Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tonicity's Effects on Cells

I enjoy writing articles periodically about more serious science topics that play into developing a better understanding of cosmetics. This one is on tonicity. Tonicity refers to the affect of a solution on a cell. A solution  is a mixture of two or more substances in which one (a solute) is dissolved in the other (a solvent). So a solute is the substance that is dissolved in a solvent to form a solution. This solution is homogeneous, meaning that it is a single phase and none of the solute is visible in the solvent. Common solutes would be salt or sugar. A common solvent would be water.

That solute can exert a certain amount of pressure referred to as tonicity. This pressure can affect the fluid volume and the pressure in a cell by affecting the movement of water down its concentration gradient. Yes, water, as other molecules will move down it’s concentration gradient.

Tonicity has three classifications; hypertonicity, hypotonicity and isotonicity. These refer to the concentration of a solution in reference to a living cell (a membrane bound structure). 

Hypotonic –refers to a solution that is lower in solutes than that of the fluid inside of a cell.  As a result, water will flow across the cell membrane into that cell (down its concentration gradient) from the surrounding environment eventually causing the cell to swell and burst (c).

Hypertonic  - refers to a solution that  is higher in solutes than that inside of a cell. As a result, water will flow out of the cell into the surrounding fluid eventually causing the cell to shrink or crenate (d).

Isotonic - refers to a solution whose concentration of solutes is equal to the concentration of solutes inside of a cell. The water flows equally across the membrane in both directions causing no change in the volume or shape of the cell (a,b).

You may have heard of isotonic saline being given as intravenous fluid. Isotonic saline has the same concentration of salt as the blood. The isotonic solution is safe to put into the blood whereas a hypotonic solution would cause blood cells to burst and a hypertonic solution would cause blood cells to shrink which could tear their membranes and cause loss of fluid.

So what does this have to do with skin care? While water movement is important in skin care and we want to make sure we are allowing water to move into the skin not out of the skin, the strength of the stratum corneum is not so fragile that we need to be concerned with tonicity. Where it does come in important is in preservative properties. I’ve had several questions about salt or sugar being preserving and its ability to kill bacteria. While its true that salt and sugar have preserving ability, it is highly dependent on the concentration. When the concentration of salt or sugar is hypertonic to the bacteria water will be pulled out of bacteria cells destroying them. But if that salt or sugar concentration is diluted to isotonic levels the bacteria cell can then thrive. 

Hypertonic solutions are not typically used in skin care because they can have a drying effect on the skin, but they are used in some topical applications. For instance in nasal sprays hypertonic solutions will dry sinuses. Hypertonic solutions can also be used for cleansing wounds or even for exfoliation.
The principle of hypertonic solution for preservation is used somewhat in food applications such as with jams and pickles.  However, the concentration of sugar and salt is still not enough to protect the food so refrigeration or canning is also used. So too with cosmetics, tonicity can help contribute to preservative, but alone is not enough.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Winter Skin Care

In Colorado winter is brutal on the skin. The arid conditions dry the skin, cause chapped hands and lips, and even dryness on areas that don't see the sun. Here are a few tips to help this winter:

1. Drink plenty of water. It will go to the skin to moisturize.

2. Use a mild cleanser in the shower. Some cleansers are harsh and can remove the skin's oils. Most handcrafted soaps are a good choice as they contain a good amount of natural oils. And don't overwash; soap up the personal areas, feet and underarms in the shower. Water may be enough for the rest.
3. Apply body oil or moisturizer immediately after showing while the skin is still damp. This will help lock in that moisture.
4. Don't take too long or too hot of a shower. Both can strip the skin of its natural oils.
5. Try using a salt scrub in the shower. Removing dead skin cells can help the oils soak into the skin better. And its easier in the shower to get to those dry spots. 

6. Wear gloves when going outside to protect your hands.
7. Make sure to get good oils in your diet. These oils help form the barrier function of the skin and hold water in. Olive oil is a good one, use it on your salads and vegetables.

Some people tend to use heavier balms and butters in the winter, the type that do not contain water like a lotion or cream does. Remember that 'moisture' means 'water' so to moisturize your skin you really need a cream or lotion that can actually bring water to the skin. An all oil product can coat and protect the skin from loosing water but cannot add water  to the skin.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nutmeg, a Holiday Spice

Nutmeg, a spice often used in holiday drinks such as eggnog is a nut from several species of the Myristica tree. This is an evergreen tree found in Indonesia. Nutmeg is the seed of the tree while mace is the seed covering or aril; so both of these spices are obtained from the nut. And no, this mace is in no way related to the spray often used for self defense.  Like most herbs, nutmeg is rich in antioxidants but also is said to sooth a stomach ach and help diarrhea. It may also relieve stress and improve mental ability. However, nutmeg is also toxic so keep its use to a few sprinkles. Try buying nutmeg whole and grating it fresh when you use it – it won’t take much because the freshly grated has much more flavor than dried.

There is also some evidence that nutmeg can increase the fat tissue under the skin. This may prove useful in skin care to help fill in wrinkles. Something I will have to look into more.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Market Wine Tasting

We went to a wine tasting today at Blue Mountain Vineyards near Berthoud, Colorado Today. Owners Bill and Christie Prewitt spent the summer vending at the Loveland Farmers Market and invited the other vendors over for an end of the season celebration. We all brought snacks and Bill and Christie poured the whites and reds for our enjoyment. We brought home the Reisling which was interesting in that it was not too sweet but not too dry and the Pinot Noir which we'll probably have with Thanksgiving.
We then got a tour of the property which they are working on setting up as a venue for weddings. Seemed there were lots of fun hiding places in the bushes for young children to enjoy. Even though we've had a frost so nothing was blooming it was still beautiful. It was great too to enjoy the company of other farmers market vendors outside the market in a relaxed setting.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Comfrey Uses

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is one of those herbs that if you have it, you’ll have alot of it; it is very easy to grow and reproduces rapidly.  It is one herb that is still going strong now after the frost. Studies have found that comfrey contains an alkaloid which is toxic to the liver. Most plants however contain both toxins and beneficial chemicals that balance each other out. I’d advice not taking comfrey orally on a daily basis, but occasionally when the need arises I’ve drank comfrey tea.

What can you do with comfrey?

Skin Care:
Make an oil infusion of the leaves or root. Comfrey stimulates cell growth and can help renew skin cells. Comfrey contains allantoin, a chemical that helps skin grow.  You might find this ingredient on the label of a high quality face cream. An infused oil of comfrey is nice in a bath/body oil too.

For Pain:
Comfrey works well for pain relief and an infused oil can be incorporated into a balm used for that purpose. We use it in our Joint Jam. Compresses of comfrey are also good for back pain.

Because it stimulates cell growth it is excellent for treating wounds on the skin as well as sprains and broken bones. Use comfrey on wounds as a poultice or an infusion. Comfrey also decreases inflammation. Use comfrey teas or infusions in the bath. Teas of comfrey are also drank to increase bone growth after a break.

In the Garden
The large leaves of comfrey are great for use as mulch, but comfrey’s most important role is in the compost heap. Its high mineral and nitrogen content will benefit compost. You can also make a tea from comfrey for the garden. If you have comfrey growing at this time of year, be sure to harvest and put it in the compost.

Comfrey is rich in both minerals and protein and makes a good livestock feed. Because of its abundance I’ve given it to my chickens, goats and horses. It’s recommended to at least let it wilt slightly before feeding it to animals so the prickly hairs do not bother them. If you have grazing animals it is great to cut your comfrey for them at this time of year when grass is not abundant for grazing.

This blog is part of a Blog Hop by Possum Creek Herb Farm in Tennessee. Stop by their blog to find other herb posts:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We Love Herbs

We are trying hard to extend the growing season for some of our herbs. Although it doesn't look like it's working well, we are eternal optimists. We are passionate about using herbs in our skin care products.

Besides supporting small farms why do we use herbs in cosmetics?

1. We believe using herbs contributes to a healthier more sustainable lifestyle.
2. Herbs are rich in a variety of nutrients such as carotenoids that provide skin benefits.
3. Herbs are rich in antioxidants that help repair skin damage. 
Some of our favorites are calendula, lemon balm, lavender, raspberry leaf, chamomile and hops.

Friday, October 12, 2012


I am trying to learn more about the native herbs that grow in Colorado so I can rely less on the European herbs that were transplanted here. Did you know that the common yarrow which is native to Colorado has been called ‘field hops’ because it can be used in making beer? It’s young leaves are also edible and can be used dried or fresh in soups and stews. Medicinally, yarrow is an antiinflammatory herb and contains a high amount of saponins which are cleansing, or sudsing agents. Yarrow is also useful for calming irritated and inflammed skin which makes it great for use in skin care products.  Some herbalists use it for cuts as well as bruises and even as a tea to help with colds and flu.

Here is a great blog I came across about the lore of yarrow. 

Do you have a favorite native herb that you use. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lavender Tulsi Mojito

One day last week I had some snags and I was feeling stressed, looking for herbs to 'destress'. Of course I thought of lavender first, but then I remembered Tulsi, or Holy Basil. This herb is phenomenal and I typically make a tincture of it from summer's harvest for use during the winter. 

One day last week I had some snags and I was feeling stressed, looking for herbs to 'destress'. Of course I thought of lavender first, but then I remembered Tulsi, or Holy Basil. This herb is phenomenal and I typically make a tincture of it from summer's harvest for use during the winter. I grow several types of holy basil (Ocimum sanctum); Krishna, Rama, Kapoor and Vana from seeds I bought from Horizon herbs. But I do have difficulty remembering which is which. I believe today I harvested Krishna and Rama. I also have to credit Tina Sams from The Essential Herbal for piquing my interest in Tulsi.

Tulsi is native to India and is often grown at Hindu shrines and temples where it is used for rituals. As an adaptagen and nervine herb I find it great to handle stress. I've also read it is great for respiratory disorders and cough so I will be sure to reach for that this winter when family members are ill.

To make the mojito I put a small clump of basil leaves and a few stalks of lavender buds in a stainless steel martini mixer along with about 2 teaspoons of sugar. Using a muddler, I muddled. You could also crush this in a mortar and pestle.  After muddling I added 3 shots of white rum and 2 shots of lime juice and a few ice cubes; then shook hard (give it your all and get some exercise with it!). Pour about a shot and a half worth into a wine glass and then fill with soda water. Relax and enjoy your drink and attitude adjustment. Let me know how it works for you!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Read a Research Paper

 People say ‘do your own research’ but what does that mean. To a scientist like me it means to design and set up experiments in a lab to address a given hypothesis. But most people cannot do this so I assume that when they say ‘do your own research’ it means to read the research papers for yourself. Research papers are written by scientists after performing a series of experiments that can take years to finish. These written reports are also called ‘primary literature’ because they are the first hand account written by the investigators who do the experiments. These papers are then published in scientific peer reviewed journals for not so leisurely reading.

Secondary literature refers to articles that have been written about this primary literature. These secondary sources include news and magazine articles. In these articles the information has already been synthesized, summarized or evaluated in some way. These secondary sources are not necessarily written by scientists but by reporters so may be missing important information or diluted in such a way to make a tantalizing headline. Websites such as or do not contain primary information but secondary information that has already been interpreted by authors of that site. Be careful that if you really want to understand a given topic or ‘do your own research’ that you are getting your information first hand, from the primary source not a secondary source. You can start your search of primary literature that relates to health issues at the National Library of Medicine (  However, you will only find summaries or abstracts here, full text research articles can sometimes be found online or in a medical library. Be sure to read the entire article, not just the abstract or summary if you want the whole story.

Learn how to critically evaluate a research paper. There will be much jargon in a paper that is not familiar to those outside the given field of study. This requires the reader to have access to dictionaries, textbooks and more that will explain terminology and background information in the paper.

A research paper is typically broken into the following sections; abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion followed by references.

Abstract. This is a summary of the research paper with key results and conclusions. A good place to get an overview of what the paper is about.

Introduction. This is background information. It discusses relevant work that was previously done that may have led the authors to do the current study.

Materials and Methods. This gets into exactly how the experiments were done and what controls were used. This is where having some knowledge of the particular scientific field is important.

Questions the reader needs to ask here include:
Was the study’s design well matched to its purpose?
Are the experiments reproducible?
Is there enough detail in the Materials and Methods to allow another scientist to reproduce the work?
Were the methods consistent across experiments, such as using the same temperatures and time periods?
Are these the best methods to be able to answer the question put forth?
What variables might arise using these methods?
Were the investigators able to control for variables that might arise?

Results. Results are the core of a study; observations, data and other findings are presented here both in the form of pictures, graphs and words. There will be much variability in this section to account for both in measurements (technical) as well as biological variability which refers to the real differences between individuals (human or mouse). You should see a good amount of statistics in this section and knowing how to interpret that is important to assess this section. Don’t rely on the words; look closely at graphs and tables. Look at error bars, sample sizes and standard errors. Are there any data that do not reach statistical significance?

Discussion. This is where the investigators explain their findings, make conclusions based on those findings and address possible short comings or criticisms. Read this carefully to see if you reach the same conclusion that the author does based on the results given or if the author is trying to make a conclusion without having the data to support it. This part of the paper will also discuss how these results fit into other similar research that has been done. Only when there are consistencies among researchers can strong conclusions be made. What new questions arise as a result of these experiments? Its good to be a skeptic but to also be fair.

Above all, it is important to understand that because research builds upon itself and that no one research paper will answer all the questions. Uncertainly is an ongoing fact of science and it takes time to get all the answers. If you are not an expert in the area of research, there’s no doubt an aspect of the study that you will not fully understand. Oftentimes research journals will publish reviews on a given topic. These reviews are written by experts in the area and are an overview of all the published literature on a given topic. Oftentimes reaching a conclusion after reading 5-6 related articles is easier then from reading one paper. Additionally, the Cochrane Collaboration, a non profit independent organization aims to apply meta analysis, a higher level of statistical rigor, to given healthcare problems by grouping like studies to achieve more conclusive answers. And any good scientist knows that with more data conclusions can and do change and scientists need to have open minds. But as on scholar said (Arthur Hays Sulzberger) I believe in an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lavender Face Mask

We spent the weekend in Western Colorado (Palisade, Grand Junction) for the Lavender Association of Western Colorado's second annual Lavender Festival. It included talks, demos and farm tours. After an event is over I always wished I'd taken more pictures, but here is one showing a workshop on wreath making. I did a small demo at our booth doing a lavender facial, below is the recipe for that.

We also got to spend a little time in the beautiful Colorado National Monument and do our favorite hike to Devil's kitchen. And of course we checked out a few of the wineries and breweries in the area as well. Overall a short, but sweet weekend jaunt!

Lavender Facial Mask
(by Cindy Jones, Sagescript Institute,

1 T Lavender buds/leaves, dried
1 T Red Clover blossoms, dried
1 T Cornflower blossoms, dried
3 T Oatmeal

Mix together in food processor
Add a tablespoon of honey and some liquid. The liquid can be water, juice, even yogurt, but the best choice would be a lavender distillate.

Mix into a suitable texture.

Apply to face, relax w a cup of tea, wash herbs off face.

You can basically use any herb combination you have on hand but use enough oatmeal to give it a sticky consistency.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Whats Blooming Wednesday

 We have been busy harvesting and weeding but I wanted to share whats blooming on the farm this week:  Clary Sage which has made it to the still,
 Calendula drying for infusions,
 Hyssop just growing nicely,
 St. John's wort ready to harvest for infusion,
 Cornflower, great for face care but we've not used it yet,
and of course, lavender which we are distilling today.
Hope you enjoy. Cindy

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hops; more than just beer


I love hoppy beers like India Pale Ales and Double IPAs.  Hops is a very aromatic herb that adds bittering and a deeper flavor profile, especially to these types of beer.  Depending on the variety though, hops can add much more – sometimes a floral or citrusy flavor and aroma. The effect hops has on relaxation is definitely noted in beer to say the least. But hops are also good for the skin.

The part of hops used is the flower cluster although it looks more like a cone and is called a strobile. The hops vine is quite vigorous and needs a good framework to grow up.

Hops are very good for treating anxiety and sleeplessness. For this it can be used in a pillow or taken as a tincture. The vines of hops have tiny hairs on them that can cause dermatitis during harvest, however, an extract from hops can help dermatitis. Oral administration of hops can also have a beneficial effect on dermatitis. 

Some of the bitter properties of hops are due to polyphenols, resins, essential oils and alpha acids such as humulones. Humulone in hops can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin and decrease surface blood vessels. It may also have an anti tumor effect.
In one study xanthohumol was found to inhibit elastase and matrixmetalloproteinases. These enzymes in the skin are a significant cause of skin aging as they break down collagen and elastin fibers. When xanthohumol decreases these enzymes, collagen and elastin levels go up. Overall this can improve skin structure. Phytoestrogens in hops such as 8-prenylnaringenin can also have an effect of improving overall skin structure.

According to Wikipedia, hops are toxic to dogs so keep them away from anything made with hops.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What is Vitamin K

Phytochemical series
Vitamin K

Vitamin K is important in blood clotting, building bones and protecting the heart. This fat soluble group of vitamins is found in a number of plants including asparagus, broccoli and leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach. Herbs high in vitamin K include parsley, basil, sage, thyme, cilantro leaf, oregano and marjoram.


There are several forms of Vitamin K; vitamin K1 (phylloquinone or phytomenadione), vitamin K2  (menaquinone).  Menadione, or vitamin K3 is a synthetic form of vitamin K that is used as supplements.

Patients taking the drug warfarin (also known as Coumadin) are advised to restrict their intake of vitamin K. Vitamin K is necessary for synthesis of blood clotting proteins in the liver and so it counteracts the anticoagulant effects of warfarin. Vitamin K is good for blood vessel health and can help decrease bruising because of its effects on blood clotting.

In skin care vitamin K is thought to help with conditions having to do with the circulatory system such as dark circles around the eyes, rosacea and redness from broken capillaries (especially on the cheeks). Vitamin K also has some antiinflammatory activities. We use extract of parsley in some products because of its high vitamin K content.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

HR 4262: The Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act of 2012

Another round of legislation dealing with cosmetics was introduced to Congress March 26 by Rep. Pallone and Rep. Dingell and referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce. This comes simultaneously with the same Committee holding a hearing (March 27) on “Examining the Current State of Cosmetics.” Testifying at this hearing were Debbie Mays of Wholesale Supplies Plus and Anne-Marie Faiola of Branbleberry. You can read theirs and all the testimonies here:

Not much has been said about this new bill, possibly for two reasons: the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is apparently not behind it, and because the language of the bill is so hard to understand that it seems to require a lawyer to interpret. This bill also is not exactly a new bill but rather an amendment to the current Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. You can read the entire bill here:

Here are some of the highlights of the bill and my commentary.

Registration and Fees
HR 4262 requires all manufacturers (facilities) to be registered with the FDA. I do support registration. It is an important means for communication between the FDA and businesses so that the latest information on safe ingredients and processes can be brought to businesses. However, this bill also requires registration of every product that is manufactured and all the ingredients used as well as their sources. The paperwork involved here would be devastating for small, individually owned businesses that typically do not have employees. The registration process also requires a registration fee of $500 minimum, annually, making starting a small business more difficult.

Good Manufacturing Practices
Currently the FDA has a published guide to good manufacturing practices. You can find these here:
While I do of course support good manufacturing practices that would ensure safe cosmetics, many of the current recommendations are not friendly to small businesses.  For instance “Weighing and measuring of raw materials is checked by a second person.” Most small businesses do not have a second person available to double check their work so one person businesses would not be allowed.  And some statements are quite vague and cannot be interpreted such as “Buildings used in the manufacture or storage of cosmetics are of suitable size, design and construction to permit unobstructed placement of equipment, orderly storage of materials, sanitary operation, and proper cleaning and maintenance.”  Any rewriting and enforcement of GMP needs to take small business practices into account, many of which are making product in their kitchens.

Serious Adverse Effect Reporting
Having a way to report serious, adverse events that occur with the use of cosmetics is a must. In this new bill a business must report to the FDA any information received concerning serious adverse events. These are defined as death, life-threatening experience, inpatient hospitalization, disability, disfigurement or incapacity, congenital anomaly or birth defect, or an event requiring medical or surgical treatment.

Safety Substantiation
Section 605 of this bill says: “(2) demonstrate that such cosmetic product is safe”. Without giving any detail as to what kind of information the FDA would be looking for to demonstrate safety leaves this section completely open to interpretation. The question is, who would interpret it?  This concerns me the most and is much different from previous forms of this bill where the responsibility to prove safety was placed on ingredient manufacturers rather than on the individual who makes the cosmetic product. Safety information might include:

-  bacterial or animal testing to show mutagenicity
- animal studies on carcinogenicity
- Draize test for eye sensitivity
- analytical testing for trace minerals (lead, arsenic,mercury)
- skin patch testing for sensitivity
- testing for estrogenic activity/ fish toxicity testing
- microbiology testing for contamination

As a small business, are you prepared to do any of these tests? I’d like to see some specifics here as to what information is required to substantiate safety of a finished product.

Mandatory Recall Authority
Section 608 gives the FDA the authority to recall a cosmetic product that is deemed adulterated if its use would cause serious adverse health consequences. Authority to recall a product to prevent death is always good and the FDA does have this authority with food. Currently companies voluntarily recall any cosmetics products that have been found adulterated such as those that have been found to have high concentrations of potentially harmful bacteria or fungus. This volunteer method has worked well, but there is no harm that I see in making it mandatory.

Unlike previous proposals, this bill does not address safety of individual ingredients but rather just requires that the final cosmetic product be proven safe. Not knowing what would be required here would most likely put more pressure on the small business owner. It also does not ask for full disclosure of ingredients. Important oversights in this bill are allowances for small business and a preemption to prevent states from individually requiring stricter cosmetic laws. If each state has different laws that govern cosmetics, commerce would be stifled.

The Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) has suggested in the past that they would introduce legislation, but as far as I know they have not done so. Through its experts, the Council has offered the following specific provisions for Congress to consider when drafting legislation which would bolster FDA’s oversight:
1.  Enacting into law the existing FDA voluntary programs for registration of manufacturing establishments and listing of cosmetic products and their ingredients.
2.  Requiring submission of reports on adverse reactions that are serious and unexpected.
3.  Mandating FDA regulations establishing Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) for cosmetics.
4.  Establishing programs to require FDA to review and determine the safety of cosmetic ingredients and constituents along with strong FDA enforcement.
5.  Requiring FDA review of all CIR determinations on cosmetic ingredient safety and either accept or reject those determinations.
6.  FDA establishment of a national cosmetic regulatory databank for use by other state authorities and the public. 
7.  An unambiguous Congressional determination that, as modernized, the revised statute will apply uniformly across the country.
 “Our industry supports these important reforms and encourages Congress to act on them,” said Lezlee Westine, Council President and CEO. “We are requesting comprehensive, mandatory regulation and our rationale for that is simple: it is in the best interest of regulators, manufacturers and consumers – all of whom will greatly benefit for years to come.” You can read more about that here:
Unfortunately, the PCPC also does not ask for accommodations for small businesses.

Read more commentary on this bill here:

Donna Marie of Indie Business:

Forbes article by Amy Westervelt:

Lela Barker of Bella Lucce:

If you’ve read this legislation, what do you think?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lavender Banana Bread

Lavender can be added to alot of basic recipes you already use. This delicious banana bread recipe is a riff on a recipe from "Spike it with Lavender" by Linda Lafferty for The Lavender Association of Western Colorado.

Mix dry ingredients:
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 T dried lavender buds
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

In another bowl combine:
1 T melted butter
1/2 cup honey (lavender infused honey if you have it)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup buttermilk

Mix with dry ingredients and gently fold in:
1/2 cup halfed cherries (frozen)

Pour in greased loaf pan. Cook for 30 minutes at 325 F, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy. Do you have a favorite lavender recipe?

Friday, March 2, 2012

What is a Surfactant?

Surfactants are used in many cosmetics as foaming agents, cleansers, emulsifiers, conditioners and solubilizers or dispersants. The word surfactant comes ‘surface active agent’.  They are ingredients that lower the surface tension of a liquid, or another way to put it is that they are ‘wetting agents’.

A single surfactant molecule has two ends; one that is attracted to water (hydrophilic) and one that is attracted to oil (hydrophobic). This property of having both water soluble and oil soluble parts is called amphiphilic (which in my opinion is a very fun word to say). Each end of the molecule can associate with a different environment and bridging them hence solubilizing one in the other enabling dirt and oil molecules to loosen and dissolve in the water.

Soaps are common surfactants but are seldom used in cleansers and shampoos because of their residue. The most common non soap surfactants remain sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate which are both very effective cleansers but some people fine them irritating.

Many modern surfactants are made from oleochemicals (vegetable derived) rather than petrochemicals (petroleum derived) and are also biodegradable. Oleochemicals, or fats used to synthesize these surfactants include palm and coconut oils. These surfactants include the anionic alkyl polyglucosides (decyl, lauryl, and octyl), which are made from fatty alcohols from coconut or palm and glucose from corn starch using green chemistry. Their names vary depending upon the length of the carbon chain.

The lactylates (sodium lauroyl and sodium stearoyl) are food grade emulsifiers made from coconut oil and milk sugar. They are great moisturizers and provide extended fragrance release.
Other natural surfactants include lauryl glucose carboxylate which provides added foaming ability.  Glutamate surfactants such as disodium cocoyl glutamate, sodium cocoyl glutamate are mild and made from amino acids. They provide fine lather, good cleansing and are rapidly biodegradable. Vegetable proteins can also be a basis for surfactants such as potassium undecylenoyl hydrolysed soy protein and sodium lauroyl oat amino acids.

Anyone who has taken a physiology class has heard of surfactants that naturally occur in the lungs. Here they prevent the the lungs from collapsing on themselves due to the surface tension of the moisture in them. The alveolar cells of the lungs secrete a lipoprotein that acts as a surfactant.  Because the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs are coated in moisture the surface tension there encourages collapsing of the alveoli. If the alveoli collapsed, air would not be able to enter. It is the surfactant that allows the alveoli to remain open. Interestingly, during fetal development surfactant production begins rather late. Babies born prematurely before 28 weeks suffer infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS) because their lungs cannot stay open and hold air. Follow this link for more information on surfactants.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

We are Certified!

I'm happy to announce that our farm has just become Certified Naturally Grown (CNG). I am excited about this program and you can read more about here  Its standards are similar to the USDA's Certified Organic program in that it does not allow synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or GMO seeds. It differs in that it is a small, private and grass roots organization not associated with the government and encourages collaboration, transparency and community involvement.

I've never been quite comfortable with the Certified Organic Program; its a government sponsored program that seems more tailored towards the larger sometimes corporate farms involved in monocropping. Not to mention their ownership of the word 'organic'. USDA COP farm inspectors are forbidden to make suggestions or help the farmers in any way while CNP farm inspectors are peers and volunteers that are encouraged to share information.  I look forward to my first farm inspection this spring by one of my peers who has volunteered to do so and I expect it to be a learning process. I've asked Darrell Cook of Ginger Cat Farm to do my inspection. CNP relies on volunteers like this which encourages community involvement and collaborations.

At Colorado Aromatics Herb Farm I grow things the way my Mother taught me and she learned from her Mother, the traditional way, long before there even were synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. I do have the benefit of having herbs and lavender as my main crop which are probably easier to grow than vegetable crops. But we fertilize our fields in the winter using manure produced by our horses, goats and chickens. Although we are still learning how to best control weeks; we pick by hand until our backs ache, we use weed cloth and we hoe (we also accept volunteers). We try to reduce the amount of gasoline we use on the farm too by doing most of the work by hand rather than by tractor (we don't own a tractor). Because of the way we farm, beneficial insects such as bees, ladybugs and praying mantis abound. When we do get damaging insects such as aphids our first choice is to take care of them with the garden hose.

I think growing my herbs with the Certified Naturally Grown seal partners well with the extracts I make from them for natural cosmetics. I'll soon be adding pictures and information to our profile at CNG

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Allantoin in Cosmetics

Allantoin is one of my favorite herb derived cosmetic ingredients. Its chemical name is 5-ureide-hydantoin. It is used in both cosmetics and drug preparations because of its ability to boost wound healing. Studies have found allantoin has wound healing, anti-irritating, hydrating, keratolytic, analgesic, cell proliferative and epithelial stimulating effects.  Its beneficial effect on wound healing seems to primarily be inhibiting the inflammatory response.  Allantoin enhances desquamation of dead upper layers of skin meaning that it promotes exfoliation and thus improves the smoothness of skin.

Allantoin is found in herbs including comfrey, plantain, yam, borage, tea, horse chestnut, uva ursi, and sour cherry stems. It is also found in animals (plants, animals and humans have very similar biochemistry. In fact, at one time blowfly larvae were used to treat severe wounds because of its high content of allantoin.  Comfrey powder was used during WWI to treat wounds.

Allantoin is formed from uric acid which occurs from breakdown of purine.  I love when my current reading takes me back to college biochem classes; ah, yes, purine salvage pathway. Purines include adenine and guanine which make up nucleic acids (DNA and RNA).  The body is very conservative and purines from the breakdown of nucleic acids or foods are typically salvaged to be reused in new nucleotides.  Just in case you are interested in purine metabolic pathways here is a short youtube video I found as a refresher:

When purines do breakdown (instead of being salvaged) they form uric acid which in most organisms is converted to allantoin by the enzyme uricase. Humans however, do not have this enzyme and so do not make allantoin, or at least not significant amounts. Allantoin will however, accumulate in times of oxidative stress and is a marker for that. Perhaps the fact that humans do not have the uricase enzyme that breaks down uric acid is the reason humans get gout; a disease caused by accumulation of uric acid in the joints.

But back to allantoins role in skin care. Allantoin is a white, odorless powder that is safe and non-allergenic. Its properties make it appropriate for aging skin, acne skin, scars, psoriasis, eczema, diaper rash as well as just dry, chapped skin. Because its an anti-irritant it is also suitable for very sensitive skin. It is typically used at concentrations from 0.1%  to 2% but sometimes higher for pharmaceutical preparations.

How does Colorado Aromatics use allantoin? In three of our balms we use allantoin containing herbs; comfrey in our Joint Jam for its analgesic effect, plantain in our Knuckle Balm for its wound healing effect and comfrey again in our Sole Pleasure foot butter for its softening and keratolytic effect. In our higher end products we use pure allantoin in our Springtide Antiaging Cream for its skin regeneration properties and antiaging properties and in our Oasis Spray Lotion for its anti-irritant properties. We also use it in our body powder to decrease itching and to sooth rashes.


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