Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Martha Washington's DIY skin mask

Its time for a nice, easy-breezy post...I need a break from sharing overwhelming info and freaking out all my friends! I've found several natural, homemade remedies on Pinterest and am testing them out hoping to find some great recipes to replace what I currently use. A few nights ago I discovered this "Martha Washington porcelain skin mask" recipe and am hooked. Rumor has it Martha won George over with her perfect and amazing skin - this is her personal recipe (supposedly) completely natural and non-toxic. All you need is an egg, some apple cider vinegar and a little honey - trust me, your skin will thank you and you'll be amazed at how beneficial these simple ingredients are!

If you don't already own some of Bragg's Organic Apple Cider Vinegar go put it on your grocery list -no substitutes and you can buy it at your grocery store. Hippocrates, Father of Medicine used it for its healing, cleansing, and energizing qualities way back in 400 BC - my sister raves about it too. ACV acts like a toner and naturally balances the pH of your skin, fights bacteria, infections, is a natural anti-fungal and reduces inflammation. It can work wonders for acne, itchy skin from sunburn or eczema and even get rid of warts with its natural enzymes, vitamins and antioxidants. There are TONS of other uses that I will share in another post - go buy some!!

Honey is the next ingredient you'll need. I prefer organic raw honey (found mine at Trader Joe's), which is unprocessed, unrefined and still full of all the beneficial nutrients and enzymes. Regular grocery store honey is stripped of all healthy benefits. The natural acids in honey make it easier to shed the dead skin cells junking up your skin and increase elasticity, balance oily skin, stimulate collagen production, and minimize wrinkles. Yes, this honey I'm talking about - who knew?!

An egg mask is an ideal natural remedy for irritated skin because its amino acids reduce inflammation. Eggs smooth and tighten your skin and help shrink pores. I try to buy eggs from my farmer's market where I know the chickens are treated as pets and are guaranteed organic - plus they taste SO MUCH BETTER!!!

Here's what you do:
  • Separate the egg and save both the yolk and white. 
  • Whip the white until its fluffy and bubbly (see photo). I have a frother that I use to make my morning latte and it really speeds up the process (IKEA sells them for $2 and they're awesome!). 
  • Add 1 teaspoon of honey and 1/2 teaspoon of ACV to the yolk and mix
  • Add the yolk mixture to the frothy egg white
  • Use a spoon to spread onto your face - this is messy and I recommend a towel handy to wipe up drips
  • There will be drips the first few minutes but then it will start to dry and harden. After about 15 minutes it will be really tight and you'll barely be able to talk.  Remove with warm water and reveal your new skin! 
You can keep it in the fridge for five days and use the concoction a few times.  I'm using mine for the third night in a row! Hope you like it as much as I do :)

** I'd like to credit Kandee Johnson at her blog www.kandeej.com for this recipe.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What you should know about Phthalates

Phthalates - pronounced "thal-ates" are a class of hormone disrupting chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists as a "probable carcinogen." They have been linked to breast cancer, lower sperm counts in males, early puberty, infertility and animal studies show incidents of developmental abnormalities since they cross the placental barrier. The Red Cross and Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a study in 2004 that detected more than 287 synthetic chemicals (phthalates included) in the cord blood of newborns - more than 180 of the are carcinogenic, 217 toxic to the brain and nervous system and 208 can cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal studies.

Phthalates are found in a variety of products that we use every day. The most common use is as a "plasticizer" that makes plastic flexible and not brittle - such as vinyl and PVC. Because phthalates are not chemically bound to the plastics they're added to they're continuously released into the air, food or liquid and leach out - also known as "off- gassing." You know how when plastic gets old it will crack and get hard? Yep, off-gassing. Any plastic with the #3 recycling code, which is PVC or vinyl type, definitely have phthalates. Hard plastics might be phthalate free, but BPA (next post) could be a concern.

I never understood how exposure to plastic was dangerous since I'm not eating it for lunch.  Here's what I learned: because of off-gassing and leaching its ingested if a baby chews or sucks on an object or if a child handles it and then puts their hands in their mouth.  Anything cooked or stored in unsafe plastics become contaminated when the chemicals leach into food or liquid.  They are also absorbed by the skin and go directly into your bloodstream. In his book Toxic Beauty, Samuel Epstein, MD states it's actually safer to consume these products than to put them on your skin. Toxins you eat at least have a liver to filter and partially protect you, but what you put on your largest organ is quickly absorbed into your body - think of how a nicotine patch works. The good news is that in 2012 Congress banned phthalates more than .1% from any toys or children's care items designed to facilitate sleep or feed children younger than three. Look out for hand me down older plastics made before this regulation.

This crushed me - fragrances are loaded with phthalates..... They are used to help lubricate, help lotions penetrate and soften the skin, and help fragrances last longer. Deodorants, nail polish (helps prevent chipping), hairspray (prevents stiffness), perfumes, creams are all offenders. Manufacturers are legally allowed to hide hundreds of chemicals in the ingredient "fragrance" or "parfum" and do not have to list them on the ingredients label. If a product contains the ingredient "fragrance" all bets are off on its safety because there is no way to determine its toxicity. Even "fragrance free" products use the ingredient "fragrance." SO WRONG. I have worn my "signature scent" Jo Malone Orange Blossom perfume for over a decade and feel so feminine and pretty when I put it on - makes me happy. Eliminating synthetic fragrances was a tough change for me, but I've found solutions that work for me - here is what I've done to avoid phthalates:

  • Threw out all air fresheners (Febreze, plug ins I bought at Bath and Body Works, scented candles, Pottery Barn potpourri sticks). I found a great natural citrus air freshener at Trader Joe's made from essential oils that costs $4 and we love.
  • Replaced my beloved Tide with Seventh Generation soap for our laundry and Charlie's Soap (made in North Carolina!) for Olivia's cloth diapers.  I no longer use dryer sheets which are loaded with chemicals and am happy with these Gaiam static eliminator sheets that I bought on Amazon. Another option is wool dryer balls, which I've seen them at TJ Maxx or Marshalls. Most of us wear clothes all day long and all those chemicals are being absorbed directly into your bloodstream - changing up your laundry habits can make a huge difference. Tide now smells very over powering and fake to me and my laundry is still clean and fresh. 
  • No more perfume every day although I do still wear my Jo Malone to church on Sunday (my 20%!)
  • I bought a pure soy naturally scented candle by Kobo - "Kyoto Quince" 
  • Replaced my shower curtain with a PVC free one that I bought from Marshalls. Its still plastic, but I'm not spending $90 on a hemp one.... PVC can also be found in rain coats, mattress covers, lawn furniture, for a more detailed list click here: Green Peace
  • Despite the new law limiting phthalates in children's items I still I try hard to minimize Olivia's exposure to plastic toys, which is getting really hard as she's getting older. I trust Melissa and Doug, Plan Toys, Haba, Green Sprouts (awesome teething rings) and anything from Europe that has safer standards for their toys. I am a stay at home mom on a budget, and yes these toys are more expensive - however, I have found Melissa and Doug at TJ Maxx and check out the lot of Plan Toys I found at a church garage sale for $10! 
    Since IKEA is a Swedish brand they follow EU regulations - I've found some great colorful wooden toys there for cheap. Etsy is an awesome source for handmade, non-toxic options. Ed made Olivia this wooden block with lots of handles and knobs that he bought at the hardware store and she LOVED it.
    My 80/20 rule definitely applies here - of course Olivia will be exposed to plastics all day long (car seat, high chair, whole entire car) but I control what I can. It was ESPECIALLY important to me to protect her from hormone disruptors during her first few months of life during peak organ development - read my previous post about endocrine disrupters....
  • Changed out my skin care products to lines that I know use natural scents (see also previous post about parabens) and am a fan of Burt's Bees and Ava Anderson Non-Toxic. Although Burt's has fragrance listed it is all natural and phthalate free. What really frustrates me is when I buy something at a premium thinking its a healthy choice only to learn its still full of toxins. This happened at Origins when I bought very expensive anti aging skin care products feeling confident I was making a safe and "good for me" purchase. Later find out that I was fooled again by clever marketing. Don't be tricked by earthy and organic looking packaging - READ THE INGREDIENTS!!!
  • Guys, quit reading this bullet... I've never understood why tampons are fragranced - I certainly don't want phthalates all up in there and buy unscented cotton tampons only. For another even safer alternative check out Lunette, sounds crazy but its been a positive switch.
  • I'm experimenting with make-up and hoping to find a replacement brand as I run out of product. I'd love to hear any suggestions!  
For additional information on phthalates check out the following studies:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lesson on Parabens

I have used the same red organizer for close to a decade and take lots of random notes in the back. About four years ago I read an article about beauty product toxins and wrote down the top three ingredients to avoid: parabens, phthalates, and propylene glycol. Its written right between my friend Alison's address and list of B&Bs I want to visit in Washington someday. There are several favorite products that I have been loyal to for years and years:
  • my Mario Badescu skin routine which I discovered around 2000 (was loaded with Propylparaben and Propylene Glycol)
  • my Lubriderm lotion that I've used after every single shower or bath since I was THIRTEEN, or about fifteen years (propylene glycol, methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, and fragrance - YIKES)
  • my L'Occitane shea butter hand lotion (full of propylene glycol and fragrance/parfum). 
After doing my assessment I remember thinking "oh well...." and quickly forgot all about the toxins list. At that moment I wasn't ready to change. Fast forward two years when Ed was diagnosed with Leukemia and I was frantic to change everything I could.

Endocrine Disruptors: Lesson on Parabens

Parabens are chemicals commonly used as preservatives that can extend the life of the skin care products by months or years. They are widely found in lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup and shampoo and are easily absorbed into your skin.  Parabens can mimic hormones in the body and disrupt functions of the endocrine system. The human body does not easily break down synthetic estrogen and it can accumulate in fat tissue, including breast tissue.

Parabens and Breast Cancer

There is a HUGE connection between parabens and breast cancer. The January, 2012 issue of The Journal of Applied Technology features a study led by Dr. Philippa Darbre from the University of Reading in the UK which found parabens in 99% of the breast cancer tumors studied. NINETY NINE PERCENT!!! Another study also by Dr. Darbre shows exposure to parabens cause breast cancer cells to rapidly multiply and spread (article). Deodorant use is especially concerning because of the close proximity to breast tissue and ease of absorption.

Early Puberty

Endocrine disruptors such as parabens can lead to early puberty in adolescent girls and boys as reported by the New York Times. Endocrinologists have observed the age of puberty decreasing the past several decades and have seen little girls as young as eight exhibit breast development. Margaret, from Judy Blume's "Are You There God? Its Me Margaret" was chanting "I must, I must, I must increase my bust" at age 14 back in 1970. Fourteen to as young as eight is a huge age difference over four decades. This is a major concern because studies have shown girls who start puberty earlier are more likely to develop breast and uterine cancer later in life.  The occurrence of breast cancer is three times higher in women who started puberty before age twelve. The National Institutes of Health funded the study as part of a larger investigation into the environmental factors that contribute to breast cancer risk. Parabens also effect young boys and can lead to testicular enlargement and breast development.

Decreased Sperm Levels

The Tokyo Metropolitan Research Laboratory of Public Health published a study examining paraben exposure to three week old rats. After four weeks they found the rat's sperm production significantly decreased in relation to the amount of parabens they had received. Those receiving the highest dose of parabens, which was consisent with the daily acceptable intake of parabens in Europe and Japan, showed significant decrease in sperm concentration. I love my lotions and am sure I used way more than the standard acceptable intake - scary, scary.

What you can do....

I wish there was another option because I am VERY attached to my beauty products, especially my Lubriderm. Friends know this about me - I have a weird habit of putting it on my feet every night before bed.  I can't remember not having Lubriderm on my bedside table.... The best option to protect yourself is to buy products that do not have parabens.

I've learned to completely ignore pretty packaging and deceptive marketing verbage like "natural" or "pure" and now only look at the ingredients. Johnson & Johnson just lost a $1.8 million class action lawsuit for their "Neutrogena Naturals" line because there is nothing natural about it - synthetic and loaded with toxins. I actually fell for this and was really excited because Neutrogena Naturals are cheap and at my Harris Teeter - should have known better.... As a consumer I feel like I have been purposefully left in the dark about the dangers lurking inside my beauty products. Did you know that Europe bans 1,342 toxic chemicals from personal care products and the US bans only 10?! Manufacturers must clean up their products for European distribution, but they leave the nasty stuff in for Americans. All because its cheaper and no one is stopping them. Washington is OWNED by big companies. The FDA - the people who protect us from dangerous products and drugs - is a committee of executives from the largest personal care product companies and they make their own rules. Its time America puts health over profits, but thats a whole other post.

What I do:

I follow the 80/20 rule with many things in life. 80% of the time I make good, healthy choices and the other twenty I'll cheat a little bit. I've been trying new products for two years and have spent more than Ed needs to know hoping to fall in love with my beauty routine again. Lots and lots of fails. Many natural products have textures and smells different from the synthetic versions I was used to. I tried many Burt's Bees product and kinda like their Milk and Honey body lotion. I have been using their fragrance free baby products for Olivia. Also liked, but not loved the "Say Yes to Carrots" body lotion."Gud" pear shampoo and conditioner was horrible. Aveda products dry my hair out and leave a film. I like the Everyday Shea Foaming unscented hand soap but think its given me dermatitis from my wedding ring (this could also be from my Mrs. Meyer's dish soap).

Deodorant has been a challenge. Jason's deodorant worked for a couple days and then quit on me and so did Tom's. I would still sweat and smelled musky. I haven't tried any of the crystals, but have been curious. My sister told me about using Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar mixed with water and it works pretty well - has been my best solution to date. To be perfectly honest I don't wear deodorant every day anymore because I don't get to the gym and sweat like I used to since having Olivia

I am switching out my makeup as I run out of it and its taking a while since I barely wear it anymore.  Every time Ed sees me wearing eyeliner he asks if its date night! I have switched to Bare Minerals Mineral Veil and am wanting to try more mineral makeups.  One of my 20% cheats will be mascara - I have had a long term love affair with eyelashes and my L'Oreal Voluminous will be the last thing I switch.  Plus eyelashes are barely attached to your skin, right? Lipgloss has been a tough one for me too, I'm addicted. There is an awesome website called Skin Deep Cosmetic Database that is run by the Environmental Working Group and it gives over 65,000 products a 0 to 10 hazard rating. It's definitely going to be a process to find replacements but it is a huge priority for me and my health.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Endocrine Disruptors

This is going to be an introductory post to endocrine disruptors (AKA hormone disruptors) and a summary of their potential threats. It should definitely get your attention. Next I'll focus on the major endocrine disruptor offenders: BPA, Phthalates, Flame Retardants, and Phytoestrogens and what I've done to minimize my family's exposure.

First, a quick review of the very important endocrine system:

"The endocrine system is the exquisitely balanced system of glands and hormones that regulates such vital functions as body growth, response to stress and behavior, production and utilization of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence and behavior, and the ability to reproduce." (www.endocrinedisruption.com, 7-Nov-11)

Over the last 60 years advances in technology have produced a growing number of synthetic chemicals (EDCs) that have become a part of just about everything we purchase and use on a daily basis. They are inside and outside, in our cleaners, toys, furniture, pesticides, makeup, I could go on forever... Many of these chemicals have properties that mess with our endocrine system. They can mimic the natural hormones in your body such as estrogen, testosterone,or thyroid hormones, which can overstimulate your system. Others can turn on, shut off, or modify the signals that hormones carry which can affect tissue and organ function. Simply stated, these synthetic chemicals screw with the natural and normal way our bodies work. For a complete list of these endocrine disrupting offenders check out this website: http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/Basics/chemlist.htm

Pregnant mamas and mothers of little ones listen up: Studies show that there are a few times in life that EDCs are especially harmful and can do the most damage - during prenatal and postnatal development when organ and neural systems are developing. The effects of early exposure might not manifest until later in life and they can even be passed along to future generations when genes are programmed. Crazy to think that your future grandchildren could be effected by exposures today. Since the 1970s the following human disorders have increased in prevalence:

Central Nervous System

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Learning Disabilities
Parkinson’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease

Female Reproductive System

Breast Cancer
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Male Reproductive System

Cryptorchidism (undescended testicles)
Testicular Cancer
Prostate Cancer


Juvenile Diabetes
Autoimmune Disorders
Juvenile Cancer
Thyroid Disorders
There is sufficient evidence from lab animal and human epidemiological (which is the study of disease in populations) studies to support the theory that these disorders could be the result of prenatal exposure to EDCs. For more on these studies check out: EDC studies

Pediatric cancer rates have also been on the rise in a major way. A quote from Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York who is one of the driving forces in data on childhood cancer:

"While mortality from childhood cancer has gone sharply down, incidence rates are increasing. There has been a 55% increase from 1975 to 2005 in the incidence of leukemia in 0 to 14-year-olds and an 81% increase for acute lymphocytic leukemia - the most common type of leukemia.  The explanation for this increase may be due in part to better diagnostics, but this alone does not account for the continued inexorable rise. Serious consideration must be given to the possibility that environmental factors are involved."

From the National Cancer Institute: "Over the past 20 years, there has been some increase in the incidence of children diagnosed with all forms of invasive cancer, from 11.5 cases per 100,000 children in 1975 to 14.8 per 100,000 children in 2004." 

Thats a 29% increase!!! Billions and billions spent on research and decades of advances in modern medicine yet rates of chronic disease are increasing not deceasing?! It is my personal opinion that the artificial and synthetic world we live in is to blame. I 100% believe that the purer you keep your body the healthier you'll be.

As a mother this is TERRIFYING. To think that the shampoo I used, the couch that I sat on, or the plastic fork that I ate with at a picnic while I was pregnant could possibly effect Olivia's health makes me want to live in a bubble. This is very scary and overwhelming, but there is good news. There are ways to reduce and avoid exposure by the products you choose to purchase - more to come....

I promise my future posts won't be so heavy.  Just had some major points to drive home to get us started.

In the meantime, check out the following sources for additional information and the studies:

National Institute of Environmental Health Studies
Healthy Child Healthy World
The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
National Cancer Institute