Archive for February, 2010

Shea ButterShea Butter comes from the Shea or Karite Tree, indigenous to drier parts of west and central Africa. It is extracted from the shea nut in a lengthy process that includes harvesting, cracking, crushing, roasting, grinding, separating the oils, and collecting and shaping the butter. This is a job traditionally performed by village women who use it for cooking or sell it for profit. In many cases, money earned goes back into the community to afford schools, clinics and clean water.

When we receive shea butter, it is a pale yellow solid fat that has a pungent nutty aroma.

Skin Benefits

Shea butter has numerous benefits for the skin. It is rich in vitamins, antioxidants and emollients. It contains:

Vitamin A – a vitamin antioxidant that aids in the functioning and repair of skin cells and improves elasticity and thickness.

Vitamin E – a vitamin antioxidant that protects against free-radical damage and heals structural damage to skin including stretch marks and burns.

Allantoin – a substance that increases water content in the skin, speeds up cellular turnover and growth, and protects skin from drying out and aging.

Catechins – antioxidants that reduce sun damage and slow down aging.

Cinnamic Acid – an antioxidant that offers UV protection and reduces inflammation and redness in skin.

Phytosterols – naturally occurring plant chemicals that soften skin, provide superior moisture and reduce scars.

Oleic Acid – also known as omega-9, a fatty acid that acts as a penetration enhancer to deliver vitamins and antioxidants into layers of skin.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) – a powerful antioxidant that protects skin from UV rays, reduces wrinkles, heals wounds and soothes skin.

Products containing shea butter:  Rosey Cheeks Organic Facial Cream

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In the natural/organic skin care industry preservatives are always a concern. When minimizing a customers’ exposure to toxins becomes a priority, formulating a safe product with a long shelf life is a challenge.  The formula must have an antimicrobial that kills or inhibits growth of bacteria and an antioxidant to prevent the product from going rancid. The industry has come a long way in the last six years in creating options. There has been so much consumer education in regards to cosmetic toxins that the demand for safe or natural preservatives has grown considerably. An organic/natural skin care company usually does one of two things – formulates with preserving plant extracts (tricky) or adds a synthetic but safe preservative. Here is a list of the most popular choices:

Natural Preservatives

Antimicrobials – grapefruit seed extract, essential oils (there are many different combinations that work)

Antioxidants –  rosemary leaf extract, green tea extract

Synthetic but Safe Preservatives (according to the Environmental Working Group)

Antimicrobials – potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate.

Antioxidants – vitamin E, vitamin C palmitate

There are many, many other choices and safe options out there. When in doubt, always check questionable ingredients at www.cosmeticdatabase.com.

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I have been doing some ingredient research in the last couple of days and have noticed a lot of misinformation online (I know, shocking) about the the levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in plant oils. It seems that people are drawing  from the nutritional data of the entire plant rather than just the oil. Not a lot of these substances make it in the oil. Take for example avocado oil – the fruit has almost every nutritional mineral, vitamin and antioxidant but the oil has NONE. A typical statement for avocado oil is “it is rich in Vitamin A, D & E, the youth mineral – ‘potassium'”. Yikes. Here is the nutritional data I’ve drawn from the USDA. The oils are listed from highest to lowest concentrations. I have yet to find reliable information about less popular oils such as rosehip, sea buckthorn and hemp seed but I know they are full of wonderfulness (vitamin A, vitamin C).
Vitamin E & Tocopherols
Wheatgerm, soy bean, hazelnut, sunflower, almond, safflower, rice bran,  grapeseed, babassu, canola, olive, apricot kernal, walnut oil.
Vitamin K
Canola, soybean, olive, rice bran, walnut, almond, safflower, almond, sunflower, coconut.
Wheat germ, almond, walnut, coconut oil, rice bran, sunflower, soy bean, canola.
Olive, rice bran, soy bean, coconut
Soy bean
It is no surprise that Vitamin E is in almost every plant oil as it is so effective at preventing rancidity (props, God).

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Ugh, February. This is when I really start feeling the winter blahs. The lack of fresh air , sunshine, and vitamin D in addition to being a stay-at-home mom cooped up all day – a recipe for depression. Apparently, I am not alone.  Here are some surprising statistics from the World Health Organization:

– Depression is the most common disease among women.

– It affects 26% of women and 12% of men in the US.

– 50% of depression cases go untreated.

Common symptoms of depression are feelings of guilt, irritability, a negative outlook on life, hopelessness, lack of humor, low self-worth, indifference, apathy, lethargy, insomnia, loss of appetite or overeating, weight loss or gain, being self-absorbed, and having suicidal thoughts.

This disease goes untreated for a variety of reasons. Many people self-medicate with food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, sex and anything else that has the potential to make to make them feel better. Another reason is that people think that they can tackle it on their own. Men tend to feel too embarrassed or weak to admit that their mental health isn’t a-ok while many women push their emotional needs aside in order to care for others.

Depression is linked to reduced levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, muscle contractions, memory and learning. It is possible to increase serotonin production and raise levels with a few lifestyle choices.

1. Eat foods with Tryptophen

Tryptophen is necessary for the production of serotonin. It is an amino acid that can be found in many foods including dark chocolate (yes!), oats, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, and peanuts. Ideally, you should be looking for foods with a good ratio of tryptophen to the amino acids phenylalanine and leucine . Foods that contain this ratio are dates, bananas and papayas.

2. Eat low-glycemic carbohydrates

Starchy carbohydrates raise insulin levels which in turn delivers tryptophen to the brain. This explains why people are often drawn to chips and candy rather than lettuce when looking for comforting food. It really does make you feel good.  The point is to have healthy insulin levels so you don’t crash later so choose carbohydrates wisely by sticking to low-glycemic foods such as oats, barley, potatoes and yams. You don’t need very much to do the trick either – only 1/4 cooked oats.

3. Meditate or Pray

It has been proven that meditation increases serotonin production. If you don’t already have a meditation practice, take at least 5 minutes each day to sit quietly in a comfortable position and chill out. You can also do something relaxing and repetitive such as knitting or sanding wood. This will elevate your mood and improve your focus.

4. Exercise

Anyone that has exercised knows how great you feel afterwards. Aerobic exercise increases both serotonin production and levels of tryptophen in the brain. Ever had a runner’s high?  It’s awesome and may explain why I see people out jogging in 40 below weather. You don’t have to be this ambitious – try walking, swimming or cycling.

5. Sleep at least  7 hours at night

When we are in REM sleep, our body stops producing serotonin and starts producing melatonin (I’m thinking this explains the 3 o’clock insomnia that involves me worrying about everything under the sun – no serotonin, man). These day shift/night shift workers work together so if melatonin production is interrupted or slowed down, serotonin will take over and deplete amounts needed for the day.

6. Get sunshine

This is probably no surprise to you but sunshine increases serotonin levels. Get outside for a bit everyday. I know this is easier said than done in dark, northern climates but it is necessary. Bundle up and schedule in a 15 minute walk every day (maybe instead of a having a coffee break and complaining about how crap you feel).

If you’re feeling down these days, it’s okay. There is no law that says that you have to be happy. Just be easy on yourself and allow emotions to exist rather than suppressing them. Sometimes they have a much shorter life span than you would have thought.


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Beauty Revolution

I began Beauty Revolution last year as a side project because I wanted more writing experience and I needed to exorcise my rants about the cosmetic industry. I have gotten a lot out (some have been deleted) and feel much better so I am ready to move onto greener pastures.  I don’t have to keep harping about the fact that the major cosmetic brands are causing ecological damage and ruining your skin. I’m just going to put that fact to rest and move on to more positive subject matter… which brings me to Cocoon Apothecary.  I have been building this business for the last 6 years and in that time, I have collected loads of information about organic beauty that I want to share with you.  I also want to document all the new information that I collect about organic ingredients, DIY beauty treatments, health, ecological issues, and any product developments that are brewing. Feedback is highly encouraged!

To stay updated, please join me on the Cocoon Apothecary fan page or follow me on Twitter.

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Avocado Hair Mask

It must be avocado season somewhere because the grocery store has perfect specimens selling for next to nothing. This is a great time to buy a bunch, eat a few and use the rest on your hair.  I don’t know about you, but my hair and skin has never suffered as much as this winter. ‘Tis a dry one.  I have been looking for moisturizing opportunities at every turn and today my dry, dull hair got a new lease on life.

Here is what I did:

Step one:  I mixed 1 avocado with juice of 1/2 lemon and a pinch of salt (I know, it’s basically guacamole). I blended until it formed a paste.

Step two: I applied it by finger combing it in from the roots to the ends.

Step three: I waited 15 minutes.

Step four: I washed and conditioned as usual.

My hair looks and feels amazing. I had that dry, brittle look that comes from color damage but now it is smooth and shiny. It also feels very soft, light and manageable. I highly recommend this treatment – it is an affordable luxury for your hair in this impossibly dry season.

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Cocoa butter, also known as Theobroma Cacao (translation: food of the gods), is a creamy brown coloured fat that is solid at room temperature. It is the base for all chocolate and has been consumed in Mexico for over 3000 years.

Benefits to the Skin

  • Creates a barrier to protect sensitive skin from the environment and helps retain moisture
  • Reduces appearance of stretch marks, likely due to its high levels of vitamin E
  • Relieves symptoms of eczema and psoriasis
  • Promotes elasticity
  • Great skin penetration with high levels of theobromine, an alkaloid known to stimulate the release of fat
  • Softens skin and helps with wounds and burns

Cocoa butter comes from the cacao tree, an evergreen that originates from South and Central American rainforests. The butter is contained within pods that are 6 to 14 inches in length.

The pods of the cacao tree are removed and split open with a knife to extract the cocoa beans. The beans are fermented for a couple of days, washed and dried, then roasted and broken into particles called nibs.

Traditional Uses

  • Antidepressant
  • Normalizes body temperature
  • Prevents arteriosclerosis

Found in: Magic Bean Organic Body Lotion

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You probably know what cellulite is – I don’t have to get into any euphemisms such as “orange peel” or “cottage cheese”. If you don’t have it (good for you), then perhaps you may have seen it adorning the covers of tabloids shaming celebrities for the audacity of having it. In any case, most of us don’t want it and yet it sits there, quite comfortably on our thighs, buttock, and stomach. It is the house guest that wasn’t invited and will not leave. It’s time for an eviction notice.

Cellulite is an accumulation of fat and lymph fluids that form gel-like masses and poke through connective tissue creating this…er… orange peel look. In order to get rid of it, we must target the fat and toxins that have teamed up and made a home of our thigh. Here are some of the ways that this can be done:

Aerobic Exericise – It speeds up your circulatory system to release toxins and the bouncing helps with lymphatic drainage. The best choices are rebounding, jogging, and jump rope.

Yoga –  Inversion poses will stimulate your circulation and help drain the lymphatic system. Try poses such as head stand, shoulder stand, and plow.

Diet – Reduce the toxins that enter your body by sticking to an alkaline diet rich in whole foods – nuts, seeds, grains, veggies, and fruit. Grapefruit contains compounds that help break down cellulite and excess fat. Avoid grease, dairy, white bread, sugar and alcohol (sigh).

Drink lots of water – This flushes out toxins and will help the kidneys and liver run more efficiently to remove waste. Drink a cup of warm water with lemon first thing in the morning to stimulate  the liver.

Skin-brushing – Many women swear by this because it stimulates the lymphatic system and massages the cellulite helping to break up the fat and toxins. You can purchase a dry skin brush with natural bristles from a health food store and learn the proper technique here.

Massage – Massaging your cellulite can help by breaking up fat and toxins, improving circulation and stimulating lymphatic drainage. You can do this yourself or you can get a lymphatic drainage massage, a treatment in which gentle, rhythmic strokes are applied to the body.

Aromatherapy – The two oils that really stand out for cellulite are grapefruit and juniper. Both are diuretics and can be used diluted in massage oil or a few drops can be added to your bath.

Topical Ingredients – Applying products with caffeine can help by blocking phosphodiesterase, an enzyme that inhibits fat breakdown. Kelp has also been found to reduce toxins by  increasing fat metabolism and eliminating excess fluids.

Sooooooo, from now until short shorts season, we are going to roll out of bed into a shoulder stand for 5 minutes, then we are going to skin brush our entire body followed with a juniper/grapefruit thigh and buttock massage. We will then apply a lotion containing caffeine or kelp.  After this we will enjoy our breakfast of lemon water and grapefruit. We are then ready to jog to work.  Do you hear that, cellulite? Consider this your final eviction notice.

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