Monthly Archives: August 2013

Confidence Is Vulnerability

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I find confidence in revealing my insecurities to the world. By doing so, I’ve found that I am accepted just as I always was (sometimes more so!) and what I thought were flaws that needed to be hidden actually look pretty normal in the light of day.

People are drawn towards realness, and I’ve found my imperfections to be much better received than a facade of perfection- which just seems fake. Vulnerability is scary, but it’s empowering.

Beautiful Skin, The Natural Way

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(Clear, healthy skin without any chemicals! I do still get a few “time of the month” breakouts, like you see here, but usually my skin is pretty flawless!)

Yesterday I talked about the process I’ve gone through to rid my life of unnecessary toxic chemicals as it pertained to haircare. Due to the response it received, I wanted to follow up with the changes I’ve made for skincare as well.

The most important part about natural skincare is that they don’t need any toxic chemicals or synthetic fragrances or fancy packages to get the job done. And I’m not talking about mushing up an avocado or banana to wear as a face mask- that’s probably good for you, but I never noticed a difference in my skin doing something like that. I like skincare that DOES something. Isn’t that the point?

So I wrote up a list for you consisting of my natural skincare products that actually work, what they’re supposed to do, and why. If that’s not enough to convince you, it’ll be easy to try it out yourself, as most of these products are in your kitchen or bathroom already. Anything that’s not in there won’t cost more than $10 to go out and get. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the cost benefits of natural skincare!

Without further ado, “the list”:

FACE

Exfoliate:

-Baking soda scrub

Clarisonic (okay, so this isn’t a product AND it’s spendy, but it supplements any skincare regimen nicely- including my own)

-Organic coffee grounds

It’s important to scrub away the dead skin to improve cell turnover for collogen production, as well as keeping them from building up and mixing with the sticky sebum from your pores, clogging them and causing white heads, black heads, and pimples.

Baking soda is a cheap, quick, and gentle way to exfoliate. All you need is a tablespoon on a wet face. Be careful not too mix too much water, because it can dissolve fairly quickly. Simple, and effective!

Organic coffee grounds don’t dissolve, but are a little coarser. I make sure to use organic coffee for this and for consuming, because there are loads of toxic chemicals in normal coffee. Especially the flavored kind!

The cool part about coffee grounds on your face is that caffeine can work as a vasoconstrictor, which makes it really good for de-puffing your eyes (it’s included in a lot of expensive department store eye gels!), temporarily tighten skin, reduce dark circles, as well as stimulate the circulation under the skin, helping produce a nice, rosy glow. The best part about this is, it doesn’t have to be un-used coffee grounds (although it can’t be decaf, or you don’t get the benefits!). You can recycle your grounds from your morning brew, or use fresh unused grounds if you’re not a coffee drinker. If I’m not using my grounds after I make some coffee, I put them in a jar that I keep in the fridge. For a quick-morning de-puff, I press the cold coffee grounds under my eyes for 10 minutes or so. You can also take it into the shower for an all-over body scrub with the same circulation benefits, as well as de-puffing benefits that have been known to temporarily improve cellulite.

The Clarisonic is fairly expensive, but is extremely effective at exfoliating thoroughly. After using the sensitive brush for only a couple days in a row, it feels just like my skin did after a microdermabrasion! It’s the smoothest my skin has ever felt.

 
Cleansing:
 
-Natural, organic bar soap like this one
 
I like using soap because it still gives me a nice lather, which breaks the surface tension of water and washes away dirt, oil and makeup. I use this method when I want an effective makeup removal or cleanse without having to rub very much on my skin or eyelashes, the way I would with oil. I really like using this with the Clarisonic brush. This is the only cleansing method I use that strips away a lot of the oils on my face, so I make sure to moisturize afterwards- because I don’t want my face feeling too dry and feeling like it needs to produce extra oil (like I explained in my I’ll Never Shampoo My Hair Again post.)
 
Makeup remover:
 
-Unrefined/raw coconut oil
 
Like dissolves like, so oil cleansing actually dissolves the surface sebum on your skin. Some people have really finicky skin, so this doesn’t necessarily work for them. I’ve never met anyone who this doesn’t work for, personally, but I’m not going to recommend it as a one-size-fits-all if I’m not positive that’s true! Test it out and see if it works for you. Chances are, it will. It removes all mascaras and face makeup as well as any remover I’ve tried, sans nasty chemicals. You can just rub a couple teaspoons worth over your face and eyes, and wipe with a dry or wet washcloth.
 
Moisturizer:
 
-Unrefined/raw coconut oil
-Cold-pressed caster oil
 
Some people don’t like the “greasy” feel of oil on their face. They liken it to the feeling of really oily skin (the bad kind) and to acne, but it’s nothing like that. I actually think it feels rather luxurious! I’ve been using oil on my face for 6 or 7 years without any adverse reactions or breakouts. I even use it to clear my skin up after a breakout! I used to have really sensitive skin and eczema (which have cleared up since clean-eating), and it helped them both significantly as well. I slather it on before bedtime, since it isn’t really practical to be shiny and oily during the day, or putting under makeup, since the makeup will just slide right off. While coconut oil is my go-to, I like to use castor for its other benefits on top of hydrating my skin as well. 
 
Anti-aging, skin tone corrector:
 
-Cold-pressed caster oil
 
Caster oil has been known to reduce wrinkles and age spots/sun spots. I use it in place of my old Clinique “Even better” Dark Spot Corrector Serum and it works just the same!
 
Eyelash moisturizer and growth serum: 
 
-Cold-pressed caster oil
 
It’s not Latisse, but caster oil has been known even to grow hair back on bald spots on people’s heads after long periods of continued use. My results haven’t been crazy, but they’ve been good. I’ve been using this on and off for 8-10 months now, and while it took quite a while to notice any difference (probably in part because I don’t use it super consistently), I have noticed this summer that when I apply mascara, my lashes are definitely longer and thicker than they were before using caster oil. So I do use a bit more mascara these days, but I won’t complain!
 
Sun protection:
 
-Unrefined/raw coconut oil
 
The trouble with most sunscreens is that they rub in or go on clear, because people don’t like those white-zinc streaks from old sunscreen. Unfortunately, this means that the molecules are small enough to penetrate the first layer or two of skin, and thus has actually has been known to cause cancer. Being wrinkle-free is not worth getting cancer for, especially when you’re trying to protect yourself from it in the first place. The white-streaks are actually the only safe kind of sunscreen, because it’s not getting into your bloodstream and filling your body with toxins. Plus, all that means is you have to rub in it a little more. Is that really so bad? For full coverage I use Banana Boat Natural Reflect Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 for myself and my two year old.
 
Unlike man-made sunscreens, coconut oil has a natural SPF 10. For a nice golden-brown tan I just grab a jar from the kitchen cupboard!
 
Toner:
 
-Raw apple cider vinegar
 
ACV wipes away extra oil and dirt that cleansing may have missed, just like a regular toner, with the added benefit of restoring your skin’s natural pH. This helps to reduce the oil production and balance the skin’s natural hydration levels, as well as fight acne with its anti-bacterial properties. The measurements for this method are 1:1 apple cider vinegar to water.
 
Acne spot treatment:
 
-Raw apple cider vinegar
 
Dab a q-tip’s worth of undiluted apple cider vinegar right onto a pimple to help dry it up and the kill bacteria, all while healing the skin.
 
NAILS 
 
Nail conditioner + strengthener:
 
-Raw apple cider vinegar
 
Just like it says in my no-more-shampoo post, ACV is an excellent skin, hair, and nails conditioner, as it helps to restore their natural pH for strength, health, and beauty. I am pretty hard on my nails, and this really helps! You can also use it to condition your nails before adding polish to wipe away extra oil and balance the pH for extra long-wear nail polish. I know they always brush something on to balance the nail’s pH before I get my gel manicures for this very reason, and that stuff is much more expensive! This formula is 1:2 apple cider vinegar to water (1 part apple cider vinegar, 2 parts water)
 
Teeth, Mouth & Gums
 
Toothpaste: 
 
-Baking soda
 
 
Baking soda has long been known to be an effective breath-freshener, tooth polisher, and teeth whitener. Mixing it into a paste with water works as well as toothpaste, without unnecessary chemicals. While it does not contain fluoride, your teeth might never miss it anyway. Studies are increasingly showing that fluoride is incredibly toxic to ingest, and while it can be beneficial for your teeth topically, is not inherently necessary for the health of your teeth. Not to get all political on you, but the only studies that show fluoride IS beneficial for your teeth are funded by American Dental Association-approved programs. (In fact, this organization works really hard to run all holistic-dentistry out of business. Look into it!)
 
To improve the strength and health of your teeth fluoride-free, Dr. Collin’s Restore is an excellent choice. It re-mineralizes your teeth to protect against enamel breakdown, sensitivity, and cavities. Plus you still get that minty-fresh taste. My daughter’s paternal grandfather is an oral surgeon who has confirmed that the ingredients of this toothpaste suggest the efficacy in all its claims! 
 
Teeth whitener & oral health:
 
-Cold-pressed untoasted sesame oil or unrefined coconut oil
 
Oil pulling, the act of swishing oil around in your mouth for a period of time, has been used for hundreds of years in Eastern Medicine to detox the entire body for a wide array of health benefits. While the scientific evidence has yet to show whether these claims are true or not, it has already confirmed one thing: your entire mouth will be cleaner and healthier. Oil pulling has been shown to stop the growth of Streptoccus bacteria- the main cause of tooth decay, protect against plaque/gingivitus, and significantly whiten teeth in just a couple uses. 
 
I brush my teeth with baking soda and floss beforehand, so the oil doesn’t work on cleaning what it doesn’t need to, and swish 1 tablespoon of unrefined coconut oil around in my mouth for 15-20 minutes. Sometimes it mixes with my spit a lot and my mouth gets really full, so I spit it out and grab some new coconut oil to keep going if my 20 minutes aren’t up yet. Make sure you spit the oil out in the garbage, not the sink! Coconut oil solidifies at certain temperatures, and you don’t want it doing that in your pipes and clogging them up! I rinse my mouth out thoroughly when I’m through (it’s thought to contain a lot of the toxins from your mouth after oil pulling) and that’s it!
 
Extra, extra white teeth:
 
-Hydrogen peroxide
 
Hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient in all tooth-whitening products. The reason there are so many strips, trays, and gels on the market is because they supply a concentrated dose, as well as being sticky enough to stay on your teeth for a while so it can actually get to work in a short period of time. The additional chemicals and gunk that they add are not good for your teeth, and even worse for you body- which is not good news because you end up ingesting them in small amounts every time you put them on your teeth. A hydrogen peroxide rinse works as well as any high-end whitener if you use it consistently, and sometimes better. A Crest White Strip can’t get in between all the cracks and crevices of your teeth- those stay stained. Not so with the hydrogen peroxide rinse! Add one part hydrogen peroxide to two parts water and swish for a couple minutes every day for professional-like results.
 
What about acne?
 
Although I’ve had my fair share of breakouts, I’m blessed enough to not struggle with them very frequently or significantly. Even so, thanks to the above natural skincare methods and a clean diet, my skin is the best it’s ever been. I used to be crazy about my skincare- spending most of my money on expensive and trendy products, washing once or twice a day, a new mask or skin cream at night, eye creams, anti-acne spot treatments, you name it. I had drawers full of department store and drug store products that worked half as well as an organic, vegan diet does for me now. Cutting out dairy and having a green smoothie every morning does more for me than that entire chest of drawers ever did! 
 
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(My morning “Glowing Green Smoothie“!)
 
I read a story recently in a magazine about women who eat Ramen noodles to afford pricey skin creams, and I was horrified. If these women only knew that they need to do the opposite for good skin! Fruits and vegetables, more than any other foods, contain a wide array of vitamins, nutrients, and anti-oxidants that are necessary for proper functioning and beauty alike. The more real nutrition that you get from your food, the more your body can use it for beauty and wellness. Your body needs nutrition first for normal, every day processes (because these are necessary for life). If there’s anything left over, your body can devote that to beauty, detoxification and wellness (because these are secondary). And that’s only if there’s any LEFT OVER. Most of us only get a serving or two of raw fruits and vegetables a day- if any- and it ALL goes to the basic processes! No wonder we see signs of gray hair and crow’s feet at age 28. 
 
I could talk about nutrition all day, as it’s a huge passion of mine, but I’ll move on. Another way to combat acne healthfully is to detoxify your body from fluoride. I just got on a little rant about fluoride in the toothpaste section, but let me tell you how it relates to your skin. Fluoride, as I said, is incredibly toxic for the human body when ingested. There are zero proven benefits, and only shown detriments. It likes to accumulate it in your body- like your brain, disrupting mental processes, and your bones, significantly weakening them. Did you know countries with fluorinated drinking water all have significantly higher osteoporosis rates? It’s uncanny.
 
Aside from many other hazards, it has an effect on a small portion of the population that is lesser-known in the dermatological community called “fluoroderma“, which is a condition caused by fluoride sensitivity that produces extreme acne that does not clear up very well even with the help of prescriptions or topical treatments. 
 
A cheap and easy way to protect your brain, bones, and skin from fluoride in your drinking water is to detox it out. This can be done by supplementing either boron or melatonin, both of which are very good for you outside of the detoxing purposes, too. I take melatonin supplements when I go to bed, and they improve my sleep. They’re cheap and safe, as melatonin naturally occurs in your body. Fluoride disrupts the production of melatonin in your brain, however, so putting it back in your body through a supplement helps replace it again. 
 
Boron is very effective for getting fluoride out from all areas of your body, and one easy way to take it is in simple old Borax. Yeah, Borax, the stuff in the laundry isle. Borax is not regulated by the FDA, so they don’t recommend it for human ingestion, although it is perfectly safe. Borax is just sodium tetraborate- a type of salt. It’s not a very tastey type of salt, which is why we don’t usually eat it, but we certainly could, if we wanted to. 1/8 of a teaspoon is all you need a day to continually detox the fluoride from your body and protect against buildup. Because it doesn’t taste very good, I add it to citrus drinks like orange juice to mask the flavor. Similar to adding a pinch of table salt to orange juice, a pinch of borax just cuts down on the acidity of the orange juice and makes it taste a little sweeter. I also add it to my morning cup of coffee, and it cuts down on the acidity level of that too, making it less bitter. A pinch here and there quickly adds up to 1/8 tsp, and that’s all it takes. A box of the stuff costs under $10, and you can imagine how long it takes to get through one when you use 1/8 tsp at a time. That’s a small price to pay for your well being!
 
If you have well water, don’t think you don’t need to detox fluoride too! Juices, sodas, soups, and all sorts of other processed and pre-packaged foods or restaurant foods and drinks contain fluorinated water. Even some bottled-waters, and the frappe you got at Starbucks last week. It’s all over the place, and your body has a hard time getting rid of it. If you haven’t detoxed it, chances are almost certain that you need to.
 
So there you have it! A little lesson on good skin and health, the natural way. Don’t take my word for it- try it out for yourself! 🙂

I’ll Never Shampoo My Hair Again, EVER. (Seriously!)

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(It had been 6 weeks since I shampooed my hair when I took this picture!)
(**EDITED 8/12/14) This past year I have been in the process of weeding out the chemicals in my life. The kind of unnecessary chemicals that are in cleaning products, skincare, hair care, makeup, non-organic produce, and so forth. I’ve chosen to do this partially to lessen my carbon footprint, and mostly for my personal health and well-being. Not to mention it’s cheaper!
Along the way I stopped using shampoo and conditioner. This may sound weird for some, or even “gross”, but I swear to you that it isn’t. I’m excited enough about it that I want to write a post to explain why you might want to give it a try too!
I came across this concept, that has been known as the “No Poo” movement, while reading online. I don’t personally like to call it that- I can’t get past the fact that poo is usually a nickname for poop, and I’m totally not into that when we’re talking about my hair. In any case, those who go “No Poo” do actually still wash their hair. We actually still condition it too. And the way we do it is actually way, way better for your hair.
So why not shampoo?
First of all, shampoo is a detergent, meaning it strips your hair completely of its natural oils. While none of us want yucky, greasy hair, stripping the oils away completely is actually counter-productive. Your scalp recognizes that all the oils are gone, and starts to pump out extra. This is why those of you who shower and wash your hair every day actually NEED to wash your hair every day: because your hair legitimately gets greasy faster than the hair of those who don’t wash their hair every day! You’ve taught it to do this. (You skin actually does this too, while we’re on the topic. This is why moisturizing after washing your face is a good idea- your skin will want to pump out extra oil if you leave it with that tight, dry feeling. And we know that’s definitely no good for acne!)
Shampoo also contains many hazardous chemicals, including fragrances, which are usually carcinogenic (aka cancer-causing) and not so friendly to your lungs when you take a whiff, DMDM hydantoin (allergy aggravator), and 1,4-dioxane (which The Environmental Protection Agency has labeled as a human carcinogen as well). Not to mention what they add in each different variety.
Also, it’s expensive! Depending on what brand you buy, what type of hair you have, and what scent you like, you might end up paying anywhere from $8-$20 every month or two. That may seem like a normal expense, but what if it’s not necessary? You could save a lot!
How do I get my hair clean, then?
That’s the best part. Baking soda! Stick with me here- it works, you guys. I had a few concerns when I wanted to try washing my hair with baking soda, too. The first is that I thought I was going to need A LOT of baking soda to wash my hair as well as shampoo. The second was whether or not it was even going to work as well as shampoo anyway. I had tried putting things like cornstarch and dry shampoo in my hair on off-days when it started getting greasy, and while it worked, it never cleaned my hair from that greasy feeling like shampoo did.
To my happy surprise, I didn’t need that much baking soda to do the trick, and yes, it cleaned my hair just as well as shampoo did. It didn’t have the nice scent like shampoo or lather into bubbles, but I’d gladly sacrifice that for the health and cost benefits.
Baking soda also doesn’t strip the oils completely from your hair, even though It totally feels like it does. No oily-ness in sight. That might sound like a half-ass job at washing your hair, but the best part is, it’s actually better. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but when you stop stripping your hair’s natural oils away completely, you won’t get greasy as often!  Your hair learns to stop pumping out extra oil all the time, and your hair gets LESS greasy the MORE you substitute baking soda for shampoo.
What about conditioner?
This is the other half of the equation, and equally exciting! I don’t use conditioner either- and let me tell you what, my hair is actually stronger, shinier, and less dry & brittle thanks to apple cider vinegar and raw (unrefined) coconut oil. A couple tablespoons of ACV in a big glass of water is all you need to condition your hair. People like to use it as a “rinse”, but I like to make sure that my dry ends get thoroughly moisturized before anything else, so I dip them in the cup and let them soak for a minute before dumping all over the rest of my hair. Then I let it sit for a few minutes while I do something else, like wash my face, and rinse it off. It does smell vinegar-y, but that smell goes away mostly after rinsing and ultimately, completely after drying.
So why ACV? Most importantly, it has a natural pH of 4.25-5.0 when undiluted. Your hair’s natural, healthy pH likes to be somewhere similar (see the table below), or just slightly more alkaline than that. Water’s pH is a neutral 7.0, and a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar is all it takes for that water to become the perfect pH for your hair.
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The amazing part about this is that when your hair is at a healthy pH level, it can function correctly. The cuticle is naturally smooth and seals itself against further chemical and heat damage. You don’t need to coat your hair shaft with chemicals to protect it from these things- with apple cider vinegar, your hair can do that by itself! It also helps the pH of your scalp (see “skin” in the graph above)- eliminating dandruff, along with clearing away product buildup from mousses, gels, and hairspray, AND rinses off whatever leftover dirt and oil is still there.
Normal conditioners that you buy at the store don’t account for your hair’s pH at all. Instead, they use oils and silicone to make it feel smooth and temporarily help make the cuticle less rough. These are not necessarily good for your hair, despite how they make it feel, and regardless of what the packaging says, they cannot actually penetrate the shaft and nourish your hair on the inside. In fact, it was just a couple decades ago that hair conditioner’s main ingredient was sheep sebum. Sebum- you know, like the stuff your shampoo just scrubbed away?
Coconut oil, however, DOES penetrate your skin and hair, nourishing them both from the inside. This is due to two different components of unrefined coconut oil, which “has a ‘medium chain’ of 12 carbon atoms but the size of the molecule is only part of the puzzle. The shape of the molecule is also important. Coconut oil is highly saturated which means the carbon atoms are “filled up” with hydrogen atoms. In addition, the molecule is a straight chain with no branching.  Most oil is unsaturated (not all the carbons are ‘filled up’ and the molecule is branched.) This difference in configuration allows the coconut oil molecules to slip in between the inter-cellular spaces in the hair’s cuticle layer so it can penetrate into the cortex. …Most other oils do not have this ability. None of the other oils penetrate like coconut oil, but all of them can help lubricate hair. However, since they do not penetrate, they need to be used in a leave on product like a hairdressing. When delivered from a conditioner or other rinse off product, they will simply go down the drain.” *Please note that unrefined, or raw, coconut oil is the only kind of coconut oil with these special medium-chain fatty acids. Refined has been altered to withstand higher heats, and therefore is just pure saturated fat- which cannot penetrate into your hair or skin.
*Edit: many people have commented and asked how I use the coconut oil. Since the coconut oil makes my hair so greasy, I use it as a deep conditioning mask overnight, and wash it out in the morning.
Research shows that hair can absorb around 15% of its weight in coconut oil in an hour. An overnight soaking oil (six hours) increases absorption to around 20% or 25%!
I only have two qualms with this new type of conditioning:
1) Apple cider vinegar doesn’t leave your hair silky-smooth when you get out of the shower. It will be when it dries (much smoother than normal, in fact), but the lack of that yucky, plastic-y silicone in your hair means that you have no extra coat of silky gunk on top of your hair. This is a good thing, but it does make for some rougher-feeling wet hair. A key tip here is to make sure your hair is brushed, combed, and totally de-tangled (this is especially important for long hair like mine!) BEFORE showering, so you don’t tangle it up while it’s wet. I can get past that knowing that what I’m doing is actually better for it, though!
2) With coconut oil it is impossible to get out of your hair with just the baking soda. You must use soap of some kind to effectively wash it all… but I think that once a week or a few times a month, I’m okay with that for the deep-conditioning I get from the coconut oil. I just try to use products that contain natural ingredients (like Dr. Bonner’s)!
Measurements and tips: You can use regular white distilled vinegar, especially if you’re blonde, but it’s significantly more acidic, so the standard is 1 teaspoon per cup (8 oz) of water. Apple cider vinegar takes 1-2 tablespoons per cup (8 oz) of water. ACV rinses are safe for color treated hair- mine is part colored, part natural (I’m growing the color out) and it’s worked beautifully on both. I use anywhere from 1/3-1/2 cup of baking soda for a wash, and all you need to do is rub it right into your hair and scalp! Concentrate on the scalp area more than anything, as it’s the main area that needs clarifying. You can make a paste ahead of time, but it’s really unnecessary because when you put dry baking soda on wet hair, it has the same effect anyway.
*Edit: THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! !
A lot of people have written in about how terrible this can be for your hair, about why you shouldn’t use it, etc. This is because the baking soda is very alkaline (aka the opposite pH that you want for your hair). People often mistakenly use baking soda instead of shampoo and skip the apple cider vinegar step. DO NOT DO THIS! The ACV is the step that makes your hair healthier- the baking soda is simply used as a way to get rid of the oils for people who are used to shampooing. In order to re-balance your hair’s pH after the baking soda, you MUST RINSE WITH VINEGAR AND WATER! !
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My hair after 8 weeks with this treatment! (It’s messy because I just took it down from a top-knot, but it’s strong, shiny, healthy, and grease-free!) 
Reference:
-Quantitative measurement of the penetration of coconut oil into human hair using radio-labeled coconut oil. JSCC, 2012, Vol 63.