Friday, August 13, 2010

Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy

There is a lot of information out there about which essential oils to use and to avoid during pregnancy. Many different sites and aromatherapy books list essential oils to avoid during pregnancy, but unfortunately, much of this information is conflicting and unclear. Why does one list say a particular essential oil is okay, while another list says "avoid when pregnant?" Does the "avoid" mean internally or externally, too? The aim of this series of articles is to clear up the confusion and specify the particular risks involved with certain essential oils based on chemistry and toxicology data, and not just rumors and folklore.

Essential Oils Everyone Should Avoid At All Times, Internally and Externally
These essential oils contain dangerous compounds. Avoid them in aromatherapy, personal care products, and internally.

Cade (Contains Benzo[a]pyrene, a known carcinogen.)
Sassafras (Contains Safrole, a possible carcinogen.)
Ravensara anisata (Contains Estragole, a possible carcinogen.)
Basil (Contains Estragole, a possible carcinogen.)
Tarragon (Contains Estragole, a possible carcinogen.)
Camphor (Contains Safrole, a possible carcinogen, and contains Camphor [the compound] which is a neurotoxin and convulsant.)
Calamus (Contains Beta-asarone, a possible carcinogen.)
Tarragon (Contains Estragole and Methyleugenol, possible carcinogens.)
Snakeroot (Contains Methyleugenol, a possible carcinogen.)
Malaleuca bracteata (Contains Methyleugenol, a possible carcinogen.)
Bitter Almond (Contains Hydrocyanic acid, which is highly toxic.)
Armolse (Contains Thujone, a neurotoxin known to cause convulsions.)
Sweet Birch (Contains Methyl salicylate, which is highly toxic.)
Boldo (Contains Ascaridole, which is extremely toxic.)
Buchu (Contains Pulegone, which is toxic to the liver.)
Cassia (Contains Cinnamaldehyde, a liver toxin and skin sensitizer.)
Cinnamon Bark (Contains Cinnamaldehyde, a liver toxin and skin sensitizer.)
Costus (Contains Costuslactone, a strong skin sensitizer.)
Elecampane (Contains Alantalactone, a strong skin sensitizer.)
Horseradish (Contains Allyl isothicyanate, extremely toxic and irritating to skin and mucous membranes.)
Lanyana (Contains Thujone, a neurotoxin known to cause convulsions.)
Mustard (Allyl isothicyanate, extremely toxic and irritating to skin and mucous membranes.)
Pennyroyal (Contains Pulegone, which is toxic to the liver.)
Dalmatian Sage (Contains Thujone, a neurotoxin known to cause convulsions.)
Tansy (Contains Thujone, a neurotoxin known to cause convulsions.)
Thuja (Contains Thujone, a neurotoxin known to cause convulsions.)
Wintergreen (Contains high amounts of Methyl salicylate, which is highly toxic.)
Wormseed (Contains Ascaridole, which is extremely toxic.)
Wormwood (Contains Thujone, a neurotoxin known to cause convulsions.)

Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy, Externally or Internally

(Contains Camphor, a neurotoxin and convulsant.)
Ho leaf (Contains Camphor, a neurotoxin and convulsant.)
Hyssop (Contains Pinocamphone, which is generally toxic, a neurotoxin, and convulsant.)
Indian Dill Seed (Contains Apiol, which is generally toxic, an abortifacient, and toxic to the fetus.)
Juniperus Pfitzeriana (Contains Sabinyl acetate, known to be an abortifacient.)
Parsley Leaf (Contains Apiol, which is generally toxic, an abortifacient, and toxic to the fetus.)
Parsleyseed (Contains Apiol, which is a generally toxic, an abortifacient, and toxic to the fetus.)
Plectranthus (Contains Sabinyl acetate, known to be an abortifacient.)
Sage (Spanish) (Contains Sabinyl acetate, known to be an abortifacient.)
Savin (Contains Sabinyl acetate, known to be an abortifacient.)
Annual Wormwood (Contains Artemisia ketone, which is possibly toxic and a neurotoxin)
Cangerana (Contains Safrole, a possible carcinogen.)
Lavandula Stoechas (Contains Camphor which is a neurotoxin and convulsant.)
Lavender cotton (Contains Artemisia ketone, which is possibly toxic and a neurotoxin.)
Oakmoss (Contains Thujone, a neurotoxin known to cause convulsions.)
Perilla (Contains Perilla ketone, which is potentially toxic.)
Rue (Has a strong folk history of being an abortifacient with a small amount of clinical evidence to back it up. It is not known which compounds are to blame, but it is likely that its general toxicity is to blame for its possible abortifacient nature.)
Treemoss (Contains Thujone, a neurotoxin known to cause convulsions.)

Essential Oils that are Safe for External, but not Internal Use During Pregnancy

Anise (Contains Trans-anethole, which displays weakly estrogenic activity. The amount absorbed through skin when used in a cosmetic item would not affect hormonal levels, however, an oral dose could have an effect.)
Fennel (Also contains Trans-anethole.)
Lavandin (Contains a small amount of Camphor. The amount that would be absorbed through the skin in a personal care product is 500 times less than the amount needed to cause a deleterious effect, so it is considered safe for topical use, but it would be prudent to avoid an internal dose.)
Nutmeg and Mace (similar chemically) (Animal studies have proven no ill effects to the mother or fetus when applied externally. There is one case study of a pregnant woman who ate a high amount of nutmeg in a cookie; she and her baby started having heart palpitations. Everything returned to normal after 12 hours. It is thought that the stimulant effect of the Myristicin in the spice was to blame. The amount of Myristicin that would be absorbed through a properly diluted personal care product containing nutmeg or mace would not be great enough to cause this effect.)
Rosemary (Contains a small amount of Camphor. [See lavandin.])
Spike lavender (Contains a small amount of Camphor. [See lavandin.])
Yarrow (Contains a small amount of Camphor. [See lavandin.])

Your Questions Answered

I have heard that lemongrass is not safe during pregnancy. Is this true?

Rumors about Lemongrass being unsafe started with a study about citral, the main component of lemongrass essential oil. Doses of citral were injected in to lab rats, and the rats became less fertile at a dose of .3 g/kg. This is equivalent to injecting around 30 ml (2 tbs) of lemongrass essential oil in to the abdomen every 4-5 days for 60 days. Wearing a lotion or product with lemongrass in it doesn't provide the dose to see any side effect.

Are there any essential oils I should avoid when I'm trying to become pregnant?
Follow the same guidelines and lists that I've outlined above.

Are there any essential oils that help increase milk production during lactation?

No. There is no scientific data to suggest that any essential oil used externally would increase lactation.

What's the truth about Lavender & Tea Tree? Are they really estrogenic?
They are not! Check out my previous article on the subject.

Some lists say citrus oils should be avoided during pregnancy. Is this true?
There is no reason to avoid citrus oils during pregnancy. The only side effect of a citrus essential oil is that it if left on skin in a high concentration and then exposed to strong sunlight, it can increase sunburn or cause a rash. This reaction varies from person to person and depends on their own sensitivities.

What about ________ essential oil? I've read it should be avoided during pregnancy.
Everything but those on the lists above are safe to use for aromatherapy purposes (lotions, soaps, in diffusers, etc) during pregnancy. All essential oils are very powerful substances. Essential oils should always be diluted properly (.5% to 5% depending on the oil) in a carrier oil. Do not use undiluted on skin. Always consult a reputable healthcare provider, herbalist, or naturopath before using any essential oil internally.

If there is a particular essential oil you're concerned about, write it in the comments below and I'll be happy to give you an analysis!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chemicals to Avoid, Part 5: Nitrosamine Contamination

Numerous authorities link nitrosamines to cancer. They are listed as possible human carcinogens by the EPA, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens and the California EPA Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects. Several other databases cite strong to moderate evidence regarding the cancer-causing properties of nitrosamines. In addition, there is some evidence of endocrine disruption at very low doses. Studies have also linked nitrosamines to developmental or reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and systemic toxicity. Source

Nitrosamines are a group of compounds that are created in the presence of an amine (as in amino acid, protein, etc) and a nitrostating agent, such as nitrate.

Nitrosamines are a serious concern with meats preserved with nitrates and nitrites. As the body breaks down the amino acids in the presence of the preservative, the nitrate and the amino acids combine and create nitrosamines in the gut, causing, many sources suspect, colon and other internal cancers.

Nitrosamines are also a concern in personal care products. With these ingredients, nitrosamines are either created during the manufacturing of the chemical, or are created over time as the formula breaks down. Ingredients with nitrosamine contamination concerns include:

Cocamidopropyl betaine
Triethanolamine (TEA)
Diethanolamine (DEA)

More than 9800 cosmetic items on the market today contain ingredients that can be linked to nitrosamines. Click here for the full list on the EWG Cosmetics Database.

Chemicals to Avoid, Part 4: Formaldehyde Donors

Formaldehyde, most commonly associated with embalming fluid, is a known carcinogen. Its highly toxic nature makes it an effective preservative in cosmetics, too. While it's not typically listed in an ingredients list on its own, a number of preservatives work by slowly releasing a steady stream of formaldehyde in to the product. Common cosmetic formaldehyde donors include:
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Tetrasodium EDTA
  • Diazolidnyl Urea
  • Urea
  • imidazolidinyl urea
The presence of formaldehyde and its donors are also known to cause skin reactions in sensitive individuals, can create and aggravate sensitivity, and can affect the lymph nodes. Source

Many times, companies jump on the "paraben-free" bandwagon, but substitute the parabens with formaldehyde donors. Always read the ingredients label.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chemicals to Avoid Part 3: Neurotoxins

Neurotoxins are chemicals that cause damage to the cells of the brain and nervous system, and, in addition to temporary symptoms, can lead to chronic disease. Neuron bundles in the brain transmit information through conducting electrical energy. When they are damaged, they can no longer correctly conduct this energy and do their job. Different areas of the brain control different functions. Parkinson's disease ocurrs when neurons of the substantia nigra become damaged, and fine motor control is affected. When other areas of the brain are affected it can lead to chronic depression, chronic anxiety, ADD & ADHD, chronic panic attacks, chronic insomnia, chronic fibromyalgia, chronic dimentia and a number of other disorders and diseases.

Neurotoxins are found everywhere--from the drugs we take, household chemicals, and personal care products.

A few neurotoxins in personal care products:

DEET, a common mosquito repellent ingredient is a neurotoxin.

p-phenylenediamine, found in hairsprays

Propylene glycol is in many products, from shampoos to lotions. It is also an industrial anti-freeze and a neurotoxin.

Artificial Colors--names like FD&C Aluminum Lakes and such. Most are neurotoxins.

"Fragrance" can be made up of over 3000 different compounds, many of which are neurotoxins.

For a definitive list of neurotoxins, visit this page.

Up next: Formaldehyde Donors

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chemicals to Avoid: Part 2 Xenoestrogens

Xenoestrogens are synthetic chemicals that enter the body and mimic estrogen. There are many sources of xenoestrogens, from air pollution, plastics, and water pollution. This article will cover the common estrogenic compounds found in personal care / cosmetic items. 
Estrogen receptors are complex molecules within certain cells in our bodies. They have a complex shape that is designed to accept estrogen—just like a lock and key.

Estrogen receptor molecule
Estradiol, one of the body's forms of natural estrogen

Estrogen receptors are designed to accept estrogen molecules. When estrogen locks in to a receptor, certain things happen—particular cells are spurred to grow and divide, other levels of hormones are signaled to release. It's a very complex process that affects many parts of our body, the heart, our bones, as well as our reproductive organs (men too!) When estrogen has done its job in the receptor, it's released and metabolized (broken down) and leaves the body.

When a xenoestrogen enters the body, it's different. Because these chemicals are similar in shape to estrogen, it locks in to these receptors--but not quite correctly. Because they're shaped differently, the all of the chemical bonds aren't formed correctly. The receptors are stimulated in negative ways, creating cells where they shouldn't be. This can lead to reproductive disorders such as:

  • Anovulatory Dysfunctional Uterine Bleeding (having a period without ovulating)
  • Uterine Fibroids
  • Ovarian Cysts
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Endometriosis
  • Adenomyosis
  • Reproductive cancers, uterine, ovarian, breast, etc.

There are a number of xenoestrogens in personal care products. One is a group of chemicals that you've probably heard of, parabens. They're listed on labels as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, etc. Parabens have been studied numerous times and have been found to act estrogenically in cells, and to accumulate in breast cancer tissue. They are used in a wide variety of products as a preservative. For expanded information on parabens, visit this page.

Methylparaben. Note the similar ring-like structure to the estrogen.

Phthalates—phthalates are a very harmful group of synthetic chemicals that can mimic estrogen. The problem is that phthalates aren't usually listed in the ingredients list—they're used as fragrance compounds, so whenever you see the listing for “fragrance” you don't really know what it is. There are over 3000 different chemicals used in fragrances, and many of them are phthalates. Also found in plastics--avoid heating foods with plastic wrap (or using it altogether.)

Aluminum is a known metallogestrogen and a toxin in all its forms. (More info here) Aluminum chlorohydrate found in anti-perspirants is what we usually think of, but did you know there's a higher concentration of aluminum in "the crystal" deodorants? They're pure aluminum salts! Other sources of aluminum include vaccines and some antacids. 

Triclosan is also a common xenoestrogen. Triclosan is a compound used in hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial hand soaps. It has become a major problem because so many people are using these anti-bacterial soaps and washing them down the drain. Downstream the waters become polluted with triclosan, which then acts like estrogen in aquatic life—then you have fish and frogs and other animals that die off because they can't reproduce. We think that we need these antibacterial agents, but we don't. It's not about killing the bacteria, but washing it away. Triclosan only kills 99.9% of bacteria--that .1% ends up surviving and getting stronger. We then have more resistant strains of bacteria that lead to higher incidence of staph infections in hospitals, schools, and even homes.

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative commonly used in place of parabens, but it also exhibits xenoestrogenic activity. (More info here.)

Salicylic acid, commonly used as an anti-aging or anti-acne treatment, is a suspected xenoestrogen.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chemicals to Avoid

Our skin is our body's largest organ and is highly absorbent. What we put ON our bodies ends up IN our bodies. Chemicals in personal care products can and do affect our health, from skin issues, allergies, asthma, headaches, hormonal imbalances, and even increased cancer risk. The big companies like to tell us that "it's just a small amount" so the chemicals pose no risk, but think about everything you use every day--shampoo, body wash, face wash, moisturizier, body lotion, makeup, hair products--this is multiple daily exposure, and the toxic load can build up. Over the years I've made "top five" or "top ten" lists about which chemicals to avoid, but there are just so many! Today, I've narrowed it down to five major risk categories.


Ethoxylated compounds are synthetic chemicals created using the known carcinogen ethylene oxide. Chemical manufacturers are able to create synthetic chemicals that have skin-conditioning or cleansing products similar to oils, soaps, and natural butters but at a much cheaper price. Many times these chemicals are made out of cheap petroleum or animal by-products. These are the parts of the animals from the bottom of the barrel, literally, that no one wants. First, they take out the meat that they sell to people, then they take the lesser cuts and use them for hot dogs and other low-grade meats. Then, the pet-food companies have their pick. The leftover sludge of fats and cartilage is then processed and sold to cosmetic companies to make ingredients like stearic acid and cetearyl alcohol.

So, where does ethylene oxide come in to play? Well, companies can turn a fatty acid like stearic acid in to an emulsifier, steareth-20, which is able to combine water and oil. Using the ethoxylation process, chemists can design chemicals that are able to do things that they otherwise would be unable to do.

The problem with the ethoxylation process is that trace amounts of ethylene oxide can remain in the product. Ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen, and can be absorbed by the body through the skin. Other compounds like sodium lauryl sulfate and propylene glycol are penetration enhancers, and break down the protective barrier of skin, delivering these carcinogenic chemicals further in to the skin and bloodstream.

Additionally, the ethoxylation process can create 1,4-dioxane, also a known carcinogen.

Recently a study done by the State of California and the Organic Consumers Association found that a number of personal care products that were supposedly "natural" contained higher than acceptable levels of 1,4-dioxane from ethoxylated compounds. In fact, once the state of California found out about the contamination, it sued the companies that it had tested. Every product sold in California that contains a carcinogen must have a warning label. The brands were forced to reformulate and most of them fixed the contamination problem. But this was only a handful of “natural” companies—the big brands have gone untested and unregulated for 1,4-dioxane contamination.

How to spot an ethoxylated compound

There are three easy ways to spot an ethoxylated compound. First is looking out for "PEG." PEG stands for polyethylene glycol. Polyethylene Glycol is used in cosmetics as a skin conditioner and emulsifier. It usually is followed by a number, reading PEG-200. The number following the PEG is the number of moles (a unit of measure in chemistry) that the glycol has been treated with. So PEG-40 is polyethylene glycol treated with ethylene oxide 40 times. The higher the number, the more ethylene oxide

Second, look for the suffix "eth." Sodium laureth sulfate or ceteareth-20 are two examples. The "eth" indicates it has been treated with ethylene oxide.

Third, look for dashes followed by a number, as in steareth-20.

One last ingredient to avoid: "vegetable emulsifying wax." This is a blend of fatty acids and polysorbate 60 and steareth-20, which are ethoxylated compounds.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

2000 "Fans!"

This week we reached a fun milestone: 2000 "fans" on Facebook!

In celebration, we offered a rare two-day 20% off sale! A promo code was posted to our Facebook page, and we encourage you to join us in this final day. Go to our Facebook page for the promo code and save.

While we've only been on Facebook for a short while, we've really taken to it. At first we weren't quite sure what we were doing, but now we can't live without it! We love being able to answer your questions in a public forum and hear all your great feedback and comments. It's also a great way for us to give you quick updates for new content on our blogs, new products and pictures in our store, and updates on promotions. We love being able to interact with our customers in this fun and easy way.

Not signed up for Facebook? That's the great part--you don't have to be a Facebook user to get all these updates--just follow the link to our Facebook page from our home page and it will take you there. All of our posts are visible even if you're not logged in. So join us! If you're not on Facebook, stop by often. If you're on Facebook, become a fan (or "like" our page as it's now changed to). We'd love to hear from ya!

In celebration of hitting the 2000 Facebook fans mark, we're offering a 20% off promo code good through tonight, Friday, May 14, 2010 until Midnight MST. Click here for the promo code.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Natural-Sounding Ingredients to Avoid

The Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics Database is a great place to research ingredients and safety. However, we're uncovered a number of natural-sounding ingredients that score low in the database, but are not as safe and natural as they sound. Here's a quick and easy summary:

Vegetable Emulsifying Wax

(also listed as: Emulsifying Wax, Vegetable Emuslifying Wax NF)
This wax sounds harmless and even scores a "0" risk in the Cosmetics Database. However, it's not as natural as it sounds when you look at what it's really made out of. Vegetable Emulsifying wax contains ethoxylated compounds PEG-150 Stearate, polysorbate 60, and Steareth-20. These ingredients are created using the known carcinogen ethylene oxide, traces of which can be left in the product, along with the carcinogenic by-product 1,4-dioxane.

More info:
My original blog post
My Chemical of the Day follow-up

Japanese Honeysuckle Extract
(also listed as: Honeysuckle Extract)

This harmless-sounding extract contains para-hydroxy benzoic acid, which is structurally nearly identical to parabens, and is known to mimic estrogen in the same way.

More info:
Chemical of the Day Article

Grapefruit Seed Extract

Even when it's made from organic grapefruits, this is not a natural extract. It undergoes about 7 different steps of chemical processing, and in the end creates a quaternary ammonium compound similar to benzethonium chloride. It is not natural. It is not organic. This is a synthetic compound.

More info:
Chemical of the Day Article

"Mineral Salts"
Used in the crystal deodorants that are so popular today, "Mineral Salts" are made up of alum. Usually it's potassium alum, and sometimes ammonium alum. The full name of alum is aluminum sulfate. Aluminum has been long recognized for its potential negative link to Alzheimer's disease. If you are trying to avoid aluminum, avoiding "mineral salts" should be included.

More info:
Chemical of the Day Article

Monday, March 22, 2010

Toothpaste Update Part 2

You wouldn't believe the amount of e-mails we've been getting....."WHEN IS YOUR TOOTHPASTE GOING TO BE READY?!!!!" So, I thought I'd post an update.

1. Formula--done.
2. Type of packaging--done.
3. Order ingredients--hit a brick wall.

So, the last time I posted, I was all excited because I had finally figured out the packaging. Well, now we've run in to another snag: the supply of one of our major ingredients, organic erythritol.

We wanted to be the first certified organic toothpaste on the market. Well, now it's looking like it's just not going to happen in the near future. There's only one manufacturer of the main ingredient in our toothpaste, organic erythritol, and they've discontinued it. The price of the remaining supply of organic erythritol on the market is hiked up so high, we'd have to charge at least $20 for a tube of toothpaste. And then, when we run out of organic erythritol, we run out and can't make it any more.

I've found a supplier of certified GMO-free erythritol, which is great, but it doesn't allow us to put the USDA symbol on the product. Which makes me want to cry because I've been so excited to have this product out as USDA certified organic. What do you guys think? Will you still be excited about it if it's certified GMO-free instead of organic?

So, now the next step is to make a decision---either we charge $20 a tube for the organic variety and hope that someone starts making organic erythritol soon, or go with what we know we can get (GMO-free), have a lower-priced toothpaste and a reliable supply. What do you think?

Whatever we decide, we're shooting to have something ready by the end of April.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Toothpaste Update

We are super excited to be coming out with the first USDA certified organic toothpaste soon. We appreciate everyone's input and excitement. I thought I'd give you a little update on its release.

As we said in our newsletter last month, we pretty much have the formula figured out; it has just been a challenge trying to get the packaging done. A typical plastic toothpaste tube requires expensive production equipment to produce, so we've been looking at some alternative packaging options. I had tried an aluminum tube, but it has a number of problems. First, it was too small, second it was aluminum (which most of us are tsying to avoid) and third, it has a tendency to break down easily over time.

So, then I found what they call and airless pump. According to the supplier, it was supposed to be able to handle a high-viscosity product like our toothpaste. I waited for weeks for the samples to come in, and finally got my package. I whipped up a batch of toothpaste, put it in the pump, and....nope. It didn't work. The hole in the pump was just too small. So, back to square one. I was quite disappointed.

A week or so went by when I was struck with an exciting idea. One that I can't even share with you because it's so unique! I think I have now found a package that has a big enough opening to let the viscous product out, AND is eco-friendly, AND doesn't require any expensive equipment. I've requested my samples and am now just waiting again for them to come in. I should have them by the middle of the week (around the 24th). If it works, I am going to be so excited. We'll then be able to start designing the label and getting them in stock to sell. I'll keep you posted and let you know how this new packaging works!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Aluminum in The Crystal Deodorants?

"Aluminum-Free" is probably the most visible phrase you'll see while walking down the natural deodorant aisle. And some of the most popular natural deodorants in that aisle are the "crystal" deodorant stones and sprays. But most people don't know that these crystal deodorant products do contain aluminum!

The crystal deodorant stones are made from alum. While there are different types of alums, the most widely used form of alum used in the personal care industry is potassium alum (aka, potash alum). The full chemical name of potassium alum is potassium aluminum sulfate.

The most common way to create potassium aluminum sulfate is through a process called hydrometallurgy. In this process, sulfuric acid is combined with bauxite ore (which is, by the way, not produced at all in the US). The reaction between the sulfuric acid and the ore creates aluminum oxide. This is then reacted with potassium sulfate to form potassium aluminunum sulfate.

While potash alum does naturally ocurr in mineral deposits such as alunite and kalinite, the deodorant stones are manufactured in this less-than-environmentally-friendly way, shipping ore from overseas and using toxic chemicals like sulfuric acid. The stone manufacturers claim that alum is a mineral salt, "similar to that found naturally in the earth's crust." Radioactive uranium is also found naturally in the earth's crust--but that doesn't mean you'd want to use it as a deodorant.

So, is the deodorant stone really a problem?

The reason that most people try to avoid aluminum in deodorant is because of its possible link to Alzheimer's disease. While experts have not come to a consensus that aluminum causes Alzheimer's, there is some strong evidence of a link. For instance, in 1988 a truck driver accidentally dumped 20 tons of aluminum sulfate in to a town's drinking water. Now, over 20 years later, they are finding a higher incidence of Alzheimers in the people of this town that were exposed to the aluminum in the drinking water. Many people point to the fact that aluminum is found in high concentration in brain matter affected by the disease. But while there is plenty of strong circumstantial evidence, researchers are still trying to find out if and how aluminum compounds work within the brain to create the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's. Because not everyone exposed to aluminum develops Alzheimer's, many experts believe that some people who are genetically predisposed to Alzheimer's are particularly suseptible to aluminums. That it acts as a catalyst in the process that creates plaque in the brain. As a precautionary measure, many doctors such as popular web guru and natural health expert Dr. Mercola suggest avoiding aluminum as much as possible.

The common aluminum compounds in anti-perspirants have another risk. Chemicals like aluminum chlorohydrate are estrogen mimickers that can throw off the body's delicate hormonal balance. While no evidence suggests that alum carries this particular risk, it is a form of aluminum and would carry the same possible link to Alzheimer's. The toxicity of potassium alum is also quite high. There have been cases of people who have died from ingesting only 30 grams of alum...that's only one ounce of product. To give you an idea, an average deodorant stone is about 4 ounces---so if a larger chip off a deodorant stone were to break off and be ingested, it could be lethal (especially to a child).

The bottom line is, that while using a deodorant stone is probably better than using a conventional anti-perspirant, it's not aluminum-free and it still poses a possible Alzheimer's risk and contributes to background toxicy in the body.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why We Don't Make "Body Lotion"

We put the question out there on our Facebook page: Which products would you like to see us make in 2010? Many people responded that they wanted a "normal" body lotion. I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about why our manufacturing standards keep us from making a more typical "body lotion."

I have to start out by saying that we do actually have a body lotion--It's our body butter. It's lotion. It's for your body. So, really, it's body lotion. However, the market has come to equate the term "body lotion" with a more watery, less concentrated lotion.

What we know today as "body lotion" is an emulsion--or water and oil mixed together. Most body lotions are what they call an oil-in-water emulsion. Basically 80% water with a little bit of oil. So, why can't we do that?

1. Emulsifiers
In order to create an emulsion, you need an emulsifier--an agent that will combine water and oil. The most common way of doing this is with a chemical emulsifier like stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, PEGs, or vegetable emulsifying wax. These emulsifiers will give you that typical mayonaise-like texture that you would expect in a lotion. We refuse to use these chemicals in our products. While many other companies claim they're "natural" or "derived from coconut" that's not acceptable to us. They're still synthetic chemicals, we can't get them in a certified organic form, and many of them are commonly contaminated with 1,4 dioxane.

There are a few organic ways that we could combine water and oil. A blend of organic lecithin and GMO-free xanthan gum would be one way. But we've tried this before in testing, and used other lotions that use this emulsion system and it's just not that great. It gives a really slippery, slimy feel that ends up leaving a sticky feeling once it's dried. There's also the beeswax-borax method of emulsion. But borax doesn't score that great in the EWG skin deep database, and we don't want to use an ingredient if it has a question mark. The main issue with borax is when it's inhaled, so even though it wouldn't really put customers at risk in a liquid lotion, our employees would be exposed to it in high quantities. We don't want to take that risk. I don't advise against making your own beeswax/borax lotions at home--the quantities are small enough to not be a problem. But on a larger production scale, a large amount of borax could create quite a cloud of irritating dust.

2. Preservatives
Next, there's the problem of preservatives. Any time you have water in a formula you have the potential for pathogens to grow. Bacteria. Fungi. Mold. So, if we made a water-containing emulsion, we'd have to use a preservative. And that usually leads to chemicals---parabens, urea, methylisothiazolinone. And of course we avoid these.

There are some organic ways of preserving--blends of essential oils or with organic ethanol. Blends of preservative essential oils have a tendency to be quite strong-smelling, so they end up taking over the scent of the product. A raspberry lotion doesn't end up smelling very good blended with clove, thyme, lavender and eucalyptus. And with many of our customers preferring unscented options, it just isn't feasible. In addition, they're not a fail-safe method. I've tried organic products preserved with essential oils and have seen mold grow before my eyes.

Organic ethanol can be used, but you have to make sure to add plenty of humectants and emollients to counteract the potential for irritation/drying effect from the ethanol.

3. We don't think it's right
Yes, we could probably make a body lotion--preserve it with ethanol, emulsify it with xanthan gum and lecithin--but we don't think it's right. A product like that is 80% water. We don't feel it's right to charge people for a product that's mostly water, and then have it dry out their skin more.

However, we do understand that it is nice to feel that instant "hydrating" feeling that a water-based lotion brings. But you can achieve the same feeling with our body butter. Just turn on the tap, wet your hand, and pat on water to your skin. Then, apply a small amount of our body butter. You'll have that lotion-ey feel that you're used to, and it will make your body butter last even longer. (Just be sure to keep water out of the body butter jar.) Your skin will thank you.