Friday, December 28, 2007

Li's Quick Eco Tips And Actions: Reusable Totes/Bags (Environmental Information)

*edited to add information at the end of the entry

About seven years ago, I started saving all of my plastic and paper bags from shopping to be a little more eco-friendly (I was reusing them as trash bags and storage bags). After only a couple months, I could not believe how many bags I had accumulated in such a short amount of time--and most of them were from food shopping! Since it was a lot of waste, I began using reusable canvas/fabric totes and bags when purchasing something to be more eco-conscious. When my health took a drastic turn a few years ago, I got out of the habit of using my reusable totes/bags but in the last year I've gotten back to doing this simple but effective eco-friendly habit.

What are the advantages of using reusable totes/bag?

Less waste (which is good for the planet and in the long run good for you!).

Less pollution and usage of resources (since less trees have to be cut down, and no materials and energy are produced in making new/more plastic and paper bags).

Durable bags (no more ripped paper bags and broken spaghetti sauce!).

No plastic discarded in the environment (animals can choke on plastic).

Some stores currently offer incentives if you bring your own bag: Whole Foods will refund you 5 cents for every reusable bag you use; Trader Joe's will often have raffles where if you use a tote you have a chance to win a gift certificate for free food. And I don't know if they still do it or not since I haven't been to one in a while, but Shopper's used to give you 3 cents for every bag you reuse. Check your local food stores to see if they have similar incentives.

Any disadvantages?

You have to remember to bring them (it helps to keep them in a place where you won't forget like by the door or in the trunk of your car). You'll need to get at least a few (since for food shopping you need several bags especially if you are buying food for many people). You may have to buy some (but if you try you may be able to get some for free, and even if you have to buy, they aren't that expensive).

Where can I get a reusable tote/bag?

I have a wide variety of totes, some of them I got for free and some of them I paid only a few dollars (they range in price anywhere from $1 to $15 or more, but are generally around $3-10). You can usually get free or inexpensive tote bags at:

Festivals: You can get totes/bags from some festivals, like D.C.'s National Book Festival or Green Festival. This year at the Green Festical you could get two free basic canvas bags from two different organizations, and another vendor was selling (nicer) bags for only about $3 or so dollars. I didn't go to this year's National Book Festival but during (two) previous years they offered a free tote (that had the NBF logo on it).

Events: I've attended events in school (during my undergrad days) where they've given away free bags.

Jobs:I've also gotten free totes from places I've used to work at.

Stores: During the holidays some department stores will offer free totes or bags from (non-natural) cosmetic/perfume or clothing companies.

Whole Foods now sells reusable bags. My sister got a really nice lined, zipped bag they were selling for for $3 that I think she mentioned she got for free since she bought over a certain amount of food. I got a nice green bag (not as nice as hers but still durable) at my Whole Foods for 99 cents. So I'm guessing different Whole Foods in different areas have different promotions (my sister and I live in different areas).

Many craft stores sell totes for really cheap, for only a few bucks (and supplies to decorate them too!)

One of the nicest bags I have is a celtic/pagan design bag I got in college for under $10 at a local clothing store. I got this bag about nine years ago and it's only now beginning to fall apart (but easily fixed with thread and a needle, if I ever remember to fix it!)

Companies or organizations: Companies and organizations may have totes with their logo on it. They either may give them away free at an event, or you can buy them at a decent price to support their organization.

What if I forgot to bring my reusable totes/bags to the store?

If you are only buying only one or a few (easy to carry) items items (and it isn't raining) then ask for no bag. But if you are buying a lot and forgot then no sweat: you can still reuse the plastic or paper bags you get from the store. Once a month I purposely leave my bags at home when I go food shopping since my recycling/trash company requires us to place mixed paper/newspaper and cardboard in paper bags, and since I recycle I need paper bags! (Your community may be different). I also still reuse plastic bags for trash etc when I get them. And when I had a kitty (rest in peace Kitty!) I used bags to clean up his litter. Some stores recycle plastic bags too (many grocery stores, and yes, even places like Walmart).

Where can I learn more about this topic?

National Geographic had an interesting article about plastic bags, paper bags, and reusable bags from 2003 on the advantages and disadvantages of plastic bags and reusable totes.

Some statistics on the issue from the Sierra Club.

Some cities like San Francisco have already banned plastic bags in some stores and other cities like New York City are considering making it mandatory to recycle plastic bags. Article from the New York Times, July 2007, which contains a good summary on worldwide recycling of bags.

The Green Guide (part of National Geographic Society) has an excellent article on suggestions on cutting down bag use. The Green Guide also offers an excellent free e-newsletter :) (Note: the article is from Jan of this year, and San Francisco has already implemented a ban, but this article has a lot of great tips in it so is worth reading!)

Article about San Francisco's ban on plastic bags from the San Francisco Chronicle. The ban is only for large super markets and large chain pharmacies.

To find out where the closest recycling facility to you, check out

My sister posted a great idea in the comments about crocheting or knitting your own bag! On a kind of related but not really related side note, my sister is the bomb at knitting; for the holidays she knitted me a Slytherin scarf (and she's made me a lot of other beautiful scarfs, hats, gloves, and socks over the last few years). (We love Snape!). So if you are an awesome knitter like my sister is, you can definitely make your own bag! Handmade stuff not only rocks but is very eco-friendly! :)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Aromaconnection Blog (Aromatherapy Information/Resouces and Environmental Resource)

One awesome blog that I've come across is the Aromaconnection Blog. The Aromaconnection Blog is the brainchild of many noted and distinguished people in the aromatherapy/essential oil and plant conservation fields: Rob Stitt and Marcia Elston (owners of Samara Botane, a well respected essential oil/aromatherapy company), Marco Valussi (from the InfoErbe website, an Italian botanical database), Robert Tisserand (one of the pioneers of aromatherapy, founder of the Tisserand Institute and Tisserand Aromatherapy), and Tony Burfield (from and the AromaResearch list). I've only been reading this blog for a few weeks but it is an excellent resource for aromatherapy students & aromatherapists, environmentalists, and those interested in plant conservation or economic botany/ethnobotany (all of my interests, yay!). Some of the topics that the authors have covered include new research in aromatherapy/essential oils & botany & the natural perfume industry, plant conservation, organic issues, and cultural & ecological sustainability. It is a wealth of (good, reliable, and authentic) aromatherapy and botanical knowledge, and an excellent representation of a wide range of viewpoints including science, alternative, traditional, and cultural perspectives. There are also a lot of links to other great resources on their blog (including a link and a very nice review of my blog. Thanks Rob and all at Aromaconnection!)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Essential Oils: Rose geranium, rose, petitgrain sur fleur, bay, ylang ylang, using essential oils neat, and absorbency (Aromatherapy Information)

*Edited to add another link for a petitgrain sur fleur source. Also to fix my description of what ylang ylang smells like to me because I accidentally typed the wrong grade (mixed the two grades up)!

Some random FAQ about essential oils that I've answered on different forums over the last five months (with extra information added, of course :) )

What is the difference between the two kinds of rose geranium essential oil?

There are a couple species of 'rose geranium' used in aromatherapy (I put geranium in quotes because they aren't actually true geraniums but are from the Pelargonium genus), including Pelargonium roseum and Pelargonium graveolens. The common names are often used interchangeably between these two species: meaning sometimes the essential oil from Pelargonium graveolens is called rose geranium, bourbon geranium, or geranium (and the whole plant has been called sweet scented geranium, among other names). And I've seen Pelargonium roseum also called geranium and rose geranium. When most aromatherapists mention rose geranium they usually mean Pelargonium graveolens, though some aromatherapists consider both species to be rose geranium. Aromaweb has good essential oil profiles on both species.

As far as I know, most of the rose geranium or geranium hydrosol produced is from Pelargonium graveolens (from what I've seen, but I could be wrong since I haven't tried every single hydrosol vendor yet!). Many essential oil vendors often only sell Pelargonium graveolens essential oil, but some sell both species. Note: Plants (and their products) produced in different regions or seasons or by various manufacturing/processing methods can smell very different, even if it's the same species. For example I've sampled lavender essential oil from at least six different countries and from different seasons and they all smell very different from each other, though they are all the same species (Lavandula angustifolia). Geranium essential oil produced in different areas, seasons, etc can smell extremely different from each other.

I love rose. Is rose geranium a kind of rose?

Rose and rose geranium are two different species. Rose is usually from the damask rose (Rosa damascena), and rose geranium isn't a rose at all or a true geranium even but it's a Pelargonium species. Another rose species that is used in aromatherapy is the white rose: rose alba (Rosa alba). But it is rarer and harder to produce than the damask rose (it has even less essential oil in it than the damask rose) therefore it is even more expensive than (damask) rose essential oil. In my opinion, rose alba is more floral and fruitier in scent than the damask. Damask rose smells floral with herbal notes and a hint of fruit notes to me. A third rose species used in aromatherapy: Rosa centifolia.

What is and where can I buy petitgrain sur fleur essential oil?

Regular petitgrain (Citrus aurantium) is made from the leaves of the bitter orange tree. Petitgrain sur fleur essential oil is produced from both the leaves and the flowers of the bitter orange tree. It is a good sub for the very expensive neroli essential oil, which is produced from only the flowers. It smells like a very light neroli but with more herby notes in it.

I only know of a couple places that sell petitgrain sur fleur essential oil. I got mine at Enfleurage. Theirs may seem a little pricey, but it's organic (so will of course be more expensive) and it is heaven on earth! Sunrose Aromatics also has it (but it's conventional not organic so it's a little cheaper). I haven't tried theirs yet, but with every order, you can request samples and their samples are very generous. But they charge a handling fee in addition to shipping, so if you are only buying a few things s&h can get expensive. So be sure to ask for samples to make it worth it :) I think both places do wholesale in addition to retail. White Lotus Aromatics also has it but I haven't ordered from them yet, but they are supposed to be a good company. I think they have a minimum and may only be wholesale (not sure yet, need to check on that).
Another place that sells it is Samara Botane. I haven't bought from them either but they are a well respected company that is often cited as a good essential oil company in aromatherapy and natural skin care books.

What is the difference between Bay Laurel and Bay Oil Rum Dominican Essential Oils?

They are two different species. Bay laurel is Laurus nobilis and Bay Oil (Rum) Dominican is Pimenta racemosa. Aromaweb had good essential oil profiles (listed as Bay and Bay laurel)

What is the difference between Ylang Ylang #1 and #3?

Ylang Ylang is a tropical flower from a tree. There are different grades/fractions--like how olive oil has different pressings. The different grades refers to when in the distillation process the essential oil was removed and all the grades smell different. The different grades include extra, #1, #2, #3, and complete. I've used #1, #3, and complete, and I've smelled extra once. I've never used or smelled #2. The different grades smell different because they vary in chemical composition. #1 smells floral and kind of like candy to me! while #3 smells slightly floral but also has a lot of heavy notes. A lot of people say that ylang ylang is a good sub for jasmine in perfumes, and I never believed it or agreed, until I tried complete (which is when the distillation is run until the end without removing any grades, or all the different grades after distillation are mixed together). I now believe that complete would be a good sub for jasmine (but though it can be used as a sub for the floral sweetness of jasmine, it of course doesn't smell the same. It's like comparing coke and pepsi, or cow milk and soy milk, how many people say there is no difference, but most people can tell). Most people suggest extra or #1 in perfumes, but I like complete. Ylang Ylang from different distillers can smell very different from each other, even if it's the 'same grade' since different distillers pull the fractions at different times.

Can I use essential oils neat or should I dilute them?

It is not recommended that essential oils exceed a total of 1 to 2% in most products (except perfumes and a couple other types of blends) since too high of a concentration of essential oils can be irritating or in some cases toxic or have the opposite effect. Note: the concentration refers to the total amount of essential oils, and not 1 to 2% of each essential oil. It is always better to add less than more.

I do not recommend using any essential oil undiluted on the skin. Occasionally you can use lavender and tea tree--but this is only for short term emergencies (like a bug bite or a fungal infection, so only for a few days, and no more than 1 drop at a time) and should not be used daily over long periods of time. This is because essential oils are highly concentrated substances--1 drop is akin to several ounces or pounds of plant material (depending on the plant). In high amounts certain essential oils may be irritating, toxic, have the opposite effect, or can even be fatal (if orally ingested). Aromatherapy is not just about scents, but like herbs, most essential oils have medicinal properties as well (they contain hundreds of chemical components that in plants are responsible for not only scents but are substances against diseases, insect repellents, etc). Personally even for emergencies like a bug bite or a fungal infection, I'd recommend diluting the oil, since these conditions are usually around for more than just a couple days (if you use lavender neat for a long time, there is a great chance you can become sensitized to it). Please take care when using them, and be sure to research any herbal product well before use (I recommend reading essential oil profiles from at least three or more good references). There are a lot of fake aromatherapy products out there and many companies may cite unsafe essential oil usage (since there is no real regulation of aromatherapy in the US). Be safe! :)

Can using different ingredients (when crafting) affect the absorbency and effectiveness of essential oils?

It depends on what ingredients you are using. Different ingredients have different absorbency rates, and some ingredients do not absorb at all. But overall, if you are using well absorbing ingredients then no, it shouldn't affect the effectiveness of the essential oils since they are very potent substances. Carrier oils are not only used to dilute essential oils but they also slow down their absorbency. Diluting essential oils in carrier oils is a good thing because carrier oils help prevent against toxicity from using too much essential oil, essential oil irritation, and allows for the essential oil to safely be spread over a large amount of skin. Carrier oils are absorbed by the skin, just more slowly than essential oils, so the skin will still eventually absorb the essential oils and you also absorb them by breathing them in. One reason I am against using mineral oil and petroleum jelly in skin care products is that it just sits on top of the skin and is not absorbed by the skin--meaning it is probably preventing any nutrients or other substances, like essential oils, in the cream or lotion you are using from being absorbed too. Plus mineral oil and petroleum jelly have no nutrients or vitamins!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Li's Quick Eco Tips and Actions: Introduction and Benefits of All Natural Cosmetics (Environmental Information/Natural Cosmetics)

This post has been edited, and also appears on All Natural Beauty's website under the shortened title "Li's Quick Eco Tips: Benefits of All Natural Cosmetics"

One thing I've noticed in my thesis research (public perception of mammals and conservation) is that people in my local community seem to be aware that environmental issues exist and generally support them. But I think that many people are not aware of how much their actions have on the environment or may not know what they can do to be more eco-conscious or perhaps think it is too hard to live a more environmental-friendly lifestyle.

So I've decided to start writing more about simple and small eco-friendly changes that people can make in their lives. I live in a highly urbanized area (though I live in the suburbs, over a million people live in my county) and I am somewhat on a budget (grad student here!) so I really understand what it's like to try to be more eco-conscious, but because of many reasons (money, time, personal issues, daily living, etc) it can seem hard to do!

Everything we do has an impact. By living our lives in a certain way (such as refraining from using certain products) or by choosing environmental-friendly alternatives, we can make less of an impact, and live our lives in a more sustainable manner: not only for our own benefit, but also for the planet’s benefit.

Since I craft a lot of herbal and aromatherapy products (and my love of the Earth and conservation is tied directly to my passion for using herbs and herbal ingredients) I thought I'd start with the subject of using all natural cosmetics.

Why Use All Natural Cosmetics?

Some Skin Benefits and Advantages of All Natural Cosmetics (skin care and hair care):

The skin absorbs at least 60% of what you put on it. According to the Environmental Working Group, most of the ingredients used in cosmetics have not been evaluated by the FDA (the FDA only regulates some colors and really toxic ingredients like mercury in cosmetics). EWG’s cosmetic database is a great resource where you can look up cosmetic ingredients and a wide range of products to assess their safety. Though many synthetic ingredients used in small amounts are non-toxic, in large amounts many are known to be potentially irritating or toxic, and it is generally unknown what the long term effects of using small amounts of these ingredients every day for years can have on human health.

As a long time crafter I can tell you that most of the non-natural ingredients used in cosmetics (with the exception of synthetic lab derived actives) are either fillers, emulsifiers, texturizers (used to improve the texture of the product), fragrances, or synthetic preservatives: all designed to make the product look and smell good but do little for the skin. In my opinion, none of these ingredients, with the exception of the preservatives*, are necessary since they do little to improve the health of your skin (there are many natural ingredients that can be used as emulsifiers, fragrances, and texturizers, most of which also provide skin benefits). (*Note about preservatives: for your own safety, preservatives must be used in products that contain water such as creams and lotions. However, I personally choose not to use most synthetic preservatives because many of them are potentially toxic and irritating. There are only a couple synthetic preservatives that I would actually use on my skin, but I prefer using natural preservatives. Please see below for more information on synthetic versus natural preservatives.)

Many natural ingredients are healing for the skin, since they contain numerous vitamins and nutrients. They can improve the health of the skin (if the product is properly formulated) and actually nourish the skin (the skin can absorb the nutrients).

Natural cosmetics usually contain much higher amounts of actives than conventional products (no fillers!).

Many synthetic ingredients can cause skin allergies or skin conditions. Some of the symptoms I had when I became allergic to many conventional ingredients and products eight years ago include breathing problems (from synthetic perfumes), hives, acne, and headaches. But if you are allergic to a particular plant please do not use it on your skin, as allergies to plant and natural ingredients are also possible. Be sure to do skin allergy tests on the inner elbow with any new (natural or synthetic) ingredient or cosmetic you use.

If you use aromatherapy and herbal products, they may help heal skin conditions (such as rashes), and have some medicinal and psychological uses* (such as helping soothe depression and anxiety) and spiritual properties. Be sure to research ingredients well before use. (*Note: Please see the "A Few Things to Consider..." section for more information about plant medicinal uses.)

Some Ecological and Social Advantages of All Natural Cosmetics:

They are 100% biodegradable, so no toxins down your drain and into the watershed (many other species are sensitive to many synthetic chemicals, which in some severe cases--such as the usage of synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen--can cause mutations in certain species).

Products and ingredients that are organic* support good farming practices, and are much more sustainable in the long run. Using organic, cultivated without chemicals (ingredients that are usually organic but not certified yet), or ethically wild-harvested goods also reduces the use of toxic pesticides. (*Note: Just because something is natural does not necessarily mean it's organic).

Using products made with ethically wild-harvested and fair trade ingredients* ensures that ingredients are produced in a sustainable manner, and that other cultures and the Earth are not exploited in the process. Some companies also work closely with the communities that produce the goods. When done in a non-exploitive manner it supports the local economy, often generates income for women and people in poverty, and in some cases may help conserve local natural resources. (*Note: Be sure to check the credentials of fair trade or ethically wild-harvested products to make sure they are truly fair trade or ethically wild-harvested).

Many truly natural cosmetics are made by small companies, stay-at-home moms, or are women-owned. By buying products from these companies you are supporting small businesses, families, and women in business.

Some natural companies donate part of their proceeds to environmental or social organizations.

A few businesses are owned by herbalists and aromatherapists, who not only have a deep respect of the Earth, but who are also active in educating the public on plant conservation issues (which is often a neglected conservation topic). Many people don't realize that some of the most active environmentalists and conservationists are those in non-traditional plant related fields like herbalism or aromatherapy.

Do not underestimate the power of 'buying green'! By buying green you are letting different industries (such as those in business and politics) know that you want and support eco-friendly alternatives. More and more companies and organizations are beginning to implement greener practices (while some businesses are doing this for environmental reasons, others are doing this because they know if they don't, in the future they will lose money because more and more people are interested in buying only eco-friendly products). The organic and natural industries are rapidly growing; many businesses are jumping onto the green bandwagon (be wary of 'green washing'). In my thesis research the majority of people in my community stated that if a politician or political party supported conservation policies, they would view that politician or political party more favorably (and presumably vote for them). Many politicians know this. Your views and what you do matter and can greatly influence people and events!

Many people (including me) view using natural plant ingredients as a spiritual journey tied closely to the Earth. In many cultures and religions around the world (past and present), the medicinal, cosmetic, food, and spiritual uses of plants are connected to each other. It wasn't that long ago that this was also true in many contemporary mainstream western societies as well.

A Few Things To Consider When Buying All Natural Cosmetics:

Though I advocate buying all natural cosmetics, it is always better to consume less or only buy what you need. Choose quality over quantity.

Everyone has a different definition of what 'natural' is. Be sure to research ingredients well before use (there are a lot of borderline natural/synthetic substances that some people consider natural and others consider semi-natural/naturally derived or synthetic). Just because a label says it's natural or organic doesn't mean it is. For organic cosmetics, only products with the USDA NOP organic seal are truly organic. For cosmetics, unlike food products*, the word ‘organic’ is currently not regulated by the USDA. The USDA only regulates cosmetics products that have undergone certification and carry the USDA seal, and does not regulate cosmetic products that have not undergone certification. Also, there is no regulation of the word natural. Cosmetic products that are not natural or organic can legally place those words on their product--even if their product only contains only 1 drop of natural or organic ingredients! (*Note: In food products, the word ‘organic’ is regulated by the USDA.)

In addition to cosmetic uses, herbs and herbal products (such as essential oils) also have many medicinal uses. Aromatherapy and herbalism are not regulated by the government. In the United States, aromatherapists and herbalists cannot legally practice medicine (under the law), however, they often act as consultants to many different industries. Be sure to research herbs, essential oils, hydrosols, and other plant ingredients well before use. If you are pregnant, an elder, using conventional medicine, or want to use herbs and essential oils on children, please do extra research (as many essential oils and herbs can not be used on these people, and some herbs and essential oils may interact with conventional medicine. Ask an aromatherapist or herbalist that focuses on these subjects and a conventional nurse or doctor before use. Some nurses are also aromatherapists or herbalists in the U.S. (On a related note: In France, most aromatherapists are medical doctors).

100% natural products have a much shorter shelf life than conventional products
(usually 3 months to a year depending on the product and what is used to preserve them. Powdered mineral makeup will last much longer, nearly indefinitely). Don't stock up on 100% natural products, and also be sure to use them quickly. If you tend to take a long time to use products up (longer than a few months), try buying a smaller size or a sample (many small vendors offer samples or smaller sizes since you often can't return products from small online vendors), or you may want to consider using a product with synthetic preservatives (natural products preserved with a synthetic preservative will have a life shelf of at least a year if not longer). Though I personally choose not to use synthetic preservatives in most of the products I buy (since I prefer using completely natural products and many synthetic preservatives are potentially irritating or toxic), I usually use products up within a couple months of purchase. I especially want to emphasize that while many natural preservatives have extremely effective anti-bacterial and/or antiseptic properties (and some are antiviral and antifungal as well), they don't preserve products for as long as synthetic preservatives do. Natural preservatives are generally non-toxic if used in the correct proportions and many also provide skin benefits, so it's a trade-off.

Preservatives (whether natural or synthetic) are extremely important ingredients to use in cosmetics. In general, waterless products (like balms and oil based serums) are much more stable and less prone to bacterial contamination than products that contain water. Most non-aqueous products may not need a preservative, but to be on the safe side, I highly recommend using one. For non-aqueous products, many companies usually use a blend of natural preservatives (such as essential oils) and/or antioxidants (like vitamin E). Products with water in them (such as creams, lotions, and ‘wet’ facial masks) are extremely perishable and prone to contamination. Preservatives are a must in water-based products. Make sure that water-based products have an adequate preservative system. For all natural creams or other water-based products in jars, use a clean spatula to spoon out your product (or at least make sure your fingers are very clean). 100% natural creams and lotions will only have a shelf life of a few months (in some cases, shelf life may be slightly longer depending on the preservatives used, and type of container). Many companies tend to use a blend of natural preservatives (like herbal extracts which contain alcohol, essential oils, or alcohol) and antioxidants (like vitamin E) to extend shelf life and protect against a wide range of bacteria. But not all natural preservatives have the same antiseptic ability, and different herbs will kill different bacteria (and some plant ingredients make very ineffective preservatives). Antioxidants only extend shelf life but do not kill or inhibit bacteria. If you choose to use 100% natural water-based products (preserved with natural preservatives), for your own safety, be sure to use it within a couple months of purchase.

It is not a good idea to store natural cosmetics in the bathroom (too humid, which will make them spoil faster).

Refrigeration of most natural products (when not in use) will extend shelf life. For some products the texture may change a bit in the fridge, however, this will not alter the effectiveness of the product.

All natural or nearly all natural products are more expensive* than drugstore brand cosmetics (but often cheaper than some department store brands, though there are a few overpriced natural brands in my opinion). However, since there are no fillers, you can often use less of a product to get great results. Also because they are 100% (or nearly all) natural, the products generally contain more actives in them than conventional products. (*Note: About the price of all natural and nearly all natural products. Natural ingredients usually cost a lot more than conventional cosmetic ingredients. And if the ingredients are rare or harder to obtain or if they are organic, they are even more expensive. For carrier oils, if they are unrefined, cold or expeller pressed (nutrient rich) oils they are usually more expensive than refined oils (that are stripped not only of odor but nutrients). It takes most conventional cosmetics only pennies to occasionally a couple bucks to produce their products, while it may take many dollars to produce a completely natural product (no cheap fillers and also the much higher cost of ingredients, and in some cases packaging—colored glass used in many essential oil products costs more than plastic). An example of the cost of a natural ingredient, rose essential oil: it takes thirty to sixty roses to make one drop of rose essential oil, hence the $1-2 per drop price tag (and why most rose scented products on the market are synthetic).)

If you are on a budget, just start out with a couple of basic products, or consider crafting your own cosmetics! Ingredients from herbal vendors are often cheaper and higher quality than ingredients found in stores (even with shipping). But if you can find things locally, I highly suggest buying them (saves on gas consumption). (But buying locally may be difficult in some areas, since it is easier to find many herbal ingredients in certain areas of the country than others.) Many recipes can be found on the internet, or you can get books at the library (if books aren’t available at your library, use the library’s interlibrary loan system), or a used bookstore. Amazon also sells many natural cosmetic, herbal, and aromatherapy books usually for up to 30% off. If you sign up for Border's reward card (in the stores), they send you coupons (through your email) nearly every week or so (from 10% to 30% off).

Last note: Just because something is natural does not mean it is safe, and just because something is synthetic does not mean it is bad. For example, certain essential oils used in high concentrations are toxic. In addition, I still currently use rubbing alcohol (91%) as one method to clean and sanitize my cosmetic glass bottles, which is a pretty safe substance as long as it's used in a well ventilated room (I also sterilize in the oven). Lastly, in some products, borderline synthetic/naturally derived ingredients, or synthetic ingredients may be preferable, such as using cetyl alcohol as an emulsifier in natural hair conditioners (since many other emulsifiers like many waxes won't rinse out of the hair easily), or using synthetic preservatives in an alcohol free, scent free cream or lotion (to my knowledge there is no completely natural way to preserve this).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Li's Crafting Thoughts 11-16-07

Haven't done a crafting thoughts entry in a while, though I've been crafting like mad recently.

In addition to all the wonderful essential oils combinations I made in Jeanne Rose's class (and I like some of them so much that I am considering using some of these combinations in my future business), I've worked on several products for my future line.

Serums: I've been working on oil based serums for specific skin types for many months. I am happy with half of them, and the other half though I've done the formulation on paper I still need to make and tweak them. It's taking me a long time to create them, since there are so many carrier oils I've researched, tried, and love (it's hard to pick a favorite especially since so many are beneficial to the skin). The next steps will be formulating the rest of my serums, and then starting work on the essential oil combinations.

Body Oils: I also started working on body oils. I'll probably offer a few formulations since different people like different textures and "slips" for body oils. The easy part is working with all of my carrier oils to craft a nice base. The hard part will be choosing which essential oils combinations to use. I am not sure if I'm going to offer scents just based on smell, or combinations for specific conditions (that just happen to smell good too) yet. But I really like some of the blends I created for class, and of course I have about seven years of notes on essential oil combinations to shift through (so it's hard to choose a favorite since I think everything smells good!). Maybe I'll offer both :)

I am still working on complex perfume blends. I've been working on a jasmine based floral blend for a while; I still need to tweak it a bit but I really love the scent so far. Though it's jasmine based, it's not too heavy or overpowering like how some jasmine based perfumes can be. It's light but wonderfully sensual.

Whipped shea:
What can I say?: I love whipped shea butter. It makes it so much easier to spread, and is so creamy :)

Soap:I'm working on liquid soap cleansers and also glycerin (melt and pour) soaps, though I may consider rebatching soaps too (not at the cold process stage yet! One day...). I just crafted a couple butter soaps, one of them I think I'm sensitive to the base, and the other I still have to use. I am not completely sure yet which base to use for my business, since I've only tried a couple brands and I haven't bought any in a while, and so need to try more companies in the near future.

In the coming weeks I will be working on the above as well as:

Lip Balms: I have been meaning to craft new lip balm formulations for a while but never got around to it since it took me forever to order the herbs and essential oils I wanted to use, and then I got distracted in crafting other products, so never crafted them. I did just craft a very basic one, just trying to figure out how much I like the wax blend I'm using; still deciding on which waxes to use (everyone who's tried my different formulas for lip balms seem to love them so far but I am not sure what to think of the wax I'm using).

Mineral Makeup: So far I just have a bunch of shimmer and sheen multipurpose powders. I plan to craft even more colors, but eventually will start working on matte and semi-matte colors as well. I still have no plans to work on foundation yet, since I believe more in healing the skin than covering it up (but I have to admit I love using MMU as sunscreen, so if I manage to craft everything else, I will start working on foundations, but probably this will not be for a while since I have to work on cleansers and toners first).

All Natural Cream: The weather is changing, and I need to craft some for myself since I've been using mainly serums (my own), and some lotions from natural companies. Natural preservatives are extremely effective (when you use the right ones, in combination with each other), but I am still sometimes wary of giving my creams to others because they have a much shorter shelf life than creams preserved with synthetic preservatives. Honestly I won't be offering creams initially, since I won't sell them unless they undergo bacterial and fungal testing (if not challenge testing), but testing can be quite expensive.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Review of Jeanne Rose's Aromatherapy Blending Class, Hosted by All Natural Beauty website (Aromatherapy Information)

I took Jeanne Rose's aromatherapy class (sponsored by All Natural Beauty website and All Natural Beauty portal) from October 26-28th, and though was exhausted for several days afterwards, I am extremely content. I am really glad that I took the class; though I've been learning aromatherapy through self study for over seven years, it really helps to take a class to learn new concepts that aren't in books, and to tie together everything I've learned so far. An added plus: most of the time Jeanne Rose doesn't repeat material in her books (like how some authors reprint the same articles/chapters/sections of books in different books), so all the material in the blending book we received during class was new.

First I have to say it was amazing finally meeting Jeanne Rose; I've always wanted to meet and take a class with her. Her Aromatherapy Book was one of the first aromatherapy books I ever read, and is still one of the first books I reach for when I am crafting aromatherapy remedies (the charts for specific conditions and the essential oils profiles are very good). I really enjoy her writing style, and I've learned a lot about aromatherapy, herbalism, and all natural/kitchen cosmetics from her writings. She has been teaching about herbs and aromatherapy for somewhere between 30 or 40 years, and is one of the pioneers in both fields. In person, she is warm, passionate about her craft, and full of energy. I still can't get over the fact she is seventy years old--she barely has any lines on her face, and she is so vibrant, youthful!

I also really enjoyed meeting Sharon (owner of ANB website and ANB portal, and SharAmbrosia--an all natural skin care and spa line). We've been chatting on the forums and through email for the last two years; I've always enjoyed our conversations and her passion for all natural cosmetics :) She is an amazing woman, who is creative and works on so many different projects! We talked so much about all natural skin care; it was very generous of her to host this class and open up her home to this workshop.

It was wonderful getting to know all the fascinating women in my class--everyone came from a wide range of backgrounds: some people were novices, and others were advanced students or herbalists. A couple people were also store or business owners. It was cool talking to other women that were knowledgeable about aromatherapy, herbalism, or crafting, since there aren't really any aromatherapy, herbalism, or crafting groups where I live (I'm seriously thinking of starting one though ;P)

The first day of class I was late and missed the first half of class! :( I left my sister's house a good three hours before the class started, but got caught up in traffic on the highway (Philly rush hour), and then when I got to the area, missed my exit (it was raining heavily and the exit was immediately after I paid the toll), got off the next exit, and promptly got lost. I didn't miss much (since Jeanne was kind enough to go over most of what I had missed over the next two days, and we all received a book with all the instructions/experiments, including a lot of information we didn't get to go over) but I am sad I was late because I missed all of the stuff not in the books--all of Jeanne's herbal related stories.

But since Jeanne and I stayed in the same hotel, I got to have breakfast with her, so was able to ask her a lot of aromatherapy and herbalism questions! :) I also learned more about her background, and found out we have a lot in common: she has a biology background (so knows both the scientific and alternative/indigenous/traditional uses of plants) and went to grad school (so learned how to really research), is very spiritual/believes in magic (I was already aware of this about her from her writings ;) ), and like many aromatherapists/herbalists is ecologically and socially conscious (she is the founder of the Aromatic Plant Project that advocates the usage of locally grown organic hydrosols), and believes in empowering women. I respected her a lot before I met her, and now that I actually met her, I respect her even more. :)

Overview of the class:

I learned so much in the class, including some concepts that I've never even read or heard about. In the first part of the class (which I missed but she went over several times later) we learned to distinguish seven different odor names (Floral, Fruity, Citrus, Green/Vegetative, Woody, Herbaceous/Camphoraceous, Spicy). This part of class was kind of new to me. Though I'm pretty good in smelling a combination and picking out which essential oils are used (for example: I was smelling one of my classmate's synergies, and she didn't remember what other essential oils she had used, and from scent alone, I guessed one of the essential oils she used was Eucalyptus citriodora (common name: Lemon eucalyptus)--though this class was the first time I had ever smelled that particularly species of Eucalyptus), sometimes I have trouble describing what type of odor it is, and this part of the class really helped me understand how to do that.

The next two parts were on measuring (which I also missed most of, and I need to do again soon) and also blending. I have a pretty good background in measuring and blending, but these two parts of class changed my perception a bit on essential oil concentration in blends, and also the act of blending. Though I was already aware that essential oil concentrations/the number of drops in a ml depended on the size of the dropper, the type of dropper, the viscosity and type of essential oil, I did not know it could vary by person (even if two people are using the same equipment and liquid substance, the number of drops in a ml will vary for each person). Also I did not know that combining essential oils together (with carrier oils) in different ways could affect the scent so greatly (each group combined essential oils and carrier oils in different ways, using the same ingredients and tools).

The rest of the class was spent learning how to craft remedies for different types of cosmetic, medicinal, and spiritual uses: uplifting and calm, uplifting and energizing, emotional blend (I made one for fear/anxiety), therapeutic (I chose Sinusitis, in an oil base), therapeutic for the respiratory system (smelling salts), spiritual (I chose to make a blend for psychic awareness), and perfume. During each lesson, after we researched essential oils and brainstormed ideas, Jeanne checked over each student's work, and offered advice on which combination of essential oils would be better to use. I am proud of myself because most of the time I was pretty good at choosing what essential oils to use, and she approved most of them without tweaking them (though she offer suggestions on how to improve a few of them). :)

Overall I really enjoyed the class, especially since Jeanne gave personal attention to each student and detailed answers if we had questions. For the class, we received a blending booklet, pencil, had access to forty three different essential oils (which were all very high quality, and included many I haven't used before; now I have to buy them ;P), and made eight different products (including the blend we made in a group). I felt the class really helped solidify my knowledge of aromatherapy, and helped improve my confidence in choosing the right essential oils in crafting aromatherapy remedies. I was so impressed with all the information we learned that I am going to take another (in person) class with her, and also enrolled in her aromatherapy home study course. The unique thing about her home study course (different from most other aromatherapy courses I was considering) is that she gives personal attention to her students (I will be able to call and email her with questions) and has a (private) yahoo group (where she answers her students' questions). The course book is fairly large and looks like it goes into great detail, and as part of the course, I'm also going to receive another book on essential oil usage for reproduction. In addition, after completing her course, I'll be eligible for practitioner's liability insurance, and her class counts for credits from various organizations.

The only thing I didn't like in class was using the orifice reducers (the kind where you have to tap the bottle hard, and not the little 'stick' kind where you can just tilt the bottle). I definitely prefer using glass droppers! But I guess that in a classroom setting you kind of need to use the orifice reducers (because if droppers or pipettes were used, there is a chance that a student might stick the wrong dropper into the wrong container, and contaminate the whole bottle of essential oil with another scent). I just had a little trouble with using them since I never use them! (I'm fine with using both kinds of orifice reducers on finished products, but when crafting products, when one drop can change how a whole blend smells, I really prefer droppers since with droppers I know how many drops actually make it in the bottle!)

I am excited about continuing my aromatherapy studies with Jeanne Rose. Though I know quite a bit about aromatherapy and am not an amateur, I am by no means a professional and most certainly I am not an expert or pioneer. I guess I see myself as an advanced student but I've really never felt that I had the right to call myself an aromatherapist (even though many great aromatherapists and herbalists are self taught, and some people call themselves aromatherapists or herbalists even though they haven't read more than a couple books, and have only completed maybe just one day long or weekend class). I still feel like I can't (though I've been crafting, studying, and researching this for years and have read a ridiculous amount of books, and have now actually taken a class, and am starting on another ;P), but I feel that I am on my way to (truly) becoming one.

For a list of all of Jeanne's classes (taught all over the U.S.), be sure to check out her website.

Check out Sharon's/All Natural Beauty portals's pictures of the events and blog entry.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Places To Buy Essential Oils: Part 2 (Aromatherapy Information)

Garden of Wisdom: I may be a tad biased in saying that I love GOW (since I am one of the moderators on their forum, however, I am not an employee) but Markey (the owner) is awesome. She really cares about her customers, and her prices are low (pretty much wholesale prices) on a lot of her items. Her essential oils are very high quality (she gets them from a couple very good vendors). And if you are obsessed with carrier oils like I am--her selection is one of the best (in quality and price) that I've found. She carries a large assortment of make-it-yourself herbal and cosmetic (natural and non-natural) ingredients (and if she doesn't have it, ask! She is a sweetheart and is constantly adding customer requests to her stock). Many of her essential oils are organic or ethically wildharvested, though it's not listed on the site which are. I wish I had known that before I restocked my essential oils because I would have gotten them from her!

Lavender Lane:Another company that I kind of had a bad experience with (bought from them many years ago though so don't know if their customer service is the same now as it was then). When I had ordered from them, they didn't send me the right amount of melt and pour soap (I had ordered a pound, and what I received weighed a little less than 14 ounces) and (a few months later when I looked at the shipping shipment) I noticed that they had overcharged me a lot for shipping and handling (more than what their website had said. I've paid some pretty hefty prices for shipping and handling from other companies without blinking an eye but never as much as this--and this was many years ago when shipping prices were much lower). Unfortunately, I never called them to fix it though.

Mountain Rose Herbs:
Mountain Rose Herbs is one of my favorite herbal vendors (definitely in my top three). They have a very nice selection of essential oils and carrier oils (very high quality). Many of them are organic or ethically wild harvested. This company really cares about their products, have strong business and environmental ethics (they are a carbon neutral company and--though they are a small company--are one of the largest organic internet/mail order vendors). They also have a great selection of herbs; in my opinion they are the best place to get dried herbs--superior quality and fresh! Most of the herbs are organic, but much less expensive than many conventional herbs from other places. I have some herbs from them that are three years old (so need to use them asap before they go bad)--and they are still better quality than herbs from super markets or other herb stores that I've tried. They sell everything from skin care to miy ingredients. Their rose essential oil sampler is lovely and a great way to sample rose essential oils from around the world (note: rose is one of the most expensive essential oils).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Places To Buy Essential Oils: Part 1 (Aromatherapy Information)

Here is a list of some of the essential oil companies I've tried thus far (from over 7 years of using essential oils), good and bad mini reviews. (Part 1. The rest of the list will be in part 2).

Aromaland: I tried this company many years ago, when I first started learning about aromatherapy. I thought their essential oils were very high quality--I remember their expressed lime essential oil was divine :) Customer service was good. But after a couple years, they raised many of their prices. Their prices for many of their conventional essential oils are still pretty good (some are a very good deal while others are a tad pricey), but since I now only buy mostly organic essential oils, there are other vendors I prefer. I remember I liked their sampler packs though (samples in little perfume vials).

Aromatherapy Outlet: First I have to say that their essential oils are very nice, especially their citrus essential oils. They have a great assortment (including organic choices), and the prices are pretty low. I only bought from them once (last year) but I had a pretty bad experience buying from them (and later when I posted on Delphi's Mineral Makeup Mania forum, I found out that others had too). It's a bit of a long story, but they took many weeks to ship my order (I'm usually very patient with orders--I'm the kind of person that if I get an order within 2 to 2 1/2 weeks I'm happy, but this took nearly a month--even when I had emailed them a couple times and received responses), and I never received my free samples or free bottle of essential oil from their promotion at the time (after I got my order I emailed them twice again, and even received an email from the owner saying that she would mail them to me immediately, but never got them).

AV-AT: Probably my favorite place to get essential oils at the moment :). I love their essential oils! I think they (along with the ones I've tried from Enfleurage) are the best quality I've tried so far (and most of the places I've tried have been great, if not excellent). I think it is because the owner (Butch Owens) has close relationships to the distillers he buys from, and he lab tests his products to check for their purity. Most of their essential and carrier oils are organic or ethically wild harvested and their prices are excellent (considering they are organic which is usually more expensive). Their ylang ylang complete and cocoa absolute are heaven on earth. You can also get free samples (a fews drops in a glass vial--not full).

Camden Grey:This vendor is great! Large assortment of all kinds of ingredients. They have a good selection of essential oils, including many organic ones, at awesome prices (wholesale prices). The best thing you can buy very small to very large amounts of essential oils and all their ingredients. Everything I've tried there has been good, though I've heard on a forum that some essential oils are hit or miss. They also tend to have a lot of sales.

Enfleurage:I haven't bought from their online store but I've been to their store in NYC. Their prices are a tad more than other companies but the prices for certain oils are pretty good. They carry many of the more unusual essential oils, and their essential oils are very high quality, and many are organic too.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Local Fall Festivals (D.C./VA/MD area) (Fall Festival Information)

Quick post on local fall festivals

Fall for Fairfax: tommorrow, Sept 29 . In addition to the activites, they will be recycling old computers, and they will be conducting a blood drive. Free admission.

National Book Festival (D.C.): tommorrow, Sept 29 Free admission (some activities have a small fee).

D.C. Green Festival: Oct 6-7. Admission: Children under 12 are free; $15 for general; students, seniors, union members, and bike riders for $10. Admission is good for both days, and you also get coupons. When I went a couple years ago, there were many environmental organizations (if you are looking for a job, bring a resume).

Maryland Renaissance Fest: every weekend through Oct 21

I have previously written reviews on the Green Festival, National Book Fest, and Renn Festival, see links on right side of (main page of) blog. But for the Green and Nat. Book Festivals, not all the same organizations, vendors, and speakers are attending this year. For the renn fest, most of the same vendors will be there.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

IUCN 2007 Red List: The Conservation Status of Animals and Plants (Environmental News and Information)

A couple weeks ago, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) released their 2007 Red List of Threatened Species (news link here). IUCN is the largest international environmental information network, composed of many states/nations/countries, NGOs, government agencies, and conservation scientists. Their Red List is one of the most respected and comprehensible resources available on biodiversity and the conservation status of flora (plants) and fauna (animals). The news is not looking good: 188 more species were added to the list this year, bumping up the total of species threatened with extinction to 16,306 species, and 41,415 species now listed. According to IUCN: 25% of mammals, 1/8th of birds, 1/3rd of amphibians, and 70% of plants (known species) are now in danger. For the first time corals have been added to the list (corals are like the ‘rainforests of the ocean’; a high concentration of marine life lives around or near the coral reefs) and they think that the Yangtze River Dolphin (whose status is listed as critically endangered) may possibly be extinct.

Li’s FAQ:

What are some of the causes of population degradation?

A few environmental issues that may affect species biodiversity include habitat encroachment and degradation, urban development, deforestation, global warming/climate change, invasive/exotic/non-native species, lack of available prey, chemical discharge, and pollution.

What are some of the things people can do to help species and the environment?

-donate to your favorite environmental or conservation organization (like IUCN)
-volunteer at your favorite environmental or conservation organization
-donate to colleges/universities (and support grad school level research in these topics)
-support local environmental issues
-write to your local congressmen to let them know your viewpoints on the environment
-buy/consume less
-but when you need to buy something, use eco-friendly products (or at least higher quality products that can be reused or that last longer)
-for food/plants/herbs: buy organic or ethically harvested plants (healthier for you, less chemicals that poison wildlife and the Earth, and it's sustainable)
-drive a more fuel efficient car or take public transportation (to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming)
-plant native/local trees or a wildlife habitat/garden in your yard to attract and provide a home for small mammals, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Carrier Oil Books and Shelf Life (Aromatherapy/All Natural Skin Care Resources and Information)

A couple FAQ on carrier oils :)

I am looking for a book on carrier oils but haven't been able to find one; any suggestions?

Most aromatherapy and natural skin care books have a small section on carrier oils but there are only two books that I know of that are devoted solely to carrier oils. Both are kind of hard to find and are a bit pricey (mainly only easily available in England). They are Liquid Sunshine by Jan Kusmirek (2002), and Carrier Oils by Price, Price, and Smith (Len Price is the main author; 3rd edition 1999. There may be a 4th edition, see below). They are both very good resources; many people talk about Liquid Sunshine, and Len Price and Shirley Price are well known British aromatherapists.

I recently got my hands on these books, but have only read part of Carrier Oils so far. It has profiles for over 40 oils, including my beloved kukui nut oil, but it didn't have camellia oil which I thought is strange since that is quite a popular skin care oil! It also didn't have a complete profile for shea butter (only a couple sentences on it). Overall I love this book--Price makes the chemical composition of carrier oils easy to understand, better than my undergrad chemistry books! And one of the best things about this book is that at the end of each profile, Price lists the sources/references he used for each profile/chapter (of course now I want to go find the ones I haven't read! LOL!). In my opinion this book is a must have for understanding oils.

I haven't read Liquid Sunshine yet but it has many oils that aren't in Price's book, including some that I've never heard of. It also has a profile on camellia (though a species I haven't used yet) and shea butter :) I'll post more on it once I read it :)

To buy:

For Liquid Sunshine, I got mine at Sun Rose Aromatics (right now it's being sold for $35 plus shipping and handling. Handling is $4 and shipping for me was $6, but you can request essential oil samples with each order, and the samples are extremely generous, so they off set the cost of shipping and handling fee). You can also try England's Amazon site, and can get it for cheaper (though you'd have to wait longer to receive the book). I do not recommend getting it from the U.S. Amazon site since people were selling it for ridiculous prices there, but sometimes someone will sell it for a decent price, so it's still worth a look. NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy) presently sells it for $30, but I haven't bought from NAHA before so can't comment on their shipping (I could not find any information on their shipping costs on their site).
Nature's Gift is also currently selling this book for $30 (sale price). It is a great price and now I am wishing I had known that they were going to reorder them (they hadn't carried this book in a while).

For Carrier Oils, I got mine at Amazon for an awesome price a couple months ago (about $25). The thing about Amazon, you have to wait for a decent price. Currently, there's this one British company (called the_book_depository) that sells it from time to time on the U.S. Amazon site for $25-34, and the other times other sellers charge anywhere from $50 to over $100 for it. This company ships fast so I got my copy in a few days. You can also try the British Amazon site, but may have to wait up to 2 weeks for it to ship. According to the British Amazon site, there is a fourth edition that was released a couple months ago but it is listed as unavailable, so I am not sure if this actually came out or not.

Other suggestions: If you can't get your hands on these books (either by buying them or from your local inter-library loan :)) I highly suggest reading the profiles that many vendors list online. Good companies include Mountain Rose Herbs, Nature's Gift, From Nature With Love, and also Garden of Wisdom's site has a little information on it as well (and you can always ask me or everyone :) on the forum about a particular oil if you have a question)

What is the shelf life of carrier oils/butters, such as camellia oil, shea butter, and coconut oil? And how do I store them?

Carrier oils last 6 months to 3 years, depending on the oil. Camellia: I'd say about a year, maybe longer. Shea butter: 1-2 years. Coconut: 2 to 3 years. But shelf life is just an estimate. For example I've had rosehip seed oil last for 3 times as long as the expected shelf life, and I've had coconut oil go rancid on me after 1 and 1/2 years, so if the oils smell rancid (like stale nuts or french fries), toss them out.

I highly recommend not storing any natural product in the bathroom. It is too humid and warm and will greatly shorten shelf life. Refrigerating oils and butters can (in some cases) double shelf life (from personal experience, refrigerating my oils has tripled shelf life for some oils).

I usually keep all my oils and butters in the fridge, and just put a little in a glass container for daily use.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Li's crafting thoughts 09-13-07

Edited a bit for clarity:

A few things I've been crafting recently :)

Hair tonic:
While I was in Philly, I finally strained the herbal hair tonics I made for my sister (made with fresh herbs like sage from her wonderful garden) and added a blend of various essential oils that are good for hair (such as rosemary). I hope she likes it! :)

Cream:I ran out of cream a while back so just made a new batch. I formulated and crafted a new recipe but I think I added too much shea or wax so it's a bit slick on the skin but the strange thing is that it's thin! I guess next time I won't try to craft a cream from memory, LOL! :) (need to look at previous recipes for the right wax proportions)

I'm still thinking of/working on a preservative system for lotions (for a shelf life of at least 6 months, if not longer). There are a lot of problems with trying to formulate a completely natural preservative system, namely that all natural or nearly all natural lotions have a much reduced shelf life compared to conventionally preserved products, and also the most effective natural preservatives are very fragrant or contain alcohol (a problem for those with sensitive skin).

Serums:I am still working on serums for my line. I just received many new carrier oils (thanks Markey!). I now have close to 60 carrier oils to work with, and still need to finish figuring out which oils work for which skin type. The problem is that many of these oils are new to the market (either newly available on a wider scale, newly available to the retail market, or totally new) so there is not much information on these oils in books (so most of my research is based on my own observations on how they react on the skin and also sometimes from online vendors). When I first started crafting and using natural skin care, I thought that no carrier oils worked for my skin--I went through nearly a dozen of the most popular, basic ones before I found a few that worked. Nowadays, with the range of carrier oils on the online market, it is easy to find something that works! I am having so much fun crafting serums for different skin types!

Perfume and Aromatherapy Blends:I've been working on a jasmine perfume for a while and I think it is almost perfect. Crafting an aromatherapy perfume is different than crafting a simple aromatherapy blend, since you need to pay special attention to top, middle, and base notes, and how each essential oils melds with the other (and a perfume, of course, is typically at a much higher concentration). When I craft aromatherapy blends, I just craft whatever I think would go well together, and don't pay too much attention to whether I have all three notes in a blend. They smell lovely but they aren't really technically perfumes (though I admit I do wear single or simple blends as my scent sometimes ;P ). I am still kind of an amateur at crafting perfumes but I am proud of how my jasmine perfume is coming along.

I made an aromatherapy blend for a family friend during one of my out of town trips; it did have a top, middle, and base note but only had 3 essential oils, and I made it at a perfume concentration (so I guess it was kind of like a hybrid!). Very simple but lovely blend.

In general, I've been doing a lot of research on ingredients and how to run a business, and (of course) crafting like mad. I've been crafting most of my own skin care/aromatherapy products and remedies for a long while (about seven years now), but there is so much to consider before starting a business, that most people never think about. One thing is for sure, I will never again complain about the prices that some vendors sell their goods at, since I'm beginning to discover there are so many hidden costs in running a business!

Monday, September 03, 2007

All Natural Beauty website/Jeanne Rose chat (Aromatherapy/Herbalism/All Natural Cosmetics information)

This Wednesday, Sept 5th, the All Natural Beauty Website will host a web chat with Jeanne Rose. Jeanne Rose is one of the pioneers in both herbalism and aromatherapy, and is one of my favorite aromatherapy/herbalism/all natural skin and hair care/cosmetics/beauty authors. The chat will take place at 2 pm (EST) on All Natural Beauty's delphi forum. If you are not a member of delphi, it is very easy to sign up, and after you sign up you'll have access to all of delphi's forums (including the forum I help moderate: Garden of Wisdom). Personally I can not wait until Wednesday and am very excited and hope that I don't miss it! Thanks Jeanne Rose and Sharon! (Sharon is the owner of the All Natural Beauty Website, All Natural Beauty Portal, All Natural Beauty forum, and Shar Ambrosia/All Natural Spa store)

The ANB website and ANB Portal have many great articles on all natural beauty products and ingredients (including articles and recipes written by Jeanne Rose, and, on ANB portal, a couple of my own recipes :) ) and links to many (truly) all natural cosmetics. Shar Ambrosia sells many great spa products as well. The ANB forum is a great place to ask questions and is one of my favorite forums to visit :)

Jeanne Rose's site is an awesome resource for anyone interested in herbalism and aromatherapy. It is a gold mine for articles in those fields. Her books are among the first I reach for when deciding upon essential oils for cosmetic and medicinal uses (her profiles/tables of essential oils, herbs, and hydrosols are among the best out there). She is the person who coined the term 'hydrosol'. So if you have a question about herbs, essential oils, hydrosols, and other natural ingredients, join the chat! :)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

On the Search For Good Hypoglycemic And Vegetarian Friendly Cookbooks (Vegetarian and Hypoglycemia Information)

As many people are already aware, I'm hypoglycemic as well as vegetarian. I've been vegetarian for about 13 years (I became veggie in high school), and I think I've had mild hypoglycemia since childhood (I could eat refined flour and sugar in moderation as long as I ate every few hours and my symptoms were mild most of the time). Shortly before I became a grad student my hypoglycemia became severe (mainly due to major stress and adrenal fatigue) causing many strange and unusual symptoms, and my body basically collapsed. Nearly three years later I still suffer from many of the symptoms but they are thankfully less severe and in most cases are mild/moderate (except when they flare up during frequent colds or pms) due to major changes in my diet.

While it is hard learning how to eat a hypoglycemic diet, it is doubly hard being a hypoglycemic vegetarian! My symptoms are much better than they were, and while I eat pretty well, I know I can do even better. Since I have to eat 6 times a day (at least) and protein at every meal or snack, I've been relying far too much on nuts, soy, and fake meat products (like veggie sausages etc which are probably way too processed for me). In addition, I think I recently just developed a mild allergy to cashews, so it is definitely time to re-evaluate my hypoglycemic diet and what I've been eating!

I have been scouring bookstores for good cookbooks for a while. The problem is that there is only a couple hypoglycemic cookbooks, and while they aren't bad, the recipes in it are...well, kind of bland! (My taste buds are spoiled. Though I live in VA/DC metropolitan area, I've been to so many great restaurants (all types of different cuisine) in NYC and Philly that I am a bit of a food snob, LOL! ;P Restaurants in Philly are very underrated, by the way). These books have a lot of good ideas for snacks, and some veggie or many easy-to- convert-to-veggie recipes, and while the recipes are okay, the ones I've tried aren't extraordinary either (they don't utilize spices well to make up for the lack of sugar in many recipes). They contain some good basic recipes for every day, comfort food, but if you crave things like Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and most importantly good American and fresh salad/gourmet-type/'peasant' food dishes--basically food that is healthy but loaded with flavor--like I do, I've found these cookbooks a bit lacking in the taste department.

The low-carb, high protein cookbooks I've seen aren't that great either. While most hypoglycemics follow a lower carb, high protein diet, many of the cookbooks I've flipped through in the bookstore are meat based (eating meat 6 times a day would not be that healthy for an adrenal fatigued hypoglycemic, much less anyone else!), too strict (eliminating all carbs or too many carbs), or the (veggie) recipes simply don't look that good.

Diabetic books aren't that much better. While most eliminate sugar, the ones I've seen do not eliminate things white flour, white rice, etc, or use things like synthetic sugar substitutes (which I avoid like the plague!).

So I've been inventing my own recipes or converting recipes from my favorite veggie books for the better part of the last few years.

When I was in Philly I went through my sister's cook book selection (she is an awesome cook--much better than me--and has a wonderful selection of good cookbooks) and went to one of my favorite used book stores (Molly's Bookstore in the Italian Market). My sister recommended several of her vegan cookbooks (she even gave me one of them; love you, Bexn!) and I found a couple of nice macrobiotic cookbooks at Molly's.

I've found that both the vegan and macrobiotic cookbooks I got are much closer to how I eat than any other cookbooks I've seen. I didn't know anything about the macrobiotic diet, but it looks similar to the hypoglycemic diet because it is based on fresh ingredients (non-processed), mostly vegetarian, based on whole grains and non-refined sugars, and taste is an important factor. It isn't as high in protein than a hypoglycemic diet though, and while there are many recipes I won't have to convert, I will still have to convert some a bit (though just one or two ingredients instead of several).

I was surprised that the vegan cookbooks were much more similar to how I eat than many of my plain veggie cookbooks. It took me a couple days to figure out why: they used a variety of whole grains (like quinoa and spelt--which are high in protein--and not just the common products like refined wheat and white rice); these particular cooks preferred granulated frutose, agave, or other liquid sweeteners over white sugar; since they don't eat eggs or dairy they used a much wider range of ingredients (many of which were high in protein); the cooks/chefs realized if you don't use eggs and dairy you need to pay extra attention to seasonings to be satisfying; and when subbing for eggs and dairy in desserts they used hypoglycemic-friendly things like pureed fruit and tofu. Like the macrobiotic books I won't have to convert most recipes, but even the ones I will have to, I'll only have to change them a little (less chance of the recipe failing).

So I am a happy camper and the recipes I've tried so far are easy to prepare and so good! I am super excited at trying the dessert recipes because I used to be a baker (and not a cook), and in the last three years I've only had about 6 or 7 real baked goods or desserts (not including breads or the occasional grain sweetened chocolate and carob). In the following weeks I'll try to post reviews of all my cookbooks once I try several recipes :)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Monave's Mineral Makeup and Marketing Class Review (Natural Cosmetics Class)

I just came back from Monave's mineral makeup and marketing class (I mentioned it in my last crafting notes entry).

I had a lot of fun, but I am very tired right now (from blood sugar fatigue and brain fog, meals/snacks at odd times, and driving to Baltimore and back). Overall I thought the seminar was very informative and I learned a lot! This year's class was focused more on marketing and business strategies than mmu crafting, though we did craft a little bit :) Topics included protecting intellectual property (things like copyright and trademarks), maximizing profit/buying in bulk, tips for selling, setting up the workspace, and also crafting.
Crafting (of course) was the most fun (we made a sample foundation, and the most beautiful shade of blush :) ) but I am glad that I went because I really need to learn as much as I can about the business side of things! I took a lot of notes and we got a lot of useful handouts too, and I can't wait for the transcripts to be available (see below).

I was excited since I got to meet Deb (owner of Monave), Kelley (Monave's wholesale executive and also an esthetician with her own business), Sharen (Monave's skincare and makeup artist), and Kim (owner of Geografx Cosmetics), as well as all the attendees! But I didn't get to talk to anyone as much as I'd like since I arrived only minutes before the first class was supposed to start, and sometimes when my blood sugar gets low I tend to be a bit quiet since I had brain fog on and off throughout the day :( . But the people I did briefly talk to were very nice and seemed very passionate and knowledgeable about their chosen fields (some had businesses already, some were starting from scratch, there was at least one other skin care crafter, and some were skin care estheticians or makeup artists getting into the mmu business). Deb and her staff were also extremely nice, and so was Kim of Geografx (I haven't used Geografx Cosmetics before but I must comment she had great looking skin!). It was amazing seeing so many mmu addicts and (present/future) business women in one room :) (The class was at Kim Ease Salon on Fleet Street, who lent Deb the space for the day).

After all the classes were over, we got to visit Monave's warehouse/office. It was really cool seeing where one of my favorite MMU lines is made/packaged/sent. I got a few free powders (including a very generous amount of a couple of unblended minerals--thank you very much Deb!), and I also bought one of the crafting booklets that I didn't have (which are usually sold with the kits but since I already have two kits, and I have most of the minerals/pigments, I only needed the matte mmu booklet), and also bought a few mini-lippie vegan glazes (Deb was so sweet and gave us all big discounts on the minis).

For those that missed it, in a couple months, videos of the more hands on lectures will be online and transcripts will also be available online to buy (the transcripts will be free to those who attended though). Also next year's MMU class will be focused more on the crafting rather than the business side, and (according to the retail forum), Deb will also be offering classes in CA sometime in the future.

Overall a good but tiring day :)

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Organic Cloth Menstrual Pads: Gladrags

Gladrags is one of the best known cloth menstrual pads. Unlike many other online vendors, gladrags are available at many online stores and some retail (actual) stores. Unfortunately I could not find them locally, so ordered one online.

I bought a colored organic day time pad from Gladrags has its own website (and if you sign up for their newsletter you'll receive a coupon for 15% off your next order) but I decided to get my pad at because their prices for their individual pads were less expensive. The Gladrags website has great deals on kits (and coupled with the 15% coupon it's even better) but since Gladrags individual pads are a tad more expensive than smaller less known brands, and since I only wanted to try a single pad before I invested in more, I got my pad at In addition to Gladrag's organic pads, they also sell non-organic pads (which are much less expensive than the organic ones).

I've been shopping at since my undergrad days, and their customer service is usually great: they ship fast. The only minor qualm I had with this order was that I ordered a burgundy colored pad and they sent me a light blue one. But since I didn't care too much about the color and the blue was a nice shade, I didn't bother contacting them.

At first I wasn't too sure what to think about the concept of inserts. Basically a single pad comes with a thin outer layer called a holder and two inserts. You can either put one or both of the inserts (or more if you buy others) in the holder to cater the thickness of the pad to your needs. I kind of liked the idea that I could control the thickness but at first I didn't get why if after you use it, you have to change the entire pad (holder plus inserts) and not only the inserts (like how you change just the liners in the changeable-liner type pads), then why even use insert pads? Why not just buy all-in-one pads (AIOs) in different absorbencies? Since you change the whole thing (and not only the inserts), the cost of one gladrags pad (holder and inserts) is slightly more expensive compared to AIOs from other companies (but still cheaper in the long run than using disposables).

When I first looked at the pad, I thought I wasn't going to like it very much. The holder (without the inserts in them) looked very flimsy. Also when both inserts are placed in the holder, the pad is much bulkier than AIOs. I think it's still a tad thinner than regular maxis, but it was still kind of thick. But once I used it, I really liked it! :) The pad is actually pretty sturdy once you put the inserts in it. It did not bunch up or move, and it was very comfortable. The organic cotton was soft (but not as soft as hemp, cotton velour, or bamboo velour). A plus about the inserts: I could peak into the pad and see if I needed to change it or not. And though I initially thought the pad looked bulky, it didn't feel bulky at all! You could not see the outline of the pad through clothes. It was also pretty easy to wash. The pads are not made with artificial backing (like fleece or PUL) so it was a completely natural and organic pad.

Overall I like gladrags. The only reason I may or may not buy more is because there are other pads I like more. But they worked well and were comfortable, and if I hadn't tried hemp, bamboo, and cotton velour AIOs, I'd probably buy a kit. I may try their panty liners in the future though (which are basically AIOs). They are a good pad to start out with and more widely available than other companies. Also I really admire their company ethics; their website host is powered by green, renewable energy (carbon neutral). They also offer huge discounts (20%) to students doing a group order. They also guarantee their pads if you order from their website (they are returnable unlike many other pad companies). And I don't remember which company it was, but when I looked at their website last month, they were working with an organic lipbalm company (offering a special deal). They are a great company and I think one of the first cloth pad companies established (they were established in 1992).

For non-pad users, they also offer the diva cup and the keeper moon cup (inserts). For women who have given birth, they also offer a specially designed insert called a moon cup. My sister uses the keeper and she loves it!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Li's crafting thoughts 08-01-07

Products I've been working on over the last several weeks (I haven't crafted much over the last two weeks since I'm currently out of town)

Serums (oil based):
A few weeks ago I made a serum that's good for all skin types, one that is super high in antioxidants, and one for mature skin. I still have to work on all the essential oil blends for my serums though (which will up the antioxidant content even more, so all my serums will contain antioxidants). I also need to craft serums for other skin types too. But the trouble is that I have thirty or so carrier oils to work with and I can't seem to decide which oils to use because I keep coming up with so many different combos! ;P

I've been experimenting with blending different hydrosols together for toners. I think that initially I may just offer plain hydrosols to tone and hydrate, and later add hydrosol toners to my product line.

Lip Balm:A while ago, I also made yet another vegan lip balm; this time I made one that is high in antioxidants. I don't really know what I think about it yet. The texture of this one is nice but I don't like how much the balm shrinks after pouring them in the tubes. Either I need to find a different way to pour it in tubes, reformulate it, or offer it in a pot or jar. Also I used distinct smelling carrier oils which may bother some people (I tried to improve the scent with essential oils but it didn't really help).

I also need to test all my balms to make sure they don't melt too much in the heat! (They aren't as hard as some of the balms I've tried on the market). The trouble with crafting vegan balms is that if you use too much of certain (vegan) waxes the balm will not only become too hard but it will be so hard it becomes brittle (ask me how I know-LOL!). I kind of miss crafting with beeswax because the texture of a beeswax balm is perfect; it is really hard to mess up a beeswax based balm (if you use too much beeswax it simply gets really hard but not brittle).

Though I am pretty happy with the formulation of my other three balms, I still need to work on which scents/essential oil combos to offer. The bad thing is that I don't know if I will be able to sell the lip balm formulation I like the most, which has east shea butter in it, because east shea is really hard to come by now (very few places sold it before, and all the sources I know of are all sold out now or do not wholesale it any longer). I may have to switch to using west shea butter, but that will totally change the texture, and may become gritty if I'm not careful.

Mask:A couple days ago I made a body mask/scrub with some basic food stuffs (true 'kitchen cosmetics' :) ). I love traveling but when traveling I really miss not crafting almost every day, and having access to all of my herbal ingredients :( The mask/scrub was vegetarian but not vegan. The mask was yogurt (unsweetened, organic), honey, and sugar based (one of these days if I find a good unsweetened organic soy yogurt I'll probably try using that in skin care instead of regular yogurt! :) ) It was very moisturizing for my dehydrated skin.

Hair: My family has asked for some hair products to improve hair health so I am going to craft some for them using herbs from their delicious garden :)

Those are the main (new) things I've crafted (in addition I crafted some old favorites like body oils, herbal rinses, and a couple new things like other masks and scrubs, etc)

Agenda: (once I get back into town): lotion, lotion, and more lotion (for face and body) and a variety of facial cleansers, but mostly I will be focusing on serums (I think I may end up offering at least 12 and maybe up to 20 different formulations) and essential oil blends (for both the serums and lip balms, and possibly other products).

I also will be attending Monave's mineral makeup and marketing seminar on August 12th :) Looking forward to it since there will be a lot of business info.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Organic Cloth Menstrual Pads: E-a-poo's Review

I loved E-a-poo's pads! They are my second favorite pads (tied in second place with the pads from Go with the flo).

I bought two pads from E-a-poo's: a blue royal organic hemp cotton velour top with a woven terry two-ply soaker and a microfleece bottom (a waterproof barrier) AND a scarlet bamboo organic cotton velour layer with a two-ply woven terry soaker and a one-ply coordinating micro fleece (description taken directly from their website, slightly edited). They cost $9.75 each and are both organic AIOs (all-in-ones) with wings. They also make pads in a variety of (non-organic) fabric prints.

Though I loved both pads, I liked the bamboo/cotton pad slightly better than the hemp/cotton because it was ever so slightly softer (but the hemp/cotton one was pretty soft too!). I liked the pads because they stayed in place, absorbed well, didn't bunch, and were very comfortable. The cloth is hand dyed and the colors are very bold and pretty, and the dyes didn't run at all (the blue royal had a dark blue and green top with a light-medium blue back, and the scarlet one had a red and yellow top and a yellow bottom). They were about the same thickness as the ones from GWTF; in other words, much thinner than a regular conventional pad but not as thin as an ultra thin pad. I especially liked how they were cut, they offered superior protection.

Not only were their prices good but shipping was fast and I also received a free sample of soap with my order (vegetarian but not vegan, and nearly all natural; it contains goat milk and fragrance oils). They also sell a number of other items including cloth baby diapers, a few bath products, and nursing pads. They do custom orders. I will definitely buy more pads from them and will probably also try their panty liners in the future :)

Overall, I think I prefer AIO pads over pads with liners or inserts (I'll be reviewing the pads from Lunapads--a pad with liners--and Gladrags--a pad with inserts--shortly).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Organic Cloth Menstrual Pads: Go with the Flo Review

I really loved the pads from Go with the flo. Though Homemade Mama's hemp pad with waterproof backing was my favorite pad out of all the ones I tried, these (along with the pads from E-a-poos; review soon to be posted) were a very close second. I bought two of their AIOs (all in ones): a standard maxi pad and petite maxi pad, both in a tie-dyed multi-colored blue. The pads I got were made with a hemp core, and topped with bamboo velour (organic). Other fabrics they offer are organic cotton velour, hemp velour and hemp fleece, backed with either fleece or wool. They also sell pads with inserts, but I did not try these. All of their pads have wings. They usually also take custom orders, but at this time are not accepting custom orders. First I have to say the colors were bright and among the prettiest of pads that I got. The pads were very, very soft and comfortable to wear (I love bamboo velour, and both bamboo and hemp are super absorbent). The pads were thin (not as thin as the hemp one from HM or a disposable ultra thin pad but much thinner than a conventional regular pad). They also didn't bunch up and stayed in place. There wasn't too much of a difference in the width between the petite and standard maxis but though I have a small frame I actually preferred the standard since it fit my underwear better. They also washed easily, without staining. The only minor qualm I had is that though I prewashed them, in my soak container one of the pads rubbed up against some of my cream colored pads (from other companies) and tinted parts of them a very light bluish-green. It was so strange because the dye from the other pad didn't run. It doesn't really bother me (since the tinting was very slight and kind of pretty) but just thought I'd mention don't mix your cream colored pads in with your colored pads in your soak container (I usually never mix my whites/creams with my colored clothes, but I just didn't think about this with the menstrual cloths). The cost of these pads are pretty good (especially for organic bamboo and hemp). I paid around $10 per pad (I'll post the exact figure a little later, I'm out of town so don't remember the exact price and the style of pads I bought isn't instock so the price isn't on the website). I bought them through the K and F shop; shipping was fast and free (no shipping fee) (so though they were slightly more expensive then the ones from HM, there was no shipping fee so it ended up being about the same price or just slightly more). I originially had wanted to order through the Yinia shop (since they also were selling pads from other companies) but had trouble with their shopping cart, even though I tried several times to buy from them with different browsers (see the GWTF website for links to the different shops that sell them). I also received a lovely free candle with my order (with their business info attached to the label; smart advertising).