Thursday, April 16, 2015
By now we've all heard about the controversy of lead in lipsticks and other cosmetic items. And you may be familiar with the fact that in ancient Rome and Egypt, lead compounds were used as primary ingredients in makeups. But you may not know that the Egyptians actually used lead for its benefits. Wait, benefits?
Some ancient texts suggest that lead was used purposefully to treat eye illnesses and skin ailments. So researchers in France decided to delve further in to this mystery. They took samples of ancient makeup from Egyptian tombs and put it under the microscope. An ultramicroelectrode, to be exact. They found that the Egyptians actually synthesized special lead salts, laurionite and phosgenite--not found in nature--specifically for cosmetic use. Researchers tested these compounds and saw that once applied to skin, the lead ions created a stress response in the keratinocytes (a type of skin cell). Under this stress, the skin cells created an abundance of nitrogen monoxide--a compound known to stimulate a general immune response. Through this this mechanism of stimulating the immune system, researchers concluded these lead compounds may have actually been used to treat eye and skin conditions. (Source)
What does this mean for us in modern times? Not much. There's no action or change I'm suggesting. I'm not proposing the use of lead makeups or medicines and am not contesting the fact that it's a harmful substance. I just found the study to be interesting, historically and biologically, an insight in to the complex mechanisms of the body and its reactions to the toxins around us.
Monday, April 6, 2015
Without potential endocrine-disrupting properties like avobenzone and oxybenzene, and free-radical forming properties like titanium dioxide, plus UVB and UVA protection, zinc oxide is the winning choice when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun.
But there's a problem. Zinc oxide imparts a pasty white hue to your skin when you put it on. Manufacturers wanted to harness the power and reputation of zinc oxide but get rid of the whitish hue. So, they started making zinc oxide in nanoparticle form. These tiny particles could be suspended in a cream and are so small that they go on clear. But, we found out that these tiny particles may not be good for your skin, potentially damaging the DNA within skin cells (source). Because they are such small particles, the theory is that they are able to penetrate the skin further and if light bounces off these particles in to the surrounding cells, damage can occur. (However, other studies have found them not to be harmful.)
The public demand for non-nano zinc oxide is large-however people still don't want to look like they've seen a ghost when wearing sunscreen. So, manufacturers continued to develop products. One was micronized zinc oxide. Particles that are smaller than raw zinc, but not small enough to be called nano. While their small size does help, it still does create a whitish hue on skin. Finally, a company out of Australia came up with truly clear non-nano zinc oxide. But there's a caveat--it contains nanoparticles.
This new clear "non-nano" zinc oxide works like this. They broke down the zinc oxide in to nanoparticles. Then, they glued the nanoparticles together, making the overall particle size large enough to be considered non-nano. Misleading? A bit. Harmful? We don't know yet. Probably safe. The larger particle size would keep the zinc from penetrating the skin deeper, but would the sunlight reflecting off the individual particles be harmful? Preliminary studies by the manufacturer has not shown any harm, however, the long-term safety is yet to be seen.
So, the next time that you use a clear "non-nano" sunscreen, know that it's most likely those glued-together nanoparticles.
My top choice for safe sunscreens has always been, and continues to be Badger. I have been in contact with the formulator in charge of their sunscreens and know personally the care they take when formulating their product. They have the resources and equipment necessary to make sure that the zinc is evenly distributed throughout the formula and they go above and beyond with the testing they put the sunscreens through. You can read more about the zinc they use and even see photos of the glued-together nanoparticle zinc oxide here on their website. Badger is a competitor of ours in some categories, but they really are such a standout company, actually have organic certification, and just do things *right* so I don't mind giving them a little publicity.