Monday, May 16, 2011

Names and other miscellany on a rainy day...

Organic, by definition, means this:

 or·gan·ic  (ôr-gnk)
1. Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms: organic matter.
a. Having properties associated with living organisms.
I edited the hell out of this definition, the rest of the entries had to do with fertilizers, pesticides, and food for the most part. These two statements pretty much sum it up well for my purposes.
As a descriptor, the word organic doesn't have a lot of meaning in the personal care industry, and given the definition above, when the word is accurately used, we have some decisions to make. Do we want personal care products that have been alive, or were (or are) conducive to sustaining life? Carmine beetles are organic matter that make a fabulous red, but you know... they're bugs. Some people may have a problem with putting dead-bug matter on their lips. (Not me, of course. I don't give a rat's.) Also, organic matter is a potentially fertile ground for bacterial growth. 

On the other hand, at least you know what you're getting. Phthalates are not organic matter. Petroleum is not organic. And we all know that I'm cautious about certain plant based estrogens, but I'd take tea-tree over methylparaben any day of the week.

My point here is that using the word "organic" as your yardstick puts you on a slippery slope. Even the labeling requirements for the use of the word organic are difficult to find. (Notice I'm not citing them.) There are some companies that I have a lot of respect for (such as 100% Pure) that are entirely organic; they use food-derived pigments and are made entirely without synthetic chemicals. On the other hand, other companies I respect (such as Jane Iredale) grow all of their minerals in a sterile lab, and do a LOT of testing to make sure their products remain as inorganic as possible. (Benefits of that are a shelf-life of forever, and inability for the products to sustain any kind of living organism.) 

I think it's best for each of us to become as knowledgable as we feel comfortable with, figure out what ingredients we want to eliminate, and learn which companies make products without them. There are brands all along the spectrum, so everyone can find products they feel secure with. (Or, secure enough. You know.) That's where I hope to be helpful. I hope to find out about the ingredients within products we use, and pass the information along to you in a way that is not boring or infuriating, and doesn't make you commit an act of violence.
Other words that have almost no meaning in the personal care industry are "gentle," "hypoallergenic," and "sensitive." Any descriptor that appears on the label of a product is there for marketing purposes. It's job is to sell you a product, because there are precious little actual restrictions for labeling. (Please see one of my favorite blogs: The Beauty And The Bullshit for more on marketing.) For example, yesterday I saw a product that claimed a 424% increase in volume for lashes, or some other crap like that. Really? 424%? What a bullshit flag.

Since the Beauty/Personal Care industry is not required to do any testing, any time you see a claim (whether it's a word or a number,) you should know that it's BS. Any claims are constructed by marketers, not scientists. They determine the result they need, and construct the "experiment" necessary to produce it. Then they hand select the participant subjects. So, if they're testing a lipstick... better yet, a lip plumper, they choose 26(ish)women with fabulous Angelina Jolie lips, and one or two women with thin, tiny little lips. These two are there to make the test results more believable. Then, they apply the product, and record any results. Results include any change, such as "pinker," "glossier," or "moister," or any other BS descriptor. (Even "OH MY GOD!!! IT BUUUURRRNSSSS!" is a result.) Given that two of the women hate their lips, and report no change at all, the test can now boast something to the tune of "89% of women saw instant results!" And that's how they do that. (Again, shout to Rowena at B & The BS! Love you!)

OK. So, I've been trying my tail off to find a shampoo and conditioner that is free of the more offensive ingredients, and actually works. So far, no luck. I haven't been able to find anything I don't hate. For me, I think I'm going to have to trade something off in the name of clean hair. (Standards, perhaps? Morals? Ethics? We'll see. I miss having clean hair.) Certainly not money, going back to top-notch salon brands will save me a freaking fortune! Who knew? Of course, I could go with the "no poo" method, which is simply baking soda and water, with vinegar and water for a conditioner, but it's very stripping for colored hair, so that's not really an option. There's also the "co-washing" method, but that means eliminating shampoo, and using conditioner  only. My hair is too fine and limp for that, it works best for women with curly and/or thick hair. You may as well comb me down with lard. So that's out. At the moment, I'm working my way through my obsessively-collected bottles of hotel shampoo (only the ones I liked! Whaat?) from years of travel. The situation is beginning to reach critical mass, though.

Several friends have recently asked me about skin care issues, specifically asking for product suggestions for their skin, regarding their type of skin and their skin problems. The rule of thumb is that less is more. My disclaimer is that I have skin that generally does what I ask it to. (I have two body parts that have, so far, not rebelled too drastically: my skin and my teeth. I appreciate their efforts and wish to acknowledge it here. Thank you both.) So I don't have a lot of experience with problem skin, which means that most of my knowledge is based upon what I've read, and my experience with my kids' skin. (And some of my own issues, I mean, I was a kid once.) 

My general, non-specific advice is that unless you're wearing makeup or sunscreen on your face, you don't necessarily need a cleanser every day. Personally, I do not use a product on my face every day. If I'm not wearing makeup, I just use a hot, very damp washcloth, if anything at all. (I figure my skin knows what it's doing, why get in the way?) I don't even use a moisturizer every day, but when I do, I'm currently alternating between EvanHealy's Rosehip Serum, and Avalon Organics' Daily Moisturizer. The EvanHealy serum is HIGHLY moisturizing, as it's an oil mixture, so I only put it on the parts of my face that feel tight after cleansing, and never on the parts that are prone to acne. I tend to use it after using a cleansing product, and use the Avalon Organics after just using a washcloth. 

I know what you're thinking. (You're thinking: Does she ever shut up? and the answer is NO! I never do!) You're thinking: Are you insane? Under no circumstances am I going to put oil on my face. That may be the problem, though. The philosophy behind the two-or-three step cleansing/toning/moisturizing process is that the cleanser 1: strips away the oils & residue, the toner 2: restores the skin's pH balance, and the moisturizer 3: restores moisture after the cleaning process. 

But the skin knows its job better than we do. What we're doing when we "cleanse" our skin with an often harsh cleanser is disrupting the skin's outer-most layer, called the acid mantle. The acid mantle has a purpose, which is to act as a barrier against bacteria, pollutants, and other debris. When we strip that away, we're actually removing a layer of our skin, and then we do it again the next day! This, as you may imagine, can seriously piss the skin off, leaving it irritable, and susceptible to infection. (Oh, hi there, acne. Who let you in?) Then, since we've removed the acid mantle, we have to artificially restore the pH balance with toner, so we apply a mixture of some pH level, without knowing exactly how it'll react to our own chemistry. (I have NEVER used a toner that didn't burn my skin.) THEN, we re-deposit emollients and oils in order to soothe our dry, tight, and disrupted skin. It's an expensive three step process that we've become convinced we need, when our bodies have already provided for healthy skin. (New disclaimer: I'm not talking about unhealthy skin. If you have rosacea, skin cancers, or other disorders that require medical attention, I'm probably not talking to you.) 

Another tip that I think is fabulous and makes sense is to change your pillowcases every few days to avoid excessive buildup of oil, bacteria, and sloughed off skin, and their prolonged direct contact with your face. If you follow my skin care advice, please be aware that your skin will take some time to repair itself, and in that time, it may appear to be more irritated or broken out, as it restores the acid mantle. (Give it a couple of weeks or so before you make any decisions about going back to your old routine. Remember that your old routine wasn't working, and that's why you asked me in the first place.) In any case, if you have a harsh cleanser, find a gentle one, and a gentle, simple moisturizer. You don't need to wash your face with a (metaphoric) brillo pad, that will hurt you.

OK. Until next time....

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