Despite their labels, some products designed to brighten, tone and moisturize skin actually can contain harmful chemicals.
Megan Naccari, aesthetician and owner of Saintly Skin in Metairie, says using home remedies is the best way to know what's truly going on your skin. If you don't have time to whip up your own concoctions, it's important to understand labels and the way cosmetics and beauty products are packaged and standardized.
The term "natural" is not regulated, and the term "organic" should be used only if the product has been certified by an authorized program.
Guided by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the National Organic Program. Under this domain, companies that label their products "organic" must comply with USDA regulations and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. The FDA's website states that "cosmetics sold to consumers in stores or online must have a list of ingredients, each listed by its common or usual name."
Despite the labeling requirements, Naccari warns that companies aren't required to include percentages of what's actually in the product.
"There could be the most minuscule amount of an 'organic' or 'all natural' ingredient mixed among many chemical and synthetic ingredients and it can still be labeled all-natural or organic," she says.
The FDA's website warns that the "organic" certification doesn't necessarily determine its safety — "plants, whether or not they are organically grown, contain substances that may be toxic or allergenic."
Naccari advises avoiding parabens, which are used as preservatives in cosmetics and have been linked to breast cancer. Parabens are easily identifiable by their names, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben or ethylparaben.
The FDA says it continues to evaluate new data about their possible carcinogenic properties.
Another thing to keep in mind is that under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, "cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, do not need FDA approval before they go on the market."
"The best insight I can give is read the labels and understand what you are applying to your body," Naccari says.
VITAMINS AND SUPPLEMENTS
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of vitamins and supplements available on the market, and also by their promised results. And because these items are not regulated by the FDA, companies can legally dupe consumers with false advertising and misleading information.
The term "green" is likewise unregulated, says John W. Gardner, a certified personal trainer at NOLA Nutrition. This can make choosing supplements even more complicated, and it places the burden of research on the consumer.
To streamline the process, he recommends a few steps. Get clearance from your physician and examine the reputation of the brand or company from which you are purchasing. Gardner generally advises against supplements advertised on television.
Karen Adjmi, co-founder of Earthsavers wellness spa, says "people in general are so inun- dated with stressors, environmental toxins and depleted foods, it is essential to supplement."
But, she warns, "quality is key." Both experts agree anyone seeking vitamins or supplements should first spend time with a professional and go over their specific needs.
"Supplement regimens can vary widely from person to person, so we make sure to get to know the clients' needs and health concerns to recommend the right products," Adjmi says.
She points out that fish oil — though popular — often contains mercury, which may negate its health benefits. Earthsavers carries the Metagenics brand of supplements, which Adjmi says is one of the few mercury-free brands quality-controlled by a third party and frequently tested for efficacy.
"If you're purchasing vitamins and supplements from a reputable supplier, you're probably going to be fine," Gardner says. "But you can find anything and any opinion on the internet. Some supplements (can be harmful to) your liver (which processes them). Occasionally, people have unwittingly overdosed because they think more than the recom- mended dose of a 'healthy' sup- plement is beneficial, when in fact, it's effectively toxic."
Gardner also warns that manufacturers arbitrarily assign dosages to products, so no one knows exactly how much he or she should take.
"Frequently, the answer is zero," he says. "Anytime you hear a manufacturer claim something like, 'if results are too dramatic, decrease use by half,' that should raise a red flag."