Dr. Al Danenberg ● Nutritional Periodontist
September 11, 2022
You know me. I’m all about a healthy gut, oral health, and a nutrient-dense eating lifestyle. These lead to the creation of a robust immune system and overall wellness. But let’s get into another subject that has to do with the external covering of our body. I’m talking about the barrier that prevents toxic elements from penetrating into our body.
What we put on our body and what we avoid putting on our body directly affect what gets absorbed through our skin. And what gets through our skin eventually impacts every cell to some extent.
So, let’s clean up and protect our external surfaces efficiently, appropriately, and in a non-toxic manner.
I’ve divided this into two parts. This week in Part 1, I talk about the barrier and some toxic products we might place on it. Next week in Part 2, I’ll talk about several healthy methods and biocompatible products to clean and protect this outer barrier.
Our External Barrier
Our external surfaces are dependent on the health of our gut and the health of the microbes that live in harmony all over our body., Our skin is a protective barrier with its specific microbiome. Numerous studies in the past have demonstrated the critical importance between gut health, our immune system, and the surface health of our body.
Today, we are faced with a dilemma. Living in a civilized society encourages some very bad habits. They include high stress levels, too little sleep, poor food choices, too much or too little exercise, and frequent use of antibiotics and antimicrobial products in general. All these will damage the gut microbiome and negatively affect our skin resulting in all types of irritations, infections, dryness, and unhealthy sweating. In addition, many of the products we use on our body have toxic elements that can penetrate our body. We need to be proactive and make changes that improve our overall health and our skin.
A nutrient-dense anti-inflammatory diet, stress reduction, restorative sleep, and efficient exercise should be part of your healthy lifestyle. These also will improve your gut microbiome, which affects all your tissues including your skin.
Always remember that the outer layer of your body acts as a protective barrier.
Conventional soaps, which are made by mixing fat or oil with an alkali such as lye, can damage skin by raising its pH, obliterating healthy bacteria, and stripping away vital oils.
Unfortunately, soap can also contain some really bad stuff. Here are 11 harmful and toxic substances that may be in your favorite skin soap as well as other products:
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine
This is a synthetic detergent that increases spreading and wetting properties. It is used to increase the foaming action. It can cause rosacea, eczema, skin irritation, and eye irritation.
- Butylatedhydroxy Anisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene
These chemicals help extend a soap’s shelf life, but they are carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and could cause liver damage.
This chemical ingredient can cause liver and kidney cancer. Interestingly, it is banned for use in self-care products and cosmetics in the European Union because of its organ toxicity.
- 1,4 Dioxane
This chemical may damage the kidney, brain, and liver. This compound is listed as a probable human carcinogen. Research has shown that it easily penetrates the skin, and excessive exposure has been linked to organ toxicity. The FDA does not require 1,4 Dioxane to be listed on labels as it is a byproduct of the manufacturing process rather than an ingredient in and of itself.
It is added to a product to prevent bacterial growth. Yet, this is a well-known carcinogen and toxic substance, which may cause asthma, skin irritation, and nerve damage.
- Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone
These preservatives in some soaps can be irritating to the skin and can cause skin sensitivity and allergic reactions.
- Parabens (methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- and others)
These are additional preservative chemicals added to soaps commonly to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. However, parabens can disrupt hormones and negatively affect fertility and reproductive organs, as well as harm birth outcomes and increase the risks of developing certain types of cancer. They are also a common cause of skin irritation.
- Polyethylene Glycol (PEG compounds)
These may be added to soaps as thickeners, softeners, and moisture-carriers. Often, they may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which have been shown to be cancer producers and trigger allergies.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES)
These chemicals are surfactants and serve a dual purpose: acting as both a foaming agent and a detergent that removes fat, oil, and grease. They have been linked to skin irritations and allergic reactions. They bond with other common soap ingredients, resulting in nitrosamines, which are known as human carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
- Synthetic Fragrance
This sounds great but is manmade and harmful These man-made scents may be hormone disruptors and create allergic reactions. Most of the synthetic chemicals used in fragrances are petroleum-based and are known to be detrimental to human health.
- Triclosan and Triclocarban
These are antibacterial agents but interfere with the body’s thyroid hormone metabolism and may be a potential endocrine disruptor. In 2017, these were banned by the FDA and will no longer be allowed in hand and body soaps in the U.S.
Healthy skin has a pH around 5.5, which is slightly acidic. Conventional soaps to clean your skin may have a pH as high as 11. Continuous use of soaps will damage skin by developing increased dryness, itching, irritation, and inflammation. Some of this damage is a result of the soap destroying the natural oils produced on the skin. And without these protective oils, the skin will continue to crack, tear, and stay irritated. The ultimate result is that the natural protective layer of the skin will fail to function properly, and toxic elements will be able to penetrate the body easily.
Instead of soap, you might be using conventional bodywashes and shower gels. These are made with surfactants or emulsifiers, which are closer to the skin’s natural pH. However, soaps, bodywashes, and shower gels will destroy the vital oils that skin requires to be healthy.
Much like the gut, which must be balanced with healthy bacteria, the skin is healthiest when its trillions of microbes are in balance. If you strip away all these healthy microbes with antimicrobial products and lather up with unhealthy, chemically-infused lotions, you will seriously damage the external layers of skin. Then, toxic elements in the environment could be absorbed through your skin into your circulation.
Deodorants are designed to prevent odors. Frequently, antiperspirants are included in deodorants to prevent sweating. While there is controversy about the biological harm from antiperspirant deodorants, I believe we should avoid the daily application of any chemicals on our body because of their potential transdermal effects once within our body.
Here is a little-known fact. The only area of the body where a hard structure pierces the skin and enters the sterile bony structures is the tooth. Think about this for a moment. Can you imagine the potential havoc that could occur if infection were to slide down the tooth into the jawbone?
But the body has a solution.
The tooth pierces the gum tissue and anchors itself in the jawbone. The body created a “healthy biofilm” to protect this susceptible area to prevent bacteria from traveling down the tooth into the bone. There are other protective structures under the gum that can alert the immune system to fight infections. But first, this protective and healthy biofilm is the initial defense. It is called dental plaque.,,,,, It serves at least three main functions:
- Allows necessary nutrients and minerals from the saliva to enter the root of the tooth to remineralize it as necessary 24/7
- Produces hydrogen peroxide to kill any potentially pathogenic microbes in the mouth from getting to the gum/tooth margin
- Buffers the acidity around the gum/tooth margin to maintain an acid level of no more acidic than pH 5.5 to prevent demineralization of the root surface
So, dental plaque is healthy – until it’s not.
What makes it unhealthy?
Unhealthy changes in the garden of friendly bacteria in the gut, systemic inflammation because of a “leaky gut”, poor diet, and a compromised immune system play critical roles in the development of unhealthy dental plaque. All these areas must be addressed to have a healthy mouth. But proper oral hygiene is also vital for overall health and wellness.
Because I want to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth, I rarely use a mouthwash. The daily use of an antimicrobial mouthwash will kill bad bacteria as well as good bacteria. Killing good bacteria daily will compromise the health in your mouth and the rest of your body.
Think of using an antimicrobial toothpaste or rinse daily as overkill. Just like it would be overkill to burn down your house to eliminate a few roaches in the basement.
The garden of bacteria in the mouth is as important as the garden of bacteria in the gut. You don’t want to destroy their healthy balance. The saliva, healthy dental plaque, and a healthy gut microbiome play important roles in maintaining homeostasis in the mouth.
When it comes to commercial toothpastes, most may be loaded with unhealthy ingredients. I wrote about some of the harmful ingredients in toothpaste in Just Because It’s In Toothpaste Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe and Toothpaste – Misleading and Confusing.
Conventional shampoos are loaded with chemicals that can cause harm to your hair and scalp. Here are some of the toxic ingredients you’ll want to avoid in a shampoo. Be sure to check the ingredient list before you buy:
- Sulfates – Sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates are foaming agents and can be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a probable carcinogen.
- Certain preservatives – This includes parabens which are linked to breast cancer and hormone disruption, as well as DMDM hydantoin, which releases formaldehyde and is linked to hair loss and scalp burns.
- Artificial fragrances – The term fragrance is a catchall for thousands of chemicals including hormone disrupting phthalates, as well as skin irritants and allergens.
- Petroleum products –They are known to be potential cancer-causing agents as well as hormone disruptors.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) – This is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many packaging materials. It’s also found in toiletries and feminine hygiene products. BPA may interact with hormone receptors, such as those for your thyroid, which can alter their function.
Here is a caveat: Beware of all dyes for hair coloring. Para-phenylenediamine (PPD) and para toluenediamine (PTD) are the most basic ingredients in any chemical hair dye. PPD is mixed with an oxidizer and gives the result that helps in changing color. However, if the oxidation process is not complete, it can lead to allergic reactions. PTD is less reactive but can cause dermatitis. Another toxic chemical is ammonia and its byproducts such as ethanolamine, diethanolamine and triethanolamine.
You probably have no idea how unhygienic long nails can be. Dirt, food remnants, and pathogenic microbes can easily find a home between the nail and your skin.
Many contagious viruses and bacteria are transported by hands. It is one of the most common means to transmit disease to others as well as yourself.
As I described above, using soaps and other conventional cleansers is damaging to the surface tissues including the vagina. Douching, another common cleansing method, is a dangerous practice. Douching affects the pH balance of the vagina, which is usually between 3.8 to 4.5. It reduces acidity and therefore encourages bacterial infections by damaging the balance of the normal vaginal flora. The vagina has its own ecosystem which includes lactobacillus species, which create lactic acid. Lactic acid kills potentially pathogenic bacteria in the vagina. Lactobacillus bacteria also naturally produce hydrogen peroxide, which continues to kill pathogenic bacteria in the vagina.
Personal hygiene is personal. But specific guidelines to avoid toxic elements that could enter the body remain a priority. Anything that disrupts the natural microbiome should always be avoided. Our body functions and thrives by homeostasis – an intricate state of balance.
In Part 2 next week, I’ll present some thoughts about methods and products to use on this critical outer barrier of your body.
But my discussion is far from complete. Do your own research. Always keep in mind that anytime you introduce any toxic substance to your body internally or externally, you are taking a giant step backward and ultimately altering that state of balance.
If you don’t want to miss out on new posts, sign up for my Free “Belly Bites” Newsletter and receive your free copy of Dr Al’s “5 Things That Could Be Impacting Your Health Right Now” HERE.