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What’s the deal with those pesky parabens?

If you’re like me you only buy paraben-free lotions, shampoos, deodorants and makeup. If you’re also like me you only kind of know what parabens are and why they are bad for you. So, here’s all you need to know about parabens to sound more educated at your next dinner party: 

parabenParabens are a class of (mostly synthetically produced) chemicals, used as preservatives in the cosmetics and pharma industries. Companies use them because they are cheap, help products last on store shelves, and because they prevent the growth of microbes.

Here’s the controversy: #1 absorption, #2 cancer, #3 hormones.

Well ok #1 isn’t up for debate, parabens can be absorbed through the skin, blood, and digestive system; fact. “If these substances are in your blood, they’re also in your liver and in every other place in your body,” explains Torkjel Sandanger, head researcher of a Norwegian study on parabens.

#2 Parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors; fact. In 2004 researchers in the UK detected parabens in the breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied, and discovered that the parabens came from something applied to the skin such as an underarm deodorant or cream. The controversy kicks in because it was a small study and did not prove a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer. Denmark has banned parabens, the EU flip flops on it every few years (currently allowed in up to 0.4% concentrations), and the FDA says they are no biggie because the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (an INDUSTRY-SPONSORED organization) says they’re no biggie. I’m siding with Denmark on this one.

#3 Parabens have been shown to mimic estrogen (which plays a role in breast cancer and is why your 9 year old has boobs); fact. Parabens bind to estrogen receptors on cells and disrupt hormone function (this effect is linked to increased risk of breast cancer/reproductive toxicity). On this one the FDA says it’s ‘aware that estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer. Although parabens can act similarly to estrogen, they have been shown to have much less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring estrogen.’ Well great, I’m glad that the chemicals we’re putting into our bodies are LESS estrogenic than what’s already going on.  Really though, I don’t want anything but my natural estrogen floating around in there.

As always make your own decision, but no seriously stop slathering chemicals on your body and for the love of God please get paraben-free, aluminum free deodorant!

Where have all the cowboys gone?

My last post about Naked Juice’s $9 mil settlement for false advertising (WTF #1) got me thinking about the brands truly pioneering sustainable products and how a lot of them are no more. These cowboys have mostly been purchased by larger (mostly terrible) companies that change the products, change the ingredients, and change the supply chains all under the guise of reaching the masses. I have no snobbery around my favorite eco-products being offered at Wal-Mart (I have snobbery around not stepping foot in a Wal-Mart but that’s for another day). I actually LOVE the idea of more people being able to buy the products I love and use. More people making conscious choices. Which in theory should add up to more trees saved, less GHGs put into the air, better labor conditions, right?! Unfortunately the reality isn’t quite that rosy.

Since I’m lactose-free soy is part of my diet. When Silk Soymilk was taken over by megatron Dean Foods, they began to use conventional soybeans instead of organic ones WITHOUT CHANGING THE PACKAGING. WTF #2. The same Dean Foods also bought Horizon (what was great organic milk) and now they are being sued by farmers and the Cornucopia Institute for selling fake organic milk, and investigated by the Justice Department. WTF #3.

Colgate-Palmolive bought my beloved Tom’s and surprise surprise they now have an antiperspirant for the first time that contains aluminum (the debated ingredient that may be linked to breast cancer or may just be a lot of chemical to roll up onto your delicate parts). Oh and their mouthwash contains a ‘natural’ ingredient derived from gas and oil, Poloxamer 335 & 407. WTF #4. But they are actually one of the companies doing it the best. While their recent switch to (non-recyclable) plastic toothpaste tubes sent hippies up in arms, they transparently listed customer feedback as the reason for the switch (the aluminum tubes cracked/split apparently) and put a band-aid on the recycling problem by letting you ship them to Maine, where they’ll ship them to Illinois to be made into other plastics. But will you do that? Will I? At least they ditched the cardboard tube box!

Other notable cowboy losses since 2000 include: Burt’s Bees now part of the Clorox manufacturing machine, L’Oreal owns my new favorite The Body Shop, Unilever owns Ben & Jerrys, Coke owns Odwalla and Honest Tea, Danone owns Stoneyfield Farm and Brown Cow, Kellogg owns Kashi, General Mills owns Cascadian Farm, Larabar, and Food Should Taste Good, and Schwepps owns Green & Black Organic Chocolate (this one I was surprised about!). Do you know of others?

Check out the infographic below to see Michigan State’s mapping of where our organic brands really come from and do you own research to see if the products have changed, as the packaging likely hasn’t.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping a desperate hold on to my few remaining favorites Amy’s, Arrowhead Mills, Nature’s Path, and Organic Valley.

Michigan State Organic Industry Structure

Michigan State Organic Industry Structure

Make-Your-Own Trail Mix in New Haven!

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Greetings from the East Coast! As I head into the woods for a week of pure happiness at camp, I’m finding lots of GREEN back in my native CT. New Haven has always intrigued me as a city. Slightly ghetto, pretty small, but with a ton of local spirit, educated people, and even a startup scene. My Dad and I had the pleasure of feasting at Green Well where he commented ‘Woah, this is a hippie SF/Sarah restaurant’. Right he was!

Green Well’s mission is to bring happiness, energy and fulfillment to others through lifestyle and consumption habits (side note: I think this also might be my mission!). There the organic, responsibly sourced food and drink is the norm, and it’s not more expensive (Dad was into the prices and he listens to Rush Limbaugh).

All sandwiches are served on freshly baked/homemade vegan bread, and sandwiches come with kale chips. I’m still dreaming of our breakfast sandwiches, and the glorious trail mix and cereal bar where I tried my first goji berry (16 varieties of dried fruit, veggies, nuts and granola!).

Coming home is going to be much more fun with great places like this popping up. Way to go CT!

Turns out The Body Shop is pretty awesome.

warming-mineral-mask_lI get asked a lot about what moisturizers and creams I use (since cosmetics are not regulated and there are all sorts of horrible chemicals in most of the things you can buy at CVS).

Turns out The Body Shop is a great option. It’s similar to a Patagonia because it was started to improve society &  the planet. I associated it as a bit old school, but really it’s kind of a secret gem. They’ve been 100% anti animal testing from their first day in business (!), every product is certified Cruelty-Free, and they’re also one of the first big brands to be as Fair Trade as they possibly can be. Fair Trade as a seal is just getting into cosmetics and Body Shop is helping them expand. They currently source FT Shea (which is a hugely controversial ingredient – there is conflict Shea butter, I know, wild), Tea Tree, Honey, Hemp, and Aloe. They do a ton with employee volunteerism, have their own foundation, encourage female self esteem (not with makeup, with health), focus on domestic violence, work with a lot of local community groups, are replacing store lighting with LEDs, installed solar on their HQ and other buildings, and have a huge focus on ethical suppliers (which is totally awesome, a lot of companies stop at their own operations and then say they have no control over what suppliers do).

I use the warming mineral mask (because who can afford regular facials) and I really like it. It definitely pulls out the gunk and I break out for about a day after using it (similar to with a facial) but then my skin feels so clean, smooth, and even tighter. Worth a try if you’re into that.

My other favorite brand is Yes To (Carrots, Blueberries, Cucumbers). It’s strong environmentally and health-wise they don’t put any chemical crap in their products. Good Guide rates them as a 6/10 mostly because their social programs aren’t super transparent. I really like how the Carrots Repairing Night Cream feels on my face, and you can get it at Target which helps. I didn’t love the cucumber moisturizer (smelled really fragrant and went on sticky), and the blueberry I like only in the eye cream.

I also use the derma E day cream (with SPF) and I really like it- not greasy and perfect for every day. They sell it at Whole Foods (it’s expensive I think $25 for a little tub), and Good Guide rates it a 7.4.

To healthy faces, healthy society, and a healthy planet!

A Zero-Waste & Local Wedding

Well, I got married in March. It was absolutely the best day of my life, surrounded by 70 of our favorite people. Throughout the planning process (all 2.5 months of it) we worked super hard to make sure we had no waste and were minimizing our purchases. Man the wedding ‘industry’ tells you to buy all sorts of shit and it’s kind of hard not to get swept up in it…maybe I do need personalized stationary, a photobooth, and paper lanterns that we set free into the sky. To be honest, taking the minimalist approach also saved us a ton of money.

Here’s some simple things we did (and of course we didn’t get it all right!):

-Online invitations. Yep, nothing printed! I designed it in InDesign, we emailed it out, & people emailed back a yes or no. Simon also made us a great website w/ more details (www.letsbuildafort.com). (See below, free)

-We made sure the location, The Stable Cafe, had composting. The food (Jennifer’s Lunch) was so amazing that there was barely anything left and the catering staff took what was left home!

-Our centerpieces were terrariums rented from the amazing Lila B ($100 total), pieces of free driftwood our friend Shannon found on the beach (she was our wedding designer!), butcher paper that was then recycled, and all of our dishware/napkins/the tent/heat lamps were rented and returned  after.

-Edible favors! Amazing muffins, croissants, pastries, and surprise baked goods from our favorite local place: Craftsman & Wolves. They were packaged in compostable thin brown bags (total spent on favors less than $200).

-Groom & Groomsman had upcycled boutonnieres (Thanks Anna!)

-Reused old wood to write signage on (free)

-Reused an old window pane for seating assignments ($20 supply store)

-Bridesmaids could pick their own dress and one of them reused (1 free!)!

-We didn’t do any decorations – the cafe already had twinkle lights, trees, plants and that was good enough for us! (Free)

-All local and organic food. (Our plates were only $120/person for passed appetizers, bus snacks, chicken/steak/vegetarian options -and EVERYTHING was organic and local!)

-All local wine. With Napa, Sonoma, and Russian River so close, how could we not! Also all local beer except my Dad requested a 30 pack of Coors Light (seriously).

-Our favorite local pies & local legend blue bottle coffee

-We all walked to our after-party at Mission Bowling Club

-Thank you post-cards (save a whole envelope, recycled, soy ink!) from our favorite SF designer, Notify.

-Our rings had no gems or diamonds (conflict free) and were made by a local designer out of gold (mine) and stainless steel (Simon’s)

Eco-fails:

-I bought a new dress. I looked at a lot of reused options (actually tried to get the dress I loved/wore reused but couldn’t find it) and looked at upcycled options but in the end fell in love with my Claire Pettinbone. I also bought new earrings from an NYC boutique and new shoes from Anthropologie. I reused my grandmother’s purse.

-We took the entire wedding party on a cocktail-hour bus tour of San Francisco for 2 hours. Definitely better than doing cabs or something but we could have just stayed put and not put those bus GHGs into the atmosphere. Again, it was totally worth it. It was one of my favorite parts of the wedding and the first time to SF & to the Pacific for many of our family members!

-We had Shannon pick up and make sunflower bouquets from the SF flower market. They were very simple and incredibly gorgeous (and we composted them), and I don’t regret it, I just loved them.

-Groomsman all bought a new shirt and Simon bought a new vest and tie.

-We had a ‘sign in chair’ but also printed a postcard of ourselves and each person that came to the wedding and had them write notes on them. That, one menu for each of the 6 tables, and pieces of paper that Shannon wrote table numbers on were the only paper we used.

Enjoy the pics below and feel free to ask any questions about any of the above choices!

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Find a green cleaning product, the easy way.

I love, LOVE when other people vet things and make life easier for me. It’s important to trust the source doing the vetting, and I do look through the process to make sure it sounds reasonable and not like they are skimming or manipulating data. Last week the Environmental Working Group released its new online Guide to Healthy Cleaning. They are known for their database on skincare products already and this time their scientists tackled products that claim to be chemical free, non-toxic, natural, and their non-organic counterparts. Due to yet another US regulation gap, home cleaning products are NOT required to list any ingredients harmful or otherwise on their labels (disgusting right). OSHA only regulates workplace products, so while you may see ingredients on the back of some spray bottles you have at home, these are entirely voluntary and many companies leave out a few things they aren’t proud of! For instance, formaldehyde which is a known carcinogen and illegal in Europe is found in 409. Way to go USA.

EWG’s scientists went to work and spent 14 months doing a deep dive into over 2,000 products and assessing them against both national and international toxicity data sources. The full process of their research is described here.

Some brands on the A list:

Seventh Generation, Dr. Bronner, and Green Shield. Every product from Whole Foods brand was an A or a B and Mrs. Meyer’s got Bs across the board.

And brands that are doing bad things to you, from the F list:

BabyGanics, Simple Green, Tide, Gain, Downy, All, Green Works dish soap, Method dish soap, Palmolive, Cascade, and a host of others.

 

Check out EWG’s full list to see where your products rank.

 

Perhaps an eco baby gift?

Leah (yes the Leah who wrote about period cups) is preggers!! I’m super excited for her and her hubby and my mind obviously went straight to baby gifts. We sent them a few PeopleTowels in the mail (honestly, who doesn’t need a PeopleTowel) because I’ve heard babies are messy and then we put together this gem:

 

Things started off good; I found a Burt’s Bees Baby Bee set while at Target. I’ve been iffy on Burt’s since they were bought by Clorox, but still use a few of their products with positive GoodGuide ratings. This set contained no parabens, no fragrances, no sulfates, no phthalates, no petrochemicals. It was certified cruelty-free AND the tray was made from potato starch and the box is 60% post-consumer content. It also seemed to contain all of those things you need for a baby (diaper cream, baby shampoo, you know).

I was feeling pretty good until I took a tour down the baby clothing isle and ended up with this adorable duck face baby towel. I probably should have bought a similar organic cotton version online (if I was being truly eco) but the thing was so damn cute. I made up for it by then heading to my new favorite reuse center SCRAP. I LOVE this place. It only sells reused crafty things and it also is a non-profit that focuses on getting art donations to low-income schools and teachers. I browsed around and found half a roll of yellow wrapping paper and a cute wicker baby carriage (I also bought a hurricane candle holder, several items to make a jewelry board, another basket, and a hangy thing with hooks and the total was $6).  I got home, wrapped everything together with some twine that was once on a present of mine, made a card out of recycled paper (scroll style, sweet right), and felt pretty smug about myself.

That was until I spent an hour researching D-Limonene.  I figured I should check GoodGuide before I actually gave them the present, and while most of the BB products I use score an 8 in health, several of the items in the Baby Bee box were at a 4 (environment and social categories were high so overall scores were 6). Crap. The reason was the same in each category: D-Limonene, a completely natural ingredient found in lemons (which is why I hate that meaningless word natural!). I read EPA reports, Scorecard summaries, and in my opinion the research is sketchy and it seems pretty harmless. It hasn’t really been proven to do anything bad. And, many doctors and naturopaths recommended ingesting it for cancer prevention, as a digestive aid, and to treat gallstones. It’s found in almost every food that has a citrus flavor (gum, pudding, OJ) and the EPA classifies it as low-toxicity. The best summary article can be found here.

I still gave Leah the present and will let her make the choice on whether to return it, but I did mentally kick myself for not pulling out the GoodGuide app at Target and figuring all of this out before purchasing it. I think this also just goes to show that no matter how hard you try, you very often will not get it all right.

I’m in love with our new table.

People seem to think that the eco-friendly option is always the more expensive one. I’m sure this stems from years ago when anything organic or Fair Trade was 50% more (side note market demand is starting to really even some things out!).

One eco-friendly item that isn’t more expensive than its regular counterpart: our fabulous new kitchen table. I was strolling through SF’s Indie-mart, a mecca for the local/eco minded, and came across J and his shop The Dirt Floor Studio. My breath caught as I slid my fingers across a reddish-brown farm table with dark knots, wide beams, exposed screw heads, and bench seats. I fell in love, but it looked like something I could never afford. I have a phobia of talking to any sales-type person if I know I can’t buy what they’re selling. However, for this table, I pushed my limits. We didn’t talk dollars. We talked reclaimed wood, reuse, and how he could make something to fit any budget. (Any budget I thought? Even a recent grad student’s?!). I took his card.

He seemed so nice and honest that I found myself working up the nerve to call him a few days later. I paced around the apartment waiting for dollar signs that would crush my dream of owning this or a similar table. I researched similar reclaimed tables at Pottery Barn and at antique stores and the prices for one bench SEAT started at $549 (the same size table at Pottery Barn would have been $2200). Our budget was about $600, crap.

I panicked as I told him this over the phone, but all I heard was ‘ok, I can work with that.’ YES! We chatted further – he could get less fancy reclaimed wood and joinery; there is a way. We had another phone call and a few emails as I saw pictures of his work and pointed out things I liked. This all led straight back to the original table I saw. After one of our chats, J told me he would sell us THE farm table for $700 with the two benches included. He also lowered the table and expanded the benches for no additional cost to fit with our space and the style we had in mind.

Less than a week later, we had this gorgeous piece of art to light up our living room. The wood came from an old barn in Nevada, he built it by hand, and though ours has a polyurethane seal because it is a soft wood, many of his tables instead are finished with a hot linseed oil soak, multiple rubs of Tung oil with a beeswax top rub. So, buy local, buy reused, chat with the artist. The result can be incredibly unique.

GUEST POST: Green Mascara

Hey, I’m Jen. I had a professor who once had us stand up in front of everyone to introduce ourselves. She asked the class to take out anything we had that could describe us without words. While my peers fumbled through notebooks, backpacks and purses for iPods and books, I swiftly pulled out a tube of mascara and held it up.

Maybe not the best first impression to give my teacher, but mascara is a big part of my life. Yes I love books, movies, and my family, but mascara is something I just can’t live without. Seriously… I would consider going naked before leaving the house without my beloved cosmetic.

I remember the glorious day I first put it on. It was my first day of seventh grade, my big year, and I needed BIG lashes to go with it.  My hair was half up, half down, my purple bedazzled Gap tee was looking fresh and my eyelashes were skyscrapers. It was the first time I looked in the mirror and didn’t feel like a kid.

From that day on I was hooked. And twelve years later, I’m still in love.

In 2008, I made the decision to only use cruelty free products, priding myself on such a conscious decision about makeup. But it wasn’t until I watched a little documentary that I realized how mistaken I was.

The “Story Of Stuff” Project is an amazing tool that helps us realize what we are doing to the planet, our environment and ourselves. I watched their “Story Of Stuff: Cosmetics” and my head almost exploded.  The makeup we are putting on our bodies is not safe!

The average woman uses 12 products a day. Those 12 small products contain hundreds of chemicals, less than 20% of which are inspected by the FDA. In fact, include elements that are known to cause cancer, asthma, learning disabilities and infertility. Think about putting that on your face for the next 60 years.

The documentary taught me that there are no regulations on makeup in our country. Since words like “natural”, “herbal” and “organic” have no legal definition when it comes to cosmetics, I set out on a mission to find a beauty line that can help me make the right choices for the planet and my body.

And I did.

I found 100% Pure Cosmetics, a company that uses no chemicals or harsh dyes. Their make up is 100% vegan and is even more surprisingly reasonably priced. 100% Pure offers cosmetics, body washes, shampoos, conditioners, and skin care, and is totally committed to the idea of unadulterated products.  Since as much as 60% of topical skin-care products are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, 100% Pure has taken on the task of cosmetics with no synthetic chemicals, chemical preservatives, artificial fragrances, artificial colors, harsh detergents or any other unhealthy toxins.

As I looked further into 100% Pure I found that they not only had amazing products but great gift sets. I purchased the FRUIT PIGMENTED 3-pc KIT, which includes a tinted moisturizer, the renowned coffee bean caffeine eye cream and the thing I was most looking forward to: black tea mascara. These three full sized products came to $50.00 with free shipping, which I consider reasonable, especially for the quality and peace of mind.

The tinted moisturizer is sheer yet covers small imperfections. It offers SPF, which is so important if you expect to be outside a lot during the day, and provides a quick way to smooth out your complexion. The Coffee Bean Caffeine eye cream smells delicious and has been featured in a bunch of magazines. It’s not an everyday item for me, but on my tired or hung over days it definitely saves me from looking like an extra on “The Walking Dead”.

The black tea mascara was something I was so excited to try and oddly nervous about at the same time. Now that I know how horrible other brands are, what if I didn’t like it? How could I ever go back?

Thankfully, 100% Pure did not disappoint.

This is the perfect daytime mascara. The black pigment is totally there, the lashes are definitely lengthened, although it does take a few coats to get the volume I like.

Overall, I think I’m in LOVE with 100% Pure. I just can’t help myself from trying more and more make up! In fact, I am expecting more 100% Pure in the mail while I write this. I just purchased their “All You Need” gift set and it is pathetic how often I track the shipping.

So if you’re as blind as I was before, make sure you know what you’re putting on your body. Now, I am constantly on the hunt (pun intended) for better and better green makeup products, and if I find any more I promise to share them with Sarah and the world.

About the Author: Jen and Sarah have dabbled in yoga, gone on a few hikes, and seen a lot of improv together. Jen is a teacher, a student, and as you can see from this post, into cosmetics. She grew up in New England but transplanted herself to Los Angeles where she’s started composting, trying out meatless Mondays, and attempting to walk in heels.

My Ultimate Challenge: Going Fashionably Green

Buying clothes is where my sustainability quest falls seriously short. I get overwhelmed – should I read CSR reports and check out supply chain practices before walking in a store? My brain also doesn’t go directly to thoughts of organic cotton when I twirl a shirt around, rather if it’ll go with my new jeans (that I also bought without thinking about organic anything). But, the toll of ignoring sustainability, pushing it off because it’s hard, feels hypocritical. So, it’s time to try.

My 'new' purchases

I believe simple attainable steps are the path to real change. Instead of starting with store eco-research, I started with my favorite green go-to, the art of reuse. Today was my second time buying ‘recycled clothing’. Unlike pricey vintage or often smelly GoodWill clothes, recycled clothing stores (like Crossroads in the Haight, LA, NY, Chicago, Portland, & Seattle), carry interesting, clean, clothing. And while you may be hung up on the thought of wearing someone else’s shirt, just throw it in the wash and get over it (hot water kills everything). Though I had to dig, I scored three awesome new shirts for $25 total (one has elbow pads, I’m thrilled). This seems like the easiest way to get my shopping fix in and make sure I’m at least not adding any extra eco-torment to the world.

If you really can’t get on board with hand-me-downs (and it’s ok if you can’t, no judging here!), one of my FAVORITE start-up stores, that just opened online, is SustainU. Talk about cradle to cradle, this company ONLY uses recycled materials in their clothing. Right now their shop consists of t-shirts, hoodies, and the like, but as they expand, I know this will be where I shop. Recycled NEW clothes. Yes!

If you don’t live near a Crossroads or if you google ‘recycled clothing stores’ and nothing comes up in your hood, think about organizing a clothing swap with some friends or at work. Often things I’m ‘over’ are in great shape and perfect for someone else. You can also try your local GoodWill (who knows it may not smell!), or, come visit me in SF and bring an empty suitcase.

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