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Association or cause and effect? That’s the question

Decrease in testosterone levels in males?
Increase in breast cancer in women?
Bad hair or loss of hair?

Stop and think. Where is the information coming from? From a company trying to sell you something without ‘X’ or “Z”? From a “non-profit” that sells “certificates of safety”? From a television personality who wants to increase his visibility? Follow the money.

If a problem exists, we need to find out what’s causing it, not start blaming everything invented since 1950.

And what about remedies? Will red light increase testosterone? We are not plants (they have receptors for red light). Where on earth did they get the evidence that proves that red light increases testosterone? No evidence is needed because somebody is making money selling red light emitters. Do you care about that lack of evidence?

Logic. Remember what you learned in high school about syllogisms.

Evidence of causality
Associations are not proof of a cause-and-effect relationship. The presence of a chemical in the body cannot be equated to the presence of a health risk. Whatever is in the environment will find its way into your body.

In rich countries, people live longer, but there is still a 100% mortality of living beings. We will all die. Now that lions, and pneumonia and bacteria are killing fewer people (thanks to antibiotics), death by other causes, like cancer, has to increase. You don’t have to blame plastics; blame life.

We want to wish away diseases like cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, and decreased immunity; we want to wish away death. But diseases (and death) always existed.
When you see a statement like “I guarantee those rates (of learning disabilities, early puberty, decreased fertility) are higher than 300 kids a year”, change the page. Don’t accept guarantees; ask for data. Human nature likes certainty, but this doesn’t mean that you can be certain of anything, especially without data.

Phthalates in the Media?
A recent episode of HBO’s ‘Not So Pretty’ concentrated on phthalates in fragrance as ‘endocrine disruptors’ blaming these chemicals for fertility problems. The science reported in the show has been reviewed and updated but even accepting it at face value, current research shows that obesity, air pollution, and other factors are much more directly involved in disruptions to fertility.
We have seen this before; ten years ago, a similar program would have targeted preservatives rather than plastics. Trends in blame are as common as trends in fashion.

Are phthalates dangerous?
Some are. In 2003, the EU banned five phthalates in cosmetics; four more were added later (DEHP, BBP, DBP, and DIBP).
What can you do? The main exposure to phthalates is likely through food, from the packaging and plastic equipment used in processing. Try to avoid processed foods, scented cleaning agents, and personal care products containing fragrances. But don’t obsess over them. Other chemicals, like bisphenols, perfluoroalkyl substances, and pesticide residues, are likely to be more problematic.

What is Skin Actives doing?
At Skin Actives, we generally don’t use fragrances (we have a small number of products that contain essential oils or plant hydrosols), but this is not because of secret contaminants found in fragrances. I haven’t been able to wear fragrances since I was in my twenties (the last one I used was Charlie); allergy is ubiquitous in my family, with my mother suffering rhinitis and my father asthma. I simply can’t afford to wear fragrances, so I prefer to keep them out of my workplace.

The few fragrances we do use do not contain phthalates.

Skin Actives is also working to reduce our plastic footprint by using glass bottles when we can. We are also working with non-profit organizations to offset our plastic use by funding collecting and recycling plastics in the environment. We are also working to develop new active ingredients from upcycled natural waste. We take sustainability and environmental health seriously.
We are based in the USA, but we follow the stricter European rules. We prefer to be on the safe side of every issue. We don’t like taking risks with anybody’s health.

What Can you Do?
Concentrate on maintaining a healthy/balanced diet and exercise as much as possible. Limit pesticide and herbicide use. Reduce single-use plastic consumption. Support local, national, and global initiatives to regulate chemical and agricultural waste and pollution.
Regarding personal care products, it is a good idea to limit products with fragrances. Educate yourself, but don’t fall victim to those wishing to cash in by alarming you.

There is a lot of work to be done, and it is not easy. At Skin Actives, we are always on the look out for safer products that are kind to the environment.

Is petrolatum banned in Europe?
No, what is banned is unrefined petroleum jelly.

Is formaldehyde used in skincare?
No. The interaction of some chemicals present in some skincare products can react to produce formaldehyde.

Are parabens banned in Europe?
No. European Union regulations limiting concentrations of butylparaben and propylparaben in cosmetics products have taken effect for all new stock as of April 16, 2015. The new requirements set a maximum concentration of 0.14 percent for the two preservatives “when used individually or together,” in addition to banning their use in creams designed for the diaper area of infants.

My take

Yes, modern life involves living with plastics and the chemicals that make them. Pesticides can be dangerous to humans. But we can afford to worry about these because we have plenty of food (partly thanks to pesticides) and modern medicines (which use capsules with phthalates). It’s up to us; we can spend lots of energy worrying about everything or just relax and enjoy the benefits of living in the XXI century.  Eventually, we will all prove the assertion that human mortality is 100%, eventually. I prefer to relax and enjoy the time I have.

Some links


Boulicault, M., Perret, M., Galka, J., Borsa, A., Gompers, A., Reiches, M., & Richardson, S. (2021). The future of sperm: a biovariability framework for understanding global sperm count trends. Human Fertility, 1–15. doi:10.1080/14647273.2021.1917778