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 Pop Quiz: What is the largest organ in the human body? Answer: Skin.

When I learned that fun fact I was surprised, then horrified. Surprised because I hadn’t thought of our skin as an organ, which in my mind was reserved for internal essentials like the heart or liver. Yet, it turns out the 22-square-foot (on average) external organ that is our skin not only gives us a presentable appearance, but keeps us from evaporating, guards the body from damaging sun rays, and acts as a semipermeable membrane that allows us to absorb vitamins, minerals, and — here’s where the horrified piece comes into play — chemicals!

In an effort to keep our skin healthy, happy, and (let’s be real) youthful, we’ve all slathered on any number of lotions and potions. While our favorite beauty brands proudly highlight natural ingredients and plant-derived anti-aging champions, they likely hide some of the less appealing ingredients on the back of the bottle. Ingredients like ethanolamines (DEA, MEA, ETA), parabens, sulfites and triclosan are common culprits that not only add foaming, stabilizing, or antibacterial properties to our products, but are hormone disrupters with carcinogenic characteristics.

Unfortunately, those are just a few ingredients to avoid, and the list goes on and on. What’s worse, is because these chemicals are present in the products we apply to our skin, we absorb them directly into our blood stream and circulate them throughout our bodies without their first being filtered through the liver or other organs that help clean ingested toxins.

So, how can we keep our bodies clear, and clean up our beauty product purchases? Going green in the beauty department has various possible approaches. If you’re not ready to jump into the deep end (and throw out all your products to start fresh with the purest of the pure), I suggest a gradual wade-in approach that starts with avoiding the four most toxic beautifying ingredients:


 With their significant side effects, steering clear of these known carcinogens could be the best thing you ever do. If you find it hard to remember these chemically concocted names, take a picture of the table above on your smartphone and reference it when you are out shopping. Once you’ve firmly placed these four ingredients on the "no go" list, you can expand into purer pastures by researching products and ingredients on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.

The beauty chapter in Wear No Evil: How to Change the World with Your Wardrobe also outlines the good, bad and ugly ingredients in our everyday products, and provides brand suggestions in every category to help smoothly transition into pure products without sacrificing performance. As we apply wellness methods to the various areas of our lives, nontoxic beauty claims its rightful place. Nurture yourself with good food, exercise, meditation, and products that bring positive impact from the outside in.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
By Greta Eagan
April 22, 2014 8:47 AM EDT