Safeguard Your Skin and the Environment

artisan speaks to a customer while standing behind a table filled with salt shakers
By Alica Diehl Better living through chemistry seems to be a concept adopted into the American dream. Countless skin care products promise a “miracle cure” or “magic fix” to improve our wrinkles, acne, mood, or life. But, if we take a closer look at our skin care products, we might realize they aren’t making our lives better. In fact, some of the chemicals in them are harming us. According to a personal care product use survey conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average American uses nine personal care products each day. Many of them are laden with surprisingly under-regulated chemicals that are absorbed into our bloodstream. It’s often assumed that’s not a problem because each individual application only exposes us to trace amounts, However, our bodies don’t have a good mechanism to get rid of the toxic substances, so they accumulate within us after multiple uses. In addition, many of the chemicals in these products are washed down the drain and are not biodegradable. Because our sewage treatment systems don’t have a way to handle them, they end up in our drinking water, and in streams and the ocean, where they disrupt life offshore. We brought this to light in a program for Baltimore Green Week. The Eco-Healthy Skin Care workshop alerted the audience to dangers lurking in their lotions and offered tips on navigating the skin care aisle to find safe products. I demonstrated how to create healthy, natural substitutes using ingredients from our kitchen cupboards, and participants made samples to take home. Here are some tips for eco-healthy skin care. Do you have some to share? Please let us know in the comments.
  1. It’s what’s on the inside that counts – What you put into your body is reflected on the outside of your body. Just like with most other bodyrelated concerns, the best way to take care of your skin is to eat well. Include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, from all colors of the rainbow. Cut down on excess consumption. Listen to and watch your body. If eating a certain food gives you a stomachache today and a new pimple tomorrow, your body is asking you to stop eating it.  Drink lots of water too!
  2. Bring a side-kick to the skin care aisle – The EWG has done its homework so you don’t have to.  Their Skin Deep Database is an amazing tool and one-stop-shop for questions regarding more than 68,000 skin care products. Type in the name of a product and instantly get a hazard rating from 0 (low) to 9 (high).  You can also break it down further, to see each ingredient and its hazard rating.
  3. Go for the minimalist approach – Even though the personal care product industry makes you feel like you need a fancy new product for every age, every season and every issue, you don’t.  It’s possible that the product you’re using for one issue is actually causing another. Maybe the shampoo you’re using to volumize your hair is related to the eczema on your hands. Try a product ‘detox’ for a few days. Some of your issues may clear up, and you may realize that you don’t need to rely on expensive and harmful products after all.
  4. Go au naturale, for real – Claims like “natural,” “hypoallergenic,” and even “unscented” are unregulated and often misleading. More times than not, these products are expensive too! Truly natural skin care can be as simple as using honey as a facial cleanser or coconut oil as a body moisturizer.

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is some debate about whether people always experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.