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Today is Earth Day, which is always a day that I like to step back and look at what Cocoon Apothecary is doing for the planet and assess where we can improve. Our main objective as a luxury skin care company, was to replace conventional petrochemicals with plant-based ingredients and to purchase only non-gmo (100%) and certified organic ingredients (with a few exceptions). This is no small feat and takes quite a bit of effort to source these ingredients, which are always more costly. From a traditional business point of view, this may seem crazy to people who focus on their bottom line but we are committed to keeping our values at the forefront and being a business that makes beneficial contributions to the planet rather than just making money.

I face making the right business decision for the planet almost daily. For instance, this week I had to order postcards for the Green Living Show and had them printed on a 100% recycled paper stock, despite the fact they are triple the cost of regular paper. Doing the right thing often comes at a cost and requires individuals and companies to look beyond their bank accounts or profit margins. It requires all of us to realize that we are a part of this fragile planet and we must care for it whenever and wherever possible. No one is perfect, we are all consumers because we have human needs but the world can handle a certain amount of ethical consumerism and there are many of us who are trying our darnest to get there.

Every time that you shop, you have the opportunity to support ethical, eco-friendly industries. We all need to learn to buy less and spend more on the right choices. Here are a few tips on how to be eco-friendly when shopping for personal care products:

1. Avoid oxybenzone in your sunscreen – One of the most popular sunscreen ingredients on the market is oxybenzone because it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. It is responsible for destroying coral reefs around the world by bleaching algae. It is eco-toxic to our water systems and also considered a hormone disrupter within our bodies. Look for products with zinc or titanium dioxide for healthy, full-spectrum coverage.

2. Avoid triclosan – This ingredient is an antibacterial that has made its way into a disturbing amount of products, mostly hand soaps and sanitizers. It is another eco-toxic ingredient that is also a hormone disruptor in your body. It gets washed down our drains and enters our water systems creating problems for aquatic life because it doesn’t break down and therefore gets ingested. There is no reason to be polluting our bodies and ecosystems with this because studies have shown it soap and water is just as effective. Look for the work ‘microban’ in the ingredients list.

3. Avoid plastic microbeads – These tiny plastic beads are used so prolifically that they are polluting our Great Lakes. They are everywhere because they NEVER break down. They get rinsed down the drain from exfoliating cleansers or toothpastes and float around our water systems for a gazillion years or get swallowed by fish and end up on your dinner plate. Look for the word ‘polyethylene’ on the label.

4. Avoid petrochemicals – I don’t need to get into why petroleum isn’t a great raw material for this planet. We all know about the pipelines that burst and destroy eco-systems. Why we have allowed it to become a staple in our personal care products is a mystery to me. Do we need plastic on our skin? NO. It’s making people’s skin look terrible. I always say that you’re better off using nothing than this crap. Go natural! If you’re unsure of what ingredients are petrochemical, you can refer to this handy infographic.

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I get asked quite a bit about whether our products are safe to use during pregnancy because they contain essential oils. It is a valid concern because components of essential oils get absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin and can easily pass through the placenta to the developing fetus. The question is whether these components can be harmful or disruptive. Most essential oils are safe to use but there are a few that should not be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding. According to Robert Tisserand’s book, Essential Oil Safety the following should not be ingested topically or internally during this time:

Anise, birch, carrot seed, cassia, cinnamon bark, cypress, dill seed, fennel, hyssop, myrrh, myrtle, oregano, sage, star anise, tansy, and yarrow.

There are others that are not as commercially available so I haven’t included them. All the essential oils used by Cocoon Apothecary are considered safe to use during pregnancy.

I have also been getting questions regarding the safety of using rosehip oil during pregnancy because of the vitamin A content. First of all, the concerns regarding vitamin A have to do with synthetic retinoids that are taken orally such as Accutane. They have been shown to cause miscarriages and birth defects. People have taken these studies one step further and have cautioned against using topical retinoids such as Retinol as well. There is a huge difference between transretinoic acid found in rosehip oil and the potent, synthetic versions that have inundated the anti-aging skin care market. It’s the same difference between taking Accutane and eating kale, broccoli and spinach (all contain retinoids). I have absolutely no concerns about pregnant and nursing women using rosehip oil on a regular basis and many women have found it helpful in preventing and reversing stretch marks.

If there is anything to be strongly concerned about, it’s the synthetic musks and phthalates commonly found in the fragrances that are in almost every chemical skin care product from hand soaps to facial creams (like the ones found in a typical mall bath shop). These toxic substances are found in the bodies of newborn babies!

ImageSo I want to share what I took from my little jaunt to New York (besides the fact that it is an awesome city with genuine, kind people). It was a whirlwind trip and I can only describe it as a surreal ‘how did I get here?’ moment. I still don’t know how I was singled out and invited by the Clinton Global Initiative but I’ll tell you this – my biggest desire and dream for my life was highlighted at a talk I went to so I felt my heart almost burst when I made that connection.

First I’ll tell you this – I once had a vivid dream that I was in Africa and there were troughs full of nuts with people processing them. At first I just thought it was wacky, random visual but then I starting piecing it together – those were shea nuts and we were making shea butter. In my mind, I’ve always believed that I got a quick vision of my future.

The talk that I was invited to was called “Linking Human and Natural Capital: Market Solutions for Sustainability”. One of the speakers was Jill Dumain, from the clothing company Patagonia – remarkable what they do as a company sourcing sustainable fabrics around the world. The other was Olivier Behra, CEO of Man and Nature, a non-profit organization that connects private companies (mostly beauty industry) with sustainable, ecological ingredients. Not only is this about conservation of natural resources and biodiversity but it is also about helping communities make a living off of their land – FAIR TRADE. They bridge the gap between the beauty companies and the people producing botanical ingredients. Also, if Man and Nature sees an opportunity in an area, they will teach the community how to harvest and process it and then find buyers. YES!!! This is such an incredible idea to me because many small business like Cocoon aren’t big enough to be flying in to various countries and checking out suppliers (although, obviously I will one day be going to Africa;). The fact that the beauty industry is shifting from petrochemicals to natural ingredients opens up a new world of biodiversity and conservation on this planet and I couldn’t be more happy to be part of this global movement. You are part of it too – every time you purchase from plant-based, ethical companies.

Other things I took from this meeting -

* I watched Bill speak and he is the man. His entire existence is about making the world a better place in a strategic manner that is working!!!

* As a planet, there is hope. When you are in a room full of the biggest companies in the world committing to the environmental and humanitarian efforts, you can’t help but feel a sense of optimism.

* As investors, we are creating the demand for ethical commerce. This is seriously huge. If you don’t like the way things are – don’t invest in it. Look for ethical funds – they are out there!

http://www.clintonglobalinitiative.org/

Click HERE for my latest article in EcoParent Magazine about skin care ingredients that have been used around the world for thousands of years. The age of petroleum skin care has only been in the last 100 years and hopefully it is drawing to a close and we can all go back to our natural roots of glowing, healthy skin.

iStock_000006979322MediumThe absolute best way to purify air in the winter is through aromatherapy (as in the use of essential oils, not to be confused with the misused marketing term of smelling stuff). Air gets stagnant and polluted in indoor spaces and this is one of the reasons why there is so much illness this time of year. When we are exposed to fresh air, we naturally inhale the essential oils from the plants and trees around us. Their therapeutic molecules are comprised of many antiseptic and medicinal properties that we miss out in when we become shut-ins with closed windows. The best way to recreate this air inside is by using essential oils as much as possible.

When choosing essential oils for the home, there are a few things to consider.

Antiseptic properties: Essential oils have amazing anti-bacterial properties (even against viruses). This is why they are ideal for purifying air and are also perfect for cleaning floors and surfaces. The strongest anti-bacterials are oregano, thyme, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, lavender, pine and savoury. Choose at least one of these.

Medicinal properties: Some of the most therapeutic oils for the respiratory system come from trees – eucalyptus, tea tree, pine, spruce etc. Choose at least one of these for cough and colds.

Psychological properties: Essential oils are all very grounding and uplifting but some are more specifically for relaxation (lavender, neroli) and some are more energizing (rosemary, peppermint). Consider your needs.

How to get them in the air:

Room Spray – DIY a room spray by adding drops of essential oils to a spray bottle filled with water. Spray every room in your house first thing in the morning and throughout the day.

Cleaning – Clean with essentials oils by adding drops to your mop buckets, cloths, sponges, toilet bowl water, glass cleaner and basically any surfaces (dilute them first because they can be corrosive to some materials).

Diffusing – There are many diffusers on the market for spreading essential oil in the air but you can also make your own on the stove with a pot of water (extremely low heat). A crockpot works even better.

If you’re going south this year, something to think about is your sunscreen. The ingredient Oxybenzone is a very common chemical found in many products, even some natural brands. It is so common that it is found in 97% of Americans according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is easily absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream and it is persistent and accumulates, meaning it doesn’t degrade and will pollute the body as well as animals and water systems. It has the potential to interfere with hormones which can lead to a multitude of health problems.

It is also a huge water pollutant and the main source of human-caused reef damage because it bleaches algae, rendering the area lifeless. If you go to a protected reef area, your sunscreen will be confiscated and you will have to buy a safe formula.

You will find this ingredient listed on the bottle usually under ‘active ingredients’. My advice for buying sunscreen is getting a physical formula, one that deflects the rays off of your skin. Ingredients such as zinc and titanium dioxide do a great job at this. I also think it’s a good idea to stay in the shade and wear big hats and airy long-sleeved clothing (like tunics or sexy Hugh Grant-style shirts for men).

Share your favourite physical sunscreens in the comments.

Myth: Rosehip oil causes your skin to be more sensitive to the sun i.e. it’s phototoxic
Fact: There are absolutely no studies that indicate this. The confusion may be because rosehip oil contains a natural retinoid (vitamin A) so some would assume that it would have the same characteristics as isolated, synthetic versions such as Retinol. This is false and we must understand that chemicals found within nature do not act the same as synthetic or isolated versions.

Myth: Rosehip oil has a short shelf life – 3 to 6 months.
Fact: The rosehip oil that we just received was produced in October 2013 and has an expiry date of October 2016 so it’s more like 3 years.

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