What's in Lotion? What You Put on Your Skin Goes Straight to the Bloodstream
You might think that the lotion you put on your skin just prevents you from getting the hose again...bad joke lol. But in all seriousness, lotion is used all over our bodies to give us softer, more moisturized skin. But, it is really important to think about what’s in lotion and how it might affect you.
An often overlooked quality of our skin is that it absorbs substances on a far deeper level than you can see through a process called dermal absorption. Basically, chemicals on your skin will travel through your skin and into your bloodstream through diffusion. Diffusion is the process of particles going from high concentrations to low ones to create an even layer.
Think of dropping some water on a napkin, you can watch the water spread without maneuvering it to do so; it's the same process. There are actually 3 ways that this can happen:
- Intercellular lipid pathway: spaces between skin cells are full of fats or lipids, some chemicals can travel via this path
- Through appendages (hair follicles or glands): substances can travel down and around these small openings and get into the bloodstream slowly
- Transcellular permutation: chemicals can travel directly from skin cell to skin cell and down to the bloodstream
Though dermal absorption might sound scary it’s actually just another pathway that we have managed to use to our advantage in different ways. Think of nicotine patches or contraceptive patches. These are both incredibly useful tools that help people to live their best lives.
By being aware of this skin function, we can better control substances we do and do not want in our bodies. Soap, sanitizer, lip balm, face masks… the list of products we use on our skin is endless. When it comes to skin absorption, lotion, specifically what’s in lotion, is arguably the most important factor to consider.
When you apply lotion, it is often coating your entire body and in some circumstances, it is doing so multiple times per day. Dry skin is an issue no one wants to deal with and lotion solves this problem. With this in mind, you want to make sure that what’s in your lotion is natural and safe.
What's in Lotion: Red-flag Ingredients
Many mainstream lotions have tons of ingredients, like a frozen meal you are likely to graze over this block of tiny text because you are in a rush to save your dry skin. Aside from the ingredients list, the lotion looks and smells good. But, it is probably worth skimming over that list and checking to see if there are any of these red-flag ingredients:
- Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA): Food preservative and stabilizer found in many products but it is an endocrine disruptor and likely to be a human carcinogen
- Fragrance and Parfum: If you see this on your label, it is a mystery list of chemicals that the manufacturer doesn't want to tell you about. Often the ingredient “fragrance” includes diethyl phthalate which is toxic to organ systems and endocrine disruptors. Synthetic fragrances also emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that can affect air quality and cause allergies and asthma.
- Parabens: Also known as butylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, or ethylparaben on ingredients lists. Parabens stop bacteria and fungus from growing in your lotion, but they are also linked to breast cancer and hormone disruption.
- Retinyl palmitate: A derivative of vitamin A, this ingredient is found in sunscreens, lotions and creams and is advertised to have anti-aging properties. However, a study published by the National Toxicology Program found that this chemical combined with sun exposure leads to an increase in tumors.
- DMDM Hydantoin: This preservative also releases formaldehyde which can cause skin and eye irritation and is classified as a possible carcinogen.
What You Can Do
Worrying about what’s in lotion, and what effects it could have is something you really should not have to do. The best way you can reduce this fear is by choosing a lotion made of natural ingredients. Brands that use ingredients that you can pronounce are always a good sign. The fewer ingredients the better! Another great alternative is to use completely natural ingredients like coconut oil or shea butter to moisturize your skin.
Here’s a list of a few that might appeal to you:
- The Honest Company Purely Sensitive Face + Body Lotion
- Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Body Lotion
- OZ Naturals’ Coco Blissful Body Butter
- Burt’s Bees Fragrance-Free Shea Butter and Vitamin E Body Lotion
- Lush’s Dream Cream Hand and Body Lotion
As people become increasingly more aware and attune to their health, every product that we use is scrutinized in order to keep us healthy. Studies have been conducted and are continuing to analyze every ingredient that we use to determine if there are negative side effects. Though the majority of harmful ingredients out there are decreasing they are still something to be on the lookout for.
There are many brands starting to refine their products and give the public a natural alternative to what is currently on the market. Small businesses are often able to use better ingredients because they are not mass-producing their products. Wherever you buy from, make sure to read that ingredient list. If you see something you are unfamiliar with, go ahead and google it!
Google is your friend, do your research on products that you use and the ingredients within them. Knowledge is power. By having a greater understanding of what’s in lotion and other skincare products, we can be healthier beings and of course have healthier skin.
Written by Kiana St Onge