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.]

Friday, August 15, 2014

Can USDA Organic Be Trusted?

Over on the Facebook page of a (very) popular natural/organic food website, link to an article was posted with the title "USDA Clips Wings of Misleading Organic Marketers."

Comments ensued on the article wondering "Can we trust USDA Organic?"

The story: The Cornucopia Institue has been, for a couple years, working with the USDA National Organic Program, to get companies to not use the name "organic" in their name of their packaging unless the product contains enough organic content to bear the organic seal, not just those that are in the "made with organic" category (70% plus.) The USDA made an internal ruling to review these cases and be more strict about the use of the word "organic" in product names.

Just reading the title it sounds like there's a rampant problem with organic fraud. (It didn't help that the image the link pulled up was the organic seal.) Many people were questioning the validity of the USDA Organic seal, so, I wanted to take a moment to clear up a couple common misconceptions about organic.

Misconception: The USDA is in cahoots with corporations like Monsanto, thus USDA Organic can't be trusted.

The NOP (National Organic Program) is one very small office inside the USDA. It doesn't work with or answer to any other offices within the USDA. Because the regulations are set forth by the independent council of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the NOP doesn't answer to anyone else inside the USDA, just the NOSB. NOP regulations are very specific, so there is little room for misinterpretation, corruption, or influence. If a company breaks the rules, they're fined and/or stripped of their certification. Distrust of the (general offices of the) USDA to protect our food supply from GMOs and harmful pesticides would be the exact reason to choose organic.

Misconception: Oregon Tilth Organic, etc, is better than USDA Organic

Oregon Tilth, QAI, etc are all third-party certifiers under the National Organic Program. The USDA doesn't actually go out and inspect farms or organic processing facilities--that's the job of the third-party certifiers. Every USDA certified organic operation must have third-party certification. So, USDA organic and Oregon Tilth Organic are one and the same. Oregon Tilth answers to the USDA NOP. It's all the same set of regulations.

That said, always look for the third-party certifier to verify that the company is truly USDA Organic and not just using the seal. If there is a question and you suspect organic fraud, you can always look up a company in the NOP database:

The Bottom Line

In any industry there's fraud. However, most of the fraud within the organic community comes from overseas operations that are trying to export raw materials in to the US. They're usually caught before the ingredients enter the country. Of course, it always helps to buy your organic products from sources you trust, and companies that have demonstrated their dedication to organic standards. 

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.