Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Herbs

Spring is a time of joyous anticipation, which in Colorado comes between major snow falls. Under that snow however, I know the herbs are starting to stir and getting all the moisture they need. Chives for me is the first sign of spring. I have a small clump near my back door and the sun shines there to melt the snow pretty quickly. I'll probably snip a few inches of chives to put in cream cheese to have with my bagel. They don't dry well so enjoy your chives now (or freeze some). Clary sage, mint and parsley are also visible at times.

At this time of year I am also thinking about what herbs I didn't have enough of last year so that I can plan to put more in. Among these are calendula, mint, lavender and rose. Calendula I probably use the most of in my skin care products. It is high in carotenoids which help skin cells grow to promote wound healing and help replenish the epithelial cells. This is always important but becomes more so as we age.

Given one extra year mint will probably grow quite sufficient this summer so I won't worry about putting more of that in. I make a mint infused oil to use in many of my products as mint helps to soften the skin and leaves a nice feel. I’ll be putting in more lavender of course, probably one to two more rows. Perhaps another rose bush, but again, with one more year’s growth my roses should be flourishing this summer. I choose my roses based on having high fragrance.

Here are some other things I've seen around the beds.
Sorrel is up, maybe this year I'll remember to make some sorrel soup.

Dandelion is always one of the first to appear. I'll pick a few leaves off these to add to a salad. They are quite good when young, especially among other salad greens.And here is salad burnett which I can also pick now for a salad along with what looks to be like calendula leaves starting to pop through.

Besides planning for this year’s plantings I like to go through what dried herbs I have from last year and use up what is left. One fun way to use up these herbs is to do a steam facial. Almost any herbs will work for this but rose petals, chamomile, mint and fennel are some favorites. Put a handful of dried herbs in a bowl and pour boiling water over it. Hold your head over the bowl with a towel over your head to help hold in the steam. Let the steam rise to your skin to hydrate, clean your pores and relax your body. What herbs do you have to use up before you harvest this summer?

This is part of a blog party hosted by Cory Trusty. Who by the way is a Floridian so probably is doing lots with herbs right now and may not understand the northerners snowy spring! You can see what she is up to here:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wooden Soap Box

Wordless Wednesday.

These are soapboxes my husband has made for me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Caffeine; friend or foe?

Some of us are quite dependent on our morning caffeine usually in the form of coffee or tea. Caffeine is in a chemical class called alkaloids which was first defined as a natural substance that reacts like a base, or alkali. Although they don’t have a strict definition, most alkaloids are derived from amino acids and because of that they contain a nitrogen group. They are typically described as having a bitter taste that is tasted more at the back of the tongue. Having their atoms arranged in a ring structure as seen in these structural diagrams is also typical. Notice the 4 nitrogens (N) in both xanthine and caffeine.

Caffeine is more descriptively a xanthine as is theophylline (found in tea) and theobromine (found in cocoa).

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system which results in increased alertness and thought formation. Other sources of caffeine include yerba mate and guarana plants which are sometimes used for weight loss and increased energy as well as cocoa. Caffeine can also act as an antioxidant, protecting the body from free radical damage.

In addition, caffeine appears to have some anti-inflammatory and vasoconstriction effects which has brought it to the attention of those interested in skin care. It has recently been found in many anti-cellulite products. Some short term studies have shown a positive effect with topical use of caffeine, but no long term improvements have been documented. Caffeine is metabolized in the liver to paraxanthine which has an effect on fat to break it down. Green tea w caffeine has been found to inhibit formation of skin tumors in mice. Tea and coffee both make good additions to skin care in my opinion because they are high in antioxidants. Ground coffee is great in soap and can help remove other less desirable smells (fish?).

Caffeine is similar in structure to another naturally occurring alkaloid in the body, adenosine. Adenosine acts in the body to help promote sleep. Now caffeine is not similar enough in shape to act the same way as adenosine, but rather it blocks adenosine from acting. This blocks the promotion of sleep – or wakes us up! Caffeine can also increase levels of the ‘pleasure inducing’ neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin making us ‘feel good’. This may be one reason many people enjoy a caffeine drink after dinner. Of course caffeine can be overused and lead to heart rhythm disorders, anxiety, insomnia and mood changes. Withdrawal can cause headache and irritability. So enjoy your caffeine in small amounts.

Just an fyi; There was recently a bill proposed in Colorado by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Colorado Women's Lobby that would have banned the use of coffee in skin care products because it is a possible carcinogen according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer list 2B. This bill was turned down thankfully as it would have banned a number of other natural ingredients used in cosmetics. Care needs to be taken when organizations who propose to be protecting us get carried away. So for now you can continue to use coffee in your scrubs and soaps, but be vigilant as to what legislation may be around the corner.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Purslane fights xenoestrogens!

There has been some talk lately about environmental estrogens and for good reason. The National Toxicology Program has some concern that these endocrine disruptors may cause problems with human development and reproduction. Endocrine disrupters act like hormones to interfere with normal function of body hormones such as estrogen. These xenoestrogens can be byproducts of industrial, agricultural and chemical companies and can act as estrogens in both humans and wildlife causing potential ecological and human health impact.
One of these endocrine disruptors is Bisphenol A or BPA which is produced in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It can be found in foods and beverages because of leaching from packaging. Plastics made from BPA typically have a #7 on the bottom as their recycling code.

An interesting study recently has found that the common garden weed, purslane, may have a very practical use in removing BPA from landfill leachates and industrial wastewater, a process known as bioremediation.
In this study, Japanese scientists from Osaka University incubated bacteria free cultures of Portulaca oleracea (purslane) with the endocrine disruptor, bisphenol A (BPA). The concentration of BPA used was one that is frequently detected in landfill leachates (50 micromolar).
BPA levels in the water began decreasing almost immediately after incubation with P. oleracea with more that 90% of the BPA removed from the water within a 24 hour period. Controls were used to verify that BPA removal did not occur without the presence of the plant. In addition to looking for the actual presence of the BPA chemical, activity measurements confirmed that BPA was indeed removed from the water.
Scientists confirmed that the plant was not simply absorbing the BPA and accumulating it in its own tissue and speculated that the plant was metabolizing BPA into a compound that does not have endocrine-disrupting activity.
Besides BPA, scientists also found that P. oleracea was able to remove several other previously identified endocrine disruptors as well. Although over 100 typical garden plants were used in this study, P. oleracea was the most successful.
As if this weren’t enough, purslane is an edible weed that is very high in omega 3 fatty acids. In many parts of the world it is eaten as a vegetable. It should be coming up in many areas now as spring approaches. Look for it in your yard and consider tossing some in a salad – of course make sure it is grown in a clean place.

Imai, S. Shiraishe, A., Gamo, K., et al., Removal of phenolic endocrine disruptors by Portulaca oleracea. J. Biosci. Bioeng. 2007;420-426.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Saving Our Natural Skin Care Products

Monday was a small victory for those of us in the skin care business. The Colorado Legislative Committee turned down a bill that would have eliminated many of the ingredients used by both small and large manufacturers and loved by customers. Ironically, the very people who are trying to take these things away from us are the people telling you they are trying to protect them; the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Its very unclear to me what their motive is and that of their parent group the Environmental Working Group. Out of an apparent fear of chemistry they want to ban an extraordinary number of chemicals from skin care, chemicals that we eat in our food everyday. Their fear of chemistry is such that it prevents them from seeing that many of the chemicals they would like to ban are ubiquitous chemicals occurring naturally in our environment; chemicals that compose the aroma molecules of essential oils, the antioxidants of vegetable oils, and miscellaneous molecules of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Did the relatively few small businesses that supported this bill even read the list of substances to be banned? I doubt it. If they had they would see that passing this bill would have made it impossible for any cosmetic company to manufacture or sell in the state of Colorado, including themselves. Following is a summary of the afternoon in the legislature.

Initially there was much questioning directed toward Representative Primavera about wording of the bill and why the EU should govern what we do. It was decided that those opposed to the bill would speak first with a total time limit for the entire opposition at 40min (not including questions). The Personal Care Products Council (a trade organization) was the first to speak addressing that the US has had legislation in place to control cosmetics ingredients for many years, longer than the EU.

Some of the speakers were:
Dr. Richard Adamson, NIH, Dr. Philip Guzelian, University of Colorado, Mike Thompson and John Bailey, Personal Care Products Council, Tim Long, Proctor and Gamble, Jordan Lipp a private lawyer, Alan Lewis of Vitamin Cottage, Jerrel & Ellisa Klaver from Salus, one Avon sales associate and myself, Cindy Jones, Ph.D. of Sagescript Institute.

Testimony included these points:
Most things on the list are not carcinogenic or not carcinogenic at levels found in cosmetics.
FDA oversees cosmetics and has done so since the 1970's (Long before the EU did).
Even though the EU bans 1100 chemicals from cosmetics most of those have no relation to cosmetics and include things like diesel fuel.
Many things on the list are regulated more in the US because they are considered OTC drugs here whereas in Europe they are not.
The bill would hurt not only large business but also small businesses making it impossible to manufacture or sell cosmetics in Colorado.
Even considering just the amended version of the bill; because analytical testing ability for substances like lead and arsenic are so sensitive it would be impossible to find any product that did not contain these ubiquitous molecules.
Substances on the lists including acetaldehyde, caffeic acid, methyleugenol, 5-methoxy psoralen, (2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, and safrole may sound scary, but are a natural part of many fruits, vegetables, herbs and essential oils. Non-steroidal estrogens are a natural part of vegetable oils.
There is no evidence that anyone has been harmed by any of the ingredients on the lists.
The law is most likely unconstitutional and opens things wide for law suits that do not have to show harm or even have a client.

Those speaking in favor of the bill included Susan Rolle of the Women's Lobby and cofounder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. In favor of the bill she said "I wish we had more science but we don't". She mentioned several times that cosmetics companies sold different, safer products in the EU than here, but when pressed she could only name one company who did that and sold nail products rather than skin products.
Their scientific expert, Dr. David Norris from University of Colorado, is an environmental ecologist. He addressed the number of environmental estrogens in the waterways and their effects on fish. But he admitted that they probably do not come from cosmetics and that there was no way to identify naturally occurring ones from those that originated in cosmetics. Other proponents included an RN who didn't like the chemical smell of one of the hospital products she was using and a business owner who thought that natural was better. And no, I don't know what these statements had to do with the bill either.

I want to thank Proctor and Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Estee Lauder, and the Personal Care Products Council for coming. We didn't expect big business there but were glad for the support. Next time call ahead and you can take some small business leaders to dinner!

So there may be some work to do in the cosmetics field to make it safer and perhaps 'self-policing' is not working as well as it should, broad legislation that makes it impossible to work within its bounds is ridiculous. And adding new laws is rarely the answer to any problem.

Hopefully my next blog post will be something more fun.


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