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.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Makeup Picks UPDATED

The first article I posted last year about my makeup recommendations was a hit. Throughout the year there have been some changes in my criteria and in the products available on the market, so I thought I'd give y'all an update!

My criteria
In addition to the obvious ones...parabens, fragrance, artificial colors, phenoxyethanol, ethoxylathed chemicals, propylene glycol, etc, here are my additional standards for choosing these products:
  • No Grapefruit Seed Extract
  • No Japanese Honeysuckle Extract
  • No dusts that pose inhalation hazards
  • No essential oils on my "avoid" list
  • Adequately and safely preserved
  • No carmine
I also tried to avoid titanium dioxide, although there are some products that do contain it.  (I have noted below if they do.)

Now, keep in mind that there are no perfect options.  There will still be mineral pigments, micas, iron oxides, and other ingredients that aren't organic, but as far as makeups are concerned, these are the best. Formulators have to use something to create colors and the "coverage" that we expect.

Also, just because I recommend one product, does NOT mean that I recommend the entire line. I judge products based on INGREDIENTS and never by brand name.


Lauren Brooke Cosmetique Creme Foundation

Ingredients: Triglycerides, Zinc Oxide, Organic Beeswax, Organic Jojoba, Silica, Radish Root, Organic Argan, Organic Rosehip, Neem, Clay, Organic Green Tea, Organic Passionflower, Organic Raspberry, Natural Vitamin E (+/-, Iron Oxides, Mica, Org Essential Oil Blend).

What I Like About It: In addition to a good ingredients list, it contains non-nano zinc oxide. While it doesn't officially boast an SPF, the zinc oxide naturally offers UVA and UVB sun protection.  No separate SPF face cream needed! I've put it through the test for several summers while out hiking and can tell you the sun protection coverage is great.

If you've ever talked to me about makeup, you know that I love Lauren's line.  She's local to me here in Utah, and I've spoken with her personally and know the extreme care she takes in creating her products and choosing her ingredients.

What I didn't quite care for: 
There's not much that I can say bad about this foundation; it's my go-to formula on the rare occasions that I wear makeup. I'm not crazy about the presence of silica, however, because it's not in powder form, I'm not too concerned about it. 

Miessence Translucent Foundation 

I have not tried this product.  It is a bit on the pricey side, but it also has a great ingredients list as far as makeup is concerned. 

Raw Skin.Ceuticals Matte BB Creme Foundation

Ingredients:aloe barbadenis (aloe leaf juice), rosa rubginosa (rosehip seed oil), garcinia indica (mango butter), cannabis sativa (hemp seed oil), calophyllum inophyllum (tamanu oil), cucurbita pepo (pumpkin seed oil), oenothera biennis (evening primrose oil), persea gratissima (avocado oil), cetyl-stearyl alcohol, proprietary vitamin C herb complex blend: glebionis (chrysanthemum), helisso chrysos (helichrysum flowers), citrus sinensis (orange peel), rosa canina (rosehips), euphrasia officinalis (eyebright), malpighia glabra (acerola cherry), galium aparine (cleavers), l-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) preservative blend: potassium sorbate usp, citric acid mineral oxides for color

What I Like About It:
I love that after you apply it, you don't feel like you're wearing makeup.  I can't stand to have anything on my face and with most foundations even after a couple hours I'm ready to scrub it off.  Not so with this formula--it's mostly water-based so it goes on very lightly. 

What I Didn't Quite Care For: 

I had some trouble getting the product to prime the pump on the nozzle, and when it first came out it kind of came shooting out. Also the formula dries out at the nozzle so when you first squirt it, the little dried piece comes out in to your fingers and it's impossible to blend in your skin and you have to somehow pick it out. 

I also couldn't quite master the art of application with this one.  It seems that the moisture is absorbed and evaporates quite quickly once you put in on your skin so you have a very limited time for blending before the pigments become almost painted on your skin. The W103 shade was too light for me, surprisingly (I usually have to get the lightest shades) and left me looking like a pasty ghost.  But that's not the fault of the foundation; I just didn't get the right shade. Either way, though, the formula dried so quickly that I was left with splotches of pigments that were impossible to blend in. I'll have to keep trying with this one.  

The bottle also states that it has an SPF, however there's no drug panel listing "active" ingredients as required by law when you're marketing a sunscreen product.  

PRIIA Essential Cover Creme Mineral Foundation

Ingredients: Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Mica, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Manihot Esculenta (Tapioca) Root Starch, Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide, Boron Nitride, Silica, Allantoin, D-Panthenol (ProVitamin B5), Bisabolol,
Iron Oxides. May Contain: Chromium Oxide Green, Ultramarine Blue.  

What I Liked About it:
This is a jar of creamy smooth perfection. Not too heavy, easy to spread, easy to blend. The texture and coverage is almost identical to RMS UnCover Up, but you get way more for your money.  With RMS, it's 5.76 grams for $36, whereas PRIIA gives you a generous 8.5 grams for only $22.50. 

What I Didn't Quite Care For:

Once again I ordered too light for my skin tones.  (I must have really picked up some sun this summer.) However, it's pretty easy to blend and almost works for me.  I'm not crazy about the possibility of chromium oxide in the formula. It also contains silica and titanium dioxide. 


I've removed Real Purity's foundation from my recommendations, as their formula had no apparent preservative. When questioned, the company assured us the product was safely preserved and that they've never had a problem, however, they wouldn't answer exactly how the product is preserved. They continued to offer a vague explanation and wouldn't provide any challenge testing or antimicrobial data, so we removed them from the list.  


RMS Beauty Un-Cover Up

I had the opportunity to try some RMS products this year, including the Un-cover Up, which can act as both a concealer and a foundation.  RMS Beauty is somewhat of a darling of natural cosmetics bloggers everywhere, and for a good reason. It has a good ingredients list and a little goes a long way. 

Ingredients: *Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, *Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, *Cera Alba (Beeswax), *Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, *Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Tocopherol (non-GMO), *Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract. May contain [+/-]: Titanium Dioxide CI 77891, Iron Oxides CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499
*Certified Organic
What I Liked:
The texture is creamy and smooth, the coverage is nice, and the ingredients

What I didn't quite care for:
  • Not crazy about Titanium Dioxide. 
  • Felt somewhat heavy on my skin (although I'm one of those people that can hardly stand to have anything on my skin.)
  • I have pretty fair skin so I ordered the lightest shade--it actually ended up being too light for my complexion, so I was surprised about that.  However, I can't fault them for that, just my ordering decisions. 
  • The box does state that it's "organic" when it is not certified nor does it meet the criteria for organic certification.  You know I'm a stickler for organic claims.  :)
Lauren Brooke Creme Concealer
This is what I would use on the rare occasion that I wear makeup.

Earth's Beauty Concealer

Really simple ingredients list!

Miessence Concealer

Also a really simple ingredients list.

Eye Shadow

Lauren Brooke Creme Eye Color
This creamy eyeshadow comes in a convenient twist-up stick with a generous portion of creme. I usually rub the top of it with my finger and apply it with my fingertip. Blends well, lots of pretty colors available. 

Matte Ingredients: Capryllc/Capric Triglycerides, Certified Organic Beeswax, Certified Organic Olive Oil, Silica, Certified Organic Vegetable Starch, Certified Organic Jojoba Oil, Certified Organic Raspberry Extract, Certified Organic Vanilla Extract, Non-GMO Natural Vitamin E (+/- Iron Oxides, Mica, Zinc Oxide, Ultramarines).

Shimmer Ingredients: Grapeseed Oil, Capryllc/Capric Triglycerides, Certified Organic Beeswax, Certified Organic Jojoba Oil, Silica, Certified Organic Shea Butter, Avocado Butter, Certified Organic Rosehip Oil, Certified Organic Vanilla Extract, Non-GMO Natural Vitamin E (+/- Iron Oxides, Mica, Zinc Oxide, Ultramarines).

(In a pinch I've even used it as a lipstick. )

RMS Beauty Creme Eyeshadow

Ingredients: *Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil,*Cera Alba (Beeswax), *Simmondsia Chinesis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, *Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Tocopherol (non-GMO), *Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract, and may contain: [+/- Titanium Dioxide CI 77891, Iron Oxides CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499, Mica CI 77019] 


Earth's Beauty Eyeliner Pencils

Ingredients: organic jojoba, organic castor oil, organic beeswax, candellila wax,iron oxides, mica and vitamin E.

I don't think I could ask for a simpler ingredients list! I have not tried this product, but it's on my must-get list!

100% Pure Creamstick Eyeliner
I hesitate to recommend anything from 100% Pure because of their use of Japanese Honeysuckle Extract, among other issues (labeling inaccuracies, preservative issues).  However, this product appears to be good.  Lauren Brooke is my top pick, but if you couldn't do it for some reason, this would be okay too. 


Lauren Brooke Lash-Strengthening Mascara

Ingredients: Organic Aloe, Sorbitol, Olive Emulsifiers, Organic Horsetail, Organic Burdock, Organic Herbal Extract Blend, Radish Root Ferment, Cetearyl Alcohol, Non-GMO Organic Lecithin, Glyceryl Stearate, Orange Peel Wax, Sunflower Wax, Vitamin B Complex. 

While I haven't tried it yet, I am in love with the ingredients list and have every faith that Lauren's nailed it with this one. 

Miessence Mascara
I haven't tried this one either, but the ingredients look pretty stellar. No titanium dioxide, which I like. 

Ingredients: certified organic aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) leaf juice, certified organic rosa damascena (rose) essential oil, certified organic oryza sativa (rice) bran extract, black iron oxide, certified organic simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, non-gmo lecithin, sclerotium rolfsii gum, aqua, certified organic rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, certified organic butyrospermum parkii (shea) fruit butter, certified organic unrefined cera alba (beeswax), certified organic ethanol (sugar cane alcohol), citrus aurantium amara (bitter orange) fruit extract


Meisha Cream Blush

This would be my top pick ingredients-wise because it doesn't contain titanium dioxide. 

Ingredients: Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Mica, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Manihot Esculenta (Tapioca) Root Starch. May Contain: Iron Oxide (CI 77499, CI 77492, CI 77491), Ultramarines, Zinc Oxide. 

RMS Beauty Lip2Cheek 
Except for the "smile" shade which contains synthetic colorants.  
For all Lip2Cheek except Smile: *Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, *Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, *Cera Alba (Beeswax), *Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), *Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, *Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, *Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernal Oil, Tocopherol (non-GMO), Helianthus Annus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Propolis Extract, Centella Asiatica Extract, *Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract. May contain [+/-]: Titanium Dioxide CI 77891, Iron Oxides 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499, Mica CI 77019
PRIIA Creme-to-Powder Blush

Ingredients: Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Mica, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Cymbidium Grandiflorum (Orchid) Flower Extract, Manihot Esculenta (Tapioca) Root Starch, Kosher Oryza Sativa (Rice) Powder, Mica, Zinc Oxide, Boron Nitride, Silica.  May contain: Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides, Tin Oxide, Ultramarines.


Miessence Lip Creme

Lip Colors by Lauren Brooke

Coastal Classic Creations

PRIIA Pucker Upz Lip Infusions

Juice Beauty Conditioning Lip Color

Lip Gloss

Botanical Lip Gloss by Lauren Brooke

Juice Beauty Lip Shimmer

Lip Liner

Lauren Brooke Lip Liner Pencils

*Note: some colors contain carmine.


I don't recommend using loose powders due to the inhalation risk, but if you just have to have your favorite powder and need a primer, our Splash of Lime Toning Mist actually does a great job.  

Nail Polish

A really tough one because even the "good" brands contain questionable stuff.  But, the bottom line is, you're putting paint on your nails.  It's a very unnatural thing in and of itself, so some chemicals are needed.  My standards for nail polish are completely different from those of my other makeup items because there are no nail polishes that would possibly meet the standards.

Acquarella has one of the best ingredients list.

Honeybee Gardens is another option along the same lines.

Keeki Pure and Simple is another good one.  It's marketed more for kids and teens but can be used by anyone.

Finally, there's Scotch Naturals.

All of the above fall in to the water-based formulas that are somewhat high maintenance.  Adequate cleaning of the nail beforehand, doing numerous light coats, giving it a really long cure time, etc. And even then, it seems to quickly peel. 

If you're looking for a nail polish that acts more like a "regular" nail polish, I've been impressed with the Mineral Fusion brand that I found at Whole Foods. It dries quickly and is way easier to use than the watercolor brands.  The only downside is that it does contain some bad ingredients like phenoxyethanol. But it is at least tolulene-free. 

Any other categories in makeup?  Comment below and I'll do my best! If you'd like me to take a look at a product for you, I'll be happy to do so.  Please either post the ingredients list, or provide a direct link to the product.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Your Guide to Underarm Rashes

Sometimes I'll receive e-mails from people telling me that they have a baking soda allergy, and can't use it in a deodorant. I wanted to talk today about this as well as other causes for underarm rashes.  

There actually is no such thing as a baking soda allergy. 
An allergy is an immune response to a substance that the body sees as "foreign." It sends white blood cells to attack the foreign substance, usually a protein or a substance that binds to a protein (called a hapten.) Baking soda is a simple substance that's easily soluble in water and breaks down in to sodium and bicarbonate ions (or to elemental carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen), which are common metabolites in the body. All are elements that the body needs to function. It doesn't act like a protein or bind to proteins to create a molecule that triggers an immune response.  There's no function whereby baking soda could be an allergen.

Now, that said, a person can get a skin reaction from baking soda, known as contact dermatitis.  There are two types of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant.  Baking soda reactions fall under the category of irritant contact dermatitis.  Baking soda is alkaline, so if high amounts are left on skin for a long time it can irritate skin because it disrupts the skin's acid mantle, leading to moisture loss.  Brief exposures can cause reactions in someone that has severely impaired skin function, such as someone who has been through radiation treatment for cancer, or been through other serious illnesses. But for most of the population, brief or low concentrations of alkalinity are just fine (and can be beneficial for cleansing purposes). Irritant contact dermatitis looks and feels like a burn. One will experience redness, dryness, or scaly/leathery-feeling skin. You will read a lot about this in forums with people making home-made deodorants because baking soda is usually used in too high concentrations in these formulas (usually around 30%, sometimes 100%!).

However, baking soda is usually not the problem
This rarely happens with our deodorants because the baking soda is used at a less than 5% concentration, plus our formula has the moisturizing oils that counteract the possible drying effect of the baking soda.  Additionally, if you sweat at all, you'll neutralize the baking soda (because sweat is mildly acidic) and it won't be an irritant any longer.

Most of the time, when using a natural deodorant, rashes are caused by perspiration.  

Other Common Causes for Rashes

Intertrigo is the most common form of underarm rash, which is irritation caused by skin-to-skin friction. When moist skin rubs against itself, that friction causes skin to become inflamed. You'll start to notice a red, raw spot right in the crease of your underarm (or other folds of skin.) It can progress from there and get larger. If it progresses untreated, it can get flaky, or infected and oozy.

To prevent intertrigo, the key is to reduce the friction in the underarm.  This is best done with a natural powder such as arrowroot or corn starch. Reapplying our Pit Putty sticks frequently throughout the day to keep the underarm dry and friction-free can control intertrigo.  This may seem counterintuitive because when you first get an underarm rash you might blame the deodorant. When in fact the deodorant can definitely help. Of course, if your rash is infected or doesn't go away, please visit a doctor.

Heat Rash
"This deodorant is clogging my pores!" might be your first reaction to seeing a heat rash because it looks like a bunch of pimples.  Heat rash is actually caused when perspiration gets trapped in your skin, causing infected and blocked pores. Liberally applying powders as mentioned above, frequently throughout the day, will help draw out that moisture and dry up the heat rash.  Cleaning with alcohol (rubbing or ethanol) can also help to dry out the infected pores and help keep the infection from growing. Cortisone creams can also help if you've got a tough case. Heat rash can happen in the underarm, the groin area, and other folds of skin that may be moist. If your heat rash doesn't go away or continues to spread, do see a doctor.

Infected Sweat Gland(s)
Excess perspiration can also cause sweat glands to become infected.  These will feel like deep tender bumps, and your lymph nodes may also become infected. This can also happen during anti-perspirant use, because the blockage that these chemicals cause.  Infected sweat glands can be serious and may require the use of antibiotics to treat. Keeping your underarms dry by applying powders frequently throughout the day can help to prevent infected sweat glands.

Allergic Dermatitis
Allergic dermatitis can be the cause of underarm rashes, although it is less common than the conditions described above. Rashes will present on all areas of skin the product was applied to, but also may spread out from there due to the immune response. Allergic dermatitis can come in the form of a simple rash, but can also be hives, itching, pustules, blisters, and thickening of skin.  If you suspect that you're allergic to a deodorant, one thing you can do is to apply the product to your wrist and see if you get a reaction on your wrist as well.  Also keep in mind that it can take 1-2 days for an allergic rash to appear, so if you just started a new deodorant and immediately noticed an allergic rash, you may want to consider that it may have been something that you put on your skin within the last 48 hours that's causing the rash. Additionally, there is a phenomenon called a memory response. If you previously had an allergic reaction, say, on your eyelids from a makeup, if your fingers (but not your eyelids) touch that substance again, your eyelids can flare up, even without that area of skin touching the substance. So if you're prone to allergic rashes, also consider not just what you put on that area of skin, but what other parts of your body has touched. Allergies can be very tricky to figure out; visit your allergist to pinpoint your exact triggers. 

[For educational purposes only, this information is not intended to treat or diagnose any medical conditions you may have. If you have an underarm rash that persists, visit your doctor. Bubble & Bee Organic does not make any implied or implicit medical or drug claims of our products.]

Monday, August 12, 2013

Essential Oils vs. Extracts

Here's a question that I'm frequently asked: "What's the difference between an essential oil and an extract?"  "If I should avoid grapefruit seed extract, should I also avoid grapefruit essential oil?"

What are Essential Oils?
The term "essential oil" has a very specific meaning. Essential oils are the concentrated volatile aromatic compounds of a plant, typically consisting of terpenes, esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols, and oxides. In other words, the aromatic compounds of the plant are removed and separated to create an oil-like substance.  (Although essential oils are not technically oils, as true oils are made up of lipids.) Essential oils are typically extracted through the process of steam distillation.  Plant matter is placed in a big vat with water and boiled...the steam arises and through a system of tubes. As the steam cools, the water collects to the bottom of the tank and the essential oils arise and collect in a separate tank.  (The water that's collected is known as a hydrosol and contains trace amounts of the essential oil and other components from the plant.) The only exception to steam distillation is with citrus fruits, where the essential oil is sometimes pressed from the rind of the fruit.  (Called cold-pressing.)

What are Extracts?
There are several types of extracts.
  • Infusions
    • An infusion is made when the plant material is let to steep in water or oil for a period of time.  A water-based infusion is made just like you'd make a cup of tea--boil the water and add the herbs to steep for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes.  With an oil infusion, the steeping time is much longer, from days to weeks.  
  • Tinctures
    • A tincture is an alcohol-based extract. The plant material is steeped in a solution of (usually) 50% alcohol. The plant material steeps for days to weeks to extract compounds from the plant.  
  • Glycerites
    • These are liquid extracts in glycerin.
Essential Oils that Aren't Really Essential Oils

You may see a few ingredients listed as essential oils, when in fact, they aren't truly essential oils. Take for instance vanilla.  The "essence" of vanilla is difficult to extract via steam distillation, so it's typically extracted through steeping in alcohol (most commonly) or in oil.  This is the traditional vanilla extract that you'd use in cooking.  This is the least concentrated form of vanilla extract.  But, for a more concentrated form of vanilla, there's vanilla oleoresin. (Sometimes you'll see it listed as essential oil.)
  • Oleoresin
    An oleoresin is created by taking an alcohol-based extract and evaporating out the alcohol.  You're then left with a thick resinous material that's a more concentrated form of the aromatics that the plant provides.  Two common oleoresins are vanilla and rosemary.  Vanilla oleoresin is commonly used in personal care products as a scent.  Rosemary oleoresin (also listed as rosemary extract) is used as an anti-oxidant in foods and personal care products, helping give oils a longer shelf life. (Do note that it is an anti-oxidant, not a preservative.  It will help keep oils fresh but it does not stop bacterial growth.)
  • Absolutes  
    Finally, there are absolutes. This is the most potent and concentrated form of extracts.  Absolutes are typically extracted with a solvent like hexane to create a waxy material called a concrete.  The concrete is mixed with alcohol to further extract the aromatic compounds.  Then, the alcohol is evaporated out and a highly concentrated oil known as an absolute is left behind.  Sometimes people will mistakenly list an absolute or oleoresin as an essential oil, whereas they are technically not an essential oil.  Plants that are typically extracted as absolutes instead of essential oils include vanilla, jasmine, tuberose, oak moss and mimosa.  When it comes to roses, both steam-distilled essential oil and absolutes are made.  There are actually absolutes of honey as well, that will extract the delicate fragrance notes from different types of honey.  
Fake Extracts

There are some ingredients that you'll see listed as "extracts" on a product, when they're not really an extract.
  • Japanese Honeysuckle Extract is not a true extract but a highly synthesized preservative.  You can read more about it here.
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract is not a true extract, but a quaternary ammonium compound that's also used as a preservative.  You can read more about it here. (Not to be confused with grape seed extract, which is a totally different thing, extracted from grapes, not grapefruits. Grape seed extract is a true extract.)
Vegetable/Carrier Oils

Vegetable or Carrier oils are true oils, composed of lipids (fats). These include sunflower, jojoba, safflower, almond, olive, coconut. They are either solvent, or, preferrably, cold-pressed from the seeds, nuts, or fruit of certain plants.  Some carrier oils sound like essential oils, when they are not.  For instance rosehip seed oil is not an essential oil but a vegetable carrier oil.  After the rose has blossomed and created a rose "hip", inside this hip are hundreds of tiny little seeds.  These seeds are taken and pressed to create rosehip seed oil.  It doesn't smell like roses, but has a nutty, seed-like aroma.  Red raspberry seed oil is also commonly confused. It is pressed from the raspberry seeds and while it does have a mild raspberry aroma (somewhat like raspberry leaf tea) it is not an essential oil and is used for moisturizing properties, not for scent or aromatherapy.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hair Loss in Women

Are you concerned by clumps of hair coming out in the shower, thinning hair or balding spots? We all lose hair every day naturally (50 to 100 strands), but when hair loss seems to be more than usual, or we experience noticeable thinning, what can we do about it? What causes hair loss in women? How can we prevent it, and can we reverse it?

The Way Hair Grows
To understand hair loss, we need to understand how hair grows. There are four phases that our hair follicles go through:

1. In the active phase, also known as the anagen phase, the follicle produces new hair, creating new cells at the root. This phase lasts anywhere from 2 to 8 years.

2. Next, the root stops growing and a bulb is formed. Nutrients and blood flow are cut off from the bulb as the growth stops.  This is known as the catogen phase and lasts from 4 to 6 weeks.

3. In the dormant stage, also known as the telogen phase, the hair follicle doesn't grow hair, but it holds on to the strand in the follicle. This lasts about 2 to 3 months.

4. Finally, the bulb is released from the scalp and the hair falls out. This is called exogen.

So, now that we understand how hair works, we can more completely understand why and how hair falls out.

The number one process of hair loss is called telogen effulvium. Telogen effulvium is not a cause or diagnosis itself, but more of a term to explain what's going on with the hair. Sometimes, due to a number of different factors which we will discuss below, hairs in the anagen phase (growth phase) will prematurely go in to telogen (dormancy.)  It is then, 2 to 3 months later, that you notice the increase in hair loss. If you're going into telogen effulvium, you'll most likely notice bulbs at the end of your hair strands as they come out. If you gently run your fingers through your hair, it's normal for one to two strands to come out.  But when 10 or more strands come out, you're likely going through telogen effulvium.

Let's look at a few of the reasons behind telogen effulvium.

Telogen Effulvium

One great benefit of being pregnant is that your progesterone is high. It helps you sleep, it boosts your mood (hopefully!) and supports your body as the life within you grows. You'll likely notice during pregnancy that your hair is growing and is quite full. This is because increased hormone levels stimulate anagen growth, and fewer follicles enter dormancy or shedding phases. But then, when you have that dramatic drop in hormone levels, many of the anagen follicles will enter telogen phase. Thus, 2 to 3 months later, you'll notice some substantial hair loss.

Progesterone-related hair loss can affect women not just after pregnancy, but after any major drop or fluctuation in hormones. This means that starting or going off birth control pills, HRT, or progesterone pills or cream can signal telogen effulvium. If you struggle with low progesterone and estrogen dominance, drops in hormones from your natural cycle can also trigger telogen effulvium. Keep in mind that when you're losing your hair, it's not usually from something that's going on in your body right now, but something that happened 2 to 3 months ago.

Physical trauma
Any kind of physical trauma or extreme stress that you put on your body can show up later with hair loss. Surgery, illness, high fever, or extreme physical conditions may trigger telogen effulvium.

Emotional trauma
Deaths, divorces, traumatic experiences or any extreme emotional experience can cause telogen hair loss. The relationship between emotional stresses and hair loss is not fully explored, so before you write it off as "it's just stress" consider some of the other causes mentioned in this section.

Nutritional Deficiencies
Many different nutritional deficiencies can cause telogen hair loss. Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, zinc, iron and essential fatty acid deficiencies will cause hair loss. Hair loss can continue if the deficiencies are not addressed. Vitamin B12, typically only found in meats, is an important vitamin that as we age, we lose the ability to absorb from our foods. Sublingual B12 methylcobalmin is the most absorbable form of B12 and can be helpful if B12 deficiency is to blame for the hair loss. (Talk to your health care professional for doses and recommendations.) Vitamin D is also very important, as it supports the body in creating new cells. When we lack vitamin D, the body will ration it out, so to speak, to more important bodily functions than hair growth. Therefore, vitamin D is highly important in continued healthy hair growth. Crash diets, starvation, severe caloric restriction, and severe protein or fatty acid restrictions all can lead to telogen effulvium, which will continue until dietary needs are met.

Medical Conditions
Continued telogen effulvium can be caused by several medical conditions. Systemic amyloidosis, liver failure, kidney failure, IBS, HIV, hyper or hypothyroidism, syphilis and lupus. If you suspect your hair loss could be caused by one of these conditions, visit your doctor for appropriate testing and treatment.

Skin Conditions
Psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, and other inflammatory skin disorders can trigger telogen hair loss.

Side Effects to prescription drugs
As mentioned earlier, starting or stopping birth control pills, HRT, and progesterone can cause telogen hair loss. Other prescription pills such as alloppurinol (for the treatment of gout), beta blockers, retinods, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, blood thinners such as Heparin and Coumarin, and cholesterol drugs such as Clofibrate and Gemfibrozil can all trigger telogen hair shedding.

Telogen effulvium can be brief, lasting anywhere from a couple to several weeks. Typically with this type of hair loss, re-growth will begin to be visible within 4-6 months. However, if there are underlying causes that are not treated, the hair loss can continue indefinitely. If you're experiencing shedding for more than 6 months, it's considered chronic telogen hair loss and you should work with your doctor to identify the issues causing the hair loss.

Anagen Effulvium 

Anagen hair loss is characterized by sudden loss of hair, usually losing more than 80 percent of the hair from the scalp in a short period of time. In anagen hair loss, the anagen (growth) phase has been disrupted due to a severe trauma or toxicity to the body. Anagen hair loss will occur within days or weeks after the disruption, not 2 to 3 months as with telogen hair loss. Hair strands typically don't have the bulbs at the ends, but will have a tapered end.  However, it may take a doctor looking at the hair under a microscope to determine if your hair loss is anagen or telogen if you are unsure of the reason of your hair loss. The most common reason for anagen hair loss is chemotherapy. Other triggers include radiation, heavy metal poisoning and boric acid poisoning. Radiation can cause both anagen and telogen hair loss, both of which can be permanent.

An autoimmune disease called alopecia can also cause anagen hair loss. Alopecia hair loss can range from patchy hair loss or the complete loss of hair all over the body.

Androgenetic Alopecia--Female Pattern Baldness

With telogen hair loss, hair will usually fall out evenly, from all over the head, without areas of concentrated baldness. Anagen hair loss is obvious, with numerous bald spots or complete hair loss. With androgenetic alopecia, or female pattern baldness, there will be noticeable thinning around the central line part of the scalp, in addition to general thinning. Female pattern baldness may start out seeming like telogen hair loss, and it may be several months before this distinctive pattern is apparent. It can lead to complete baldness; however, it is rare.

The precise biological mechanism behind androgenetic alopecia in women is still somewhat unknown. It is believed dihydrotestosterone (DHT) shrinks hair follicles, making them unproductive or gone altogether. An enzyme called 5-alpha reductaste is responsible for converting testosterone in to DHT. So, minoxidil (Rogaine) and other hair-loss treatments block the production of 5-alpha-reductase, so less DHT is produced in the body. However, once the treatment is stopped, DHT is produced again and hair loss experienced once again. 

Genetics plays a large key in female pattern baldness, as the levels of androgens (DHT and testosterone) are set largely by genetic makeup.

PCOS, Hormone Balance
Women with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome are at a higher risk for female pattern baldness due to the excess of androgens being produced in the body.

Other Conditions

Traction Alopecia
Traction alopecia is hair loss caused by the rubbing of the scalp or consistent tugging on of the hair by different hair stylings, like cornrows, braids, weaves, ponytails or anything else that could consistently pull at or irritate the scalp. 

Trichotillomania is a disorder characterized by compulsive pulling of hair from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes or other areas of the body. 

Hair loss, no matter the cause, can be a stressful situation. Many times we look for external methods to treat the hair loss, such as herbal tinctures or special shampoos. And while there may be shampoos or rinses or serums that claim that they help prevent hair loss or help re-grow hair, unless they have an active FDA-approved drug ingredient such as minoxidil, their claims are baseless (and illegal).

The best way to treat your hair loss is to get a proper diagnosis by a qualified medical professional. Hair loss, no matter the reason, is a medical condition. And there's no single answer for everyone. The solution is as varied as the cause. Hair loss is an external symptom to an internal problem. Drugs such as minoxidil can temporarily stave off hair loss. It usually takes around 4 months before you start to see results, and there are some side effects to these drugs.

People sometimes ask me what kind of natural supplements they should take to reverse or slow hair loss. Of course, the answer is totally dependent on the particular deficiency one is experiencing. And, without a blood test, it's impossible to make a suggestion. In general, however, the following options may be helpful to consider and to talk to your doctor about:

Low iron levels have been implicated in adrogenetic and telogen hair loss. If you have a history of heavy menstrual flow, are vegan/vegetarian, or have lost a lot of blood through surgery or otherwise, you may be low in iron. (Iron supplements must be taken carefully; refer to your healthcare professional for dosage.) 

Zinc deficiency can cause telogen hair loss, as zinc supports healthy skin and hair growth. A zinc supplement or multi-vitamin may be helpful.

Vitamin B12
As mentioned above, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause telogen hair loss. Sublingual methylcobalmin is the most absorbable form of vitamin B12.

Flax Seeds
Flax seeds may be helpful preventing androgentic hair loss, as the lignans present in the seeds have been found to help inactivate 5-alpha-reductase, the enzyme that turns testosterone in to follicle-shrinking DHT. (I recommend 2 tablespoons a day.) 

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is responsible for cell division, so making sure that you're not deficient in vitamin D is key to maintaining healthy hair. Recommended doses will depend on what your current levels are, so speak with your doctor, naturopath, or other licensed medical professional about what will help you the most.

Keep in mind that with telogen hair loss, what you do now affects your hair shedding 2 to 3 months from now.  Keeping a log of food, supplements, drugs and illnesses may help your doctor figure out your hair loss triggers. Continued hair loss (lasting more than 6 months) may be the symptom of a serious medical condition, so monitor your hair loss and visit your doctor if your hair loss does not subside.

The Chemical and Physical Behavoir of Human Hair, 5th ed. Clarence R. Robbins, Springer Publishing 2012.

[For educational purposes only.]

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Coconut Oil Facial Detox?

All around the internet you'll find information and stories about using coconut oil as your only moisturizer and cleanser. You'll find amazing stories of "it shrank my pores" and "my skin has never looked or felt this great."  But for each amazing story you'll find one like this: "I tried coconut oil as my moisturizer and I broke out terribly.  I had a rash of pimples and white bumps all around my mouth."  The proponents of coconut oil will then reply "Oh, that's the detox period.  The coconut oil is drawing out the impurities from your skin and bringing them to the surface."

So, today I wanted to make a few things clear, as hopefully it will help some people.

There is no scientific evidence or biological function whereby coconut oil would draw out impurities. And if it was "drawing out the toxins," it shouldn't be in the form of massive amounts of pustules or redness around your mouth and nose.

Now, shouldn't I, a proponent of all things natural and organic, be supportive of coconut oil? Well, let me say this. There are so many healthy benefits that coconut oil brings when it comes to skin and in diet. But it may not be appropriate for facial use for some people. For some people, coconut oil works amazingly as a facial moisturizer. But for others, the results can be horrible.  Why?  What's going on?

If you've developed a rash of red pimples all around your mouth when using coconut oil, you've likely developed a condition called Perioral Dermatitis.  What's happened is that the coconut oil has created what's called an occlusive layer on your skin.  An occlusive layer is especially helpful if you have dry or allergy-prone skin.  Many eczema treatments work by creating this occlusive layer--a protective layer of oil that keeps out allergens and irritants.  The eczema can heal if it's caused by contact allergies and irritants, and the occlusive layer protects it.  HOWEVER, a strong occlusive layer like this can also work against you. What can happen is that a layer of fungi, bacteria, and dead skin cells can get trapped under that strong layer of oil (the occlusive layer) and infection begins and leads to breakouts, such as those seen in Perioral Dermatitis. Now, science is still trying to figure out the exact cause of Perioral Dermatitis, as it can be triggered by many things, not just coconut oil.  Women are more prone to developing the condition. And different people respond to different treatments.  Sometimes a prescription for a steroid cream is made and, because steroid creams are typically thick, they too create an occlusive layer, thus making the problem worse.  It's suggested that if you're suffering from this condition to stay away from all makeups, creams--anything that could create an occlusive layer.  Just use a gentle cleanser and perhaps an astringent like witch hazel (follow your doctor's instructions) so there's nothing trapping in that bacteria and letting it heal.

Coconut oil isn't the only oil that can cause Perioral Dermatitis.  Over-application of any oil can be a trigger, so be judicious when you're using a facial oil or oil-based cream, apply sparingly, patting it on to dry spots and areas that need protection. Without getting in to full depth about Perioral Dermatitis and all its causes (food allergies, contact allergies) I just wanted to offer a quick explanation to anyone that had experienced this so-called "coconut oil detox" and to clear up any confusion out there.

[For educational purposes only. This is not intended to treat, diagnose, or offer medical advice.]

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Is Your Stomach Making You Stinky?

If you battle body odor, the answer may be in your gut. A study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that the same bacteria that can lead to stomach ulcers can also cause certain types of body odor.

Helicobacter pylori is found in the stomachs of about 50% of the population in the Western world. Out of these 50%, 80% show no symptoms.  This bacteria seeks out a neutral place to thrive away from stomach acid and it adheres to the stomach's internal wall. When an overgrowth of this bacteria occurs, it causes gastritis and ulcers. It can also infect the intestinal tract, leading to IBS.

So, now, what does this have to do with body odor?

When H pylori thrives in the stomach, it produces high amounts of an enzyme called urease, which breaks down urea (which exists naturally in the stomach). Urea then breaks down in to carbon dioxide and ammonia, which then is released in to the bloodstream, and then released through sweat. Most people have ammonia in their sweat, however people infected with H pylori will have higher amounts of it.

So, if you're one of those people that has a hard time with pungent odors, or experience odor shortly after cleansing, it may be ammonia in your sweat caused by H pylori in your stomach.

If you suspect that you have H pylori and have symptoms of ulcers or other gastric symptoms, visit your doctor for a complete diagnosis and treatment options.  Probiotics have been found to help ease the symptoms and control the growth of H pylori, so you may look at this as an option with your doctor.

(High levels of ammonia in sweat can also be caused by the body's inability to fully break down protein, a condition called proteinuria. Low-carb, high protein diets can also be the cause, as consuming more protein than the body can metabolize can also lead to elevated serum levels of ammonia, and thus in sweat. If you suspect that you have proteinurea, it is a serious condition; please seek medical attention.)





[This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.]

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Helpful Herbs: Calendula

Calendula, also known at Pot Marigold, is a popular herbal remedy.  But does science back up its reputation as a healer?

Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant power

This study looks at the anti-inflammatory power of calendula and how it inhibits inflammatory compounds called cytokines:

Calendula was found to be a strong antioxidant that supports liver and kidney function:


This study found calendula to help breast cancer drug tamoxifen in fighting breast cancer cells:

A tea of calendula and chamomile tea was found to kill cancer cells:

Calendula extract was found to be potent against colon cancer, leukemia and melanoma:

Skin Healing

Helps reduce oxidative damage caused by UV-B radiation:

Wound-healing properties:

Helps prevent dermatitis in patients receiving radiation treatment:


Antioxidant that helps heal burns and prevent granulomas: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18818737

Many Benefits

This review looks in detail at its many benefits, including being anti-HIV, cytotoxic against cancer cells, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective (liver support) and spasmolytic (muscle-relaxant).

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Helpful Herbs: Aloe Vera

When you think of Aloe Vera most of us think about putting that green gel on after a sunburn.  But did you know that real aloe vera is  not a gel but a juice (the gel like stuff you see has thickeners in it.) Not only does aloe feel good on a sunburn, it has a number of benefits, being today's "Helpful Herb."

Cancer Protection
The full effects of ingestion of aloe vera juice are still being studied. But these these two studies found aloe to be chemoprotective:

Skin Health
This study outlines the many promising effects of aloe:
"It can be effective for genital herpes, psoriasis, human papilloma virus, seborrheic dermatitis, aphthous stomatitis, xerosis, lichen planus, frostbite, burn, wound healing and inflammation. It can also be used as a biological vehicle and an anti-microbial and antifungal agent and also as a candidate for photodynamic therapy of some kinds of cancer."

This study found that regular application of aloe helped to heal second-degree burns!

This study touts aloe as a "potential wound-healing and anti-inflammatory agent."

And finally, this study may explain why aloe helps so much with a sunburn, by boosting the skin's immune function:

Blood Sugar Health
This study looked at a standardized aloe vera extract, and how taking this as a supplement may help regulate blood sugar in those with Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes: 

And another study found that an aloe vera extract aided in liver and kidney health in diabetic rats: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16487267 stating: "the results of the present study provide a scientific rationale for the use of Aloe vera as an antidiabetic agent."

Finding Aloe
Because aloe vera juice has such a high water content, it must be preserved somehow.  Most of the jars that you'll find will have thickeners and preservatives.  However, there are juices that have no preservatives, you'll just need to keep them refrigerated and use them quickly.  (Here is one.) Of course, you can always grow an aloe plant (make sure it's aloe barbedensis) and squeeze the juice right from the leaves.  Always use caution if using on an open wound. While aloe is a great healer, you don't want to introduce bacteria in to the open skin.  If you have an open wound, please visit with your doctor about treatment.  

[This article is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.]