Saturday, March 29, 2008

Does Your Hair Care? Part 1

I am in the market for a new shampoo.

I have had success with what I thought was a 'good' brand, recommended by a stylist (before I started cutting my own hair!) but it is a bit expensive, and not easy to get. What is the difference between cheap and expensive shampoo? I need something that is good for my hair, not too expensive, and readily available. There has to be something out there right?

First Step: What is in my shampoo?

I looked up my current brand, Matrix Biolage Fortifying, in the Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database (I found this website last year while looking for a good sunscreen, see my earlier post). And what did I find? Yikes! My shampoo is in the high hazard category!
  • Ingredients are linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, allergies/immunotoxicity, and other toxic concerns.
  • The manufacturer has Not signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, and Does conduct animal testing!
Going down the slew of bad ingredients, I recognized many that are common in most shampoos you find on the shelf. Shampoos (and other products) contain surfactants, which are used to keep the oils and water in the product from separating, and in the case of shampoo, create a nice lather. The following surfactants are used in shampoos, and they are listed in order of harshness, with the first one being the harshest, and found in the cheapest shampoos.
1. Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
2. Ammonium Laureth Sulfate

3. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

4. Sodium Laureth Sulfate

5. TEA lauryl Sulfate

6. TEA Laureth Sulfate

After some research, I found that experts say:
  • A shampoo is made of 10 to 30 ingredients: surfactants, conditioning agents, special care ingredients, and additives (foam stabilizers, thickeners, chelating agents, preservatives, pearlescents, opacifiers, fragrances, and colorants)
  • Shampoos clean hair- claims beyond that are suspect
  • Most expensive products don't live up to their claims, they are usually the same ingredients
  • The FDA only regulates the list of ingredients- not the claims on the packaging
  • Hair is dead; it can't be repaired- any change to the look and feel is temporary. Added ingredients (sunscreen and antioxidants) have no benefits, they are washed down the drain.
  • Lather and foam does not do anything towards cleaning except make you feel like it is working
  • Scientific Resources- Shampoos: Ingredients, efficacy and adverse effects
Step 2: Try some slightly cheaper options that score better
  • Garnier Fructis Fortifying Shampoo- Moderate Hazard- pretty much the only difference is not ingredients linked to cancer.
  • Dove Beautifully Clean Shampoo- Moderate Hazard- same again but no developmental/reproductive toxicity
I bought the little samples of these two brands and tested them. Dove seemed to over clean my hair and dry it out (you know that squeaky clean feeling?). The Garnier Fructis actually worked pretty well, and felt good. If I were going to stick with shampoo I would probably pick that one, but I'm still concerned about the safety and costs of conventional shampoo.

Step 3: So, what to do? Maybe there are homemade options out there that aren't too crazy?

I started looking into homemade options, and found there are many very inexpensive and easy options, and I have most of them in my house already!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of 'Does Your Hair Care' when I experiment with the No 'Poo Method.

Help for Springtime Skin

Spring cleaning, gardening, home improvement projects, a long winter- all have the ability to turn your hands dry, cracked, and painfully red.

A member of my Homesteading group recently started a discussion on the best things to use for Springtime hands. Here are some of the most popular, from people who really put their hands to work in Spring:

From the Store:
From Home:
  • Aloe gel- right from the plant
  • Homemade goat milk lotion
  • Vaseline (applied before or after working)
  • Coconut oil or jojoba oil
  • Homemade scrub- oil and salt or oil and sugar
  • Warm Olive Oil
Gloves are also important in protecting your hands, and can also be used with one of the above methods for overnight treatment.

Happy Spring!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pesticides Bad! Some Scientific Support

At the 2008 MELA Conference Dr. Claire Gervais, a family physician and President of Madison, WI's Healthy Lawn Team, gave a presentation on "Landscape Pesticide Use: Hidden Risks".

Her handout is available online, and it contains summaries of multiple studies on the effects of pesticides on health, and online resources.

There are many simple, inexpensive, natural options for pest control.
For More Info:
Safer Pest Control Project
Greater Madison Healthy Lawn Team

Update 3/29/08-More Research- Study links Parkinson's disease to long-term pesticide exposure

Update 3/31/08- OP-Ed Piece from the NY Times- 'Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird'
"...Migratory birds, modern-day canaries in the coal mine, reveal an environmental problem hidden to consumers. Testing by the United States Food and Drug Administration shows that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are three times as likely to violate Environmental Protection Agency standards for pesticide residues as the same foods grown in the United States. Some but not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing or peeling produce, but tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that most Americans carry traces of pesticides in their blood. American consumers can discourage this poisoning by avoiding foods that are bad for the environment, bad for farmers in Latin America and, in the worst cases, bad for their own families..."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Update- Project: Use Less Plastic

Not too long ago in my post about Reducing my Plastic Use I wondered what I would do for trash bags when I use reusable shopping bags and the flow of plastic bags into my home slows.

I asked and the internet answered with this piece from Grist.
  • Their advice- Make less trash, use less bags, and talk to your city and waste disposal company and see what they have to say on the subject.
I was using a lot of little bags because I had piles of them and wanted to get rid of them, but it should be easy going back to dumping little cans into one big bag (preferably recycled plastic). It helps to only have one garbage where you throw away anything wet or food related, other garbage cans don't really need liners. And don't forget to compost! (I will write a post on it one of these days!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Give Us a Nudge Towards Green

Great article today in the NYTimes! I got really excited because it just makes so much sense. Marketers know how to get consumers to behave a certain way, so why can't we apply that to convince consumers to be greener?

About the Human Brain:
"We’re not good at making immediate sacrifices for an abstract benefit in the future."
"With the right prompting, we’ll make sacrifices for the common good and perform acts of charity that we’d never do for any amount of pay. We’ll reform our behavior strikingly to conform with social norms."
They found that associating behavior with actual costs (like conserving energy), comparing behavior with social norms, and just giving people a nudge in the right direction, could do quite a bit towards decreasing our carbon output.

So, lets get some marketing people on this! I hope to see more of this soon!

Are We Ready to Track Carbon Footprints?
Published NY Times: March 25, 2008

Bathroom Cleaner Reviews

The Grist's product reviews are not scientific, but usually interesting. I found this one on Green-cleaning supplies for the bathroom, where they found the cheap old fashioned ingredients work better than the ones that you can buy.

Green cleaning supplies can be a better alternative to conventional cleaning supplies, which contain ingredients toxic to you and the environment (see this fact sheet). While the Grist review suggests Borax, most people don't realize what you can do with things you probably already have in your cabinets. They are cheap, safe, and they work.

My bathroom cleaning arsenal contains a box of baking soda, a spray bottle of vinegar water, and Dr. Bronner's Castille soap (multipurpose in the bathroom, more on that later!)
  • Sink and tub- baking soda with warm water and a couple drops of Castille soap. Nice and clean, with a fresh scent from the soap
  • Toilet- Sprinkle baking soda then spray with vinegar
  • Mirrors- Vinegar spray and a microfiber cloth
  • Drains- Baking soda, warm water, and vinegar will flush out a clogged drain. (Those zipper things work great too)
  • Shower- I keep the vinegar spray bottle next to the shower for a shower spray
You don't really need a pantry-full of expensive cleaning supplies, all you need is some good old fashioned ingredients and a little elbow grease. You can breathe a little easier knowing you aren't spraying irritants in your air or dumping toxins down the drain.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I Made Yogurt!

Why would you do that?, you might ask, don't you know they sell it at the grocery store in handy little cups? I know you're also wondering, are you sure that's safe?

Well I'm certainly alive and well, and people all over the world have been fermenting milk into yogurt for thousands of years. The convenience of processed options causes us to forget how possible it is to make things by hand.

I decided to try making my own yogurt for three reasons:
  1. Cost- Milk, expensive as it may be, is still cheaper than the little cups of yogurt I was buying for convenience.
  2. Waste- All that plastic I was using! I can make it and store it in reusable mason jars (see my earlier post)
  3. Health- I really like to know what I'm putting in my body, and this way I can add the amount of sugar I want and even fresh fruit! I also learned in the book You: On A Diet how good yogurt is for your digestive system and immune system.
The basic recipe for yogurt is:
milk heated up to 185˚F then cooled to 90-110˚F
mix with starter (1 cup per 1/2 gallon milk)
maintain at that temperature for 4-8 hours.
There is much variation in the methods, so you pretty much have to see what works for you.

After some trial and not-too-much error here is what I recommend if you are inclined to try yogurt-making:
  • Make sure your starter is plain and has Live and Active Cultures (it should say on the container)
  • I used 1% milk but add a little powdered milk to make it thicker and creamier
  • To keep the culture at the right temp, I used a small cooler filled with hot water up to the jar lid. You may have to add more hot water every couple hours if it cools.
  • They also sell yogurt makers, but why add more clutter in the kitchen?
  • You can add sweeteners, but I like it plain and add fruit if I need more flavor.
  • A 4 hour batch will be mild and almost sweet yogurt, an 8 hour one will be more tangy. Experiment and see how you like it.
This can be a fun science project to learn about fermentation, with an edible delicious result!

If you still aren't convinced, I would still recommend eating yogurt of some kind (with active cultures), for all the digestive health benefits, and also buy larger sizes to avoid all the extra packaging and plastic.

Help Stop Junk - 'Do Not Mail' Campaign

From the makers of 'Do Not Call', we now have 'Do Not Mail'!

I know sometimes it's nice to see something in the mailbox, even if it is junk, but think about the following numbers next time you pull a handful of wasted paper out of your mailbox.

Junk Mail in the US:
  • 100 billion pieces delivered per year
  • 800+ pieces per household
  • 1/3 of all the mail delivered in the world
  • To produce the paper- over 100 million trees, and more greenhouse-gas than 3.7 million cars produce
From the Gristmill 3/11/08

Monday, March 17, 2008

Kitchen Meditation/St Patrick's Day Pudding

To celebrate today's holiday, I decided to come up with a special pudding dessert. It's not really Irish, but it's green!

Sure you can make instant anything these days, but I like to make things by hand. There is something about stirring a pot that forces you to slow down. It's like meditation, just stirring and thinking, and watching something transform before your eyes. Plus it always tastes better and you know exactly what you are eating.

St Patty's Day Tapioca Pudding

Mix the following in a saucepan and let sit for 5 minutes:
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp Instant Tapioca
2 1/5 cups milk
1 egg, beaten

Cook over medium heat and stir until it boils and bubbles even while stirring. Remove from heat and stir in 3-4 Tbsp Creme de Menthe (more or less for your taste).

Cool for 20 minutes and serve. You can chill if you like, but I love warm creamy pudding!

I also served the pudding in glasses and topped with pastel mints for a cute finishing touch.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Project: Use less Plastic

Since my post earlier this year on the dangers of Plastic I have been working on reducing my use of plastic in my everyday life. Here is an update on how it's been going.

Water bottles- I invested in some nice stainless steel Klean Kanteen (27 oz) water bottles. The water tastes so much better, and stays nice and cool. The bottles are heavy duty, but not too heavy to carry, easy to clean, and easy to carry. My next investment will be the Klean Kanteen 40 oz size to have a bigger one for camping and backpacking.

Storage containers- I have been using mason jars for most food or beverage storage. Food and drinks taste better without the plastic taste that I didn't realize was there until I switched. Mason jars are great reusable containers for juice, dried goods, leftover soups or sauces and many other things. I hope to get some glass storage containers for other leftovers. I have also been making my own salad dressing and yogurt in mason jars.

Lunch- I stopped using disposable baggies and now keep my sandwich and snacks in hard plastic containers (I know, still plastic, but better than throwing it away!) which I wash right after I eat so they are clean for the next day. I stopped buying pre-sliced cheese and bread, cutting down on plastic packaging. I make my own yogurt and bring it in tiny 1/2 cup sized mason jars.

Shopping Bags- My next project is to stop the accumulation of shopping bags in my house by making my own reusable grocery bags out of old t-shirts. I'll let you know how that goes!
(I do use the excess bags as garbage bags, so I'm practicing conserving those by dumping little trash cans into one big bag in anticipation of a shortage.)

Any other ideas or tips on how to reduce use of plastic for our health and the environment? Feel free to leave comments!

Big Organic

A member of my organic gardening group found this chart from Good Magazine that shows who really runs the Organic brands that we see in the store. For example, I did not know that Kashi, a brand of crackers and cereals that I love, is owned by Kellogg. 'Back to Nature' is a Kraft company.
Wow! I suppose the food is 'organic', but...

As my group member stated 'Just another reason to grow your own.'

Also, see this website by Philip Howard of Michigan State University.

It has some pretty amazing charts showing:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ideas from the Garden Show

My sister and I made our way down to the 2008 Chicagoland Flower and Garden Show this week to try to get a glimpse of spring and some inspiration for the year.

My favorites this year:

Hyacinths! I just love the bright color and the sharp fragrance of the hyacinth that were massed in the garden displays.

Succulents- Tiny cactus, jade, hens and chicks and other succulents abound this year. I'm going to try a container garden with these cute little plants.

I absolutely love this color combination with the brown pussy willow branches and yellow-green dogwood. Must be my favorite color palate this year, my favorite table design display was this ensemble of greens and browns, complete with fruit and feathers as accents!

Oxalis violaceae- huge purple leaves as pretty and showy as flowers.

Beautiful colorful butterflies- I could look at these displays all day, simply fascinating creatures.

This little mini-garden with wine corks and moss gave me an idea for what to do with the corks I just can't throw away!

Water features with systems that collect and recycle rainwater.

Pesticide Residues in our Food (and Milk!)

I saw this article on Grist today: Got chemical and pesticide residues in your milk? Conventional milk contains toxics, says the USDA

They mention a report from the Organic Center on pesticide residues in our foods. It lists the conventionally grown foods that can contain the highest amounts of toxins (They also have a 2page summary that lists the top ones by domestic and import).

The scary part is the information about milk. Tests found that even organic milk (probably from industrial organic dairies) had trace amounts of pesticide residues, mostly from bio-accumulation of pesticides like DDT used many years ago. So, that brings up the industrial-organic question again. Is it worth twice the price to buy organic products if they are not that much better than conventional?

What to do? Give up dairy? I don't see that happening, especially here in Wisconsin, where it is a major food group. I imagine small local dairies, and pasture operations have better milk, but the costs would probably make it difficult to make the switch. Looks like I need to do some research!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spend Less and Eat Healthier-Benefits of a Good Grocery List

How to plan your grocery list to avoid impulse purchases

I can get in and out of the grocery store in less than half an hour. I spend almost half of what I used to on weekly groceries and I buy healthy food. What's my secret? I have a good organized system. With just a little planning ahead and a really good list, you too can avoid those little impulse buys that can add up to have big effect on your budget and your waistline.

The first step to getting organized going through your kitchen and writing down all the items you use on a regular basis. Next, go through the list and cross off all the unhealthy things and replace them with a healthier alternative (If it's not in the house, you can't eat it!). Organize the products by location in the store, and make your master list.

I find it easier to make my own custom list and print out copies. You can bind, staple, or clip together and hang it on or near the fridge. Pre-made lists can work but everyone likes and uses different foods, and seldom will you find one that works as well for you as your own custom list. Blank notepads are better than nothing, but they force you to remember each week what you use and need, and you risk forgetting things and making extra trips...MORE

Friday, March 7, 2008

Clearing the Clutter- in the Kitchen

I wrote this article after hearing about a new book, Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?, about how clutter in the home can be detrimental to our health. While some of it may be hype for another fad diet, I believe there is some truth to the idea that having a disorganized kitchen can make it difficult to eat healthy. If we have too many unnecessary gadgets and our cupboards overflowing because of our need to buy things, chances are our eating habits are similarly driven by a need to consume.
Organize your kitchen by clearing the clutter
I know there are probably people out there that can be perfectly happy and healthy in clutter, but for many of us, a house full of clutter can bring anxiety, inefficiency and stress to our daily lives. Clutter can start to get out of control in one area of your house and spread until it seems too overwhelming to tackle. Where do you start? It helps to think of the most used room in the house with the highest traffic. For many households, that would be the kitchen. We all have plenty of excuses why our kitchens are not clutter-free, but I'm here to say you will be amazed what a few simple changes can do. Let go of those excuses and get started! MORE...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is still here?

Most studies since the MSG scare found that that it has no effect on most people if used in normal concentrations (In 1995 the FDA cleared MSG as a health risk), but MSG still has a stigma attached to the name. It is still there in our food, but with a different name.

Synthetically produced glutamates under the names hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast, yeast extracts, protein concentrates and other additives add flavor to many of our processed foods, especially those looking for meaty type flavors. Labeling as MSG is only required when it is a direct ingredient. Glutamates can also be in ingredients labeled as vegetable broth or chicken broth.

MSG was used as a cheap, synthetic alternative to get the flavor 'umami' (the flavor of glutamic acid, which is found naturally in many savory foods) “Just like salt and sugar, it exists in nature, it tastes good at normal levels, but large amounts at high concentrations taste strange and aren’t that good for you,” says Dr. Chaudhari of the University of Miami, who has studied glutamates.

My favorite part:

"Nacho-cheese-flavor Doritos, which contain five separate forms of glutamate, may be even richer in umami than the finest kombu dashi (kelp stock) in Japan.
No wonder they taste so good."

Yes, MSG, the Secret Behind the Savor
New York Times, Published: March 5, 2008

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Online Photo Gallery

I am proud to announce my new photo gallery online- where you can order different sized prints of my photos, and other items made with my photos such as greeting cards, puzzles, and mugs.

Check out my Gallery:
Feel free to contact me about projects including photo books, personalized cards custom photos, announcements, or other items.