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  1. Going shopping for natural products can be a minefield. You're surrounded by products promising natural ingredients, x%reading ingredient lists can be confusing organic, essence of marigold etc, etc; but unless you have a basic knowledge of what you want to avoid, you’re in danger of ending up with something that is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Buying from health shops is no guarantee of authenticity – there are many shops where the owners don’t know what is and isn't a 'natural' product on their shelves. It's not their fault - there is a multi-million pound industry geared towards shifting units and if companies can sell a few more by jumping on the green bandwagon, then there's little to stop them.

    But if you go in armed with knowledge, you can quickly find the natural product brands that you’ll be happy to put on your and your family's, skin.

    Don’t be daunted by what at first sight looks like a foreign language. Legally, companies have to use an international standard of names e.g. sunflower oil has to be listed as Helianthus Annuus, but you’ll find many natural products also put the ‘common’ name alongside it.

    As you get more familiar with the no-no’s, you’ll find that you can skim read a list of ingredients and the names will jump out at you.

    This checklist is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great quick starter. If you want to know more, there are some sources at the end of the list for you to read on.

    Needless to say none of these will appear in any green brand worth its salt.

    AVOID

    Parabens – (butylparaben, ethyl paraben, propyl paraben, methylparaben) . Preservatives that may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders. They are now being excluded in many mainstream brands.

    DEA (Diethanolamine) derivatives e.g. cocomide DEA. When combined with certain other ingredients can release Nitrosamines which are known carcinogens.

    Formaldehyde releasers:

    DMDM hydantoin which releases Formaldehyde over time. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen at certain doses.

    diazolidinyl urea: Formaldehyde releaser as above

    imidazolidinyl urea: Formaldehyde releaser as above

    quaternium-15 : Formaldehyde releaser as above – also a common allergen

    Phthalates – Used for consistency and to fix fragrances which means they may be hidden under the ‘Parfum’ or ‘Fragrance’ ingredient.  Studies have linked phthalates to reproductive system disorders.

    PEG/Ceteareth/Polyethylene compounds – frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane which is a probable human carcinogen

    Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate – common skin irritants

    Cocamidopropyl Betaine – common skin irritant

    Fragrance/Parfum       Can include hundreds of different chemicals. Companies are allowed to hide the individual ingredients under the catch-all ‘Parfum’ or ‘Fragrance’ so that their formulation remains secret, but this makes it impossible to identify known allergens or ingredients you’d prefer to avoid. Look for products scented with essential oils.

    Phenoxyethanol:  A preservative previously allowed by organic certification bodies including the Soil Association but now on their list of banned ingredients. Linked to dermatitis and neurotoxicity

    Benzyl Alcohol: Preservative, common skin irritant

    Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate: Preservative, common skin irritant

    Read more at http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ which is an American organisation or for a balanced view at http://personalcaretruth.com/ again a U.S site with a scientific approach to skin care ingredients information.

    I feel this should end with the Crimewatch disclaimer – don’t have nightmares, do sleep well!. Although reading about the dangers of skincare ingredients can make you feel like nothing is safe, you’re taking the first step and arming yourself with the knowledge to make the buying decisions that you’re happy with.

    What do you think? Does the information out there on the big wide web scare you or empower you?

  2. I've always known oats are renowned as an effective treatment for itchy dry skin but have never tried it out (not sure why? ). The traditional way is to run a bath with a muslin bag of oats in the water or held under the tap to create an oat milk bath.

    After a friend came to me yesterday, desperate for a jar of Hand Soother to help her dry, sore hands I reminded her about using olive oil in an emergency and I got to thinking about the other treatments you can find at home. So over the next few days I'm going to try one each day or so and report back giving you an honest view on how effective each one is.

    Today's kitchen pharmacy visit is to the cereal cupboard to try out the oats. oats

    Rather than use them in a bath, I wanted to see how they worked as a quick treatment on my hands. They are feeling dryer than usual at the moment I guess due to the weather and central heating, although not as sore and chapped as my poor friend.

    I took at handful of oats and held them in my hand as I ran warm water over them. Once they felt slightly mushy, I 'washed' my hands with them - messy but actually quite nice (or maybe that's just me!).

    Quick tip - I did this over a sieve to save me picking soggy oats out of the sink afterwards.

    After I rinsed them off my hands felt a lot smoother - this does act as a gentle exfoliator - and soft too. I'd imagine if your hands are feeling sore and chapped, this would be a really soothing treatment.

    So nothing new - but a natural treatment I've known about and never tried. Give it a go if your hands are dry and let me know what you think.

  3. We all occasionally look in the mirror and lament the loss of our youthful skin. I try to remember that each one of those lines is a night spent up with my children, brighteyed and bushy tailedor a late night laughing with friends – all things that go to making life worth living.

    If you follow the Oscar Wilde philosophy on youthfulness, “To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable” then fair play to you (and enjoy yourself). But if you’re up for a quick and mostly free way to look bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning just follow this age old advice.

    First off let me say we’re not re-inventing the wheel here. You already know what to do; this is just a quick reminder (think of me as that annoying nagging voice on your shoulder).

    1. Drink two litres of water today. Go on, get yourself a glass now. It’s the advice we all know and probably don’t always follow but dehydrated skin will show the lines much more and look less firm. By the way there is a difference between dehydrated skin and dry skin - dehydrated skin is lacking water, dry skin is lacking oil. That’s why water based lotions temporarily plump up our skin – they’re adding water from the outside. You need to hydrate from the inside for a longer term fix.

    2. Go easy on the alcohol – in fact try to spend the evening without a drop passing your lips (it is only Wednesday you can do it). As well as dehydrating you (and you’re trying to hydrate – have you got your glass of water yet??), overdoing the alcohol can give you red eyes and a puffy face the next morning. When you drink too much alcohol before bed, the quality of your sleep declines in that you have fewer REM sleep cycles, which leads me nicely on to …

    3. GET TO BED! When you sleep your body goes into repair mode and is busy renewing and restoring cells. The less you sleep, the less time your body has to recuperate. For me, eight hours is a must and any less for a few days definitely shows in my face (also from my grumpy expression – I’m not good at lack of sleep!).

    4. Before you go to bed, make sure you remove all your make-up and the day’s pollution. I’m a fan of oil based cleansers that you remove with a face cloth as the warm cloth acts as a daily, gentle exfoliator.

    5. Final step is a few drops of a night time vitamin A oil such as rosehip oil. Don’t overload your skin with a heavy, perfumed cream. In fact if you’ve used an oil based cleanser, you won’t need much in the way of a night time moisturiser but the rosehip oil contains retinol which is helpful for cell renewal.

    That’s it – no £100 magic creams, no rejuvenating face washes. You can opt for those and some of them may work, but you need to get the basics in place too. It’s a little like wearing a good bra – an amazing dress won’t look good unless you have the foundations of well fitting underwear. So it goes with the foundations of good skin – water, sleep and a smile.

    Of course diet plays a massive factor in how your skin looks too and next time I’ll be giving you the top five foods for great skin.

    So let me know if you manage your two litres and eight hours and how you look in the morning. I’m off to fill my glass.

     

  4. legsThe sun is out and the inevitable day when you need to bare your pins to the world draws closer! I like to mark the official start of summer by ceremonially banishing my black opaques to the back of the drawer - but before then, there's a little bit of repair work to be done.

    If your legs look like they belong to something in the reptile house, don't despair. Your first step on the way to luscious legs is a body brush. Body brushing is one of those things like flossing - really good for you but sometimes a hard habit to get into. As well as being an excellent exfoliator it stimulates circulation and will improve your skin tone over time.

    Source a brush that isn't too hard if you're new to brushing. Most brushes are made of animal hair so if you're a vegan, search for those made of cactus or sisal. The cactus ones do tend to be much stiffer so go easy when you first start to make sure you don't damage your skin. Brush for a few minutes every morning from toe to hip (yep I know - finding a few spare minutes in our house in the mornings is easier said than done so make this your pre-bedtime routine if that’s easier).

    Next step is exfoliating to slough off the dead skin cells revealing your gorgeous peachy skin underneath! The Peachykeen Body Polish is made from finely ground sugar which means it polishes rather than scrubs your skin - much gentler. Bear this in mind when choosing your exfoliator - especially if you're using it all over your body on skin that is more fragile.

    If you're economising, blend together your own exfoliator with vegetable oil (sunflower/olive - whatever you have in the kitchen) and table salt or caster sugar - you need small granules so don't use sea salt.

    I find that standing in the bath or shower and using the exfoliator on dry skin has the best results. Then wash off the oil as you shower. Oil based body scrubs have the benefit that even after you've washed off the oil, your skin will have the residue and you won't need to moisturise.

    On the days you don't have time to scrub in the shower, apply your moisturiser when your skin is damp. I always opt for an oil based moisturiser – as well as nourishing your skin they’ll give your legs a healthy sheen.

    There you go – a week of this routine will give you pins to be proud of! Fingers crossed for the sunshine now. 

    Let me know if you come across a vegan friendly body brush that isn’t too tough. I’d like to stock them online but it’s proving difficult to find the right brand.

  5. A flare up of eczema on my arms means that I just want to keep things very simple when it comes to my skin. I find myself opting for pure coconut oil or olive oil as well as my unscented Pure Rosehip Face Oil. I know that essential oils can help skin flare ups but sometimes I think that – just like with food – your body craves what it needs, so pure, unscented and simple it is for now.

    If you have a sudden problem with your skin - whether you suffer from eczema or perhaps have a reaction to a product – you’ll probably want to reduce the load on your skin to give it a chance to heal and help it along the way. These two oils are great for ‘emergency’ skin care.

    Olive Oil

    Of course this has the added benefit that you more than likely have a bottle already in your kitchen. Olive oil can be used as an all over moisturiser, ideally added to a bath to give your skin a light coating of oil; a cleanser - warm a little in your hands and apply to your face then wipe off with a warm flannel. As most make up is oil based it dissolves in the olive oil. Even waterproof mascara will come off with an oil cleanser; an exfoliator - after any redness has gone and broken skin has healed, mix with a little table salt to exfoliate the dry areas on your body (don’t use sea salt on fragile skin - it will be too rough).

    coconut oil

    Coconut Oil

    The other fabulous oil to keep to hand, and my personal favourite as I love the smell, is coconut oil. It has a long shelf life so it’s worth tracking down a jar at your local health store. Make sure you opt for extra virgin coconut oil - this should have a scent of coconut which shows that it’s gone through the minimum amount of processing and therefore retains more nutrients. Again it’s great for cleansing (I use it all the time even without skin flare ups), but the main benefit for me is that it’s very soothing on itchy skin. I’ve also come across several people who’ve been unable to use anything on their skin apart from coconut oil during an eczema flare up so it’s an oil that most sensitive skins will tolerate.

    Let me know what you've found that works as an emergency treatment on your skin.