An article by Janey Lee Grace (CANCERactive patron)
A recent survey by the soil association found that spending on skincare products and cosmetics has increased by 40 per cent in the last year. And it wont have escaped your notice that almost whatever you buy, theres now a more expensive organic version. As consumers it seems were becoming more discerning and that can only be a good thing, particularly if were taking some responsibility for our own health and wellbeing in the process.
Without wishing to disillusion you though, I must say I think the word organic has been rather hijacked in recent years, in fact at a recent Natural Products Show I voted to have the word put into Room 101 Lets face it, anyone can pop an organic label on the packaging (dont get me started on packaging!) on anything from food to skincare and beauty products and yet the item may contain only a tiny percentage of organic ingredients. As you may be aware, non-organic ingredients are allowed even in accredited products so how can we really know whats best for our health?
Scary, plug-in chemical airfresheners
Of course with the recent trend towards think global, act local many of us have embraced the idea of eating seasonally and looking to farmers markets and organic vegetable box delivery schemes to offer us the healthiest locally sourced produce. I used to recommend that if you cant grow your own organic veg, or source any locally, then the next best bet would be to buy British in the supermarket, that was until I was reliably informed that the average pack of British grown green beans is often routinely shipped to Poland for trimming and packing (I can hear your exasperation we dont need any packaging right!)
We had a Romanian au pair come to stay with us and, when shed got the measure of me (barking mad !), she proudly gave me a gift of Organic Aloe Vera shampoo. I politely thanked her but later read the ingredients only to find that yes, it contained 2 per cent organic Aloe Vera but it also contained a terrifying long list of potentially toxic synthetic chemicals including parabens, preservatives, sodium laurel sulphates and artificial fragrance. After a while you do realise that just as you check the ingredients on the foodstuffs you buy, its imperative we do this when we shop for toiletries and beauty products too.
As I do talks around the UK many people tell me that they had never really considered reducing the chemicals in their lives until a family member was diagnosed with cancer, and we know that for women with breast cancer, oncologists strongly advise against the use of regular deodorants and those scary plug-in chemical air fresheners. The difficulty is that they dont always know what to recommend as alternatives.
Now of course Im not daft enough to claim that any one bottle of perfume, body lotion or indeed laundry detergent will increase your risk of having respiratory illnesses, allergies, cancer or indeed reduce your chances of a full recovery if diagnosed, but I genuinely do believe that the cumulative effect of the thousands of synthetic chemicals we encounter on a daily basis almost certainly will aid in compromising the immune system and lead to further problems.
The good news though, and I do like to focus on the positive, is that there is now a 100 per cent natural alternative to just about everything from nail polish to shaving foam and if you replace your products one by one, youll be helping your health, saving some cash and you can tick the environmentally friendly green box in the process. If you want to stick with Organic for your skincare, look for products that are accredited by the Soil Association or the Ecocert label. Above all recognise that with all so called natural products, its often whats not in it thats important if you get my drift! A fairly good rule of thumb is to glance at how long the ingredients list is, the purest products contain only a handful of well chosen organic ingredients.
Heres an absolute top tip for an all body moisturiser for all skin types, babies included. Use coconut oil, opt for the Virgin Organic one, its still incredibly cheap at around eight pounds for a huge tub and apply liberally, its fantastic for hair too and as long as youre not anticipating a night of passion, smother your hands and feet in it, cover with gloves and socks respectively and youll wake up silky smooth. By the way if the guys are thinking, no way I dont want to smell like a beach babe, never fear, its not like the synthetic coconut whiff youre remembering from conventional sun creams. Pure coconut oil has only a very delicate aroma, and smells - well just gently - of mild fresh coconut. (Try www.coconoil.com)
Of course even better is think old style before you even reach for your wallet or head for the shops. Nature has already provided so much of what we need, and a reasonably stocked kitchen will hold the perfect remedies for minor ailments and the right ingredients for a pampering natural home spa evening ! For a start, if youve got ginger, garlic, honey and lemon youre sorted for anything in the cough and cold department. When youve finished making your avocado salad the dregs can be made into a wonderful face-pack and of course Porridge oats in a little muslin bag or sock can be held under running water for the most therapeutic Cleopatra style milky bath wonderful for soothing itchy skin. If youre drinking freshly extracted juices daily (I hope so) salvage some of the fruit pulp before its thrown to the compost, scoop a bit out immediately after youve prepared your juice and apply it to your face, Granted if youve prepared the highly recommended daily Green juice youll look a bit like Shrek, but just dont answer the door till the power packed enzymes have done their finest work.
For cleaning the house, forget buying expensive chemical products that require a lock on the cupboard under the sink, remember the old days when the best loo cleaner was elbow grease? An already used lemon (no-one ever dares throw them away in our house), some bi-carbonate of soda, a dash of white vinegar and a micro fibre cloth will handle most jobs, and as for laundry detergents well Im always banging on about balls and nuts - thats laundry balls and soapnuts. Both extremely cheap, effective and eco friendly. Laundry balls contain ionised pellets which change the molecular structure of the water and last for around one thousand washes before the pellets need replacing. At around 30, including a natural stain remover, that compares favourably with most harsh detergents that are harmful to your skin, your wallet and your carbon footprint. Soapnuts are even funkier, theyve been used for washing in India and Nepal for thousands of years, theyre technically berries from the Sapindus Mukorossi tree which is very sustainable, bearing fruit for at least ninety years. They look rather like dried up conkers and you pop about 5 or 6 of these soapnut shells into a muslin bag or sock and put it in the drum with the clothing. When it comes into contact with water it creates saponin soap. Theres no need for fabric softener. If you like a fragrance put a few drops of essential oil in the softener compartment.
If youre really getting into DIY cleaning you can also simmer soapnuts and strain off the liquid which can then be used as a detergent for just about anything. Only one problem, its an interesting aroma, so add some essential oil and whisk it up a bit to make it frothy. Dear oh dear, I am waxing lyrical about boiling, straining and washing, perhaps I really am going nuts !
Janey Lee Grace is author of Amazon number one, best-selling book Imperfectly Natural Woman(Crown House) Imperfectly Natural Home everything you need to know to create a healthy natural home Janeys new book is Girlfriends Guide to looking great naturally- without ditching the lipstick is out in June with Hay House.
She has a thriving website where she recommends all her favourite products and a forum at www.imperfectlynatural.com
Interesting to read the research from Melbourne University in the last issue of icon saying that the use of mouthwashes containing alcohol as an ingredient was found to significantly increase the risk of cancers of the mouth, head and neck, especially as Cancer Research have been telling us all recently that rates of oral cancers, such as cancers of the mouth, tongue and lip, have increased by around a quarter in the past decade amongst people in their 40s. Youd think that someone would make the link! The Melbourne researchers found that people who used an alcohol-containing mouthwash at least once per day had a significantly increased risk of cancer, independent of other risk factors such as smoking or drinking alcohol.However, where people also drank alcohol regularly, there was a 500 per cent increase over drinkers who did not use mouthwash. For smokers who used mouthwash there was a staggering 900 per cent increase over smokers who didnt use one of these mouthwashes.The lead researcher even said "We believe there should be warnings. If it was a facial cream that had the effect of reducing acne but had a four to fivefold increased risk of skin cancer, no one would be recommending it." Its a warning to us all.
Few mere mortals have heard of BPA but research in September 17th edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association calls it a health time bomb. Looking at levels in the urine of Americans, the researchers from the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter showed that the highest urine levels were linked to higher rates of heart disease and diabetes. Other research has concluded the same with cancer.So where do you get Bisphenol A from? Youll find it in all manner of plastics, including plastic packaging and plastic bottles and food and drink can linings. In America significant levels have been found in babies BPA is in most plastic feeding bottles, and even the linings of Infant formula containers. California is banning plastic toys and teething rings for the under 3s for the same reason.