Monday, July 18, 2011

Anti-Aging or Radiant Natural Health?

I can’t help it – the very phrase “anti-aging” makes me cringe inwardly.  As if someone is trying to run away from life and its consequences. I immediately think of people agonizing in front of mirrors, being unhappy, having painful surgeries, botox, chemical peels… you name it… to look, err, tight. Forced, even, like a rose pushed through a commercial hothouse but disappointingly lacking in fragrance.  I then think of young and beautiful friends who have passed away tragically and who would probably have given anything to be able to worry about sunspots, wrinkles and crowsfeet. 

This anti-aging cringe thing I have is a professional liability, since I make and sell natural things for people’s bodies and skin, and the very phrase “anti-aging” makes a whole lot of people reach for their purses and credit cards without even thinking.  So why don’t I simply push my scruples out of the way and settle into entrepreneurial anti-aging bliss?
Well, you see, most “anti-aging” products contain things that should make you worry.  Things with poly-syllabic chemical names that are unpronounceable and which, if I were to buy them at the wholesale chemical place here in Thailand, would come with safety and hazard warnings.  Chemicals that are well documented to not only irritate and dry skin and cause all manner of physical problems from depression to asthma, but which also accumulate in your blood and vital organs and impede your immune system.  In short, over time and with repeated usage, they make you sick.  Do they make you glow with health and vitality and make your gorgeous?  Almost never.

Conversely, if you focus on your natural and radiant health, the outcome is almost always (often by accident, as an unexpected by-product!) that you start to glow with that special something that people love.  If you forget about the way you look and just go for a run, take a yoga class, laugh in the kitchen with your lover or maybe sleep in the moonlight…. *something* happens.  You stop worrying and stressing.  You discover that instead of the $60 pot of chemical-cocktail-night-cream that the $8 bottle of natural oil actually works better.  You decide to spend the other $52 on a new skirt and it makes you feel great.  It makes you smile.  You find your yoga class is fun and you decide you’re worth the time to do it, and in that new freedom you smile more and that simply helps people to engage with you.  You start thinking more about what you eat, you sleep better and all of that makes you look 10 years younger.  You talk to the lady who falls over all the time at the yoga class and hear her story about her long term illness and her struggle to walk well, and suddenly you don’t care about the smile lines around your eyes so much – in fact, you start to feel rather proud of them.  The more you focus on your natural, radiant health, the younger and more beautiful you look and feel to the people around you.  You ooze energy and creativity.  People smile when they see you.
Next time you see someone plugging expensive “anti-aging” products, stop and think and read the product label.  Ask about the ingredients. Then spend an hour on Google and be prepared to be shocked.  Ask yourself if you really want to bombard your body with dangerous, toxic chemicals for the transitory dream of looking younger (if indeed it even works).   Look at the massive monetary and physical costs involved in these “anti-aging” products and ask yourself if simple, natural health might not be a better path to choose.

Ironically, a healthier, happier you will look more gorgeous and probably even a bit younger, but you’ll possibly be too engrossed in new things and the great people around you to care.
In loving memory of Steph, who shared Ward 3B with me many years ago and helped me make it positively rock with laughter until even the nurses frowned and fussed over drips and pain management implements.  Beautiful Steph died at the age of 17, only 3 weeks after being diagnosed with a melanoma on her back.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Essential Oils Can Make Me More Beautiful?

Essential oils are about smell, aren’t they? Natural healing aromas from Mother Earth.  Sure they can help you relax, sleep better, feel less nauseous, boost your mood.  But that’s not “beauty” – I want to LOOK good as well as feel good and be well.  That’s mostly how the masses think about essential oils – a fragrant add-on to the way we feel and experience health, but not relevant to beauty or looks.  Actually, that thinking is quite wrong.

Did you know essential oils work and have therapeutic benefit even when you can’t smell them? A 2009 study on rose oil deprived subjects of their sense of smell and applied the essential oil directly to the skin only.  Even without all the gorgeous memories and associations with the divine smell of blooming summer roses, the measured relaxation effect on the test group (as opposed to the clinical control group) was significant. (1) 

So, essential oils are not really about smell per se at all, and effective even when we’re not blissing out on their magnificent natural aromas.  What are those benefits and how do they contribute to beauty and the way I look? 

Essential oils trigger parts of the brain and limbic system that contribute to relaxation, better sleep, improved mood, better blood circulation, improved immune response and optimal hormonal function.  Better sleep equals less sags and bags and optimal production of human growth hormone for cell repair and healthy new skin.  Improved mood means less frown lines and sags around the mouth, and more smile lines (which are gorgeous!).  Better blood flow means better waste removal, better detox and improved oxygenation of the tissue cells and skin, which helps to give that hard-to-define “radiant glow” that truly beautiful people have.  Reduced stress and improved relaxation leads to an overall letting go in the body, face, jaw and shoulders, which leads to softer muscles and better movement of blood.  Improved hormonal function directly leads to less blemishes, better mood, more smiles and yes, even more love-making (and that makes everyone look and feel more beautiful too!).  And improved immune response keeps us well – we all know that looking and feeling sick does NOT make us beautiful.

Think for a moment of the most aggressive, stressed out, sleep deprived person you know: all frown lines, pursed lips, locked jaw and tight.  Not beautiful.  When the myriad of tiny muscles of the face are contracted through stress, worry or anger, the skin pulls differently and blood flow is constricted, which in turn impedes natural skin detox and leads to blemishes, pallor and a loss of skin elasticity.  Consider that prolonged stress makes it harder to sleep and, in time, will make us sick.
Using essential oils as part of your daily health and body care routine contributes to the way you feel, look and to your natural beauty.  You don’t have to sit hovering next to an oil vaporizer to achieve this – I mean, who has time for that?  You can use natural body oils blended with essential oils as part of your daily after-shower or before-bed routine – gorgeous silky smooth skin as well as an essential oil health treatment.  You can spritz on essential oils in natural sprays during the day or just whenever you need a “boost”.  You can plan for a hot herbal ball treatment after a great massage – as the hot herbs release their healing benefits to your muscles through the essential oils they release, your whole being will respond.  You could even simply add a few drops of essential oil to a handkerchief and put in your clothes drawer or cupboard – that way even hurrying to dress for work is taking care of yourself.
Be aware that products containing essential oils must contain ONLY essential oils and not additional synthetic substances or fragrances – these synthetic additives are incredibly harmful to your health (read Essential Oil + Fragrance = Something Stinks! to understand this issue better).
Celebrate the magnificent essential oils Mother Earth has blessed us with and indulge yourself daily for not only better health, but for a soft, radiant, natural beauty that shines like nothing you can ever buy in a bottle.
1Hongratanaworakit, T. Relaxing effect of rose oil on humans. Natural Product Communications, 4(2), 291-6.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Can’t manage “essential” stress relief?

Knowing something is good for you simply doesn’t help. Harsh fact, but true.  Without the “doing”, the implementation, it all goes belly up and we simply continue on in our less-than-healthy-sub-optimal state.

Take stress relief and essential oils, for example.  Most of us know that essential oils are a pleasant, simple way to help manage daily stress, increase concentration and improve sleep quality.  Herbs and oils have been used for thousands of years to enhance natural health and manage stress.  So what stops most of us actually making it part of our daily lives?  Are we too busy, tired and stressed to even remember to use essential oils for daily stress management?  Or is there more to it? 

If we consider the first mental associations we get for the phrase “essential oil” we are on our way to an answer.  Close your eyes and repeat the phrase to yourself:  essential oils.  You might see a massage therapist applying gorgeously fragrant oils from a pretty bottle to your stressed body.  You probably instantly see a little blue, brown or green bottle (much like in the image above) of concentrated oil.  The next part is tricky but pivotal – try to catch the silent “self-talk” that you engage in next, but which is often not accessed in our busy brains.
  • “My budget just isn’t gonna stretch to an expensive massage this week – maybe next month”.
  • “Hmm.  Essential oils are expensive – I only need a few drops but they want me to pay $25 for just 15ml?”
  • “Essential oils burn the skin.  That means I also gotta buy a carrier oil AND a ceramic dispensing bottle.  Starting to look too hard… maybe I’ll just have a glass of wine instead.” 
  • “I’d really like to book a massage but I have to take the kids to basketball and then I’d have to skip either my workout or the grocery shopping.”
  • “Not sure exactly which oil to buy.  I’ll try to remember to research that next week.”

You get the gist of it.  The self-talk identifies the core reasons most of us don’t make essential oils for stress relief part of our daily routine.

Consider this: once you are aware of  what drives your “why I don’t do it”, there are simple ways you can find practical answers and start to over-ride that limiting self talk.  How might you do this?  Think outside the box – here are a few starter ideas related to essential oils for stress management:

  • If you are a clothes-dryer user, put 5-10 drops of your chosen oil on a piece of cloth, pop that cloth in one of those washbags for delicates, and toss it in the dryer with your clothes for the last 5 minutes of the drying cycle.  The wash bag will prevent oil spots directly on your clean clothes.  The uplifting lemongrass (or whatever) infused through your laundry will make dressing for work a more uplifting experience, improve your mood and change your stress levels for the day.
  • Not a clothes dryer user?  Put a few drops of oil onto a piece of cardboard, pop that in an envelope, and place it in the drawer or cupboard where you store your clothes. Don’t forget to do the same with bed linens – easing into clean sheets that waft out healthful aromas leads to better sleep as well as a delightful sensual experience.
  • Use a daily all-over body oil instead of a moisturizer – aromatherapy on the run.  Pre-mixed, plant based and be sure it contains only essential oils and no extra nasty fragrance or chemical compounds.  (See Essential Oil + Fragrance = Something Stinks )
  • Add the essential oils (few drops are enough) to a bath and soak in it – that way you get to enjoy your wine as well.
  • Look for an essential oil spray, spritzer or body mist at the heath-store – make sure it contains nothing more than the essential oils, alcohol and water.  Pop one in the glove compartment of your car and spritz at traffic lights, before meetings, before getting out of the car and facing your kids and the evening chores.  Put an essential oil spray in your handbag for a quick stress-relief hit in emergency situations like an irritatingly long queue at the bank or dealing with a lost credit card. 

The solutions are out there and don’t take any extra real time – they also don’t have to cost nearly as much as investing in 3 different essential oils, one carrier oil and a dispensing bottle (thnk anywhere from $38 to $200+).  They require us to simply identify the real mental blocks that stand between the “I know it’s good for me” and the “so why am I not doing it?”  Tune into your self-talk, identify the blocks and get creative!

One of the biggest stress-relievers is good self-care; it’s a silent, unspoken daily affirmation to yourself that you are worth it, that you matter and that you are powerful enough to care for yourself.  That feeling of being empowered helps us to change our mindset and leads us to solutions instead of excuses.

Think smart about the gap between knowing and doing.  Use herbs and oils for natural stress management and body care.  Change that limiting self-talk about stress relief.  Once you get the hang of this technique for stress relief and you feel a little less stressed, apply the same technique to your diet and exercise regimes.

Awareness enables us to live simply, naturally and healthfully.  Enjoy, smile and remember to breathe.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Essential Oil + Fragrance = Something Stinks!

Reading product labels is incredibly important if you care about wellness and personal health, but you’re hamstrung if you don’t understand the secret industry jargon.  Particularly in the beauty, health, wellness and natural product arena.  Labeling laws around the world still allow manufacturers to not fully disclose all the chemical ingredients in a product, and sadly many manufacturers use these legal loop-holes to pull a few swifties.

“Fragrance”, “perfume”or “parfum” is perhaps the most tricky area of all.  Intellectual property law says manufacturers don’t have to disclose the chemical components of a fragrance – it’s privileged and commercially sensitive information.  A report by the Committee on Science & Technology to the U.S. House of Representatives as long ago as 1986 (25 years!) showed 95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum. They include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, phthalates and many other known toxics and sensitizers capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions.  Some other studies have shown that an individual synthetic fragrance can contain up to 300 different chemical components.

So, we got that part.  Artificial fragrance is bad.  Essential oils are good – beneficial to good health even.  So we look for products that are labeled “with essential oil of moonflower” (or whatever), we feel safe and reassured and we stop squinting at the label.  It contains essential oil so it must be OK.

Maybe.  But Maybe not. 

When I first learned soap-making here in Thailand I was determined to make all natural soap (and still am) but the soap-making teacher explained that using only essential oils was not smart or profitable – they cost too much and the soap has a very short fragrant shelf life, often ending up after 6 months with no scent as the volatile oils have all evaporated.  She explained that adding chemical fixatives would make the volatile essential oils stay in the soap over a long time. “But I want to make all-natural soap!” I wailed.  “Mai pen rai” she answered (translates from  the Thai as “never mind”)… “you use a tiny bit of essential oil and then add cheap commercial fragrance –  10%-90% ratio is normal - it works because the fragrance itself already contains chemical preservatives and fixatives,  and they then fix the essential oils into the soap.  Only you don’t have to declare those chemicals on the label.”  She was smiling at the end.  wasn't.

I didn’t want to believe her.  But in the last year I have often seen “essential oil” right up front on a “natural” product label (usually plastered on the front), and then way down the end of the product list on the back in microscopic type it might say “fragrance”, “parfum”, “natural flavor” or “natural scent”.  Yes, petroleum is natural and so is cyanide, so they’re at least not lying about that part. 

I wanted to believe that products either contained only essential oils (and were therefore safe, natural and beneficial to my health) or used cheap synthetic fragrances (and were therefore easily identified, “bad” and easily rejected).  The truth is that many, many factory produced “natural” products which contain essential oils also contain synthetic fragrances.  These products are not 100% natural at all and can be harmful to your health used over time.

How harmful?  Health Care Without Harm*, a research and action group, found phthalates in most of the popular beauty products they tested.  Since reproductive age women buy more cosmetics and personal care products than other people, they have a greater exposure to phthalates.  Recent studies suggest diethyl phthalate, commonly used in fragrances and other personal care products, damages DNA of sperm in adult men, which can lead to infertility, may be linked to miscarriages and birth defects, and may lead to cancer and infertility in their offspring.   Phthalates have also been associated with thyroid disorders, premature breast developments in baby girls and abnormal sexual development in baby boys.  Phthalates, at levels of concern, are found in the blood of most pregnant women. They can cross the placenta and are found in breast milk. 100% of people tested had phthalates in their urine.

We can’t avoid synthetic fragrances 100% of the time – they’re in most everything, even many “unscented” products, where they are used to mask component odors and achieve a neutral smell.  But we can reduce our exposure and we can wise up to the tricks and traps manufacturers use to sell us quasi-natural at a premium price.

Make sure when next you buy “natural” that “essential oil” on the label means ONLY essential oil.  If there are “fragrances”, “parfums”, “perfumes” or things you can’t pronounce on the label as well as the essential oils, put it back. 

Be smart, be aware and know that as a consumer you have a lot of political power to change the world we live in.  Speak up and share good information.  Support people and businesses who genuinely present you with healthy and 100% natural choices.  Let the management and marketing people of these less-than-reputable companies know why you are no longer buying their product.

Enjoy the gorgeous natural essential oils Mother Nature has blessed us with, and choose products that don’t compromise them or their amazing healing properties.

*Health Care Without Harm is an international coalition of more than 470 organizations in 52 countries working to transform the health care sector so it is no longer a source of harm to people and the environment. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

After is Good, Before is Better

Massaging, steaming or applying sports rubs after a major sports event or intense physical activity is the best way, isn't it?  We’re programmed to think that way.  For example, this tweet came in my twitter feed this morning:  “Next time I do 1/2 marathon: 1) Locate #sports bra days in advance 2) Ditch heavy water bottle (plenty on route) 3) Schedule post-run #massage

So what’s wrong with this picture? Well, essentially it’s like running your car into the ground and then servicing it after it breaks down.  And cursing all the way because it doesn’t handle well or give good fuel economy.  And possibly being late or missing your appointment due to a breakdown.

All exercise and strenuous physical activity requires good oxygenation of the blood and the efficient removal of waste material in the muscle.  When the muscles are as detoxed as possible and residual wastes excreted from the system before you start, the lactic acid build up (which hurts so much afterward) is slower and less.   The muscles work more effectively, giving that tiniest bit of extra competitive edge.  Maybe that’s not so important in your social golf round, but for a competitive triathlete, it’s imperative. When the circulation of blood is optimal, the blood carries the cellular wastes away from the muscle during the event or activity, thereby reducing aches and pains later.  Most importantly, a fatigued muscle is more prone to injury, so scheduling your massages, steams and rubs before also reduces the risk of injury.

The three most effective ways to prepare your body for your sports event or intense burst of physical activity (be that a night of dancing or schlepping boxes when moving house) are:
1.       A herbal steam.  30+ minutes sweating out toxins and then rehydrating thoroughly during and after the steam.  Doesn’t take long, it feel good and can be done the day or evening prior, so as to allow plenty of time for adequate rehydration.
2.       A massage.  Whether it’s a sports massage, lymphatic drainage, Thai massage or even just a very good oil massage, the process will encourage your body to release toxins.  Make sure you drink plenty of water afterwards, to assist the removal of wastes out of the body.
3.       A stimulating sports oil or rub.  If you don’t have access to a steam room or a masseur, you can still massage your major muscle groups yourself (thighs, gluts etc) with a stimulating rub or oil to encourage blood flow.  Be sure it is 100% natural, as using anything that contains mineral (white) oil, synthetic chemicals, petroleum products or artificial fragrances will actually impede toxin release and slow down the detox process.  A good plant-based natural herbal oil or beeswax balm will be easily absorbed into the body and carry the active ingredients from the essential oils to where they are needed.

By all means, schedule any or all of these for afterward too.  And enjoy aching less.  And better performance.   Taking care of your muscles before and after means your next post-event training session will be more effective too.  Or that you can happily kick on to the salsa dancing class after shifting sand in the garden all day. 

There is of course a fourth magic preparation for your muscles: sleep.  Our bodies detox, heal and repair best when we sleep, since it is only during certain parts of the sleep cycle that human growth hormone is produced.  We need that for tissue repair and building new muscle. 

So, think outside the box and step outside the regular mindset that only schedules the massage for after the event when you're already hurting.  Relish your physical activity, whatever it may be, and get the most from it. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

5 Reasons to Scrub and Polish

No, I’m not talking about your bathroom tiles or even the kitchen floor.  I’m talking about the skin on your body –the 95% of skin you have which is so often neglected, under-functioning and unable to do its most important work.

Which begs the question: What is your skin’s most important work?  To look pretty and feel smooth?  To glow with a golden tan or shimmer with pale incandescence?  If you remember back to 7th Grade science class, you may remember the teacher explaining that skin is primarily involved in temperature regulation of the body and that it is also the body’s primary detoxing organ.  Is it all coming back to you now?
Detoxing.  An average body in an average climate loses about 2 litres of sweat per day, of which an estimated 450g is solid waste product.  Eeeew.  So if your skin is clogged and less than optimally functioning, some of that solid waste stays in your body; that makes you tired, reduces sleep quality, slows down your organ function and depresses your immune system.

Scrubbing and polishing of the body’s skin has 5 main benefits:

  1. Gently scrubbing and polishing clears clogged pores and removes potential infection from the base of hair follicles – basically that means less pimples, spots and in-grown hairs and more efficient sweating and waste removal;
  2. Removing the surface layer of dead skins cells enables the skin to better absorb moisture and the nutrients we may apply through plant-based oils;
  3. Gently scrubbing and polishing stimulates blood flow in the sub-structure of the skin; apart from assisting with the more efficient removal of wastes into the blood stream, stimulating the circulation also encourages the growth of healthy new skin cells and a better flow of important nutrients to those cells;
  4. Removing the surface layer of dull dead skin DOES make your skin softer, smoother and nicer to feel – it evens out the rough texture and reduces itching and irritation.
  5. Improved blood flow to the sub-structure of the skin WILL make your skin glow and look both younger and more attractive, although that’s not primarily why we scrub and polish. 

Scrubbing and polishing needs to be done gently (no redness!) and with a natural product.  Many commercial scrubs contain plastic scrub beads – they happily sit in the oil-based scrub leeching their toxic component chemicals into the scrub.  Some of the natural scrubs use nut shells, but these are often too harsh for the skin and damage its surface, adding to broken capillaries, redness and leaving you vulnerable to bacteria and irritation after the scrub treatment.  Read the label of your scrub or body polish.  Does it contain chemicals, petro-chemical oils (like “white” or “mineral” oil?) or synthetic “fragrance”?  If it does, toss it out.  It completely defeats the purpose of the detoxing scrub and polish if the product you are using merely adds to your body’s toxic load. 

What about loofahs or mitts instead of a product?  That’s fine but only if you boil it after each and every scrub so the dead skin cells and bacteria you are removing aren’t sitting happily breeding in your bathroom each day, ready to add to the problem when you next use the loofah tomorrow.  A fine clay exfoliating stone is a wonderful alternative to dirty loofahs and mitts, and also wonderfully hygienic. Always remember, use it gently! 

How often to scrub and polish?  Not everyone is the same.  If you are sick, actively fasting and/or in a detox program, probably daily – maybe after your herbal steam.  For “normal” people, maybe 2 or 3 times week is optimal. 

Always finish your skin treatment with a tiny amount of rich, natural plant-based oil to nourish and moisturize the skin.

Remembering the “why” of body scrub and polish helps us to understand why it’s actually not a beauty treatment but rather an important part of natural health management that adds to our personal wellness. 

Scrub, polish, smile, glow, enjoy.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why You Should be Thanking Your Cracked Heels.

Thanking them?  Are you out of your mind?  They hurt!  They itch.  They don’t look pretty in my new sandals.  They trash my stockings at work. They even bleed onto the floor first thing in the morning sometimes!

While only someone who has suffered badly cracked heels can ever appreciate those feelings, it doesn’t change the fact that cracked heels ARE really important and something we should be thankful for.  Because they are visible and irritating and embarrassing, we notice them.  We even start reading blog posts to try and fix them.  The challenge is to understand them and the message they bring us.

The skin on our heels is like the canary in the proverbial coalmine.  It’s under more strain than the skin on other parts of our body, simply by virtue of the weight our feet carry each day, step by step.  The skin on our heels is exposed to a challenging range of environmental conditions, from being super cold on frosty mornings, to being stifled in synthetic shoes all day, to having the blood flow limited for hours on end while we sit and play on facebook, and to getting the dregs of nutrients from our blood by the time it gets all the way down there.

So what are your cracked heels telling you?  Firstly, they’re telling you loud and clear that your essential fatty acid balance in your diet is inadequate.  You need to increase your Omega 3 and 6 and 9 intakes through raw nuts, seeds, avocadoes, oily fish and natural cold-pressed vegetable oils.  These same essential fatty acids that support the sub-structure of our skin are also critical for heart health and hormone balance – better to heed the message from your cracked heels now than to be in the ICU after your heart attack or sitting in the oncologist’s office to chat about your breast or prostate cancer problem.
When your liver is overloaded with environmental and dietary toxins and struggling to process masses of alcohol, fats and processed foods every day, your body is less able to absorb the essential fatty acids that you do manage to eat.  And you see the result in your cracked heels.  A toxic liver is less able to fulfill its normal function as a part of the body’s healthy immune system.  Your cracked heels are telling you that your immune system is less than optimal and going to be less-than-able to deal with incoming threats.
Cracked heels are also telling us that our blood circulation is suboptimal.  The sluggish blood supply to the far-flung regions of the body is causal for cracked heels, but it also contributes to things like blood clots that trigger strokes and kill people.  Far better to be improving your exercise regime because your cracked heels gently suggest it, than to be in a stroke rehab unit one day trying to learn how to feed yourself again. 

OK, so I think you get it.  Cracked heels are a sign of poor diet, poor circulation and a toxic liver.  Dealing with those three things now could make a massive difference to your health in later life.

Meanwhile, is there anything you can do to relieve your cracked heels?  Yes, there are two simple things you can do to help cracked heels while you detox your liver, boost your exercise and change your diet.  Firstly, you can remove the old, dry and cracked skin by soaking your feet and scrubbing away or cutting off the old skin.  Do it often.  This makes it easier for the new and healthier skin underneath to absorb any nourishment you apply.  Which brings us to the second thing you can do: apply a nourishing, soothing natural heel balm at least twice a day.  Make sure it is a beeswax balm and not one which has a petrochemical base.  How will you know?  Read the label!  Why does it matter?  Petroleum bases contain things like glycerin and white mineral oil (both toxic petroleum products) which are actually skin drying agents and will compound the problem over time.  Natural beeswax is an ancient skin conditioner which protects and soothes and aids natural healing. Beeswax enables the skin to regain its natural elasticity.  Use it regularly to prevent cracked heels too.  For best results, apply before bed and sleep in a pair of cotton socks – you’ll be amazed at the difference in the morning. 

So remember to thank your cracked heels.  Listen to what they’re telling you and make the big changes that are needed – in the end, no amount of fabulous natural heel balm will be enough if you’re not nourishing your skin from the inside, promoting good blood flow through exercise and keeping your system as clean as possible so it can absorb those important essential fatty acids that your skin needs for health. 

And if you’re looking for a fabulous natural beeswax foot repair balm?  Well, you know where to find us.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Massage & Body Oils – 5 Hidden Dangers

It seems so perfectly natural and nurturing to slather your skin with oil. Apart from the silky sensuality of applying it, all oils are good for your skin. Right? Wrong!

What’s the big deal over a bit of oil? Sadly there are many oils sold and used for both body care and massage that are downright harmful. Bad for your skin and bad for your ongoing health. Finding your way through this minefield requires you to think logically and read the label. No label showing all the ingredients? Don’t buy or use it.

Hidden Danger #1: Packaging.

All oils dissolve and break down plastics over time. Some oils do it more quickly and some plastics are more vulnerable than others, but basically, any oil in any plastic packaging is a bad idea. And yes, that applies to cooking oils as well. The plastic molecules dissolve into the oil and then you apply to your skin (or eat) which introduces the harmful petrochemical substances into your bloodstream, digestive system and internal organs.

Hidden Danger #2: “white oil”, “baby oil” or “mineral oil”.

Whatever you call it, “mineral oil” (which goes by a multitude of soft and easy-to-sell names) is a major hazard but is commonly used as the base for everything from baby oil to lots of skin treatment oils that are prettied up by the addition of a little essential oil. Mineral oil is a petroleum by-product and has been shown to increase the risk of a wide range of cancers in addition to triggering asthma, and being causal in non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Leukemia. The US National Library of Medicine has a wide range of studies available to show just how harmful this common ingredient is. Apart from the serious health risks of regularly using mineral oils, they actually dry out the skin over time and compound the very problems you were seeking to fix. So why is it used so widely? It’s mega-cheap, odorless, doesn’t spoil and because we as consumers simply don’t ask enough questions.

Hidden Danger #3: synthetic fragrances.

Synthetic fragrances are concocted from sometimes hundreds of chemical ingredients and preservatives, and the declaration of each and every component is not required under international labeling law. The pretty way to disguise the use of these chemical ingredients is to label them as “fragrance oils”. Lots of “natural” body oil and skin preparations include “fragrance oil” as well as 100% pure essential oils. Why? It’s a backdoor way of using chemical preservatives without having to declare them. And why are synthetic fragrances so dangerous? Many of the component chemicals are what we call “estrogenic”, which means they mimic hormone activity in the body, disrupt normal hormone function and actually contribute to the development of estrogen-dependent cancers.

Hidden Danger #4: Heat Extracted Oils.

Oils are composed of long-chain fatty acids which are damaged by heat. The little bits that break off the long-chain fatty acids are toxic to the body and are also easily absorbed into the skin and bloodstream. So while cold pressed virgin coconut oil is wonderfully nourishing and healing, heat extracted coconut oil isn’t. How do you tell? Usually the heat extracted oil has a smell. Cold pressed sesame or sunflower oils have no smell at oil, whilst the heat-extracted oils have distinct odors. Heat extracted coconut oil smells like toasted coconut. As a rule of thumb, if the bottle doesn’t scream “cold pressed” to justify the much higher price, it isn’t.

Hidden Danger #5: Rancid Oil.

Rancid oil is basically oil that has is spoiled. Some oils, like sunflower oil, become rancid very, very quickly and will contaminate and spoil any oils they are blended with, causing them to spoil too. Storing many oils without refrigeration or in direct sunlight will cause them to go rancid quickly. Olive oil, for instance, needs to be stored below 30C and protected from exposure to light. That’s why good olive oil always comes in green or brown glass bottles. Notable exceptions are oils like rice bran and sesame, that are very stable under heat. How can you tell if oil is rancid? You can smell it. If it has that funky “old oil” smell, toss it. When oil becomes rancid the same process occurs as when it is heat extracted, leaving small unstable parts of the fatty acid chains in the oil which are then absorbed into your skin, vital organs and bloodstream.

So, what should you be looking for? A natural plant based oil packed in glass or aluminum. No “fragrance oils” – just pure essential oils to add natural scent. Good labeling that shows all the ingredients. A best-before date. And make sure it passes the “sniff” test.

Nourish and nurture your skin with healthy, natural oils and your skin will glow. As you reduce your exposure to chemicals and inferior oils, your body will regain balance and your health will blossom. Toss the petrochemical based lotions and aim for a light coating of easily-absorbed plant based oil every evening before bed. Enjoy the nourishing sensuality and make sure you share that feeling with someone you love whenever you can.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

4 Natural (& Really Nice!) Ways to Prepare for Pregnancy

Growing a baby is a big job, no question. And like all big jobs, planning and preparation make a huge difference to the outcome. That’s true whether you’re having difficulty conceiving a child and are trying to increase your chances or whether you’re simply committed to providing the best and cleanest living and growing environment possible. Pregnancy preparation is important. Physically, mentally and spiritually.

There’s already more than enough written about the pre-pregnancy diet: what foods to avoid and what you should choose to eat. There’s a lot written about yoga and exercise to prepare a lean, strong, supple and flexible body that will manage the challenges of pregnancy and birth. There’s even a little bit out there written about colon cleansing pre-pregnancy to help detox your body.

So, are many women actively preparing pre-conception as a result? Sadly, apart from throwing away their contraceptives and any lingering dreams they may have had of extensive global travel, wealth and loads of personal “me” time, not really. Why? Many women simply feel it’s too hard, too challenging, “too much” and not achievable or enjoyable in the space of their stressed and busy lives.

Preparing for pregnancy doesn’t have to be onerous or difficult. Sensibly reducing your toxin load diet-wise, adding some super foods each day and starting to practice some simple yoga stretches is manageable for even the busiest woman. But did you know preparing for pregnancy can even be downright pleasurable, relaxing and fun? Smiling yet?

We learn two basic facts in high school science when we are about 13 years old, and then promptly seem to forget or sidestep this knowledge for most of the rest of our lives. (i) everything in the body works better when blood, lymph and energy are moved and stimulated and (ii) our skin is by far our largest detoxing organ.

How can we use those two simple facts to help prepare well (and enjoyably!) for pregnancy?

1. Regular therapeutic massage during your pregnancy preparation phase will have a noticeable effect on your overall health. Ask for a Thai massage, a hot Thai Herbal Massage Ball treatment or a real detoxing/lymphatic stimulating massage rather than a few touchy-feely strokes with a bit of oil. Try to breathe with the therapist during the massage and visualize your body shifting and releasing all that it does not need. Ask your therapist to use only a natural plant-based oil to make sure no extra petrochemicals find their way into your bloodstream at the time you least want them.

2. Indulge in a herbal steam. Actually, any steam or sauna treatment that encourages sweating and the release of toxins through the skin is good. A steam treatment is less harsh and drying for your skin than a sauna, and a herbal steam simply adds the benefit of healing and detoxing herbs in the most pleasurable way. Try to steam before and after your massage for optimal benefit.

3. Use herbal clays, scrubs and oils to encourage the release of toxins through your skin. The more that is released through the skin, the easier the job for your liver, kidneys and other organs to help cleanse your blood. Clean blood and clean organs mean optimal hormone function in the body, which is exactly what you want for conception and pregnancy.

4. And finally, nourish your skin from the outside with plant-based oils to ensure optimal moisture, resilience and elasticity before it becomes weight bearing. Preventing stretch marks is way, way smarter than trying to heal and repair them later when the damage has been done.

So, how does that look in summary? Massages, herbal steams, natural skin treatments and loads of plant-based nourishing oils. Are you smiling yet? Yes, all pleasurable and good for you and your new baby.

How long would I recommend you prepare pre-pregancy? I would say 9-12 months is optimal, but even

3 months can be beneficial. The better shape you are in before conception, the easier and more pleasurable the process will be.

Be well, relax and focus on enjoyable and positive pregnancy preparation – a smiling pregnant mom transmits important “happy hormones” to a baby that encourage optimal growth and development. So it really is true: what’s good and enjoyable for you is good and positive for your baby.

Enjoy the journey of creating a new life – a truly magical and wondrous adventure.