Why Influencer Marketing is Actually Putting You in Danger

What is an influencer?

In the age of social media there are “influencers” popping up left and right. Everyone suddenly thinks they are an influencer. But what exactly is an influencer?

According to influencermarketinghub.com:

“An influencer is someone who has:
the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.
a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche.

It is important to note that these individuals are not merely marketing tools, but rather social relationship assets with which brands can collaborate to achieve their marketing objectives.” (1)

What this means is that literally anyone can pop up on social media and claim to be an influencer or expert in any topic they like. An influencer used to be someone with a massive following, possibly a celebrity like Kim Kardashian. But even having a large following does not mean that someone knows what they’re talking about. More often than not, people are buying what influencers promote simply because they wish to emulate that lifestyle or achieve the purported result.

Nowadays, people with much smaller followings of maybe even a few hundred are being called “micro-” or nano-influencers” and are being contacted by companies to promote their products for a cut of the profits. People are popping up out of the woodwork wanting to get in on the action. According to Wondershare, the most successful YouTubers can earn upwards of $16.5 million per year (2). And how could we forget about the influencer Kylie Jenner who made billions on social media?

And if you notice from the definition above, an influencer is someone that is a relationship asset meaning they could have zero expertise or qualifications to speak about a certain topic. But as long as their followers have a trusting relationship with that person they will consider them to be an influencer and will be more likely to buy whatever they’re selling. Of course, there are legitimate experts or people who have experience in a certain area that can be considered an “authority” figure, but it all boils down to trust.

Why Influencer Marketing Can Put You in Danger

There has been an influx of influencers on social media promoting products they claim to be “safe” and “clean.” In case you didn’t know, these terms are not federally regulated by the FDA and are therefore not defined by the government. This means that manufacturers are free to use these terms any way they please as part of their marketing and sales pitches. This brings up yet another important issue – who to trust?

Trust is likely the single most important factor when comes to buying a new product based on someone’s recommendation. If you’ve never heard of a brand, but someone you trust is suggesting it to you then you’re more likely to buy than not right? But what’s most critical to consider is the source of the information.

If someone is recommending a product to you that’s marketed as “safe,” “clean,” or “non-toxic” you must ask yourself:

What makes this person qualified to speak about safety?
What is their educational background?
Why is this person recommending this product?
Did they research or vet this product?
Did they provide scientific justification for these claims?
What are the ingredients in this product?
Are the ingredients actually safe or is it deceptively marketed?

It can be enticing to desire what you see on social media and yearn for the type of luxurious lifestyle and glowing, youthful skin that we fantasize about, but we must exercise caution and take every recommendation with a grain of salt. Blindly buying into influencer-promoted products is hazardous not only to your health, but your family, and the environment. Some question whether or not the influencer has actually used the product before promoting it.

You may not think this applies to you because you’re young or don’t have any obvious health issues, but you must consider that every single product you use or item you bring into your home is adding to your overall toxic burden. The major concern is not acute or short-term exposures, but rather the chronic, low dose exposures to a multitude of chemicals with similar biological effects from several product types for long periods of time. To make matters worse, if toxicants are not being removed or cleared from the body and are accumulating in your tissues the way heavy metals do, then at some point you will exceed your toxic threshold. The textbook definition of threshold is the “dose at which toxicity is first observed; at doses below this level, the probability of an individual responding is zero.” (3) Once you exceed your toxic threshold then you will begin to see adverse health effects, and if left untreated, they can develop into chronic disease. Each person’s toxic threshold is different and depends on your genetic background and lifestyle. For instance, if you have a polymorphism in a gene encoding detoxification enzymes leading decreased activity means you will have a lower toxic threshold than someone else with normal detoxification capacity. Evidence shows that a polymorphism in the human gene for glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL), the gene that encodes the enzyme which makes glutathione, is functionally significant and could lead to lower resistance to cellular stress (4,5)

You may also be thinking that the products you apply to your skin won’t affect your health, but this is completely incorrect. It is well known that ingredients in personal care products absorb across the skin into the bloodstream to a certain extent. Some absorb more easily than others, which is the case with fat-soluble or oil-based products. Some factors that affect dermal absorption include 1) integrity of the skin, 2) hydration of the skin, 3) temperature, 4) solvents used in the product, and 5) molecular size of the ingredient. Often times you will find that low quality products use solvents to dissolve ingredients, which can also act as penetration enhancers leading to increased absorption of ingredients into the bloodstream.

Warning for Pregnant Women

No matter how early you are in your pregnancy it’s never early to start focusing on removing and avoiding toxins to protect you and your unborn child. Toxicants can absorb into your bloodstream through products applied to your skin or sprayed into the air such as cleaning products. They can pass through the placenta and affect your unborn child. Such is the case with phthalates (6) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) or Teflon, particularly when it comes to brain development and function. It has been shown that increased exposure to PFOA is associated with an increase in brain defects in a human population living near a chemical plant in West Virginia and Ohio (7). It is often the case that toxicological studies are performed using doses of chemicals that far exceed relevant human exposure. That’s why the following study is so compelling. Rats exposed to physiologically relevant doses of a mixture of phthalates commonly found in household items during the perinatal period, which is the time around the end of pregnancy and the first weeks after birth, caused long-term effects on brain structure and function including behavior (8). Could there be implications for neuropsychiatric disorders?

Summary

Influencers are so prevalent in today’s society and it’s our responsibility to discern whether what they’re promoting is authentic and legitimate especially when it comes to our health. Always consider the source of information you’re receiving and determine if the influencer is qualified to make their statements. It’s imperative to do your own research and see if you can find the same type of information from a few trustworthy sources, which could give you confidence in your decision-making. Don’t blindly trust your health to someone because you admire or want to emulate them because it could have long-term health consequences for you and your children. Furthermore, you could be wasting valuable time and money unless you empower yourself with the knowledge to find safe products on your own and don’t need to rely on influencer recommendations.


You are invited to apply for the Toxin-Free Academy TM! It’s my 90-day signature personalized coaching program designed to take you from confused and overwhelmed to confident and knowledgeable AF. You’ll be able to identify all the sources of environmental toxins in your home so you can eliminate them for good and shop for the healthiest products so you can protect your family and reclaim your time freedom & pre-baby glow. Click here to apply!

References

(1) (2020, May 26th) What is an Influencer? https://influencermarketinghub.com/what-is-an-influencer/
(2) Brown, Liza. 2020. How To Make Money on YouTube. Wondershare Filmora. https://filmora.wondershare.com/vlogger/how-to-make-money-on-youtube.html
(3) Aleksunes, LM, and Eaton, DL. 2019. Principles of Toxicology. Klaassen, CD. Casarett & Doull’s Toxicology. The Basic Science of Poisons (9th Edition, pp. 37). New York.
(4) Walsh AC, Feulner JA, Reilly A. Evidence for functionally significant polymorphism of human glutamate cysteine ligase catalytic subunit: association with glutathione levels and drug resistance in the National Cancer Institute tumor cell line panel. Toxicol Sci. 2001 Jun;61(2):218-23. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/61.2.218. PMID: 11353130.
(5) Nichenametla SN, Ellison I, Calcagnotto A, Lazarus P, Muscat JE, Richie JP Jr. Functional significance of the GAG trinucleotide-repeat polymorphism in the gene for the catalytic subunit of gamma-glutamylcysteine ligase. Free Radic Biol Med. 2008 Sep 1;45(5):645-50. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2008.05.012. Epub 2008 May 24. PMID: 18549827; PMCID: PMC2562218.
(6) Parkhie MR, Webb M, Norcross MA. Dimethoxyethyl phthalate: embryopathy, teratogenicity, fetal metabolism and the role of zinc in the rat. Environ Health Perspect. 1982 Nov;45:89-97. doi: 10.1289/ehp.824589. PMID: 7140701; PMCID: PMC1569010.
(7) Stein CR, Savitz DA, Elston B, Thorpe PG, Gilboa SM. Perfluorooctanoate exposure and major birth defects. Reprod Toxicol. 2014 Aug;47:15-20. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2014.04.006. Epub 2014 May 4. PMID: 24803403; PMCID: PMC4117925.
(8) Kougias DG, Sellinger EP, Willing J, Juraska JM. Perinatal Exposure to an Environmentally Relevant Mixture of Phthalates Results in a Lower Number of Neurons and Synapses in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex and Decreased Cognitive Flexibility in Adult Male and Female Rats. J Neurosci. 2018 Aug 1;38(31):6864-6872. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0607-18.2018. Epub 2018 Jul 16. PMID: 30012688; PMCID: PMC6070669.

Warning! Are You Sabotaging Your Family’s Health With Synthetic Sunscreens?

Recently there have been viral social media posts about the possibility of synthetic sunscreen ingredients causing seizures in children. Although the causative link has yet to be established, the purpose of this article is to provide evidence-based scientific information from a toxicological and safety perspective on octisalate so you as consumers can make healthy, informed product choices for your family. You’ll also find my top 10 toxin-free sunscreen suggestions that I personally use for my family.

Background and History

Since the 1970’s sunscreen ingredients have been regulated as drugs by the US FDA and the Sunscreen Innovation Act was passed in 2014 to allow chemical manufacturers to get sunscreen chemicals approved for use without going through the New Drug Application process. With the new Act, the FDA requires human skin safety studies such as sensitization and irritation in addition to measuring how much is absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. Carcinogenicity, developmental and reproductive studies will also be required, and when taken altogether, these studies generally give an adequate basis to form safety judgements for human health. However, ecotoxicity studies have not been mentioned in the requirements to register new synthetic sunscreen ingredients, which given their widespread use, could prove to be useful in protecting the environment. Hawaii has recently banned the sale of oxybenzone and octinoxate without a prescription, which will go into effect in 2021, due to the widespread accumulation and pollution of oceans by these synthetic sunscreen ingredients (1).

The key to remember is that safety studies will be conducted on the synthetic sunscreen ingredients on their own and not on the final product, which can include a multitude of other ingredients that may have toxic & undesired effects. Therefore, choosing sunscreens made with natural & naturally-derived, plant-based, and organic ingredients that are biodegradable with a known history of safe human use reduces the likelihood of toxicity to people and the environment.

Safety Assessment of Octisalate

Chemical Identity

Octisalate, also known as 2-ethylhexyl salicylate, is used as a UVB filter in many commercially available sunscreen preparations and also as a fragrance ingredient.

Toxicological Findings
Routes of Exposure

The primary route of exposure is through the skin with the potential to be exposed through the mouth through ingestion of contaminated foods such as fish (2), eating & drinking with sunscreen applied on the hands or lips, and the potential for inhalation of aerosol or spray sunscreens.

Toxicity Studies

Octisalate causes allergic contact dermatitis (3-5), which is a form of dermatitis caused by an allergic reaction. Dermatitis is an inflammatory response of the skin and it is common to use a product for prolonged periods without incident only to suddenly experience allergic reactions, which can include swelling, rash, redness, and hives.

Absorption Into the Body

A human study showed that octisalate and 5 other synthetic sunscreen ingredients were absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream at levels that exceeded FDA safe limits (6). Another study showed the potential for synthetic sunscreen ingredients to accumulate in the skin and slowly release into the bloodstream potentially reaching toxic levels (7). Does octisalate accumulate in the body? If so, there may be reason for concern about exposure to high amounts

Distribution in the Environment

Several related synthetic sunscreen ingredients have been detected in swimming pools, lakes, wastewater, and fish samples (8-10). Octisalate was detected in water, sediment, and coral tissue in Oahu, Hawaii (11), aquatic plants (12), and rivers in Korea (13)

Use as a Drug

There is evidence that octisalate may be useful in stopping the progression of MS, and may provide new insight into mechanisms of controlling autoimmune disease (14). Should it continue to be regulated as a drug given its effects on the immune system?

Potential for Neurotoxicity & Endocrine Disruption

Related synthetic sunscreen ingredients such as octinoxate, have neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting effects. Specifically, octinoxate may decrease motor activity & spatial learning (15), disrupt pituitary and thyroid function (16), and impair the release of neurotransmitters (16-17). Based on my extensive experience with computational toxicology and structure-activity-relationship analysis, it is reasonable to hypothesize that since octisalate has a similar chemical structure to octinoxate, that it may have similar effects on the nervous and endocrine systems though further studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis.

Summary & Conclusions

The major concerns with octisalate are that it causes allergic contact dermatitis and it’s not known if it bio-accumulates in the body. Given that this material has widespread distribution in the environment with detectable levels in fish, coral, aquatic plants, and swimming pools, it is possible that we are being exposed to more than just the amount we are directly applying to our skin. When we take into account that sunscreens may be used liberally for consecutive days with the potential for bio-accumulation and the exposure from multiple sources, it is possible that some individuals may be exceeding safe levels and overwhelming the body’s natural detoxification systems. Moreover, since children have lower body weight than adults, the relative exposure in a child is much greater and requires much less to cause toxicity. Taken together, the safe limits and use levels of octisalate need further investigation.

There are limited studies on the direct health effects of octisalate and some studies showing the neurotoxicity and endocrine-disrupting effects of octinoxate in animals. Given that these materials are chemically similar, it is possible that they may have similar health effects. While there are no published studies on the direct neurological effects of these materials in children, the absence of data and potential for exposure exceeding safe limits warrants further study on the neurotoxic effects of these synthetic sunscreen ingredients.

Suggestions for Toxin-Free Mineral Sunscreen

Synthetic sunscreens carry the risk of causing toxicity to human and environmental health. Non-nanoparticle mineral sunscreens have low toxicity and have been proven to be effective at protecting against UV-induced skin damage by providing a physical barrier against the sun. Here are my suggestions for toxin-free mineral sunscreens that I chose based on whether the ingredients contain: mineral-based active sunscreens (non-nanoparticle zinc or titanium oxide), organic, natural or naturally-derived, sourced from plants, minimally-processed, little or no synthetics, and minimal synthetic preservatives. The idea is to look for products that are made with wholesome ingredients for the most healthy & eco-friendly option.


*Disclosure: this page contains affiliate links

Sunscreen Sticks

Excellent for swiping on faces especially little ones. Consult your healthcare provider for children under the age of 6 months.

Sunscreen Creams

Excellent for covering the entire body. It is recommended to re-apply every 60-80 minutes and after coming out of the water. Consult your healthcare provider for children under the age of 6 months.


Subscribe to The Toxicology Mama email list to be the first to know when Dr. Yvonne shares a new blog post and adds more product recommendations!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

References


1) Hawaii State Legislature. 2018. SB2571 SD2 HD2 CD1.
Barbosa V, Maulvault AL, Alves RN, et al. Effects of steaming on contaminants of emerging concern levels in seafood. Food Chem Toxicol. 2018;118:490-504. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2018.05.047
2) Shaw DW. Allergic contact dermatitis from octisalate and cis-3-hexenyl salicylate. Dermatitis. 2006;17(3):152-155. doi:10.2310/6620.2006.05046
3) Mortz CG, Thormann H, Goossens A, Andersen KE. Allergic contact dermatitis from ethylhexyl salicylate and other salicylates. Dermatitis. 2010;21(2):E7-E10.
4) Dens AC, Goossens A, Darcis J, Huygens S, Lambrecht C, Gilissen L. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by ethylhexyl salicylate with possible cross-reactivity with benzyl salicylate. Contact Dermatitis. 2019;81(4):317-318. doi:10.1111/cod.13308
5) Matta MK, Florian J, Zusterzeel R, et al. Effect of Sunscreen Application on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients: A Randomized Clinical Trial [published correction appears in JAMA. 2020 Mar 17;323(11):1098]. JAMA. 2020;323(3):256-267. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.20747
6) Hiller J, Klotz K, Meyer S, et al. Systemic availability of lipophilic organic UV filters through dermal sunscreen exposure. Environ Int. 2019;132:105068. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2019.105068
7) Balmer ME, Buser HR, Müller MD, Poiger T. Occurrence of some organic UV filters in wastewater, in surface waters, and in fish from Swiss Lakes. Environ Sci Technol. 2005;39(4):953-962. doi:10.1021/es040055r
8) Ekowati Y, Buttiglieri G, Ferrero G, et al. Occurrence of pharmaceuticals and UV filters in swimming pools and spas. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2016;23(14):14431-14441. doi:10.1007/s11356-016-6560-1
9) Cunha SC, Trabalón L, Jacobs S, et al. UV-filters and musk fragrances in seafood commercialized in Europe Union: Occurrence, risk and exposure assessment. Environ Res. 2018;161:399-408. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2017.11.015
10) Mitchelmore CL, He K, Gonsior M, et al. Occurrence and distribution of UV-filters and other anthropogenic contaminants in coastal surface water, sediment, and coral tissue from Hawaii. Sci Total Environ. 2019;670:398-410. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.03.034
11) Seyer A, Mlynek F, Himmelsbach M, Buchberger W, Klampfl CW. Investigations on the uptake and transformation of sunscreen ingredients in duckweed (Lemna gibba) and Cyperus alternifolius using high-performance liquid chromatography drift-tube ion-mobility quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr A. 2020;1613:460673. doi:10.1016/j.chroma.2019.460673
12) Ekpeghere KI, Kim UJ, O SH, Kim HY, Oh JE. Distribution and seasonal occurrence of UV filters in rivers and wastewater treatment plants in Korea. Sci Total Environ. 2016;542(Pt A):121-128. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.10.033
13) Wang Y, Marling SJ, Plum LA, DeLuca HF. Salate derivatives found in sunscreens block experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017;114(32):8528-8531. doi:10.1073/pnas.1703995114
14) Axelstad M, Boberg J, Hougaard KS, et al. Effects of pre- and postnatal exposure to the UV-filter octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) on the reproductive, auditory and neurological development of rat offspring. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2011;250(3):278-290. doi:10.1016/j.taap.2010.10.031
15) Klammer H, Schlecht C, Wuttke W, et al. Effects of a 5-day treatment with the UV-filter octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC) on the function of the hypothalamo-pituitary-thyroid function in rats. Toxicology. 2007;238(2-3):192-199. doi:10.1016/j.tox.2007.06.088
16) Carbone S, Szwarcfarb B, Reynoso R, et al. In vitro effect of octyl – methoxycinnamate (OMC) on the release of Gn-RH and amino acid neurotransmitters by hypothalamus of adult rats. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 2010;118(5):298-303. doi:10.1055/s-0029-1224153
17) Ruszkiewicz JA, Pinkas A, Ferrer B, Peres TV, Tsatsakis A, Aschner M. Neurotoxic effect of active ingredients in sunscreen products, a contemporary review. Toxicol Rep. 2017;4:245-259. Published 2017 May 27. doi:10.1016/j.toxrep.2017.05.006

5 Things You Should Know About Clean Label Products

If you’re anything like me, you probably heard the phrase “clean label” and thought “what the heck is that?” Clean label is a buzz word that I first heard while working as a toxicologist in the food industry back in 2012. In general, clean label products have a simple, short, and easy-to-understand ingredient list. It started with the food industry but is now firmly rooted in the cosmetics industry too with the clean beauty movement. The clean label movement is consumer-driven and demand for products with healthier ingredients will continue to rise as public knowledge increases, which is awesome! Knowledge is power and people are looking to avoid synthetic ingredients and desire more natural ones.

As someone who has suffered with hormonal imbalances for most of my life it’s critical that I reduce my toxic burden as much as possible. Not only are women susceptible to endocrine disruption, but so are boys, girls, and men because, after all, we all have delicate endocrine systems. Cleaning up our products is not only beneficial for us but also the environment, which also effects us because we are all connected.

1. Clean label movement advocates “better for you”

The idea behind the clean label movement is to simplify and reduce toxic burden, but we need to know that this is not a government-regulated term and manufacturers can slap it on any product. Generally, clean labels seek to avoid ingredients contain compounds that accumulate in the body, which means that they’re not being detoxified or removed and could potentially have long term negative health effects. Folks interested in health and wellness are definitely driving this movement and endocrine disrupting chemicals like phthalates and parabens have been among the first to be removed from cosmetics and personal care products. But educate yourself on the ingredients that should be avoided so you can discern which products are clean enough for you.

2. Clean label movement seeks transparency

Consumer research has shown that natural ingredients and environmental impact now outrank brand recognition and product descriptions according to the American Oil Chemists’ Society. This means that consumers are emphasizing that companies disclose their business and sustainability practices in addition to providing safer and healthier products. What we put on our bodies will eventually go back into the environment in some form and affect our food, air, and water so it’s also important to know if a company’s practices are posing a threat to environmental health which will, in turn, affect our health. It’s a never ending cycle.

2. Clean label does not mean organic

A common misconception is that clean label means that the product is organic when it fact the two terms are totally separate. Organic labeling is regulated by the US National Organic Program where products can be classified as 100% organic, organic, or made with organic ingredients, which are all different. If you’re interested in a “100% organic” product it must have been produced with certified organic ingredients and processing aids. An “organic” product contains 95% certified organic ingredients and the other 5% must be on the allowed list of ingredients for organic products. Finally, “made with organic ingredients” means that the product contains 70% certified organic and 30% allowed ingredients. So you can see that safety is not mentioned at all with organic certification, but we know that organic products means no GMO or synthetic ingredients or pesticides are allowed, which is generally regarded as being safer and healthier.

3. Clean label is not the same thing as 100% safe

Just because a product is classified as clean label does not mean that it’s 100% safe for all people under all circumstances because people will react differently to products. Cosmetics in the US are not regulated for safety and it’s the responsibility of the manufacturer to check for safety. This has caused a lot of uproar with consumers who seek transparency and trust. Furthermore, “cleanwashing” is becoming more prominent as the clean label market grows and is a play on the term “greenwashing” which basically means that products are marketed as being more natural and safe when they’re not. The key is to educate ourselves to know which ingredients we should avoid based on scientific evidence and find brands that we trust.

4. Clean label does not mean 100% natural

Some products claiming clean labels still contain synthetic materials that have been deemed safe by the cosmetics industry so clean label does not mean chemical free either. If you’re looking for a truly natural product then I recommend checking the label for plant extracts and essential oils. But be cautious of how much lavender and tea tree oil you’re using since they’ve been linked to premature breast development in girls and boys (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2019). I mention extracts because these tend to be whole extracts from the plant which are complex mixtures instead of a single purified chemical. The reason this is important is because the more complex the mixture, the lower the concentration of each ingredient which means a lower toxic burden of each component in general.

So that’s my toxicologist’s take on the clean label movement. I’d love to know if you’re into cleaner products and if you have any questions please leave a comment below!