Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Dark Side of Mica

If your makeup has a sparkle or a shimmer, most likely you're using an ingredient called mica. Mica is a natural mineral that is mined and broken down to create a sparkly dust. While it creates great color, skin feel, and sparkle to cosmetics, there are some downsides to using this ingredient.
photo by blmurchvia PhotoRee
Skin Irritation
There is some evidence that mica can lead to skin irritation. Mica comes off in micro-thin sheets, (like what you see above) and when it's broken down to a powder, these sheets can be jagged, depending on the grade of the material. Theoretically these jagged particles could create microscopic lesions on your skin, leading to redness and irritation. There have been no studies on, this however, there is some empirical evidence that it does act this way for some people with more fragile or sensitive skin. Additionally, in order to create color with shimmer, micas are coated with colorants, many times synthetic dyes, so there is a risk of irritation from allergy to a mica.  

Chemical Processing
Most micas are not just used for shimmer, but for color. In order to impart color to micas, they undergo much chemical processing. They can be coated with mineral oxides (titanium dioxide, bismuth, iron, etc) but also with synthetic colorants. Some micas are then coated with silicones or other fatty materials to then reduce exposure to the dyes and reduce irritancy. So, while mica is a naturally-occurring mineral, calling it "natural" is a stretch of the word because of the intensive processing it underoges. However, it's generally accepted that when coated, it's an inert ingredient that's relatively safe. (Although breathing in the powder should be avoided.) 

While mica doesn't pose a large health risk, the environmental impact of mica creation seems to be substantial. Here's a description of how, after it's mined, it's processed:

Initially, ore is crushed to a fine powder to liberate the various mineral components of the ore, and then it is slurried to form an aqueous mineral dispersion. This crude dispersion is deslimed and separated according to particle sizes of the dispersed solids using a variety of mechanical classifiers. Desliming involves the addition of process chemicals such as sodium silicate to disperse slimes of hydrated clays, e.g., kaolin, which interfere with processing operations.
The separated fractions are then subjected to froth flotation to isolate the mica flakes from the kaolin, quartz and feldspar byproducts. Froth flotation entails diluting and agitating the mineral slurries in solutions of surfactants under acidic, pH = 2.5–4.0, or alkaline, pH = 7.5–9.0, conditions to entrain the desirable mica fractions in the resulting foam or froth. The mica-laden froth is then separated, concentrated and dried to recover the mica flakes, while the byproducts may undergo further treatment and isolation steps for use in other applications.
Flake mica may be converted to ground mica by dry or wet grinding.4, 5 Wet grinding is typically employed to obtain the higher quality ground mica used in cosmetics. The wet process yields exceedingly flat mica flakes with small particle sizes, high aspect ratios and smooth edges. In wet grinding operations, mica flake is ground in the presence of 20–35% water, dewatered, dried and then screened on sieves to segregate the various particle size fractions prior to bagging. Micronization techniques may be employed to produce even more finely ground mica particles. In this milling process, mica particles are propelled into each other at high speeds using jets of superheated steam or compressed air, causing a grinding action that effectively reduces particle size and thickness.- See more at: http://www.cosmeticsandtoiletries.com/research/chemistry/premium-Profile-of-Mica-209695521.html?c=n#sthash.JQmggUZi.dpuf
Unethical Mining Practices

In addition to the environmental impacts of strip mining, there's a human element as well. Mica suppliers and mines are being called in to question for child labor, especially in India. States one article: "the industry here is little better than a black market, dependent on a huge unskilled workforce, forced into working for lower and lower prices. Profits are made off the backs of children." Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/indias-mica-mines-the-shameful-truth-behind-mineral-makeups-shimmer-20140118-311wk.html#ixzz3K6x41I2t 

Makeups are probably the most difficult-to-find products when it comes to finding something that's truly organic. We have high expectations of our makeups: brilliant colors, shimmer, staying in place, feeling good on our skin, smelling mild, not clogging our pores. Mica is an ingredient that not only gives brilliant color and shimmer, but can even help absorb oil and give a silky feel on skin. However, there is a "dark" side to mica that one should consider when making an informed decision when choosing products. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do We Have Aromatherapy All Wrong?

A discussion in an essential oils forum sparked some thoughts for me in general about aromatherapy, scents, and essential oils. The woman in the forum was experiencing migraine headaches, however, if she smelled a leather wallet, duct tape, or a sandalwood patchouli candle, the headache went away. What was the common denominator between these three things?

When you think about it, a leather wallet, duct tape, and a patchouli candle (probably a synthetically-fragranced one) all have a similar scent...leathery, musky. There may even be a particular scent constituent that's similar across the board. So, if we can isolate this compound, does this mean that we've discovered the cure for migraines? And, what if it is a synthetic fragrance chemical? Aren't those supposed to be bad for us?

Let's take a look at a study about those with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. With MCS, suffers will respond negatively to scents, getting sick from just a whiff of a particular scent. The study found that the mechanism of the illness may lie not in the scents themselves, but in how their brains perceive and process the scents.

So, then if a scent could trigger illness, it makes sense that a scent could cure a headache. Scent is a highly individualistic perception, tied to emotion and memory. Perhaps the woman with the migraines has a positive association with a leathery, musky scent. Perhaps a comforting father figure, or a special place she visited in the past. When her brain processes that scent, it stimulates a relaxant response and ends up curing her headache.  Even if it's a synthetic chemical.

So, what am I getting at here? Well, we see aromatherapy books and blogs listing out essential oils and their particular properties. Lavender always listed as relaxing. Geranium as an antidepressant. Grapefruit as a stimulant. Lemon for calming. But are we going about this all wrong? When we consider how each of our brains process scents differently, how we all have different memories and emotions tied to different scents, how can we say that any one particular essential oil is going to act the same for everyone? Well, aromatherapy charts are general guidelines. If you're trying to calm yourself through sniffing essential oils, don't just go off what your friend tells you works for her. Try several essential oils and figure out exactly how your body responds to each one. What cures one person's headache may cause a headache in another.

But it also calls in to question the issue of essential oil purity. An essential oil with a synthetic adulterant may be just as calming as a pure essential oil. Many of us grew up with synthetic fragrances all around us and may have positive associations with those chemicals, so our brains may respond positively to these scents. Not to say that there aren't many harmful synthetic fragrances, or that I support adulterated essential oils--just that it's all an individual experience and we should keep this in mind as we consider others around us who may be in love with their synthetic candles or lotions.

One of my partner Stevie "B's" favorite smells is a combination of black licorice and diesel exhaust. What? Well, when he was a kid growing up in southern Illinois, he and his family would cross the bridge to go in to St. Louis, always to do something fun, like going to the museum or six flags. On the way home they'd get stuck in traffic on the bridge next to the big licorice factory. The busses spewing out diesel exhaust swirled together with the black licorice smell from the factory to create a positive memory for him. Probably not the healthiest scent to love, but a powerful one nevertheless. (And also one of the main reasons we make our Black Licorice soap!)

We get questions from time to time about our products like: "Is the smell too sweet? Is it a mild scent? Which is stronger, the geranium or the lime? Which one smells the best?" These are impossible questions to answer because we all perceive scents so differently. We can share our own personal perceptions, but what's too sweet to one person is another person's favorite heavenly scent. But it is interesting to think--it's all, quite literally, in our heads.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Healthy Harvest: Pumpkin

The mighty pumpkin...is actually a fruit! From the same family as cucumbers and melons, this healthy and useful gourd is good for so much more than fall-time decorations!

Pumpkin Flesh

Pumpkin flesh is nutrient-rich and low in calories. One cup of pumpkin puree contains only 83 calories (compare to sweet potato which has three times as many calories). It's also high in fiber (7 g per serving) has more potassium than bananas, is a good source of magnesium and iron, and provides 763% RDA of vitamin A!


  • Pumpkin seeds are a good source of iron and can thus help with anemia. (Source)
  • They're also a good plant source of tryptophan, which can aid with insomnia. (Source)
  • Extracts from the seed have also been found to be a powerful antioxidant. (Source)
  • A combination of flax and pumpkin seeds have been found to promote heart health and liver function. (Source)

Pumpkin seed oil

Men's Health

  • Pumpkin seed oil has been found to reverse male pattern balding at a dose of 400 mg per day. (Source
  • It's also been found to inhibit prostate enlargement (Source) (Source)

Women's health

  • Pumpkin seed oil has also been found to help reduce symptoms associated with menopause, reducing hot flashes, etc. (Source)
  • Has also been found to help lower blood pressure and improve lipid profiles in animal studies, helping to improve health in low-estrogen states. (Source)

photo credit: valkyrieh116 via photopin cc

For educational purposes only; not intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Helpful Herbs: Lavender

Since our new Lavender Vanilla Body Butters and Pit Puttys have been such a hit, I thought I'd write about some of the benefits of today's Helpful Herb: Lavender.

Reduced Stress

Thus study found that bathing with lavender reduced stress and enhanced sleep in mothers and their infants. This study found that lavender and rosemary essential oils helped nursing students relax during testing.


This study found that inhalation of lavender essential oil reduced the symptoms of migraine headaches. Nintey-two out of 129 headache cases improved with lavender, whereas only thirty-two out of sixty-eight of the placebo group improved.


The scent of lavender has been found to help with insomnia and depression. (SourceSource) "According to the study results, it can be concluded that the lavender fragrance had a beneficial effect on insomnia and depression in women college students. Repeated studies are needed to confirm effective proportions of lavender oil and carrier oil for insomnia and depression."


Lavender essential oil has been found in lab tests to be effective against candida albicans (Source) and to be antibacterial against certain strains of staph. (Source)

Reduced Menstrual Cramps & PMS

One study found that inhaling lavender (diluted in a 2:1 ratio in sesame oil) helped reduce menstrual cramps. (Source) Another study found lavender oil aromatherapy to help ease some symptoms (mood, energy) in PMS. (Source)

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. For educational purposes only; not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Essential Oils and Children

More and more people are using essential oils in their home and with their families. Today I wanted to give some guidelines about using essential oils on and around children.

Never apply undiluted essential oils to any part of the body. 

Not the chest. Not the soles of the feet. Never. No matter how "pure" the essential oil is, any undiluted essential oil poses the risk for skin irritation and sensitization. You may not notice any ill side effects at first and think that what you're doing is safe, however, exposure to essential oils "neat" can trigger an accumulative immune response that will show up in the future. Expose yourself or your child to an essential oil enough and then one day you'll all of the sudden have an allergic or toxic reaction to the essential oil. (This is called sensitization.) 

Do not add undiluted essential oils to bathwater

Essential oils aren't soluble in water, so when you add essential oils to bath water, you're potentially applying them at full strength to your child's skin, which can lead to reactions and sensitization.

Don't add to drinks

Don't add essential oils to juice, water, or other drinks. Essential oils won't disperse in a drink because they're not soluble in water, so when you add them to juice, you're basically ingesting them at full strength. 

Keep out of reach of children. 

Some common essential oils are potentially toxic to small children if ingested at full strength. Always keep your essential oils out of reach of children and use oils with child-proof caps if available. Common essential oils, (yes, even when they're "pure") can be toxic to a child if swallowed neat, including thyme, peppermint, birch, rosemary, tea tree, cinnamon, clove, basil, pine, oregano, eucalpytus, and some lavenders.

Don't ingest

Some essential oil companies (or their sales reps) propose that ingesting essential oils can cure ailments. Don't give essential oils to children to take internally, even diluted. Some essential oils can have accumulative toxicities--just because you've been ingesting them for months or even years safely doesn't mean that it's okay--you may have hidden toxicities that will appear later.

Properly dilute

If using essential oils externally for massage, always dilute in a carrier oil like coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, etc. Here is a general guideline for dilution:

Premature infant: do not use
Up to 3 months: .1%
3-4 months: .25%
2-6 years: 1%
6-15 years: 1.5%

(Adapted from "Essential Oil Safety" 2nd ed, Robert Tisserand.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

USDA Organic vs. "Therapeutic-Grade" Essential Oils

Every once in a while I'll get an e-mail asking which brand of essential oils we use in our products and if they're "therapeutic-grade." Because we're a USDA certified organic manufacturer, we have to use (and choose to) use oils that are not just "therapeutic-grade" but USDA certified organic, which is actually a much higher standard.

A higher standard? Even than Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade? How can this be? 

Let me explain...

Now, before anyone gets upset: I'm not saying or implying that any brand is "bad" or "unpure" or unethical. The point of this article is to state that as a standard, USDA certification is a stronger set of regulations than "therapeutic-grade." "Therapeutic-grade" is not a published set of regulations that are independently inspected and verified. It's a standard created internally by a company and is basically whatever a company says it is. It's more of a trademark term than a certification.

I don't sell or tout any one particular brand of essential oils; there are many great options out there. BUT when you choose certified organic you can be sure that not only are you choosing the highest standard, but not contributing to the use of synthetic herbicides like roundup (which is becoming persistent in our environment and increases cancer risk) pesticides (like neonicotinoids that are killing bees).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

8 Detoxifying Foods

We talk a lot about chemicals to avoid and their side effects, but the bottom line is, at some point in our lives we've all been exposed to toxins. So, what can we do when we've already been exposed to toxins like aluminum compounds and phthalates? Today, here are eight foods that can help give your body a boost in eliminating harmful compounds.

Brazil Nuts

Are a rich source of selenium, known to help the body rid itself of mercury and other heavy metals.

photo credit: Márton Divényi via photopin cc


Have been found to protect the liver from certain toxins. Betalain, a compound in beets has been found to help reduce toxicity associated with gamma radiation.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc


Has been found to boost metabolism and help the body flush out toxins.

photo credit: Scot Nelson via photopin cc


contain silymarin, an antioxidant that supports the liver in detoxification, and cynarin, an acid that helps the liver break down fats efficiently.

photo credit: spychic via photopin cc


Onions (especially raw) contain sulfur-containing amino acids that help support the liver in detoxification.

photo credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy via photopin cc


contains an enzyme that helps to chelate heavy metals from the system.

photo credit: Qfamily via photopin cc


contain pectin, a type of fiber that can help remove certain food preservatives as well as metals from the system.

photo credit: Leading Line Photography via photopin cc


contains a compound called allicin, which has been found to be a powerful detoxifier, removing levels of lead from the body.

photo credit: Pero Kvrzica via photopin cc


[For educational purposes only. If you have a serious toxicity, please visit a healthcare professional immediately.]