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8/23/2016

It's disturbing enough to look at the ingredients in personal-care products and cosmetics for adults--with zero government regulation, these products are frequently filled with chemicals that are, no exaggeration, proven carcinogens. Take, for example, formaldehyde, categorized as a human carcinogen by both the U.S. government and the World Health Organization. This ingredient is the base of keratin treatments used for straightening hair. It's also frequently used as a preservative in lotions and other products.

But it's even more disturbing to discover the harmful ingredients present in popular products for babies. Parents of infants--likely too overwhelmed to research every ingredient on every product they buy--purchase these items in good faith, hoping to help their babies. Unfortunately, despite marketing to make these items seem healthful, some common baby products contain chemicals proven to be harmful.

So for this blog series, I researched some of the top-selling baby products in the U.S., and hope to share their harmful ingredients for all the parents of little ones who are a little too busy to spend time researching product ingredients. Here's to naturally healthy little ones. 

#3: Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunscreen Lotion

This product gets an overall score of 7 out of 10 on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database--a moderately high risk. Oftentimes long-lasting sunscreen products contain questionable ingredients designed to make them absorb more deeply into the skin. Of course we want to protect babies' delicate skin from sun damage, but we are better off buying a sunscreen with only titanium dioxide and reapplying as needed.

Ingredients of concern:

Oxybenzone: Rated an 8 out of 10 on the EWG hazard scale, this ingredient is designed to enhance skin absorption, but it carries a high level of concern because it can cause biochemical or cellular level changes. It's also an endocrine disruptor that may be bioaccumulative (builds up in the body over time). It has been shown in human studies to cause photoallergic reactions, an allergic response that causes redness and inflammation when skin is exposed to the sun.

Propylparaben: This commonly used paraben is ranked a 7 by the EWG for the strong evidence of its endocrine-disrupting actions. The endocrine system controls our hormones, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals are common in personal-care products.

BHT: BHT is a toluene-based ingredient used as a preservative. It's ranked a 6 by the EWG because of its likelihood to irritate the skin, eyes or lungs, and potential toxicity to organ systems. It's described as a "known human immune toxicant or allergen" with strong evidence by the European Food Safety Authority, and is "classified as expected to be toxic or harmful" on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List.

This product also contains nine chemicals that rank a 3 or 4 (moderate risk) by the EWG. The 4 rankings include: homosalate, which poses contamination concerns ("sunlight breaks down the chemical into harmful byproducts," the EWG says) and organ toxicity concerns; ethylparaben and methylparaben, two parabens considered endocrine disruptors and potentially immunotoxic; octisalate, another product used to enhance skin absorption; and phenoxyethanol, a preservative that can cause irritation of the skin, eyes or lungs. 




8/16/2016

Like so many natural wellness therapies, the MELT method (which stands for Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) began with a medical condition traditional methods couldn't treat. MELT creator Sue Hitzmann was a fitness professional who suddenly began suffering from intense pain. Doctors and physical therapists couldn't find a cause, so Hitzmann began researching manual and neuromuscular therapies. Hands-on bodywork gave her relief, and she changed her entire career focus from fitness to manual therapy. Over time, Hitzmann learned about emerging research about the connective tissues in our bodies, and how they can become, essentially, dehydrated. Hitzmann believes her method helps reinvigorate these tissues, and it can help alleviate many chronic ailments: chronic pain, headaches, low back pain, neck pain, insomnia, digestive problems and injury.

Since its introduction, the MELT method has spread across the country. Today, Hitzmann teaches classes in her New York studio, and has trained more than 1,300 MELT practitioners across the country. MELT is also used in hospitals and physical therapy offices.

Today, you can use the MELT method at home. I got a sample of this product, and it really does loosen up tight and painful areas! I'm a fitness enthusiast, but I also work an office job and spend quite a bit of time my car. This combination leads to frequent tightness and pain, which I typically combat with yoga. However, the MELT method targets the connective tissue more directly--more like massage than  yoga. With Sue's video guidance, you can learn the method and maintain it in just 10 minutes a day, three to four days a week. Hitzmann believes this short frequent maintenance to our connective tissues can ward off an array of aches and pains, eliminating the need for reliance on NSAIDs, aspirin and other OTC pain relievers. Based on my experiment, I think so, too. 



8/9/2016

It's disturbing enough to look at the ingredients in personal-care products and cosmetics for adults--with zero government regulation, these products are frequently filled with chemicals that are, no exaggeration, proven carcinogens. Take, for example, formaldehyde, categorized as a human carcinogen by both the U.S. government and the World Health Organization. This ingredient is the base of keratin treatments used for straightening hair. It's also frequently used as a preservative in lotions and other products.

But it's even more disturbing to discover the harmful ingredients present in popular products for babies. Parents of infants--likely too overwhelmed to research every ingredient on every product they buy--purchase these items in good faith, hoping to help their babies. Unfortunately, despite marketing to make these items seem healthful, some common baby products contain chemicals proven to be harmful.

So for this blog series, I researched some of the top-selling baby products in the U.S., and hope to share their harmful ingredients for all the parents of little ones who are a little too busy to spend time researching product ingredients. Here's to naturally healthy little ones. 

#2: Desitin Diaper Rash Relief

This product gets an overall score of 5 out of 10 on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database--a moderate risk. It's likely not going to cause serious damage, but it has several ingredients of concern. My attitude is why slather a baby with questionable ingredients when a healthier option exists. In this case, I'd recommend a calendula salve made with organic ingredients. 

Ingredients of concern:

Fragrance: Here again we see fragrance, that ubiquitous ingredient made up of a mix of chemicals, which often contains phthalates. The EWG rates this ingredient (the worst offender in this product formulation) an 8 out of 10 on its hazard scale, noting its association with allergies, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.

Propylparaben: This commonly used paraben is ranked a 7 by the EWG for the strong evidence of its endocrine-disrupting actions. The endocrine system controls our hormones, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals are common in personal-care products.

Petrolatum: Petrolatom is a petroleum-based ingredient that is "classified as expected to be toxic or harmful" on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. It also carries contamination concerns--in product formulations, some ingredients have a higher risk of combining with others and thus forming toxic compounds. In this case, the contamination risk relates to PAHS, a persistent and bioaccumulative endocrine disruptor.

The product contains several additional items ranked a 4 by the EWG, among them: Ethylparaben and methylparaben, two parabens considered endocrine disruptors and potentially immunotoxic; phenoxyethanol, a preservative that can cause irritation of the skin, eyes or lungs; and PEG-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate (ranked a 3), which carries a high concern rating for contamination and a low concern rating for organ system toxicity. 




8/2/2016

When it comes to the idea of energy efficiency, "air conditioning the outdoors" is the quintessential no-no. But severe summer temperatures (in Kansas, it's going to be 98 degrees today and feel like 104) can mean not spending time outdoors. I will admit I was doubtful of the ability of Honeywell's outdoor evaporative air coolers to make sense in my life. But when I got one, I realized that these fans make a serious difference in enjoyment of outdoor activities. So many days have found our family outside rather than in thanks to the difference the air cooler makes. It evaporates water, then uses a fan to disperse mist into the air, cooling an area of nearly 400 square feet. It's also super energy-efficient, requiring about 288 watts to operate (for comparison, a dehumidifier requires about 350 watts, while a coffee machine requires about 1,500). In my solar-powered home, I feel OK using that energy to spend more time outdoors, even when the temperatures are through the roof. Another benefit? The breeze helps keep away the No. 1 deterrent to my outdoor time in our Kansas home--mosquitoes. So, this efficient dual-purposed device has most certainly enabled me and my family to spend more time outdoors in the summer, whether the temps are scorching or the mosquitoes are biting. The cooler is expensive at $450, but it's likely cheaper than alternatives such as installing an outdoor ceiling fan or enclosing a porch. They also have lower-priced models. I wouldn't recommend this product for anywhere but places with the hottest of summers--here in the lower Midwest and through the Southwest and Southeast--but if you find you can't enjoy your outdoor spaces throughout much of the summer, you might want to give it a try. 



7/26/2016

It's disturbing enough to look at the ingredients in personal-care products and cosmetics for adults--with zero government regulation, these products are frequently filled with chemicals that are, no exaggeration, proven carcinogens. Take, for example, formaldehyde, categorized as a human carcinogen by both the U.S. government and the World Health Organization. This ingredient is the base of keratin treatments used for straightening hair. It's also frequently used as a preservative in lotions and other products.

But it's even more disturbing to discover the harmful ingredients present in popular products for babies. Parents of infants--likely too overwhelmed to research every ingredient on every product they buy--purchase these items in good faith, hoping to help their babies. Unfortunately, despite marketing to make these items seem healthful, some common baby products contain chemicals proven to be harmful.

So for this blog series, I researched some of the top-selling baby products in the U.S., and hope to share their harmful ingredients for all the parents of little ones who are a little too busy to spend time researching product ingredients. Here's to naturally healthy little ones.

 Johnsons#1: Johnson's Baby Creamy Oil Aloe Vera & Vitamin E 

This product gets an overall score of 5 out of 10 on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database--a moderate risk. It's likely not going to cause serious damage, but it has several ingredients of concern. My take is why use something with potentially hazardous chemicals when you can use natural salves or other better products.

Ingredients of concern:

Fragrance: The main problem with fragrance is that companies don't have to disclose what makes up this ingredient. The EWG ranks this ingredient an 8 on its 10-point hazard scale, citing high concerns for allergies and immunotoxicity. Fragrance frequently contains phthalates,  known hormone-disruptors. "Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system," the EWG writes.

Propylparaben: Parabens are a family of preservatives that mimic estrogen and can act as potential hormone system disruptors. The EWG ranks propylparaben a 7 out of 10, citing strong evidence of  human endocrine disruption, immune toxicity and allergenic activity.

The product also contains several items ranked a 4 by the EWG, among them: Hydrogenated cottonseed oil, which itself is fairly safe but raises the risk of contamination (contamination risks occur when chemicals break down and recombine to make new potentially dangerous pollutants) in the product of mercury, arsenic and lead, all ranked highly hazardous; ethylparaben and methylparaben, two more parabens considered endocrine disruptors and potentially immunotoxic; and phenoxyethanol, a preservative that can cause irritation of the skin, eyes or lungs. 



6/9/2016

This past weekend found me working in the garden, and as I dug holes, added compost and packed dirt in around seedlings, I was reminded of what gardeners the world over avow: Working in the soil is calming to the mind. There’s something meditative about the motions of digging in the earth, fully focused on the task at hand. It’s almost impossible to multitask while planting a seedling. You must perform each step one at a time.

According to most accounts, my birth year puts me among the oldest of the Millennial generation. I’m not sure it’s a perfect fit, but I do think I fit that generation in my attitude toward technology: I consider it a fundamental element of life, one I believe transforms the way humans interact in the world. To me, technology is a powerful tool; like any tool, its benefits or harms are determined by how we use it. The internet has allowed a democratization of information never before seen, and this is proving to be a catalyst for social change. In the age of information, transparency is necessarily on the rise in politics, law enforcement and business.

But we also know living in a way that is very different from the ways of our ancestors may be problematic. For example, the predominant psychological ailments of our times—anxiety, hyperactivity and depression—all have links with the fast pace and tech focus of modern living. Studies show that the things most tied with our evolutionary past—spending time in nature, for example, or getting regular exercise and eating a whole-foods diet—offer significant benefits for these afflictions. But what about other activities our ancestors enjoyed before the age of “screen time”: Making music, creative writing, dance and visual arts? Preliminary research has found them all to be therapeutically useful.

When I was writing the feature about hobbies that benefit our brains for this issue, I was particularly struck by one fact: Reading is good for our brains because, evolutionarily speaking, it’s a relatively new and complex task. Humans have been reading for thousands of years. Yet, for our physical brains, it’s still a challenge because all of those years just aren’t that long in the grand scheme of things.

That made me wonder: What activities might make our brains feel most at peace? I think the answers may lie in those activities so fundamental to human survival that we’ve been practicing them for eons: Growing our own food, harvesting wild plants in nature, knitting or sewing clothing, making art, telling stories, sitting by firelight. My life wouldn’t work (at least in its current form) without technology, and I wouldn’t want it to. The internet helps me know what’s going on with people across the globe; it enables my parents to frequently talk face-to-face with my son even though we live a few hours apart; and it allows me to collaborate on this magazine with our fantastic art director although we live in different states. But I find it intriguing to think about our health needs through the lens of human history. I think some of the best advice for calming our minds and spirits may be to step away from technology from time to time and spend a few hours on the activities humanity has cultivated since the earliest beginnings of civilization.

3 Things I Love This Issue

Ways to reduce our bodily intake of synthetic chemicals:

1. Safe, natural alternatives to common OTC drugs

2. Tips and recipes to use DIY salves for a range of minor ailments

3. A look at chemical use in personal-care products



4/14/2016

I recently had the good fortune to visit Santa Fe and the surrounding area. I’d never spent much time in the region, and I was only vaguely aware of its unique and complex history — a combination of native tradition and European influence, a fascinating example of the melting pot that makes America an amazing place to live. While there, I was lucky to visit an incredible home that combined the best, and most beautiful, of the region’s rich history.

The home was built in the traditional adobe style. Modern adobe buildings incorporate concrete, making them stronger and more durable. In this more primitive construction style, the layers of adobe wear away continually, requiring the outer layer to be replaced every year (and reminding me of the perpetual renewal going on inside and outside our own bodies).

The family’s history was one centered in both agriculture and the arts. Its former owner, who passed down the place to his daughter who still lives there, had spent time living in Europe in the 1960s, and he collected an astonishing array of European art including exquisitely woven Polish tapestries and ancient Roman statues. The family had also collected some of the most beautiful native art of the region—preserving traditional religious artworks that had ended up in estate sales and thrift stores after local missions began renovating starting in the ’50s. Throughout the home, family heirlooms, precious works of art and invaluable pieces of regional history commingle, creating a museum atmosphere. And yet, alongside its sophisticated art collection, the home is also a hardworking farm. We learned about the farm’s work with a microbiologist who studies the ways fungi, nematodes and bacteria in compost influence the plants that grow around them; and we admired the 400-year-old irrigation system.

Some of you may know that I was an editor at Natural Home magazine for many years (as well as at The Herb Companion; we merged those two titles into Mother Earth Living four years ago). Part of my job at Natural Home was traveling across the country, interviewing the owners of interesting, green-built homes and directing photo shoots of their inspiring residences. These homes ranged wildly in style—some were handbuilt homes made entirely out of salvaged materials (I profiled six of these case studies in my 2011 book, Housing Reclaimed); others were uber-modern renovated warehouses, minimalist and industrial. But no matter their style, every one of these homes shared one common element with each other, and with the home I toured near Santa Fe—they were absolutely unique, and reflective of their owners’ tastes, styles and preferences.

It’s unfortunate, and something we might not think about often, but in many ways modern housing has been commoditized and homogenized in much the same way as industrial foods. Developers have found a lowest common denominator they believe can please the most people, and it often looks like a large, plain white box.

But our domiciles shouldn’t be made for just anyone. They should, in design as they do in practice, house us, in particular, unique individuals with unique needs. Whether you live in a home you built yourself to your exact specifications or, more likely, in an apartment or condo or basic contemporary housing development, I hope you’ll consider the many ways in which you can make your home your own. A house designed to suit our own needs is the best one for us, and we all deserve a home where we feel ourselves, our history and our lifestyle reflected.

3 Things I Love This Issue

Ways to make our lives more beautiful, outdoors and in:

1. A doctor’s four-step program to eliminate seasonal allergies.

2. Expert advice to use color to enhance our homes.

3. Garden tips inspired by horticultural therapy techniques.





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