Skin SOS

Many of us can recall learning in grade 9 biology class how our skin was in fact our body’s largest organ. Unfortunately however, I’m sure that this fun fact doesn’t effect the way we treat our skin on a day-to-day basis. Our skin is a porous organ that acts as a both a barrier to the outside world as well as a communication access point for our internal environment and the world around us.   

For example, when we are hot we produce sweat that helps cool down our internal body temperature, and when we are cold our skin contracts producing the familiar goose-bumps to help keep heat within the body.  Also, sometimes certain pharmaceuticals and neutraceuticals can be applied topically (on the skin) as a method of entry into the body.  As we can see our skin is like a sponge: able to absorb and internalize substances that are placed upon it.   

As a former competitive swimmer who has had to deal with the constant drying effects of chlorine, moisturizing has always been an essential component of my ‘get ready’ ritual (Satsuma Body Butter from the Body Shop was always a personal favorite).  Slathering on the delightful smelling body butter or lotion would always leave my parched skin feeling rehydrated and rejuvenated; little did I ever think that anything I was putting on my skin was also being internalized into my body.  Once we make the connection that our skin is like a sponge and all the chemicals that are in all of our daily lotions and cosmetics are internalized we may want to take a second look at what exactly our skin is ‘drinking’ these days.

After doing some research there is a long list of questionable ingredients that can be found in skin products. However, we think it is best to include a shorter list of heavy hitters.  The following are a list of commonly used chemicals that may have adverse effects on our health:

1) Phthalates
  • Research shows that phthalates may adversely affect reproduction and development; Health Canada has put out a warning for them
  • May also cause kidney and liver toxicity
  • Look for:
    • BzBP or benzylbutyl phthalate
    • DBP or di-n-butyl phthalate
    • DEP or diethyl phthalate

2) Parabens
  • Known to exhibit a weak estrogenic effect which may be of concern by increasing breast cancer risk
  • Although no research has completely shown a direct link, continuous long-term exposure may have adverse effects
  • Bath&Body Works is bad for having a good amount of parabens in their creams (which is rather unfortunate because I really love their selection)
  • Look for:
    • Methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben

3) BHA and BHT 
  • Although the amount needed to do harm is high; there has been carcinogenic effects, impairment of blood clotting, and lung damage reported with toxic exposure 
  • Look for:
    • Butylhydroxyanisole and butylhydroxytoluene

4) Dyes/Colouring
  • Many processed foods and cosmetics have various dyes added to them for colouring purposes
  • Chemicals dyes have been linked to ADHD in children as well as having tumorigenic and carcinogenic properties
  • Look for:
    • FD&C Blue 1
    • FD&C Green 3
    • FD&C Red 33
    • FD&C Yellow 5
    • FC&C Yellow 6

--> It's always good to look out for products that don't do animal testing as well (which should always be marked on the back under the ingredients list).  This may not necessarily be good for your health, but it is good for your karma :).

This is by no means an extensive list, but it is a good starting point for ingredients to keep an eye on.  Health Canada has created a 
Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist which is a good reference as well.  Remember that although it's hard to always read the labels of every single product you use, being conscious of what you put in or on your body can make a difference, even if you can't tell the effects right away!


A long time athlete and health advocate,  Dr. Kumentas’ goal is to help her patients become excited about making positive lifestyle choices in order to enjoy healthier, happier lives.  Her driving force is a passion for healing the whole person on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level using carefully selected natural therapies, fitness, and integrated medicine.  She truly believes in the importance of practising what you preach and investing in your health.  
Dr. Nadia Kumentas practices at Zen Beginnings Wellness Centre in Toronto and has a special interest in dermatology, woman’s health, and pain management.

To learn more about Dr. Nadia Kumentas visit or contact her at


Amin KA, Abdel Hameid H 2nd, Abd Elsttar AH (Oct 2010). "Effect of food azo dyes tartrazine and carmoisine on biochemical parameters related to renal, hepatic function and oxidative stress biomarkers in young male rats". Food Chem Toxicol. 48 (10): 2994–9.

Moutinho IL, Bertges LC, Assis RV (February 2007). "Prolonged use of the food dye tartrazine (FD&C yellow no 5) and its effects on the gastric mucosa of Wistar rats". Brazilian Journal of Biology 67 (1): 141–5.

Toxicology of the synthetic antioxidants BHA and BHT in comparison with the natural antioxidant vitamin E Kahl R, Kappus H, Z Lebensm Unters Forsch 1993 Apr;196(4):329-38

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Anonymous said...

So true! I use honey as a cleanser because it's antibacterial and since it's a humectant I don't have to moisturize as often. Great post!

Nadia Kumentas said...

Honey as a cleanser is a sticky but great idea; it probably works wonders as an anti-inflammatory for blemishes as well! Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Really informative article... thanks!

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