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Natural Health
Better living through nature


5 Dangers of Conventional Sunscreens

As the weather heats up in the next month, most of us are likely to spend more time outdoors. Whether you’re hitting the beach or just out working in the garden, summer is the season for sunscreen. But before you slather your body in sun block, take a moment to examine your sunscreen. The market is saturated with sunscreens, but most of the conventional options cause more harm than good.

boy in sun hat 
 Photo By the half-blood prince/Courtesy Flickr. 

How safe is your family's sunscreen?

Many conventional sunscreens only provide partial protection against damaging rays, and some even include ingredients that can speed up the development of cancer-related skin problems.

1. No federal regulations for sunscreen 

Like other beauty products, the FDA has no regulations for sunscreens, meaning manufacturers are under no legal obligation to disclose their ingredients or prove any claims made on product labels. So while that “waterproof” sunscreen you plucked off the shelf says it offers “all-day protection,” it’s unlikely that the manufacturer can back those claims up with solid evidence.

2. Misleading SPF claims 

When buying sunscreen, you’re more likely to reach for a product offering SPF 75 than SPF 30, right? Because the higher the number, the more protection it offers, right? Not exactly. Many conventional sunscreens offer SPFs up to 100, but studies have shown that SPFs higher than 50 don’t offer any more protection—and could even lure consumers into a false sense of security and cause them to apply sunscreen less often. Don’t fall for the numbers game. SPF 30 sunscreen is adequate for most people. Just remember to apply it every two hours!    

3. Cancer accelerant 

Many conventional sunscreens contain a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate that can speed up the development of cancer. Sunscreen manufacturers use vitamin A for its antioxidant, anti-aging properties, but this compound also has photocarcinogenic properties, meaning it can cause cancer-related tumors and lesions when exposed to light.

4. Little UVA protection 

While conventional sunscreens offer protection from UVB rays, they don’t block UVA rays. What’s the difference, you ask? UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, to the base layer of the skin where most skin cancers occur. UVA rays also play a part in aging and cause wrinkles. UVB rays, on the other hand, only damage the top layers of the skin and are best know for creating the redness associated with sunburns. Conventional sunscreens might prevent sunburn-causing UVB rays from penetrating the skin, but they’re letting through the cancer-causing UVA rays!

5. Sunscreens damage the environment.

Despite their “water-proof” claims, many conventional sunscreens wash off swimmers and into the oceans where they can damage aquatic life—especially coral reefs. Common sunscreen ingredients such as parabens, octinoxate, oxybenzone, cinnamate and camphor cause serious damage to coral. The chemicals activate dormant viruses in algae called zooxanthellae (which live in the coral, feed surrounding animals and give the coral its vibrant colors) causing the algae to explode and die.

woman in sun hat 
Photo By Brandon Christopher Warren/Courtesy Flickr.

Keep your skin fair and free from damage; use natural sunscreens with UVA- and UVB-blocking ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. 

Many consumers might turn their noses up at the white sheen that natural sunscreens leave behind, but these products offer more protection and advantages over their conventional counterparts. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, the common active ingredients in natural sunscreens, block both UVB and UVA rays. Natural sunscreens are also made with biodegradable ingredients and lack chemicals such as parabens that can destroy coral reefs, making them a safe choice for the environment.

Many natural sunscreen companies practice full disclosure of their ingredients and participate in outside testing to prove their claims, making it easier to select a healthy choice. Badger, for example, hired an independent laboratory to test their sunscreens for biodegradability, which they passed.

For a list of natural sunscreen reviews, see Natural Home & Garden’s Summer Survival Guide.


Susan Melgren is the Web Editor of Mother Earth Living.

Benefits of Meditation and Yoga

This world is a beautiful place to live in.”

I was not a great believer of this phrase until I fell in love with yoga. As a teenager, everything that I had didn’t appeal to me; every privilege that I enjoyed was out-fashioned. During my high school days, I was so busy watching and following others that I forgot about my own being. Despite being one of the class toppers, I used to be the unhappiest student of my class. Not that my parents were unsupportive or that my classmates didn’t enjoy my company, I was just not satisfied with what was there. My mind happened to be attracted to a number of things at a time, which contributed heavily to my confusion. Many times, I lacked belief in my choices to such an extent that frustration was always on the cards.

Bipin meditating
Photo courtesy Bipin Baloni

Days of Reorientation

“Why don’t you attend yoga classes in the auditorium?” asked the new physical education teacher when I was on the ground, sitting alone during recess.

I was not very fond of meditation and yoga including all these spiritual things. For the last few days, I had been bunking off the yoga period, for these asanas were all ‘Greek’ to me. The new teacher talked to me in an astonishing motivated way and insisted me to join him in the basic level class. The very next day, I set my foot in the auditorium block-3 for the practice. I still remember how beautifully the session began with a couple of mantras — a deeper A-U-M chanting followed by the Gayatri Mantra. We practiced meditation and a couple of simple asanas. The class was over in no time, it seemed. It was the very first time that I really enjoyed doing yoga. Days went on and the yoga practice, too. Although I was not able to discern any change, my teachers didn’t miss the attitude amendment in me. In just a couple of months, I could also see various transformations in my behavior as I began relishing my engagement with my class fellows.

Meditating for a long time had an amazing impact on my mental composure. I could visualize things from a different perspective. My notebooks were no more the only friend of mine. Entry into the next level of yoga exercise instilled a good amount of faith in my abilities. Now, I could kick the soccer ball with confidence into the net. Taking part in every speech competition and speaking in front of more than 2000 students of the school was a positive transformation that really upped my confidence. And I would clearly credit Yoga asanas, meditation, and of course the PE teacher for all these.

Yoga for Personal Development

When I landed in college, I was internally strong enough to adapt to the new environment and people. Although I was not in regular touch with yoga, the science had taught me numerous lessons to enjoy challenging moments as well. College life was a whole new world. The real test of your life begins here. It’s a platform to get prepared for the rest of your career. During this time, I decided to embrace the beauty of Yoga at the home. YouTube used to be my teacher and believe me, it was so amazing! Days went by and eventually my mommy, sister, and daddy all joined me in my yoga practice. I must credit yoga for bringing harmony to my life and family. Enjoying yoga with people who care for you gave rise to a sense of responsibility in me. I also went through the philosophical aspect of the Vedic science and it was influential in guiding me on the path of positivity. The spiritual elements of the yogic discipline were of extreme importance in helping me maintain a balance between study and personal fitness.

Meditation and Life’s Goals

The world, which we are living in is immensely challenging. There is no time to wait and think. After completing college and university level education, I am enjoying my life adoring the delight of this globe, all thanks to yoga and meditation while many of my friends are still struggling to get a clear picture of their future. With the mindful practice, I am enjoying mental clarity. Yoga gave me an enormous outlook of the world and Meditation taught me how to remain focused even in turbulent situations. Every time I feel exhausted the practice of deep breathing (pranayama) places me in a zone of exuberance. As a writer, one needs clarity of thoughts and inspiration, both of which I enjoy in the company of meditation.

The story of how yoga and meditation have assisted me throughout my presence on this planet can go endless. I have still not talked about my astonishing physical fitness, which marks the core of one’s mental and emotional health. I can just say one thing that yoga taught me to love this world, which is extremely beautiful and celebrate every moment that I live.


Bipin Baloni is a passionate Yogi, Yoga Teacher and a Traveller in India. He organize 200 hour yoga teacher training in Nepal. Bipin Baloni conducts Yoga Teacher Training in India in different cities. He loves writing and reading books related to yoga, health, nature and the Himalayas. 

5 Tips For Starting a Meditation Practice at Home


Photo by Fotolia

I think it’s safe to say that meditation is trending. Mindfulness and meditation have become the cure-all for many diseases, and are the current shining stars in the wellness world. It seems as though every few weeks a new study or finding comes out about the benefits of practicing present-moment awareness. Stress relief, weight loss, heart health, increased happiness, heightened productivity and even rebuilding the brain’s gray matter in just 8 weeks are some of what seem to be the infinite perks of meditation.

Okay, we get it – everyone should meditate.

But, it’s not all that cut and dried. Meditation seems like second nature for some, but for many people, it can feel hard and unachievable. If you feel an aversion to meditation, you’re not alone. Many cringe at the thought of sitting in one spot and trying to “zen out.” Additionally, there are so many false beliefs about meditation that can easily create resistance.

For example, a common misconception is that meditation is difficult and you have to know how to stop “thinking thoughts.” That alone can be a scary concept!

The truth is, it’s actually quite easy to get started with a meditation practice. If you’d like to begin, but don’t know where to start, here are some tips to kickstart your path toward your new meditation routine.

Just Breathe

Yup, that’s it! Anytime, anywhere. If you’re feeling stressed or just need a quick pick-me-up, stop and take a giant deep breath, fill your belly up with air, expand your rib cage and slowly release through the nose on the exhale. The slower your in-breath and out-breath, the better. Becoming conscious of your breathing opens up the door to mindfulness. We often forget to breathe fully and consciously because it can be an involuntary function. But the cool thing is that it’s also something that can become voluntary and controlled. Many gurus and sages teach that when you master breathing (through the practice of various pranayama techniques) you can balance your chakras and master your life. Now, I can’t promise that you will start levitating once you become a pranayama wizard, but what I can say is that the breath is the fastest way to draw your attention inward, into your body and the present moment. If there’s one easy way to start a mindfulness practice it’s to pay attention to your breath at any given moment.

Mark it on the calendar

Just like any other task or activity that you deem important, put meditation on the schedule. Play with meditation times and find what works best for you. Meditation is easiest for me immediately when I wake in the morning. I roll onto my back and place my awareness on my breath, repeat a silent mantra and set an intention for the day. Another prime time to meditate, in my experience, is before bed. Mornings and evenings are when my kids are asleep and there is quiet and fewer disturbances. Find what works for you and stick it on the calendar.

Start with a simple mantra

One of the easiest mantras to use is the sanskrit word OM. OM is the “sound of the universe”, so it’s an easy one to connect to for most adults and children alike. Repeat the word silently in your mind and “hear” the mantra as if someone is saying it to you. Mantras are an “instrument of the mind” and a way to train yourself to concentrate on one thing. When your mind begins to wander to a thought, sound in the environment or otherwise, simply guide your awareness back to the mantra. It’s just that simple. The more you practice using mantras, the easier it will become to not only focus on the mantra, but also increase concentration in your daily life, making zeroing in on one task or goal much easier.

Use a guided meditation

If you’re stumped about where to start, I highly recommend an online video wellness site that has tons of yoga and meditation classes. They have various meditation series’ led by experts that easily guide you through mindfulness practices. Everything from “meditation for surrender”, “getting focused” and even an energy meditation series is offered. I’ve noticed that my kids will also join in with these, so I’m able to put them on during the day.

Try a meditation device

I know what you’re thinking, “A meditation device!?” Yes, there are some great tools that can gently help you become more aware of your wandering mind and teach you to be in more control of your thoughts. A brain-sensing headband that connects to your smart device to give you real-time feedback about your brain activity. Throughout your meditation, you will hear a soft breeze in the background and if your mind begins to have increased activity or thoughts, you will start to hear more turbulent wind. In this way, it trains your brain to calm your mind and bring it back to focus. There’s also the Meaning to Pause bracelet, which sends a gentle vibration to its wearer every 60-90 minutes to remind you to pause, breathe, and check in with your physical, mental and emotional state. This bracelet, though it may not be able to teach you to meditate, will encourage coming back to center and the present moment throughout the day, which is a great start.

How to Get Your Kids More Interested in Yoga

Do we ever think about how our lifestyle changes affect our kids? Our children live in a hurry-up world of busy parents, school pressure, incessant lessons, video games, malls, and competitive sports. In addition to all of these came the quarantine and stay-at-home stress. These all are highly stressful for children, and yoga can help combat the effects of this stress effects.

June 21st is International Day of Yoga. So, as a part of this celebration let's explore how yoga can be beneficial to our little people.

Children derive enormous benefits from yoga. Physically, it enhances their flexibility and strength, coordination and body awareness. Also, their concentration and sense of calmness improves with yoga.

Yoga for children is quite different than yoga for adults. The greatest challenge with children is to hold their attention long enough to teach them the benefits of yoga: stillness, balance, flexibility, focus, peace, grace, connection, health, and well-being. Children hate to be idle. With my toddler, I never instructed her to do anything, but she started following me on the yoga poses while I practiced. She was 2.5 years old when she first did the sukhasana—an easy pose, with simple cross-legged seated asana in hatha yoga.

Yoga for Kids

Tips to Increase Your Kid's Interest in Yoga

  • Let them imitate the movements and sounds of nature while doing different poses. For example, if they are doing the cobra pose (Bhujangasana) let them hiss along with the pose.
  • Mostly children love to talk, and they love to move—both of which can happen in yoga. You can’t except your child to stay idle and chant mantras while doing yoga. They can even sing their favorite rhymes or jump while doing the frog pose.
  • We want kids to fall in love with yoga and incorporate it into their lifestyle for the great physical, mental and emotional benefits it has to offer. Keep it fun. Show them charts, picture boards or even ask them to imagine themselves as a giant apple tree while doing the tree pose. There by we can improve the imagination and cognition in kids.

Let’s now look at the developmental considerations in yoga for children:

Preschool Age (3-6 years)

Ideally total duration is 10-20 minutes. In that 20 minutes, focusing and creating awareness is hard in this age group. So, try to focus on awareness for 2-3 minutes. They can try doing Sukhasana (Easy pose), Boat Pose, Bow Pose, Cat pose, and Child pose.

School Age (7-12 years)

They can practice for 30-45 minutes. Poses can be incorporated in a story or game for school kids.

Yoga practices can be designed to foster developmental, preventative, therapeutic, and/or transformational aims. Developmental uses of yoga are geared toward nurturing inherent capacities and facilitating mastery, e.g., strengthening the physical body, increasing energy and stamina, building coping capacity, and enhancing attention, concentration, and memory.

Benefits of Yoga for Kids

Yoga provides training of mind and body to bring emotional balance. It is claimed that yoga leads to alignment and harmony. Yoga may contribute to healthy development and good mental health; health promotion for children needs to include improvement of their attention, self-esteem, empowerment, and self-regulation.

Yoga may assist them in developing in sound ways, to strengthen themselves, and be contributing social beings.

Forest Bathe for Your Well-Being

Shinrin-yoku was developed in 1982 in Japan for preventative health care and as healing medicine. Shinrin in Japanese means "forest," and yoku means "bathe," which means taking in the forest with all your senses.

Dr. Qing Li conducted studies in the early 2000’s which proved that forest bathing lowers stress hormones, suppresses the fight or flight system, enhances the rest and recovery system, reduces blood pressure, and increases heart rate vitality. The research is helping to establish Shinrin-Yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.

Walking In Forest

Forest bathing is not the same as hiking. To forest bathe, all you need to do is visit a forest, park, or natural wooded area with minimum noise from traffic and humans. If there is water movement close by, that is even better, and the trail should be easy to walk on at a slow pace. You do not need to walk more than ½ mile as you guide yourself through a forest or park. A 2-hour walk is enough time for you to slow down, focus on your senses, and find a place to sit and observe nature.

Forest Running Stream

If you only have a short time to forest bathe, 20 minutes is all you need to start clearing your mind. Do not let other thoughts enter; just focus on the trees. At the end of your walk, celebrate with a snack and tea. You could bring a thermos with tea or have a knapsack with a teapot, cup, and container of hot water and focus on the teatime.

Forest Walking Path

Visiting the forest can also let you experience aromatherapy. As the sun shines on trees and plants, they emit terpenes. Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds that are present in plants and essential oils. When walking in a forest of spruce trees, you may receive benefits from the essential oil emitting from the tree. The needles and twigs have volatile constituents, which can alleviate respiratory ailments, strengthen the immune system, help with the nervous system, and relieve muscular aches and pains. You may receive benefits from the effects of smelling the essential oil in the forest but not as intense as using a distilled oil in a diffuser.    

Creek Running Through The Forest

You can bring the forest indoors by growing plants in your home. Plants in the house can make us feel calm and happy but are also important because they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which our bodies need to be healthy.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon our hearts as for that subtle something that quality of air that emanates for old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. -Robert Louis Stevenson


References:

  • Clifford, M Amos (2018) Your Guide to Forest Bathing
  • Arvay, Clemens G. (2018) The Biophilia Effect

Myrrh Essential Oil: A Divinely Rich Essence

Myrrh—an aromatic, rich, precious resin—was widely used in ancient times throughout the Middle East, but especially in Egypt, for incense, perfumery, medicine, and as a preservation ingredient in the embalming process.  It was particularly prized as a remedial aid for infections of the respiratory tract, mouth, and skin and as a digestive stimulant.  Myrrh was also one of the three gifts said to have been brought by the three wise men to the baby Jesus to support a state of grace and preserve divine essence.  The name "myrrh" derives from the Arabic "murr," meaning "bitter." 

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) essential oil is valued for many of the same uses as the resin. Known for its rejuvenating and revitalizing effects on the skin, it is often used in natural antiaging products to delay wrinkling and improve the skin’s texture and tone. I swear by myrrh essential oil’s “youthifying” effects and often add a few drops to my facial oils and creams. A little goes a long way. It also successfully promotes the healing of all manner of minor wounds, inflamed skin conditions (such as weeping eczema and psoriasis, hemorrhoids, and acne), and environmentally damaged, dry, chapped, cracked skin.

Myrrh essential oil has a superb reputation as a remedy for inflammatory and infectious conditions of the mouth and throat (bleeding gums, gingivitis, ulcers, bad breath, pyorrhea, receding gums, thrush, general sore throat, laryngitis, and tonsillitis). It also serves as a most useful respiratory antiseptic with drying and purifying properties that help alleviate infection and loosen and expectorate mucus during cases of bronchitis, sinusitis, asthma, coughs, and colds.

myrrh resin and cobalt bottle

From Herb To Oil

The scrubby, thorny myrrh tree has knotted branches, small three-part leaves, and white flowers. When pierced or incised, the trunk and larger limbs yield a pale-yellow liquid that hardens into the reddish-brown drops known as myrrh or myrrh gum resin. These are dried to be distilled into essential or used as incense. The tree is native to the Middle East, northeast Africa, and southwest Asia, though its growing range has been extended by cultivation. The essential oil is primarily distilled in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan. 

Myrrh essential oil is produced by steam distillation of the crude gum oleoresin. A lovely, sweeter CO2 is also produced in lesser quantity, as is a resinoid and resin absolute. It is an oily, pale yellow-to-amber, viscous liquid with a rather unique odor: warm, sweet-balsamic, slightly spicy-medicinal-astringent, smoky-musty.

Important note: The myrrh tree belongs to the same plant family (Burseraceae) as frankincense (Boswellia carteri, B. sacra, B. frereana, and multiple other Boswellia species). Both species grow slowly in arid climates, and due to the popularity of their resins, the wild trees cannot sustainably produce enough to fill the global demand. They are both considered vulnerable and near-threatened. I ask that you use the beloved myrrh and frankincense products judiciously and sparingly. Frankincense and myrrh are now being cultivated to help satisfy demand, but as I said, their growth is very slow.

Psychological Benefits: The centering, grounding scent of myrrh is beneficial i n cases of apathy, emotional coldness, weakness, and lack of motivation. It cools heated emotions and calms states of fear, panic, and hysteria. It also fortifies and revitalizes the spirit, building confidence in those who are afraid to speak up about their feelings. It promotes spiritual awareness and is recommended for meditation and prayer; it can also be used to ease the anguish of grief.

Essential Properties In A Nutshell: Tones and tightens skin tissue: highly antibacterial; astringent; anti-inflammatory; best remedy for mouth, gum, and throat irritations and infections; powerful respiratory antiseptic and expectorant; stimulating; warming; strengthens and fortifies the emotions; grounding and centering to the mind.

Safety Data & Usage Information

 Generally nonirritating and nonsensitizing. Avoid during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, and use with children under 2 years of age.

Always dilute essential oils properly – according to age, health, medication intake, and skin condition – prior to application.  My book, Stephanie Tourles’s Essential Oils: A Beginner’s Guide (Storey Publishing, c2018), is a good reference, complete with safety guidelines and dilution charts.

The following recipe highlights the therapeutic nature of myrrh essential oil with regard to its benefits for oral health. Combined with peppermint essential oil, it works like a charm!

soothing myrrh mouthwash and gargle

Soothing Myrrh-Mint Mouthwash & Gargle Recipe

With a combination of warm, resinous notes and stimulating, sharp mint, this bracing, mouth-tingling blend offers antibacterial, astringent, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties that help tone and tighten gum tissue, neutralize bad breath, soothe a sore throat, relieve laryngitis, and aid in alleviating mouth ulcers and inflamed gums. It is tasty and effective! Note:  This recipe is safe for folks 12 years of age and older.

Essential Oils:

• 1 drop myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) essential oil
• 1 drop peppermint (Mentha piperita) essential oil

Base:

• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 cup purified water, hot or tepid (hot water is more soothing for sore throats and laryngitis)

To Make The Mouthwash:  Combine the sea salt with the drops of myrrh and peppermint essential oils in a small mug. Pour in the water and stir to blend. Use immediately.

To Use:  First, rinse your mouth thoroughly with plain water, then gargle and swish with half of the mouthwash for up to 30 seconds (or for as long as you can tolerate). Spit it out in the sink (do not swallow). Repeat with remaining mouthwash., If you are suffering from a sore throat or laryngitis, mouth ulcers, bleeding gums, or pyorrhea, repeat several times per day until the condition improves, making a new batch each time.

Yield:  Single use

Photos by Mars Vilaubi


stephanie tourles's essential oils a beginner's guideRecipe excerpted from Stephanie Tourles’s Essential Oils: A Beginner’s Guide, (c2018 by Stephanie Tourles). Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

How to Keep Your Hands Healthy and Hydrated

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) breaks down the science of hand washing and why it works for preventing the spread of illness.

Throughout your average day there are several times you should be washing your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • After using the restroom, changing a diaper, or handling pet waste
  • After handling pets or their food
  • After touching garbage

During times of a pandemic, like COVID-19, you should also be sure to cleanse hands after being in public spaces and touching surfaces that may have been touched by others, such as gas pumps, door handles, or shopping carts.

woman washing hands with soap over white sink bowl

With so much hand washing going on in recent months, you may have notice that you skin has become dry and cracked. Use these tips from a board-certified dermatologist to keep your hands soft and healthy!

How to prevent hands from cracking and staying hydrated:

  • Moisturize one to two times a day with a cream such as Cerave Cream or Aveeno Eczema Cream
    Choosing a fragrance-free formula is also a good idea.
  • It is generally best to opt for cleansers that only have gentle ingredients.
  • Neutrogena Hydroboost Gel prevents dryness without clogging pores and absorbs into the skin quickly without leaving any residue and is perfect for year-round use.
  • Avoid antibacterial soap, which can be drying.  Unless you're instructed to use antibacterial soap for medical reasons, then just use the regular stuff instead.
  • I don’t think you can use too many products as they will all be absorbed into your skin.
  • Other products can be added to target specific concerns, like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid for acne, or hyaluronic acid for irritation or dryness.

Advice for strengthening your nails:

  • Wear gloves when hand washing dishes or cleaning.
  • Do not use antibacterial soap. 
  • Moisturize cuticles with Aquaphor, Vaseline or CND Solar Oil.
  • DermaNail Conditioner – use twice a day; Helps dry, brittle nails.
  • Biotin – a vitamin which accelerates nail growth (My favorite is vitafusion Gummies for Hair, Skin, and Nails because it contains a good amount of Biotin and is also a multivitamin.)
  • Keep nails short; file nails gently; avoid nail trauma (such as using them to open packages or remove lids from cans).
  • For soft nails – use Nailtiques 2 Plus Lacquer or Sally Hansen Advanced Hard as Nails Strengthener
  • Use nail polish remover that does not contain acetone.

Visit the CDC for more tips on proper hand washing techniques.

Image by Martin Slavoljubovski from Pixabay







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