Cruelty-free and Vegan

A few years ago, when I decided to no longer purchase cosmetics produced by brands that consent to animal testing where it’s required by law, I felt proud of my decision. Don’t get me wrong, I have every day since, too. But something I’ve grown to realise over the past couple years is that that alone isn’t enough for my ‘ethical purchasing consciousness’. I want every purchase I make to feel good. I want it to feel right. And despite the advantage of purchasing cruelty-free and vegan, I’ve realised that it isn’t enough. There are numerous other aspects to consider, such as quality of ingredients, packaging, ethics of production etc. These things have been niggling. I’m at the point now, where I simply can’t deny them.

The global cosmetics market is estimated to be worth around €181 billion. And I can’t see this figure decreasing any time soon. With influence thrown left, right and centre from Youtube, Bloggers, and Instagram as well as the more traditional television and magazine advertisements, we are bombarded. Those promoting cruelty-free and/or vegan brands totally get my praise. Many people still don’t realise that while we don’t test on animals here in the UK, many of the brands sold here are also sold in China where it’s required by law. (If you aren’t familiar already, Logical Harmony is where it’s at for determining the ethics of products before you purchase them.)

There are obviously some great things that come out of purchasing CF & V options. Firstly, you aren’t supporting the trade in China. Secondly, you’re choosing to support more compassionate consumption. Thirdly, you’re getting the ball rolling and increasing awareness. But I’ve realised that these aren’t the only ethics to be aware of in the consumption of beauty products. What about the formulation? Are you willing to use potentially harmful ingredients that can bioaccumulate in your body so long as it means that you aren’t supporting animal testing? Do you sacrifice yourself for the greater good? And what about landfill? Do the brands you support have an environmental policy? Is the packaging recyclable? Do they encourage you to bring it back to counter/store? Some brands who do support animal testing actually offer these. There are mixed priorities, clearly.

But the thing that I question is the ethical supply chain, or perhaps lack of, in many CF & V drugstore brands. It really can be summarised like this: 99% of the time the more you pay, the better quality you’re going to get. By ‘better quality’, I mean better ingredients with smarter formulas, more innovative packaging and probably happier staff who are producing those products for you.

It goes in the same category as ‘fast fashion’ for me. Granted, cosmetics won’t last you nearly as long as a piece of clothing if you look after it, but is it better to purchase every shade of a cheap drugstore blush for the same price as one high quality option from a niche brand? Depends on what your priorities are, I suppose.

The cruelty-free and vegan cosmetics market is still in the minority sector. That’s going to be the case for at least a few more years. But in the meantime, I encourage you to do your research on the brands you’re purchasing from. Go further than CF & V as your check boxes and ask questions like:

  • How am I going to recycle this packaging when the product is empty?
  • What ingredients are used in this formula?
  • Where is this product made and by whom?

There’s no one out there doing things perfectly. We’re either producing trash or driving around in pertroleum-fuelled cars or whatever else that’s harming the planet. It’s a constant quest for improvement. But I feel that as long as you’re on the path, that’s really what matters. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to encourage your favourite brands to go one step further in becoming more ethical in their production.

If money is the issue, before you feel the pressure to buy luxury brands in recyclable glass bottles that cost you your whole month’s salary for one product, consider DIY instead. Keep it simple. Invest in a jar of high quality organic coconut oil that is multi-purpose and can allow you to make some of your own products.

Be mindful and ask questions about everything you’re purchasing. Remember: what you spend your money on is what you’re investing energy in. Make sure those purchases align with your values.

Photo via Unsplash

Eat Your Sunscreen

What if I told you that you could protect your skin from sun damage by altering what you eat? I’m going to guess your reaction would be fairly similar to mine: excited. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a nice, cruelty-free and non-greasy sunscreen. But if I can boost my skin’s self-protective mechanisms with some of the foods that I consume, then why the hell not?

According to 2014 data from Cancer Research UK, 86% of melanomas were preventable. That makes you think, doesn’t it? All the stress and pain that comes with skin cancer which could have been avoided with better self-care.

When our skin is exposed to the sun, melanogenesis occurs. This is the process whereby skin pigment melanin is produced in melanosomes by melanocytes. This is what gives us our tan. Ultraviolet rays can cause cellular damage, so our skin has to have some sort of protective mechanism to prevent frazzling. That’s where the melanin steps up. It’s pretty remarkable really. It’s also the pigment behind our eye and hair colour.

But even with melanogenesis, cell damage can still occur in the form of DNA lesions. Our bodies have protective mechanisms that allow for these and can correct them to a certain extent, but once equilibrium has been surpassed, that’s when danger strikes.

Let’s talk about lycopene. This red pigment found in tomatoes, watermelon, papaya and red carrots was shown to have tremendous sun-protecting benefits. A study was carried out on a group of women who were used to burning very easily in the sun. They were asked to eat tomato paste (known to contain high levels of lycopene) every day for 12 weeks prior to being exposed again and what was found was a 30% reduction in burning! It’s no substitute for sunscreen of course, but a definite help in protecting the most sensitive of skins.

Ketchup is an easy source of lycopene, but at only 2.5mg per tablespoon, it’s not enough. Consider tomato paste instead, at a whopping 75.4mg per cup or a wedge of watermelon which will provide about 13mg.

Next up we’ve got vitamin B3, otherwise known as nicotinamide. This has been shown to prevent skin cancer in those who are considered ‘high risk’ patients. It is found in trace amounts in many multivitamins, otherwise can be obtained from green vegetables, nuts and mushrooms.

This is really key in patients who have already been diagnosed with milder skin cancers. Supplementing with B3 was shown to have a 23% decrease in the likelihood of these patients developing another cancer.

Finally, let’s discuss Vitamin D. Because while the sun can hurt us, it also really benefits us if we’re exposed in the right amount. Vitamin D is metabolised when UVB rays come into contact with the skin. It is a steroid hormone that prevents a whole host of chronic illnesses as well as fighting short-term infections like cold and flu. It helps regulate calcium and phosphate in the body and a deficiency can cause bone deformities. The key to generating vitamin D is to expose as much surface area of your skin as possible to sunlight, as close to solar noon as possible for as long as possible without getting burned. A pretty staggering finding is shown below:

Having optimum vitamin D levels (70 ng/ml) could prevent 16 different types of cancer including breast, ovarian and prostate.

But what happens when you simply can’t get out in the sun? Perhaps it’s the dead of winter, or maybe you have a demanding job that’s indoors and you work long hours. This is where supplements can come in. You can either buy supplements in the form of pills, or you can enjoy the intake through delicious foods. Do some research and you’ll see that things like oily fish, red meat and eggs all crop up. None of these are vegan-friendly, however. So let’s instead talk veggie options.

  1. Mushrooms – They naturally contain vitamin D, however a cool trick is to leave them in the sunlight to boost levels. Then, eat up! Seems mushrooms really are the one when it comes to powerful prevention. Hello portobello burgers at BBQs this summer…
  2. Plant-based milks – Consider fortified milks as an ideal and easy source of vitamin D. Whether it’s almond, soy, or oat that you’re chugging, check the ingredients list and see what’s included as a helpful addition.
  3. Tofu – Check your tofu ingredients because it’s likely that this too has been fortified. Job done.

If you needed another reason to consider eating more healthily and sun exposure is a risk where you live, consider these protective foods to help yourself out a little. The same goes for including more vitamin D in your diet if your problem is not getting enough sun. For something that can be so easily prevented, skin cancer is incredibly common. Keep your sunscreen handy, but enjoy the deliciousness too.

Photo via Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

miso soup

For some reason, when I hear the word fermented, I think of it as being synonymous with festering. It’s not. That’s such a putrid, incorrect association that was so unfortunately formed in one of my synapses. But there we go. No, fermentation is actually the chemical breakdown of a substance by one or more microorganisms that convert sugars to acids, gases or alcohol. And when it comes to foods, fermentation makes things better (not like festering, which means something gets worse…). I’ve just finished a course of antibiotics and I believe that stuffing my face full of fermented foods has made all the difference. The usual side-effects that I get were not to be seen, so they clearly did something! And I’ll definitely be carrying on with having them in my diet for numerous other reasons.

Fermented foods include the likes of sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, kombucha, probiotic yoghurt, natto, tempeh, and so many others that you may not have heard of. They’re pungent, acquired-taste-required foods that I feel are losing the battle to the more bland and processed foods on the market. Sure, they’ve got a noticeable taste, but adjust your palette and you’ll be loving them in no time. Especially when you think about all the good that they can do for your body.

When you hear about fermented foods being described as those that are full of bacteria, I realise how that might make you wince. But make no mistake – these are good bacteria. Not the kind that will make you ill. They are species that aid our bodily functions. These include aiding digestion, boosting the immune system, keeping our, ahem, downstairs regions free of nasties like thrush and UTIs, boosting healthier skin, and increasing energy levels. You see, pumping your system full of good bacteria forces out the bad bacteria and yeast that can otherwise take over. The good outcompetes the bad. And these common species fall within two genera: Bifidobacterium spp. and Lactobacillus spp,.

Bifidobacterium spp. are natural inhabitants of our gut, vagina and mouth. Treatments where Bifidobacterium was given to those suffering from colitis was found to reduce inflammation in patients and improve rates of remission. That’s pretty astounding when you think about it. But it doesn’t have to be limited to those suffering from a terrible bowl condition. It reduces inflammation caused by any irritating foods and will combat nasty bloating. There’s also evidence for it helping IBS sufferers, so if you’re one of the many, definitely start consuming.

Then there’s Lactobacillus spp. Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most popular for its ability to prevent thrush caused by candida, as well as helping with the gut. It creates by-products that include lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide when it metabolises the foods in our body. These kill off candida yeast. Candida are found naturally in our body and in low numbers do no harm. In fact, they even aid functions like digestion. But when we consume too many sugary carbohydrates, they proliferate. When this happens, it’s bad news. They make us feel tired, cause various autoimmune diseases, cause vaginal infections, make us irritable and make us crave yet more sugary food.

Probiotics are a healthy addition to the diet of anyone at any time, but they really come into their own for those on antibiotics or those having eaten irritating, processed foods. I’ve just been dealing with the former, unfortunately. And I can say from first-hand experience that they have done me the world of good. I’ve had to take antibiotics a good few times in my twenty-six years and every time I do I am met with nausea and thrush. Every. Single. Time. And it sucks. But it’s normal. If you’ve suffered from the same thing, I’m here to tell you that you are not alone! Nausea is listed as a common side effect, but I read about thrush being this ‘very rare’ potential side effect and I’m like, ‘but everyone I know who takes antibiotics gets thrush?’ *bewildered shrug*.

Antibiotics kill off all the bacteria in your body. The aim is to kill what’s made you sick, but a negative side effect is killing everything else off in the process. This includes the healthy, wonderful helpers that keep our bodily functioning nice and efficiently. Combating these side effects can be done by consuming probiotics, whether that’s in food form or in a pill. I put sauerkraut on everything I could this past week, ate a bowl of miso soup every day and took an L. acidophilus capsule daily with a meal. The trick, however, is to try to consume these as far apart from your antibiotics doses as possible, to minimise how many are killed by the antibiotic. I took my first antibiotic when I woke up, but didn’t take my second until 3-4pm, so lunch around midday was a great time to get the probiotics in my system. The same thing occurred for dinner. My last dose of antibiotics was around 10pm, so dinner around 6 or 7pm gave me another opportunity to get my fill. The result? I suffered no negative side effects. Pretty incredible, considering what I’ve experienced in the past.

While I love the strong flavours of kimchi and sauerkraut, they’re obviously not the kinds of foods I’ll be eating every day for the rest of my life now that I’m off the meds. However, I now think of them as delicious medicines, in a weird way. If I’m going to have a veggie dog in a white bread roll, a sauerkraut topping will definitely help the digestion along. Or if I ever have a heavy lunch of pizza and dough balls, an afternoon miso soup will do wonders.

No one likes the bloat, or feeling like their body is heavy and holding on to all that processed, difficult-to-digest material. Do yourself a favour and introduce probiotics as a way of helping yourself along. I know I certainly will be. Now to go make myself some kimchi, because ohmygodit’sthebest. Recipe might follow soon on that one, hmm…

Probiotics! What are your thoughts?!

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Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse

I’ve kind of reached this point now, where if there’s a beauty product that I can DIY, I will. It almost always costs less money and it means I know exactly what’s in it. Therefore, I’m not buying ‘filler’ ingredients. It’s pretty much the same principle as cooking with whole foods. If you prepare a meal made from identifiable fruits, vegetables, grains and pulses, you know what’s in it. This is contrast to a processed alternative.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are so many incredible brands out there producing high quality, beautiful products. And many of these I like to indulge in. But for something that’s needed in bulk, such as body lotion, deoderant, shampoo or conditioner, I choose to save my money. I’d much rather splurge on facial products or cosmetics where you really do get more for your money when it comes to the ingredients used. And these products use ingredients that I don’t have at home in my DIY stash and wouldn’t invest in.

Today’s recipe is nothing revolutionary, but it works for me and I know it can work for you too. It’s an apple cider vinegar conditioning rinse and this is how we do.

Yes, you’re going to be spraying vinegar on your hair. If this seems utterly ludicrous to you, let me shed some light. The pH of our skin and hair is about 5.5. Anything below 7 is acidic. Apple cider vinegar is acidic of course due to its acetic acid content. It has a long history of treating all sorts of skin ailments with its antimicrobial properties. It’s also clarifying, so that means it’ll help with any build-up that’s clogging your cuticles from hard water. This in turn will add volume. Think about it. If your hair isn’t weighed down with build-up, it’s free to bounce around in the breeze. This is what the vinegar rinse will do. It also adds shine and detangles.

What you’ll need:

  1. Spray bottle approx 250ml in size (I opt for a stainless steel bottle)
  2. 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  3. Filtered Water
  4. Essential oil of choice (I opt for lavender)
  5. Funnel

Here’s how we do it:

  1. Begin by adding your vinegar to the bottle via the help of a funnel
  2. Add water to just shy of the top of the bottle
  3. Add about 4 drops of your essential oil
  4. Replace lid, gently invert to mix, voila!

How to use it:

  1. After you’ve shampooed your hair, rinse and sqeeze out excess water
  2. Liberally spray the rinse and allow to do its thing for as long as you can (at least a couple minutes)
  3. Rinse with cold water. I know, this part sounds awful, but the cold water will help to seal your hairs’ culticles, thus making your hair less at risk of breaking and much shinier! It helps to flip your hair upside down and only rinse what needs rinsing. Don’t let that shit freeze your spine!

The mix will last anything from a couple weeks to a couple months. It all depends on how frequently you wash your hair and how much hair you have! Don’t worry about it spoiling for a few months though. This also works really well as a treatment if you prefer using more conventional conditioners. Use as an intermediate step between shampooing and conditioning to remove the build-up and strengthen the hair. Then, rinse and go in with your regular conditioner.

Apple Cider Vinegar
apple cider vinegarlavender essential oilHave you ever messed around with DIY hair recipes? If so, let me know what you recommend!

 

 

Essential Oils

I think back to the time before I used essential oils and I am truly horrified. OK, perhaps that’s a smidge farfetched, but what I mean is that they are such an integral part of my wellness routine these days that I can’t imagine not having them in my life now. They are natural, versatile and enjoyable gifts from nature. Plus, there are so many to experiment with. Effects range from uplifting to soothing to relaxing to, ahem, sensual and if you study your oils, you’ll soon get to know the best combination for whatever ailment or requirement you have. Failing that, let your nose guide you. It seems to know what’s needed, somehow. Call it intuition or simply nasal mystery. Yes, I’m making that a thing.

Essential oils are derived from aromatic plants found across the globe. They may be harvested from the flowers, leaves, roots, woods, seeds or fruits. Extraction occurs through steam distillation, pressing or by solvent extraction. While there are many ways to use essential oils, it is worth knowing that they are not water-soluble, but can be readily carried in a base oil. Base oils are the thicker oils used for massage and typically include coconut, avocado, almond, jojoba and the like.

So how do they work? When inhaled, essential oil aromas trigger the nerves in our noses and give direct feedback to the brain. This is why they are able to make us feel certain things, such as relaxed, soothed, uplifted etc. But their benefits stretch further than this. Essential oils have good skin penetration and can heal damaged cells, increase cell turnover and make our skin more elastic. They can cleanse and detoxify us and aid in the healing of conditions such as eczema, acne, dehydration and psoriasis. But in addition to all this, they are excellent for their antimicrobial capabilities, making them an integral part of any skincare formulation.

Essential Oil Beauty

The Oils

So, let’s break it down. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but here are some oils and what they can do for you:

Anise – Used in massage, can help indigestion & colic

Basil – Vapourised or used in a chest rub recipe, helps with sinus congestion and asthma. Emotionally, it clears the head, strengthens memory and increases alertness (use if you’re studying for an exam!)

Bay – Massage onto the scalp to clear dandruff

Benzoin – Vapourised or used in a chest rub, helps to expel mucus and calm chesty coughs

Bergamot – Emotionally uplifting and calming. Used in lotion recipes, great at healing acne breakouts. It can also be applied neat to treat cold sores.

Black Pepper – Massage for increasing circulation and soothing achey muscles (post-workout essential)

Cajeput – Inhale to relieve congestion, or vapourise to keep insects at bay.

Cardamom – Massage for helping with indigestion, bloating and heartburn

Chamomile Roman – Use in a DIY cream for soothing irritated, sensitive and dry skin. It’s great for soothing wounds and sores too. A relaxing aroma, it’s can also relieve depression and tension.

Carrot Seed – Use in creams to restore elasticity to aging skin (hello DIY gift for mama!)

Cedarwood – Another scalp-massage soother for clearing dandruff and relieving itching

Celery – Massage for helping with high blood pressure and relieving arthritis

Cinnamon – Vapourise for healing cold and flu symptons, and massage for cramps

Citronella – Excellent antifungal and deoderant for topical skin conditions. It’s also well-known for keeping insects as bay during the warmer months. Dilute in a water spray and use as required.

Clary Sage – Massage for deep relaxation and vapourise for relieving anxiety and tension.

Cypress – Use in DIY deoderants or body sprays to help with excess perspiration. Emotionally, it is soothing in times of change or grief.

Eucalyptus – Vapourise for a decongestant aid, as well as chest and throat infections

Fennel – Massage for body detoxification

Frankincense – Vapourise for asthma relief, or massage into the skin for anti-aging properties

Geranium – Use in a massage formula or cream to treat menopausal inconveniences like hot flushes. It is also a great emotional aid for depression and anxiety.

Ginger – Ideal for travel and morning sickness when inhaled, it can also be used as a massage aid for increasing blood flow.

Grapefruit – Vapourise or add to a bath for uplifting and mood-boosting benefits. Or, massage to relieve water retention.

Hyssop – Vapourise prior to meditation to clear the mind, or inhale to relieve cough and bronchitis

Jasmine – Heady and exotic and slightly sedative, it can aid sleep when vapourised or massaged and also promotes skin elasticity.

Juniper – Massage to treat UTIs and kidney inflammation

Lavender – Massage or vapourise to calm the nervous system and aid a good night’s sleep. It can also be applied neat for any kind of skin inflammation, burns, scars or insect bites

Lemon – Use in DIY beauty to brighten the complexion and mood

Lemongrass – Use in DIY deoderants and vapourise in your home to clear out unpleasant cooking odours

Lime – Vapourise or use in the bath to uplift the mood and kick depression in the booty

Mandarin – Use in DIY body products to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. Also known for soothing and calming, so great massaged or used in the bath.

Marjoram – Massage into tired or stiff muscles

Melissa – Vapourise to settle panic attacks and hyperanxiety

Myrrh – Use in a DIY cream to speed up the healing process or wounds and reduce inflammation

Neroli – Use in DIY beauty to stimulate the production of new cells and improve skin elasticity. It’s also great vapourised to calm the mind and relieve insomnia

Nutmeg – Massage to help with rheumatic pain, or vapourise to boost the immune system during the winter months

Orange – Bright and cheery to help combat depression, or massage to relieve constipation

Palmarosa – Massage into stiff muscles, or use in DIY beauty to promote sebum production in dry skin

Palo Santo – This holy wood essence is the perfect meditation aid, while also serving to relieve stomach aches and stress

Patchouli – Vapourise for calming the nervous system

Peppermint – Vapourise for helping with indigestion, bloating, nausea and stomach aches. Use in a DIY cream for skin irritation, itching and rashes.

Petitgrain – Use in DIY beauty for breakouts, or in the bath to calm nerves

Pine – Inhale to help with colds, catarrh and sore throats

Rose Absolute – Use in DIY beauty for skin rejuvenating and regenerating properties. Vapourise to aid sleep.

Rosemary – Use in DIY hair products to promote hair growth and tackle greasy hair and scalp. Massage to soothe over-worked muscles.

Rosewood – Vapourise for headaches and nausea, or use in the bath to calm without causing drowsiness (good to use prior to a big event)

Sage Dalmatian – Inhale to help with coughs and colds, or massage to help over-worked muscles.

Sandalwood – Massage or use in the bath to calm and comfort, or use in DIY beauty to help dry and dehydrated skin.

Tea Trea – Can be used neat on skin to antibacterialise wounds. It’s also great on veruccas and cold sores. Use in DIY cleaning products for antimicrobial properties

Vetivert – Use in DIY beauty to strengthen mature skin and promote new cell growth. Also vapourise to relax and settle the nervous system.

Ylang Ylang – Use in DIY beauty on oily skin, or massage for tranquility

Essential Oil Burner

How to Use Them

So, you’ve had a read of the list and you want to give some of these a go? Here’s how to use them in various ways:

  1. Bathing – Run a hot bath and add about 7-10 drops of the oil of choice. This could be 7-10 drops of one oil, or halve the quantity of 2 oils etc.
  2. Vapourisation – Add 10-12 drops of your oil(s) to an essential oil burner, ensuring water levels are always topped up. This is a great way to alter the ambient mood, serve as an air freshener or keep insects at bay.
  3. Inhalation – Add 4-5 drops of oil to almost boiling water, lean over the bowl and cover head with a towel. Keep eyes closed and breathe deeply for about 5-10 mins.
  4. Massage – Blend oil(s) into a carrier base at a concentration of about 2%
  5. DIY beauty – Blend oil(s) into a carrier base at a concentration of about 1%

Essential oils can be found in most health stores. Some great brands include Miaroma (Holland & Barrett), Tisserand, Fushi, Natural By Nature and Neal’s Yard.

Which essential oils are you using at the moment?

Photos via Sphynx & Unsplash

 

 

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