So, I promised a review of this book - Skin Deep by Pat Thomas in my last post. I picked it up in my local library recently and got through it easily in a day or so.
At first I found it a little dry and uninteresting - so many sentences started with a complicated sounding chemical which my eyes just skimmed over, and ended with a slighly paranoid and flaky sounding 'danger'. To be honest, I am not hugely fussed if a chemical 'might' cause a rash, or if there's 'some' evidence that links it tenuously to cancer, or alzheimers or whatever.
I certainly don't want cancer or alzheimers, or skin rashes really I guess. But I live in a city, I breathe pollution on the train every day, I get second hand smoke on the streets, I will come across cleaning chemicals in my office and in shops and so on, there will be a whole host of things I breathe in blissfully unaware, not to mention what I eat (if burnt toast really is a carcinogen, I'm probably far more at risk from that than moisturiser!). In short, there is just too much of that stuff, and the evidence is too flimsy for me to start getting really strict about ruling things out on those grounds. Whilst I think in general it's probably going to be a good thing to avoid them and the information about the lack of safety regulations for this stuff is something I wasn't aware of, I think you risk getting obsessive and overwhelmed if you start trying to avoid everything that's been 'linked' to illness/ill health.
That said, as I read on I did start to appreciate the book more and more. What it helped me do was really think about what it was that I was buying when I buy cosmetics. It breaks down the types of ingredients that are in everyday cosmetic products and explains how they work. When it is all demystified like this it is easy to see what is behind the advertising and lovely images/words which is 70% of why I buy a product probably, and see it for what it really is - a load of different chemicals put together in a combination that the customer will want to buy.
There are a huge number of ingredients which go into products not to perform the task they are meant to do but to make the product easier to transport, or to give it more shelf-life, or to make it's consistency or look more appealing to the consumer. All of these ingredients can have some kind of effect on wherever you are putting them.
And a lot of the ingredients that are the 'active' ingredients are achieving something to make you keep buying them but not necessarily to achieve the results you think they're achieving (e.g. AHAs make the upper layer of your skin thinner, so whilst you temporarily might look smoother, it facilitates water loss from your skin actually making it more dehydrated and dryer. Also, I can't remember the details but there was a whole section on why some anti-aging ingredients probably actually increase wrinkles long-term).
There are also a huge number of ingredients made from mined minerals or from petroleum. Whilst we are all aware of the fossil fuels element of car use, and energy use, I doubt many of us think about the fossil fuels helping us to achieve dewy looking skin or peacock-coloured eyelids. This is a huge motivator for me to stay off the stuff.
The book also provides a selection of recipes or ideas for simpler, more natural-ingredient based alternatives. Recipes for toothpaste, mouthwash, simple moisturisers, make-up removers, facials, bath soaks for sore skin... The only one I have tried so far was a massive success - (I'll do a separate post I think to highlight it) and I'm looking forward to trying a few other new homemade products when I get the chance. I love the fact that you know what goes in to it, I love the whole fun mixing-up bit of it, and I love the fact that it liberates you from that relationship with the big companies and the ad-men that you enter into every time you buy a commercial product with all its shiny promises.
I would have liked more background on the cosmetics and toiletries industries - why things developed the way they did, that kind of thing - but that wasn't what the book was trying to do. It tries - and I think succeeds - to clarify and demystify toiletries and cosmetics in terms of what they are really made up of, focusing mostly on the health angle, and a little on the environmental impact. Overall, I wouldn't say it's an essential book to have on your shelf, but it was easy-to-read, straightforward, not overly preachy and pretty useful, so I would recommend it. For me it has definitely been a good starting point at least, and I am going to copy out some recipes and ideas to try out so watch this space for those...