Archive for Beauty and Personal Care

Beginning to green what you wear

One of the most common queries I receive from readers is about textiles: how to green what we wear.

This is a huge issue in our fast fashion world. Yes, one can buy a T-shirt for a few dollars. And, with luck, you might even be able to pass it on after you have finished with it to a charity shop, or use it as a household cleaning cloth. But did you need to buy it in the first place?

Low prices tempt us all in (I am by no means exempt here). But in the textiles world, prices are nowhere near high enough to reflect the true costs of production.

Certainly we can never compensate those who lose their lives at work, as in the case of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. But we can - or should be able to - pay the true cost of water to ensure that this vital resource is rationally allocated. More than 70% of global cotton production is irrigated, much of it unsustainably and in areas where drinking water is short.

According to the Environmental Justice Foundation:

  • Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in the world, taking about 2,720 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, equivalent to what an average person might drink over three years.
  • In 2008, 2,890 billion litres of water was used in Pakistan to grow the cotton needed just to make products sold by the homestore Ikea – equivalent to the volume of drinking water consumed in Sweden over 176 years. 

And if paying more means consuming less, then that would help limit the broader environmental impacts of textile production.

These range from the use of toxic chemicals and the health of cotton workers to soil degradation from cotton production. Many agricultural areas have to be abandoned after years of cotton growing. The cotton production frontier marches on but the trail of devastation left behind grows ever larger.

It is close to Christmas and I do not want to depress you, so let’s think about what we can all do. Most obvious is to buy fewer items, though this is not what the retailers have in mind for us.

Second, we can try to source fabrics that are less damaging for the environment and workers. But that’s not easy.

Like it or not, our personalities and self-image are closely tied to what we wear. That means that making ‘sacrifices’ in this area can be hard. So I am always glad when I happen upon products that I like and that are relatively less bad for the environment (indeed that is the whole ethos behind this website). Monkee Genes - a range of trousers/pants most of which are made from organic cotton – are one such product.

I am always a bit unsure about buying items such as jeans on line. But the great news is that once you find a product that fits, you are in business (and I lucked out first time with Monkee Genes: which also means I can’t tell you about their returns service).

The company doesn’t have the swiftest dispatch or the smoothest customer interface but the jeans will get to you in the end. And they will be certified organic by the Soil Association and not produced in sweat shops or with lots of chemicals in the processing phase.

They are also nice and well-fitting (at least for me) and the skinny range is not too low-rise, which I like. And with prices between £40 and £60 they are not prohibitive: just enough of a price premium over some of the high street chains to make you think. Happily they also ship round the world.

One slightly odd thing about the jeans, that’s not fully explained on the site, is the large white waistband patch with a strong banana logo: can’t imagine many want to tote that around. Happily you can pop this off entirely or replace it with a demure leather version for a small fee.

Monkee Genes make me optimistic about eco fashion, which is a good thing. Looking at all the benefits of organic fabrics, it’s a wonder we don’t demand them more vociferously. Who wants to carry around a toxic second skin each day?

Getting a comb through your (kids’) hair…

I believe I am not alone in my struggles with my kids’ hair. Brushing is apparently the highest form of torture. And to make matters worse, it’s quite hard to explain, cogently, why I (and the world at large) actually cares about neat hair.

So, the bar is pretty low in my household (I can see my friends shaking their heads in agreement). But I do at least try to ensure that, post-shampooing, a comb gets through the flowing locks of my four daughters.

My little ‘helper’ in this regard is Acure leave-in conditioner with Argan oil which I spritz on the girls’ hair to give me a better than even chance of success.

I empathize with those who think leave in conditioners are dumb and excessive, a symbol of consumerism run riot (on par with lip exfoliation products?). But my guess is that people of this persuasion don’t have kids who scream at the mere sight of a comb. (Full disclosure here, in case my kids read this: it’s only one who is really comb-phobic…)

The Acure product is well-priced ($9.99 per bottle from the Acure site or $8.62 from the mysteriously cheap iHerb, which is where I get it since they ship swiftly and cheaply to Canada). And it’s fully functional. If truth be told, I only really use it at the swimming pool when matted hair and industrial strength chlorine conspire to make my life really tough. But it does the trick and once a week the comb runs through the hair.

I hope that it does a load of other good things, such as strengthening and conditioning. But just combing it without misery is enough to make me like it.

Argan oil is, of course, totally trendy these days. I’ve tried it in pure form on my face and have not loved it. Maybe it is the magic ingredient in this stuff. Who knows? But something makes combing easy, without making the hair greasy. The remainder of the product ingredients are on the website and all look pretty plant-based and benign.

The conditioner smells citrusy, but not too intensely so, which is all good too. In my youth I was happy to have my entire head smell of (fake) green apples, but I lost that willingness a while back. I’ve tried other natural de-tangler products and the smells were sometimes quite overwhelming (kid-oriented often equates to bubblegum or grape).

To finish up, I just want to mention that I have often been asked to recommend a shampoo on this site, but I remain unable to do that. I have tried and tried to find something that I really like, that is natural, well-priced and kind to my always-dry scalp. But I have not yet succeeded. When I think I am close I either find a nasty ingredient or my scalp starts itching!

So I remain a shampoo dilettante: any recommendations?

Nourish your skin

I have to admit to being a bit of a lotion lady.

I’ve long been on the hunt for a good body lotion to combat the ills of the Canadian winter (extreme dryness) and old age (extreme dryness plus wrinkles).

Too many of the lotions that I like at first blush turn out to be below par environmentally. Or else absurdly expensive. Or too greasy. Or overly worthy and thus unstable physically (nothing worse than having a great bath and then slathering on rancid lotion).
First a short rant: I am horrified by the number of personal care items (soap, lotion and the like) that come from China these days. Even seemingly high-end brands are manufacturing there: very many of the attractive and expensive-looing gift sets you find around Christmas originate in China.

Shipping heavy, water-filled items makes no sense ecologically. Then there is the question of what exactly it is you are slapping on your skin. It amazes me how little many people seem to care about that, despite the compelling logic of absorption through a porous surface (ever wondered how nicotine patches work?).

Back to good lotion. I have two recommendations here. Both are well-priced, feel/smell nice and are adequately benign from an eco/toxicity perspective.

ShiKai is a California company that has been around for over 40 years. It makes a whole range of great body lotions in scents ranging from yuzu to pomegranate: I am fond of the cucumber/melon which has a fresh and not-at-all overpowering smell.

The lotions have a lot going for them: they are unctuous without being greasy, come in nice large tubes (8floz or 237ml) at a reasonable price ($6.91 on iHerb or $8.99 on ShiKai’s own site: I’ll never understand that) and generally feel quite luxurious.

The company emphasizes the pureness of its products – ‘All Natural’ is written right across the middle of the tube – though the the body lotion still scores 3 on the Skindeep database. Back to that later.

My new favourite lotion is made by another US company, Nourish. Nourish makes four ‘flavours’ of lotion, plus unscented. These come in the same sized tubes as the ShiKai product but cost slightly more at US$9.99 each (or you can buy all four for $32: they make great presents as the packaging is high-end and  attractive, if a little heavy).

Nourish was apparently the first skincare company in the US to get USDA certification for its entire range. This means that the products are at least 95% organic. For more on this certification – which some other brands now share – and Nourish’s other ‘seals’ (gluten free, Oregon Tilth, etc.) see here.

My favourite Nourish flavour is lavender mint. It’s light and fresh and I’m not sure you can ever go wrong with lavender. I was initially intrigued by the fig flavour: though I like it, it has stronger hints of apricot than fig.

Nourish lotions have a different consistency than ShiKai ones. They are absorbed almost instantly and leave no apparent film on your skin  (both good and bad, depending upon your mood and degree of dryness, I would say). But they feel good and nourishing (appropriately), nonetheless.

Nourish sells through its website and Whole Foods stores, in the US only. Canadian folk can order on-line, though this is not well advertised. The great news is that we Canadians also benefit from reasonable shipping rates. US rates are $5 flat or free when your order is over $50. Canadian orders ship for $5 when the order is over $50.

Nourish also makes deodorant, shea butters and various body washes and polishes, so it’s easy to stock up. If my order is anything to go by, your package will come quickly with paper packaging and a hand-written thank you note.

Like ShiKai, Nourish manufactures in the US. One gripe is that, though pretty, Nourish tubes seem to be made from unnecessarily thick plastic. It makes them stiff and heavy and just seems a waste (though they do claim to be recyclable, we know that depends upon where you live).

But what of ingredients? Nourish products are not rated on the Skindeep database. I asked the CEO about this and he told me that though he supports the idea of the database, he finds the ratings a bit off at times. Alcohol, for example, scores very poorly, regardless of its source. For this reason, Nourish has opted against seeking a rating.

I have actually noticed this problem myself: some quite natural-sounding ingredients, such as essential oils, are given a bad rap by the database for potential allergic reactions which are really not a huge concern for me.

To be complete I have done my own comparison of the ingredients of ShiKai and Noursh lotions. Both use aloe vera, shea (see shea nuts in the picture: hard to imagine they help your skin but they do) and a range of plant extracts. Overall, though, Nourish does seem to do better. Plant ingredients are all organic and the only potential ‘nasty’ is ‘Organic SDA 38B (Alcohol Denat): apparently an organically derived denatured (altered to be non-drinkable) alcohol.

ShiKai has a couple of chemical-sounding things in there: dimethicome, phenoxyethanol and cetyl alcohol and its plant products are not organic.

So take your pick: lotions are a pretty personal decision, after all.

Giving in on nail polish

I came to nail polish late in my life. I still don’t love it, but it does do my feet a favour in the summer.

I really have to struggle to hold the line on polish with my four girls (actually, only three, one wouldn’t touch the stuff). I am, in this regard, a kill-joy: I just don’t feel that nail polish and young fingers mix. I am also an outlier, it seems, as coloured nails have become the norm on even the tiniest kids.

I am amazed how willing parents are to deal with the mess, the work (which five year old can remove polish on their own?) and, most of all, the slew of toxic chemicals that dwells within both the polish itself and the remover.

I have tried hard to identify a really good adult option for eco nail polish, but have so far failed. Everything I have tried has either been not sticky enough or way too sticky: there are some brands that don’t come off for love or money.

If you have some suggestions for me, I’d love to try them.

[I wanted to add a clarification to my original post here: I am looking for water-based nail polish. There are many good brands - such as Zoya, OPI - that are free of the worst chemicals (3 free) but are still solvent based. A step in the right direction and good enough for my toes, but still not OK for my kids' small fingers].

So, for the kids, I have found two solvent-free options that I can just about tolerate (if I overlook my general aversion to tots-aping-teens). These are the Klutz Nail-art set (a book and 6 water-based colours) and the products made by the US company, Piggy Paint.

These are very different products. The Klutz set (which retails for about $15-$22 in North America or £12 in the UK) is more of an art event than a nail polish. The latex type colours go on nicely and then literally peel off. You might get them to stay for a day, but not much more (which makes me happy).

The accompanying book has some fun design ideas. A word of warning, though, don’t let the bottles spill on your carpet. It takes a good deal of determination to get the ‘polish’ out.

Piggy Paint is like adult nail polish. Indeed adults can and do use it too (the site notes that it is a good option during pregnancy).

It comes in nearly 40 funky colours from bright pinks to green, yellow, silver, black and blue. It costs $8.99/bottle. Ingredients are very benign and although the product itself is not featured on the Skindeep database, no ingredients (except possible tints) score higher than 1 (zero is best). Neem oil is used as a preservative (which makes me happy as I used to have a neem tree in my garden when I lived in Africa).

Piggy remover is acetone free but does contain alcohol. Interestingly, it comes in two formulations, one that meets California air pollution standards and one that, by implication, does not. I can only assume the non-California one is more effective, but my money would be on the less polluting version.

Both sell for $8.99 (for 120ml). Indeed $8.99 is the magic price on the Piggy Paint site. But you can also buy Piggy Paint at a wide range of retailers – mostly kids’ stores – in the US and Canada and a few on-line sites in the UK. All products are US-made so no worries there.

In my experience, Piggy Paint that is applied in a single coat, by children, without the help of a hairdryer (to set the colours) can more or less be peeled off (at least by my determined kids, eager to convince me that, no, they did not put on nail polish).

I can’t vouch for how long it will stay on your fingers if you really want it to last, but this is clearly a ‘green nail polish’ brand that is largely marketed at kids not adults, so my guess is it could be a bit fleeting. Just like me, these days!


Quick: before Christmas comes

I love Christmas: the coziness, conviviality and the kids’ joy. But, like many of you I suspect, I hate the excess and the pressing need to identify unmet needs (amongst people who really have none) just so I can fulfil my gifting obligations.

Personally I love giving experiences, but I have yet to persuade my four kids that a stocking full of promissory notes and gift cards to the local coffee shop really cuts it. Small indulgences are required: preferably ones that can be wrapped, used and then disappear leaving a relatively small footprint.

One thing that will be in the stockings of the young Foxes this year is a selection of products that I have received over the past two months in my regular package from the Natural Beauty Box (T.N.B.B.).

T.N.B.B. is one of a number of companies operating in the monthly cosmetics and skincare subscription space, though by no means all companies offer natural products. You sign up for anything from one month to one year and then wait to receive a nicely-packaged goody-bag of natural cosmetic sample sizes (not sachets) through the mail. They even throw in some full-sized products from time to time.

Samples are guaranteed to be at least 95% natural and 50% organic. This may not satisfy complete purists, but it is good enough for me (especially in comparison with some of the horrors my kids have been known to bring home).

Inside your pretty gift bag you will also find coupons in case you like the samples (reminding you that this is, of course, partly a marketing exercise).

T.N.B.B. does not tell you what you will receive in advance, but that is half the fun. Who doesn’t love getting an indulgent surprise in the mail from time to time?

So I have been saving up my precious bottles to scatter amongst my girls’ stockings. For me this is a great solution to the pre-teen lotion love (which I remember so well from all those years ago).

Yes, there is excess plastic (think little bottles) but, on balance, I am not too worried as I am not channelling toxic fragrances and chemicals to my kids.

Here in Canada, subscriptions vary from $15.75 to $20/month – shipping included – depending upon how long you sign up for. And the really good news is that subscriptions are available not only in Canada but also in the US (same price), the UK (OK: same price in pounds as in dollars, but UK folks are used to that…), and worldwide ($32/month).

And if you are looking not for stocking-stuffers but for a more substantial one-off Christmas present, you are also in luck. The Natural Beauty Box is selling a December Deluxe Beauty Sac stuffed with at least five full-sized products and five samples.

The cost for this is $49.99 (inc. shipping). I just ordered one for my niece: fingers crossed. My only gripe is that there appears to be no ability to include a gift message when you place the order (or did I miss it?).

Another gifting option, of course, is to be more generous than me and instead of splitting the boxes, give the one you love their own subscription. Voilà, the gift that keeps on giving.

End-of-summer sunscreen round-up

This is a guest post by Laurel Thomson

I realize that few readers are interested in sunscreens in early October, but if I don’t write this post now, if I leave it until next spring, I will have forgotten the vast majority of what I’d like to communicate (I’m even older than Diana!)

Here in Ontario it was probably the most glorious summer in recent memory, with many sun-drenched days. I therefore had ample opportunity to slather myself, and my slightly reluctant 11-year-old daughter, with sunscreen. We tried 10 different products and each of us has a favourite.

If you want more details on what to look for in a sunscreen, Diana’s old post has lots of information.

These are the products we tried:

Heiko Physical Sunscreen, SPF 30.
Approximate price: $30 for 150ml ($20/100ml)
Active ingredient: zinc oxide (non-nano).  My favourite, especially for the face. As Diana mentioned in her post, it has a slightly medicinal scent, which I actually like. It is thick, so easier for small surfaces, such as face, neck and shoulders. Takes a long time to put on my entire body, so I never bothered.

Thinksport Kids Sunscreen Benefiting Livestrong, SPF 50+.
Approximate price $16 for 3 oz ($18/100ml).
Active ingredient: zinc oxide (non-nano).
My daughter’s favourite. And it really works well. Goes on virtually transparent and, in the words of an 11-year old, “smells like heaven”. Highly recommended. Even the packaging is BPA, vinyl and phthalate-free.

Elemental Herbs Sunstick, Unscented, SPF 30.
Approximate price $8 for .6oz ($45/100ml: but it is a stick)
Active ingredient: zinc oxide (non-nano).
Excellent for the face and for a quick swipe across the nose and cheeks. I carried one with me all summer and used it on both my daughter and myself when we were out for more than a couple of hours. We love the cocoa-butter scent and the feel of it on our faces – silky smooth. It also works!

California Baby Face and Body, unscented SPF 30+.
Approximate price $40 for 6oz ($22/100ml)
Active Ingredient: titanium dioxide.
Rubs in nicely, very mild chemical scent that is not unpleasant. We both like it but the name is not “cool” for an 11-year old. My only worry is that there are some concerns about the photo-reactivity of the active ingredient, TO2, which could result in cellular changes in the skin. The jury is still out on this, however.

Beyond Coastal Natural Clear Sunscreen, SPF30+.
Approximate price $18 for 2.5oz ($24/100ml)
Active ingredient: zinc oxide.
I love this sunscreen for my body, but no one else in my family does. They complain that it is thick (it is) and leaves a white film. I have yet to see the white film on my skin, but it is definitely present on my husband’s hairy arms!!  It has a lovely, mild rose scent. The company also manufactures a product under the same name that contains both titanium and zinc, which I stayed away from given my, likely unfounded, concerns about the former.

Dr. Hauschka Sunscreen Cream SPF 20.
NB. This product is discontinued: sorry Laurie 
Active ingredient: titanium dioxide.
I love Dr. Hauschka products so I ignore my aversion to TO2 and put this on my face in the winter sun, when I want something lighter than SPF 30. It is pricey at $24 for 3.5 oz, but less expensive than many higher-end creams.

TruKid Sunny Days mineral sunscreen SPF 30+.
Approximate price $17.50 for 3.5oz ($17/100ml)
Active ingredient: titanium dioxide.
Nice product, that smells faintly like the creamsicles of my youth.  I’d love to use it, but am wary of the TO2.

ECO Logical Skin Care, all natural sunscreen SPF 30+.
Approximate price $17 for 3.5oz ($16/100ml)
Active ingredient: zinc oxide.
Claims to be unscented, but smells like rancid oil, if you ask me. Stay away!

Green Beaver fragrance-free sunscreen, SPF 30.
Approximate price $20/90ml ($22/100ml)
Active Ingredient: zinc oxide.
This sunscreen is greasier than I care for but several of my friends swear by it since it does not whiten skin at all. They use it on their kids who are indifferent to the texture. They are mostly young kids or boys. My daughter won’t go near it.

Alba Botanica very emollient Sport Sunscreen, SPF 45.
Approximate price $9/4oz ($7.50/100ml)
Active ingredients: octocrylene, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, titanium dioxide.
Given its chemical ingredients, it is not surprising that this product is a clear winner in the ease-of-rubbing-in contest. However, its composition is also why I do not use it. The EWG rating is 5, which is high enough for me to avoid. I suppose an upside is it does not contain the dreaded oxybenzone. So why did I try it? A friend gave me a tube. I don’t particularly care for its chemical sunscreen scent.

From Diana: A very useful set of reviews, thanks Laurie. Funny that we both worked on TOissues around 25 years ago.

Some of these products are not readily available in Canada, though many can be shipped here through retailers such as (Use the code UQE399 to get $10 off your first order of $40 or more: shipping to Canada is only $4 for an average shipment!). 

Lip balm minus the plastic

There have been huge strides in the worlds of eco lip balm over the past decade. It used to be tough to find products that did not contain petrolatum and paraffin (yukky thought these sound, they are standard in products such as Blistex) and/or did not go rancid in short order.

Now we are spoiled for choice in health and green stores and can chose between beeswax, shea butter and other more tasty-sounding things to slather on our lips. All seem to be pretty shelf stable and can be flavoured with delicious natural oils.

Even when we are strapped for time and in the super-market or mainstream drug store there is usually a Bert’s Bees product that will lubricate without the use of hydrocarbons.

Despite all this progress, one annoyance still remains. It’s the plastic that is used to package and dispense all those nice-sounding oils and waxes. If you look at the bottom of your purse or on the pocket of your winter coat, you will surely find one or two dying lip balms, just waiting to be cast into the land fill where they will wait ….and wait ….for several thousand years.

How happy was I, then, when I found Sweet Leaf Bath Co., an Ontario company that sells its lovely fair-trade beeswax lip balm in compostable paper tubes. Though these might sounds less than robust, I can assure you that they hold up really well. But they also feel like they really will decompose (apparently within 15 days), unlike some ostensibly compostable products.

The one thing that you can’t easily do with the paper tube is the equivalent of `winding down’ the lip balm in the plastic tube. Once it has been squeezed out, it stays out (unless you manually push it back in, which can get a bit messy). But, on the plus side, it is not that easy to over-extend the lip balm in the first place. I can assure you of that since my kids help themselves to my balm whenever they pass my desk and they have not yet caused any damage.

The lip balm comes in 3 lush flavours: peppermint, chocoberry and pomegranate. I like the mint best but the fruity pomegranate is also nice. I have not tried the chocomint. The website gives full details of all the ingredients.

The lip balms are available from the Sweet Leaf site at $5.50 each (payment through Paypal). Unfortunately because these are small items, the shipping and handling costs seem high relative to the item cost if you buy just one balm ($5 will cover between one and six balms). But you could purchase other Sweet Leaf products (they have a bath line too) to offset the shipping costs. However, I can’t vouch for these, having never tried them.

Another option is to buy them through one of my current favourite eco merchants, Jess’s Crunchy Shop where you can combine your order with other items and get free shipping if you exceed C$79. Or hope that you live near one of the Canadian retail locations listed under the our Company tab on the website.

And if you are feeling sore about the shipping cost, don’t forget the good news: a paper tube holds about 30% more product than a standard plastic tube. We are talking long-lasting lubrication.

(I should mention that I was sent samples of this lip balm by Sweet Leaf, but I am reviewing the product because I love it.)


Natural deodorant

Deodorant is a tough subject. Many people I have spoken to have said that they want to use a natural deodorant, free from nasty chemicals, but that they just can’t find one that does the job adequately. And, let’s face it, nobody wants to compromise in this area.

The problem with regular deodorants is the they tend to contain things you don’t really want on your very absorbent skin (e.g. parabens, propylene glycol and articifical fragrances). Anti-perspirants are even worse. They work on the principle of disabling your sweat glands (as opposed to just covering up the odour), so less sweat actually reaches the surface. Usually this is achieved using aluminum zirconium compounds.

If you feel more comfortable having aluminum in your garage than on your skin, you are right. It has been associated with all sorts of nasty effects. And, in any case, disabling sweat, when we do actually sweat for a purpose, seems like a bad idea.

So let’s assume we can live with sweat….but do not want to become malodorous. What then?

Your natural deodorant team (that is me and my friend Laurie Thomson whom I have consulted at length on this topic) are right on it, though we acknowledge that deodorant is a very personal choice (try a small version first, if you can).

Laurie is a serial deodorant experimenter. She lives in Toronto and shops at the Big Carrot, which, fittingly, has a big selection.

Her hands-down favourite is Alba Botanica Clear Enzyme deodorant stick, in lavender. It also comes in tea tree and aloe unscented. She tells me (and I quote) “It keeps me dry all day, even those days when I’m particularly nervous about having to give a presentation and I inadvertently wear a shirt containing synthetic fibres.” Yes, this happens.

The Skin Deep database gives this deodorant a 1, which is excellent. Alba Botanica is part of a large eco products holding company that brings you brands such as Earth’s Best, Imagine and Jason. Alba is based in Colorado, but the packaging claims that the deodorant itself is made in Canada. Perhaps a new area of comparative advantage for our economy??

Laurie also recommends Honeybee Gardens deodorant powder. She applies this deodorant when she has finished a yoga class and is in too much of a hurry to shower. It is also good when you want to mop up a bit of that summer sweat. It is phenomenally absorbent and smells nice too. The EWG rating is 0.

The powder is made from baking soda, corn starch, arrowroot and essential oils. Nothing more. So simple, you could make it yourself. But why bother, since it only costs $6.99 for 4 oz, which seems to last forever. As an added bonus, a portion of sales goes to breast cancer research. The company is also unusual in that it ships to Canada from its Pennsylvania base at the same prices as to the US (and they do mini samples of their lipstick and eyeshadow colours for only 50c each: what a great idea).

As for me, for the last several years I have been using a deodorant that sells at our local farmers’ market, under the Morrison Manor mark. It is lovely and fresh-smelling and works for me (though I have to say that I do not sweat much). But this is not much of a recommendation unless you live in Ottawa. And I do regret the non-refillable roll-on containers.

More recently I have been using a crystal deodorant. I have always been deeply sceptical of these, but I was sent one by Green Virgin Products (a small Florida-based company that sells soap nuts and other non-toxic items…and ships to Canada). I thought I should try it since it is the off-season for the farmers’ market.

To my surprise, it has worked really well. I did a very strenuous 2.5 hour cross country ski yesterday and, really, my shirt was rosebud-fresh at the end of it. Perhaps I should also experiment with using this to combat foot odor, as one reviewer suggests on the informative Green Virgin website.

From an eco and also a cost-saving perspective these crystal deodorants are certainly the best bet as they appear to last forever (thereby limiting packaging, etc.). I have been using mine for 2 months and see no dent in it. And they are cheap to start with at $5.99.

I don’t like the application (wetting it, drips down my armpit and no fragrance boost to kick-start my morning), but that is the only bad thing I have to say about it right now (I AM AFRAID THAT THIS IS NO LONGER TRUE. SEE MY COMMENT BELOW: MOST CRYSTAL DEODORANTS ARE MADE FROM AN ALUMINIUM COMPOUND). Some crystal deodorants also come in roll-on or spray-on form, though that seems to be missing the point a bit.

Last word, though, to Laurie, the natural deodorant queen: she tells me that both she and her sister used crystal deodorant in the past and that they worked well for a while but that after about 6 months they ceased to do so.

I guess I’ll be back to you in 6 months.

Soothing those party eyes

Most evenings I go to bed too late. I swear by a 10.30pm bedtime, but somehow I seldom make it.

It would be nice to think that the holidays were a time for more sleep, but between the good stuff (parties and gatherings) and the less good stuff (late night baking and present wrapping), that often does not happen. So, I look for other ways of feeling – and looking – better in the morning.

One of these is to slap on a good coating of eye cream before I sleep at night.


This feels particularly therapeutic in the dry, cold winter here in Ottawa. Winter, for me, is a time of cracking skin, limp and static-filled hair and a bleeding nose. I like the skiing and the skating, but I can’t say I welcome these other features of our longest season.

My eye remedy is Keys Soap Eye Butter. The thing I like about this cream is that it feels entirely inert, buttery-even (as the name suggests). It barely smells and it does not make my eyes water or sting (a common problem with eye cream). A reviewer on another site mentioned that she liked to let her eyes `marinate’ in it for the night and I think that sums it up pretty well.

keys eye

Does it reduce puffiness and all those wrinkles around my eyes? I am not too sure, but it feels good and kind to my over-taxed eyes, and it makes me think that my chronic lack of sleep will affect me less.

The ingredients are self-evidently natural (Avocado Oil, Shea Butter, Black Cumin Oil, Carrot Seed Oil, Distilled Cucumber, Aloe Vera, Purified Water, Vegetable Glycerin, Vegetable Wax, Rosemary Extract) so it is not surprising that it scores a zero on the Skin Deep cosmetics database.

The cream comes in a glass container in two sizes, The smaller one (0.5oz or 15ml) does not sound like much, but I can assure you that it pretty much lasts forever (since it is a very dense cream you don’t scoop much up on any given occasion). It costs around $20 and is available from the manufacturer or from Amazon (and elsewhere).

In Canada my favourite supplier is Hornet Mountain Natural Products in BC. The eye butter is available as a stand-alone item for $22.25 but Astrid, the proprietor, also does a great Keys Soap Cleanse and Moisturize package for $60. This contains full size versions of the Eye Butter, Island Rx Foaming Cleanser (which I have previously recommended) and Keys Luminos Day/Night Moisturizer. I like, and use, this moisturizer but it is on the heavy side and I generally prefer a little fragrance in my facial moisturizer (though not around my eyes).

Keys Soap products are generally very benign and contain no fragrances or preservatives whatsoever. This blog posting tells you more about how the products are made, and how they manage to eschew preservatives. The company was an early signatory to the compact for safe cosmetics and now has champion status. Prices are generally reasonable (in my view) and they ship far and wide. What’s not to like about that?

Moisturizers revisited

One of my very early postings was about face creams. At the time I was a fan of Lavera products. But my journey with has introduced me to a whole range of great new products. So I thought I would share with you what I am using on my aging face right now.

First, though, I want to remind you of what I wrote in my posting on cleansers, which holds for moisturizers too: what I look for in facial products is low toxicity (of course), a smell/texture/feel that suits me and a price that is right. Add to that a (more or less) local manufacturer and all my needs are satisfied: I am not looking for miracles.


So, my current beauty secret? My daytime moisturizer is Pure Anada’s Green Tea and Grapeseed Hydra Lotion. This is a light, delicately fragranced lotion that has felt great through the warmer months and this Indian summer. Maybe mid-winter I would prefer something richer – perhaps Pure Anada’s Berry and Bouquet Hyrda Cream, which I have not yet tried – but, for now, I love the Green Tea product.

It comes in a largish pump bottle. Beware, my pump is a bit wild and has several times discharged rather aggressively onto my bathroom mirror. It is, though, very well priced at $19.50 for a full 60ml/2fl oz (if you need an idea of size, I have been using this since early summer and still have some left).

You may remember Pure Anada from my recent posting on lipstick. It’s a small Manitoba company that is dedicated to low toxicity. None of the ingredients in the cream scores above 1 on the Skindeep ingredients database, though the magical-sounding ingredient in this Green Tea moisturizer, Olivem 1000, is not rated. You can read a bit about it here. It is derived from olive oil so does not worry me too much, and the fact that it claims to generate liquid crystals on my stratum corneum (that’s the top layer of the skin: dead cells, sadly) actually sounds rather enticing (if a little perplexing).

I was sent this lotion as a sample and was happy to hear that when it was mailed it had just been mixed up the day before. A new idea: freshly prepared cosmetics! I have had it for several months now and there does not seem to have been any product deterioration.

At night I am using a product from Olivier Soaps (remember my post on washing in the wilderness…I went to buy the shampoo and ended up getting a travel size of this cream too). It is billed as an anti-aging day cream – Femme Creme de Jour – but I find it perfect for the night.

It has a fresh, slightly medicinal smell (if you were paying attention to my sunscreen posting, you will know that this is a quality I like), imparted by oils of: neroli, rosemary, tea tree, sage, benzoin, rosewood, palmarosa and carrot seed. It goes on smoothly and feels nourishing and matte, not at all greasy (which is not true for all eco creams).

olivier moist

The cream scores 2 on the Skindeep database. This is low, but not quite as low as I would like. Looking at the ingredients, everything seems very benign apart from sodium borate. This is, in fact, the chemical name for borax and it comes with a warning from Health Canada (it is a skin irritant (especially for infants). Rather alarmingly it is also a food additive. Anyway, I checked in with Olivier and they tell me that they use only a trace amount in their formula as a preservative, so my mind is at rest for now, though it would be good if they could find a formulation that was entirely borax-free.

The 8g trial/travel size is not on the website but is available in the shops: maybe they would send you one if you asked. The big tub is 50g and sells for $54.95 (so close, yet so far, from the on-line free shipping threshold of $60). I know this is not cheap, but it does last and I figure that from time to time my face needs a treat. Others must agree as this is the company’s best selling product.

Olivier soap is a family-run New Brunswick company that sells both on line and through stores. There just happens to be a franchise store in Chelsea, Quebec, down the road from me. The company is a signatory to the compact for safe cosmetics, which is always a good sign. Customer service is not too hot, but they did answer my questions eventually. Pure Anada, on the other hand, are super-responsive.

So there you have it. I can’t say that my wrinkles are in decline, but my face is happy (and I even got an unsolicited compliment on my skin the other day…’s true!… I must be doing something right).

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