Ingredients 101: Chemicals are bad, aren’t they?

October 14, 2009
Lotions require preservatives

Lotions require preservatives

Yes, parabens have been shown to cause some dermatological reactions, including allergic ones, but they might not be quite as bad as we all seem to think. That said, they are on the ‘Ingredients to Avoid’ list in most cases, along with Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea, the most commonly used preservatives after parabens, well-established as the primary cause of contact dermatitis (American Academy of Dermatology), and also formaldehyde precursors. Indeed, there is a lot of fear around the use of chemicals of any kind in our products, including ones that purport to be ‘natural’. However, many chemicals, as I’ve learned from Cosmetics Unmasked: Your family Guide to safe cosmetics and allergy-free toiletries, are not as terrible as we might think.

At the end of the day, however, we absolutely must have chemical preservatives in our natural products. A top ingredient supplier, Essential Wholesale, outlines their philosophy about the need for preservatives. But this isn’t really about philosophy, belief, or hope, but rather, the science. Essential Wholesale makes some bulk bases for suppliers and has increasingly tried to create the most natural and organic formulations possible, but even products rated 98 percent organic still contain a chemical preservative, namely, phenoxylethanol, often with Tetrasodium EDTA. Essential wholesale knows, as all formulators do, that you cannot sell a product without a preservative. The shelf life is minimal and the product, potentially harmful. Anything that contains water is instantly susceptible to mold, bacterial, and fungal growth in a matter of days, even if created in sterile conditions. A great blog by natural skin care company, Sterling Minerals, has fabulous posts about the chemical side of things, including fillers for mineral make-up and the absolute necessity of chemical preservatives in creams and other hydrous (water-containing) products. By the way, her post on Mineral Make-up contains a brilliant expose of the so-called ‘natural’ (ha-ha) company, Arbonne, and her incredible quest to finally confirm the presence of silicone in their mineral make-up.

Orange Rosewood Facial Cream

Orange Rosewood Facial Cream

Back to preservatives…many of you know that my relationship with preservatives has certainly evolved over time. I just have to say that it is incredibly difficult to find the prefect choice of preservative systems, and at first I mistakenly thought — like many do –that mere refrigeration would do the trick. Even using preservatives like potassium sorbate, I found that the preservative system wasn’t complete, and the product was still susceptible. Not only did I have to recall creams earlier on in my still very small endeavor, but I’ve since had to help customers who had used unpreserved products (made by other businesses) that had had terrible consequences for their skin.  The need for not only a system, but a full-spectrum system, is critical. One preservative might have good action against molds and fungi, but not bacteria. So that preservative has to be combined with another one effective against bacteria. Then you have to find a level that will be perfect in terms of preservation but at the lowest possible percentage in your formulation so as not to cause any irritation. It’s an incredibly difficult task in some respects, especially as you try to find the most gentle chemical preservative system possible.  After use of different systems, I’ve basically come around to Essential Wholesale’s recommended pairing of phenoxylethanol and Tetrasodium EDTA. Caprylyl Glycol is another component of my system that is simply an emollient base for the preservative. The phenoxylethanol basically covers the yeast and bacteria, while Tetrasoidum EDTA binds to components that enable mold to grow. Together, they act as a broad spectrum preservative system.

That said, I’m intrigued by the use of colloidal silver as a preservative, though this preservative requires a number of other chemical buffers, etc, a fact that is usually masked by labeling that purports to have a proprietary colloidal silver ‘formula’. Ah yes, but it looks so natural!  Be aware also that some ‘natural’ companies are able to mask their use of chemical preservatives under the INCI name of ‘fragrance’, which is as sneaky as it gets. For a long time, I would look at Burt’s Bees ingredients list and think, “How on earth do they do it?” Well, they don’t. Now I know.

So readers, what do you want to know more about? The chemicals that are harmful and should be avoided or the ones that appear in our products, sound “unnatural” and yet are perfectly fine, even helpful? I’m all ears. Let’s start a Lilith Round Table!

Immune Boosting Herbs talk @ Holistic Moms Network meeting

October 7, 2009




Tonight I had the pleasure of presenting about the use of herbs to fight colds and flus, particularly with regard to the treatment of small children. The presentation was delivered to a local chapter of the Holistic Moms Network. It’s fun presenting to the choir, more or less, as this group is made up of parents who are interested in holistic health & living in all respects. And such a lovely group of people, dads and moms alike!

We were able to talk about the energetics of foods and herbs, the use of preventative versus acute herbal remedies, and dosages for small children & infants. I am again reminded of how wonderful it is to share knowledge and information about our botanical allies, and of course giving such talks only reinforces that for me. I was reading a bog post on ProBlogger this morning about weighing the cost-benefit of speaking at events for free. In other words, what’s in it for the business? For some people, attending a far away conference to speak without compensation means that they have to figure out why the trip would be worthwhile, whether through contacts, networking, or business sales. I definitely identify with that when I think about my ‘day job’ in Public Health. I also make decisions like that when it comes to my business, Lilith’s Apothecary. But when it comes to herbal medicine, if I can afford it, I am more than happy to participate in any way I can. It’s true that I do indeed have an herbal bath and body business of sorts, but I don’t educate about herbs because I want to sell products. In fact, I hardly even indicated that I have a business tonight. Instead, I want others to learn how to make the products for themselves! Sure, I can make it for you if you don’t have the time or desire (i.e. I can’t sew, so someone has to sew things for me!), but if you want to make your own herbal syrup, by all means! Let’s do it. And doing it together is so much fun.

Holistic Moms Network
NJ/Philadelphia Chapter
Collingswood, NJ 
Thanks for having me!

Other posts that may be of interest:
What to do about H1N1: 5 Tips
Nervous About Swine Flu? Look to Herbal Medicine for Immune Boosting
DIY Remedies for the Cold Season Part I
DIY Remedies for the Cold Season Part II
Herbal Facial Steams for the Cold and Flu Season

A little autumn magic…

October 5, 2009

Ishtar-320piWith the arrival of October, I welcome Autumn, the end of the summer harvest, the real advent of cooler, crisp breezes and sparkling fall days. While springtime seems to be my most productive and invigorating time of year, full of creative new projects, products, and inspiring concoctions, I also find this time of year poignant in many ways. Though it is more a time of retreat and reflection for me, it is also a time of gentle, creative magic and quiet meditation. I often think about the Sumerian goddess, Ishtar, and her decent to the underworld for renewal. She is seen by some scholars as the ‘sacred whore’ but for me, her story is more about our need for retreat, our need for reflection, and perhaps even a need to descend into a time of darkness so that we may find healing and strength. Carl Jung writes of Ishtar as signifying “earth, nature, fertility, everything that flourishes under the damp light of the moon and also the natural life-urge”. (“Adam and Eve”, Mysterium Coniunctionis). Thus, Ishtar might stand, for us, as a return to the earth, and that like the roots of the forest that place their energy now in the roots rather than blossoms and berries, we must now ground ourselves and soak up the nutrients that in decay now cover the forest floor…leaves, nuts, fruits, and other organic matter.


Ishtar Root Tea Decoction

Back in 2005 or 2006, I created my Ishtar Root Blend with this myth in mind, and still find this blend ideal for autumn reflection and healing. Ashwaghanda, an ancient Ayurvedic tonic herb, is an adaptogen that brings balance, immune-building, and calming harmony to our nervous system. Shatavari, the ancient Ayurvedic fertility tonic for women brings fertile ground for our bodies, spirits, and reproductive system; it is indeed but another adaptogen with moistening energetics, soothing vata and providing an ideal tonic following childbirth, sickness, or as a vitality tonic for any time of year. Dandelion and Burdock roots attend to the needs of the liver, providing nourishment and nutrients to this oft’ overworked organ, the very organ responsible for processing hormones, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, environmental toxins, and fats & sugars from the food we eat. Cinnamon provides a warming energetic and catalyst to spark the other herbs into action, soothe one’s belly, and provide that delicious taste craved by many this time of year. In sum, I find it a lovely, nourishing accompaniment to autumn’s necessary moments of reflection and building of inner strength and peace. Namaste.


Directions for preparing a root decoction:
1. Measure 2 Tbsp of root blend and place in a pot with 1 quart of water to simmer.
2. Simmer roots for at least 15-20 minutes. Add milk and simmer a little longer if desired.
(*in Ayurveda, a Shatavari root tea is often simmered with milk and cinnamon and then honey and ghee, or clarified butter, would be added before drinking)
3. Steep 10-15 min longer with the pot covered.
4. Strain and drink as much as desired, or, in 1 cup increments 2-3x a day
5. Decoction will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
6. Drink with honey and/or ghee if desired!



By the way, for other magical connections to the earth around us, you might check out these additional delights:
Lady Lavona’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Cider and Faun
Violet Folklore
For Strange Women
Swan Bones Theatre
Totus Mel’s Wunderkammer