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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rest and Relaxation

Although I am very reluctant to take vacation I do see its importance in just clearing the mind for new thoughts.  Last week I went to the beach in Mexico for some rest and relaxation and here are some random thoughts.

When on vacation, get in the water no matter how cold it is, its why you are there.
When at an ‘all inclusive’ its best to not start drinking until noon. Drink more water than alcohol.
Simple things like the cleaning staff leaving towels folded like animals makes thing more fun.
At the all you can eat buffet try to focus on fresh fruit; I had some delicious melon.
Talk to new people, even if they don’t speak English. Its fun to figure out ways to communicate.

Living in the US we are lucky to have a relatively short plane ride to warmer weather in Mexico; Europeans don’t have a similar place that is close in the winter.

Sunscreens can damage coral reefs and the ocean. Go easy, try wearing a coverup. You can read a little more about it in my other blog.
Get out of the resort and find an old fishing village to walk around and get a sense of culture.
Europeans smoke alot! I know that is a stereotype, but I am just not used to being around smokers.

Highlights of our trip:

yoga and zumba on the beach
snorkeling on the coral reefs
walking through Mayan ruins
paddle boarding in the ocean
kayaking in the ocean
swimming in pale blue blue ocean water
getting a great book read (Wild by Cheryl Strayed)
long walks on the beach

After not having thought about much for a week (especially work) I’m sure that my business will benefit from some great ideas. One big realization though is knowing that I have a great staff who can take care of things while I am gone. As our company has grown I have benefited from hiring great people who add much to the company.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Easy Herb Drying

This time of year I start to think about spring and what I need to do to get ready for the rush of farming. I remember not having enough space in my herb hut where I dry my herbs. I have a vinyl covered garage building where I dry herbs and inside I have shelves and tables to hold baskets and to lay out herbs. In our dry climate it usually doesn't take long for the herbs to dry so they rotate through the herb hut pretty quickly. But I still need more SPACE.

Two years ago my husband picked up some bread racks at the ReStore because he thought I might find a use for them. Well, I realized that they make very good herb drying racks; I just don't have enough of these plastic bread trays to fully utilize the racks.

So I asked my husband to make some trays that would fit and he came up with these. They are made from standard molding that is 3 feet long, cut and nailed together with a new nail gun he recently got. On the bottom he stapled down some screen material. The sides of these are about 2 inches high and they fit on the bread racks nicely.The screening on the bottom will let enough air circulate so the herbs can dry.

The above picture is our prototype which seems pretty sturdy and easy to handle. Now he can make a lot of them quickly.  This almost makes me excited about cleaning out the herb hut to get it ready for spring/summer!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Five Enzymes Found in Skin

Enzymes are basically proteins that speed up th rate of a chemical reaction. In other words, they make things happen that otherwise would be so slow as to be negligible.  There are many enzymes in skin, these are a few.

1. Tyrosinase – this enzyme regulates the production of skin pigment (melanin).  It is involved in the initial step of melanin (pigment) production by adding a hydroxyl group to the amino acid tyrosine (tyrosine hydroxylation). Some skin lightening products are formulated to inhibit this enzyme.

2. Matrix Metalloproteinases (MMP) – are responsible for breaking down proteins. They are found throughout the body but in skin their role is to breakdown and recycle the skin matrix of the dermis, specifically collagen and elastin. Typically, this is a bad thing because it weakns the matrix and leads to wrinkles; however, this is a good thing if the enzymes are breaking down damaged or worn out structural proteins, facilitating wound healing, or clearing a way for white blood cells to move into infected areas. Some skin care ingredients are designed to inhibit these enzymes.
3. prolyl-4-hydroxylase and lysyl-hydroxylase – These enzymes are responsible for making  collagen, one of the structural proteins of the skin. These enzymes require vitamin C to do their job. In face deficiencies in vitamin C result in the disease scurvy due to impaired collagen. Some skin care ingredients are designed to help boost these enzymes; vitamin C for one.

4. Glutathione-s-transferase (GST) – Glutathione S-transferases (GSTs) are a family of Phase II detoxification enzymes that work in the skin and other organs to protect cells from attack by reactive electrophiles. They do this by binding reduced glutathione to the toxic agents. This is the first step in removing these agents. The role of GST in cancer is widely studied.

5. Kallikreins – these are part of a large family known as Serum Proteases that break peptide bonds in proteins. In the skin they help with desquamation. They do this by breaking down the proteins that connect one cell to another in the stratum corneum.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ring Botanicals Perfume

One of my favorite things about having a business is the fascinating people that it has brought into my life. One of those is Jessica Ring, of Ring Botanicals, who has a way with both words and plant essences. 

Jessica is a distiller, a perfumer, and a poet, living on her family farm in Oregon. She distills native Pacific Norwest botanicals as well as farm botanicals to create hydrosols and essential oils that she uses to make natural perfumes.

Recently we decided to trade some products and I excitedly chose two of her perfumes perfumes; Copal Rose and Spice Lavender. Rose and lavender are two of my favorite herbs and fragrances and I was anxious to experience what Jessica did with them.

The Rose Copal has a sweet, warm, somewhat spicy aroma with scents of balsam. Just lightly floral the scent is almost springlike. With time the rose fragrance seems to become more dominant. In fact, I liked it even more after it had been on my skin an hou.

Lavender Spice is a very warm fragrant blend that warmed me on a cold winter day. It is lightly floral light but with the warm, woodsy fragrance of balsam and vanilla.  With time it seems to become more spicey and delicious.

Both reminded me of the Northwest Forests where they were made. And both stay on the skin for a long time.

I love that she says she offers ‘wilderness in a bottle’. You can learn more about Jess and her perfumes here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

US Lavender Conference 2015

What a great few days I had with other lavender growers in San Antonio last week for the United States Lavender Growers Association (USLGA) meeting. I have to say that lavender grower meetings are the most fun meetings I get to attend. USLGA is a relatively new organization, officially formed April 27, 2012 after more than a year of hard work by an organizing committee. I am proud that I was part of that organizing committee, a founding member and a founding board member of USLGA.

So let me tell you a few things I learned while there. Photographer Scott David Gordon gave a great talk on tips for taking farm photography as well as using social media such as Instagram. I think its great that Johnson’s Backyard Garden, which is actually a quite large farm in Texas, hires Scott to take farm pictures on a weekly basis. His work there has helped the farm grow and be more successful.

I went to Robert Seidel’s (of the Essential Oil Company) talk on distilling. He has traveled the world observing and consulting on distilling projects of every kind and had great stories to tell. Aromatherapist Mindy Green talked about some of the properties of lavender essential oil and about making claims (or not). 

Another good talk was Mary Bergstrom talking on the importance of taking measurements; a definite weakness of mine. However, taking measurements in any type of business is important so that you can grow your business. Mary is the President of USLGA and has an extensive background in project management and business solutions. For someone like me with no business background her information is always welcome and I constantly get good ideas from her about how to track and measure outcomes in my business. So if you are not recording any measurements in your business yet, start today. Once you start its easier to add more measurements and understand their importance.

Did you know that there are hundreds of different varieties of lavender? And yes, they look rather similar. Andy Van Hevelingen talked some on distinguishing these varieties. The photo above are some of the bunches he brought.

There were also round table discussions on growing, advocacy, weather related issues, and more. No one went away without new ideas and inspiration.

If you are a lavender grower or enthusiast, I hope you will join USLGA.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What is the Best Preservative?

I repeatedly get asked “what is the best preservative to use in my natural product?” so I thought I’d address it here. Basically, there is no ‘best’ preservative and preservatives will behave differently in different formulations. So, unfortunately, there is no way to predict whether or not your preservative will work. It really is a matter of trial and error.

Preserving a product means to inhibit growth of microorganisms. These microorganisms are broken up into two categories; bacteria and fungus (including yeasts). For identification purposes, bacteria are categorized as either gram positive or gram negative. This is dependent on their ability to take up a certain dye which is determined by characteristics of their cell wall. Some preservatives work better at inhibiting one or the other. The term broad spectrum means that the preservative is effective at inhibiting a wide range of microbes in both categories.

Some of the new preservatives, although considered more natural, need to be used at much higher concentrations than some of the ‘tried and true’ preservatives. This may increase the possibility of irritant reactions due to the higher amounts. So please try to use the lowest amount possible that will work in your product.

That said, I’ll go over some of the preservatives that I use for natural products.

Trade Name

Geogard Ultra (sold by Lotioncrafter as Neodefend)

Sodium Benzoate and Gluconolactone
Broad spectrum
Approved by ECOCERT. Requires a slightly acidic pH (below pH 6)
Sodium Benzoate
Sodium Benzoate
Up to 1%, lower amounts work fine
Primarily anti-fungal with less anti-bacterial
Requires acidic pH, around 4 - 5
Biguanide 20
Polyaminopropyl Biguanide
Cationic broad spectrum but sometimes weak on fungus
I like it for clear products like distillates, toners. Do not use with xanthan gum or liquid soap.
Leucidal Liquid
Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate
Broad Spectrum
Approved by ECOCERT. For me this has not worked well in many formulas. I’ve had some luck using it with rather clear toners though.
Potassium Sorbate
Potassium Sorbate
Primarily Anti-fungal
Most active at pH 4-5
Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol
Use between pH 4-8. Broad Spectrum
Has worked well in most products for me
Optiphen ND
Phenoxyethanol (and) Benzoic Acid (and) Dehydroacetic Acid
Works best below pH 6, broad spectrum
Works well in most products
Optiphen Plus
Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid
Works best below pH 6, broad spectrum
Works well in most products
Most active against gram negative bacteria
More soluble in oil than water which is why it is often sold in a combination.
Plantaservaitve Wsr (Honeysuckle)
Lonicera Caprifolium Extract, Lonicera Japonica Extract
Broad Spectrum, Must be neutralized with citric acid first.
Has worked well in some situations.
Phytocide OS
Sambucus Nigra Fruit Extract
Broad spectrum
This is oil soluble and I’ve found it to work in limited products.
Linatural NLPO
Citrus Aurantium (orange oil), Cymbopogon Citratus (lemon grass oil), Sesamum Indicum (sesame oil)
Broad spectrum
Has worked in some products. Has a quite citrusy aroma.

There are other so called natural preservatives besides these including aspen bark, willow bark, and various fermentation filtrates as well as preservatives based on essential oils.
Some products are just harder to preserve than others, particularly those that contain a lot of herbs and nutrients. Bacteria and fungus love herbs and nutrients as much as we do.

I never recommend silver or Tinosan products. I fear that it builds up in the environment and will cause problems with time. Perhaps I’ll be proved wrong but I am just not comfortable using a heavy metal.

There are many other so called natural preservatives that you can learn about initially by browsing supplier’s websites. If you want to try several, you’ll just have to buy a few, use them in your product and see what happens.

Before paying for expensive challenge testing, try challenging them yourself initially. To do this, make your product, split into several jars and use a different preservative in each jar (measuring each carefully). Stick your dirty fingers into the jar daily over several days and let it set for several weeks to see if visible fungus develops. But remember, just because visible fungus doesn’t grow does not mean your product is not contaminated. The word microbe is short for microorganism. These are things that cannot be seen with the naked eye, sometimes they are even too small to see with a standard microscope. But that does not mean they are not dangerous.

Remember that preservatives are necessary to make a safe product. You don’t want your customers rubbing bacteria and fungus on themselves.

Learn more about Sagescript microbiology testing here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blogging Challenge

I may be getting in over my head but I just signed up for blogging coaching and strategy through my professional network “Indie Business Network”. I have been blogging here since 2007 and two years ago I started a second blog dedicated to my brand of skincare products, Colorado Aromatics. Keeping two blogs is a challenge and differentiating between the two is also challenging. Being part of the ‘Blog Your Brand’ group has several requirements including that 

1.   I post weekly to my blogs (yes, every 7 days!!)
2.  Make comments on other blogs (should be fun)

Donna Marie of Indie Business Network has a lot of good reasons we should blog,  including that it will develop entrepreneurial discipline. I’ve already learned that marketing and selling takes more of my time than to actually make products. I hired help to make products several years ago because I had run out of time to do both.  Believe it or not, she also says it will make my life easier – I can’t wait to see how that will work. Sometimes life can be hard for an entrepreneur who wears so many hats. 

Donna Marie says that blogging will help organize my thoughts which is something I desperately need. Thoughts are constantly whizzing through my brain at sonic booms speeds.

Blogging helps improve mood and decrease stress. Who doesn’t need that?

Most importantly she says that a blog increases visits to your site and increases search engine optimization; something that we all hope will translate into increased sales. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of blogging is that unlike Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media platforms, we own our blogs and the content on those blogs. So whatever paths Facebook or the others decide to take (along with our followers), we will still have our blogs.

Have you ever participated in a blogging challenge? Tell me about it below.

You can read more about why Donna Marie Johnson of Indie Business Network things blogging is so important here.


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