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Linda Mundorff

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Topical Creams: Are they safe?

February 2008
By Dr. Linda Mundorff, MPH,MSN,ND,RN,CNC,CTN

Topical creams are those preparations that are applied to the skin and can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC) and stronger preparations by prescription. Most of us don’t think about the kinds of products we rub into our skin because we assume if we can purchase it OTC it must be safe. But that assumption would be incorrect as anything you rub into the skin is going to be absorbed by the skin and can be stored in the fat layers for months at a time.

Each day we apply these creams in the form of cosmetics, moisturizers, toiletries, and medicinal preparations without giving them a second thought. Obviously, most of the creams and ointments on the market are fairly safe for everyday use. The preparations that you should be most weary about are those that contain medicines such as: pain-relieving ointments, arthritis creams, vaginal itch preparations, and muscle soothing creams. In addition, if you were allergic to say aspirin then you would want to stay away from any product, whether you ingest it or apply it to the skin, which contains aspirin-based chemicals (and this would include herbal and homeopathic remedies as well).

Your skin is the largest organ of the body and its main purpose is to provide a barrier to the outside world: germs, dirt, air pollution, chemicals, and the like. The skin has its own temperature regulation system, stores fat-soluble vitamins, and produces Vitamin-D. It is important to keep your skin in tip-top shape otherwise it will not be able to perform optimally and your chances of getting sick will increase. Healthy skin should be warm to the touch, be soft, supple, and intact. Dry skin will eventually develop fine cracks, which provide an excellent opportunity for germs to get inside and can lead to nasty infections.

So I am not saying don’t use the preparations. As a savvy shopper you just need to be more aware of what you are putting on top of your skin. Always start by reading the ingredients on the label to first determine if you are allergic to any of them, then read and follow the directions on the label. Don’t think that more is better, always start with a small amount and test it on a small area of your skin. If you develop a rash, irritation, itchiness, or your skin turns pink or red then discontinue use and contact your doctor. Also, unless instructed by your doctor, never cover the area; always allow air to circulate around the sight where you placed the preparation. The reason, covering an area will increase the absorption of the preparation and there are some ointments, especially medicinal ones that you don’t want to be absorbed in this way, such as hydrocortisone creams.

Armed with knowledge you can improve your chances of better-informed decisions about your health and the health of those you love. You’ll be glad you did!

Disclaimer: Dr. Mundorff is a Board Certified Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases. Naturopathy is a complementary practice to health care and should be used in conjunction with a competent health care practitioner. Many herbal and homeopathic remedies can actually be contraindicated in many health conditions, with certain prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications. Please consult your physician before starting any alternative modalities


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