Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Benefits of Using a Certified Organic Deodorant

 1. Ingredients ON the label are what's actually IN the product.

So many times I've seen ingredients lists that don't fully disclose their ingredients. Some are inadvertent mistakes, sometimes companies don't know better. Sometimes they outright lie. But, organic certification is a way that you can ensure that an ingredients list on the product matches exactly what's IN the product, and it's been verified by a third-party certifying agency.

2. No GMOs!

GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms...crops that have been genetically engineered to stand up to toxic herbicides like Round-up, or to produce more per acre. There are numerous problems with GMOs, one being that they encourage the overuse of toxic herbicides and pesticides. Another being that they have not been adequately studied for their health effects in humans. Some animal studies have found their long term use to be associated with liver and kidney failure, as well as cancer.  

3. No synthetic chemicals to interfere with the natural process of sweating. 

Sweating is a natural process of the body! It helps the body regulate temperature and even helps kill viruses and bacteria. The body uses the mechanism of sweat to remove buildup of toxins, such as by-products of protein metabolism that would otherwise have to pass through the kidneys. When you use an anti-perspirant, you're interfering with that natural process. 

4. No Metalloestrogens.

Many anti-perspirants and deodorants (like the crystal deodorant stones) contain aluminum compounds. Aluminum has been found to mimic and interfere with estrogen (a metal that interferes with estrogen is called a metalloestrogen.) Metalloestrogens are suspected of increasing breast cancer risk, among other risks. More about the dangers of aluminum here.

5. No synthetic fragrances or fillers.

Synthetic fragrances can be loaded with endocrine-disrupting phthalates that also interfere with hormones in the body. It may seem harmless on the label, but "fragrance" can be a chemical cocktail of thousands of chemicals, from phthalates to neurotoxins. There are also fillers and stabilizers in conventional deodorants, like steareth-20, a chemical created with the carcinogen ethylene oxide, traces of which, and its carcinogenic by-product 1,4-dioxane can remain in the product. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

pH and Skin

We all have heard commercials and seen ads with the term "pH balanced." It seems like it would be a good thing. We all want balance, right? But what does "pH balanced" it really mean?

First, a quick primer on pH. pH is a chemistry term that indicates the acidity or alkalinity of a substance on a scale of 0 to 14, roughly. 0 is the most acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 is most alkaline. So, something like a lemon juice concentrate, with a pH of 2, is acidic. Soap, with a pH of 8 would be alkaline. Pure water is a neutral 7.

The natural pH of skin is around 5.6-- mildly acidic. Intricate mechanisms in the skin create what is known as the acid mantle. Lipids and other trace liquids within the skin create this mantle, the acidity of which helps to defend the skin and body from pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc).

The marketing concept of "pH balanced" products started with detergent manufacturers. All true soaps are naturally alkaline. When the pH of a soap becomes acidic, it turns in to a mushy slime and no longer works as a soap.  Synthetic detergents, however, don't typically have this problem, so formulators are able to add acidifying agents to the formula to give it a mildly acidic pH that matches that of skin. So, marketers took this opportunity to tell you that because our skin is mildly acidic, our cleansers should be too. But, the truth is, just because something is "pH balanced" doesn't mean the product will necessarily be the best for your skin. For instance, cocamidopropyl betaine, a common "gentle cleanser" was named by the American Contact Dermatitis Society as 2004's "Skin Irritant of the Year" because it contains traces of a processing chemical called dimethylaminopropylamine that is highly irritating to skin. While a product with this ingredient may be "pH balanced" it can also cause some extreme reactions. Other potentially irritating ingredients in detergent-based "pH balanced" products are artificial colors, micas, "fragrance," and preservatives. "pH balanced" really is just a marketing term, and doesn't necessarily mean safety for your skin.

Because it is acidic, the most effective way to clean skin, along with excess oils, dirt and bacteria, is to use an alkaline substance--like a true natural soap. While it does remove the acid mantle temporarily, your most people's skin begins re-secreting the mantle immediately. This varies slightly person to person, and there are rare cases of this mechanism failing due to impaired skin function or illness. If you find that even the most mild soap is "drying" to your skin, it's likely a function of pH, and following up your soap use with a hydrosol (which are naturally mildly acidic) or diluted apple cider vinegar with re-acidify your skin and get rid of the tight or dry feeling. If you have troubles using soaps, you may also want to look at your water, as hardness can create soap scum that can irritate skin in some individuals.

Of course, not all soaps are created equal. I've used soaps that made my skin feel extremely tight afterwards, and others that are completely fine. And pH isn't necessarily related. You can have a soap with a pH of 9 that feels better on your skin than a soap with a pH of 7. It's about the concentration of the alkalinity (which is separate from the pH) and the amounts of free fatty acids in the formula, AND the presence or absence of other irritants (micas, fragrance, allergens, etc). Mildness doesn't necessarily correlate with pH.

Over the years, true soap (oils which have been saponified with an alkali like lye or potash) has gained a bad reputation. It brings to mind Grannie from the Beverly Hillbillies and her harsh "lye soap." But that was because in years past, we didn't have the technology we do today with saponification tables, digital scales, and a wide variety of wonderful oils. We now know exactly how much lye to add to which certain oils to make a bar or liquid that lathers and that's still gentle. Our soaps (both liquid and bars) go through the superfatting process, meaning that just a little extra oil is added so that we are sure there is no free alkali in the bar or liquid. Our facial cleansers have a special blend of oils that are additionally gentle with extra free fatty acids. Additionally, we add extra vegetable glycerin to keep the soap super gentle. And of course we don't use micas, synthetic fragrances, synthetic preservatives and other potential irritants.

Now, that's not to say that all detergents are bad, either. For instance the glucoside family of detergents (which we use in products that soap doesn't work, bubble baths and salt scrubs) contain no processing impurities and are also non-irritating to skin (I've used decyl glucoside at full strength on my skin with no issue.) pH adjustment can help, but it's all about overall formulation--percentages of surfactants used, humectants like glycerin, moisturizing oils and the presence (or absence) of common irritants.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Helpful Herbs: Green Tea

I can't start my day without my organic green tea. And it's a good thing because green tea is one of the best things you can drink! Let's take a look at some of the benefits:

Cancer Prevention
Green tea extract found to protect against oral cancers:

Bone-protective and breast cancer protective effects in animal studies:

Protection of liver cancer and damage in animal studies:

This study found green tea extracts to slow the growth of lung cancer cells:

Green tea may protect from breast cancer:

Healthy Weight
Green tea may help control blood glucose levels, helping to reduce weight gain:

Green tea may help prevent metabolic syndrome:

Healthy Skin
Green tea extract is being studied for its possible role in reversing oxidation of skin cells:

Brain Health
Green tea, along with a blend of vitamins and other natural substances, may help the symptoms of Alzheimer's:

Compounds found in green tea may have neuroprotective effects:

These are just a few of the
studies on green tea. So drink up!  Dr. Mercola advises that the best green tea:

  • Is Organic
  • Comes from Japan, not China because tea can absorb lead. Tea grown in China is likely to be exposed to more environmental pollution. 
  • Is loose-leaf
He also provides tips on brewing. From (source)

How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Loose-Leaf Tea

  • Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle (avoid using a non-stick pot, as this can release harmful chemicals when heated)
  • Preheat your teapot or cup to prevent the water from cooling too quickly when transferred. Simply add a small amount of boiling water to the pot or tea up that you’re going to steep the tea in. Ceramic and porcelain retain heat well. Then cover the pot or cup with a lid. Add a tea cozy if you have one, or drape with a towel. Let stand until warm, then pour out the water
  • Put the tea into an infuser, strainer, or add loose into the tea pot. Steeping without an infuser or strainer will produce a more flavorful tea. Start with one heaped teaspoon per cup of tea, or follow the instructions on the tea package. The robustness of the flavor can be tweaked by using more or less tea
  • Add boiling water. Use the correct amount for the amount of tea you added (i.e. for four teaspoons of tea, add four cups of water). The ideal water temperature varies based on the type of tea being steeped:
    • White or green teas (full leaf): Well below boiling (170-185°F or 76-85°C). Once the water has been brought to a boil, remove from heat and let the water cool for about 30 seconds for white tea and 60 seconds for green tea before pouring it over the leaves
    • Oolongs (full leaf): 185-210°F or 85-98°C
    • Black teas (full leaf) and Pu-erhs: Full rolling boil (212°F or 100°C)
  • Cover the pot with a cozy or towel and let steep. Follow steeping instructions on the package. If there are none, here are some general steeping guidelines. Taste frequently as you want it to be flavorful but not bitter:
    • Oolong teas: 4-7 minutes
    • Black teas: 3-5 minutes
    • Green teas: 2-3 minutes
  • Once the desired flavor has been achieved you need to remove the strainer or infuser. If you're using loose leaves, pour the tea through a strainer into your cup and any leftover into another vessel (cover with a cozy to retain the heat)
Of course green tea without any added sugar is best, and brewing at home will typically give you more antioxidants than bottled tea.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Do You Really Need a Multivitamin?

We've all been there before. You're living a stressful life and not eating as well as you could be. Perhaps you're feeling generally run down and could use a boost.  So, you might thing taking a multivitamin would be a good idea, just to cover your bases.

But taking a multivitamin may not be the answer. 

Recently I had some bloodwork done. One thing they checked were my hemoglobin (iron) levels. They came back showing that my blood was really rich in hemoglobin (iron.) To the point that it was slightly above normal. Had I been taking a multivitamin with iron, I could have pushed my iron levels to an unhealthy level and became seriously ill. 

They also took my vitamin D levels, which were on the low side of normal. To really get the benefit of D and raise my levels, my doctor wanted me to take 5000 IUs of vitamin D daily.  In a multivitamin you'll get maybe 400 IUs--not enough to raise your levels or really see any benefit from it. Most of us are D deficient and can benefit from at least 5000 IUs a day. Some people may not need that much. Others may need way more. Without testing, it's a shot in the dark when it comes to a dose, so it's always best to find out first what's going on with your levels before supplementing. (You can get tested at your doctor's office or try a test kit like this.)

Well, what about just eating whole, nutritious foods?

Eating whole, fresh, nutrient-dense foods is always a great idea and what we should all strive to do. But even with eating the best foods, there may be things that your body still needs. Especially when it comes to B vitamins. B12 is especially difficult to get from your diet because it's only present in a handful of foods (salmon, calf liver, grass fed beef, lamb, eggs).  The cards are stacked against me when it comes to B12 because not only do I not eat much of the food sources, I found out through my blood testing that I actually have a gene mutation that makes it difficult for my body to absorb and utilize B vitamins. (Called a MTHFR mutation) So, I have to take care to supplement with the active forms of B12 (methylcobalamin), and folic acid (l-methyl folate) (and niacin to help absorb their by-products once the body has broken them down.). Sometimes diet and even the whole food supplements just aren't enough and you need to get pure standardized forms of these vitamins. 

When it comes to supplementation, it's all very individual. It's about what your body actually needs. When you take a multi, no matter how "clean" it may be, you're putting yourself at risk for either getting too much of something or not enough of what you need. If you're experiencing sluggishness, brain fog, and general malaise, you may be deficient in one or more vitamins or nutrients and getting a blood test can help you figure out the missing pieces of your nutrition puzzle.  There may be instances where taking a multivitamin is a good idea, but it's really dependent on what your body needs.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dealing with Acne Naturally

So, I have to start out saying that I am not a doctor and this should not be viewed as medical advice.  I can't claim to heal or treat any medical conditions and this is for educational purposes only. These are my personal experiences and may or may not work for your situation.

We've all heard it..."our skin is our body's largest organ."  Not only does this mean that what we put on our skin affect what's in our body, but what's in our body affects how our skin looks on the outside. Our skin, many times, is a reflection of what's going on in our body, and acne is no exception. It usually signals imbalance and/or inflammation.

The first question to ask when dealing with acne is: what is it INSIDE the body that's causing the external manifestation? Is it an omega-3 imbalance? Is it caused by a food intolerance or allergy? (Gluten intolerance can be a big one that causes acne.) Is it a hormonal imbalance? Rather than covering up the symptoms with harsh treatments topically, I always recommend visiting a qualified naturopath, dietician, or other holistic medical practitioner to look in to to find the exact cause of the condition and find a natural treatment. Without treating the internal cause, you're only covering up symptoms. 

As recently as 2007 I was struggling with hormonal acne pretty bad--all over my cheeks and jawline. T-zone, too. It was something that I had always lived with, along with hormonal imbalances.

The first step towards my healing was getting rid of estrogen mimickers in my diet and beauty routine. This means eating an organic diet as much as you can. Pesticide residues many times will act like estrogen in the body, throwing off hormonal balance and making you estrogen dominant. (Which can be the cause of acne, among other problems.) GMOs have also been shown in animals studies to affect hormones and increase inflammation; eating organic products ensures that you're GMO-free. Avoid plastic wrap, especially when heating food, as it can leach endocrine-disrupting phthalates in to your food, especially fatty foods, as it is a fat-soluble chemical. It also means avoiding xenoestrogenic chemicals like "fragrance," parabens, phenoxyethanol, phthalates, and aluminum.  Dietary Considerations
  • Processed flours and sugars also create inflammation in the body so limiting/avoiding them can work wonders in clearing your skin. 
  • Consider looking at food allergies and intolerances. If you have unexplained inflammation in your body and other skin issues, simple food allergies may be to blame. Common allergens include corn, eggs, dairy and nuts. Visit an allergist for proper testing.
  • Also look at the fats that you're eating.  Fat isn't bad, but it is when it's damaged. If you're eating unsaturated fats that have been heated to high temperatures they've likely oxidized; when you ingest them you're introducing oxidation to your body, which can lead to inflammation. If you're cooking foods in oil, keep your temps on the lower side (of course you need to heat any meats properly) and use stable fats like coconut oil for that purpose. Also make sure to have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, found in salmon, fish oil, krill oil, walnuts and walnut oil, hemp seed oil, evening primrose oil, and flax seed oil.  

Flax Seeds The way that flax seeds help acne is three-fold. First, flax seeds are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, thus curbing the inflammation in the body, and thus in the skin. Second, flax is high in lignans. Lignans have been shown to inhibit 5 alpha-reductase, an enzyme involved in the conversion of testosterone to DHT (its more active form). In other words, it helps to balance the production of androgens, which, in excess can cause acne. Third, essential fatty acids strengthen the skin's cell membranes, thus hydrating the innermost layer of skin. This makes skin less susceptible to hormonal fluctuations. If your acne is hormone-related, you may consider adding flax seeds to your diet.  They can be added to practically anything--smoothies, salads, soups, even sandwiches and baked goods.  Or just eat them straight from the bottle!  I usually say 2 tbsp a day is what you need. Most flax seeds need to be ground in order to be digested and absorbed properly.  If you'd like to skip this step, check out the FlaxPro flax seeds on our website:

Baking Soda If you've worked with a doctor and can't figure out the internal causes to acne and want to try something simple topically, baking soda is a great idea. You use it like this--Make a paste with baking soda and water, and then use it to scrub your face gently to remove dead skin cells that can block pores, as well as removing/killing the bacteria that's causing the acne. You can do this every 3 to 10 days, depending on your skin. I do this maybe once every 10 days and really love how soft my skin feels afterwards. The less dead skin there is on your face, the fewer dead skin cells there are to block your pores. (Do note that some people with extremely sensitive skin may not be able to handle the alkalinity of the baking soda, so perhaps do a test patch first to make sure it doesn't irritate your skin.) To balance the pH of your skin afterwards and add hydration, I recommend our Splash of Lime Toning Mist.

For a gentle daily cleansing option with beneficial essential oils and extracts, check out our best-selling Cool Cucumber Cleanser.

Of course, this is a general and simple synopsis of a few considerations when looking at acne. Consult a dietician or other professional before altering your diet and lifestyle. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

5 Myths About Deodorant & B.O.

Myth 1. Natural Deodorants Don't Work for Me

Finding a natural deodorant that works, especially if you're a heavier sweater, can be a challenge. But it CAN be done--it's just about finding what works for your body chemistry. What do we mean by body chemistry?  A number of factors: how much you sweat, the composition of bacteria on your skin, the composition of the fatty acids in your sweat. Body chemistry can change over time based on diet, hormones, and even environment. Sometimes layering deodorants will be the key--a stick over a cream, a powder over a spray, a stick over a spray. Sometimes if you're a heavier sweater it can be a realistic expectation to need to reapply more often. It's just about finding that right thing for you.

Myth 2. Natural Deodorants Can Keep Me From Sweating

There is a difference between a deodorant and an anti-perspirant. Deodorants are designed to stave off odor, while an anti-perspirant keeps you from sweating.  No natural deodorant will keep you from sweating, as there is no botanical substance that can keep you from sweating. The next best thing is to use a product with powders to absorb sweat and reapply throughout the day to keep heavier perspiration under control.

Myth 3. The Crystal is a Healthy Option

Crystal deodorants have gained in popularity over the last few years--you can even find them in Walmart!  Most people think this is a healthier option and that it's just salt. Well, crystal deodorants are usually made up of either potassium alum or ammonium alum. Potassium alum's full chemical name is potassium aluminum sulfate. (Likewise with ammonium alum, it's ammonium aluminum sulfate.) When you wet a crystal deodorant your'e releasing a concentrated dose of aluminum ions to your skin. (More info here, here, and here.) A lot of the crystals will say "no harmful aluminums" or "no aluminum chlorohydrate" but aluminum in all forms has no place in the body, leading to a host of health effects.  (More info here.)

Myth 4. Eating Clean Will Keep me From Smelling Bad

It's a common myth that body odor is caused by toxins being released through the underarm and that eating a certain way (ie, vegan diet, only organic, low-carb, paleo, etc) will keep you from smelling. While it is true that certain foods can contribute to body odor by releasing odiferous compounds through your sweat (garlic, onions, coffee, alcohol) body odor's prime cause is bacteria feeding upon amino acids in your sweat.  The amino acid composition in your sweat can increase through diet (if you're eating a lot of protein) however, it's largely controlled through genetics.  This means that for a lot of people, no matter what you eat, you're gonna smell. Perhaps if genetically you're pre-disposed to be a light sweater with limited amino acids in your sweat, you could eliminate the need for deodorant through dietary measures, however, diet alone won't fix a bad case of B.O. for most people.

Myth 5.  There's no Difference Between Natural and Organic

Anything can practically be marketed as "natural" because there's no legal definition for the term. Uranium ore mined from the earth could be billed as "natural." Organic, however, has a very specific and legal definition when it comes to products marketed in the U.S. Organic only refers to agricultural ingredients (products grown from the earth, not mined), can't be grown with certain pesticides and herbicides, must be grown from non-GMO seeds, and also can't be contaminated with ionizing radiation, sewage sludge and a number of harmful chemicals.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cleaning Products UPDATED

Household Cleaning

Most of my cleaning recommendations remain the same, with GreenShield scoring top marks in every category. Unfortunately it seems that GreenShield is harder to find in stores now, with Whole Foods taking it off the shelf in many stores to make room for their own similar (read: copy-cat) formulas.  I'd rather support an independent business than the Whole Foods brand, but, in a pinch, the Whole Foods stuff will do, I suppose. :)

Hand Washing Dish Soap

Better Life DISH IT OUT Natural Dish Liquid, Unscented gets top scores with EWG's new Health Cleaning Guide.  And rightly so!  It uses only glucosides as its detergents (the safest way to go if you've gotta use a detergent) and doesn't have anything bad!

Dishwasher Soap

I just learned about this one and I'm so excited to try it out!  It's almost too good to be true...a certified organic dishwasher soap!

Squeez by GreenShield Organic.  You can find this line of products at most Whole Foods stores and at Lowe's!  And speaking of GreenShield...they're my top picks for the following categories...

Kitchen Cleaner

GreenShield Organic Kitchen Cleaner

Bathroom Cleaner

GreenShield Organic Bathroom Cleaner

Toilet Cleaner

GreenShield Organic Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Glass Cleaner

GreenShield Organic Glass Cleaner 

All-Purpose Cleaner

GreenShield Organic All-Purpose Cleaner
I use this one a lot.  I use it to clean my countertops in the kitchen, to clean up sinks, mirrors.  Great stuff.

Alternative to Scrubbing Bubbles
When we went organic, that was one of the things I really missed---my Scrubbing Bubbles.  With the Scrubbing Bubbles you just sprayed it on and as you wiped or rinsed it off, the soap scum disappeared.  When I stopped using it, it was back to using the old elbow grease on the soap scum in the bathtub. And it was hard to find a good method for cleaning the bathtub.  Baking soda and scrubbing brushes, steam cleaners...nothing really did a good job without a ton of effort. But then I found this: method bathroom cleaner.   Now, do keep in mind that this is not a perfect product ingredients-wise.  It still contains synthetic fragrance, and a couple other questionable ingredients.  However, the fragrance didn't trigger my asthma like Scrubbing Bubbles does, and is a heckuva lot better ingredients-wise. They're up-front about their fragrance in that it's partially synthetic, but state that it is free from phthalates, NPE's and carcinogens and also has been tested for skin irritation and allergies.   To my delight, it did exactly what the label said.  You can spray it on your shower tile or bath tub, let it sit for just a little bit, and then just wipe it.  The soap scum just comes right off, no scrubbing needed.  All with no overwhelming fumes.  What a dream!

Laundry Detergent

Soapnuts, yo!
Have you tried soapnuts yet?  You can use them as a laundry detergent, hair wash, all-purpose cleaner--so many things you can do with them!

GreenShield also has some good ones, too.

DIY Recipes

Window and Glass Cleaner

1 cup vinegar
1/4 cup rubbing alcohol
2 cups water

This works amazingly!  It gets your windows and mirrors sparkling clean without streaks!

Removing Coffee/Tea Stains

Baking Soda!

Just take a paste of baking soda and water, use a sponge to scrub and the stains disappear! Use it on your mugs, in your sink, tile--wherever those tannins from coffee and tea are lurking!

Handwashing Dish Soap

50 g (about a handful) soapnut shells
4 cups of water

Bring water to boil and add soapnuts. Simmer for 20 minutes. Let it cool and then strain out the soapnuts and put the liquid in to a 1 qt mason jar.  Use 1/4 cup in a sink full of hot water for hand washing dishes.  Don't be fooled by the lack of bubbles--it's still doing its job!  Store remaining liquid in fridge. Can also be used for cleaning and shining jewelry, as a shampoo, and a veggie wash.