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.

Thursday, August 7, 2014 in , , , , , ,

3 healthy summer skincare tips from Blissoma's staff esthetician

Blissoma now has full time staff esthetician.  Her name is Lauren and we're delighted to have her on our team.  Lauren has worked with us in a part-time capacity since early 2013 and supported the brand at demos, sales events, and helping with blogger outreach over the last 18 months before beginning full time status.

Lauren will be responsible for helping to grow Blissoma's online presence through social media including instagram, blog and vlog content, interacting with beauty bloggers, producing skincare alongside Frank, and answering clients questions about the Blissoma line to help them solve their beauty challenges.

A 2011 graduate of the Skin Institute, Lauren is a certified, licensed esthetician. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from Stephens College in May 2009. She is certified with Dermalogica, SkinCeuticals and Jane Iredale. She also completed a five-week mentorship program with 30-year skincare veteran, Margot Cottier.

Lauren has been on her own journey through natural health and skincare through diet modifications due to allergies.  She has seen improvements in her skin with reductions in dairy consumption and increased clean plant content.

For summer Lauren wanted to offer some timely tips for maintaining your skin health despite heat and sun.

Tip #1
"Take advantage of the plethora of fruits and vegetables in season during the summer months and eat as much fresh food as possible.  Cucumbers are one of my favorite foods.  They are filled with water for hydration and are cooling to the body.  Bonus - Cut off a couple of slices and place over your eyes while relaxing with a detoxifying clay masque.

I suggest stopping by the farmer's market to see what is in season.  Get as much of your produce from local, organic farmers as possible to ensure it is pesticide free and fresh from the field."

Tip #2
"Be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water to keep skin hydrated as well.  My favorite summer concoction is adding mint, lemons and fruit such as berries or peaches (my favorites!) to a pitcher of water to enjoy later.  Let it sit overnight or for a few hours and enjoy the refreshing, flavorful beverage.

You can also freeze mint leaves, berries and other fruit into ice cubes to use in herbal teas and water.  They look beautiful and the added color makes your favorite healthy beverage that much more enticing.  This is a great way to make your beverages feel exciting to drink without adding sugar content, which is inflammatory for skin."

Tip #3
"One of my favorite summer skincare products are toners.  I love misting my face and decollete morning and night.  I switch between toners in our line and right now I'm enjoying the Intense Hydration Tonique.  I've also used it to set my makeup before heading out in the evenings when I need my makeup to last through the night."

We hope you'll enjoy getting to know Lauren. She has a wonderful way with client service and has so far been handling our skincare consultation requests with care and skill.  Email her at with your questions about your skin and the products that will be right for you.

Thursday, June 5, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How dandelions benefit your health and skin for natural beauty

How to use Dandelions for health and beauty - harvest dandelion leaf and root for health

With spring invariably comes a flush of yellow in fields everywhere.  Despite poison and pulling and the tireless efforts of homeowners everywhere dandelions doggedly stick their little stalks and leaves up out of the ground.  They're persistent and able to survive in soils in which garden plants couldn't even make room for a root.  Along roadways, in vacant lots, and yes, in your grass, they thrive.  We see commercials for killing sprays and men standing proudly surveying their dandelion-free lawn.  Since homeownership became common in the 1950s the quality of you as a human being might likely be judged by how weed free you could get your lawn.

Yet the dandelions still thrive.  Today I'm here to proclaim loudly that instead of vilification this plant practically deserves its own holiday.  Yes, you heard me!  Dandelions are one of the most valuable plants in Chinese Medicine, appear in the Pharmacopeias of 4 European countries, and even pop up in the U.S. National Formulary.  These maligned little plants pack a lot of healing help into all their parts.  The roots, leaves, and blossoms of our dear Taraxacum officinale can all be used for food and natural beauty purposes.

Dandelions are one of those abundant resources that we've simply become blind to over time.  They have a fleshy taproot that can penetrate even tough soils.  Many permaculture farmers and gardeners know that dandelions are not just good for people, they're good for the soil and other plants too.  Their taproot goes deep into the earth to transfer nutrients from layers below to the shallow rooted plants that surround them.  The taproot also punctures and aerates the soil, creating a way for water to infiltrate down even through hard soils.  At a permaculture presentation I attended given by Mark Shepard he jokingly stated that there isn't a dandelion within 100 yards of his house on his farm because his family has foraged them all.  It's free, healing food - doesn't get much better than that!  Not to mention they're green and growing much earlier in the spring than most gardeners have crops ready.  That's because they've been out there dormant just waiting for the warmth of spring so they can burst to life.  While you're still waiting for even your cool season crops to get a foothold you can be munching on dandelions.

Health benefits of dandelion leaf and root.  Dandelions contain vitamins A, C, K, minerals, and flavanols

The nutrient concentration abilities of the dandelion make it one of the worlds best foods nutritionally.  That's why you might even see dandelion greens sold in your local organic market.  This always makes me chuckle a bit because this would be one of the easiest plants for people to grow and use and yet they are paying beaucoup bucks for it a premium stores.  If you live in a condo and have no soil to grow in you get a pass, but if you've got a yard then for heavens sakes stop applying herbicide and enjoy the health enhancing dandelions that will grow abundantly for you with absolutely no care and maintenance.  Ignore them and they'll be fine.  Water them and they'll flourish.

The prevalence of greens in the spring is something I've seen many raw and locavore food enthusiasts discuss.  Rhythmically it makes sense.  In the winter one generally is eating a lot of preserved, starchy, and heavy foods.  This would have especially been true in years past when we weren't shipping fresh foods in from South America in the winter.  This can make the body and metabolism sluggish over time.  Spring greens give the body a chance to detoxify, and dandelions are particularly adept at this particular function.  They have compounds proven to cleanse the liver, stimulate bile production, and pull heavy metals from the body.  They're very nutritionally dense as well, and an influx of vitamins is a huge boon to our bodies as we enter a very active, sunny season.

Vitamins and nutrients in Dandelions:
  • Beta-carotene - Dandelions is the plant kingdom's richest sources of Beta-carotene which is then transformed into Vitamin A in your body.
  • Iron - A serving of dandelion greens contains just as much iron as spinach
  • Vitamin K - Dandelions have 535% of your Rda of this fat soluble vitamin.  It contributes to good blood flow and healthy blood vessels and may help to reduce bruising.  
  • Vitamin C - Antioxidant and anti-aging
  • Minerals - Dandelions contain potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous.  The root is a particularly potent spot for mineral concentration.
  • Vitamin B6, Thiamin, Riboflavin
  • Protein - Dandelions are a surprisingly good source of protein, comparable
  • Tof-CFr - A glucose polymer found to act against cancer cells in mice.
  • Pectin - This forms ionic complexes with metal ions, making it a prime compound of use in detoxifying the body of heavy metals.
  • Coumestrol - An estrogen mimic that can help stimulate milk flow and balance hormones.
  • Apigenin and Luteolin - These are flavonoid glycosides that have diuretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-oxidant, and liver protectant properties.
  • Taraxasterol - This may contribute to liver and gall bladder health.

For more details on many of these and further list see this fantastic article on the Leaf Lady.

Find percentages of daily values in this nutritional breakdown of dandelion greens.

To harvest dandelion from a wild place or your yard make sure you know the area hasn't been sprayed.  If you're harvesting for leaves young plants will be the most tender and least bitter.  If you want the root then look for mature plants early in the spring.  They've stored nutrients in their root and that makes it a potent time to harvest.  The soil is also loose from frost and will make your digging or pulling easier.  If you have packed soil you'll need a trowel to dig in and loosen it before you lift.  Pull from the base so it doesn't break off at the leaves.

Once you've got your roots and leaves clean them up.  The roots should be chopped and dried in a dehydrator or on a pan or screen in a spot with good air circulation.  It may take 3 to 14 days for complete air drying.

If you want to make dandelion "coffee" which is roasted then you can dry and roast the root at the same time.  Place the well-chopped root on a pan in the oven at 250F.  Place the oven door ajar to let moisture escape if you have a lot of root on your pan.  A single layer is best and will roast most evenly.  Stir periodically to prevent burning and to keep everything roasted consistently.  The root will shrink considerably as it dries.  As it gets dry watch it most closely toward the end as it can burn fast once there is no moisture left in it.  The root will be a nice medium brown color when finished.

How to prepare dandelion leaf and root to use for dandelion smoothies, dandelion tea, and dandelion coffee

To use dandelion greens you can incorporate them into salads and smoothies.  The vitamin content will of course be highest if you eat them raw.  The vein of the leaf is where a lot of the bitter flavor is so if that bothers you it is possible to strip the delicate leaf part off the vein, but of course that is a lot of work.  If you chop them very fine and mix them thoroughly with your chosen dressing prior to adding them to the salad this will help mask bitterness.  To put them in smoothies just substitute them for any existing greens in the recipes you have on hand and blend away!

Of course I'm a big fan of eating for beauty, and all the nutrition in dandelions is going to definitely take great care of your skin.  Detoxing your body and aiding your digestion will also be of huge help for your appearance.  The better you digest the more nutrients your body can use from the foods you eat.  

We all want that inner glow which unfortunately becomes impossible if your digestive system isn't functioning well or is building up chemical metabolites.  Unwanted chemical burden builds up in our bodies from exposure to environmental pollutants, pesticides, plasticizers, synthetic personal care, paint and coatings, and preservatives and additives in foods in addition to other sources like prescription medications.  The liver does a big job of metabolizing foreign substances and enzymatically transforming them into compounds that are less harmful or can be excreted.  Over time the byproducts of this process can build up in the body due to the liver being overworked and sluggish, or due to inefficient elimination.  Even your body's own hormones are filtered through the liver.  Therefore if your skin is having a hormonal acne freakout your liver might be someplace to spend some TLC.

All this makes dandelions even more exciting because they support the healthy function of your digestive organs *and* detox your system.  Hello glow!

But it doesn't stop there.  You can put them on your skin as well for healing benefit.  An infusion of dandelion root yields a plethora of hydration balancing potassium and trace minerals.  Minerals are one of the most overlooked components of good skin hydration and function.  Most lines can talk your ear off about their vitamins and antioxidants but completely leave out minerals.  Blissoma has made sure to use mineral rich herbs and seaweeds in many of our products. They help regulate the water in the skin so you don't get puffy but still have comfortable hydration in all the right places.  Dandelion is a wonderful source of potassium which is one of the most helpful electrolytes for maintaining good skin hydration and barrier function.

Benefits of dandelions for your skin.  Minerals in dandelion root hydrate skin and help it function well.

The inclusion of minerals is one reason our recipes like Peace Evening Facial Creme and Amend Antioxidant Lotion can be light and absorbent and yet so effective at helping the skin maintain good moisture levels.  It's not just about the oils.  This is also why we believe in products that contain water as well as oil. (Though we do love our oil serums!)  Some folks may complain that products containing water are a waste of your dollars.  The fact remains that minerals and many phytonutrients like the anti-inflammatory compounds and flavonoids in herbs like dandelions cannot be carried by oils.  Minerals especially are water soluble and must be delivered through good old H20.  So if you're using products with good quality, water-based herb extracts like our Tone Intense Hydration Tonique (which also includes dandelion and other soothing herbs) you're still getting all kinds of beneficial compounds - it's so much more than just water.

Traditional Medicinals Dandelion leaf and root tea.  Get the health benefits of dandelions from drinking a daily cup of dandelion tea.

If you can't gather wild dandelions then one great way to get them into your system is by drinking dandelion teas.  Traditional Medicinals makes several good dandelion teas that are delicious to sip and will help support your digestive health, hormonal balance, and beauty of your skin.  I highly recommend the raw, unroasted Dandelion Leaf and Root Tea for daily consumption.  It's mild and almost sweet and super easy to brew - just pop the tea bag in hot water, wait 10 to 15 minutes and drink your dandelions down.  

The organic Everyday Detox Dandelion Tea features dandelion leaf and root as well as fennel, peppermint, and licorice.  I personally love that anise-like flavor of the fennel and this blend is nicely done.  One benefit to supporting a product like these is that they are Certified Organic, which means no doubts about toxins if you don't have a field near you that you're sure isn't polluted with pesticides or other problems. 

To celebrate the fabulous qualities of dandelions I also made a video on how to gather and use them.  They're everywhere in the field that hosts Blissoma's community garden project and I'll never have to worry about having enough of my own - it's guaranteed abundance.

Smile when you see that little yellow "lion" flower emerging defiantly from your lawn.  Now you know all the good things it can do for you.

Dandelion root skincare by Blissoma to hydrate and balance skin.  Calming moisturizers for face and body.  Vegan natural skincare.
Note - Traditional Medicinals kindly provided me samples of their teas to evaluate.  I was not paid for my mention of them and all opinions are solely my own in the interest of helping people easily incorporate more healing plants into their routines.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in , , , , , , ,

10 Ways to Avoid Skin Damage by Choosing Natural Products - a natural beauty article for

Julie Longyear guest expert contributor to Young and Raw healthy wellness lifestyle website

I've been fortunate enough to be added as a contributor to Young and Raw, a raw food based diet and lifestyle site.  In my skincare article for them I highlight some of my journey with natural beauty and offer ways that you can begin your own transition.  Your skin will thank you as you detox from the synthetic compounds and hormone disruptors found in many conventional products.  The healing power of plants really can't be surpassed.

"Unfortunately what I didn’t know and many people still don’t know is that mass produced skincare is actually ruining their skin and compromising their health due to the contaminated, hormone altering, and untested ingredients it contains. You may have heard that as your largest organ your skin absorbs products that are put on it. While the percentage is debatable and depends on the substance this is indeed true.  This makes it that much more amazing and rather alarming that cosmetics ingredients are not tested for safety or regulated by the FDA. Furthermore the actual priority of many manufacturers has nothing to do with safety or efficacy and a lot more to do with marketability and profit margins, cute packaging, and shelf stability instead of healthy results for customers."

For the 3 ways synthetic skincare is harming your skin and 10 of the best tips for shopping for clean, beneficial skincare see the article on Young and Raw.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , ,

Mango Juicie Recipe - an anti-inflammatory treat

In fall 2012 I received a lovely note from a local esthetician named Lauren.  She wrote of her interest in natural and holistic skincare and how she'd love to help Blissoma out in some way.  In the following months Lauren and I worked local demos together and had time to chat inbetween client consults.  She was in the middle of a lifestyle transition prompted by persistent health issues.  Like many chronic problems it took some months and multiple doctor visits to sort out, resulting in a rebooted dietary approach that was friendly to her particular needs.

Flash forward to 2014 and she is now employed as our staff esthetician.  As a part of her own health journey she has done a lot of juicing with fresh fruits and veggies and wanted to share her own version of a recipe she tweaked from the Low Histamine Chef.

The juice recipe is heavily celery based.  While celery may seem simple as a veggie I can assure you - it's not!  While other veggies often get the accolades celery is there quietly providing 13 phenolic antioxidants, a sweet dose of Vitamin K, and lots of minerals.  Celery's powers include anti-inflammatory benefits for the cardiovascular system.  It can prevent oxidation of body fats and blood vessel walls.  For those with sensitive stomachs celery also has pectin based polysaccharides that have been shown to improve the integrity of the stomach lining and help control stomach secretions.

Also notable is the fun inclusion of radishes!  They add a unique flavor that blends really well with the celery.  Just a little fresh kick to wake your palate up in the morning.

Mango Juicie (smoothie+juice=juicie)
this makes about 2-3 servings, use half of the veggies if wanting 1 serving

1 mango
1 bunch of Kale (any kind, or if you aren’t a fan of kale a head of romaine works too)
1 bunch of celery (approximately 8 good sized stalks)
1 bunch of radishes (approximately 6 or 7 average round radishes)
1 green apple (optional for a little more sweetness)

*if you have a centrifugal juicer the leafy greens can be omitted in favor of a cucumber.  Romaine often goes through a centrifugal fine but with kale it isn't as efficient.

Juice everything but the mango. Peel the mango and puree it. Add green juice to mango puree and mix!

This is a low sugar, incredibly skin-friendly recipe that tastes great.  Why is low sugar important for your beauty results?  Read how sugar is aging your skin and you'll feel even better about this juice choice.

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