-conscious circles that you shouldnʼt put anything on your skin you wouldnʼt eat. While this sounds extreme, itʼs accurate. To be more accurate, you are actually eating anything you put on your skin. The skin is the largest organ in the body and also contributes to much of the bodyʼs absorption. An in-depth study by the National Institute of Health¹ reported,
“We conclude that skin absorption of contaminants…has been underestimated and that ingestion may not constitute the sole or even primary route of exposure.”
In other words, you are not just what you eat; you are also what your skin eats.
The NIH study specifically focused on the skinʼs role in absorption of “Volatile Organic Compounds” in tap water. Just to clarify, these compounds are not “organic” in the farming sense, as in “grown without pesticides, antibiotics, or lab-produced growth enhancers”. They are “organic” in the context of Chemistry, as in “containing carbon compounds”. Volatile organic compounds are compounds that can easily become a gas or vapor and usually also contain the elements hydrogen, bromine, fluorine, sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen. Examples of VOCʼs are gasoline, benzene, formaldehyde, and solvents such as perchloroethylene (the main solvent used in dry cleaning).
VOCʼs are everywhere in our daily life. They are commonly used in paints, paint thinners, lacquers, degreasers, glues, particleboard, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, cleaning supplies, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, and other household and automotive products. Sadly, they are also found in foods and beverages and skin care and beauty products. The NIH study explains,
“There are many sources of contamination. Synthetic organic solvents have wide commercial use and are detectable in air, water, soil, and food. Virtually all members of the general population may be routinely exposed to these compounds…”
This leads me to a question. If daily life already routinely exposes us to these dangerous compounds, and if our skin accounts for a majority of our bodyʼs absorption, then why would we choose to put products directly on our skin that contain these compounds? Why would we include them in our daily skin care regimen? The truth is that as we read labels to choose skin care products, we often donʼt even know what that endless list of unreadable ingredients means. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes if feels almost impossible to stay fully informed.
We all want the best for our bodies. The key is to gather objective information without getting overwhelmed or flipping the panic switch. When it comes to the care of our skin, simplicity may be the best policy. If the skin absorbs anything you put on it, then why not feed it food? Iʼm not a scientist, but I know Iʼd rather eat macadamia nuts than formaldehyde any day. Hmmm…food for thought.