Thursday, July 29, 2010

Healthy Living 1 - Read the Label

Since I took an internship at a sustainable learning center in Oregon in 1995, I have been aware that what I put in or on my body reflects the overall health of my physical as well as mental being. So often around me I see people ignoring this fact. This life is our own, and we can make of it what we choose, yet more often than not I hear people say they feel helpless against their health or emotional issues, and don't realize it might just take some minor changes to feel good again.

In this series I will address the four topics that I feel are most important to my personal physical health and illness prevention, and hope they align with your needs as well.

Part 1 - Read all labels - Be proactiveThe National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that 884 chemicals available for use in bath and body products have been reported to the U.S. government as toxic substances, yet the FDA allows many of these chemicals to be used as ingredients because of their low dosage within each bottle. However, over an extended period time these chemicals have been proven to cause harm to the skin as well as internal organs.

Preservatives are among the worst ingredients. Top on the list of wide-spread use is the family of Parabens: Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethyparaben, ButylParaben, and Isobutylparaben. These are well-known to be toxic and allergenic preservatives which have been linked to increasing estrogen levels in women and are implicated in the rising incidents of breast cancer.

As with food, chemical preservatives are used because they are much cheaper and longer-lasting than natural alternatives. Skin care products do not (and should not) last for ever. All-natural products have a very limited shelf life of only 6-12 months, and in this mass-production-world we live in, many products don’t even make it to the shelves in that short amount of time, and so these chemicals go into our products unchecked. The bad news is that parabens, often disguised in labeling as PHBs, are nearly everywhere. The good news is if you do decide to use products without parabens, storing these natural alternatives in the fridge to help extend their life, and in turn, yours as well.

Other Synthetic Preservatives include: Imidiazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin, 2-Bromo-2-Nitro-Propane-1, 3-diol (Bronopol), Benzalkonium Chloride, Dantoin 685, Quarternium, Chloromethylisothiazolinone, Isothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA). Nearly all of these preservatives, including Parabens, contain and release Formaldehyde, a colorless, irritating substance that is severely toxic when inhaled or swallowed.

Second only to parabens are Sulfates: Sulfate, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. These ingredients, used for emulsification in body products, are as widely used as parabens and just as controversial. Although the American Cancer Society has stated that Sulfates do not cause cancer (non-carcinogenic), these studies were conducted over only two years and do not attest to lifetime usage. These studies did conclude that these additives “can be harsh and drying to the skin,” and are “harmful to marine life and the environment.” Worse, sulfates have been found to increase the absorption of other chemicals, break down lipids (fats), and impair the skin's ability to retain moisture (irony or conspiracy?). Abroad, sulfates have been used in Japanese studies to promote bacterial mutations and are classified as mutagens, meaning they alter cellular genetic material. GROSS!

More specifically, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is an industrial de-greasing agent, and widely used in automotive garages to take the grease off floors and equipment. When applied to the skin, it strips off the natural oil layer and erodes the skin, leaving it rough and pitted. Studies have shown that shampoos with SLS can slow healing and keep children's eyes from developing properly. It can also be linked to cataracts in adults and delay the healing of wounds on the surface of the cornea. SLS builds up in the heart, liver, lungs and brain and can cause major problems in these areas. It is such a caustic cleaner that it corrodes hair follicles, impairing the ability to grow hair.

Petroleum, essentially a crude oil, is another unhealthy substance that goes unchecked by the FDA. Many products contain petroleum, such as most commercial lip balms, most candles, paraffin wax, mineral oil, and of course, petroleum jelly. It has been proven to deplete the body’s own natural moisture, as in the case of lip balms, causing you to need increasing amounts of their product (irony or conspiracy?). Petroleum is toxic, and remains on top of your skin, clogging your pores and blocking natural perspiration, excretion, and absorption of nutrients while contributing to blemishes. When used in waxes, it becomes a sticky sealant that attracts pollutants, dirt, and bacteria to the skin as it seals the pores. When used in solvent alcohols, such as propyl, isopropyl, Sd40 and ethyl alcohols (all “petrolatums”), they strip the skin of its protective acid mantle and cause chronic drying of the top layers.

There are two more ingredients related to the oil industry that are found in body products.

Toluene, originally used in gasoline as a blending agent, is used as a solvent in cosmetics, especially nail polish and dyes. It is toxic and narcotic in high concentrations.

Propylene Glycol, a common ingredient in brake fluids, paint, varnishes and anti-freeze compounds appears in beauty creams, cleansers, make-up and children's toiletries as a moisture-carrying ingredient. Drums of this chemical come to suppliers with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which reads: "If on skin, thoroughly wash with soap and water." The American Academy of Dermatologists published a clinical review in January 1991 that showed that propylene glycol caused a significant number of reactions and was a primary irritant to the skin even in low levels of concentration. Yet it is still quite widely used.

Finally we get to the most ironic ingredient found in bath and body products: Alcohol. Generally we know cosmetic (rubbing) alcohol to be used for cleaning, cleaning wounds, sanitizing hospitals and other health work areas. But as a skin product ingredient, it is a known drying agent to the hair and skin. It is more of a preservative than anything else, and can provoke a late allergic reaction in some users. Some alcohols have been stated by suppliers as helpful, leaving the hair and skin with a “velvety feeling.” This velvety feeling is due to a wax buildup from Cetearyl Alcohol, a thickener and carrier used in most lotions that will clog the pores and tax the natural defenses of the skin.

Other alcohols you will see in your bath and body products include Lauryl Alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol, Ethyl Alcohol (or Ethanol), Methyl Acetate Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK), Bronopol, Butyl Acetate, Ethyl Acetate, Oleyl Alcohol, Benzyl Acetate, Ketones, and Acetone.

The worst of these is Benzyl Acetate, a known carcinogen that has been associated with pancreatic cancer. It is also an eye and lung irritant. Even Witch Hazel, a “natural” astringent can have as much as 20% alcohol content, so make sure even when making natural choices that you still read the label! Thayer’s Witch Hazel, for instance, has no alcohol and can be purchased at most health-food stores.

The Cosmetic Labeling Act of 1977 legally requires suppliers to include all ingredients on the label. If the label includes the words “and others,” put it down. These “and others” can be harmless, but could also cause allergic reactions or worse. Same with "fragrance."

Reading all the labels in your life is a daunting task, but one that will improve the health of you and your family. For the first few months after this research I carried around the list of harmful substances in my purse for reference when I shopped and suggest you do the same. Many products that claim to be natural include some or many of these ingredients! Educate yourself and others and buy (true) natural.

And finally on to the DIY IDEA: Many of my favorite lotions and shampoos have been removed from my bathroom becuase they don't stand up to the label test, so I began creating my own with Whole Foods' generic brand of unscented lotion and body wash. The ingredients list is short, and I just added my own favorite essential oils to smaller bottles and made my own line. You can add aloe, hemp oil, olive oil, shea butter, or other favorites to this mix as well.

Other nasty ingredients to avoid:

Acetic Acid- a skin irritant that is toxic to the lungs.
A-pinene - A major component of turpentine that can damage your immune system.
A-terpineol - prolonged exposure can cause edema and/or respiratory difficulties.
Benzaldehyde - a narcotic and anesthetic that can depress the central nervous system.
Boric Acid - poisonous at doses of 1-3g for babies, 5g for children, and 15-20g for adults.
Calcium Chloride - causes lung difficulties
Fluoride - a toxic substance that is very harmful to the liver if swallowed.
Lanolin - causes allergic reactions and is NOT helpful in treating topical skin rashes
Linalool - a narcotic substance that can impair respiratory function and motor activity
Nitrosamines - carcinogenic compounds such as DEA, MEA, and TEA.
Polyvinylpyrrolidone - PVP- inhaled particles cause problems in the lungs. Quaternium-15 - toxic chemical effective against bacteria.
Triclosan - causes liver damage and eye deterioration.

Products known to cause allergic reactions: Palmitate, Para-aminobenzoic Acid (PABA), Sodium Thioglycolate, Thioglycolates.

Coloring additives that are permitted but suspected of being carcinogenic, teratogenic, or toxins: Blue Aluminum Lake 1&2, Red No.19, Aluminum Lake, Zirconium Lake, and Yellow No.8.

Keep reading: Healthy Living 2 - Healthy Eating

Friday, July 16, 2010

Photobook Printing

In starting to look at photobooks as a professional add-on, I'm diving into the options with my researcher's eye. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of photo book printers and photo hosting websites out there, where does one begin? I started with the reviews at the bottom, but shortly began to see that I already had my opinions...

If you're an amateur, there is a plethora of choices for family-grade materials. I say family, because with little hands all over photobooks, it's a waste of money to get the super-archival, plush leatherbound versions that are meant for the treasure locker.

To start, Shutterfly, Kodak Gallery, and Snapfish are all in the same league, some with more options than others, some with better base designs and help, but all starting at a reasonable price. What you get with these types is photo sharing so families can contribute to the same album.

Shop them all to see which format you like the best, which is easiest for you to navigate, and which stands out the best to you and your style. Also test multiple sites if you're new to uploading, one might work better with your operating system or version of Java than the other. But they're all very similar, and you may already be using their photo storage and sharing, so stick with them for easy uploading- your photos are already there!

I've used all three of these sites, and personally I like Kodak Gallery the best for the quality and options for design, frequent sales and discounts, and ease of uploading. Plus, you know you're getting Kodak paper.

A lot of my friends who use Macs swear by iPhoto's versions of book printing, and as above, if you're already using iPhoto for storage and sharing, it makes no sense to switch.

For those who like the image-wrap style, stick with Smilebooks, who does this style to the hilt. Dozens of styles, but all with images on the entire cover (like a text book, to me). Great for class trips and family reunions or anything in bulk quantity. I've seen small 4x4 wedding books done this way as a guest gift, shipped with the thank you card. GREAT idea.

If you're a professional, or want professional grade results for a particular event or memory, you will pay a little more for paper quality, high-end wrapping, and layouts, but your clients will see the difference. Create a book that they can't create themselves!

Start with Picaboo, which has a library of options at your fingertips and prices that start LOW and go HIGH, ranging from $10 to $350. The platform is easy to use, like Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly, and the one-stop create-and-buy screens walk you through the process in a breeze. If you're only doing photobooks, this one's a great choice.

If you want to one-shop your photobooks and event photo sales, check out Printroom, with several easy to learn uploading and creating programs to choose from, as well as high end paper and binding, this site is great for new pros because there is a limited free option to test out, as well as a $10 or $20 per month membership option; the premium offering sales, products, galleries, and unlimited storage.

Take a step up to Pictage, which starts at $20 per month, but offers much more than other sites with marketing help, directory listings, album design services, and more, in addition to the products, sales, and galleries. Among my peers, Pictage is definitely the company-of-choice, and their customer service is impeccable!

Last worth note, Adoramapix seems to have some great reviews, great quality for printing, and super cheap prices. The site is easy to use, while offering additional perks to all mentioned above, such as custom hard covers and panoramic spreads. I also love this site because it's also a photographer's hub, with reviews of equipment, forums for sharing, and a full learning center. The only rub is they don't offer the for-sale pictures gallery that the Pictage and Printroom do.

Hosting only
One last note on photo hosting... When I first started reading into photo hosting for sale of individual photos to wedding attendees, I gathered a big list of names but for many, the names alone deterred me, just seeing my brides wincing at sending links to their guests such as "Smugmug," fearing what that implies to them! There are planty more that sound more professional- Zenfolio, Photoshelter, Pictage, but they only provide photo hosting and sale.

For me, having all this in one stop is just easier. Those companies that only offer photo hosting and sale and don't provide photographers with the creative keepsakes are missing out.

But don't take my word for it... see what other's have said

The very best head-to-head review (but watch out, it's LONG):

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Joan's Gluten Free Great Bakes

It's no wonder this company has the word "great" in the business's name; I've been sampling their products for over a week now and am astonished, truly taken aback, that they are actually gluten free.

We've ordered Joan's everything bagel, plain bagel, and english muffins, all with great texture, perfect substituted-flour ratio, and delicious flavor; and after a year of being off these favorite glutenous baked goods, it's sure awesome to have them back!

What makes Joan's goods unique is that they arrive frozen in a dry-ice container and are only partially baked (if at all?), so you are instructed to let them defrost (or nuke-defrost) and bake them for twenty minutes at 425. This way you're not toasting and reabaking the bagel or muffin (and reducing the quality of their texture in my opinion), you're actually getting hot, fresh baked goods right from your own oven.

Other than Udi's bread, I haven't found anything that actually tastes like homemade glutenous bread. Although I've been off gluten for over a year now and might be biased in forgetting what "real" bread tastes like, Joan's passed the test of the non-GF's in the house as well, which is always the final test!

A truly amazing find, a big thanks to Mamma Jehn and Joan Popkin for going the extra mile in getting them in time for us to try! They also survived the trip back to Colorado in my carry-on, staying frozen for most of the day, and tasting fine out of the freezer a few days later.

Joan not only offers bagels and muffins, but pizza, breads, cornbread, cookies and rolls as well. For more on Joan's Gluten Free Great Bakes, visit their website at