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Keepin’ it cool: ice cream, aloe and coconut water guides

coconut water, ice creamThere are times in life when I say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with burying your head in the sand. Like mid way through August when everyone’s talking about the imminent arrival of fall and you’re all, ‘Hold up, people, I’m trying to enjoy every last minute of this blissful season!’ In honour of all those sucking the marrow out of the present moment, I’m catching you up on some of this summer’s Ecoholic product guides from NOW Magazine (I’ve been in summer mode myself so a little MIA on the blogging front). First up, you’ll find the Cold, Hard Truth about Ice Cream. In this guide, you’ll get the scoop (argh, sorry about that one) on which brands are serving up dairy from cows given genetically modified growth hormones, as well as the inside line on which brands are serving up sustainability in an especially delicious format. (Let me tell you, product testing on this one was particularly rigorous, involving bowl after bowl of ice cream.)

If a summer’s worth of UV has left your skin worse for wear, check out my Apres-Sun Guide to Aloe Gel. (Hint: real aloe gel is never green and should technically contain aloe somewhere in the upper half of the ingredient list.) And finally, if you’re crawling through an urban savanna and dying for some coconut water, which brand should you choose? My Cracking the Nut…A Guide to Coconut Waters will tell you which brands are heavy in BPA and controversial pesticides and which win feel good coconut water of the year. Now put down that device and soak in the summer vibes while you still can. And don’t worry, Ecoholic.ca will be back full gear in the fall (which, people keep saying is soon)…plus there should be a fresh, new website coming soon, too.

Got dirt on your face? Bronzers & the ugly side of mineral makeup

Dirt on your face? Check your mineralsYou know when you think something’s going to be quick and breezy and it ends up being a knee deep slog through muck and fog? Well, that’s sort of what happened with my bronzer column. I thought I’d toss together a light column on summer makeup, until I remembered that mineral powders are mired in controversy. One mineral in particular has gotten a lot of bad press this year – mica – thanks to media exposes on the child labour plaguing mica mines in India. This makes mica the poster child for “natural” ingredients that aren’t always so desirable. Unfortunately, pretty much every bronzer and most makeup on the market (conventional and natural brands alike) uses mica. And 60% of the world’s mica, comes from India, where illegal mining is a big problem. I called half a dozen natural makeup companies to find out whether they were aware of the child labour problem associated with mica and whether they had any guarantees their products were child labour free. Most of the little indy brands were truly shocked and alarmed. Some jumped on their suppliers to dig up as much as they could on their mica chain of supply, how and whether it was monitored, what kind of traceability schemes they had, what kind of support they had for the workers. Some never called me back. Some met relatively tight-lipped suppliers, which they have since told me they dropped. Others were greeted with a pretty impressive degree of transparency (often from big name suppliers that had been slammed with bad press on this issue in the past and had beefed up their policies).

100% Pure’s owner was the most aware of this issue ahead of time and gave me the direct number for their supplier so I could pick their brains directly. Pure Anada’s owner gave me perhaps the most detailed responses of all. Earth Lab’s owner was also really responsive.  You’ll notice that none of the product’s in this week’s guide got a perfect score and none were given my “Ecoholic pick of the week” designation, which I always give out to the top-scorer. To be honest, I felt I’d need a whole investigative team with cameras going into mines to feel confident giving perfect scores, which to be fair, is something that could be said every week in the column. All I can do, in the end, is share what I know on ingredient sourcing and tell you that at least the genuinely natural brands (versus fake naturals like Rimmel) didn’t pack their products with questionable preservatives and fillers. And I can talk to you about how they perform on your face (because we are still talking makeup, after all). I own bronzers from all five of the highest scoring natural brands and performance-wise really enjoyed them all for different reasons (cream sticks vs powder compacts vs loose powder all have different advantages depending on your skin’s needs). To get the down low on them all, head to my bronzer guide in NOW Magazine.

Slip ‘n slide: the up close and personal guide to lubricants

Yes LubeNo matter how confident you are, some things are just awkward to shop for. Take lube, for instance. A lot of us end up tiptoeing into the condom section of the drugstore, furtively snatching a bottle of KY or Astroglide then quickly burying it in our basket before bolting, all without taking the time to read the labels in detail. You’ll get a lot more guidance if you walk into a good sex-positive, female-friendly store like Toronto’s Come as You Are or New York’s Toys in Babeland. But I have some friends who refuse to step inside for fear they’ll be seen walking in and out. In that case, head to their online shops or check out Red Tent Sisters. They have a great selection of natural and organic lubes (as well as conventional ones). Still, which lube should you buy? Stop blushing and leave the product testing to me. I’ve done all the dirty work for you (some puns are just begging to be used). Heads up: just because a lube says it’s “paraben-free” or claims to be “natural” doesn’t mean it’s free of crappy ingredients so always read the fine print! Intimate Organics Defence Natural Lubricant, for example, contains irritating methylisothiazolinone linked to rash outbreaks (crotch-scratching is so not sexy).

ASTROGLIDE & KY

Found in nightstands everywhere, both are good examples of what not to buy if you’re trying to woo an earth-conscious lover. Astroglide’s basic formula contains fossil-fuel-derived propylene glycol (so not sexy), as well as two types of parabens (one that falls on the official hormone disruptor list in Europe) and yeast-feeding glycerin to kill the mood even more. KY’s is the same, minus the paraben. Much wiser to snag a bottle of aloe-based Astroglide Natural. Astroglide $15/150 ml; KY $12/75 ml. SCORE: 1/5

PJUR SILICONE & PINK SILICONE

If you love your silicone-based lube, you already know this stuff gives and gives and gives, since there’s no water in it to dry up. Plus, it’s condom-safe, non-irritating, waterproof, with fewer chemical fillers. The big ol’ but here? Silicones/siloxanes are environmental bad boys, particularly if you spot cyclopentasiloxane or cyclomethicone on the label. They’re harmful to aquatic life – so much so that Health Canada had planned to label these “toxic” until industry complained. Clearly we know who the feds are sleeping with. Pjur $30/100 ml; Pink $21/100 ml. SCORE: 1/5

SLIQUID & HATHOR

These two totally different natural lube brands have one thing in common: they both use plant waste products as a base. Sliquid uses plant cellulose from cotton, Hathor a biodiesel-based propylene glycol. What I dig about Hathor, including the flavoured kind, is that it’s a Canadian-made water-based lube. (However, it’s not organic.) What I love about Texas-based Sliquid is that it makes a partly organic line (with zero taste) that includes Sliquid Organics Natural Gel (designed for back-door play) that’s thickened with some organic goodies like flax. Sliquid $22/255 ml; Hathor $28/250 ml.  SCORE: 3/5

GIDDY YOYO RAW LOVE BUTTER & PROVINCE APOTHECARY SEX OIL

These cute Canadian products totally blow pseudo-natural sex oils and butters (including Boy Butter) out of the water. You can use these deliciously long-lasting products as lickable massage oils, for solo love sessions (I’m talkin’ to you, gents) as well as all kinds of intercourse (anal, vaginal), as long as you don’t need latex condoms/dams. Oils aren’t latex compatible; hence, they don’t get a perfect score. Über-local Province Apothecary mixes a base of fractionated coconut oil with some lovely organic oils (a flavourless mix). Giddy Yoyo uses all-certified-organic cocoa butter, coconut oil, olive oil and vanilla beans. $14.99/85 ml, $16.75/75 ml. SCORE: 4/5

YES ORGANIC & BLOSSOM ORGANIC

UK-based Yes offers certified-organic options for all tastes. What’s your pleasure? There’s a water/organic aloe-based lube (latex-compatible for safe sex, naturally) and a long-lasting oil-based option made of all-organic almond oil, shea butter, sunflower oil and cocoa butter. This last one is literally edible, though not latex-compatible. California-based Blossom Organics, Aloe Cadabra and Oregon-based Good Clean Love all make great condom-friendly organic aloe-based lubes, too. They’re all essentially aloe with thickeners and need more frequent reapplication than oils, but are great carnal kick-starters. $20/75 ml, $13.99/120 ml. SCORE: 4/5

A version of this article first appeared in NOW Magazine.

Ecoholic TV (backyard edition): Does Mozi-Q actually work?

Mozi-QHey gang, Did you catch my spot on CTV’s Canada AM this week talking about alternative ways to keep mosquitos at bay – what works, what doesn’t, what’s healthy, what isn’t? It was a lot to cram into four minutes with a sleepy brain! So I figured I’d clarify a few points here. For one, anything that involves filling the air with an aroma mozzies don’t particularly love (like say, a citronella soy candle, lemongrass incense or aromatherapy diffuser full of bug-repelling essential oils – I brought on lavender, lemongrass and peppermint), only really help if the wind is blowing your way. Speaking of wind, plugging in an outdoor fan will help physically push mosquitos away from you and your guests so give it a go. As I mentioned, I had a tough time finding natural bug repellents to bring on air since Health Canada’s making it incredibly difficult for them. I covered the whole regulatory mess in a previous blog (appropriately titled Bite Me). And those that are on shelves, well, I didn’t want to bring too many of them on air since I figured Health Canada would hunt them down and force them off shelves. Ridiculous, considering the US allows natural bug repellents on the market, some of which have actually been found to be as effective as lower doses of DEET in peer-reviewed trials. Seriously. I asked some of those companies why they won’t sell to Canada and they said it’s too much of a royal pain the ass to jump through Canadian regulatory hoops. That leaves us with very few options on shelves that can be openly marketed as all natural bug repellents, one of which is Mozi-Q, a homeopathic repellent. Now, skeptics will kvetch that homeopathics are given DIN numbers from the government without having to prove their efficacy (not the case with, say, natural bug sprays). There were, no doubt, a lot of arched eyebrows watching Canada AM when I mentioned a homeopathic remedy for insect bites. Hey, I was skeptical myself, so I finally gave it a go. I put together a little backyard video for you on my completely unscientific experiment in which I turned myself into a lab rat and waited for mozzies to feast. How did Mozi-Q perform? Watch and see (below)!

UPDATE: I’ve been putting Mozi-Q to the test every time I’m in nature at dusk, which is nearly every night. For the most part, it’s been surprisingly effective at reducing bites. Except, last night. I got a grand total of 3 bites. I wasn’t thrilled when I watched a mosquito land on my arm and dig right in. But I did just shower with naturally scented soap and that’s still the most biting action I’ve had in 10 days of trial when normally I’d be bombed with bites by now (I once had 150, yes, 150 sand flea bites in just a week on a beach…my partner counted them). So no, this stuff isn’t a shield but it’s a bite reducer. The problem with Mozi-Q is you have to keep taking it every 2 hours or so if exposure to biting things is constant, which can get pricey if you’re a family of four and, say, camping for a week (I paid $20 for 60 tabs). Still, I’d say this product is worth trying. And nope, I haven’t accepted any cash/trips/free Teslas/sexual favours/endorsement deals from this company (or any other) under the table. That’s a firm Ecoholic rule. 

Good day sunshine: the facial sunscreen guide

Facial sunscreen picDo you mind if I sing a little Cher? “If I could turn back time…” (this is me belting it out) I’d, well, I’d wear more sunscreen on my face. I’m pretty sure milky pale Cher loves the stuff and she’s got better skin at 68 then I do at nearly 38. Okay, fine, she may have done a little nipping and tucking but regardless, a woman that pale has got to swear by sunscreen. I, on the other hand, have shunned it most of my life, opting to channel by Greek ancestors (although who knows, maybe they wore olive oil; it does have some SPF, as I’ve written about before). Regardless, I’m changing my tune and am actually wearing some on my face at least these days. Better late than never, I figure. So which facial sunscreen to choose? There’s lots of beauty-industry talk about mineral sunscreens fending off UV rays more effectively and safely than reef-damaging, skin-sensitizing, endocrine-disrupting chemical sunscreens. And they’re right. Still, not all mineral lotions are created equal. Make sure your face is protected with the right stuff.*

AVÈNE MINERAL CREAM

Hyped at mainstream cosmetics counters as a cream-of-the-crop solar protector free of dodgy sunscreen chemicals (such as the octinoxate in Avène Emulsion). Too bad they’re using controversial nano versions of the minerals (under 100 nanometres wide) – enviro and health impacts of these are still under-studied. Plus this one contains junky fillers like cyclomethicone, which Environment Canada pronounced to be a danger to the environment, but then recanted after the industry complained. Also in the mix, lots of petroleum-derived ingredients and preservatives like butyl and propyl parabens being banned from children’s products in Europe. $30/50 ml  1/5

AVEENO MINERAL GUARD

Aveeno has all sorts of sunscreens it claims are “safe as water” and chock full of “active naturals,” when they’re loaded with dubious sunscreen chems like oxybenzone and octinoxate (both reef-damaging estrogen mimickers). Aveeno Mineral Guard, however, uses more effective zinc oxide and titanium dioxide minerals. It’s just a shame that J&J (maker of Aveeno) uses teeny, tiny, nano-sized versions of the particles, which are contentiously under-studied, under-regulated and possibly harming coral reefs, too. The fillers here are far from natural. Still, this one’s generally a better option than other drugstore sunscreens. $20/80 ml 2/5 

CONSONANT MATTE &  GRAYDON SUN CREAM

These two lovely locavores offer excellent unscented mineral protection without turning you goofy white like a 50s surfer (though it can take a minute for the initially white minerals to be absorbed by some skin types). Like MyChelle and True facial sunscreen, they’re not organic, but they are natural/naturally derived without greasing you up. Consonant’s Matte Finish aloe-based sunscreen dries the quickest and has either SPF 15 or tinted SPF 30 ($35/50 ml). Graydon, an SPF 30, is initially a little stickier but also cheaper($20/50 ml). 4/5

GREEN BEAVER FACE CREAM & GODDESS GARDEN SUNNY FACE

If you’re looking for the most ecologically enlightened solar protection, opt for certified organic brands Green Beaver or Goddess Garden (although Green Beaver wins in Canadian books for being an Ontario native that folds in Canadian-grown, naturally UV-fending raspberry seed oil). Green Beaver’s nano-free facial sunscreen (SPF 15) is non-whitening and less oily than its original formula but still sits a little heavier than some others, making it better for dry skin. Goddess Garden has a bit more of a white cast initially but is water-resistant and higher SPF (SPF 30). Both contain some lavender. $21.99/40 ml  4/5

DEVITA SOLAR PROTECTIVE MOISTURIZER

I try to like other brands as much as I dig Devita, but this U.S.-based skin care line still makes the most feather-light natural facial sunscreen in town. It’s totally non-whitening on almost all skin tones (although my two year old bottle is starting to leave white streaks), unscented, made with nano-free zinc oxide (SFP 30), in a base of certified organic aloe. Like Andalou, it’s got a good tinted Beauty Balm with SPF, too. It’s cheaper to buy Devita Body Block and apply it on your face, but Body Block is slightly richer, with a little lavender. Devita’s not water-resistant, so reapply after serious sweating. Hard to find in Canada but available at the Big Carrot, essentialdayspa.com and hollyandivy.ca (which raises funds for women with breast cancer). $34/75 ml 5/5

*A version of this article first appeared in my weekly column in NOW Magazine

Tough love: the rough guide to exfoliating face scrubs

exfoliators snapThere’s something weirdly hopeful about a good face scrub. Like if you find the right one it might just erase all the mistakes you (and by you I mean I) made popping, picking, sunbathing and generally abusing the delicate skin on our faces. Alas, the miracle has yet to happen for me and after a decade of chemically peeling my acne-riddled skin with prescription strength vitamin A as a teen, I’m hesitant to do any more intense sloughing. Instead, I use old fashioned scrubs. But it’s a delicate dance for someone with a genetic propensity towards poreous gigantus (the technical term for big ass pores). Scrub with the wrong thing and you might just tear at those little dermal openings, making then larger over time. At the same time, you want to get rid of that dry, flakey layer between you and the world.

Searching for the right scrub made me feel a little like Goldy Locks. So which one’s too gritty, not gritty enough, just right? I answered that in my Ecoholic column on scrubs. Click here to get the full column. My household’s tried way more than we had room for in print, like Green Beaver (bamboo beads are rough but sparse, so it feels a little painful and yet not exfoliating enough), Yes to Blueberries (meh, could be more natural/effective, plus it kind of stinks), MyChelle (pretty good), Suki’s foaming cleanser (works but it’s drying as hell, if you’re used to creamy cleansers….my guy loved this one), Pure & Simple Sensitive Skin Exfoliant & Mask (should have mentioned this one in the column alongside the Pure &Simple Cleansing Powder, it’s a top performer with jojoba beads), Panagea Organics (great for those who love good grittiness)…if I remember more of them, I’ll add them here. Whatever you do, stay away with any scrubs with seriously water-polluting plastic micro-beads!

DIY ALERT: Who needs to buy a scrub when you can make one?  I especially feel  that about body scrubs, but DIY face scrubs work well too. I make my own with soothing ground oats (oat flour), optional hemp powder (leftover hemp protein powder I never eat) and green tea (just tear open a tea bag). Keep it in a lidded jar by the side of your tub, put some in your palm, mix with a little water to make a paste and voila!

Also in this column, you’ll find my greenwash of the week (“Pure Coconut,” my ass!) and some nature notes on the latest bee/pesticide research and campus divestment from fossil fuels. For all the juicy details, read on!

 

The liquid hand soap guide + the latest on neurotoxic chems

NMFSC_033_0220 handwashEveryone washes their hands (we hope) – the question is what are you washing with? Bar soap is a good way to avoid plastic packaging and unrecyclable pumps (click here for my bar soap guide) but considering the popularity of liquid hand soaps, they deserve their own special guide. So voila! In this issue of Ecoholic in NOW, I looked at a handful of products (warning: puns are inevitable), including soaps that still have the gall to contain triclosan when the feds have said it’s dangerous to aquatic life and doesn’t even kill cold and flu viruses. What’s the point? Marketing! Yes, they’ve convinced us regular soap and water isn’t enough to kill germs, which is a complete fabrication. So, go ahead and dump your “antibacterial” handsoap. Good news is brands like Softsoap have already ditched triclosan and others like Bath & Body Works are finally offering options that are triclosan-free (though they still carry triclosan soaps).

Beyond that I review a selection of liquid soaps from green to greenest. How does Method measure up? Is your health store soap as eco-friendly as you think? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by reading the latest Ecoholic, naturally (by the way, the print version – which you get a snapshot of above – had a few typos and corrections made under Nature Clean, so check the online version at nowtoronto.com for the most up-to-date file). I was really excited to be able to include Green Beaver’s newest product, a castile soap that’s made with some Quebec-grown organic sunflower oil. Why is it special? Because it’s entirely organic (so no workers, wildlife or waterways had to be harmed to grow the plants needed to make your soap) AND it tries to include ingredients not grown thousands of miles away. Green Beaver wanted the whole thing to be made with local organic sunflower oil but there’s just not enough of the stuff to keep up with demand. Love that they’re actually encouraging the expansion of Canadian organics. And by the way, most castile soaps are essentially concentrates that can be used in a million and one ways, including diluted with water (1 part soap: 3 parts water) and placed in a reusable hand soap pump.

I also wrote a piece on a new study documenting the startling rise of chemicals now known to trigger neurological problems like ADHD and autism in children. The study was published in the Lancet Neurology and if you want to read the original study itself, here’s a link. Fascinating and terrifying really.

Oh and let’s not forget this week’s Greenwash of the Week: Tarte Cosmetics. I can’t tell you how many times I walked into a Sephora and was told Tarte is a great natural brand. Their marketers are genius, but definitely stretching their green cred. Anyway, enjoy the issue! If you can’t read the version above you can always click here to take you to the online version.

 

Battle of the Balms + Rashy Preservatives & My DIY Salve

battling balmsEver since my early bowl-cut days, my skin would flare at the oddest triggers. Chocolate, tomato juice, oranges, hot showers, they all left me scratching if I had too much of a good thing – a real downer when everyone else gets chocolate bunnies come Easter and you get those weird white ones. Now it turns out sensitive skin isn’t only set off by certain foods or the dry gusts of forced air that drive up winter itching.

St Ives image

New research is confirming the chemicals you use on and around your body could also be pushing your epidermis to the brink. The stuff you buy to keep your skin clean and, irony of all ironies, moist is probably one of the biggest culprits. In this issue of Ecoholic, we talk about the latest findings on the unpronounceable bodycare preservatives (namely Methylisothiazolinone as well as Methylchloroisothiazolinone) triggering a, ahem, rash of skin problems. These bad boys were typically brought in as replacements for estrogenic parabens so you’ll find them everywhere from shampoo to lotion (yes, this St Ives lotion has it), and most notoriously now in wipes. Kind of freaky considering the big marketing push the wipes people are doing to convince people to ditch toilet paper and switch to wipes that could be giving them serious crotch itch. Yeesh. Here are some links to the latest study on wipes as well as a few more.

Also in this issue, you’ll find my guide to a handful of dry skin balms.  Some truly natural and lovely, others like Herbacin top left, not so much. Thanks to ALL of you that responded to my Ecoholic FB poll with great suggestions on the best balms. There are so many great ones on the market that there just wasn’t room for, including balms by New Brunswick’s Anointment, Eastern Ontario’s Green Beaver, New Hampshire’s famous Badger, as well as some I haven’t yet tried like BC’s Mayan Magic Healing Balm and Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Soap company body butter (especially now that RMS is switching to organic ingredients and away from GMOs- yay!). Also didn’t mention two of my fave more medicinal first aid ointments by Clef Des Champs and St. Francis’ fab Red Clover Plus Salve, both out of Quebec.

And finally, you’ll also get my super buttery, quick ‘n easy DIY body salve/balm/DIY balmointment recipe! I’m in love with this stuff. I made my last batch with just 1/3 cup grated beeswax, 1/2 a cup of organic, fair trade coconut oil and 1/2 cup of local, organic sunflower oil with a drizzle of organic vanilla extract (since I couldn’t find my vanilla essential oil) and it’s friggin’ delicious…at least it smells that way. I haven’t yet tried eating it but it reminds me of fresh baked cupcakes. Can’t stop smelling my hands when I smear it on. For the expanded recipe, my full article on sensitizing chems and the official balm guide, check out the complete column. 

 

Toxin Toxout: the new brave book, the authors, and me?

Toxin Toxout coverI’m a huge fan of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the bestselling book by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, so when Rick called me up and asked me if he could interview me for his next tome on toxins, I was pretty pumped. We met in a sunny east end Toronto park and chatted about the rise of green consumerism along with pseudo-natural and genuinely green products for a couple hours. He also asked me if he could include an excerpt of Ecoholic Body’s guide to label decoding. What an honour!

Now, drum roll please, I’m excited to announce Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World is on shelves and it, my friends, rocks – and not just because I’m in it, of course. You’ll learn more about how easily everyday toxins seep into our bodies, in the most up close and personal way, as the authors, once again, turn themselves into human guinea pigs. This time they take on the often whacky world of detoxing in some pretty hilarious experiments. If you’ve ever eyeballed ionic footbaths or infrared saunas and wondered whether they actually pull toxins from your bodies, well, the boys dig up some answers. I sample a few of those answers in the latest Ecoholic product guide (hint: organic food and green products actually do lower your body’s chemical levels!). You’ll also find my Q&A with Bruce and Rick. Click here for the full story, Ranking Detox Strategies. If you pick up the book, I promise you this: you’ll laugh, you’ll wince, and you’ll learn a hell of a lot.

 

Busting lice & the campaign against hormone disruptors

Lice guide

Hey kids, After taking a few weeks off work to get away from it all and unplug, I’m digging back in the vaults to share the columns that have been running while I was living the Luddite life!

First up, got something crawling on your scalp and it ain’t just a bad feeling? Well, have no fear Ecoholic is here with a breakdown of all your options, both toxic and non…and yes, you can get a grip on the situation without resorting to nasty pesticides banned from lawns but allowed on heads. Plus you’ll get a roundup of the latest heavyweight campaigns to get hormone disruptors out of our products for good. For the full column read on here.