Skin is the largest organ of the body. A living and breathing entity, skin is our physical barrier to all that we come in contact with. Products that we massage, rub, smear, draw or pat onto the skin are absorbed into our bodies; first through the layers of dermis, then into the capillaries of our circulatory system and eventually they are distributed systemically. While it is obvious that the food we ingest has a direct correlation to our health, the association between our health and what our skin absorbs is a relatively new understanding. Controversy around cosmetics and body products erupts when the applied products contain less than natural ingredients.

People who suffer with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) are especially weary of what they put on their skin. One drop of lotion with a toxic ingredient can cause a substantial allergic reaction for these people. A major indicator of chemical sensitivity is multi-system disease: this is because once the chemicals enter the body, they enter the bloodstream and circulate to all parts of the body — including the brain. As industry continues to develop, and an increasing amount of chemicals and toxins are released into our environment, MCS is becoming more and more common. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that about one-third of people working in sealed buildings claimed to be sensitive to one or more common chemicals. MCS is thought to afflict somewhere between 2 percent and 15 percent of the American public, and appears to be increasing, according to a publication of the American Chemical Society.

Beginning in 2002, freedom from chemicals and synthetics in personal care products had been easy to find, by looking for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s round, green “USDA Organic” label. Unfortunately, that green label will no longer appear on body products. The USDA’s National Organic Program department head, Barbara Robinson, says that “This is USDA — I don’t know anything about the cosmetics industry, or toothpaste, or body lotions and hand cream.” As reported on June 2, 2005 by the Associated Press, Robinson said that the law creating the organic program, the Organic Foods Production Act, was not intended to cover products besides food.

Federally mandated requirements to ensure consumer safety and accurate labeling for ingestibles has yet to apply to body products. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics claims that loopholes in U.S. federal law allow the cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products with no required testing, no monitoring of health effects, and inadequate labeling requirements. A recent study by the Environmental Working Group revealed that a third of 7,500 cosmetics and personal care products assessed contained chemicals that are linked to cancer.

The personal care and cosmetics industry is in a unique position, where the former “gold standard” of quality is no longer applicable. Easy recognition by consumers that a product contains organic ingredients will need a different avenue of support. That same pillar of support can lobby against the industry giants that are working hard to maintain the right to use less than natural ingredients in their products. Consumers must educate themselves on the value of chemical-free personal care products, and put pressure on the cosmetics companies. During the week of June 18th-26th, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a goal to lobby American cosmetic companies to support two new important bills for safe cosmetic legislation. To find out how you can help, visit the site

As a massage therapist, applying lotions, oils and creams to your clients exposes both you and your clients to skin absorption of the applied product. Your awareness of the ingredients you are applying is a proactive way to enhance the care you give. Choosing to use products that are made with natural ingredients supports the body’s healing process, not just for your client — but also for yourself.