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How Do I Avoid All This Glop in My Skin Care Products?

By Patricia Newton

Imagine paying money for a so-called “beauty product” that when applied regularly increases your risk of developing cancer. Sound crazy? According to recent reports, some scientists believe this is exactly what millions of people innocently do every day.

Product ingredients called parabens are commonly included in lotions, creams, shampoos and even foods. They appear in several forms—methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and ethylparaben—and are intended to act as a preservative, preventing bacterial growth and increasing the shelf life of such products.

However, there is a growing concern that these parabens, which have been found in breast tumors of humans, may cause cancer once they are absorbed into the body through the skin. Although it is a known fact that the skin absorbs much of the chemicals and drugs which are applied to it, the question presently lies with whether or not the uncertain amount of parabens absorbed are a direct cause of cancer.

So what are your alternatives?
Considering that the 2003 World Cancer Report suggests cancer rates may increase dramatically in the next 20 years, what’s a health conscious family to do? Avoiding parabens would be a good start, but how? You could start purchasing your personal products from a company like Aubrey Organics, which prides itself on educating consumers about the safety of ingredients. Or you could start making your own soaps, shampoos and lotions. A myriad of books and internet resources already exist on this topic.

You might choose, though, to take a small step in the right direction by making gradual changes in your everyday care. Begin stocking your shelves with the items below, and you’ll soon have your family moving toward healthier products.

Aloe vera is already recognized by many for its healing power on a bad sunburn, but aloe can be used as an effective moisturizer all the time. It is also a perfect balm for after shaving, as it quickly heals nicks and cuts, and can also serve as a hair gel. Aloe vera plants can easily be grown in your own home. Simply tear off a piece of the plant, break it open and rub the inside of the plant directly onto the affected area. You can purchase larger amounts of aloe vera gel, which may be more convenient. Just be sure there are no hidden additives on the ingredients list -- even if the label claims it is 100% pure aloe.

Vitamin E can be used as a safe moisturizer, especially for the lips and under the eyes. Vitamin E gel caps can be purchased in any pharmacy department. Pop open a gel cap with a straight pin or needle and gently squeeze. The thick, sticky substance inside the capsule can then be patted under the eyes before bedtime or applied onto the lips to prevent or heal chafing. Vitamin E is also used by breastfeeding moms, applied directly onto the nipple and areola after a feeding in order to prevent or heal cracking.

Distilled witch hazel can be substituted for your gentle facial cleanser or astringent. Witch hazel has a soothing effect and is often used as relief for hemorrhoids. When combined with certain oils (see below), it makes a perfectly safe baby wash. When shopping for witch hazel, be sure to buy only distilled, so that it will not include any alcohol.

Castor oil, olive oil, almond oil and sesame oil all make wonderful, moisturizing massage lotions, especially when slightly heated. Try adding a few drops of essential oil from your local health food store for a nice fragrance. These oils can also serve as a basis for shampoos or conditioners. Just remember when applying oil to the hair that a little oil can go a long way!

“ Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours,” Journal of Applied Toxicology, 2004;24(1):5-13.
“ Global cancer rates could increase by 50% to 15 million by 2020,” World Health Organization,

© Patricia Newton

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A busy homeschooling mom of three, Patricia Newton has a passion for helping childbearing women and their families. She is the founder of a national program for military families, Operation Special Delivery, and the owner of Proud Pregnancies, and provides doula services as well as childbirth and breastfeeding education in southern New Jersey.


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