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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Expectations and First Impressions with Natural Skin, Hair Care And Household Products

Slick advertising, the displays at cosmetic counters, the array of items in beauty supply stores, are all geared to convince the consumer that if they use this or that product it'll enhance their looks, confidence, love lives, even careers.

Take shampoo and conditioners for example.
The purpose of shampoo is to clean the hair. But in order for the consumer to choose one product over another, the shampoo must meet certain criteria. It has to be creamy and thick when poured from the bottle, it has to lather nicely and rinse out sufficiently. The ingredients must remain blended and have an appealing color and scent. The results have to leave a clean head without drying out the hair or irritating the scalp. Conditioners are expected to help comb out the tangles of wet hair. They are expected to add volume, body and shine without making the hair look greasy. Manufacturers don't expect consumers to understand the chemistry behind balancing the pH of our skin, hair and our water with the product, so they add what is needed to adjust the pH so their products don't cause hair to feel gunky.No one thinks about a soap product going bad but wherever you introduce water there is the risk of bacteria and mold growth. No one thinks about how long a bottle has been sitting on the store shelf. Manufacturers don't want the customer to think about those things, much less worry about it. Preservatives are added so there isn't a reason to think a personal care product would have an expiration date. Finally, the shampoo and conditioner have to be accomplish all that and still be affordable.

Let's face it, we as consumers have a lot of expectations and first impressions stick!

The decision to steer away from commercially made beauty products usually stems from scalp or skin sensitivity, allergies, the frustration with not getting the results promised from the product labeling, or from the growing awareness of the potentially toxic chemicals added to skin and hair care products.

Watch this eye opening documentary which reveals just how dangerous chemicals are in our personal care and household products. Stink It all started with a father inquiring as to why the pajamas he bought for his daughters had such a strong chemical smell. He suspected it was more than just the usual advice to wash before wearing new clothing.

Emulsifiers, preservatives, solvents, stabilizers, thickeners, humectants, foaming agents and fragrances are all used to achieve what we've come to expect in our products. So when we go the all natural route we still expect the product to look, smell and function the same way, which is where attitude has to change.

A perfect example is with the castile soap so often used in homemade shampoos and body washes. Soaps and detergents are not the same thing. Both are what are called surfactants, which means a washing compound that mixes grease and water. The purpose is to act as a solvent in removing oils and dirt. Soap is made with fats originating from either animals or vegetable sources. This fat is combined with an alkali to create what is called saponification. All soaps are made with some form of alkali (Potassium Hydroxide). Soaps are made of natural materials and have much less impact on the environment (and our skin). Detergents on the other hand excel at removing oil and dirt but in doing so can strip hair and skin of its natural oils. Detergents are synthetic, therefore have a much greater impact as they accumulate in the environment.

People expect their shampoos, facial cleanses and body washes to lather. A foamy lather is what we associate with clean. Castile soap is an olive oil/coconut oil based soap made without additional chemicals, coloring agents, preservatives and artificial scents. This soap is not a detergent, and although it is without foaming agents and will not form a billow of suds, it will give you a creamy, very sufficient lather,. Without thickening agents, though very concentrated, it doesn't have the thick pouring consistency we may expect. Being a soap product, the pH is more alkaline than our skin (which is more acidic between 4.0 and 6.0). Therefore, using only castile soap the consumer may have better results with a water softener which helps balance out the chemistry involved. Or else, as with this shampoo, the pH is better balanced out with the addition of aloe vera gel.

Castile and Aloe Shampoo

Castile and Aloe Body Wash

Don't expect homemade, holistic-geared facial washes to be like what you may be accustomed to in a cleansing face wash. Without potentially irritating ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate, the wash won't have much of a lather. Since suds and clean are correlated, the customer may feel her face isn't really clean. That assumption is not the case. Detergent based cleansers do such a good job at cleaning oil and dirt that they may leave the skin feeling taut and dry afterwards. Clean does not mean the natural oils need to be stripped away. In doing so only results in upsetting skin pH and sedum production. Too oily or too dry hair and skin are often the result of this imbalance.

Many homemade, natural skin and body care items will instruct the user to "shake before use". This is because of another lesson in chemistry. Anyone who makes their own salad dressing knows that oil and water just don't mix. You can shake it to temporarily blend them but they will separate within a short time.This incompatibility of water and oils can be overcome by agitation which disperses the molecules and generates what is called an emulsion. Emulsifiers help to stabilize those molecules so they don't separate and the product stays blended. The technical terms are molecules consisting of a water-loving (hydrophilic) part and a water-hating but oil-loving (lipophilic) part. Emulsifiers can be natural or synthetic. A very common type used in shampoos, toners and lotions is Polysorbate 20. This starts out natural but has added ethylene oxide. The Skin Safe Database rates it as a low risk but it can be irritating to people with skin problems.

Aloe/Rosewater/Olive oil Facial Cleanse
Honey/Glycerin Facial Wash

Most consumers have the belief that if an ingredient in a product passed by the FDA is harmful than it wouldn't be allowed in that product. The problem is that while it may be true that the amounts used in the products are not at a high enough level to pose a threat, the fact that we use a multitude of various body care and make-up items on a daily basis is where there is reason for concern. Our kidneys and liver do their best to eliminate toxins but those stored in the fatty tissues accumulate over time, and that accumulation may have long term negative affects. The body reacts by way of allergic and inflammatory reactions.

Anyone who has gone through the frustrations of figuring out the cause of skin rashes and itchiness knows how overwhelming it can be to start eliminating foods or deciphering topical skin care products to find out what is to blame for the problem. Atopic dermatitis is the diagnosis code often given to people for their misery, which is a vague way of saying something is irritating the skin but we have to find out what is that something. Steroidal creams and prednisolone are used to calm down the inflammation and itch but until the origin of the problem is pinpointed the cycle will continue.

Unlike the food industry, labeling laws for the cosmetic and perfume industry are very vague. There are no legal standards for even products labeled as natural and organic. This is where consumers need to take it upon themselves to be knowledgeable in their choices. By seeking small business owners and companies that believe simple is best and go back to basics with their products, consumers can feel much more comfortable with the things they use on themselves, children and pets.

So as in many things in life, attitude is everything. It isn't that big a deal to shake a bottle before use to reblend the oil and liquid portions or to remix the essential oils floating on top of that body or air spray. If your all natural shampoo or body wash isn't as thick as you'd like for pouring, request a foam pump dispenser be used instead of the usual pump top. Even those lotions that may look spoiled because the oil has separated out and is floating on the water portion can be given a good shake to reblend them.

As far as preservatives needed, no product put onto or into your bodies should be formulated to be able to sit on a store shelf for months on end. Items should be made as needed and used within a few months. If care is taken such as using clean fingers, kept out of the sun, keep out water, your creams, lotions, body sprays, massage oils, bath oils all should be fine until used up. Though not antimicrobials, natural preservatives such as vitamin E to help keep oils from oxidizing, Grapefruit Seed Extract to help keep bacterial growth at bay and the antibacterial and antifungal properties of essential oils are usually sufficient. None of us need formaldehyde in our bodies.

 Below is a great link to help you learn about chemicals added to common everyday products.
Get the scoop on the different chemicals in your everyday household and personal care products!

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Monday, November 9, 2015

A bittersweet find is the Bittersweet Vine for Autumn Decor

 Gathering natural plant material for fall craft decorating ideas can be a fun and rewarding time spent outdoors. The materials are the real thing rather than craft store imitations, and cost us nothing except the time and energy to collect them. Acorns, pine cones, grapevines, milkweed pods, teasel cones and dried grasses are just some of the treasures you may discover. There is another that is a bittersweet find... the Bittersweet Vine.

Bittersweet is an ornamental climbing vine that is running rampant across the United States, strangling anything in its path that it can wrap itself around.

Celastrus orbiculatus

There are two types which look very much like. The one that is native to North America is called "American bittersweet" or "false bittersweet", Celastrus scandens. This plant has smooth stems and is well-behaved.

Celastrus scandens

The other is called "Oriental or Asian bittersweet", Celastrus orbiculatus, an exotic invasive brought over to the United States in the 1860's as an ornamental. It was purposely planted for years as a form of erosion control and for wildlife food and habitat. Discovered a little too late was that this vine literally takes over anything in its path. It looks different from the American bittersweet in that it has stems with blunt thorns and its flowers and fruits appear in small clusters along the branches where leaves are attached, whereas the American bittersweet has larger flower clusters but they are only at the branch tips.

The reasons why the Oriental bittersweet is so successful at displacing the endangered American bittersweet is because:
The bright orange/red berries are more appealing to birds who then spread the seeds around wherever the birds eliminate.
The seeds of the Oriental bittersweet have a higher germination rate than the American.
The Oriental bittersweet is better at photosynthesizing therefore grows very rapidly.

From the picture above, it is understandable why people would want to gather this plant in the fall. It's berries burst open in late September and are very pretty with the red/orange centers surrounded with the yellow skins. People like the vines for crafts for the seasonal color but also because the vines are easy to conform to almost any shape, allowing them to be a part of whatever craft project, wreath or floral arrangement in mind. 

Keep in mind two things if you are going to use them for fall decorating. Once brought indoors into warm temperatures, the flowers and fruits will eventually fall off and create a potential mess on the floor if stepped on. If used for outdoor decorating, remember that wherever the berries end up on the ground you may discover a vine growing come spring. Seeds germinate best in low light environments.It spreads by both the seeds and the sprouting roots.

The problem with Oriental bittersweet is that it doesn't distinguish among plants to climb over. It'll smother herbaceous plants on the ground as well as climb the tallest trees. 

It's sprawling growth monopolizes light and water and literally forms a canopy over shrubs and small trees, eventually becoming top-heavy and causing the tangled mess to collapse on itself. Its vines can reach four inches in diameter and as it wraps around other plants, it literally strangles them to death. 

 Yes, there are small trees under there

For light infestations the vines can be pulled or dug out by the roots and removed. Fruiting vines should be bagged and removed. To leave them lay is just going to result in the seeds resprouting. 
To deal with large, established plants, there are two ways to do it.  Cut the vines close to the ground and apply a foliar spray later when they resprout.  Or, cut the vines close to the ground and chemically treat the stumps. Cutting the vines without removing the roots or chemically treating the stems will stimulate regrowth. 
 The best time to treat is in early spring or fall when the native plants are dormant and there is much less chance they'll be affected. 
Check with your County Extension Office for advice on what herbicides are the safest to use.