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.