Thursday, May 6, 2010

Germs, bacteria, fungus - 100% natural!

In 1993, an outbreak occurred at the cancer ward of the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland. Almost half of the patients tested were found to be infected or colonized with the Paecilomyces lilacinus fungus. Nine of the patients had skin eruptions due to the infections. In one patient, the infection spread to the kidneys. Two patients died.

And how did the patients become infected? According to the Annals of Internal Medicine (published by the American College of Physicians), "The outbreak was ultimately traced to a contaminated, commercially available, pharmaceutically prepared skin lotion." The outbreak ended after the skin lotion was recalled.

As a maker of bath and body products, I have a very, very healthy respect for bacteria, germs and fungus. I do not want them anywhere near my products.

And yet, as a consumer - and as a mother - I want to make and use products that are as natural as possible. After all, this is one of the main reasons I make these products, to get away from the synthetic, petroleum-based, chemical-laden junk on store shelves. So the question is, how "natural" is safe? Which is better, "all-natural" or "natural but with preservatives?"

For me, after several years of studying preservatives and the nasty little bugs they are designed to kill, the answer is simple. The preservatives win, hands down. They may not be "natural," but not everything "natural" is good. Mold is natural, and so is E. Coli bacteria. Death is "natural."

I cringe every time I see "all-natural" lotions and creams listed for sale being touted as "chemical-free," with no preservatives listed in their ingredients. It is literally impossible to prevent the inclusion of some germs and bacteria into a product, unless you make it in an autoclave. Even the best good manufacturing practices only call for a work area to be sanitary, not sterilized. And water - a necessary ingredient in products like lotion and cream - creates the ideal breeding ground for bacteria, fungus and mold.

Now, some people truly believe that Vitamin E or grapefruit seed extract serve as natural preservatives. They are dead wrong. Both are antioxidants, not antibacterial or anti-fungal agents. In other words, they are great for keeping the oils in the products from going rancid as quickly (oxidizing). They do nothing to kill or prevent the growth of the kinds of nasties that can literally eat your skin off.

Any doctor will tell you that the majority of bacterial skin infections are caused by the gram-positive bacteria Staphylococcus and Streptococcus species. In 1997, after a c-section, I developed a hemotoma that became infected with MRSA - a medically-resistant staphylococcus (staph) infection - and it almost killed me. I spent a week in the hospital in a semi-conscious state as specialists shook their heads over me. I know gram-positive bacteria. They are not friends of mine.

So, given a choice between bacteria and chemicals, I go with chemicals. Fortunately there are some good preservatives that are free of parabens and formaldehyde, which are possible carcinogens and some of the things people looking for "natural" products tend to want to avoid. One of those preservatives is Optiphen, which we use in most of our products requiring a preservative. We even use it in our body butters and balms, even though they do not contain water, because people usually scoop those with their fingers.

Our advice? Run, don't walk, away from products that don't contain a preservative. Because if the pros can't manage to keep their products uncontaminated (just last summer, the FDA announced the recall of skin sanitizers and lotions marketed by Clarcon Biological Chemistry Lab), how can the little guys manage it?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Get hammered!

Jenny and Skip Alexander are a husband and wife team with lots of talent and a job they love. "We do everything from construction work to making dainty jewelry," they say. "We are completely self-employed and are loving every minute of it!"

And we love the jewelry in their Etsy shop, AlexandersDesigns. They work with "a unique blend of Swarovski Crystals, lamp work and glass beads, semi-precious gemstones, sterling silver, fine silver, pewter, and gold. Some pieces are playful, bold with lots of color and some pieces are simple yet very beautiful."

Our favorite, which leapt off the page and practically spoke to us, was the ring "Hammered," a handmade Sterling Silver band created by Skip, above.

The couple is celebrating their one-year Etsyversary this week, and are offering a 25%-off sale on everything in their shop from May 5th -12th. Just make sure to type "ETSYVERSARY25" in the message to seller when you buy.

The sale is good in their other two shops as well, so be sure to check those out for some great finds!
You can read more about Skip and Jenny at their blog:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Theyyyyyyy're back!

We know it's really Spring when our friends return from their vacations down South.

The ducks have been here for a few weeks now, cozying up to each other over by the creek where the lake has thawed the most. We've seen the swans flying overhead ... hopefully they'll settle down in their nest soon and lay a good batch of eggs. The kids saw a muskrat yesterday swimming in the thawed water along the shoreline. Hopefully he's still there, as we saw this guy out hunting a little later ...

He must have gone after the Bonaparte gulls, because they were dive-bombing him as he sat atop that tree. He refused to be bothered by them, of course. He's far too regal a bird for that. Or maybe he's a she, I don't know. There is a pair of bald eagles nesting very close to our house, and I imagine this is one of that pair.

This morning we heard the distinctive call of our dear Sandhill Cranes, who must have just arrived home last night. They are incredibly funny to watch ... they walk like a silly butler in a cartoon. However, their cry is wonderful to listen to, and they surely plan to wake up us with it early every morning from now until September, as is their usual wont.

As funny as they look when walking, though, when they fly they are amazing to watch.

So all we are waiting for now is our beloved loons. Usually we get at least one or two pairs nesting on our lake. Their lonely call is heartbreakingly beautiful. And, they make they cutest babies! We'll post photos when they arrive!