Category Archives: Friend or Foe

Your Diet: Friend or Foe?

You are Hungry.  You Eat.  Rinse & Repeat.  But when you get hungry, what exactly are you eating?  Are you eating to fulfill your body’s requirements of proper vitamins, nutrients, and nourishment?  Or are you eating until the hungry signal in your brain stops?  The reality is that many people are eating whatever is around so they no longer feel hungry.  Imbalanced diets and “food” with no nutritional value are significantly contributing to poor health (including diabetes and cardiovascular disease) and wellness.  

Artificial “Food”

A variety of prepared food, whether from the grocery store or a restaurant, is loaded with salt, sugar, and high in fat.  Whether it is “pink slime”, corn based “chicken” nuggets, entrees with 1000+ mg of sodium, or the massive amounts of sugar consumed per meal, artificial “food” is available in overabundance.  The inexpensive prices of these items also contributes to their popularity on the market.  Also remember that it is not just fast food, restaurant meals, or the prepackaged microwave/baked meals that are of concern.  Pasta sauces, barbeque sauce, ketchup, mustard, mayo, and other condiments are often high in salt, sugar, and fat as well.  

But wait, there is more.  Refined grains is also a significant problem.  White bread, white rice, and non whole wheat pasta all contain refined grains which means they contain less fiber than their unrefined counterparts.  Why is this important?  Your body takes longer to process foods high in fiber and thus you feel fuller longer.  Refined grains also turns to sugar in your body almost immediately, and excess sugar in the body turns to fat.  That also includes many cereals, chips, and crackers.

Balance

A “proper” diet, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, should consist of a quarter each of fruits, vegetables, grain (whole and refined), and protein (meat, eggs, nuts).  Of course everyone wants a cookie or chicken nuggets every now and then, but artificial or low fiber foods should not make up the majority, or even half of your diet!  Be sure to have a fruit, vegetable, protein and grain with every meal, or at least 3 of the four.  For example, egg omelette w/ spinach and kale (protein & vegetable), strawberries (fruit), and whole wheat bread (grain) is a healthy balanced breakfast (even with the high cholesterol of eggs).  An imbalanced breakfast is a bagel with cream cheese and orange juice.  While a bagel may count as a grain depending on the type, there is no whole fruit or vegetable, or significant protein.  You can eat a balanced diet and spend the same (or less) with artificial food, and it will still taste good!

What do you eat everyday?  Is what you eat friend or foe?

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Friend or Foe: Stevia

Stevia is one of the better known ‘natural’ alternatives to refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Stevia emerged in America in the mid 1980’s as a natural sweetener, but truly gained notoriety in 2007 when it was used by a leading soft drink company. It has once again been brought to the forefront of the sugar alternative discussion as it is being used as a replacement for high fructose corn syrup in new products by the two leading soft drink companies. Though stevia is marketed as being ‘naturally derived,’ is it a legitimate, safe alternative to refined sugar?

Stevia is an extract of the steviol glycosides of Stevia rebaudiana. A glycoside is a compound comprised of a simple sugar and another compound of which the hydroxyl (-OH) group has been replaced. Stevia rebaudiana has been used as a natural sweetener for over a thousand years by the Guaraní of modern day Brazil and Paraguay, which they called “ka’a he’ê” or sweet herb. Stevia is 150 times sweeter than sugar, though it has a slower onset and longer duration of sweetness. Stevia has a very low effect on blood sugar levels and has no calories. There are various derivatives that are generically marketed as stevia. The two primary steviol glycosides are stevioside (5-10% abundance), rebaudioside A (2-4%), rebaudioside C (1-2%), and dulcoside A (0.5 – 1%). Most commercial stevias a made of rebaudioside A. The human body metabolizes rebaudioside A by breaking it down into glucose and steviol, the steviol is then excreted from the body and the glucose is used by bacteria in the colon. Though stevia seems to be a viable alternative to refined sugar, is it safe? Just how natural is it?

Chemical Structure of Steviol

Though ‘stevia’ is naturally derived from a plant, the process of how it is extracted from said plant is extremely important in determining how ‘natural’ it is.   Also, the exact composition of the ‘stevia’ should be considered, being that there are multiple stevia derived products on the market simply branded as ‘Stevia.’  One of the popular ‘Stevia’ products on the market lists ‘stevia leaf extract’ as the second of three ingredients.  Not only is this questionable marketing, it also makes it difficult to state that ‘stevia’ products are not hazardous or toxic, as stevia extract has been deemed, if it is blended with other ingredients and the specific chemical composition of the stevia are trade secrets.

Results for mutagencity and carcinogenicity on human and rodent subjects were negative, though there were low instances of genotoxicity and lowered testosterone levels in males (Saad et al. 2014).  It should also be noted that Stevia (whole leaf or crude stevia extract) is not listed as ‘generally considered as safe’ by the FDA, which is likely why it is found with other ingredients as a sweetener. Steviol glycosides were approved for use in the European Union in November 2011.  Though there is little evidence that true stevia extract is toxic, the same cannot be said for ‘stevia’ marketed products.  The fact that ‘Stevia’ was only so recently approved for use in both the United States and European Union is reason enough to err on the side of caution, as there are various alternatives with clear safety records that can be used in place of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Stevia based products are neither ‘friend’ or ‘foe’, but ‘distant associate.’

 

Are there any ingredients (food or cosmetics) you would like to see featured in Friend or Foe? Leave a comment below or send us an e-mail!

Thank you for reading!

BHT: Friend or Foe?

BHT is moderately common food additive, and a seldom used cosmetic preservative.  BHT is an acronym for butylated hydrotoluene.  Though BHT is not used in natural or organic products, it is moderately used in a variety of food and cosmetic products, some of which are primarily marketed for children and young adults.  BHT is typically the last ingredient listed and looks rather harmless abbreviated as opposed to its full chemical name which would certainly cause consumer to question their purchase.

Butylated hydrotoluene is a chemical derivative of phenol (-OH group attached to a benzene ring) and can be described as a lipophilic (likely to bind to fat) organic compound that is widely used across various industries for its antioxidant properties.  Specifically, butylated hydrotoluene reacts with oxygenating free radicals to decrease the rate of autoxidation.  BHT has a low molecular weight (220.35 grams/mole), which means it can have the ability to be absorbed through the skin when applied topically.  Despite being used in very low concentrations that typically do not exceed 0.1% of a food product, BHT still poses various health concerned when consumer internally or applied topically.  Though BHT is not officially listed as a carcinogen, is is suspected of carcinogenic activity, is known to be mutagenic to mamalian reproductive (somatic) cells, and is toxic to the blood, liver, and central nervous system.  While antioxidants and other preservatives are beneficial in preventing food or product spoilage, why is a food and cosmetic additive with a questionable safety reputation still being used, particularly in vulnerable populations such as children?

BHT is suspected of causing rodent carcinogenic activity, therefore, being slow growing and malignant (Parke & Lewis 2009).  BHT has also been shown to exacerbate chronic urticaria, a rash or red welts that develop from food allergies (Goodman et al. 1990).  A 2000 study found that BHT consumption at low levels did not lead to incidence of stomach cancer, though BHT intake was only measured from mayonnaise and salad dressing intake (Botterweck et al. 2000).  Though there is no concrete evidence of carcinogenicity of BHT in humans, it is usually best to err on the side of caution.  There are limited studies that observed the effects of BHT from cereals or other foods in children.  The suspicion of carcinogenic activity should not be taken lightly.  For that reason butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a ‘foe.’

 

Have you used a product or eaten a food with BHT?

Are there any ingredients (food or cosmetics) you would like to see featured in Friend or Foe?  Leave a comment below or send us an e-mail!

Vegan Beauty Products

One of the many trends in cosmetics and personal care products in recent years are vegan beauty products.  Many companies, particularly those that fall into the spectrum of ‘natural’ and organic tout their products as being vegan.  While this is helpful for people who live a vegan lifestyle, it is not always an indicator of quality to those buying natural and organic products.  In some instances the word ‘vegan’, just like ‘gluten free’, is nothing more than a ‘creative’ marketing tactic.  What exactly are vegan beauty products, what do they offer, and what does this mean for natural and organic cosmetics and beauty products?

VEGAN

The word vegan is used to describe a person that does not eat or use any animal products.  Similar to vegetarians, vegans do not eat meat, however, the philosophies diverge as vegans do not eat any other animal products, which include food and cosmetic ingredients such as butter, beeswax, lanolin, lactic acid, and common ingredients like cetyl alcohol and glycerin.  Therefore, vegan beauty products are primarily plant based and may contain some synthetic ingredients.  Many vegan friendly beauty products are cruelty-free, meaning they not only contain to animals products but are not tested on animals.

VEGAN BEAUTY PRODUCTS

‘Vegan’ doesn’t mean ‘chemical free.’ The quality of ingredients depends on the product, as many companies offer products specifically for their vegan customers.  Many of the products featured in Label Poise are technically vegan, but some are not the best quality product available.  Determining how ingredients are derived is impossible, unless it is specifically labeled or you contact the company directly.  The cosmetic industry has overall moved away from using animal derived ingredients, opting for plant derived, however some ingredients are animal or petroleum derived.  Some ingredients, such as lanolin and beeswax are easily identifiable to avoid.  The main concerns are in facial cosmetics, such as lipstick, lip balms, eyeshadows, and some foundations, and some hair and skin products.

A conditioner formulated specifically for vegans.

Lanolin is not as common as in the past, but it is still used in many lip care products, including some that are 99.9% natural, which is not a misnomer but lends to the ambiguity of the word ‘natural.’  Natural has no set definition.  Though many tend to think of ‘natural’ as plant based, the term holds no definitive meaning.  Beeswax is likely one of the biggest culprits, as it is heavily used to replace synthetic emulsifiers and thickeners in natural and organic products.  Beeswax can be found in many lip balms and skin products, though it is not as common in hair products.  Some products, such as nail polish, use ‘vegan’ as a marketing tool.  Though the products are vegan, nail polish is essentially paint, i.e. chemicals, solvent, and mineral pigment, which typically requires no animals.  Though some may have used animal additives in the past, most nail polish brands, even the mainstream ones, are vegan.  The difference is that only some of them choose to label or market their products as vegan.

Vegan beauty products are great not only for vegans, but for all consumers who want to ensure that their products do not contain animal products.  My preference is for ingredients that are plant derived, though it is difficult to be certain that some ingredients are not derived from animal or petroleum sources if not specifies.  Beeswax is not one of my favorite ingredients, nor is lanolin, so this aligns with some of my preferences though the motivation is not the same.  As long as the product meets my label poise and is a high quality product, vegan beauty products are friend and not foe.  Several of the products reviewed (Honeysuckle Rose Conditioner, Carter Nail Polish, Evvie Nail Polish) on Nature’s Pulchritude are vegan, just by chance!  Look out for more posts delving into vegan beauty products!

 

Do you use vegan beauty products?  Why?  What are some of your favorite products?

Do Natural/Organic/Environmentally Friendly Products Work As Well or Better?

I’m sure those of you that follow Nature’s Pulchritude may wonder if this is a legitimate question.  It is!  There are a lot of sales on natural, organic, and environmentally products this week in honor of Earth Day, which is a great opportunity to try new things and replace products that may have undesirable chemicals in them.  While we clearly advocate for the use of natural and organic personal care products, not all products are created equally.

From my experience, the following products have worked better than conventional products: lotions, creams, and butters; nail polish; shampoo and conditioner.  On the contrary, I am not particularly fond of several of the natural and organic lip balms I have tried.  Two areas I have not really explored are conventional makeup (mascara, foundation, eyeshadow, blush, etc.) and cleaning products (laundry detergent, hand soaps, etc).  While there are several brands that offer naturally and organic beauty products, do they work as well?  Can they achieve the same effect as someone’s favorite lip gloss or mascara without the chemicals?  I have seen several great reviews about natural lipsticks, all of which have been by the same brand.  I’ve intentionally avoided some ‘environmentally friendly’ cleaning products, primarily for health and hygiene reasons.  While I, like many of you, am very conscious of the ingredients in my products but want the products to work well and serve their purpose whether or aesthetic or hygienic reasons.

 

Do you think natural, organic, and environmentally friend products work as well?  What category of products need improvement to compete with or out perform traditional products?

 

Beeswax: Friend or Foe?

Beeswax has emerged as a relatively abundant ingredient in many personal care products who market themselves as being natural and organic. It is commonly found in lip balms and lotions, and has essentially become the ‘natural’ replacement for petroleum based derivatives, such as mineral oil or petroleum jelly, in these formulations. Though beeswax is all natural, is it a beneficial ingredient for skin and lips, or is it a natural version of a filler?

Beeswax is the wax produced by honey bees from the Apis genus to form the foundation for the honeycomb.  It is made up of several different components, but primarily consists of monoesters (carbonyl group connected to and ether linkage), hydrocarbons, diesters, and free fatty alcohols (long chained).  The approximate chemical formula of beeswax is C15H31COOC30H61, which means it has a large molecular weight (~676 g/mol).  It is generally believed that substances with a molecular weight below 500 grams per mole (g/mol) can easily pass through the skin.  Substances with larger molecular weights such as mineral oil are too large to be absorbed by the skin, unless they are chemically altered to make their molecules small enough to be absorbed.  Is beeswax beneficial to the skin and lips, other than creating a barrier that keeps moisture in?

A German study conducted in 2003 found that beeswax based barrier creams performed better than petroleum based creams in alleviating moisture loss and irritant contact dermatitis (Frosch et al. 2003).  Beeswax itself is not a moisturizer.  Beeswax can be in the first 3 to 5 ingredients of a lip balm or moisturizer, but I would hesitate to use a product that contains beeswax as the first ingredient.  I have used a lip balm whose first ingredient is beeswax and the performance was okay.  It is not a bad product by any means (it is USDA Certified Organic), however, it did not provide long term moisture or softness to my lips (after 1 application for 2-3 hours). Beeswax is far from ‘foe,’ though it is not quite ‘friend’ depending on its purpose in an application (i.e. as a binder versus as a primary component).  Perhaps ‘associate‘ is the best designation if it is the first ingredient, and ‘friend‘ if it is a component used to bind the formula together.  By and large, it is dependent on what YOU like and what works for YOU.

Do you use any products that contain beeswax?  How do they perform for you?

 

Are there any ingredient (food or cosmetics) you would like to see featured in Friend or Foe?  Leave a comment below or send us an e-mail!

Thank you for reading!

Alcohol in Hair and Skin Products: Friend or Foe?

Navigating ingredient lists for ineffective ingredients and cancerous or toxic chemicals can be challenging.  Many personal care products, specifically hair conditioners, gels, hair sprays and various skin creams, contain alcohols, however, all alcohols are not created equally (figuratively speaking).  Some alcohols can be very drying to the hair, whereas others have the opposite effect and provide a feeling of softness.

Chemically, alcohols are organic compounds that have molecules that contain one or more hydroxyl groups (neutral -OH) attached to a carbon atom.  The oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H) atoms form a covalent bond, or share electrons.  Alcohols vary in chain length, with fatty alcohols having 8-21 carbon atoms and a high molecular weight, and ‘simple’ short chain alcohols having 1-3 carbon atoms with low molecular weights.

Fatty Alcohols

Chain Length of Fatty Alcohols

Fatty alcohols are typically derived from natural feedstocks, such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil.  These oils undergo an alkali-catalyzed reaction to create a fatty acid (methyl esters), which are then separated by fractional distillation (a method of separating a mixture in ‘fractions’) and hydrogenated (Hydrogen is added).  The result of this reaction is a fatty alcohol that is commonly added to hair or skin products as emulsifiers which ensure that the waters and oils in a product do not separate, as they otherwise would not mix.  These fatty alcohols are typically one of the first 5 ingredients in a product. When used on the hair or skin they do not penetrate but make the product easier to apply and give the hair and skin a soft feeling (as they do not penetrate the hair shaft it is unlikely they are technically making hair softer).

Commonly Used Fatty Alcohols Include:

Cetyl Alcohol
Stearyl Alcohol
Cetearyl Alcohol

Short Chain Alcohols

Chain Length of Short Chain Alcohols

Short chain alcohols are what many people commonly associate with the word ‘alcohol.’  These alcohols are typically derived via hydration reactions (water is added to an alkene [double bonded hydrocarbon] or alkyne [tripled bonded hydrocarbon]), though each undergoes a specific reaction.  Specifically, Ethanol can be produced by hydrating ethylene or by fermenting sugars with yeast.  Isopropyl alcohol can be produced by hydrating propene, then undergoing distillation.  Unlike fatty alcohols, short chain alcohol production requires an acid-catalyzed reaction (hydration).  Alcohol can be denatured by adding an essential oil or various additives to make it undrinkable.  Short chain alcohols are often using in hair and skin products as an antiseptic or as a solvent (alcohols will evaporate leaving behind the product).  These alcohols are often considered to be very drying to the hair, though this may not always be the case.  Short chain alcohols are common in hair gels and hair spray though they are often found in skin creams and hair conditioners.

Commonly Used Short Chain Alcohols Include: 

Denatured Alcohol
SD Alcohol
Ethanol (Grain alcohol, Ethyl Alcohol)
Isopropyl Alcohol

Do any of your hair or skin products contain either type of alcohol? How do the products work for you?

“100% Natural” and Organic Lip Balms: Friend or Foe?!

I am on the market for a new lip balm.  I have one tube left of the lip balm I have been using for the past 2.5 years and likely won’t reorder until December/January, as I have only found it online.  I, like many people, grew up using ‘household name’ lip products such as ChapStick and Vaseline, but decided to explore new products several years ago.  I tried another raved about lip product that happened to be petroleum based (like the previous 2) and it was a dud.  I then decided to opt for a non-petrochemical, natural lip balm because I was becoming more ‘conscious’ about the products I was using.

My experience with ‘natural’ products has been almost evenly split.  Initially, I tried two different ‘flavor’ lip balms (a 2 pack) from the same brand that I heard good things about that used ‘100% natural’ ingredients.  The first product I tried (Product 1) wasn’t bad, the second (Product 2) however, was awful.  My lips still are not completely back to ‘normal’ from ‘Product 2’ (2.5 years ago mind you).  For me, this one of those key moments when you learn that ‘natural’ is most definitely not always better, and if you’ve been following this site you’ll know that ‘natural‘ has no definitive meaning and is more or less a marketing tool.  The next 2 products I tried were also 2 different ‘flavors’ of the same product, this time I made sure I didn’t fall into the same trap and bought USDA Organic (“all natural”).  These products were much, much better than the previous 2, and almost rivaled the ‘baby soft’ lips I get from good old Vaseline or Aquaphor (both of these products are great if you have really dry lips and need to soften dry skin for removal).  From this entire process I learned the importance of reading and understanding ingredient labels, and I have noted a pattern of ingredients from the past products I have used as well as in new products I have been eyeing.

Let’s compare the ingredients for all 4 different products (copied from brand website):

Product 1:

helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, cera alba (beeswax, cire d’abeille), aroma (flavor)*, ricinus communis (castor) seed oil, mangifera indica (mango) seed butter, lanolin, ammonium glycyrrhizinate, tocopherol, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, glycine soja (soybean) oil, canola oil (huile de colza), limonene, linalool. *natural flavor

Product 2:

helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, cera alba (beeswax, cire d’abeille), aroma (flavor)*, ricinus communis (castor) seed oil, lanolin, euterpe oleracea fruit oil**, ammonium glycyrrhizinate, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, tocopherol, glycine soja (soybean) oil, canola oil (huile de colza), anise alcohol, benzyl benzoate, benzyl cinnamate, citral, farnesol, limonene, linalool. *natural flavor **Acai berry

Image courtesy of Aubrey Organics
Product 3 (Aubrey Organics Organic Lip Balm Vanilla & Honey):

Cera alba (organic beeswax), cocos nucifera (organic coconut) oil, virgin olea europaea (organic olive) oil, simmondsia chinensis (organic jojoba) seed oil, organic flavor, cannabis sativa (organic hemp) seed oil, rosa rubiginosa (organic Rosa Mosqueta®) seed oil, tocopherol (vitamin E).

Image courtesy of Aubrey Organics
Product 4 (Aubrey Organics Organic Lip Balm Tangerine):

Cera alba (organic beeswax), cocos nucifera (organic coconut) oil, virgin olea europaea (organic olive) oil, simmondsia chinensis (organic jojoba) seed oil, cannabis sativa (organic hemp) seed oil, citrus tangerina (organic tangerine) oil, rosa rubiginosa (organic Rosa Mosqueta®) seed oil, tocopherol (vitamin E).

Bolded ingredients are considered questionable.  As you can see Products 3 & 4 have no questionable ingredients, Products 1 & 2 have several.  I won’t do an in depth analysis on the bolded ingredients in this post, but I am more than happy to do so in a follow up post.  I’d also like to point out the use of oils in each product.  On the oil hierarchy scale, sunflower, canola, and soybean oils are at the bottom, whereas coconut, olive, and jojoba oils are at the top.  Castor, hemp, and rose oils are also very favorable.  Also note the simplicity of the ingredients in Products 3 & 4 in comparison to Products 1 & 2.  My experiences highlight the importance of reading and understanding ingredient labels, because had I known better I would not have purchased the first two products despite their nice ‘100% natural’ label.

Image courtesy of EOS I have been looking at another USDA certified organic (100% natural, 95% organic per company claims) lip balm (EOS), and though the ingredients look good, there are 2 ingredients, limonene and linalool, that have peeked my interest as they are also in Products 1 & 2.

EOS Sweet Mint Lip Balm Ingredients:

Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil*, Beeswax (Cire D’abeille)*, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil*, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter)*, Stevia Rebaudiana Leaf/Stem Extract*, Tocopherol, Limonene**, Linalool**. *Organic. **Component of Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil*. Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth.

Limonene:  Limonene naturally occurs in the rind of lemon and other citrus fruits.  It is primarily used as a flavor and fragrance though it also has been used for industrial degreasing.  It is not known to cause cancer or gene mutations in humans and can have anti-cancer effects in pure form, though limonene and its oxidation products are suspected skin and respiratory irritants in some cases.  A product that has been sitting on the shelf for an extended period may oxidize, however, ingredients with antioxidant properties, such as Vitamin E (Tocopherol), may alleviate this.  Overall, it generally appears to be safe.

Linalool:  Linalool can be found in over 200 varieties of plants including rosewood, cinnamon, mint, and citrus fruits.  Similar to limonene, it is used primarily as a fragrant in cosmetics, though it also has uses as an insecticide.  Oxidized linalool has been found to cause allergic reactions such as eczema in some individuals.  On the contrary, linalool in pure form has anti-cancer effects and has had positive effects on leukemia and certain cancerous breast tumors.  Overall, this ingredient is also safe unless you happen to be allergic.

I’m still on the fence about EOS even though I’ve seen great reviews for it.  In the meantime, I’ve been using USDA Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil on my lips (after reading a tip in a magazine).  It works great!!!!

Have you tried Aubrey Organics lip balms or EOS lip balm? What were your experiences?  Have any lip balm suggestions or had a negative experience with a lip balm/product?  Please share! 

Thank you for reading!