What are Sulfates? 

Sulfates are a type of surfactant, which is basically a detergent.  In other words, they help cleanse the skin of dirt and oil, and they are the reason that many liquid body washes and shampoos create a rich, foamy lather.

They’re also found in many moisturizers and sunscreens, because they help ingredients mix well together, instead of clumping or separating in the bottle.

Some sulfates are synthetic, meaning they are man-made.  Some come from petroleum, while others come from natural sources like palm oil or coconut oil.  No matter where they come from, they can all do some major harm to your skin, hair and scalp.

How do Sulfates Impact your Skin?

Sulfates, whether they are synthetic or natural, can be very irritating.  If used in high enough concentrations, they can damage the outer layers of your skin, resulting in itchy, cracked, dry or inflamed skin.  They very rarely create true allergies, but they are major causes of irritation.

In shampoos, sulfates can irritate the scalp and result in frizzy, dull hair.  They can even make your hair dye disappear quickly, making your trips to the salon more frequent.

What about your Microbiome? 

If you continue to cleanse with sulfate-containing products, this is also likely to damage your skin’s microbiome.  The healthy bacteria on your skin need a certain environment, or “terrain” to survive and thrive.  When you wash away and damage their terrain, these delicate bacteria die and unhealthy, hearty ones remain and take over – we do not want this to happen!

I tell my patients to avoid sulfates, and look for sulfate-free on the label.  Even if the sulfate comes from coconuts, PASS.  It’s just as likely to strip your skin of its healthy lipids, leaving you dry, inflamed and red.

Specifically, SLS and SLES are the 2 sulfates I recommend avoiding. There’s another one called ALS (Ammonium Laureth Sulfate) which is considerably more gentle, so your skin might be able to tolerate products using ALS in low concentrations. Patch test first, which is my rule of thumb when trying any new product!

My Bottom Line

I’ve cut sulfates out of my skincare and hair care and honestly, I’ve never looked back. I see such a difference in my skin and my hair – there’s no question in my mind that you don’t need sulfates in your life!

Dr. Whitney

 

More and more companies are starting to promote the fact that their products are “paraben-free.” What’s the fuss and is this something you should be concerned about when choosing your favorite skincare options this fall?

What are parabens?

Parabens are a group of preservatives used in cosmetics to help keep those products from becoming contaminated with bad germs like harmful bacteria or yeast.  They extend the shelf life of a product.  If you make a DIY recipe and don’t use it right away, it could easily become contaminated with “bad bugs,” the kind that can cause infections.  That’s because you’re not adding preservatives to those concoctions.  Almost all products you see on the shelf in a store, or order online, contain some preservatives, to keep them free of germs that could hurt you.  Parabens are actually one of the most gentle preservatives found in skin care today.  They were named the “non-allergen” of the year in 2018!  This is because parabens are actually the least likely to cause a skin allergy, as compared to all the preservatives on the market today.  Parabens remain one of the least allergenic preservatives available to date!

So, why are so many products claiming to be “paraben-free?”  And why do I recommend avoiding parabens in skincare? 

Here’s the scoop:

A study done back in 2004 detected parabens in samples of breast tissue from breast cancer patients.  Parabens were actually found within the cancerous tissue samples collected.  Parabens are known to mimic estrogen, so the fear is that they are disrupting hormones and possibly increasing your risk of cancer.  Some scientists have even speculated that parabens might cause sterility in men. Basically, parabens bind to certain estrogen receptors, and turning on estrogen signals can theoretically contribute to a whole host of issues for men, women and children.  Butylparabens and propylparabens are the most likely to bind to estrogen receptors.  In fact, the EU has banned the use of these 2 preservatives in diaper creams, and reduced their allowed concentrations in a myriad of other cosmetic and personal care products.

We know that parabens are indeed absorbed by the body, mostly through our use of cosmetic or personal care products such as makeup, lotions, hair products and perfumes.  However, we still don’t fully know whether they truly pose any long-term health risks.  Concerns exist, but no clear link has been demonstrated.  The FDA believes that, so long as they are used in low concentrations (well under 25%), they are probably not doing any harm.  Even well known and respected skincare brands, like Cerave, continue to formulate using parabens in many of their most popular products.

Where I stand:

In the case of parabens, I don’t believe in innocent until proven guilty.  In my opinion, parabens are guilty until proven safe.  I want to see evidence proving that parabens are not causing any significant hormonal disruption before I feel confident recommending paraben-containing products to my patients!  I have too many patients struggling with fertility issues, and battling breast cancer.  I am not ready to take that risk!

Dr. Whitney

You guys asked so many great questions about clean beauty! Check out my responses:

  1. How does Retinol/Retin-A fit into the clean beauty picture?

ANSWER: Retinol is a Vitamin A derivative which is often added to topical skincare products to promote skin renewal, brighten skin tone, reduce acne, and boost your skin’s collagen production. It also functions like an antioxidant to help address free radical damage which leads to visible signs of aging. The term retinoids is most commonly used to cover the class of Vitamin A derivatives which includes over the counter retinol and prescription strength Retin-A.  Retinol is probably the most powerful over-the-counter anti-aging ingredient on the market today and has the most impressive data when it comes to truly transforming our skin, provided that we use it consistently over time. I often recommend that my patients who are starting to notice fine lines and wrinkles (typically ages 30+) incorporate an OTC retinol into their nightly skincare routine. Retinol helps to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improves your overall skin tone and appearance and can even help to reverse some of the side effects of sun damage. When applying it, don’t neglect your neck, chest, and eye area. If you are using a retinol to address fine lines and wrinkles, I often tell my patients that they will see the clearest visible results in about 6 months with even more impact after one year. In the case of retinol, in my opinion, natural alternatives just haven’t caught up to the efficacy of safe, consistently effective, synthetic ingredients formulated in a lab. You might see some products containing rosehip seed oil, or beta carotene, with claims that the product has “natural retinol alternatives.” While these ingredients do have some nice benefits for the skin, they aren’t going to deliver comparable results to a synthetic retinol made in a laboratory. I regularly test new products, so if I find a product that changes my mind, I will share that information!

2. What do you recommend for dry, acne prone skin that’s sensitive when it comes to clean beauty?

ANSWER: As I share in Dirty Looks, I would consider addressing these symptoms using a 360 degree approach, including dietary changes, in addition to topical products. We now know that certain foods can trigger acne, including whey protein and skim milk. Many times, internal inflammation, which begins in our gut, manifests externally as sensitive skin, acne, dryness, etc. So, that is where I would begin. In terms of clean beauty products, I would avoid any harsh cleansers or scrubs that will disturb your skin’s gentle natural barrier and healthy microbiome. A gentle cleanser would be a great option. Look for the words “gentle,” “hydrating” or “pH balanced” on the label.  When it comes to exfoliating your skin, make sure to limit any form of exfoliation to twice a week and for sensitive skin, I prefer chemical over physical or manual exfoliants.  Here’s a facebook live I did on exfoliating that you might find helpful. Since your skin is acne prone, you want to look for words like “non-comedogenic”, which means that the product will not clog your pores.

  1. Clean beauty in sunscreen – is this even possible?

ANSWER: This is such a great question because the terms we see advertised on sunscreen bottles can be incredibly confusing. For example, does organic mean natural? Actually, organic sunscreen technically means that the sunscreen includes carbon-based ingredients like oxybenzone and avobenzone. Organic sunscreens, according to dermatologists and chemists, are the chemical sunscreens. In contrast, physical blockers, the barrier blockers are inorganic, meaning not-carbon based and include zinc oxide and and/or titanium dioxide. So, you truly have to check the label to know whether your “organic” sunscreen is the type of sunscreen you think you are buying! Some of my favorites, which would be in sync with most definitions of clean beauty, are: Naturopathica UV Defense Cream and ThinkBaby SPF 50+ Sunscreen.

  1. Is xanthan gum safe? It’s in a lot of clean beauty products.

ANSWER: Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide. It’s basically a sugar-based polymer, or chain, produced by bacteria. It’s commonly used in cosmetics, many foods, supplements . . . it can be found in so many ingestible and topical products. It can be a digestive irritant if consumed in large quantities, but overall, based on available studies, it doesn’t appear to pose substantial health concerns. It does not appear to be absorbed into our bloodstream and I have not seen any studies to date that specifically concern me when it comes to topical usage.

  1. Is grape seed oil as a body moisturizer safe for everyday use?

ANSWER: In general, grapeseed oil does appear to be safe based on what we do know, provided that it’s cold-pressed or expeller-pressed. Grapeseed oil might have some beauty benefits due to its Vitamin E and omega-6 fatty acid content. It can be used for oil cleansing and can protect against skin irritation. I would like to see more studies on grapeseed oil usage, particularly with respect to everyday use, though, before I come to a conclusion on whether that’s beneficial.

  1. What do you think about parabens? Cetaphil is so often recommended and I’ve been using it for years but I know there is some concern about parabens.

ANSWER: This is a great question because parabens have been so widely used as a preservative in beauty and skincare products for so many years and now, we are seeing so much attention called to “paraben-free” products. So, the natural question is, what is the danger here and why are parabens getting so much negative attention? Currently, the US Food and Drug Association and World Health Organization consider parabens to be safe at low levels. The main concerns with parabens surround whether they are hormone disruptors. Specifically, estrogen disruption has been linked to cancer and reproductive issues and the questions surrounding parabens relate to these subject matters. Therefore, many companies are including parabens on their “dirty lists” and emphasize that their products are “paraben-free.” Parabens include Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Methylparaben, and Propylparaben. I have been very much aligned with the clean beauty space and the direction of clean beauty and I do think that mindfulness is warranted when it comes to paraben use. There are so many options now that are paraben-free that I feel it makes good sense to embrace those products and to move away from products which are made with parabens while further research is done with respect to their safety.

  1. Are essential oils actually good for your skin? I’ve heard conflicting advice.

ANSWER: So many of my patients swear by their essential oils. They can be energizing, relaxing, and everything in between. Diffusing them can be helpful in terms of mindfulness and anxiety reduction, which is very beneficial to the skin. In addition, some people like to use essential oils topically –whether diluted with a carrier oil or already incorporated into skincare products. Importantly, some essential oils are photosensitizing, meaning, you should not put them on your skin if you are going to be out in the sun. Some examples are: bergamot, bitter orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, verbena, and several others. Be sure to check the information which accompanies your essential oils, as many are labeled photosensitizing! Also, certain essential oils can cause significant irritation when applied to the skin, especially if applied without diluting them first in a carrier oil. I think a determination as to skin benefits would really need to be made on a product by product basis because essential oils are used at very different levels and for different reasons in particular products. For example, some companies use very minimal amounts of essential oils for fragrance purposes only whereas some products boast higher concentrations. I always recommend that my patients try a “patch test” if they are trying a new product, meaning that you would want to try the product on a small space on the inside of your arm to determine whether you have a reaction/experience irritation. Due diligence in this area is very important – research your oils before applying topically.

Dr. Whitney

 

There is so much buzz surrounding mineral oil. My patients ask me about it all the time. There is a lot of misinformation out there – and a lot of it is scary (for example, many of my patients are wondering whether mineral oil can cause cancer). I wanted to give more background and information on this subject to help to separate fact from fiction. This is especially timely because products containing mineral oil (Aquaphor, Petroleum Jelly) are many people’s go-to products when their skin is dry, red, and chapped during winter.

What is Mineral Oil?

Mineral oil is a clear, odorless oil which is derived from petroleum. It comes in different grades, ranging from the technical grade – which is used to lubricate car engines and equipment – to a highly purified cosmetic grade which is often found in many of the skin care products you might have in your house.

Mineral oil and petroleum jelly are both byproducts of petroleum refinement and both are considered petrochemicals.  Recently, you may see more and more products marketed as “free of petrochemicals” or “petrochemical-free” and that means they don’t contain mineral oil or petroleum jelly.  Some popular products containing mineral oil that you probably have in your home include Vaseline Petroleum Jelly and Aquaphor.

Is it Dangerous?

There is so much ongoing confusion and even fear surrounding mineral oil and petroleum jelly. People are worried about “impurities” and “contaminants” found in mineral oil – and there is some concern that it could even be carcinogenic.

The cosmetic grade mineral oil is completely different from the type of mineral oil used to lubricate engines. It’s gone through purification processes to remove these contaminants and impurities. Mineral oil is an occlusive emollient, meaning that it helps to keep your skin hydrated by locking in moisture by forming a barrier on your skin’s surface. Based on my research, it’s actually considered very safe and rarely causes irritation or an allergic reaction.

Would I be afraid to use Vaseline or Aquaphor on myself or my family, say, after a burn or after washing out a cut or scrape?  Not at all. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology advocates using Petroleum Jelly as standard protocol in wound care.

Do I use products with mineral oil on my skin or my daughter’s skin every day?  

I don’t, but it’s not because mineral oil scares me. Here are two main reasons I don’t rely on mineral oil containing products on a daily basis. First, I expect more from my skincare ingredients. Mineral oil isn’t irritating, and yes it is hydrating, but for me, that’s not enough justification to use it on a daily basis. I’d prefer to find ingredients that not only moisturize but also provide other benefits such as anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties. The second reason I don’t use mineral oil containing products on a daily basis is because, even though mineral oil is unlikely to clog pores on its own, it can trap other pore-clogging ingredients in the skin. So if you use a product that combines mineral oil with another ingredient, the mineral oil can potentially trap that other ingredient in the skin.

What can I use instead of mineral oil?

Many of my patients are starting to consider other options to mineral oil and have noticed that clean beauty certifications often specifically exclude products containing mineral oil. For example, “Clean at Sephora” specifically means that the products included are free of sulfates, parabens, formaldehyde, phthalates and mineral oils.  Two of my favorite alternatives to mineral oil and petroleum jelly are shea butter and sunflower seed oil. Stay tuned for some of my favorite DIY home skincare recipes using these ingredients!

Dr. Whitney

@DrWhitneyBowe

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