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Friday, April 25, 2014

Lupus, Skin Cancer Awareness and the Ideal Sun Hat

It is that time of year when the itch to get outside gets stronger with every sunny day. 
May is Lupus Awareness Month and other than the endless question being "what is Lupus", there is very little understanding about what the sun has to do with anything.

Photosensitivity or sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light, is a common symptom of lupus. It can take different forms. Some people actually become ill after exposure with nausea, fatigue and headaches. Others may suffer a flare-up with arthritis, alopecia, pleurisy or mucosal ulcerations. The most common problem with UV exposure is the lupus rash. The rash may be limited to just those areas of exposure or it may pop up on different parts of the body. For more information on the effects from the sun you may be interested in this past post.

I've always adored the sun and I love the warmth of long as I have my hat. I keep an extra in my car, the truck and never go on a day trip without it. Just the idea of breaking down and having to walk without my hat is cause for anxiety because I know within five minutes of the blaring sun I'll feel "out of it" and nauseated. I can do most anything I want outside as long as I keep moving (not just sitting around) and I have the protection of a five inch brim, no baseball caps for me. However, I know better than to spend long days either at the beach or on a boat out in the water. Don't be foolish and let yourself be put in situations where you feel trapped and can't get away from the sun's intensity.

Since I'll never be able to enjoy summer activities without smashing down any type of nice hair style, the least I can do is not feel self-conscious about my head gear.
There are hundreds of sun hats out there, and I've become very selective.
First, it is a rare day when there isn't a breeze in the air, and little is more annoying than the feeling that your hat is going to blow off your head. No one wants to walk around all day with one hand holding the thing in place. So my hat of choice must have ties or a drawstring.

Second, those cheap straw hats with the loose weave are worthless for protection. A minimum sun protective rating of UPF 40+ is necessary and worth the extra money from the suppliers who offer such a thing.

Third is the size of the brim. Baseball caps offer shade on the face but won't do much else. Needed is an all around brim of 4 to 5 inches. I've tried the typical 3 inch brim and can feel the difference.

Last is the style of the hat itself. Two things about that:
First, since a hat goes wherever I go, it is nice to have a portable hat that folds. Very annoying is traveling in an airplane with a stiff hat that can't be stowed anywhere. Nice is a hat that is meant to be folded and tucked in a suitcase or totebag.
Second, forget those big floppy things. They may look sexy and flattering in pictures, but are the most annoying things to actually wear. Your peripheral vision is obliterated and you definitely lose self-confidence maneuvering in a crowd when you feel your vision is obstructed. 

So the selection is limited, but I have found sites that do carry attractive, practical sun hats for men, women and children.
The picture hats below are from wonderful companies with sun protection as their objective. The average cost is between $35 and $55 but worth it. Just like a good pair of shoes that will get worn to their bitter end.

Sun protection is certainly not just for those with a condition. Skin cancer is a very real concern for everyone of all skin types. Those little spots that turn up on the face years later probably got their start during childhood bouts with sunburn. Already sporting two little facial scars from removal of such basil cells, common sense with sun exposure is nothing to brush off in our desire for a tan or our vanity. The hat below is a favorite and is from Sunday Afternoons.

Frecklescalifornia Sun Hat

Sun Precautions Sun Hat
Coolibar Sun Hat

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Beat The Bugs Before They Bite

 Protecting yourself or your children against annoying insects doesn't have to mean using a product with a warning label.

DEET, also known as diethyl-meta-toluamide, is very common in commercial bug repellent sprays, but research tells us that its use can have detrimental effects on brain cells and can interact with some medications. Anything put onto our skin is absorbed into the body, not something you want for yourself or your loved ones. Try a natural mosquito and fly repellent instead. Just keep in mind that plant based repellents do wear off faster than the commercial chemical based sprays, so you will have to reapply as needed.

Many of our "weeds" can be our friends. We have to remember that the definition of a weed is a plant that seemingly serves no purpose. In the carpets we like to call our lawns, yes they may be unsightly, but when it comes to medicinal value, these plants definitely have a value.

The vinegar based sprays are ideal for people who are seeking an organic, herbal product but would rather avoid the concentration of essential oils. We're relying solely on the strength of the herbs themselves. Vinegar as a base is good for three reasons; bugs don't care for it, it makes for great herbal infusions, and it evaporates, therefore there is no need to worry about smelling like vinegar.

We have two choices for apple cider vinegar herbal infusion bug sprays. Plantain, Yarrow and Comfrey in the first and Plantain and Lavender in the second. They are both very good and given choices, people like to compare to see which herbs work better for them. Also, being Yarrow and Comfrey should be avoided during pregnancy, the Plantain and Lavender spray is a safer choice while pregnant.(Lavender essential oil is optional). Without the potency of added essential oils, if used on young children it is better to choose either of these sprays rather than the Yarrow Tincture spray or the Herbal Body Oil. Those are more potent due to the essential oils and are best for older children and adults.

Plantain, Yarrow, Comfrey Vinegar
Plantain, Lavender Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar can also be used as a safe alternative to help repel fleas on your pets.
Fleas don't like the way vinegar tastes and smells. As some of the chemicals used for topical flea treatments can be just as dangerous as the pests themselves, knowing other ways to keep them off your pets are always good to know. Depending on the type of dog or cat, you may find it best to dilute it first with water. Being dogs have such a keen sense of smell, straight vinegar may be too unappealing for some. Also, depending on the thickness of your dog's fur, the amount that actually touches the skin will vary, and direct contact for some dogs may be drying for the skin. The bottles hold 4 oz. so add another 4 oz of distilled water and put into a larger spray bottle. Avoid getting the spray into your pet's eyes. For use with pets, especially cats, only use the herbal based deterrents without the essential oils. (Lavender essential oil can be used at a low dilution) Cat's don't have the enzymes to break down some essential oils and over time they can become toxic to the liver and kidneys.

Plantain (Plantago major), also known as the “Mother of Herbs,” it is one of the top backyard medicinal plants. A commonly seen "weed", one of those plants we step on without a thought, but should you suffer a bee or bug bite quickly chew a leaf to get the juices flowing and apply to the bite. You'll be amazed at how quickly it neutralizes the sting. It has astringent, soothing, antimicrobial properties that make it a very beneficial herb to use for our all natural bug deterrent spray.

Gardeners who utilize companion planting are probably aware that Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is used for warding off detrimental insects.The wild white Yarrow is more medicinal than the garden varieties, so that is what is used for the infusions.
Yarrow is usually associated with the story of Achilles' using it to stop the bleeding wounds of his soldiers in battle. Its astringent, antiseptic and analgesic properties add up to it being a first aid kit in one plant.

Another wonderful healer is Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)  a large fuzzy garden herb. Rich in chlorophyll, minerals and mucilage the leaves are an ally for cooling and soothing irritated skin. Comfrey is a great aid in easing irritation from bug bites already there.

Lavender (Lavandula) has been used as a bug repellent for centuries. It was used in the past to protect clothes and linens from the infestation of moths and other insects. The strong scent of lavender is disliked by numerous types of bugs, flies and mosquitoes are just what usually comes to mind as the problem pests. Lavender also prevents the spread of infection caused by existing bug bites and controls the itching and inflammation often associated with them.

Yarrow Tincture Herbal Spray
The Yarrow Tincture spray relies on three effective essential oils: Catnip, Citronella and Lavender.
This spray should not be used on pregnant women or very young children. It is too potent with the concentration of the added essential oils. It can be used on dogs if diluted, not at all on cats.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) has many other uses besides entertaining our feline companions. Studies have found that nepetalactone, a compound found in catnip was more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes. DEET can cause rashes and eye irritation so if there is an alternative why not try it?
A pricey essential oil but it works.
Citronella (Cymbopogon, various species) is a strong, potent lemon scented plant  in which most of us are familiar with in patio type candles.

Herbal Body Oil
  For those who worry about the tincture or vinegar based sprays being too drying for their skin, there is the choice of an herbal infused body oil. So you would get a moisturizer and bug repellent at the same time. Beat It Bug Oil is also very soothing as an after-bite remedy by reducing itch, swelling and inflammation. For spot treatments it may be easier to apply to a cotton ball first. Use your own discretion as to how often you will have to reapply.

A variety of bitter garden herbs are first infused in an olive oil base for an extended period of time. Rue, tansy, sage, feverfew and southernwood are a few of the choices one has for repelling mosquitoes, no see ums, knats, and black flies.

Strong acting essential oils such as citronella, lavender, geranium, peppermint, eucalyptus and lemongrass are excellent examples of strong aromas pesty flying insects do not like. Various combinations of these oils are used for their antiseptic and insect repelling qualities.

So get out there and enjoy the great outdoors.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Traditional Remedies for Sunburn and Minor Burn Care

After a long cold winter season, many people look so forward to spring, that as soon as an opportunity presents itself, they soak up those warm rays by laying out in the sun. As therapeutic as that is for our moods, and most likely we do need the vitamin D, too much of a good thing all at once can easily result in a nasty sunburn.

Or perhaps, a distraction while preparing something on the stove resulted in a burn from the burner, a hot frying pan grease spatter, or even scalding water while draining pasta. Accidents happen and if you know how to handle these mishaps quickly, you can treat a first degree burn at home and help the damaged tissue to repair itself without too much pain or blistering.

Burns affect the skin by setting off immune responses within the body. It depends on the severity of the tissue damage that prompts a particular immune response.
When the immune response is prompted, platelets and inflammatory cells are sent to the affected area and cause the swelling and redness. With serious burns, infection is a threat, therefore the immune system sets off chemical reactions to stop invasion of bacteria.

With a first-degree burn the outer layer of skin, called the epidermis, is damaged. This results in inflammation and reddening. These burn types can be treated at home.

A second-degree burn has damage to not only the epidermis but deeper to the next layer of skin called the dermis. This results in not only the reddening and swelling, but also blistering. Blisters are very painful and infection is a possibility, therefore should be treated with medical attention.

The most serious burns are called third-degree, where multiple dermal layers have been burned away.
Third-degree burns require immediate medical attention. Depending on how much of the body is affected, these injuries are often down to the bone and can result in shock, infection and possibly be life threatening.

The following home remedies use ingredients that are known to help heal the damaged tissue from burns, but if you suspect your burn involves more than that described as first-degree, go to the doctor for advice on treatment.

The Meadow Muffin Gardens shop carries four varieties of sunburn and/or minor burn home remedy choices.

One uses the benefits of herbal oils and coconut, one uses the wonderful aloe plant,  one uses the properties of apple cider vinegar, and the last uses raw honey. They are all beneficial and suited for the different preferences of the consumer. Some people find salves too greasy for their liking, others don't like the smell of vinegar and others may have to be careful with allergies. So here you have choices from which to see what works for you.

The herbal balm/salve is based on the therapeutic properties of St. Johnswort and Comfrey. St. Johnswort flowers contains hypericin, which is beneficial for injuries involving the nerves.
Comfrey contains allantoin, which stimulates and accelerates tissue repair.
Coconut oil is wonderful for its cooling nature and often used for burn remedies. The unique combination of fatty acids in coconut oil help relieve inflammation and provide the needed moisture.

Added are three very beneficial essential oils: lavender, rosemary and carrot seed.
Lavender's reputation for burn treatment originates with the "father of aromatherapy", the french chemist Dr. Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. He burned his hand very severely and quickly immersed it into a vat of lavender oil. He was amazed how quickly his hand healed without scarring.
Rosemary, a cleansing and antiseptic oil, combines with lavender to increase circulation, reduce inflammation and relax the muscles. All of which aid in regenerating new tissue.
Carrot seed oil is added because its beta-carotene levels have been shown to protect against ultra-violet-induced skin cancer.

In using a salve on a burn, you have to remember to first cool down the skin. Don't apply the salve immediately since you don't want to trap in the heat.
First step for burned skin is to cool down the damaged skin with wet, cold compresses. Don't use ice water or ice cubes. Once the burn is cool, it is ok to apply applications of this soothing salve. You don't want to apply it before the skin is completely cooled or you'll be trapping in the heat. The advantage of a salve is that it stays put and provides protective coverage without needing a bandage, therefore the burn has needed exposure to the open air.

Radiation as part of cancer treatment can result in reddening to the treated area of skin. This herbal salve/balm can be very beneficial to help with radiation burns or if used right from the start of treatment, to help prevent the reddening.

The second choice is a very cooling Aloe Vera Spray utilizing the great reputation of Aloe Vera.
If the idea of touching your child's sensitive sunburned skin sends him/her into a panic, then perhaps a spray treatment is more ideal than a salve.

Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) is known for its use in cooling, soothing and healing burns. The sword like leaves of this tropical plant contain a gel and a sticky yellow residue called latex. It's the perfect aid for burn emergencies. Aloe juice reduces inflammation and redness, heals the skin and helps prevent scarring.

As in the salve, this Aloe Vera spray contains the wonderful benefits of lavender and carrot seed essential oils. Aloe Vera gel or this type of spray can be applied as soon as possible. They will do a great job to cool down the heat in the skin and perhaps prevent the inflammation and reddening. Again, this is referring to first degree burns.

Next, we have yet another use for utilizing  popular Apple Cider Vinegar and Witch Hazel.

Rose & Elderflower Vinegar Spray uses the natural anti-inflammatory properties of Apple Cider Vinegar. When applied to sunburn, the skin receives soothing pain relief, and the nutrients naturally in apple cider vinegar help replenish those lost in the skin when damaged.

Vinegar acts as an antiseptic, meaning it prevents proliferation of bacteria, viruses and yeast that could trigger infection.

Roses have long been used in skin care due to their high content of vitamin C and ability to calm down inflammation.

Women have long used Elderflowers for their mildly astringent and stimulating properties. It was used to keep the face smooth, youthful and free from blemishes. Elder flower water alone is very good for sunburn, infusing it in vinegar enhances the therapeutic value even more.

The floral vinegar infusion is diluted with the cooling, astringent, anti-inflammatory benefits of witch hazel. Witch hazel is a standard home remedy in many a household.

Last we have the reemerging respect for using honey as a burn remedy.This picture and listing promote this as a facial mask but it can also be used for burns.

 Honey was a conventional therapy in fighting infection up until the early 20th century, at which time its use slowly vanished with the advent of penicillin. Topical use of honey has a long history. In fact, it is considered one of the oldest known wound dressings.
Now the use of honey in wound care is regaining popularity again, as researchers are determining exactly how honey can help fight serious skin infections.

When considering using honey for the treatment of wounds, it's extremely important to understand that there's a major difference between raw honey and the highly processed "Grade A" type honey you find in most grocery stores. The latter is more akin to high fructose corn syrup, which is more likely to increase infection, and should never be used to treat topical wounds.  High quality RAW honey will help draw fluid away from your wound and suppress the growth of microorganisms. Part of what gives raw honey its antibacterial properties is an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which the worker bees excrete into the nectar. This enzyme releases low levels of hydrogen peroxide when the honey makes contact with your wound. A chemical reaction between the honey and the tissue also makes your wound smell good. Heated honey will destroy this perishable enzyme which is why you want to only use raw honey for this application.
When applied to the skin, honey may serve as a barrier to moisture and keep skin from sticking to dressings.  covered it with a piece of gauze and changed the dressing with new honey every 12 hours.

St. Johnswort

Aloe Vera
Rose and Elderflowers