Pearly Whites, Naturally

We all have a bedtime routine: take out contacts, wash face, brush, floss, and rinse. Right? But have you ever stopped to think about what’s in the toothpaste and rinse that makes it so blue or bright green? Along with freshening and cleaning, you are also consuming a good amount of fake colors and fragrances that don’t measure too high on the health charts. And if you have a sensitive system, these extras can also inflame gum lines and other delicate areas of your mouth.

Dentist Dean Vafiadis, D.D.S states that chemicals and synthetic compounds enter your system faster through your mouth. So we have to take note because as Vafiadis says, “Most of what you put in your mouth goes into your bloodstream, even if you don’t swallow it.”

Not to fret, we can still have pearly whites; we just have to make better choices.

Although most holistic doctors and experts shun the use of fluoride in toothpaste, it is the only ingredient we have that has been approved by the FDA and is proven to fight cavities.

Dr. Vafiadis says those of us under the age of 25 should get one source of fluoride for good oral health. It can be found in drinking water, toothpaste or mouthwash.

But if you choose to ditch the fluoride, do look for an alternative that helps fight bacteria which can lead to gum disease such as grapefruit, goldenseal, and other plant extracts.

To keep your smile shining, natural toothpastes use natural abrasives like baking soda, chalk, and bamboo instead of harsh chemical abrasives that can do more damage than good

Squeeze These

  • Kiss My Face Women’s Certified Organic Aloe Vera Toothpaste (fluoride-free), $6,
  • Jason PowerSmile Cinnamon Mint Toothpaste (fluoride-free), $5,
  • Nature’s Gate Peppermint Whitening Toothpaste (with fluoride), $7,
  • Tom’s of Maine Natural Whole Care Toothpaste (with fluoride), $4.50,

Most of us know that mouthwash gets in between teeth and dental work better than brushing. If you are going all natural, pick a brand that is alcohol free and flavored with natural ingredients.

“It’s not just that alcohol fails to protect your gums,” says Vafiadis. “It can actually be detrimental.” The alcohol not only dries out your mouth, but also can kill the good bacteria in your mouth that we need. This can lead to bad breath and inflammation or gingivitis. As for the taste, natural rinses use essential oils, which give the products great tastes like cinnamon and peppermint, compared to chemical preservatives that can cause problems from skin irritation to neurotoxicity. Extra bonus: many natural products cost just as much as the leading brands and they work better, so why not switch?

Swish These

When your mother used to want a whiter smile she pulled out the baking soda and brushed away stains. Today’s new whitening systems have many chemicals in them that are harsh such as carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. Now while both of these ingredients are natural, they are very harsh on the body.

Plus a lot of people experience a sensitivity to whitening treatments because the peroxide can penetrate to the nerve centers of your teeth. Even if your teeth are only sensitive for a short while, the best bet for a whiter smile is to use gentle polishers like bamboo, chalk, and yes, baking soda.

Apply These

  • Uncle Harry’s Natural Products Tooth Whitener Powder (non-peroxide, with chalk), $6,
  • Eco-Dent ExtraBrite Tooth Whitener (with peroxide), $8,

Know Your Ingredients Before You Apply

Did you know? Since fragrances found in beauty products are considered trade secrets, companies don’t have to list them on packaging even if they contain allergens, phthalates and neurotoxins.

TerraChoice, an environmental marketing group, uses its website to expose companies who greenwash their products. Using vague language to mislead consumers is one way of getting on the list. For instance, if the label says all natural but the product still contains formaldehyde and uranium, you may be tagged. Even though those products exist naturally in nature, that doesn’t mean they don’t have poisonous side effect when put in your face cream.

Whole Foods Market is a stickler for zero tolerance policy when it comes to the ingredients in their beauty products. Their Premium Body Care line scrutinizes more than 300 ingredients, including parabens and phthalates to make sure they know what goes exactly into their products. Judy Villecco, a quality standards coordinator says, “Why risk exposure to potentially unsafe ingredients when safer ones are available? If there is an ingredient that we know causes harm, we exclude it, especially if there are safer alternative available.”

The other side of the coin:
While lots of companies watch very carefully to what ingredients are put into their product, others are a bit more lenient. The Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) certification, which evaluates ingredients, processes and packaging for socially responsibility, sustainability and recycle ability maintains that some parabens aren’t as bad as others and shouldn’t get as bad a rap as they have.  Jay Bolus, VP of C2C points out that parabens that easily degrade aren’t as bad as proplybaraben and butyparaben, making it more acceptable by C2C Standards. It really comes down to personal choice and how strict you want to be when purchasing beauty care products.

Aveda has seven products out that have earned the C2C Gold certification. They also use 100% wind power at its headquarters and plan on being carbon neutral by 2013. Also their bottle caps are made from recycled materials courtesy of Recycle Caps With Aveda program that collects hard plastics from shampoo and even ketchup bottles and makes them into new lids. Yeah for baby steps! On the flip side Aveda still doesn’t list all of their ingredients online and use some chemicals of questionability in their products.

The GoodGuide, a website that rates products according to their environmental, health, and social impacts, has an iphone app that lets customers check more than 70,000 different beauty products all while the customer is browsing the isles.

Beauty without Cruelty

by Yael Grauer

Whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat eater, chances are good that you’re not a huge fan of unnecessary animal testing for cosmetic purposes. I mean, who wants to use lotions, creams, soaps, or shampoos that were rubbed into an animal’s eyes or forcefed or even injected into them? Even products bearing the “no animal testing” label don’t guarantee that no animals were harmed. Some companies hire labs to do work for them, or test on some products but not others.

Animal cruelty aside, have you ever thought about what you’re feeding your skin? Propylene glycol, a petroleum derivative used in hydraulic brake fluid and anti-freeze, is often found in cosmetic products. Dimethicone is a silicone fluid and triethanolamine is actually made from ammonia and ethylene oxide. So your skin and body care or hair products might have ingredients used in anti-freeze, and may have been used to seriously harm animals. What’s a gal to do? Here are some ideas for cruelty-free products and skin and body care — or other solutions for healthy, glowing skin.

1. Dietary changes can have a huge effect on skin. Professor Loren Cordain, author of the Paleo Diet, even wrote an e-book, The Dietary Cure for Acne (, in which he indicates that skin conditions are closely related to insulin levels. Cordain’s diet recommends ditching grains and dairy, but cutting back on sugar and simply soaking grains overnight to neutralize the phytic acid is a good start.

2. Not sure what’s in your skin care products? Try making your own! Recipes for bath salts, sugar scrubs, facial steams, soaks, and even natural shampoos are found all over the library and internet — or sign up for a workshop! Play around with ingredients you recognize — oils, sugar, vanilla, honey, yogurt, citrus, and sea salt — for a silky soft face and body.

3. Make sure you are getting enough good vitamins! Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and zinc are often helpful; Vit C and lycopene (in tomatoes) are excellent; and both vitamin E and selenium are required for proper glutathione peroxidase activity (antioxidant enzyme), as low levels are found in people who have problem skin.

4. We joke about getting our beauty sleep, but getting enough rest really can go a long way! Lack of sleep probably slows down collagen production in the skin and alters blood vessel tone regulation, leading to undereye circles and puffiness. Getting a good night of sleep can reduce the need for products.

5. Chlorine in sink and shower water can dry out skin and hair. Use a good filter, such as Multipure, in your sink and shower.

*Search for products that are cruelty-free! Both the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offer animal-friendly shopping guides … or look at our handy list below.

Try these soaps: Dr. Bronner’s offers various liquid and bar soaps that are fair trade, organic, and 100% pure-castille (vegetable oil based).

Created by Liberian refugees using an old family recipe, Shea Moisture offers amazing soaps and body butters that are not only all-natural, organic and cruelty free, but also support women’s cooperatives, indigenous farmers, and ensure sustainable harvests. The company also partners with organizations such as The Liberian Education Fund and Todee Mission to build schools and provide access to education for impoverished girls in Africa (many of whom supply ingredients used in the products).

Try these facial products: Sister Creations is an anti-oxidant and chemical free skin care line, as well as collaborative effort between two second generation herbalists, who are also sisters. Only edible ingredients are used — if you can’t eat it, they say, don’t put it on your skin. A percentage of sales supports the conservation and educational efforts of the Arizona ethnobotanical Research Association (AeRA).

Although Dr. Hauschka Skin Care isn’t entirely vegan, they strive to use only ecologically and socially responsible sources for ingredients, and obtain as many as possible from certified biodynamic and organic resources. They also avoid ingredients coming from organizations involved in animal testing. Dr. Hauschka Skin Care products use homeopathic and anthroposophic principles for maximum effectiveness, gently guiding the body back to a state of health.

Try these shampoos: Avalon Organics is committed to using safe ingredients that maintain the integrity of natural ecosystems and conserve the environment. Aubrey Organics uses natural ingredients, without petrochemicals or synthetic additives of any kind. Nature’s Gate also uses organic ingredients, avoiding damaging chemicals and helping develop and support the creation of sustainable and clean water supplies for communities throughout the world.

Going to a spa? Try to find one that uses cruelty-free product lines such as Eminence, Naturopathica, or Jurlique. Sundara Inn and Spa, a gorgeous destination spa nestled in 26 acres of pine forest on the outskirts of Wisconsin Dells, uses Eminence as well as their own all-natural, cruelty-free signature products.

Yael Grauer is a freelance writer and herbalist right here in Eau Claire. She teaches workshops on herbal medicine making both in person and online. Her website is

Beauty Labels

by Diane Wolfe

How do you choose a beauty product that is good for both you and the planet? Through the National Organic Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates food ingredients found in cosmetics, and the Certified USDA Organic Symbol is one of the most trustworthy labels around. But because the USDA only has jurisdiction over farm-raised ingredients, not all beauty product ingredients are regulated under this program, and there are more than enough ways to get confused.

Scan the beauty aisle and you will see plenty of labels. “Vegan-friendly” shampoo, or “biodegradable toothpaste” But what do they really mean?

From baby shampoo to facial and beauty cream, there are plenty of mysterious ingredients gracing the labels of health and beauty products on the market these days. And then there are the labels that say things like “organic,” “all-natural,” or “animal cruelty free,” which can leave you just as confused (or more) than the ingredients list does. Whether it’s for the well-being of your children, family or just you, understanding beauty labels can empower you to make better knowledge-based consumer decisions. Here’s the scoop.

Label: Organic
Clear rules make decoding this term easier. In 2005, the USDA started allowing makers of qualified organic beauty and body-care products to use a USDA Organic seal. The term “organic”, as it appears on beauty labels has four variations:

  1. 100% organic: The product must contain only organically produced food ingredients, and the label will display the USDA Organic seal.
  2. Organic: The product must contain at least 95% organically grown food ingredients, and the label will display the USDA seal.
  3. Made with organic ingredients: The product must contain at least 70% organically produced food ingredients. The label will not have the USDA seal.
  4. Organic ingredients: Products that contain less than 70% organically produced food ingredients can only include organic ingredients on its ingredients list, but these products cannot display the USDA Organic seal.

Look at the list of ingredients in your favorite “natural” product. You might be surprised to find petrochemicals along with the honey, shea butter, and olive oil. With no definition set by the FDA or any other regulatory agency for what “natural” means in the world of beauty products, take a buyer beware approach.

Fortunately, several legitimately natural product manufacturers have taken matters into their own hands. Companies such as Burt’s Bees and Aubrey Organics have created a Personal Care Committee under the direction of the Natural Products Association (NPA). They are working to define a “natural standard” and creating guidelines for which ingredients do or do not qualify. The group intends to design a seal this year to help consumers easily identify products that meet the criteria. Until then, don’t assume “natural” means anything.

Label: Cruelty-Free
We often associate “cruelty-free” with a bunny logo. Only one agency, the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC), conducts a routine check to ensure manufacturers live up to their promise. A union of six animal-rights groups that includes the Humane Society and Beauty Without Cruelty, the CCIC offers its trademarked “leaping bunny” tag to manufacturers who pledge not to test their ingredients on animals or purchase from any third-party supplier who does. Manufacturers also agree to an audit every one to three years to verify their continued use of only cruelty-free suppliers.

With no legal definition for “cruelty-free”, companies have unrestricted use of this term. The FDA points out that while a company may not have tested its finished product on animals, the ingredients may have come from suppliers who did. Look for the CCIC’s leaping bunny on the product. Note that once the “natural” standard is created, products displaying the NPA seal will also have to be cruelty-free.

Animal Testing on Products

If you’re not sure if your favorite brand of beauty products is eco- and animal-friendly, the CCIC offers a shopping-guide. The Coalition requires the companies it lists to prove that neither they, nor their suppliers, will conduct animal tests during any stage of product development. Also, PETA has compiled a list of companies that have signed a “Statement of Assurance” that they and their suppliers don’t and won’t test on animals. You’ll find major brands like Revlon, Avon, and Estee Lauder on the list, as well as natural favorites such as Kiss My Face and Aubrey Organics. “We started 17 years ago with a short list of companies,” says Ann Marie Dori, coordinator of PETA’s Caring Consumer Project. “Today, it has grown to include more than 500 companies that don’t animal test their products.” Just as importantly, PETA also offers a guide listing companies that do test, including Cover Girl, L’Oreal, and Olay. You can download the guides at or

Label: Biodegradable
Products may boast that the liquid inside is “biodegradable”. While that sounds eco-friendly, what exactly does it mean? According to the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines, created in conjuction with the EPA, a product labeled “biodegradable” should decompose “into elements found in nature within a reasonably short period of time”. For liquids that go down the drain, decomposition should finish during the waste-water treatment process. You can log on to “skin deep” at, and discover which chemicals build up in humans and animals with repeated exposure.

Label: Vegan-Friendly
While no regulatory body oversees the “vegan-friendly” claim, it’s somewhat easy to substantiate, if you know how to read ingredients. Byproducts like honey and milk are obvious no-nos, but the average consumer might not recognize contents that may come from plants–and also animals–such as lactic acid.

Know When to Toss Them

Now that we know a bit more about what our beauty product labels mean, how long does it last? Beauty products do go bad according to Ni’Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist at Cosmetech Labs in Fairfield, NJ. “At best, they stop performing as well as they used to, and at worst, they can cause irritations or infections.” Beyond the obvious signs like dried mascara or separated foundation, it can be tough to tell when something’s past its prime. U.S. labeling regulations do not require an expiration date on most cosmetics. So, here’s an easy “when-to-toss timeline” to go by, recommended by Wilson:

Every season: Toss mascara and liquid liner

Every six months: Toss your skin-care regimen, sunscreens, and liquid foundation

Every year: Toss your hair care products

According to the FDA, natural beauty products have an even shorter shelf life, because their botanical ingredients may be susceptible to microbial growth. Think about pure extract, oil, pulp, fruits. What’s more, though natural preservatives like essential oils of cinnamon, orange, rosemary, and thyme can be potent, when used at low levels they may not be as strong as synthetics.

Eye Wonder…

Women of the world have been searching for centuries to find the best way to maintain and pamper the skin in those delicate eye areas that tend to age faster than the rest of the face. Most medical professionals agree that the number one course of action needs to be hydrating the body. But experience shows us that sometimes those little lines around the eyes need more than a good drink. While ancient civilizations used essential oils (still a hallmark of natural eye creams today), modern eye creams feature great combinations of plant-based ingredients and age-defying technology that can do wonders for anyone’s eyes.

Though many skin experts confess eye cream is often unnecessary if a person is already using an anti-aging moisturizer with sunscreen, there comes a time to get some extra help. How do you know when it’s time to add eye cream to your skin care regimen? A tight feeling around the eyes may signal excessive dryness, which is often followed by deeper lines and wrinkles, and then the “raccoon” puffiness and darkness. Applying an eye cream morning and night can help restore moisture and firmness to the eye area, explains Rachel Rowen, of the Center for Beauty and Advanced Esthetics in California. And to help you on your quest to finding the perfect eye cream for you, here’s a list of 10 “eye cream all-stars” from the experts at Alternative Medicine.

  • Hyaluronic Acid, a.k.a. Sodium Hyaluronate – This naturally-derived protein attracts 1,000 times its weight in water and plumps up fine lines.
  • Vitamin E/Tocotrienol – Palm oil-derived vitamin E is more potent than the regular form, though all Vitamin E protects eyes from sun damage, heals redness and stops flaking in very dry skin.
  • Peptides – These essential proteins promote the production of elastin and collagen, giving a firming effect.
  • Coenzyme Q10 – This antioxidant is in every cell of the body. It counteracts free radical damage, increases tissue oxygenation and fights skin damage.
  • Alpha-Hydroxy Acids – Derived from sugars in plants like grapes and citrus fruits, these acids are naturally occurring and slough off dead skin cells, thus helping plump up fine lines.
  • Chamomile – This natural flower has anti-irritant and antioxidative properties for the mind and skin, helping to alleviate redness and smooth fine lines.
  • Retinoids/Vitamin A – These vitamin A derivatives penetrate the skin, helping to exfoliate damaged cells and produce new ones. Use sunscreen with them, as they increase sun sensitivity.
  • Green Tea a.k.a. Camellia Sinensis – The young tea leaves are packed with anti-oxidants and are rich in anti-inflammatory properties that repair and strengthen skin.
  • Essential Fatty Acids – EFAs are derived from plant and animal lipids and are also found in the outer layer of the skin. They protect skin from sun damage.
  • Vitamin C-Ester a.k.a. Ascorbyl Palmitate – This non-acidic combination of vitamin C, bioactive metabolites, and minerals reduces puffiness and stimulates collagen synthesis.