Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Dark Side of Mica

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do We Have Aromatherapy All Wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Healthy Harvest: Pumpkin

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

Pumpkin Flesh

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


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

Pumpkin seed oil

Men's Health

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

Women's health

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

photo credit: valkyrieh116 via photopin cc

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Helpful Herbs: Lavender

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

Reduced Stress

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


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


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


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

Reduced Menstrual Cramps & PMS

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

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

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Essential Oils and Children

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

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

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

Do not add undiluted essential oils to bathwater

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

Don't add to drinks

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

Keep out of reach of children. 

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

Don't ingest

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

Properly dilute

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

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

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

USDA Organic vs. "Therapeutic-Grade" Essential Oils

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

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

Let me explain...

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

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

8 Detoxifying Foods

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

Brazil Nuts

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

photo credit: Márton Divényi via photopin cc


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

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc


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

photo credit: Scot Nelson via photopin cc


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

photo credit: spychic via photopin cc


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

photo credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy via photopin cc


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

photo credit: Qfamily via photopin cc


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

photo credit: Leading Line Photography via photopin cc


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

photo credit: Pero Kvrzica via photopin cc


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

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: http://apps.ams.usda.gov/nop/

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.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Helpful Herbs: Green Tea

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

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

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

Protection of liver cancer and damage in animal studies:

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

Green tea may protect from breast cancer:

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

Green tea may help prevent metabolic syndrome:

Healthy Skin
Green tea extract is being studied for its possible role in reversing oxidation of skin cells: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24712558

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

Compounds found in green tea may have neuroprotective effects:

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

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

How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Loose-Leaf Tea

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Do You Really Need a Multivitamin?

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

But taking a multivitamin may not be the answer. 

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

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

Well, what about just eating whole, nutritious foods?

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

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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dealing with Acne Naturally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 17, 2014

5 Myths About Deodorant & B.O.

Myth 1. Natural Deodorants Don't Work for Me

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

Myth 2. Natural Deodorants Can Keep Me From Sweating

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

Myth 3. The Crystal is a Healthy Option

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

Myth 4. Eating Clean Will Keep me From Smelling Bad

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

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

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