Tuesday, January 12, 2016 in , , , , ,

Another Silly Boy Blue (or The Death of David Bowie) - a tribute to living without fear

Another Silly Boy Blue (or the Death of David Bowie) a tribute to living fearlessly

There has been a ripple in collective consciousness with the passing of David Bowie this week, and this morning I felt the urge to take to my keyboard to try and capture some of what is pulsing through so many people.  I only write poetry occasionally but when I do I'm caught up in an insistent need to funnel a feeling into words.  Today was no different.  The opening phrases dance around in my head insistently, hinting at more to come.  I have learned not to ignore it because those words don't come back - it's a specific function of time, receptivity, and stimulus and it's then or never.  
As a college art student there were many discussions had about the role of the artist and art in society.  We pondered its purpose and effects.  Often it provokes, challenges, creates connection, and causes us to emote.  Sometimes it broaches a whole new idea.  Bowie did all those things, and his life itself was clearly a work of art.  My response is to create something in return.

For my own profession in natural and holistic beauty I do a lot of talking about living authentically and loving oneself radically and completely.  This is no small task.  The world is always full of messages that we should doubt ourselves.  I can't help feeling, though, that David Bowie had mastery in these practices.  The fact that he was able to live such a brazenly shameless life defying social norms and coloring outside the lines is a testament to his self assurance.  He knew what it means to be really free.   

Freedom is not to be confused with selfishness or myopia.  I've seen some Bowie quotes where he describes that his creative process is strongest when he is selfish and does what he wants rather than second guessing what the audience might want.  Some artists do have issues with being myopic or only self referential, but you can look inward and be tuned into others at the same time.  In fact the most pure life and creative direction I've ever gotten has come from that insistent voice inside myself.  The second guessing is just nagging doubt or a lack of steadiness.  When you have a creative vision, or are even just living your life as a regular person that doubt can interfere like radio static with you being tuned into your purpose.  

The magic and freedom and that people are ascribing to David Bowie is really something that belongs to us all.  We just forget it for a lot of reasons.  Some secrets of life aren't complicated.  Remember to be you, have confidence, show the world what you've got...  All basic, but they get murky amid the chaos of life sometimes.  Other people's insecurities can do a fantastic job of casting shadow on the rest of us, which is a real shame.  Bowie did a fantastic job of reminding us of our true formless, rainbow, space-cadet, unique nature by simply being himself.  His freedom empowered us all.

I wish I could say that I don't experience doubt, or that I don't ever dim my light for the sake of trying to get along or not make waves, but unfortunately that would be untrue.  I absolutely let doubt get the better of me and occasionally still minimize myself.  That has got to stop.  It's important for my work and more importantly for the fact that I have this one chance to be free.  I want to live it with the brightness knob turned up all the way.  So from now on anytime I start to worry too much about what other people will think or feel myself tamping down on my spirit of provocative play inside I'm going to remember Bowie and if I'm authentically feeling something I'm going to go for it.  My inner guides will steer my ship, not other people's hangups.  That's a promise.

This poem is not historical, obviously.  Half the work is purely imaginative.  But I'd like to think that with all the characters that Bowie created he might not mind another riff on his theme.  In fact I hit closer to the mark than I even knew when the idea happened upon me, as I saw this article on how David Bowie nearly committed himself to becoming a Buddhist monk only just this afternoon.  Previously I had never heard of that happening in his life, so it's extra interesting to me that the following is the way I felt and portrayed his character. 

Another Silly Boy Blue
by Julie Longyear

She had spent several lifetimes already
Living alone at high altitude
Amid the stark quiet
And unyielding surfaces
That marked geologic time
Instead of the soft, bruising years of flesh.
It was alright really.

She spoke mostly to herself,
Enjoying the way she could echo
Into the recesses of her rocky home
Or tell inside jokes to the wind
And know the eagles nearby would giggle
From their perch on a nearby peak.
Visitors were rare,
As might be expected.
Living at 16,000 feet is not exactly

Like laying out a Welcome mat.
Every day she watched the sky paint itself,
Playing shamelessly with every color.
The hotshot heavens and the spunky feathers
of rollicking flocks of airborne friends
Pressed themselves like paint
Into her insides, which she had emptied out
With generations of meditation.
And at the end of that life she found
That she was brim-full of fantastic visions
And the quiet had taught her
A hundred songs that no one else knew
She longed to hear them sung by
A thousand voices that never knew
They could sing together so well,
A spontaneous choir spread across time and space.
Besides, living in caves had become trite
And people had become busy
With so many cacophonous distractions down below
That they weren't listening to the wind
Or looking at the sky like they used to
When their ancestors foretold more than just
The Weather from the clouds and stars.
So as she drew her last breath she bade

Goodbye to the crystal-built rocks,
The shiver-crisp air,
And solitude.

It was time to go back to Earth.

Not long was spent inbetween
Moving directly like current in wire
Spirit infused its sparkled-song-electron-attraction,
Meeting flesh in the warm dark of wombly dreams
And when he awoke the Inter-Body Express
Had erased most of what had come before.
(it's part of the price of the ticket)
And he found he wore
An unremarkable name
That cloaked him to walk amongst those
Who had never had eagles for friends.
He had forgotten words
And the doings of previous days,
But he found that he was so full
Of colors doing sunset dances behind his eyes
That he longed to show them
On his skin.
And the songs that had sprung up
From the barren rocks and air
Like tenacious flowers still clung
Around him like his pores
Oozed unrelenting perfume.
But people no longer sat around fires
To tell stories and sing.
Instead they gathered around boxes
To broadcast sound and light.
And the stars they knew
Were no longer in the sky.
Even in his time-travel amnesia the guru knew
There were many things to do.

He painted his face and wrote poems,
Which really all gurus riddle and rhyme
Because it's against the rules to just
Hand out the answers.
And his songs spun themselves, shimmering
From his lips, throat, and chest
Entwined with secrets of being
And smacking of the strangeness
That living alone in open spaces 
Tends to impart.
And when those more earthbound
Would see him
They felt suddenly, uncommonly free,
Intoxicated by the peculiar lightning bolt brother
That electrified their cells with epicine energy
And caused them to erupt into
Sudden colored-cloud, secret-joke joy.
He lured them to lessons
Where dancing their own way
Was the master class
And the only way to fail was to
Follow someone else.
And he shined up his plain name
With a plucky new one
And then took a few more names besides
Because just one wasn't enough
To fit the whole of himself into
Alongside every he and she that had come before.

It's not easy to teach
How the light of the stars isn't steady
And is made of ever-burning cataclysmic pulses
And that even subatomic particles
Prance with one another
To music we are too distracted to hear.
But for those that were listening
He sang and woke sleeping cells in their bones
That still remembered being space rocks.
It wasn't equations
It was strange experience
Infused from soul to soul
And carried as if by solar wind,
Circuits overloaded with sudden brightness
And a deep, discerning sense of self.

Prophets don't preach 
Like they used to and you know
That anyone too loud about themselves
Has something to hide.
And so when he knew
That his song and dance was ending
He orchestrated it with quiet determination.
One last lesson
On how to live
And how to die.
This time instead of leaving for one life
His soul sent transmissions
Outward like a noble supernova
Planting spark-bright seeds
and shining his prism-split colors
Wherever they landed,

Like breath for hungry lungs,
Leading us to live fearlessly
And authentically
As ourselves.

Thursday, December 3, 2015 in , , , , ,

"Play" beauty products for kids - a gift with hidden health problems.

Little girls love to play with makeup and nail polish, but there is a more serious side to this issue than your favorite lipstick getting smushed.  (Though yes, I agree, that is a minor tragedy)

Littles love to do what mom does, and if mom is using color cosmetics they'll want to as well.  In order to prevent the toddler or tween tornado from twisting through your stash it may seem like a great idea to get them some stuff of their own.  They'll feel special, and the items even come marketed for the younger crowd so they know it's just for them.  Problem solved!  Your products are safe and the kiddos are happy.... but....

Unfortunately most people are buying their daughters, nieces, fabulous little boys and grandbabies very cheaply made products packed with hormone disrupting chemicals, synthetic colorants, petroleum compounds, and synthetic preservatives.  Even worse, the additional chemical load can affect kids even more than a fully grown adult.  Their systems are developing and changing quickly, and genes are being turned "on" and "off" by their environment and experiences.  Anything that can alter that is something to consider carefully.

Hormones especially are subtle compounds, and a little this way or that can cause a lot of change.  That is why hormone disrupting chemicals should have you acting like the bouncer at an exclusive nightclub keeping their skeezy selves out.  They'll ruin the party, if not right away then later as they try and pair up with all the pretty estrogen receptors.

Image credit: National Institute of Health and Environmental Sciences
Endocrine disruptors act as hormone mimics and blockers depending on the situation and the compound.  They can sit in the estrogen receptors and other hormone reaction sites and block hormones from chemically matching with where they need to be.  They can also turn hormonal functions on and off sometimes too.  This is big trouble for the littles.

The earlier in life that the human body is exposed to especially hormone disruptors like pthalates the greater the long term damage can be.  Eventual results with habitual exposure can include abnormal hormonal development, fertility problems, and eventually even cancers of the endocrine system.

(Want more details?  Read this in-depth article from Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just A Pretty Face, who has done all the research for you)

A future of chronic disease and pervasive hormonal dysfunction is not the kind of gift you want to bestow on the next generation.

Instead we highly recommend that you skip the toxin-laden "play" makeup and head straight for cleaner, endocrine disruption-free, natural options.  Get them products to play with, but give them something good quality.  That way when their face is smeared with it, or they are doing their nails for the third time that day you can simply say, "that looks great!" without worries about everything that might be leaching into their system

Nail polish is one of those products that little girls adore, and yet is the most insidiously harmful for health, as it has for generations been made up of solvents that otherwise would come with a litany of warnings.  Just as a sample let's review how Toluene, a solvent in conventional nail polish, would generally be labeled.

Toluene safety label text:
"Highly flammable liquid and vapor. Causes skin irritation. May be fatal if swallowed and enters airways. May cause drowsiness or dizziness. May cause genetic defects. Suspects of damaging the unborn child by inhalation. May cause damage to the central nervous system by inhalation."

My daughter has far more time to paint her nails than I do.  That means a lot more chemical exposure.

For your little ladies (or any polish lovers) we are delighted to share an upgrade that will let the kids feel pretty and you feel like they are protected.

AILA Cosmetics
a Physician-Formulated collection of nail colors, base and top coats, and natural, fume-free soy based remover.  They sell online and through stores like Blissoma Botanical Beauty.

AILA offers a lovely range of more than 25 colors in shades from reserved to rowdy that will make all ages happy.

Even their polish remover is nontoxic and healthy for nails.  It is completely odorless and made with soybean esters that gently remove polish from the nail and leave it nicely moisturized.

The big baddies in many widely sold nail polishes are:

- Toluene (industrial solvent and nervous system toxin)

- Dibutyl Pthalate (plasticizer and hormone disruptor)

- Formaldehyde (carcinogen)

- Formaldehyde Resin (allergen)

- Camphor (poisonous and causes yellow staining of the nail)

AILA is also free of:
- TPHP, another endocrine disrupting compound science has just been identified that is in even many 5-free polishes.  The lack of TPHP makes AILA unique in the nontoxic polish world.

How do all the junky chemicals get from the bottle into our bodies anyway? 
Your fingernails are not impervious surfaces.  You are not Lady Deathstrike and they are not made of adamantium, though I'm sure that we all often pretend like they are when attempting to perform tasks such as trying to use a fingernail as a screwdriver because despite having purchased an entire set none are anywhere to be found at times of need. (or is that just me?)  Fingernails are porous and can absorb chemicals that are put on them.  You also inhale the vapors during application - that characteristic smell is the aroma of nervous system damage.  OSHA even has a special mention on the health hazards that nail techs experience as part of their jobs being exposed to glues, polishes, removers and more. "Workers exposed to chemicals found in glues, polishes, removers, emollients and other salon products may experience negative health effects such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses, skin disorders (e.g. allergic contact dermatitis), liver disease, reproductive loss, and cancer."

Uh, yeah.  So tell me again why we are letting our kids fool around with cancerous solvents?  I'm thinking "because it's pretty and that color is in season" is just not enough.  

Some polishes available at larger chain stores like Essie and even Sally Hansen have gone "3 Free" which means they are free of Toluene, Dibutyl Pthalate, and Formaldehyde.  That's better than nothing, but we were super excited to find a line like AILA that was brought to life specifically to bring us the fun of polish without the risks of the additional chemicals.  As well, when big lines eliminate chemicals that are getting bad press sometimes they do so without adequate research and care, which makes the attention that Dr. Cary, the AILA founder, has given her work extra special.

Note: It is not news to me as a formulator and chemistry-lover that there can be problems with some "replacement chemicals" that are quickly substituted into conventional beauty products without adequate research.  Firstly industry wants a fast replacement, and if there is no research there can be no direct harm proven, so they stick something in that isn't the old stuff.  Zippity-doo-da, it's new and improved!  The new compound may be a mimic of the old one and just go by another name, or it may be a totally new can of worms. 
This has been an issue as many mainstream brands have tried to go "paraben free".  They stick in a new ingredient like methylisothiazolinone which isn't a paraben, but is a serious skin irritant.  People then have rashes popping up and don't know why, but it's because the choice of preservative wasn't made with health in mind, but rather mass production

If you're buying a beauty gift for a little one this holiday season or anytime we want to ask you to please buy clean, natural, nontoxic beauty products.  Look for declarations like "5-free" on nail polishes for the cleaner options, or even better look for brands that declare TPHP-free (there aren't many yet besides AILA).  For makeup please look for plant-based recipes and no FD&C colorants.  A line that specifically declares their colors are solely mineral based is best.

And skip all the synthetically perfumed lotions, shower gels, and spritzy stuff (whether cheap or designer).  Synthetic fragrances are like taking a bath in Pthalates, one of the worst types of endocrine disruptors.  While nail polish companies have been working to remove it the fragrance industry hasn't budged much.  Pthalates allow them to make fragrances seem stronger and last longer, and it seriously screws with their product structure to eliminate it.  Pthalates do absorb through skin and should be avoided as much as humanly possible.  Drop the freesia body spray like it's hot.

Yes, cleaner products sometimes cost a little bit more and you will almost assuredly not find them at the mall, but the peace of mind they buy is priceless.  When the wrapping paper is off, the bottles are empty, and your children are grown you'll know that they didn't get left with nagging health problems as a result of prettying up.  Health and wellness is the best gift of all.

Sunday, November 29, 2015 in , , , , , , , , ,

Great leaps and Gratitude - Blissoma Botanical Beauty is open

For 5 months my life has been a whirlwind of soapy water, paint, wood dust, stain, polyurethane, glue, nails, screws and everything construction-related as I renovated the space that now holds the Blissoma Botanical Beauty Boutique.  I took possession on July 1 and quite literally right away I dove in headfirst to the work that needed doing.  I barely came up for air.  I've worked from home for years, and the immersion at the new location was complete.  I basically came home only to eat dinner, shower, and sleep most days.  My family was informed that I was essentially unavailable, given apologies, and asked to be patient for a bit with the greater good in mind.

This week the store finally opened after construction delays galore and slogging through all manner of unexpected problems including a basement full of smoke (turns out decades-old electrical circuits don't love being messed with), and staff having personal emergencies that took us down by one member.  Nothing about the second half of 2015 has been easy.  Having completed our first week open for business I feel more like I can reflect properly and meditate on the gratitude I feel. 

In 10 years in business I've watched dozens of small businesses (especially retail) start up and then really struggle and often fail for a wide variety of reasons. I have even seen it happen to friends, and it has been a cautionary tale for me. The cost of renting and running any kind of space capable of retail is high and so is all the pressure that puts on the business. It's a very real "sink or swim" test and you have to be ready for that level of intensity. Some people get into retail without really knowing what it will be like. I did not. 

I got in full well knowing the commitment of time, energy and money it would require after seeing the process many times over with friends and acquaintances. All those factors were reasons that I stayed incubated in my residential space for as long as practically possible. It was only when we were literally bursting at the seams and could not even store the supplies we needed to process the orders we were getting that I was ready to make this leap for our production and sales needs.

Even with an existing sales base, reasonably reliable cash flow (for our size) and a talented staff the growth step we've taken is still a major risk. Everything I have done since around 6/1/15 (when the lease was signed) and through at least that time in 2016 is important. I have to be on my game at every moment, operate efficiently, and use my time and energy wisely. There is no room for serious errors. I can't afford to take my eyes and intention off my vision.

Even with the fact that I know for sure that we are offering products and services that people truly need one still has moments of dire doubt. It did my soul so much good to see so many friendly faces walk through our doors this week. Some were my dearest friends who have helped support me and talk me through moments of crisis, big and small. Some were people that I've never seen in person but have followed us online, and some were totally new clients that discovered us for the first time. All of these gave me so much hope and truly refilled my emotional tank, and their consciously spent financial resources will contribute towards our practical survival. Both of these things were necessary right now, and I feel extremely grateful and lucky for both.

Despite the fact that sales is a totally learned skill for me I have sold products in many environments. I spent years doing demos in natural foods stores, which in general was just painful for me and also not the greatest energetic interaction with clients (though that had nothing to do with what I put into it!). Even if you have something great to offer people you still have to offer it in the right way and at the right time. The recipient has to be ready or defenses go up and they will likely reject it.

Seeing products sell in another dear friend's natural beauty store several years ago was one of the key things that helped convince me that there was a better way to sell my type of product - better for me and for the client. It is so much more effective to give people the space they need to desire an interaction, and to willingly enter into it. Prioritizing service and education helps people choose for themselves rather than having something shoved at them. It was a beautiful thing seeing so many people thoroughly embrace clean self-care and health sustaining products this week through our gentle and respectful sales process.

People left our store feeling better about their appearance, more like the version of themselves they are delighted to present to the world, and like they knew what to do with what they purchased to positively impact their daily lives. I am truly honored to be instrumental in helping create that feeling for our clients. As much as I'm happy about seeing my business grow and flourish, this impact on people is the thing about which I feel best.

Many small businesses would not have had the blessing of such a solid first week of sales. I know this is partly good planning on my part, but it is also partly good fortune and the goodwill of our community. It gives us the chance to keep going and to do much more.

I am thankful to so many people for putting up with me through what has arguably been one of the most important and stressful 6 months of my life. It has not been an easy ride, and I wouldn't have made it through without each of the people that spent time and energy helping make it happen. I did a lot, but I'm more aware than ever of how much I need everyone around me to be the best version of me that I can be. To my family, my friends, and my clients I continue to owe my absolute best. I will continue to give it.

Blissoma Botanical Beauty is located at 2730 LaSalle Street, St. Louis, MO 63104 in historic Flower Row.  We are open 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday and 10 AM to 6 PM Saturday currently.

Our skincare pros and makeup artists are available for consultations, color matching, and assistance creating your unique look with nontoxic, healthy beauty products every day.  Please come visit us

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 in , , , ,

The Ugly .01% Secret of Active Ingredients in Skincare

Unless you hold a chemistry degree shopping for skincare can be confusing.  Consumer labeling standards have at least helped to clarify what is actually in each mysterious bottle of lotion or potion.  You can always check the ingredients panel to try and discern if the sales pitch matches the pith of the product, but even this area is a place that manufacturers play games.  They know many shoppers will breeze past grand claims of transformation and head straight to see what active ingredients are included in the nitty gritty, detailed list.  Some legal standards apply, but there's still plenty of room to manipulate. 

The ingredients list can both reveal and conceal.  In many cases the ingredients list itself is a smokescreen, obscuring that most skincare products don't have optimal, effective concentrations of the ingredients they claim are in each bottle. 

The reality is when you buy most drugstore and even many department store skincare products what you're buying is mostly emulsifiers, solvents, and water even when trendy actives appear in the ingredients list. 

The skincare and cosmetics industry is largely powered by marketing. Most companies spend far more on their promotion, advertising, and the perfect sales pitch than they do on the actual ingredients in the product they are selling to you. They capitalize on vanity, fear, and the customers’ lack of knowledge about chemistry. They prey on the fact that many people will pay dearly and believe marketing pitches that sound more like fairy stories than like chemistry.  While I love a good fantasy tale I'm not looking for one in my facial products.  Stories of rare and exotic ingredients create fervor and a mystic quality to a cream or serum… Sadly the story is often all they are actually selling, as the product inside is but a pale shadow of what is advertised. 

One of the ugliest, dirtiest secrets of the skincare world is that mass market formulators are actually *taught* how to basically defraud customers in designing recipes. Experts teach how to use the minimum quantity of an herbal or "active" ingredient in a formulation just to be able to put that ingredient on the label for marketing purposes. That means that even though you may see "Coenzyme Q10" or a list of fancy extracts on the label the dilution is taken so far as to render them completely ineffective. In chemistry and biology it often takes an optimal concentration of a compound before any noticeable effect is achieved, so this deliberate limiting of actives strips all the benefits from products. Well, at least all the benefits to the client’s skin. 

The cost savings from putting in the minimum of actives means bigger profit margins for brand owners. Actives are often the most expensive part of a recipe and also the most desirable to clients because of their benefits. If a product appears to have valuable actives in it then it will command a higher price and likely sell better, especially if the active ingredient is trendy. The combination of higher retail price and lower production cost is a set of practical, profitable business assets that many company owners find it hard to ignore. When profits are more important than people many ugly decisions are made in the name of “beauty”. 

Sometimes the skincare entrepreneur doesn't even know the optimal concentrations of ingredients.  The prevalence of contract packaging firms means many beauty company owners are far removed from the actual design of their recipes.  It's really rare that the company owner is actually the chemist.  Generally a chemistry buff and a marketing brain don't exist simultaneously in the same skull.  The beauty entrepreneur may select a base emulsion and then instruct the contract manufacturer to add several botanicals or extracts because they know those ingredients are "hot", but they've never actually researched what concentrations will provide true benefits.  The disconnect in this situation is immense, and only serves to create further confusion for customers.

Here is actual advice given by a mass market cosmetics formulation "expert" from a skincare industry group, paraphrased by one of the chemists who partook in the lecture: 

"* since your customer doesn't distinguish whether there is any extract (expensive ingredients used only for claims) in the product or not, you can reduce its concentration to the lowest possible concentration, let's say 0.01%, just to mention it on the label but you don't need higher concentrations that would unnecessarily increase the costs of the product without any function 

** increase the solvent concentration and reduce the active ingredients concentration to reduce the costs: water concentration in water based products MINERAL OIL or PG in non-aqueous product" 

This is the reality of the majority of products available through mass market sales venues.  Promises are peddled and broken on a daily basis, with profits continuing to flow into the pockets of duplicitous companies.  

In addition filler ingredients are not "neutral" for many people.  Many will likely cause skin irritation for many customers, prompting the inflammation, acne, and other problems the item was purchased to fix.  Silicones often cause breakouts as they form a film over pores. Petroleum fillers and synthetic emulsifiers can confuse and clog skin, damaging its protective barrier and microbiome. And water? You can get that from the tap for free.

You deserve so much better.

That is why the staff of Blissoma gets up every single day to make potent, authentically plant-based skincare. We don't put in the minimum of active ingredients. We put in the maximum. Every single recipe is absolutely packed to a point where we can't even fit anymore extracts, healing oils, and vitamins in without the emulsion coming apart or actives not staying in solution. Our potency is why our products heal, brighten, firm, hydrate and truly rejuvenate skin. 

Our potency is egalitarian. We pack in the actives because we believe everyone deserves to feel and look their very best. Good skin nutrition is key to achieving that end. Nutrients yield results so we make sure that our products are like a gourmet, whole food, herbal supplement for your skin. We’re gorgeously genuine and radically respectful of our clients. We don’t tell slick stories. We just want you to have a real daily romance with powerful plants. 

In our new store opening Fall 2015 in St. Louis we’ll be able to proudly show people our uniquely concentrated herbs extracting in jars, the pure, nutritious seed oils awaiting blending, and all the other healing ingredients we keep on hand. Our production area will be available to view so clients can get an intimate peek at what we do each day to earn your trust. Blissoma’s “put in the maximum” philosophy will be on display every day. 

Don’t be sucked in by the .01% secret. You are more than a number, more than a profit margin to the team at Blissoma. Get into a real relationship with your skincare brand and make sure you’re getting the actives and the results you deserve.

Monday, April 6, 2015 in , , , , ,

12 Questionable (and possibly toxic) beauty trends from the late 90’s and early 00’s. Were you a victim to these untimely blunders?

12 Questionable (and possibly toxic) beauty trends of the 90's and 00's.  Teenage beauty mistakes, teenage beauty blunders.

Let’s be honest - teenagers aren't always the most savvy shoppers, they over enthusiastically respond to pretty models, celebrity endorsements, slick packaging and empty promises. Feeling nostalgic, I was inspired to create one of my own lists to reminisce about the chemical-laden beauty products of my underinformed youth. 

The transition to adulthood is frought with experiments with our appearance that make our tender inexperience even more glaring. You actually can be any age to enjoy this - we are all victims of past era's beauty mishaps. But I have a feeling if you are roughly between the ages of 25-32, this list may hit pretty close to home. Here are 12 questionable beauty trends from my pre-teen and teenage years when social media wasn't really a thing yet (thank God!) and if you needed to reach me, you could call me on my Nokia cell phone. Don’t forget the bonus at the end of the list!
  1. Sun In: Those orange streaks looked super real…

  2. John Frieda Blonde Shampoos: Because it would make your hair blonder right? But which type of blonde? Platinum or honey…Let’s spend at least 15 minutes in the aisle debating this! 

  3. White eyeliner and/or eye shadow: How was this even a trend? Was it a real trend or just my friends and I? 

  4. Concealer on lips: THIS was the sexiest, coolest thing ever. Lips that were flesh toned. If you really knew what you were doing you added a frosted lip gloss over it. 

  5. Using any drugstore as the go to source for a skin and makeup routine. 

  6. Caking on foundation and powder: Not using any blush or bronzer to contour my face. Nope. Ghostly cakey skin was totally cool as long as you couldn't see any pimples. 

  7. Discovering bronzer: Annnd now I’m an oompa loompa!

  8. Coloring hair with Kool-aid packets: I preferred to use the red packets to give me that natural strawberry blonde look.

  9. Over using hair spray on bangs and messy buns: Pulling out two skinny strands of hair to frame each side of my face and still hairspraying those. Hairspray on everything

  10. Layering a collection of lotions and/or sprays from Bath and Body Works and LOVING the overpowering, synthetic fragrance lingering from them.   You know it's enough once you smell like a synergy of mango-strawberry-melon-sweetpea-sugar, and not one drop less.

  11. Clinique Happy, Curve and CK1…became sophisticated and a step up from Bath and Body Work’s sprays and glitter lotions that pre-teens enjoyed.  How tastes do change...

  12. Cover Girl Products: All the gorgeousness that babysitting money can afford. 

Bonus…For the boys! Don’t think I forgot about you. You know what’s coming don’t you? FROSTED TIPS.

Who would have thought the boys from middle school actually created reverse ombre? Wise beyond their years I guess?

I couldn't be happier to say that these days my beauty routines stick to natural makeup and haircare.  The hormone disruptors, aerosol propellants, synthetic colors and more can take a hike.  Who needs 'em?  Now I let the real, toxin-free me shine through, due of course to the wisdom I've gained over time.

See you another time, perhaps with more memories you wish you could forget!

Lauren Merten - Blissoma Staff Esthetician

Friday, March 27, 2015 in , , , , , , , , ,

Why Some Skin Types Should Stop Using Coconut Oil - the mixed results of this otherwise healthy oil

Coconut oil may not be right for your skin type - coconut oil causes breakouts, coconut oil makes my skin dry

Coconut oil has gained a big following in natural beauty circles in recent years.  This oil does have a significant list of benefits including the fact that it is readily available at many natural food stores, affordable, shelf stable, 100% natural and nontoxic, and not environmentally problematic.  Books such as The Coconut Oil Miracle tout its extensive health benefits as an immune system support, weight loss aid, digestion and nutrition absorption aid and many other traits.  A simple Amazon search pulls up over 10 guides to the benefits of coconut oil including one specifically dedicated to pets and another for oil pulling.  I've personally found it to be fantastic for cooking and the flavor of virgin coconut oil makes a delectable popcorn topping for a Saturday evening movie at home.  Combine it with a bit of truffle oil, salt, and onion powder and you've got a mouth party like you've never known before.  

With all those delightful qualities you might be surprised to hear me say that in skincare coconut oil gives extremely mixed results.  Coconut oil is used in a starring role for everything from a makeup remover to a general moisturizer, and is frequently one of the first natural oils people experiment with for home recipes and DIY beauty.   Unfortunately for very dry skin and acne prone skin the results of coconut oil often skew towards breakouts and increased dryness. 

A quick search of blogs on coconut oil used for beauty purposes for anecdotal evidence shows a lot of confused results in the comments sections.  Some people are brilliantly happy with their new discovery and others are quizzical, inquiring if their uncomfortable situations post-use are normal.  Due to what I've seen over years in natural beauty working with clients coconut oil is not one of my top choices for picky skin types.  As a formulator I use it only when blended down with other ingredients, and I make sure to provide many recipes that are completely free of this oil for individuals that have adverse reactions.

Let's be clear - am I saying coconut oil is unhealthy?  Heck no!  But its unique chemistry is causing a wide range of effects on people's skin.  Let's get an up close and personal picture of just what's going on.

The chemistry of coconut oil

Coconuts grow on coconut palm trees and once harvested the coconut is broken open, the coconut "meat" or copra is dried, and then pressed hydraulically at 100 to 130 degrees F to extract the oil.  Per tablespoon the resulting oil has 117 calories, 0 grams of protein, 13.6 grams of fat (11.8 saturated, 0.8 monounsaturated and 0.2 polyunsaturated) and 0 grams of carbohydrate (0 grams of fiber and 0 grams of sugar). It provides negligible vitamins or minerals.  For further reference see the USDA National Nutrient Database.

Coconut oil is largely made up of saturated fat.  Saturated fats are so called because they have all their Carbon to Hydrogen bond areas occupied by strong single bonds.  Every bond site is "saturated" with as strong a bond as it needs - its dance card is full in layman's terms. The fact that the fat molecule already has Hydrogen atoms in very stable arrangements also means the oil is not very reactive with oxygen, making saturated fats relatively stable for long term storage.  In general saturated fats have been thought to be not the ideal dietary fat source.  Polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in chia seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and other seeds have generally been preferred because they were supposed not to cause complications with vascular system health in the way that saturated fats supposedly did. 

This general rule is likely what has caused the cheer squad to come out in such force on behalf of coconut oil.  The plethora of PR fanfare that coconut oil is actually healthy has mostly overcome the previous conception that it was saturated fat and therefore verboten.  However, life and chemistry love to throw us curve balls and coconut oil, despite being saturated fat, operates uniquely in the body.

Fats are more specifically known as fatty acids.  As shown in the picture above the molecule is numerous Carbon atoms chained together.  There are short, medium and long chain fatty acids.  Coconut oil has an unusually high amount of medium-chain fatty acids, which are harder for our bodies to convert into stored fat and easier for them to burn off.  This is likely the source of the metabolic boost or weight loss effect from coconut oil consumption.  The body simply burns the provided fuel more efficiently.

Coconut oil fatty acid composition

The saturated fats in coconut oil break down into the following maximum percentages of fatty acids:
Caprylic, C8:  9%
Decanoic, C10: 10%
Lauric, C12: 52%
Myristic, C14: 19%
Palmitic, C16: 11%

Medium chain fatty acids have 6 to 12 Carbon atoms, putting a solid 70% of coconut oil fatty acid content into the medium chain length category.  Coconut oil, along with palm kernal oil, is one of the few truly rich sources of lauric acid.  It's as exotic as the coconut itself to those of us from landlocked, non-tropical territory where we wistfully look out our dreary windows for months of gray drizzle. (Is it spring yet???)  Otherwise lauric acid is rare in nature so you won't be getting it from any other oils in your favorite facial products.

Lauric acid has been shown in studies to significantly penetrate the skin and actually can accumulate in the stratum corneum, your handy dandy top layer of skin cells.  This high penetration ability likely accounts for the extremely lightweight feel of coconut oil that people love.  It doesn't remain on the surface and feel "oily", it soaks in quickly.  In a 2004 study comparing the moisturizing effects of petroleum based mineral oil versus coconut oil for skin hydration both did improve skin's overall hydration level for 34 test subjects.  These subjects had negative allergy patch-test reactions to the oil, though, so the study chose people that already had neutral reactions to the oil meaning anyone that showed negative reactions was left out of the study group. 

Lauric acid also has some other nifty properties.  It has been shown through in vitro studies to be antimicrobial, specifically working against the propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria that is responsible for some acne breakouts.  In fact it showed stronger antimicrobial activity than benzoyl peroxide, the standard over-the-counter acne treatment that plagued all of us in our awkward teen years. (For anyone currently there, I'm sorry!)  Virgin coconut oil has also been found to help wounds heal faster in animal studies and boost antioxidant content in the skin.  The major antioxidants present in virgin coconut oil have been documented to be ferulic acid and p-coumaric acid.  These compounds do scavenge for free radicals, which can help prevent sun and age related damage to skin.

This would seem to be a huge boon for skin!  Absorption and anti-acne benefit all rolled into one!  Unfortunately it's not that simple. 

"If you think it's simple, then you have misunderstood the problem."- Bjarne Soustrup

And the problem is your skin.  It's complex and different for each person.  Different cell turnover rates, different pore sizes, different microbiological populations, different immune responses.... It's all skin and yet all varies.  You are composed uniquely even if coconut oil is generally the same stuff applied person to person to person.  We so love a standardized solution in our mass produced world these days.  But if there's something I've learned in working with the human body it's that there is no one solution for every person in any aspect of healing.  You have to deal with each situation uniquely.

Coconut oil can cause acne breakouts

coconut oil caused a breakout, coconut oil can cause acne
Unfortunately along with all the delightful aspects of coconut oil come's the inevitable downside. (dunh dunh dunh!)  Coconut oil has traditionally been given a comedogenicity rating of 4 on a scale of 0 to 5 with 5 being the highest.  Comedogenic means pore-clogging and likely to cause acne comedones, AKA your common household pimple.  The old model of determining comedogenicity standardized in 1979 by Albert Kligman, MD, Phd involved application of the substance to the insides of rabbit ears.  Newer comedogenic testing models as of this study in 1982 involving human subjects have been used as well, but at that time the rabbit's ear method had been so far found to be more sensitive than human models.  (Blissoma does not support animal testing in any way, has not commissioned any animal tests, and does not use suppliers that participate in animal testing procedures.  All comedogenicity testing has been done by unrelated organizations)  The animal model of rating substances for clogging potential has been renounced by researchers as of 2007, stating that the methods of acnegenesis are complex and no one factor has been identified as an absolute influence.  The extraction method and refining of an oil can also contribute to its unique makeup and action on the skin, with virgin coconut oil being the top choice for antioxidant content and possible non-comedogenicity on skin.

All this still does not negate the fact that many people experience acne breakouts from coconut oil.  For anecdotal evidence read the comments section on the Love Vitamin's article on coconut oil.  While some individuals are very happy and able to use coconut oil many readers repeatedly report that coconut oil caused increasing and persistent breakouts to their face and bodies, relenting only when they dropped it from their routines.

This makes coconut oil a very dicey choice for acne skin types.  The lauric acid content fights bacteria but the total oil may clog pores depending on the user.  The only way to know how it would affect you is to try it, and some people whose acne is under control aren't willing to play that kind of roulette with the tender harmony they may have achieved.  Some people even experience exacerbated breakouts when simply consuming coconut oil as part of their diet.

Coconut oil can cause dry skin

coconut oil can cause dry skin, coconut oil dried skin out
Despite the fact that coconut oil is definitely an oil, and as stated above it does absorb into the skin many people also report that coconut oil increases their skin's dryness.  This seems completely counterintuitive, but again, plenty of comments threads read like this one that states "coconut oil causes sandpaper hands".  Yep. 

How could this be?  One possible explanation is that the oil's absorption actually causes more problems than it solves for some people.  Your skin produces its own sebum to moisturize the skin.  Applying oil to the skin actually communicates with your skin and can modify your sebum production.  By applying more oil you communicate to your skin to produce less because it is already oil-rich.  You can see the opposite of this effect when people use too many astringents and strip their skin of oil repeatedly, then causing overproduction of oil resulting in a slick like the Gulf spill of 2010 right on their face.  With oil and faces the right amount of the right type is like the heavens open up and angels sing - sublime!  But the wrong one for your skin type can definitely throw things off.

Coconut oil may be causing a slowing of natural sebum production while virtually disappearing from the surface of the skin through absorption.  Your skin needs a layer of oils (lipids) on the surface to protect it from environmental stressors and transepidermal water loss - the evaporation of your valuable hydration from inside the skin.  With an oil that is too absorbent it may be sending the wrong, oil-rich signals to skin and then by absorbing you have nothing left to protect you on the surface.  Whoops!  Skin is then left feeling like it's having one of those dreams about being naked in public.  Not so pleasant. 

In my personal experience I've done skin consultations for two sisters whose reactions to coconut oil were totally different.  One could use it for everything and it worked beautifully for her.  She was as happy as the Pointer Sisters in "I'm So Excited."  Sister #2 reported that her skin on coconut oil was dry, uncomfortable, and even itchy.  She had to stop using it because of how it affected her.  And that seems to be the trend for results with this oil - half happy, half not.

Coconut oil has very low nutritional value for skin

As stated earlier coconut oil also has basically no vitamin or mineral content.  It's fats flying solo.  I've seen blog posts claiming it has "high Vitamin E content" but that claim is not substantiated.  It may be they were confused by the stability of coconut oil, as many oils have longer shelf lives because of Vitamin E.  Coconut oil is stable because of its saturated bonds.  There are fat soluble vitamins that do occur in other oils in concentration and oils like rosehip have natural Vitamin A content, sea buckthorn has a multitude of bright orange carotenoids, cranberry and raspberry seed oils have natural Vitamin E.  Other oils also have compounds known as phytosterols which help the skin with water retention and barrier recovery - excellent for irritated skin!  And while coconut oil does have antioxidant compounds there are oils with much denser antioxidant loads such as tamanu.

Coconut oil is an allergen for some people

Coconut is also an allergen for some people who have tree nut allergy problems.  Not all people who are allergic to tree nuts are allergic to coconut, and coconut is technically classified as a fruit.  This still doesn't stop some people from having reactions.  As a disclaimer to this point it is possible to be allergic to practically anything, but I suspect that some breakouts related to coconut may actually be an inflammation issue and not just from pore-clogging.

Why use coconut oil for skincare and natural beauty?

As a formulator I do include coconut oil in some products.  It's stable and can be heated without damaging the oil which is valuable for creating emulsions.  I feel it's a neutral base ingredient for most people, doing probably no harm but also probably not offering extensive benefit, and the problematic aspects are generally minimized by blending it with other ingredients.  For those of you interested in DIY natural beauty it is readily available at any natural food store and you don't have to worry about storing it any special way.  Plus, it's affordable and for individuals whose budget doesn't allow purchasing a luxury beauty product this at least allows for a multipurpose, no toxin, flexible treatment.

Because of the possibility of mixed reactions and lack of vitamin content I keep it to a small portion of my recipes and offer many recipes that do not rely on it.  That way people whose skin doesn't tolerate it well have options.

While life itself is miraculous, fascinating, and filled with abundant blessings there are basically no perfect substances.  Everything is subjective.  When you hear something touted as being "good for everything" I'd take a moment to really scrutinize.  Very little is chemically good for everything.  Most substances are good for specific purposes.  Chemistry itself is specific. 

Overall most people can use coconut oil for a variety of purposes and achieve lovely results inside and out.  If you are prone to acne or have skin that is prone to dryness then there are other oils I'd recommend over coconut oil.  I know it seems enticing to have one oil for so many purposes but if you have finicky skin it is likely best to eat your coconut oil and consider applying other oils to your skin.  Sometimes for the best beauty results you have to look beyond the grocery store shelf.

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