Many women who breastfeed will apply cream to their breasts without too much consideration for what’s in it. Hopefully, you now will not be one of them. Studies have actually found that mineral oil paraffins can bioaccumulate in both fat tissue and human breast milk. According to the authors of one 2008 study:

“Mineral paraffins might be the largest contaminant of our body, widely amounting to 1gram per person and reaching 10 grams in extreme cases.”

It’s believed that your baby may receive about one percent of the mineral paraffin accumulated in your body and breast milk.  A previous study sums up the problem of using mineral oil-containing skin creams when you’re breastfeeding:

“Beside exposure of babies via human milk, the intake by direct licking off salves (in the worst case consisting of Vaseline) from the breast of their nursing mothers may be much higher. In a worst case situation, daily intake from breast care products by babies is estimated to reach 40mg/kg bw.

Many compositions do not comply with the specifications and a temporary group ADI of 0-4mg/kg bw established by the SCF. This possible exposure of babies either calls for a toxicological re-evaluation of the mineral paraffins or for measures ensuring that exposure of babies is reduced.”

The concern is a valid one, especially in light of the fact that mineral oil has been linked to no less than 23 different diseases and health problems, according to’s excellent research database, including autoimmune diseases and a number of different cancers.

With that in mind, please avoid using creams and lotions that contain mineral oil (especially Vaseline) on your breasts while you’re still breastfeeding. It would also be wise to avoid putting baby oil on your baby’s skin, as most baby oil brands contain straight mineral oil!

Putting chemicals on your skin may actually be worse than eating them. When you eat something, the enzymes in your saliva and stomach help to break it down and flush it out of your body.

Remember, your skin is your largest organ — and also the thinnest. Less than 1/10th of an inch separates your body from potential toxins. Worse yet, your skin is highly permeable. Most items you rub on  your skin will end up in your bloodstream, and will be distributed throughout your body. This is why I’m so fond of saying “don’t put anything on your body that you wouldn’t eat if you had to…” and a petrochemical is certainly not something you would eat!

However, when you put these chemicals on your skin, they are absorbed straight into your bloodstream without filtering of any kind, going directly to your delicate organs. And once these chemicals find their way into your body, they tend to accumulate over time because you typically lack the necessary enzymes to break them down. When you add up daily exposure over the course of a lifetime, it really adds up!

Flawless skin is a thing of beauty. We coddle it, we nourish it, we try to improve it. Yet, we regularly dis it as "only" skin, misunderstood and undervalued. It's a shame. Man has never made anything better as sensor, shield, and communicator.

Skin is the great protector. Its outer layer, the epidermis, is thinner than Saran Wrap; it is stain-resistant and waterproof. Tightly woven epidermal cells form a sturdy barrier to hold moisture in as well as keep unwanted water out. On the surface, dead, compacted, and sloughing cells add toughness, a kind of see-through coat of armor. With a cleverness the military would envy, the epidermis brims with stem cells ready to spin out reinforcements as needed, and pigment-producing melanocytes to deflect skin's No. 1 enemy--the sun. Its rays are especially damning to the skin's middle layer, the dermis.

Ah, the dermis. Suffused with collagen, the dermis brings firmness--and when collagen is broken down, wrinkles and sags. A layer of subcutaneous fat lies below, softening skin texture. Lacing through the skin are blood vessels, hair follicles, sweat and oil-producing glands, all bathed in a plasma soup of chemical messengers, hormones, and roaming white blood cells. Amid all this, abundant neural connections run to and from the brain and other organs. But finely tuned sensory nerve endings scan and process our surroundings: We caress softly the rose petal but recoil from the pain of its nearby thorns.

Indeed, the skin is a powerful interface between the mind, the body, and the external world. The emerging concept of a neuro-immuno-cutaneous-endocrine network recognizes the skin as an almost independent, untamable intelligence. Think of the blush that inadvertently reveals the mind's secrets. The goose bumps that warn when something is amiss. Or the crawling skin that shows your fear. The skin also has a rich life as an endocrine organ, manufacturing hormones like vitamin D for the rest of the body, and steroids and thyroid hormone for its own use. Though it's not always clear why, the skin makes many of the neurotransmitters and hormones found in the brain.

Critical outpost. This mind-skin interchange is more than meets the eye. For example, the brain can mysteriously make you itch, without an external cause to scratch or swat. And emotional stress can interfere with the protective functions of the epidermis or can activate immune or inflammatory reactions deeper within. The skin is also a critical outpost of the immune system, laden with specialized white cells that gobble up invading microbes and trigger a bodywide immunologic response. So effective is the skin in this way that researchers are challenging the age-old practice of vaccinating people with a needle directly into muscle--which lacks this immunologic power--proposing instead a far less painful prick of the skin, more akin to a tuberculosis test. It seems to do the job as well or better--at a fraction of the dose.

Skin is gender-sensitive as well. Though men and women have similar skin, some sex differences leave women at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps in an evolutionary throwback to a time when women nested while their hunter-gatherer men braved the outdoors, women's skin is less prepared to brace the elements, being thinner than men's and less oily. Since thinner, drier skin is more prone to damage from the sun or the smoke of cigarettes, women so exposed are more apt to wrinkle. Women also sweat less than men do and are thus more likely to suffer heat stroke. Indeed, the frilly parasols of heavily clad Victorian ladies did double duty by imparting a cooling shade as well as sun relief.

Sex hormones shape skin, too. Estrogen increases collagen and skin moisture and promotes wound healing, while testosterone stimulates oil production and facial hair. Men enjoy both hormones, since skin is able to convert testosterone to estrogen. Women, too, benefit from both, since ovaries produce a small amount of testosterone. Until menopause, that is, when loss of sex hormones accentuates the crow's feet. Estrogen-deprived skin thins, loses collagen, and slows down its cell renewal. Hormone replacement softens the blow, but occasional risks can outweigh benefits.

Some bemoan the lack of skin research in studies of menopause. Wulf Utian, head of the North American Menopause Society, thinks that's because skin problems are not seen as life threatening, "forgetting, of course, the quality-of-life issues." That may change as the importance to our well-being of this largest of all organs gets under more people's skin.


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