Skincare: Cosmetics and Transdermal Absorption

If you wouldn’t eat it, why put it on your skin? It’s widely accepted that ingesting chemicals is bad for our health, but what about transdermal penetration? The fact is, what we put on our skin can also impact our health.

Take nicotine and birth control patches as examples. Doses are administered via a patch placed on the skin, ushering nicotine into our bloodstream to wean off cigarettes or hormones to forego a daily oral pill. And while there may be some chemicals that are too large to enter our bloodstream through pores, the majority are small enough to penetrate. In fact, there’s even discussion of using transdermal penetration to issue vaccines in the future. Some cited advantages of this include ease of access and reduced spread of blood-borne diseases.

The cosmetic industry in the United States has an “innocent until proven guilty” stance on chemicals. We can’t afford to wait for evidence. If you’re unsure about an ingredient or don’t have enough information, it’s best to be safe and avoid it.

Scrutinizing every ingredient in the slew of products used by the average consumer is a daunting task. Start with the products that bear the greatest negative impact (i.e. the most toxic).

Next, evaluate your level of exposure to each. For instance, applying an all-over body lotion that soaks into your skin = relatively high exposure.

On the other hand, a cleanser with the same ingredients = less exposure since it’s quickly rinsed off.

Be strategic and seek out the best ingredients in products that you have the most exposure to, like shampoo, lotion, and sunscreen.

If needed, loosen your standards a bit for products, such as hand soap, that are used on a small portion of the body and/or washed off.

Worrying about each ingredient in every product can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis. To avoid this, I suggest deciding when to adhere to certain standards and when to relax. You’ll still drastically improve the overall quality of your products and save yourself from having a panic attack.

Top products to look for cleanest ingredients:

  1. – Anything you soak in.
    – Anything you apply and don’t wash off, such as lotion, face moisturizer, and oils.
    – Body powder.
    – Shampoo and conditioner. Though these are washed off, they have high exposure because they wash over your entire body when rinsed.
    – Any product you put on your child.


Products that have limited exposure (so you can relax your standards, if you choose):

  1. – Eyes shadow.
  2. – Hand soap, excluding antibacterial.
  3. – Blush.
  4. – Leave-in hair care products. Because leave-ins are applied without water, the product doesn’t flow over your body like shampoo and conditioner. Plus, they’re only applied to the hair itself, not the scalp. When you wash your hair after using leave-ins, a large percentage of the product has already been brushed or worn off, leaving fewer chemicals to flow over your body.


Top 10 products/ingredients to avoid, scrutinize, or reduce use:

Talc-based powder.
Nail polish.
Baby shampoo.
Baby wipes.
Bubble baths.
Hair dyes.
Petroleum-based products.
Skin primers made with silicone or other “cone” products.

Get to know your products and what their producers stand for. Look for companies that are open, honest, and willing to answer your questions regarding products and ingredients. Avoid blind shopping and buying based on pie-in the-sky claims. Big names and flashy labels aren’t reasons to purchase. Stay informed, do your research, and take it one step at a time.

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