Lotions Potions

(From my “A2W Aging to Wisdom” series, explorations of the joyful ways to go through life.)

By the time we begin to see the toll aging takes on our complexion, our body has already spent years of considerable effort trying to keep up with the garbage we have exposed it to or are swallowing every day. Avoiding and reducing harmful chemicals in the water, food and body care products we consume tends to become more of a priority as we age because the mirror doesn’t lie and looking and feeling good takes way more effort.

My health was a priority well before 1980 when I learned about the form of lymph cancer that was plaguing my father. Medical statistics back then indicated his type and stage of the disease meant he may live with it for 15 years, 20 if he were really fortunate.

No one in the medical field I spoke with then could definitively tell me how much greater my risk was for developing his or another type of cancer. So in my twenties I took what seemed to be what I thought was a reasonable approach. I embraced a plant-based diet, high on nutrition, low on processing and stayed current with the recommendations of medical researchers. Motivating me was less of a concern about maintaining youthful skin and more about my desire to try to minimize any genetic predisposition that I would walk the same harrowing cancer steps as my father.

It was easier to exercise with enthusiasm and monitor what I ate and drank because when you witness someone’s 13-year cancer journey up close and personal as I did, you cannot help but be thankful there are at least some things you can do every day that just might make the difference between wellness and the alternatives.

Even though I learned much is really out of one’s personal control, there are many small decisions that can influence an overall sense of well being and good health.

From my father I learned ways to make the most of any cards I am dealt, by enduring all things with courage buoyed by a positive, hopeful outlook. Any wrinkles I unintentionally created by my wide, persistent smile, well I consider those the happy merit badge from modeling his traits.

Fast forward to several years ago when I learned parabens, prevalent in many beauty and hygiene products like sunscreen and deodorant, were mimicking estrogen. These potential hormone distruptors have been studied to see if they are one of the causes of early puberty in girls. Some researchers are concerned parabens are a contributing factor in breast cancer.

Many who adhere to a “preventative” lifestyle place products with ingredients containing paraben — including methylparaben and propylparaben — on the growing list of things to stay clear of. For me this means using paraben-free shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, sunscreen and even makeup.

Finding paraben-free and toxic chemical-free products became an even more complicated task because I also wanted products made only from ingredients safe enough to swallow. That meant eliminating any items that are petroleum based. Not that I had any intention of eating the stuff, but I knew from what I learned from my father’s disease, that whatever was applied to my skin could end up being processed by my liver and kidneys, wreak havoc on my lymph system, and lead to diminished health or, incurable cancer.

As I neared 50 I had become dissatisfied with using just olive and coconut oils as my main skin care regimen. Those had worked for many years but with menopause came the memo that my skin required additional moisturizing. A web search quickly directed me to Kabana Skin Care, Erik Kreider’s company based in Louisville, Colorado.

Erik came to this business of skin care out of a love of science and a personal desire to protect his strawberry blonde complexion. An avid glider pilot, Erik may best be known for his organic sunscreen called Green Screen but his company produces an entire line of moisturizers, lip balms, scrubs, soaps, pain relief cream, deodorant and other items safe enough for babies, pregnant women and our environment.

Erik earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology from Stanford University and an MBA from the University of Colorado Boulder. In a phone interview from his office near Boulder, Erik discussed his company’s product expansion, as well as the challenges of growing national sales. Through distribution channels such as Whole Foods stores and skin care specialists like estheticians, spa owners, and people who work in dermatologists’ offices, Erik sees even greater opportunity to widen his message of common sense biochemistry.

Erik agrees that there is a great deal of confusing information on sunscreen but sees wide consensus on some of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, can be curable if found early and treated. What Erik had to say about sunscreen use and melanoma surprised me most of all, specifically that it is not known if sunscreen lowers the risk of melanoma.

He provide this in response to my need for more understanding of that seemingly counterintuitive fact.

EK: “Based on broad evaluation of the relevant medical research, sunscreens have generally not been determined to reduce the risk of melanoma. This is greatly in opposition to the ‘common’ knowledge that they would, because it’s an intuitive assumption that if one applies a product that absorbs UV energy to the skin, DNA and cellular structures are more protected from carcinogenic damage, and therefore risk should decrease. But that’s not what the data demonstrate in aggregate.

“I’ve asked why this may be many times, and unfortunately no researchers have performed a properly controlled study. There are many potential hypotheses why this may be: sunscreen users notoriously don’t use the product appropriately and so have lower protection than they might think or report; sunscreen users spend a disproportionately longer time outside thinking they are ‘protected’ and so accumulate more damage over time (sunscreens are not 100% effective and carcinogenic damage is cumulative); the use of petrochemical sunscreen actives trades UV damage for chemical damage (this is my primary hypothesis because the data are more supportive that sunscreens do reduce basal and squamous cell carcinoma risk AND melanoma is known to have a carcinogenic pathway that appears to be more reliant on chemical damage); and finally, no one has asked if there is a difference between petrochemical sunscreens and mineral sunscreens.”

Erik also explained that anti-aging and anti-cancer interests have helped grow the sunscreen industry. According to his sources, sunscreen is now nearly an 8 billion dollar industry. Yet skin cancer rates continue to grow and much more research is needed, both to determine what may actually be beneficial for reducing the risks of skin cancer and to learn what else may be jeopardizing our health.

Beyond what protection sunscreen may or may not offer, what many researchers are in agreement about truly comes down to common sense: avoid getting sunburned; wear protective clothing like a wide brim hat and sunglasses that block UVA and UVB radiation; avoid the sun when the sun’s rays are strongest; and pay attention to any changes to your skin or any existing moles.

Erik elaborated on his lifestyle and the concept he adheres to, what he calls common sense biochemistry: Whenever you introduce other compounds that are not naturally occurring in our bodies, it makes sense that they can have side effects.

“It is a really basic principle,” Erik said. “Our bodies work best when they utilize natural ingredients that can build our bodies.”

So this is where the petroleum products, and especially the sunscreens and beauty products that are petroleum based, come under scrutiny.

“The problem is that a lot of the chemistries that are petroleum based have side effects,” Erik said. “When you use them throughout your life they do degrade your health.”

Erik explained that our skin is a great barrier to pathogens and bacteria but is also a wonderful way to introduce a drug into the body as the drug does not need to be processed through the liver.

“When you put something on your skin you are effectively eating it,” Erik said.

So beyond the goal of preventing skin cancer, or even lymph cancer, you might consider slathering your skin with lotions and potions safe enough to eat and consider avoiding any unhealthy chemicals. Opt for more ways to protect your largest organ and one of the side benefits is you will be supporting more than your good and healthy looks. Erik’s line of edible-quality skin care and body products can be found at www.kabanaskincare.com
Giselle M. Massi copyright January 2015