Vegan skin care products are becoming increasingly popular around the world and in South Africa, as consumers are becoming aware that what goes on the body is as important as what goes into it. Vegan products contain no animal products and are not tested on animals, so are cruelty-free as well. However, even if you are not particularly concerned about the use of animal products such as beeswax, lanolin, or milk, it is worth knowing that vegan products will also be organic, or free of chemical additives and containing only pesticide-free plant materials
Even if we are not strictly vegan, many of us are conscientious about our diet and spend time reading labels in the supermarket to check for additives, preservatives, and other chemical ingredients. But, are we also doing this with our cosmetic and skin care products? “More and more people are and should be,” says Kate Townshend, owner and founder of Harmless House, an online shop for premium vegan, organic, natural and cruelty-free products. This is because the substances we put on our bodies, hair, and teeth (products like body lotion, shampoo, and toothpaste), can and do get absorbed through our skin and into our bloodstream. Research is now showing that many of the chemicals in our mainstream skincare and body products can cause dangerous hormone imbalances and, in the long run, can increase the likelihood of cancer. Add this grim fact to the reality of animal testing, and many of the “old faithfuls” we have been buying for years start to look unappealing and potentially dangerous. Time for a re-think, we think!
Dangers of Parabens and Other Chemicals
One of the most common cosmetic ingredients is parabens, an ingredient which has come into the spotlight in the last few years, as research reveals its dangers. Parabens are preservatives used to extend the shelf life of products by prohibiting the growth of mold and bacteria. They fall under many names, but the most common ones are: Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben and Isobutylparaben. Approximately 75 to 90% of products use parabens.
“But it’s only going on your skin- right? It’s not like we are eating it!” Wrong. The chemicals in the food we eat are filtered through our kidneys and liver, and most end of being excreted from the body. Substances applied to the skin, however, are absorbed straight into the blood stream: this is how and why nicotine patches and birth control/hormone therapy patches work. Chemicals from the daily products we happily rub all over our skin are often deposited and stored in fat around the body. In the case of parabens, research is suggesting that these particular chemicals often accumulate in breast tissue, and are less likely to be flushed from our system. Parabens mimic oestrogen, which is one of the factors in the development of breast cancer. Research is starting to show a frightening link between cancer and the products we use. Recent research published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology in January 2012 found parabens present in 99% of breast cancer tissues tested. In addition, oestrogen mimickers cause our body to produce less of its own natural hormones, which can also lead to fertility problems for both men and women, premature puberty in young girls (early menstruation is linked to a higher chance of breast cancer in later life), and possibly premature menopause. In men, the excess oestrogen can cause abnormally large breasts.
Townshend says, “The reason these ingredients feature in almost all our cosmetic products is that the cosmetic industry is among the least regulated. So many synthetic ingredients are still used in products today because they are the cheapest available option and manufacturers are more concerned with their bottom line than they are with the consumers’ safety.”
In addition to protecting ourselves from harmful chemicals, we should also be aware of how some companies do animal testing with their products. Beauty Without Cruelty (www.bwcsa.co.za) is an animal rights organisation whose primary objective is to educate and inform about the exploitation and abuse of animals. They provide information on animal testing for cosmetics, and advice on what to buy and what not to. They also have their own cosmetics range.
What Can We do?
A bit of knowledge can go a long way, and almost everything you need to know is on the back of the bottle, including ingredients and certifications. Along with learning what to avoid and watch out for, also learn which ingredients are good. Avoiding parabens is a good first step, but there are many other ingredients to look out for too. A product that says it is “natural” means very little actually, and holds no weight legally. An organic certification is an excellent way to know that your product contains not only natural ingredients, but organic ingredients too. Anti cruelty certifications, like the one offered by Choose Cruelty Free, will also ensure that animals were not harmed when developing the product.
By Debbie Banda
Some recommended vegan, natural, certified organic and cruelty-free products:
These products are all available from www.harmlesshouse.co.za