Saturday, December 31, 2005

Shea Butter (Skin care)

Shea butter aka Karite or African butter, is one of those wonderful, little known products that has become quite popular in the last few years. It is one of my favorite natural ingredients to use on my skin--it is highly nourishing for the skin, and is great for all skin types (except, perhaps, extremely oily skin). It is very healing for rashes, scars, and blemishes, and forms a breathable barrier on the skin (so helps hold moisture to the skin, without clogging pores). It is safe to apply to sensitive facial skin--in fact, it's wonderful to use all over the body, especially achy feet, as it also relieves stiff muscles. It is also good for wrinkles and stretch marks. Additionally, it provides some sun protection. Since the consistancy is a bit thick, be sure to warm it slightly in your hands before applying. Apply a small amount (1/8 teaspoon) to damp facial skin, or massage into your face with a little hydrosol, aloe, or toner. It can be applied to the body skin directly (no need to warm in hands or apply with hydrosol/aloe/etc, though if your skin is dry, apply directly after shower or bath to seal in moisture).

I discovered Shea Butter about two years ago. It's really balanced out my skin (dehydrated skin, meaning it is finely textured with small pore size like dry skin, but can produce adequate amounts of sebum, and become both flaky/dry and oily). Most shea butter is from the Karite tree (Butyrospermum parkii) in West Africa, though some companies sell shea butter from a second species, Vitellaria nilotica, that grows in East Africa.

Be careful since many companies sell refined shea butter. I like to use unrefined, since it contains more vitamins/nutrients, and many businesses refine it with synthetic solvents (hexane), but some people don't like unrefined since shea has a slight odor (I actually like the natural smell of shea but some people don't). You can get it at health food stores like Whole Foods but many brands sold there are usually refined, and quite pricey. I've found that shea is cheaper online, even with shipping!

I don't really know how to decribe the smell of unrefined shea; it is a fat--like cocoa butter. I can't think of any similiar smell off the top of my head. I don't think it's a bad smell--some people just don't like the smell, similiar to how some people don't like how unrefined cocoa butter smells (chocolate), since it can overpower any other scent in the cream or whatever product. Anyways, though it does have a scent, the smell dissipates a few minutes after you put it on, so there is no lingering smell.

An interesting note: some people use it to cook! It is quite popular as a dairy butter substitute in Japan.

Here are some of my favorite places to buy pure 100% shea.

Mountain Rose Herbs, unrefined/expeller pressed. 100% natural. High quality. They also sell herbs, essential oils, carrier oils, hydrosols, etc. Great price!

Shea Terra Organics sells shea and a whole line of shea and other African products. The shea is 100% natural and organic. They sell refined and unrefined, in a wide range of sizes (including bulk and wholesale). They sell both kinds of species of shea, that are supposed to be different textures. And they also sell shea mixed with essential oils. Their refined shea is not refined with synthetic solvents but through a natural process.

Nature's Gift sell a naturally refined shea, but they also sell an unrefined whipped shea that is supposed to be fluffy, and easy to apply. 100% natural. They also sell essential oils and hydrosols.

Terressentials. Their shea is a bit pricier than the other places I've listed but it is 100% natural and organic. They also have really nice skin care.

Divinity Vegan Natural sells fair-trade shea butter. I haven't tried their pure shea but I have tried their hempchocolate butter (a cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil, and hemp oil combination) which is awesome! I use it on my face, and it is wonderful--soaks directly in, and is not greasy at all like some other butter balms I've tried. I apply it with plenty of liquid of course! They are a bit pricey but the small jar of the hempchocolate butter I've used has already lasted me a couple of months and I use it a lot.

And I haven't tried Garden of Wisdom yet, but they sell it too. They also sell all kinds of carrier oils, essential oils, etc. This company has been much posted about on some of the forums I've visited, so I hope to try them soon!

Friday, December 30, 2005

All natural makeup (Makeup and mineral makeup)

I only use 100% natural makeup. Finding truly all natural makeup can be difficult, doubly so if a person is also vegetarian or vegan! For these reasons I began using mineral makeup about a year or so ago, and I love it! Not only is the color range awesome for women of color, but there many brands are also 100% natural. I love how the powder 'foundation' makes my skin look flawless. I have pretty good skin, but do have a touch of red around my nose from old acne scars, and just a tiny amount of powder covers it up and controls my skin from getting oily. A couple of the ingredients (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) also provide sun protection, and also help reduce inflammation. Also, since there are no fillers in mineral makeup, you only need to use a little bit of product (MUCH less than you think) to get great coverage, or highly pigmented, rich color. Many companies also offer generous samples at great prices, so it is extremely economical. Note: while many companies are 100% natural and vegetarian/vegan a few ingredients to look out for are:

which is a natural, red colorant derived from the shell of crushed beetles. While this pigment is relatively non-toxic, those who are vegetarian or vegan should read ingredient lists of companies carefully, or contact the company directly, as sometimes mineral pigments are coated with carmine but are not listed as an ingredient. There are also a few people that are severely allergic to it. It is typically in red, pink, and purple products, so read the ingredient lists of these colors.

a synthetic preservative that has found its way into some mineral makeup lines. It has been found to weakly mimic the estrogen hormone, and has been found in cancerous breast tissue. The link to cancer is debatable however, since paraben levels in non-cancerous breast tissue have not been studied. However I tend to avoid them since they are known irritants, and many estrogen-mimicing substances can cause mutantions and feminization in many other species, and all the cosmetics we use get washed down the drain and into our watersheds.

synthetic colors (FD&C colors):

Though synthetic colors may not be listed in every ingredient list, some companies carry micas that have been coated with synthetic color. Some people are highly allergic to these colors, though they have been generally regarded as "safe". I personally stay away from them.

beeswax and lanolin:

I use these natural ingredients but vegans may want to read ingredient lists of lip products to avoid them.

bismuth oxychloride:
some companies (like bare escentuals) use this natural ingredient. Bismuth gives the skin a glowy look; some people find it too shiny and that it emphasizes pores. Many people are also highly allergic to it.

Mineral makeup:

I like Monave and Jlynne Cosmetics which are both woman owned, mineral makeup companies. Both are sold online; however, Monave has its own store in Maryland, and sells wholesale, so you may see this brand in other places.

Both use only all natural ingredients (with the exception of a few synthetic fragrances in some of the soaps that Jlynne sells). Both also do not contain carmine (a color derivative from beetles) and their minerals are not coated with synthetic colors. Their products also do not contain parabens. And they list all of their ingredients on their websites. They both have awesome forums!

I like Jlynne's foundation the best; it is my "holy grail". It is very light/not dense and it NEVER cakes. It comes in around 40 colors. Their eye shadows are very nice and come in wearable shades (good for the day). If you are vegan, all of their lip products contain beeswax and/or lanolin. Their lip creams are more like colored lip balms; they are nice to wear during the day but for night wear, try another brand. Their lip gloss is even sheerer but really moisturizes nicely and are not sticky at all. Great customer service! I recommend subscribing to their newsletter, and joining their birthday list (The company sent me a very generous gift certificate to spend for my birthday).

Monave's foundation is a bit more dense, and their foundation color range more limited. However, since half of their customers are African-American, they make some of the darkest foundations I've seen out of any brand. Their eyeshadows are my absolute favorite; very sparkly and vivid colors. Their lippies are also my favorite; rich, creamy, creamy, color. Best of all, they just switched their lipsticks to a vegan base, and in Feb will began carrying a few more vegan lip products. Their glosses are highly pigmented, even more than their lipsticks, but the glosses are still not vegan though. I really admire the owner, Deb. She really cares about her customers, and what goes into her product. They also sell kits for any inspiring mineral makeup hobbyists!

Another small, woman run mineral makeup company is Cory Cosmetics. She also makes a wide range of all natural skin care, dozens of products. This lady is a formulating fiend!

Mineral makeup application:

If you are not used to applying mineral makeup, it is a bit different than applying regular makeup. Traditionally people use a kubuki or a flat top (made with animal hair) to apply foundation, but since I'm veggie I use either a flocked sponge or a large taklon brush. The flocked sponge is sold at Jlynne (though I found some at Target out of all places!), and the brush I got at my craft store. If I'm not mistaken Monave is looking to offer taklon face brushes in the future. But for those that like the kubuki and flat top, both Monave and Jlynne are cruelty free.

Another lippie choice:

Ok, not mineral makeup, but still herbal, all natural lip balm/tint. Aubrey Organics makes a great vegan product called natural lips available in 3 colors plus clear. I like mixing the pink or red with the brown, which makes a very pretty raison shade. They also make powders (face, blush, and browns for eyes) but they contain silk.

Other natural makeup brands:

Other natural brands you might want to check out are Burt's Bees, Paul Penders, and Miessence.

Some of Burt's Bees makeup contains carmine and beeswax. Their formulas are pretty nice, but their colors (with the exception of their lippies) are somewhat limited. Their foundation is clay and mineral based. I liked their lippies, but I've decided to no longer use them once my current stash runs out, once I discovered exactly what carmine really was!

Paul Penders makes very nice mascara (which is nearly all natural; it contains only 1 synthetic ingredient) and lipstick. They also make concealer, and eye and lip pencils. I've only used their mascara and one lipstick--I liked their mascara but want to find one that is 100% natural. The lipstick texture was nice and it was heavily pigmented but the color didn't look so great on me (which is surprising because I usually can get away with wearing most colors).

I haven't used the Miessence line, but it looks mainly all natural and mostly organic. Some of the products contain beeswax, and since they are from Australia, they are a bit pricey. And their color range is a bit limited.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

PEOs, Chamomile PEO profile, and aromatherapy cleanser (Aromatherapy/skin care)

I recently answered questions about PEO, the uses of blue chamomile essential oil, and how to make an aromatherapy cleanser, and I've decided to post the answers here (with additional added information).

What is PEO?

PEO stands for Pure Essential Oil. Many companies will label their 100% essential oils (non-diluted) as PEO. Read the label carefully if the label only says 'essential oil' or 'essential oil blend' instead of PEO, as 'essential oil' and 'essential oil blend' can mean several things. Sometimes the term 'essential oil' can mean PEO, but at other times it may be essential oils diluted in a carrier oil base. Be sure to read the whole label; if it says 'in jojoba oil' or whatever carrier oil base, it has been diluted and is not a PEO. You may want to buy diluted oils (which make wonderful perfumes, and can be easily added to the bath), but to make your own cosmetic products it is better to buy the PEO. 'Essential oil blend' could be a blend of PEOs (a synergy) or it could be a combination of essential oils and carrier oils (so a ready to wear product). And some essential oils blends may not be 100% natural. Be sure to read labels carefully.

How do I make an aromatherapy cleanser?

Add a total of 6-12 drops of any combination of essential oils per 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of carrier. If you want to make a cleanser you could simply use a good base oil (like olive, jojoba, etc. For dry or normal skin) or castille liquid soap (For all skin types. To make several ounces, dilute the soap with some aloe or hydrosol, and add about 1-3 teaspoons of glycerine or carrier oil if your skin is dry) as a carrier.

What are some of the uses of Blue Chamomile PEO?

Blue aka German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) essential oil is good for reducing inflammation and any sort of skin irritation. It is also good for puffiness from either water retention (make a cream or add to a carrier) and to apply on bug bites (diluted), and is also good for nausea (make a massage oil for this). It is considered a relaxing essential oil; good to use as a massage oil or in the bath (5 drops) to relax at the end of the day. It is good for both dry and oily skins. Like many essential oils is antibacterial. Dilute before use (in a carrier).

I like adding a few drops to eye creams--really reduces puffiness!

Those that are allergic to rag weed may want to avoid this, as it is related.

Here is the oil profile from aromaweb.

Make it yourself holiday gifts (Aromatherapy/skin care/gift giving ideas)

Well it's been a while since I've posted (finals!), and the holidays are already here, but I've decided to post a quick list of fun, fast, and easy last minute handmade gifts. Thanks to my sister for suggesting this idea for a post!

Super holiday, make it yourself list!

-aromatherapy sprays
-Salt scrubs, sugar scrubs
-Bath Salts
-bath fizzies
-bath herbs (herbs for specific skin types and a tiny bit of essential oils)
-homemade lotions and creams
-facial serums
-melt and pour soap
-massage/body or bath oil
-infused herbal oils
-body balm or 'lotion' bars
-lip balm
-solid perfumes (sim to making lip and body balms)
-perfume (oil and alcohol based) (also meditation oils)
-dream pillows
-sachets (I like lavender flowers, scented with lavender and atlas cedarwood essential oils. Repels insects and make your clothes/an area smell great!)
-candle making (Though candle making can be hard, what I like doing is just pouring the wax directly into glass votive holders, so I don't have to use a candle mold).
-herbal tinctures and vinegars

-your own herbal tea blends in beautiful tins
-cookies, brownies
-dinner baskets: in a nice basket put all the ingredients and a recipe for a meal.
-jarred cookie mixes and instructions
-jarred soup mixes and instructions

-I've begun learning bookbinding (making my own journals) which is fun and easy (and the books are very beautiful!)
-knit something!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

'Natural' and 'organic' ingredients in personal care products (Natural Skin and Hair Care Information)

Since highschool I've always used what I thought were natural personal care products. I'd get excited about buying a product that contained aloe or exotic herbals like ylang ylang and jasmine. But like most people, when I read the ingredient list of those products, my eyes just skimmed over all those other ingredients--you know, those almost unpronounceable, scientific looking words. I never gave much thought about them; I just thought they were just some important but benign ingredients. I mean after all, why would a cosmetic/personal care company use something that was dangerous? Sure I knew they were synthetic, but I didn't think that any of them could be harmful. That soon changed after I graduated from college.

After months of not finding a non-profit job, I finally began to work in retail store selling perfumes. At first I was enthusiastic--I often got free full sized products from the vendors. But soon I began to feel dismayed--this was about the time when my skin began to break out in rashes, even though I was using what I thought at the time were 'natural' products. That's when I began doing research on cosmetic ingredients. And what I found made me swear off synthetic ingredients for the rest of my life.

Here is an example of the ingredients in an aloe vera gel that claims to be 100% pure aloe.

Aloe Vera Gel: natural

Triethanolamine: aka TEA. This is NOT a good ingredient. Synthetic used to adjust the pH, to emulsify, and as a preservative. This ingredient is often contaminated with nitrosamines, which are known, toxic carcinogens.

Tocopheryl acetate: vitamin E. Good ingredient; may be natural or synthetic. Antioxidant, a preservative.

Carbomer940: Synthetic emulsifier and thickener. Has a very high pH, and also can cause eye irritation.

Tetrasodium Edta: Sequestering agent, synthetic. Eye and skin irritant.

DMDM Hydantoin: aka Dantoin 685. VERY bad. Preservative that contains 19% formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen, and is highly toxic. It was once banned by the FDA but is now allowed to be used in very, very small concentrations. (The FDA's regulations on cosmetics are VERY weak).

Diazolidinyl Urea: aka Germall II and Germall 115. Synthetic. Preservative. Also VERY bad. The American Academy of Dermatology has found it is one of the main causes of contact dermatitis. It also releases formaldehyde.

The word natural is a highly abused word in the cosmetic industry. There is no governmental regulation of the word, therefore, a company could make a product with only 1% natural ingredients and then still call it 'natural'.

The word 'organic' is a bit of a different, complex story. The USDA does AND doesn't regulate organic personal care products. The USDA regulates organic personal care products that have undergone National Organic Program (NOP) certification, but unlike organic FOOD products, the term organic is NOT regulated in personal care products outside of certification. The USDA claims they do not have the authority to regulate labeling on personal care products, since cosmetics falls under the FDA. The USDA ONLY regulates organic products that have undergone NOP certification and NOT any other products. The FDA has very weak regulation of cosmetics/personal care products. There is a lot of misbranding and mislabeling. Therefore, if you buy an organic personal care product, make sure it has the USDA's organic seal (which would mean the product is 95-100% natural); or that it says 'made with organic ingredients' in accordance with the USDA NOP (which would mean it is 70% organic). Or learn about ingredients, read ingredient lists, since a lot of companies are undergoing certification and currently don't have the USDA's seal on their product, and some (smaller) companies can not afford to undergo certification. There are still products labeling their products as organic or they use the word 'organic' in their name, but they still have high amounts of synthetics in their products.

A good resource on more information about organic labeling in personal care products is the Organic Consumer Association (a non-profit, grassroots, organic consumer watch dog group).

A wonderful book on natural and synthetic ingredients:
What's in your cosmetics by Aubrey Hampton (who is the owner of Aubrey Organics)

Actually any of Hampton's books are excellent.

Note: I'm not saying that all natural ingredients are benign and safe--no one in their right mind would use poison ivy in a skin care cream. But many natural ingredients have been used for dozens if not hundreds or thousands of years with no known (bad) side effects. They are often gentler to the skin than many synthetics. However, some people are sensitive to certain natural ingredients should take care in what they use on their skin; for example, some people are allergic to ragweed, so it would be prudent that those people avoid the related plant chamomile, an otherwise benign and extremely beneficial plant, as well.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Stinky odors! (Baking soda use/Aromatherapy/carpets)

To get rid of stinky odors, whether from smoke, foul odors in the fridge or trash, etc, try sprinkling or putting a small cup filled with baking soda near or on the item for several days (be sure to change it every couple of days). Baking soda absorbs odors. If it is really stinky, try adding 2-4 drops of essential oils to the baking soda, which will leave a pleasant scent AND kill germs. Mix well before use. Good essential oils to use are citrus scents, like lemon and lime, mint, and lavender.

Carpets can also be freshened up with baking soda (with or without essential oils). Simply sprinkle some on the carpet, leave for at least an hour, and vacuum as usual. Make sure you only use a couple drops of essential oils with the baking soda and make sure it is well mixed, as some essential oils like the citrus ones are solvents.

Aromatherapy dishwashing liquid, and scented cards, letters, clothes (Aromatherapy)

I hope everyone is having a great holiday!

Here are a couple more uses of essential oils to incorporate aromatherapy in your life!

Aromatherapy Dishwashing liquid:

I bought some naturally derived unscented dishwashing liquid (I like the brand Seventh Generation; it's very concentrated and suds nicely! It also comes already scented with essential oils too). To a small amount, I add a couple drops of essential oil, and suddenly washing dishes becomes a lot more pleasant :) . An added bonus is that most essential oils have antibacterial properties. I like to use lavender or some kind of citrus (lemon or tangerine is awesome!). Since it's the holidays, a combination of orange with cloves or cinnamon will surely put you in the holiday mood!

Wonderfully scented letters/clothes/cards:

Letters, clothes, and cards can be easily scented with your favorite personal scent. Simply add 1 drop of essential oil to a cotton ball, and put it in a box or enclosed space (like a drawer) with your items. Use your favorite combination of essential oils for a personal touch (I love rose attar and vanilla). Lavender and atlas cedarwood are also excellent and both also repel bugs!

Friday, November 18, 2005

How to make an herb infused oil (Herbal information/food)

I realized that though I've blogged about making aromatherapy (essential oil) body/massage/bath oils, herb tinctures, herb infused vinegars, and herbal infusions (tea), I've never mentioned herb infused oils. Herb infused oils have a wide range of uses; depending on the herbs used, they are wonderful in skin care recipes (such as balms, salves, creams, lotions, body/massage/bath oil, hair oil/conditioners), and are also awesome to use in cooking! Making an herb infused oil is similar to making an herb tincture or herb infused vinegar.

There are basically two ways to make an herb infused oil:

Traditional way:

To a very clean and sterile glass jar, fill it with fresh or dried herbs, and cover the herbs with oil (like olive oil or your favorite). Keep it in a dark place and let infuse 3-6 weeks. Strain. Store in dark place or the refrigerator. The ratios of herb to oil can vary: I've seen it range from 1:1, 2:1, or a 4:1 ratio. I usually just fill the jar with herbs and then pour enough oil to cover the herbs.

Some people recommend infusing it in a sunny place (to make a solar infused herb oil) or warming up the oil a tad before adding the herbs, but I don't think it's necessary. I never understood the solar method since essential oils are destroyed by sunlight. Fresh herbs are preferred, but I've made many nice herb infused oils out of dried herbs as well. It helps to slightly chop the herbs before infusing, so that the essential oils and other herbal constitutes can be more easily released.

Note: I highly recommend storing in the fridge, though some oils such as olive may solidify over time. If this happens, simply place the bottle in a warm water bath for a few minutes to gently bring the oil to room temperature.

Fast way:
Over low heat, warm the oil and the roughly chopped herbs for 1-3 hours until the oil is well infused by the herb's essences.
Be sure to watch carefully, do NOT to bring this mixture to a boil or burn the herbs, as too much heat will destroy vitamins and the herb's constitutes, and burnt herbs will impart a burnt taste to the oil.


For a body/massage/bath oil or for use in skin care, try an oil made with some of these herbs: chamomile, lavender, calendula, rose

Salves/balms: the herbs in the list above, comfrey

For a wonderful hair oil/conditioner: rosemary, sage, nettle, horsetail

For food: rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, basil, garlic, chili peppers

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More on Natural Preservatives (Skin care information)

I previously blogged about natural preservatives but I realized I didn't list how much of each preservative to use. Here are some general guidelines.

Grapefruit seed oil (do NOT confuse this with the essential oil): I usually use 5-10 drops to preserve my creams (I make about 8 oz or less of cream at a time, add more if making a larger amount).

Vitamin E oil: It depends on the concentration of the vitamin E. I usually use just eyeball it and use several drops--maybe 1/2 teaspoon or a little less.

Essential oils: 1/2-2% concetrations, that's 3-12 drops per ounce. It's better to use less than more.

Herbal extract, aloe, hydrosol, apple cider or wine vinegar: Replace all or part of the water with these liquids. If you are using vinegar, be sure to dilute with another liquid as it is acidic, and many people are sensitive to it full strength.

Many people may be concerned that products preserved with natural preservatives will not work. Though it is true that natural preservatives will not preserve a product as long as a chemical one (2-3 years), from my experience, they work quite well. I've found that a combination of natural preservatives will preserve a product for many months (I only make small amounts of products so tend to use them up within a month or two). I've used some store brought products preserved with similar natural preservatives, and they have kept up to a year. The trick is to use a combination of natural preservatives to effectively preserve your products. An added bonus is that many of the natural ones also help improve the appearence of the skin and hair!

Rosemary Gladstar's Perfect Cream (Skin care recipe)

I was e-mailed a few days ago about Rosemary Gladstar's cream recipe. I still highly recommend buying her books, especially the Family Herbal (since it is truly one of the best herbal and herbal remedy books I've ever read), however if you are interested only in the cream recipe, it is available online.

Friday, November 11, 2005

How to make your own herbal soaps (Skin care recipes)

*This post has been editted to clarify some information (mainly added that 8 ounces equals 1/2 pound), and to add some information (a few other soap recipe ideas).

Though I haven't yet attempted to make cold process bar soap from scratch (with sodium hydroxide aka lye), I have made my own herbal bar soaps with the melt and pour method. The melt and pour method is much simpler, and doesn't involve handling such caustic ingredients such as lye (the final end product (soap) has no lye in it; the lye and the oils/fats undergo a chemical reaction, and produce soap and glycerin). Basically you melt an already made soap base, add your favorite herbals, and then pour into a mold, let harden for a few hours, and then, you have your own herbal soaps!

You can add all kinds of wonderful ingredients to your base; these are just a few suggestions:

liquid: hydrosols, herbal infusions (tea), distilled water, aloe, honey, goat's milk, oatmeal 'slurry' (simply put a small amount of oatmeal in several ounces of hot water, let sit for several minutes, and then strain)
texture/exfoliates: oatmeal (good for sensitive skin), almonds, cornmeal, dried and crushed avocado seeds
texture/herbs: all kinds. some popular ones are lavender flowers, chamomile flowers, calendula flowers, rosemary leaves. Make sure you grind/crush them somewhat.
other powders: all types of clay, herbal powders like comfrey root
fats:some popular choices are cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil, and lanolin
fragrance: essential oils (some people also use synthetic fragrances oil which of course I do not recommend)
colorants: I've found that they are not necessary but you can add natural pigment and colors if you want.

You do not have to add an ingredient from each list of course, just pick one, two, three or so that you like!

As to the ratios/amounts to use, it varies from author to author. I've summed up the information below. These are only guidelines, feel free to experiment with the amounts.

These measurements are based per 8 ounces (half a pound) of soap base. If you decide to use several items on this list, be sure to use less of each ingredient (and be sure to write down what you put in the soap so you remember!)

liquid: Out of all the books I have, the measurement for liquids vary the greatest, anywhere from 1 Tablespoon to 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons). One book even recommended adding a 1:1 ratio of honey (which I've found to be a tad too much). Be sure to not add too much liquid, as the end product will end up being too soft/mushy!
texture/exfoliates: ranges anywhere from 1 Teaspoon to 4 Tablespoons, depending how much texture you want. Start with a small amount, and then add more as needed.
texture/herbs: same as above
other powders: ranges from 1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon.
fats: 1/2 Tablespoon to 2 Tablespoons
fragrance: 1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of essential oils, depending on the strength of the smell of the essential oil (some essential oils are more profuse than others). Always start with less, especially with this ingredient.
colorants: Honestly I have no idea since I don't use colorants, but most companies will post suggested amounts on their product.

How to make your own all natural soap:

You will need:

-a soap mold (preferable greased with the same kind of oil/fat you are using in your soap. If you are not using oil/fat, just use olive oil)
-8 oz (half a pound) of soap base
-your chosen additives
-a double broiler

In a double broiler, melt the soap base over low to low/medium heat until fully melted. Remove from heat and add your additives. Pour into your molds, and set in a quiet area where they won't be disturbed for several hours. When they are hard, run a sharp knife around the edges of your mold (note for some very, very irregular mold shapes, skip this part, as you may inadvertently mess up the shape). Turn them upside down over on a clean surface (a surface covered with wax paper works nicely), and lightly pop the soaps of the molds. Soap mold are quite flexible and strong, don't worry about exerting a little force and bending them. Wrap in wax paper or some nice (perhaps handmade) paper, and label your creations!

The recipe is foolproof. If your soap doesn't feel hard enough or you feel there isn't enough herbs etc, simply melt it again and add more base or other ingredients.


Melt and pour soap base is usually a natural glycerin soap base. Be sure you buy from a reputable company, as some companies may put synthetic chemicals or additives to their base.

The above directions are made with only 8 ounces of soap base--but feel free to use more or less, just be sure to calculate how much of the other ingredients you'd need. The number of soaps you will have after crafting, of course will depend how much base and ingredients are used, and what size mold is used.

Another alternative to using glycerin melt and pour soap base, is to take your favorite brand of castile soap, shave it into small amounts, add liquid (about a 1 part castile to 3 part liquid or so), and melt over low heat. You can also use already shaved castile soap flakes. Make sure it is pure Castile.

Double broiler: if you don't have one, just place a heat-safe bowl over a pot of water. Make sure the bowl is large enough so that it's sturdy, and doesn't tilt over.

Sample recipe:

Super Lavender Soap:

8-9 ounces of soap base
1/4 cup of lavender infusion/tea (made with lavender flowers)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground lavender flowers
1 teaspoon lavender essential oil

Other good ideas: Honey and oatmeal, olive oil and aloe, chamomile, peppermint; the possibilities are endless!

Companies to buy from:

For supplies such as the melt and pour base, soap molds, and all kinds of soap supplies, I suggest buying from Sunfeather Soap. This soap company is owned and run by well-known soap maker, Sandy Maine. I highly recommend buying one of her books on soap making. Her store also sells kits to make the cold-process kind of soap, castile soap flakes, and she also sells already made bar soaps as well. Note: be sure you read the descriptions of each product carefully; though the majority of her products are natural, she does sell a few synthetic products like fragrance oil and SLS powder.

Craft stores like Michael's also sells soap base and molds, but I think the brand of soap base they sell (though marked as natural) contains a few synthetics.

You can also use candy molds as soap molds, but as these will make irregular shapes, it might be hard to pop them out of the mold.

For herbs, essential oils, additives, and carrier oils: Mountain Rose Herbs

Essential oils and carrier oils:Nature's Gift

Herbs: Herbalist Delight is a great place to buy small amounts of herbs.
Edited: it looks like this company is no longer in business, or at least their old website now goes...ahem...elsewhere. Sorry if you clicked on it. Thanks Georgette for pointing this out. :)

Also try your supermarket for herbs, and ingredients like oatmeal and (in health food stores) essential oils.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Black Bean Salsa/Salad (Vegetarian recipe)

This simple yet tasty recipe is perfect with chips, pita, or crackers (as a salsa), as well as on its own (as a salad). Total yum.


1 25-30 ounce can of black beans or 2 15 ounce cans, drained.
1/2 small red onion
1 fresh or roasted clove of garlic*
a handful of cilantro
1 medium fresh or roasted tomato*
1/2 medium fresh or roasted red or yellow pepper*
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper and salt to taste
optional: 1/2 jalapeno pepper, 1 small can of corn

Finely chop the garlic, red onion, and cilantro, add to a large bowl. Chop and add the tomato and peppers (red/yellow, and/or jalapeno). Add the black beans and corn (if using). In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar and olive oil, add this to the black bean mixture. Mix well. Enjoy! :)

*To roast your own veggie, preheat the oven for 400 degrees F. In a foil package add your veggie, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, wrap the veggies up (to form a packet) and place in oven and roast for 40-50 minutes. OR you can buy fire roasted canned tomatoes, and also roasted jarred peppers. And roasted garlic in a jar too, if I am not mistaken.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

How to make your own massage, body, and bath oil (Skin Care/Aromatherapy)

This post was editted slightly on Nov 9, 2007.

A skin product that I love using is aromatherapy body, massage, and bath oils. I like using them straight out of the shower or bath, or in bath water to seal in moisture and lightly sent the skin.

Aubrey Organics makes a couple of very nice massage body oils called 'Natural Spa Sea Wonders'. They are 100% natural and one of the few natural products that are also USDA certified organic. It comes in a relaxing scent (Geranium Oil, Sweet Orange Oil) and also an Invigorating scent (Rosemary Oil, Spearmint Oil)

But of course I like making my own! It is similar to making facial serums, but the concentration of essential oils is slightly higher.

First choose a good base/carrier oil, or make a blend of your favorites. For body and massage oils I like using lighter oils (oils typically used for oily or normal skin), and for bath oils I like using heavier oils (the ones typically used for dry skin).

Easy Instructions:

To 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of your chosen base/carrier oil add a total of 6-12 drops or less of essential oils* Lightly roll or shake gently to mix the ingredients together. You can also add vitamin E or grapefruit seed extract as antioxidants.

Good relaxing essential oils include:
blue or roman chamomile
any citrus (though most are phototoxic, cause skin to tan. use only at night)

Stimulating oils:
peppermint (use only small amounts as some people are sensitive to this oil; avoid if you have heart conditions, as peppermint contains menthol).
rosemary (avoid if epileptic)

Note, if you choose to use a combination of essential oils use only a total of 6-12 drops (and NOT 6-12 drops of each essential oil). Lavender combines well with any citrus, and I also like neroli mixed with roman chamomile. Ginger is wonderful with citrus also.

*As always use less than 6-12 drops of essential oils if you are pregnant or if this oil is for children. Use around 3-6 drops of essential oil only. Be sure to research the essential oil or consult a medical practitioner before use if you are pregnant or have any medical problems before use, as certain essential oils may interact with medication, or may not be safe to use during pregnancy. Certain essential oils also are not appropriate for children.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Easy guacamole (Vegetarian food recipe)

I love guacamole. I'm currently eating already made guacomole from Costco (see my sister's blog for more on this), which is soooo good, but when avocados are in season, fresh is best since you can season it to your liking. This literally takes 5 minutes to make and is really tasty!

Easy Guacamole Ingredients:
1-2 avocados; Haas/the CA kind rather than the Florida kind
1/4 to 1/2 red onion
1 small to medium tomato
juice from 1/2 small lemon

black pepper
salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cumin (optional)
1 clove of garlic (optional)
cilantro (optional)
1 jalapeno pepper (optional)

Half the avocados, remove the pits. Scrape the flesh from the skins, and mash it in a bowl. Add the lemon juice (to prevent browning). Chop the onion and tomato, add it to the avocado. (If using) Finely chop and then add the garlic, cilantro, and jalapeno (be sure to remove the seeds from the pepper). Season with the cumin, and the salt and black pepper to taste.  Make sure you mix well.  

I used to like to top this on quesadillas, or eat this with pita bread or whole wheat crackers (the 'triscuit' kind). For those that eat chips, corn chips are also good.

If you are grain free or gluten free, guacamole is good with almond flour crackers or try coconut flour crackers, or crackers made other gluten free flours.  Or you can eat it with vegetables like cucumbers, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, celery etc.

If you have any left over, be sure to cover the surface with plastic wrap (press down onto the surface), so that no oxygen gets to it.

Edited March 18, 2014, to fix the link to my sister's blog post.  Also to add some grain free and gluten free recommendations and links.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

All Natural Beauty forum and site (All natural skin care/beauty forum and website)

Since August, about the time I started this blog, I've been part of several forums. One of my favorites (and one of the ones I post most often on) is the All Natural Beauty forum. Hosted by Sharon Houghton, a licensed aesthetician and owner of SharAmbrosia, this forum is great for sharing ideas, and finding truly all natural products.
Another awesome source for finding information on all natural skin care products is the All Natural Beauty's website. This site is jammed pack with information on all natural skin care, recipes, and links to several wonderful companies. My favorite section on the site is the article section (reading room), which includes writings by Sharon, Debbie Bilezikian of Monave mineral makeup, aromatherapist and herbal marvel Jeanne Rose, and many others. I also love the recipe section; the lavender, honey, milk bath courtesy of the National Honey Board is particulary soothing, and leaves the skin so soft!

A special thanks to Sharon, who put a link to this blog on the All Natural Beauty's website!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Girl Kills Bear (News article)

There was a disturbing article in Monday's Metro section of the Washington Post. Last year, the state of Maryland started allowing bear hunting. This year's season started with the death of a 211 lbs bear killed by an eight year old girl. That's right, a child. I frankly don't know what is is more chilling, the death of the bear, or that this eight year old is gleeful that she has killed a bear and doesn't think there is anything wrong with the fact that she did.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pimple Juice (Skin care recipes/pimples/serums)

I used to have flawless skin as a teenager, but in my early twenties (right about the time I became allergic to synthetics) I began to develop blemishes. It caused redness and scaring around my nose, in addition to the rashes I'd get from using synthetic ingredients. I gradually switched to all natural products, which initially made my skin worse, as I applied the wrong ingredients (for oily or dry skin, instead of for dehydrated skin) incorrectly. The products were either too drying or too rich, and I was applying way too much product. It took me a while to figure out I had a little known skin type (dehydrated), and that natural products are concentrated (no fillers) should only be applied in tiny amounts to get the benefits without the greasiness. Right now my skin is pretty much clear, and though I still get an occasional blemish (around certain times of the month ;) ), my skin has healed and the redness around my nose is disappearing. I hope to eventually go over what natural facial cleaners, toners, and moisturizers each skin type should use (make it yourself and also brands) since as I've found out it is very important to use products that are catered to your skin, and to correctly apply them. To start out, I'd like to share with you my 'pimple juice', what I do put on my blemishes when I get them.


alcohol (such as vodka)
essential oils, such as tea tree, lavender, helichrysum (aka immortelle aka italian everlasting), bergamot (make sure you use only during the night or get bergaptene-free as it is phototoxic, makes the skin tan)

Per 1 ounce (30 ml or 2 Tablespoons) of vodka, add 6-12 drops of essential oils. This will make a 1-2% concentration. Shake gently, and apply with a q-tip or cotton ball as a spot treatment.

You may use either the essential oils individually or a combination of them in this recipe; no matter how many essential oils you use, only use a total of 6-12 drops of essential oils (and NOT 6-12 drops of each esential oil).

I wouldn't use this on extremely dry skin though, as alchohol is drying (or if you have dry skin, use this on top of your moisturizer). This spot treatment is really effective at zapping my pimples away! This is similiar to such products as Burt's Bees Parsley Blemish Stick or Desert Essence's Tea Tree Blemish Touch stick, though a lot cheaper if you make your own!

Some people find alcohol too drying, or want to make a moisturizer with pimple zapping power, so they prefer making a serum.


carrier oil for your skin type
essential oils

Make a 1-2% concentration.

Be sure you only use 2-5 drops of the serum on your face, and apply with plenty of toner, aloe, hydrosol, herbal tea, or water.

Making Aromatherapy Creams part 2: books/resources (Skin care/Natural Cosmetic resources/book reviews)

For a good online resource for recipes check Make Your Cosmetics. This site is sponsored by Donna Maria and Handmade Beauty Network. I really love this site, there are lots of good recipes and great ideas! Some recipes may use a few synthetic ingredients (like emulsifying wax and fragrance oils) but most are all natural.

Here are some of my favorite books with cream recipes (mini book reviews):

Dina Falconi's Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair : This book explains techniques and the differences between creams/lotions, salves/balms, herbal oils, tinctures, herbal vinegars, powders, etc (check out the last chapter book). It has very easy and wonderful recipes for all kinds of skin and hair care products, including creams (emulsified with beeswax, with and without borax).

Erich Keller's Aromatherapy Handbook for Beauty, Hair, and Skin Care. This book is jammed pack with information, including aromatherapy/essential oil info and usage (which essential oils to use over others for specific skin conditions; there are lots of charts), how the skin and hair functions, skin and hair conditions, and contains a wide range of skin and hair cosmetic recipes. The cream recipes are well detailed; they clearly describe what temperatures the water and oils phases should be at, for those that are concerned with accuracy.

Donna Maria's Making aromatherapy creams and lotions. Depending on who you ask, people either really love this book or they hate it. I think it gives a great technical explaination on cream making, and also has recipes on how to make a few other goodies. It does an awesome job (even better than the other two books above) at describing the various ingredients, except that it neglects to mention natural preservatives. The only thing I didn't like is that it uses a lot of emulsifying wax in its recipes (which is not a natural ingredient), but there are some beeswax and borax recipes too. It may not be a good book for the beginner, as it uses many rare and expensive ingredients, which may be frustrating for some people to find. I, personally, haven't had a problem finding the ingredients, but then again I know where to find most of the ingredients since I make crafts all the time. In a way this is good for the beginner in that it describes the process in great detail, but at the same time some people get frustatrated in trying to track down the ingredients, or the recipes may seem daunting because they contain so many exotic ingredients. These are good recipes for 'fancy/exotic' creams. It has a basic beeswax cream, but mainly has complicated recipes if you want to play with textures (like creams with the floral waxes). I highly recommend it for the technical information.

Dorie Byers' Natural Beauty Basics : Create Your Own Cosmetics and Body Care Products. This book has nice beeswax (with no borax) recipes, and if you want to make a cream with lecithin, this is the only book I've found that has recipes that uses ONLY lecithin to emulsify creams (Donna Maria has recipes with lecithin but if I recall correctly she uses it with a mix of other emulsifiers). The recipes are for hand creams, but they are very nice, and you could use them all over the body/face. There is a fantastic shea butter cream recipe too. This book has many other wonderful recipes in it too. They only thing I didn't like is that ocassionally a few synthetics creep up in her recipes (like using baby shampoo to make an herbal shampoo), but for the most part the recipes are 100% natural.

Rosemary Gladstar. One of the best cream recipes ever. Get either the 'Family Herbal' or 'Herbs for Natural Beauty' (which has the same information; the Family Herbal is like a compilation of many of her little books like Herbs for Natural Beauty). Although it is only one recipe, the instructions for that recipe are awesome. This cream recipe is my favorite for my body skin, and the one recipe that I've based most of my porportions on. It is so rich and versatile, and is simply the best. Gladstars books have many other recipes on skin care, and if you get the Family Herbal book, it is a good resource on herb descriptions, and contains good recipes on natural remedies for all kinds of problems. And the rest of the book--gorgeous layout but extremely useful information. Gladstar is considered one of the best herbalists in the country. One of my favorite herbal remedy books.

Janice Cox books. Very easy recipes; beeswax based creams and some creams made just with stearic acid (which I haven't seen in other guides). I think the stearic acid creams are in her 'Natural Beauty at Home' book (make sure you get the expanded, revised edition which has more recipes). It is a good beginner guide and excellent for a wide range of simple recipes, not just creams. I like her books, and the recipes are nice but they are VERY basic (not very technical, simple ingredients). The creams I've tried from her were ok; I liked recipes from other authors better though. The bulk of the book consists of recipes; a good place to get ideas from. You can usually find Janice Cox books in your local library too (the others may be harder to find in your library though).

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mighty Mouse (Apple computer product review)

After two weeks of slight tracking problems, my mouse (the one that came with my Emac that I got 3 years ago) decided to act up even more last weekend, and then sputter out completely and die. Needless to say I was not happy, since I had a lot of work to complete and could not finish it. It seems like most people (including me) never realize how important something that appears small and insignificant is--that you don't think much about when using--until it's gone. I think I really learned that lesson last weekend.

So a few days ago I purchased Apple's Mighty Mouse, which set me back about $50. I did not have time to go to the Apple store, nor could I wait to order it online, so unfortunately had to pay full price for it at my school's computer store. (FYI, if you are a student or educator, and can get to an Apple store or order at the Apple store online, Apple offers an educational discount. I usually prefer ordering online since it is free shipping and no tax). Though I could have gotten a non-Apple mouse for cheaper (shudder), I could not bring myself to buy a non-Apple product, especially after I went to a store and tried some of them out, and found that they were not only an eye-sore, but they were so bulky, and the tracking didn't seem as smooth as an apple mouse. So far I am liking my new mouse. Though it was a tad expensive, it is an optical mouse (like my old one) except it has several new features. My favorite so far is the scroll ball located on top of the mouse; it is so awesome! I can now scroll up and down, or left and right without moving the whole mouse, which is helpful in reducing strain. The thing I am still getting used to is that (though you can't see it; the top is smooth and not split) it can work as a two button mouse. This doesn't other me too much, except when I accidentally click the right side of the mouse instead of the left. I may reconfigure it to be a one button mouse, if it drives me too crazy though! I don't have OS 10.4 yet, but the mouse can provide easy access to several of Tiger's features. I plan on upgrading my computer soon though, so will be sure to try out those additional features. The tracking is really smooth, and the mouse isn't bulky at all. Overall I am pleased with my purchase, and am once again happy I have access to my computer.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Maryland Renaissance Festival (Festival Information)

**edited: removed a link for Herbalist Delight because this company either went out of business or their site has been hacked.

On Sunday, I went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival with my sister, Edward, my mom, and the Rices: Adam, Lorraine, and their children, Ian Sol and Z. Luna (thanks Adam and Lorraine for the free passes!). I hadn't been to a RennFest in a while (maybe ten years), but it was a lot of fun! For those of you that don't know, RennFests are 'renaissance/middle ages' inspired festivals that usually run once a season in an area during the weekends for several weeks. And the Maryland RennFest is supposed to be one of the best! There are musicians, theater performances/shows, games, and of course all types of vendors selling anything from middle ages type clothing (cloaks, head wear, peasant shirts and skirts), pottery, herbs, metal and glass work, leather work (like boots), jewelry, hand crafted products, and even psychics providing tarot card readings. Like many of the fair-goers, Ian, Edward, and I dressed up (Ian as a knight, who then later switched to Robin Hood; Edward in a velvet cloak as a 'techno-mage', and me in a peasant shirt and skirt). I really loved visiting all the different vendors stalls--not only are all of the vendors super friendly (and not to mention fully dressed up in medieval type clothing), but all of the products are hand made, and some of the vendors, like the blacksmiths and glass blowers, were making some of their wares onsite. One of the best parts of the day was watching this glassblower shape a colored glass rod into a beautifully designed dragon. It truly amazes me, yet saddens me, watching people make such beautiful artwork; it truly is a dying craft.

I didn't buy any glass or metal work, but I did buy some beautiful pieces of pottery (a small glazed bowl and cup) from Tessem Stoneware (from PA; no website or business cards, but they are at the MD RennFest every year and will be at the MD Sugarloaf Craft Festival this year), wonderful naturally scented handmade soap (in lavender; orange, oatmeal, sage; and ylang ylang, sandalwood, nutmeg, cinnamon) from the Bee Folks, and a few ounces of herbs (some delicious smelling bayberry, orris root powder, slippery elm powder, cayenne chili powder, and a sage smudge stick) from Herbalist Delight (from Baltimore, MD). Edward and Bexn also brought some delicious honey from the Bee Folks. One thing that surprised me was the prices--they were pretty good! The pottery prices were only $5 each (though another potter was selling higher quality prices for a lot more), and the soap only $10 (usually $4 per bar, but they had a special at the RennFest). The prices of the herbs were not bad (I could have gotten larger quantities for a little less online, but since I have so many herbs, and since the quality was so good, I didn't mind paying a bit more for smaller quantities, especially since I brought several herbs I haven't tried yet. And the prices weren't that ridiculously overpriced). And though it's too late for me, they have a 10% coupon off for herbs purchased at the RennFest on their website.

The food was also much less expensive than I remembered, and the variety was also much better. There were tons of choices for vegetarians, and though I'm veggie and hypoglycemic, I still found something to eat (a whole wheat veggie wrap). Everyone else enjoyed all kinds of potatoes, sweets (like cheesecake on a stick), and deep fried cheese and macaroni on a stick (my mom who is the world's pickiest eater LOVED this). A few things were still a bit pricey (like wooden cups, wooden boxes, and of course some of the blacksmith pieces) but considering that it's all hand made, it really wasn't bad at all.

Aside from shopping and eating, we also saw a joust! And the Rices saw a short play. You can also rent costumes for the day, and get henna 'tattoos' and your hair braided.

This coming weekend is the last weekend the Maryland RennFest will be running, until next year. I believe it cost $17 for adults to get in (groups, seniors, and children 7-15 are less; kids 6 and under are free), unless you have good friends with passes!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Natural Preservatives in Natural Cosmetics (Skin care/Make it yourself info)

In using natural cosmetics, one concern is the use of synthetic preservatives. Some like the parabens are known to weakly mimic estrogen (which is thought to be linked with increases of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer). Many others are mild to serious irritants. There are many companies who sell otherwise natural cosmetics, and then will add synthetic (and often slightly toxic) preservatives. My question is why, when there are so many good all natural preservatives?

Some natural preservatives include:

Strongest: grapefruit seed extract (NOT the essential oil) (which is often used to purify water)

Strong: essential oils (most essential oils are antibacterial and antiseptic, and some like lavender and tea tree are also anti-viral. Many such as tea tree and euclaptus are known to kill a wide variety of germs), vitamins A, C , and E (some forms of vitamin C are not stable/degrade fast though), and herbal extracts like rosemary (which are usually herbs infused in alcohol).

Good: Herbs in general will preserve the product. You can also add a little bit of vinegar (which would also pH balance your product). Replace the water in your recipe with aloe or a hydrosol. Also Citric Acid is also a natural preservative.

I've made creams (which contain water) in which I've only used essential oils and vitamin E and they were fine for a couple months. Body and facial oils (no water) made this way, may be good for 6-8 months. Some companies like Aubrey Organics use a combination of grapefruit seed extract, vitamins, and essential oils/herbs, and those products are good for a year. Other companies, such as Dr. Bronner's/Sun Dog who makes lotion now, preserves their product with a combination of alcohol, essential oils, and vitamin E (Tocopherols). So if you used a combination of some of the preservatives, your product should keep fresh anywhere from 1 month to a year, depending on the product, and combination of preservatives used.

Other things that will help: store your natural products in the fridge (may change the texture of some products a bit), making sure your fingers are very clean if you actually touch the surface of the product (better to use a squeeze bottle or a clean spatula to scope out the product) and not keeping it in the bathroom (the humidity may cause mold to grow faster; but I'm sure a small bottle would be fine).

Sunday, October 09, 2005

How to make your own aromatherapy creams and lotions, part 1 (Skin care/Aromatherapy creams/carrier oil information)

Note: I usually don't edit that many old posts. But thought I should edit this one since this entry is read a lot by crafters. This post was first written in 2005, but I edited it a bit in April 2012, since my understanding of some ingredients (like preservatives) and also some methods has changed over the years. It's still in the process of being edited.

One of best 'make it yourself' projects is crafting your own all natural creams and lotions. Akin to making mayonaisse, crafting creams and lotions may seem a little tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it you realize how much fun (and affordable) it can be! And of course the best thing is that you can cater the cream to your own skin's needs.

Basic steps in making a cream or lotion. Compiled from various books and personal experience (part of step three is from Donna Maria's book, see my post on making aromatherapy creams part 2 for references/books).

Step 1; oil phase: measure and then add the liquid and solid fats, emulsifiers, and solid thickeners to a double broiler, and gently heat it (medium heat) until the ingredients have melted. So you would add the oils, butters, and waxes or emulsifiers here (though not the floral waxes). If you are using lecithin (granules or liquid) to emulsify add it to the oil phase.

Step 2; water phase: while the oil phase is melting, in a separate double broiler, measure and heat the different waters you are using (distilled or spring water, aloe, hydrosols, herbal infusions, vinegar, witch hazel, etc) under very low heat. Heat them gently; do NOT bring to a boil. You basically want them at the same temperature as the oil phase. Basically I let them heat up until the oil phase has melted.

Step 3 (optional): If you are using certain CO2 extracts (the ones that are more solid), concretes and floral waxes, add these to the oil phase mixture, let melt and and throughly mix. If you are using things like borax and xanthan gum (powdered and gel like ingredients) add them to the water phase and throughly mix (the exception which Donna Maria doesn't mention is aloe gel, which I usually just add in step 2 since it is so liquidy).

Step 4: Make sure the oil phase and the water phase are at the same temperatures. You can use a thermometer, and some authors specify a specific temperature, but I usually just test a drop of each on my skin--making sure it is still VERY warm but not scalding hot. Make sure it is not too cool or it will separate. Typically let it cool to 80-100 degrees F. Mix well.

Step 5: In a blender add the oil phase. Begin mixing. In a slow and steady, thin stream (key words slow and steady) add the water phase, and continue mixing until the cream becomes the texture of buttercream frosting, and the blender 'chokes'. You can do this step with a mixer if you like, and very small amounts by hand, but it will take longer. Typically it takes only a few minutes to 20 minutes, depending on the ingredients, if it is a lotion (longer) or cream. Don't over mix (or it'll start to separate. Too little mixing and it won't emulsify but too much and it'll separate).

Step 6: Add your antioxidants (like vitamin E, rosemary oil extract, grapefruit seed extract. These are not preservatives; they are antioxidants. They prevent oxidation of oils). Also add your essential oils, most co2 extracts, absolutes, oleoresins, etc (you add them last so they don't evaporate). And also add your broad spectrum preservatives here too. I like using 'more natural' ones or eco cert like leucidal or geogard ultra (which is the trade name. It goes by many other various names, but geogard is basically gluconolactone (and) sodium benzoate, which are also used in foods as preservatives).

Many natural formulators think that essential oils are broad spectrum, and many formulators who use synthetics think they kill bacteria and/or fungi at all. Personally, based on my knowledge of botany/science/biology, aromatherapy/herbalism, and ethnobotany, I believe that certain essential oils can be used as short term preservation, but they are not broad spectrum preservatives, in my opinion.

Step 7: Store in clean sanitized (preferable colored glass) jars. Allow cream to cool before putting on the lid.

Basic ratios:

It really depends how thick you want the cream and the texture. It's like making cookies (or anything for that matter!), there are hundreds of variations of proportions, and ingredients etc. All my recipes are different, I usually look at an already established recipe to get an idea, and then use my own oils, etc, and use similar amounts, and tweak a lot! (hence why I recommended writing everything down). In general I like using similar amounts like 4-6 oz of oils/fats/butters to the waters (though sometimes I use a little less than 50% water, like 1/2 to 1 ounce less water than the amount I use for oils), 1/2 oz to 1 oz of beeswax (depending on how many of the other ingredients I used. Start with 1/2 oz). For antioxidants like vitamin E, grapefruit seed oil, and rosemary oil extract--follow what it says on the label for concentration (since every manufacturer has different recommended concentrations for what they make, since these ingredients are made at different strengths). For essential oils I use 1/2 to 1% total concentration for the face, or up to 2% total concentration (so about 3-12 drops per ounce. It is better to use less instead of more because they are concentrated substances). I recommend using a scale for best and the most accurate results. Don't be afraid to experiment! Try using an author's recipe first (with the same ingredients and proportions) and then start tweaking and experimenting! For borax, I generally a pinch-like 1/4 teaspoon or so.

Random notes:

Some authors like Donna Maria mention to add the hydrosols in the last step, but other authors like Rosemary Gladstar mention to add it in the water phase (step 2). I usually add it in the water phase.

Some people like to add the oil phase to the water phase instead of the water phase to the oil phase.

You can refrigerate your creams to make them last longer; but this might change the texture a bit.

Use clean hands or a spatula to scoop the product out, so no mold grows on it.

Trouble shooting:

Separation problems??

It helps to use a blender, unless you are making very small amounts (like 3 oz or less). If you are making only a tiny amount, then just use a small wire wisk.

Make sure you right down all your measurements (including the number of drops that you have used of essential oils). This will help you replicate a good recipe in the future, and also learn from your mistakes (see what DIDN'T work).

Do not use a microwave to heat any of the ingredients up (it gets too hot).

If it does separates, I just use a mini wire whisk (right in the jar) to quickly whisk it all back together.

I like using waters in oils (though many authors cite using oils in waters). I've found it separates less.

Too greasy???

Try varying the oils and butters you are using:

For oily skins (well absorbed):

Grapeseed (very light)
Hazelnut (an astringent)
Jojoba (similar to sebum; really ALL skin types love this)

For normal skins (absorbs well):
almond (light)
apricot (light)

Dry skin oils (sits on skin longer):
Avocodo (very heavy)
Extra Virgin Olive (some normal skin people like this too)
Coconut (too much can be too drying though)
Macademia nut (absorbs pretty well, antiaging/fine lines, similar to sebum)
Rosehip seed aka rose mosqueta (antiaging/fine lines, scars of all kinds)

Hemp seed oil is easy absorbed too.

I've found that shea butter is more easily absorbed than cocoa butter is; it's non greasy. Shea is good for blemishes, tired muscles, fine lines, and dehydrated skin. Though it is well absorbed by the skin, it forms a breathable barrier against the elements. A lot of people do not like it in creams because of the grainy texture. Try using only small amounts and use a combination of other fats/oils/butters with the shea butter. Make sure it is throughly melted and well mixed with the other oils/fats. It is possible to make a smooth shea cream, but even if the creams are a little grainy, it will melt on the skin on contact and won't really change how well the cream works.

If you are finding your creams too greasy, even when using oils catered to your skin type, then either make lotions(which contain more waters), or reduce the amount of cream you are using. Apply only a very small amount (use less than an 1/8 teaspoon of cream/lotion) to very damp skin. I typically spray my skin with toner, water, hydrosol, or aloe, dab my skin with cream, spray my hands with water or whatever I'm using, and then gently massage it in. Then I spray more water and massage again. When I first switched to natural cosmetics, I didn't know why the creams felt greasy on my face too--it was a combination of using the wrong oils, and using too much cream on my face, and not enough water when applying. Now that I use less, and apply with lots of water, I don't have a problem with the greasy feeling. (FYI: if you want to use facial oils/serums that contain no water and waxes, use only 2-5 drops of it and apply with lots of water. When I used my first serum I applied lots of it without water and got acne!). Natural creams are very concentrated--no fillers like the chemical stuff--so you really only need to use a tad to get its benefits.

It's thin!!!

That could be because of the ratios you are using. Typically in creams the water phase is 50% or less (usually less) of the total mixture. In lotions, water accounts for more of the product.

Use aloe rather than water or hydrosol for a thicker cream. Also good if you soak marshmallow root or flax seeds in water, they produce gels too that help thicken the cream. Strain and use the gel in the recipe.

What are the ingredients CO2 extracts, concretes and floral waxes?
CO2 extracts are just a new method used to extract essential oils. The traditonal way is distilled (main method), extraction/pressing (citrus oils), or solvent extracted (some of the flower ones like jasmine, some but not all rose oil). They use CO2 in this process (they remove the CO2 at the end), so the end product is a thick 'essential oil' that has much more of the natural constitutes of the plant and also some of the plant waxes, and has no chemical residue. I haven't used them yet, but they are supposed to be thick (due to the waxes), and smell more like the real plant, and have more medical/cosmetic benefits. They are more expensive but it is recommended you use even less than the amount you'd use for a traditional essential oil; very concentrated.

Concretes and floral waxes are by products of the solvent extracted method of making essential oils. The flowers are subjected to a solvent, resulting in a concrete, and then an alcohol is applied to the concrete, and that results in the absolute (essential oil) and the floral wax.

You can read more about essential oils and some of these things at these websites

Aromaweb; good online source for all things aromatherapy.

Nature's Gift is a good place to buy essential oils, CO2 extracts, floral waxes, and has more information on extraction methods.

One of my favorite places to buy essential oils is Mountain Rose Herbs. They do not have floral waxes or concretes or CO2 extracts though. Many products are organic and they have GREAT prices (even with shipping). I recommend their essential oil starter kits.

Can I use plastic equipment (magmix or store in plastic jars?)

No. Essential oils eventually eat through plastic (some are nautral solvents). Or you can use plastic equipment to make the cream, and just mix in the essential oils with a wire wisk at the end. But please don't store them in plastic jars, unless you use a very durable plastic!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Dry lips? (Skin care/lip care)

Since fall is here and winter is coming on, I thought I'd post some information on lip care, since I don't know about you but my skin can get quite dry during this time of year!

Lip care:

Lips get dry because it is one of the few places on the human body that doesn't have sebum glands. Sebum is the natural oil secretion of your skin that helps your skin retain moisture (water). Ingredients that you can use to help retain in moisture are natural oils and waxes.

Some good ingredients are apricot oil (light), almond oil (light), jojoba oil (which is really a wax, but it is similar in composition to the skin's own sebum), macademia nut oil (also similar to sebum), cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil (good for dry skin though too much can be drying), avocado oil (heavy), etc.

Don't use petroleum (vaseline) or mineral oil on your lips or skin. They clog pores, and dry out the skin.

Some good all natural companies to use:
burts' bees
badger balms (some organic ingredients)
terressentials (organic)
aubrey organics (natural lips, clear formula, vegan).

Pure shea butter (aka kartite or african butter) is also good:
Mountain Rose Herbs
Shea Terra Organics.

Also it helps if you exfoliate your lips with a wash cloth in the shower.

How to make your own herbal tinctures, vinegars, and infusions (Herbal information/teas)

Herbal extracts, herbal vinegars, and herbal infusions are very easy to make. As many of you know from reading this blog, I really love making my own products. It's fun, easy, and extremely cost effective! When people first start out with making their own products, it may seem like a bit of an investment of time and money, but once you start, you realize that it really isn't that hard at all, and it ends up being much less expensive than already prepared products. (That, however, does not stop me from buying commerical products though--I'm busy too, after all!

Herbal extracts/tinctures:

Herbal extracts aka tinctures are made by infusing plant material in alcohol or sometimes vinegar or glycerin, usually for 3-6 weeks. Depending on the ratio of plant to medium, you can make quite a concentrated solution; there are usually more active constituents extracted from plants in an extract than in a water based infusion. Plus they have a long shelf life (1-3 years) and the small bottles (if you purchase them) don't take a large amount of room in your cupboard. They are a great way to store and expand the shelf life of herbs, and make a concentrated solution (they are more potent).

Generally they are used in cosmetics (to add the benefit of the herb to the product, and as a natural preservative), and also as medicine (typically 1-4 drops are comsumed, one to a couple times a day). For those of you that are sensitive to alcohol (children and hypoglycemics) you can add the tinctures to a cup of boiling water, which will evaporate the alcohol but leave the herbal constitutes, or try a glycerin based tincture.

To make a herbal extract: to a very clean and sterile glass jar, fill it with fresh or dried herbs, and cover the herbs with vodka or brandy. Keep it in a dark place and let infuse 3-6 weeks. Strain. Ratios of herb to medium can vary: some authors suggest a 1:1, some a 2:1, or a 4:1 ratio. I usually just fill the jar with herbs and then pour enough alcohol to cover the herbs.

It is better to use fresh herbs (as they contain more of the essential oils). Lightly use a damp paper towel to clean the dirt off them, and then let them air out and slightly wilt in an open brown paper bag for a day before using the herbs. This will also give time for bugs to escape! Then on the day you are making the tincture, lightly chop the herbs and then add to the jar. Some people will also infuse the mixture TWICE (after steeping the first time, strain out the old herbs and then add new herbs and then steep again), but this isn't neccessary unless you are using herbs that are old (not recommended), or use herbs that don't have a lot of essential oils in them.

Glycerin based tinctures; if I am not mistaken, are made first using alcohol, then somehow companies will remove the alcohol and then combine what's left with the glycerin.

Places to purchase tinctures: Mountain Rose Herbs and local health food stores. If you purchase them make sure you read the ratios of herb to medium. Better companies will typically use higher ratios (more herbs).

Herbal vinegar:

A herbal vinegar is made in the same way as a tincture, however, instead of alcohol, vinegar is used. I like using apple cider vinegar, but I've also had good results with red wine vinegar too. But you can really make them with all kinds of vinegar.
I've made herbal vinegars successfully with dried and fresh herbs. Some herbalists recommend placing herbal vinegars in a warm, sunny place to steep (like making a sun tea), though to me that doesn't make sense since sunlight typically destroys/degrades the natural essential oils faster. But then again, there is that whole concept of infusing your vinegars with solar and luna energies, so maybe next time I'll try that! To shorten the time of steeping, you can also try gently warming the vinegar before adding the herbs, and the steep for only ten to fifteen days. Long shelf like 1-3 years. Store in a dark bottle.

Some uses of herbal vinegars:
-cleaning (made with white vinegar)
-a toner, hair rinse, or body rinse (in the shower; very deodorizing), or a natural deodorant. Be sure to dilute!!! 1-2 teaspoons or less per ounce of distilled/spring water. Don't worry, you won't smell like a pickle; the smell quickly dissapates. Drier and sensitive skins may not want to use this.
-for food! A sage vinegar is excellent on salad, or you can use them as marinades. You can make some very tasty combinations: like a balsamic vinegar/sage combo. Yum.

For a quick herbal vinegar add 10 drops of essential oils per ounce of vinegar! (I wouldn't eat this kind though, unless you used small amounts of essential oils (1-3 drops), and used the oils from known 'food' (like orange or lime, or peppermint). Some essential oils are solvent extracted, and they are very concentrated indeed!

To make an herbal infusion:

That said, water herbal infusions (a fancy name for tea) are great too; but they don't have a long shelf life. They aren't nearly as potent but to make a strong infusion for cosmetic/medicine uses, bring the water to a boil, take the water off the stove, add the herbs, make sure your pot is capped tightly (to make sure no essential oils escape; or you could use a jar), and infuse for 20 minutes to an hour, then strain. One book that I have suggests 1 to 8 hours. Roots and berries and heavier materials need to be simmered for at least 20 minutes and then infused for at least an hour.

I think extracts and vinegars (used on the skin) are also better for oily prone skin (since it contains alcohol or vinegar which can be drying) while infusions are great for drier skins.

Have fun crafting!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Happy Mountain Day (Mount Holyoke College)

Well I'm posting this a few hours late, but Wednesday was Mountain Day at Mount Holyoke College. For those of you that don't know, Mount Holyoke College was the first woman's college in the U.S., and yours truly, is an alum :) . Mountain Day is one of Mount Holyoke's traditions. On one beautiful day, every fall, the president of MHC will wake up, decide the day is just too gorgeous to spend indoors in class, and will declare it Mountain Day. All classes are canceled, and many students spend the day hiking up and then picnicking on the local mountains (ok, so they are more like really tall hills, and not vast mountains, but we didn't mind!). I don't think I ever climbed a mountain myself on Mountain Day (hey, it's a leisure day), but I do recall many happy ones just hanging around outside (for at least part of the day, if I wasn't swamped with work). I thought it was the coolest tradition; wish my grad school did this! So Happy (uh, belated) Mountain Day to all my friends and fellow alums!

Sources for Environmental Jobs (Environmental Job resources)

I just posted this on a forum a few days ago, so thought I'd post this here too. Here are many wonderful sources for job-hunting in the environmental field. It can be hard finding an environmental job (as I've been finding out), but hopefully the job market will be better in the coming months (once I finish grad school! :) ).

One of the best resources I've found for environmental jobs is EcoEmploy/ejobs. There are links to ecological jobs all over the U.S. in the non-profit, government, and private industries.

Also great is Idealist; my sister told me about this website many years ago, and I've found it to be one of the best resources for non-profit jobs. They have listings for positions all over the world.

For jobs in the federal government, check out their official job website, USAJOBS. Check under such agencies as Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, etc.

Americorps is a great place to get community-based/environmental jobs and internships. They don't pay very much but the work experience is great and you can get money for school (undergrad, grad school, and some specialty schools).

Student Conservation Association is a great organization. You can apply for internships all over the U.S. in many governmental agencies like National Park Service and other organizations. The stipend is small but they reimburse you for traveling expenses, provide housing, and you can get an Americorps Education Award. You don't have to be a current student to do this; I wasn't. (I think you have to be under a certain age though).

Environmental Careers Org has some internships and information on their site on getting a green career. They also publish one of the best books on the subject.

Look on the webpages of your favorite non-profits. One good non-profit, National Park Foundation in D.C. has on-going internships. They are the official non-profit of the National Parks. I did an internship there myself; the staff is extremely friendly, and I worked on a little bit of everything! The stipend is about $1300/month, and the internship lasts for 6 months, or was the last time I checked.

Also, if you're a student, go to your school's career center or check with your environmental studies or biology/science departments. Usually most departments send job links to the grad students. If you're not a grad student, ask anyways! Also your school's career center will provide help in improving your interviewing skills, and of course have many resources.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Finding environmentally friendly makeup brushes (all natural makeup information)

Sometimes finding a more environmentally friendly product can take a bit of sleuthing! One example of this is my search for more eco-friendly makeup brushes. Now though I advocate using all natural products over synthetic ones, since they are much friendly to the environment, there are times when synthetic is better! My criteria for eco-friendly makeup brushes are ones that are made of synthetic hairs, and that are cost effective; that is ones that don't cost an arm and a leg for this budget concious grad student!

I use mineral makeup, and there is a big debate whether animal hair brushes or sythetic taklon brushes are better; a lot of ladies prefer animal hair brushes over the taklon for the mineral/powder foundation, and taklon for the eye shadow. So it was a bit difficult trying to find a taklon foundation brush that was under $20.00.

I finally found a few good choices. Aromaleigh (a mineral makeup company) recently started carrying a nice taklon brush for foundation; their 'Total Coverage Face Taklon' brush. It is only $17.55. I am thinking of getting this, as it's gotten good reviews on Aromaleigh's forum (f.y.i. their mineral makeup is mainly natural and vegetarian, but be sure to read ingredients lists as some products contain parabens, synthetics, and carmine).

For eye shadow brushes, one thing that I did, was go to my local craft store (Michael's), went to their paint section, and bought a lot of taklon paint brushes (be sure to get regular taklon and not golden taklon which in my experience generally has harder bristles). I got like 12 brushes for $6 onsale (value packs), because Michael's have weekly 40-50% coupons! I did not, however, find a brush that fitted my foundation powder needs, as the taklon open stock brush heads were not dense/big enough for me (they were out of a lot). But other Michael's and craft stores in different areas may have different selections, so some one else may have better luck than me.

Overall I think my taklon brushes work really well with my mineral eye shadows because they really grab/hold onto the color.

For those who prefer animal hair over sythetic bristles, be sure to get ones from comapnies that have attained the hairs by cruelty-free methods (so the animals don't die). Some companies I've found are Aromaleigh, Monave, and Cory Cosmetics.