Healing Straight From Nature…

Triclosan? Paraben? Methylchloroisothiazolinone? Sound delicious?

These are the names of preservatives identified in personal care products, among others, by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that you might not want to continue to disregard or shrug your shoulders about  when selecting and using body and skin care products. EWG describes them as “worrisome” ingredients. Referencing ingredients often found in products used by adults and those found in products used by children to make bubbles in tubs and scrub plump rosy cheeks are included in the article titled “Know the Ingredients in Your Personal Care Products.” EWG might not be tops on everyone’s list as the purveyors of accuracy in all of their research. I believe in empowering oneself with information, at least, to inform one’s ability to make sound and sensible choices. I acknowledge EWG for the awareness raised in this article and for the encouragement, to read ingredients, that is of importance (reading and knowing, understandably not being equal). 

If you purchase personal care products that include body and skin care products from the local drug store or from a famous retailer, the recommendation to read the ingredients remains consistent. You’ve probably had the experience before. The base oils that make for the foundation of the product are listed first, then the fragrance ingredients then the strand of three, four, five and six-syllable words that you have to take your time pronounce correctly. The words seem to get longer and more difficult the more you read.

I started reading ingredient panels on food and body and skin care products years ago.  I had learned how important it was to buy high quality products, especially those I used on my face. Then I learned somewhere that those products weren’t as good as I thought they were because of the product’s brand name. It was so long ago, I can’t remember when I made the conscious decision to get closer to the ground and to stop thinking that the more I spent on a product made it that much better than something I could mix up from items in my refrigerator, cupboard and my collection of organic essential oils. This is not to discount that some ingredients are more costly and, as such due to relative quantities and other factors are, in fact, worthy and better. An example is the essential oil, Sandalwood. Sandalwood from Mysore, India from my nose’s point of view is the best Sandalwood money can buy, arguably.

Like nutrients in the food we eat go through the digestive tract and then out through the bloodstream to deliver the goods to various parts of the body– the ingredients in body and skin care products go through our skin and scalp and then through the bloodstream to deliver the bad to various parts of the body.

Awareness starts with reading the ingredients and asking oneself what these ingredients really are? If not, then thinking about saying no, learning and choosing to do something different may follow. If it’s not good stuff, it’s avoidable stuff.

If you are wondering why likely harmful stuff, usually listed towards the end of the product label, is in that wonderfully packaged and highly marketed lotion or skin care cream, a definitive answer you won’t find here. I can give you some plausible reasons to consider: to make it smoother or keep it from clumping; to make it fluffy and creamy, give it a tint and make it last without being destroyed by bacteria. There are numerous other reasons related to pricing, competition, availability of ingredients and demand. When a product gets discontinued, a new and “improved” formula may arrive with much of the same ingredients. Perhaps, it’s just a twist on something like new packaging with a new sophisticated name. I’ve wondered, if something might potentially give you a rash is there also something in the ingredients to serve as a counter agent so that you don’t get the rash? The new, more hypoallergenic wonders– “hypo” meaning that it will reduce a potential allergic reaction, offer this. Why not just leave the allergen causing ingredient out? In some instances, it’s not that the ingredient is there– there are levels of toxicity and good versus bad gets weighed in all things (a philosophical point of view here), but since we don’t know how much of a good or a bad thing is in there or how our body is responding to it, especially if it is more of a potentially bad, meaning harmful thing– why go there? Too much of a good thing is still too much!

Recently I went into a big box store where lotions and creams and deodorants are sold in three and six packs. A bargain, you would think? When I read the ingredients of several items, I found that every one contained more than one of the ingredients identified by the EWG as worrisome. Interestingly, they were being marketed with highlighted substances I know from my intensive aromatherapy studies like ginger and lemongrass that are energizing essential oils. They smelled good enough to make you want to take them home, though I could tell they did not contain essential oils and the label verified it. So, if it smells fantastic, asking is it good for my skin may be the next question! Good ingredients don’t cancel out the consequences of the existing bad ingredients dependent upon the amounts present. When teamed together whatever benefits might have otherwise existed can become compromised.

Aromatherapy provides a remarkable alternative to all of the unmentionable, by name products, without the need to cover-up, make tints with questionably safe food color numbers and the like (questionable because the bad news generally follows years later that it wasn’t good for you). Want it to last until it’s all used up? Grapefruit seed and rosemary extracts, plain plant materials work as good and almost as long. If given the choice, I’d rather use something a few times and then throw out whatever begins to spoil naturally than rely upon some gunk that makes me think it’s still “good” and lose some neurotransmitter connections, potentially, down the road. That’s what I do with bread. Eat it while it’s good and toss what remains if I don’t get around to finishing it all. Recently, I observed a loaf of bread, brought into an office, sit around for almost two weeks without beginning to mold. I wasn’t the only one curious about it. A few of us began to talk about it and examine it. It still looked and felt somewhat fresh but it had the “old” smell. I don’t think I’d feed that bread to birds, yet some preservatives still had it appearing to be edible. Another question to ask oneself about skin and body care products might be “if I don’t know what  it is, even if it looks and smells good, should I apply it on my skin?” What goes in generally comes out. But, not all of it all of the time. It is the build up of toxins that our bodies either do not or can not handle and excrete that, overtime, can result in outcomes and illness, if allowed to choose, we’d rather not confront.

Grapefruit

Grapefruit

Truly green products, organically based body and skin care products that include organic or wildcrafted essential oils (not to worry about pesticides or adulteration) and your own homemade organic egg and mayonnaise conditioner with some fresh lemon and honey or organic oatmeal and organic milk and honey as a facial cleanser are where you may want to invest your future skin care options. One drop of organic Rose Bulgaria essential oil in a teaspoon of organic aloe vera gel will make your face feel like its gone to heaven. An ounce of aloe based liquid castile soap and a few drops of Lavender, Tea Tree or Eucalyptus essential oil is a fragrant, refreshing and delightful body wash. Plain and simple works where a long list of long words that are not well received by your skin, don’t.

Like the EWG article suggests, read from the end of the label to the front. That is where the ingredients will be found that are least present in the personal care product you are interested in, but are also the ingredients that are potentially detrimental to you. Get to know what the ingredients are and determine what your tolerance is for them dependent upon the effect you desire from the product. I remain puzzled by the following: everyone KNOWS that smoking is harmful– the question does not even exist anymore. People, who choose to do so, still smoke.

As a final suggestion, the fewer and purer the ingredients– the better for you and your essential, personal body and skin care regimen over time. What is pure? That’s another blog topic for some future time.

Aromatically yours.

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Fragrant Lavender growing in a field

Lavender growing in a field

No one is immune to stress! You can say so, but it just ain’t true!

A recently released study highlights how even mild stress can contribute to future disability. Just how much stress is bad for you we can not quantify here, however research is finding that even small amounts of psychological stress is not good for you. If you are not paying attention to how you manage stress, since it is impossible to avoid in today’s world, the study implies why you should. If you are already paying attention– it may be time to improve upon what you are currently doing to relieve stress. Even change involves stress. The implication of not changing how you cope with or manage stress may get costlier over time.

Why all this stress about stress? 

Stress is the body’s instinctive defensive response. Physiologically, your body is reacting even when your mind may not noticeably register it. Try this exercise: raise both arms high and make a fist with both hands. Squeeze them tightly. Hold them squeezed for about a minute (if you can) and then very, very slowly, keeping your arms held high, begin to loosen and unclench your fingers and gently shake them loose. Now, slowly lower your arms. Did you feel tension? What you just felt is similar to what stress feels like and the effect it has on your body. It is likely that your stress level is somewhere in the range of what you just felt. It just isn’t readily acknowledged or motivating you to do something about it. It’s become normalized. We have all been conditioned to some level of stress. Did you feel relieved when the exercise was over? That is what relaxation feels like. Not only are many of us stressed, we also don’t recall what it feels like to feel relaxed.

Essential oils, the basis of aromatherapy, provide amazing properties to decrease one’s stress level and provide a path to relaxation! They don’t take much time, are generally affordable, and are fairly simple to use appropriately.  One of my favorite essential oils to relieve stress is Lavender.

Lavender is a renown essential oil with a marvelous history. While the use of lavender plant essences dates back thousands of years, used by the Egyptians during their Dynasties for mummification purposes and by the Romans in their bath houses, Rene Maurice Gattefosse, also known as the  father of modern aromatherapy, discovered an initial and amazing benefit of lavender upon thrusting his burned arm into what he thought was a vat of water but instead was filled with lavender oil. The healing that occurred was what might be described as miraculous. Lavender is believed to have crossed Arabia into Europe, Greece and France where lavender fields are abundant. During the 17th century it was believed that to wear a bunch of lavender at your waist might spare you from the plague that swept through London. Also known by its botanical name Lavandula augustifolia, Lavender is a steam distilled essential oil derived from the flowers and buds of the lavender plant. Lavender is calming, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, analgesic, antispasmodic, cicatrisant i.e., helps the regeneration of skin cells among many other profound uses.

Lavender is known for its balancing and healing effect on the nervous system in addition to its profound effects when used on the skin as in the case of Gattefosse. Lavender has been useful in the treatment of stress-related illnesses and disorders like insomnia, anxiety and depression. It’s seemingly boundless and multi-purpose therapeutic properties assists so many healing processes that it is easily among the short list of must-have essential oils! I use it to de-stress, refresh and soothe my mind any time of the day. I include it in oil rubs for tired or tight muscles. I love its fresh, sweetly dreamy and pulsing aroma.

Some other essential oils associated with stress reduction include sandalwood, frankincense, jasmine, ylang ylang, rose, bergamot and chamomile. There are many others and many ways in which to combine essential oils for synergistic effects that are even more beneficial than using single oil applications. There are numerous ways to obtain the benefits of essential oils e.g., in room sprays, bath products, diffusers and using oils in an inhaler, particular for emotional or mental stress. In these instances, you can simply place one or two drops of an organic essential oil on a tissue and inhale. It doesn’t take anything special to accomplish a little less stress with essential oils.

Psychological and physical stress are related. If you are not aware of the mind-body connection, a discourse about stress is a good place to start.

There is a lot of science involved in explaining stress and how the body responds. It’s good to know some of that science, but for right now, doing something to effectively reduce your level of stress is most important! To emphasize why, let’s look at some points from the study conducted in Sweden over the course of five years and recently posted on the Businessweek.com website. It may get you motivated.

The study included over 17,000 employed adults in Stockholm, Sweden (ages 18-64). At the start of the study in 2002, the participants completed a questionnaire designed to assess their mental health and stress levels, and the researchers tracked their health through 2007.

During the follow-up period, 649 of the participants began receiving disability benefits — 203 for mental health issues and the remainder for physical health problems, the investigators found.

Study participants who had initially been assessed as having higher levels of stress were much more likely to start receiving long-term disability benefits during the follow-up period, the findings showed.

After taking into account other factors that might affect the results, the team found that even mild levels of stress raised the risk of receiving disability benefits by up to 70 percent, according to the report published online March 23 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The conclusion drawn by the study is that mild psychological distress may be associated with more long-term disability than previously acknowledged and its public health importance may be underestimated.

The study underscores the importance of monitoring stress levels, even mild stress, and finding ways to reduce stress on a regular basis. Many of us are so busy we can hardly find the time to relax. It does take time to unwind or turn stress levels down in order to relax. 

Stress has cumulative effects. Many illnesses are stress related. Doing a little something everyday is my strategy to reduce stress. That’s why incorporating the use of organic aromatherapy in everyday activities makes sense. Even little lifestyle changes can make a difference in how you’ll feel and how, over time, you manage your overall long-term health outcome.

When searching for that affordable bottle of Lavender essential oil be sure that it is organic or wildcrafted so there is no concern about pesticides. A little will go a long way on your less stressful days ahead!

Aromatically Yours.

Source: Even Mild Stress Can Lead to Disability, Study Says http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/651149.html

Source: Psychological distress and risk of long-term disability: population-based longitudinal study (Journal of epidemiology and Community Health)  http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2011/03/08/jech.2010.119644.abstract

Source: Stress: How to Cope Better With Life’s Challenges http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/mentalhealth/stress/167.printerview.html

Source: The History of Lavender http://www.lavenderfarm.com/history.htm

I recommend two online sources for high quality organic and wildcrafted essential oils (that I trust):                             Aromatics International, Inc. http://aromaticsinternational.com                                                                                        Stillpoint, Living In Balance, Inc. http://stillpointbalance.com

Finally, an opportunity to give voice to the power of plants! 

There are so many to choose from… in this blog I will sample from the bountiful world of plants and share my love of them. We will look at their energy, aromas, beneficial characteristics and their beauty. I for one, take no plant for granted! They, like the human species, are so different. So vibrant! So alive! There are those that are alluring and some that are truly creepy. So much for how varied they are, as are we. Yet, even the creepiest of plants can provide some medicinal benefit.  

In “The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth,” by Stephen Harrod Buhner, the author alludes to how plants speak to us. I agree. They do. From their physical appearance they lure and beckon us to come closer. They make us curious. Think about a desert. Now think about a park lush with trees and flowers. Is there not a stark difference here?

There is something about the color green. It is powerful! It blankets the earth where there is water and sun. Plant a seed and give it some time… something will grow there.

I hope you will grow with me as I share my thoughts, knowledge and experience with plants, more specifically, their qualities, characteristics and essential healing powers!

Aromatically Yours.Flowers on a Lemon Tree