Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How clean are your clothes really.....

     I love freshly washed clothes.  I especially love freshly washed towels, still warm from the dryer.  I would even wash my sheets every single day just for that crisp clean feel if I didn't so loathe changing them.  But is clean really clean?  Just because a product promises to get the stain out and is full of the freshest of fresh fragrances does not mean your favorite tshirt is clean.  My favorite tshirt is white, plain and comfortable as long as she is washed correctly.  You see we've had a long journey, me and my favorite white tshirt.  It started the day I introduced her to Tide.  She'd gotten a little grungy along the day and what better way than a rinse with Tide to get her sparkling clean.  Off she went with the white towels and white socks into the washing machine.  A wash and rinse cycle later, she was back in business.  However, the minute I put my shirt on, my body was a walking allergic reaction.  The culprit: Tide.

     From then on I have tried everything from baby detergent to various detergents that claim to be free and clear.  As I learned more and more about all the harsh chemicals and hormone disruptors in laundry detergent, it became more and more obvious why I wasn't able to tolerate so many detergents.  I even found one brand at Whole Foods that came in a recycled container and promised to be free of dyes and fragrances.  And yet, when I got home and opened the back of the container (they have sneakily written all the ingredients inside a flap that you have to open...looks a little creepy doing that at the grocery store), sodium lauryl sulfate (a cancer-causing chemical) was one of the first ingredients.  Plus, I have learned that free and clear frequently means that the manufacturers use more chemicals to cover up the fragrances and colors in their detergents.  Makes you think twice about that detergent with the baby on the bottle, doesn't it?  I recently found NaturOli products online which uses soapnuts and a couple other natural products to clean, but I haven't tried it.  For now I am just using 1 to 2 Tablespoons of Branch Basics to clean my clothes, but constantly on the search for a truly clean detergent.  Is your favorite tshirt really clean?

Monday, June 27, 2011

How to make healthy changes that even your husband can live with

This weekend I sat down with a friend from high school and helped her pick some chemical-free products she could use for cleaning her house.  We discussed how much more damage chemicals cause to our bodies than most people even realize.  We talked about alternatives for the chemical-laden products she was currently using.  And we both lamented how crazy our husbands thought we were for essentially throwing out every household product they were familiar with and replacing them with cleaning solutions with labels like plant-based, chemical-free, toxic-free, made with essential oils that covered the outside of these unfamiliar containers.  So if you are like me and are interested in changing to a healthier life-style that is free of chemicals, here's my 10 step program for getting your significant other to think you're not so crazy and get on board:

1.  Discuss why you are wanting to make these changes, it's only fair you let him know what's about to take place, but tell him you won't get rid of any of "his" stuff.
2. Instead of throwing all of your chemical-laden products in the trash, put them in a box and take them out to the garage where they can be accessed in the case of a cleaning emergency "that only Windex can fix".
3. In the event of said emergency, hand him your bottle of chemical-free, plant-based cleaner [Branch Basics].
4. When your husband repeats the request for Windex, again nicely hand him your bottle of chemical-free, plant-based cleaner [Branch Basics].
5. When your husband asks for the Windex in a panicked voice, kindly suggest that he at least give your bottle a try [Branch Basics] (in extreme cases offer to go out to the garage and get the Windex even though it is pouring down rain and 11:00 at night).
6. Take a deep breath and remind yourself "small steps, small steps" when he takes a swig of Listerine after every use of the healthy mouth-wash you just bought [Spry Oral Rinse] and says, "I'm trying your stuff, but the blue Listerine is really the only thing that protects my teeth."
7. Buy a soap bottle with a pump that is just for him (full of your favorite Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-Free soap) to keep at the sink.  Unless you're really good, it's probably a good idea at this point to abandon the idea that your multi-purpose Branch Basics cleaner can double as his hand soap.
8.  Buy natural and chemical-free deodorant [Tom's of Maine] and shaving cream and leave it next to the sink where his Old Spice deodorant and Gillette shaving cream always sit.  Make his old staples a little harder to find.  When he asks for help finding them, suggest that he just try the new stuff while you look around and try to figure out what happened to his "good stuff".
9.  Fill his Pantene Pro-V Shampoo bottle with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-free shampoo [California Baby fragrance-free Shampoo].  Ok, so I haven't actually done this, but it's a good idea, isn't it?
10. Be thankful for the small changes he is making and be patient.  When he realizes how important all this is to you, he'll start accepting the change.  Before you know it, he will be making your coconut-oil deodorant for you!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Makeup on, Makeup off

     At the end of the day it always feels so good to take my makeup off and wash my face.  New, chemical-free palette of makeup in hand, I determined to find an equally suitable makeup remover.  As soon as my Neimans-quality makeup remover ran out, I ran over to Whole Foods to search out the next best alternative.  I came across a 2 ounce bottle of remover made with herbal oils that promised to wipe makeup away.  I put a small drop of the herbal oil concoction on a cotton ball and rubbed the greasy stuff on my eyes.  The makeup was somewhat off my eyelids and very much under my eyes.  Not quite the effect I was going for.  My next idea was to use the Alba brand Un-petroleum I had recently bought for chapped lips as a makeup remover.  I wiped a little under my eyes and then used a cotton ball to remove my makeup.  The Un-petroleum worked much better than the herbal oils, but it was really think and just not quite what I was looking for. 
      Then I found the makeup remover of all makeup removers!  I was was looking through natural products on Passionate Homemaking, a blog with great ideas for natural products, and found the perfect solution, coconut oil.  I have a tub of coconut oil on hand at all times for making deodorant, so I dabbed some under my eyes, wiped it away with a cotton ball, and voila!  All makeup was gone, I was left with no thick, oily residue, and my skin felt clean and refreshed.  I scooped some into a small jar that I can keep in my bathroom and use a little bit every night before I wash my face.  The greatest thing about it is I now have two uses for my coconut oil.  As an added bonus, the delicate skin around my eyes feels rejuvenated even before I get a little shut-eye!
     Last night before I went to bed, I decided to look around on the Internet a bit to see what reasons people gave for removing makeup at night.  Most of the websites I found stated that the chemicals in makeup are especially harmful to the skin if left on over night.  Others cited that our skin needs time to breathe and regenerate while we sleep.  The bacteria in makeup was also suggested as the cause of infections if makeup is left on.  People obviously know that makeup is full of harmful chemicals, chemicals that they apparently think will only do damage if left on the skin overnight.  I'm just glad that I now know how harmful the chemicals in makeup really are.  And, it's probably important to remove makeup at the end of the day no matter how healthy it is.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

     Today is the first time we've gotten rain in Houston in I don't know how long.  You'd think I would be happy to finally get a reprieve from the hot summer weather (it was only 70 this morning!) and some nice rain for my dying flowers, but the grey clounds and slow rain have made me quite the Grouchy Ladybug today.  So I decided to write about something that makes me happy: makeup!

     I love makeup.  I love the way it looks.  I love buying it.  I love opening all the pretty little boxes that it comes in.  I love running out of my favorite products, just so I can experience that new makeup feeling all over again.  My grandmother used to take my cousins and me to the downtown Neimans in Dallas at Christmastime.  We would get makeovers and then she would buy us whatever we thought we "needed".  I loved choosing the new makeup, and I especially enjoyed the special time with my grandmother and three cousins.
     However, as I began to realize that makeup products are among the most toxic we put on our bodies, I began to develop a different perspective of that makeup I once loved.  Don't get me wrong, I still love getting new makeup and finding new colors, but I've become much more selective of the products I choose.  Mascara for one, is a highly toxic product, and yet we apply it on the very hairs that are supposed to be protecting our eyes!  EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is a great resource for finding out just how toxic makeup is.
     As always, there has been a silver lining to my black cloud of realization that makeup is harmful.  I have found some cosmetics that are chemical-free and still hold up as well, if not better than the expensive brands I used to buy at Neimans.  I was worried that I would be paying more for chemical-free or mineral-based makeup, but the truth is that it is actually less expensive.  My first step towards healthy makeup was mascara because that was the most toxic product I was using.  Three Branches Health suggests ZuZu brand mascara which can be found at Whole Foods.  While the brush isn't exactly the best, the mascara does work well.  Plus, my eyes no longer get red and irritated when I apply mascara (direct evidence that the mascara I was using before was not good for my body). 
     The next step was finding the rest of my eye makeup products in an affordable, healthy version.  Thanks to One Green Street, one of my favorite spots for clean products, and Sari Motley, a fabulous Houston makeup artist who uses only the best chemical-free makeup, I was able to still enjoy the experience of buying and using makeup, but this time it was healthy!  Sari Motley's website offers so many great products that are clean as well as beautiful.  I now have restocked my beauty arsenal and am loving the results.  How well does your makeup rate?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer is Here!

     Today marks the official start of summer although it has felt like summer for about a month now.  In celebration of summer's official start and considering that today is the longest day of the year, I thought it appropriate to talk about my favorite sunscreen.  According to the Environmental Working Group, a group of scientists, lawyers and policy makers who work to investigate the health effects of a multitude of products we use, sunscreens contain chemicals that often do more harm than good to our bodies.  EWG's website has a ton of great information and a database that shows the toxicity of personal products.  I found the following information on their website,

     "The most common ingredients in non-mineral sunscreens are oxybenzone, octisalate, octinoxate, and avobenzone found in 65, 58, 57, and 56 percent of all non-mineral sunscreens on the market, respectively" (EWG Sunscreens).

And a little more information about kids:

  • “It is evident that [oxybenzone] undergoes conjugation in the body to make it water soluble. However, we do not know at what age the ability to conjugate is fully developed, and therefore for children physical filters such as titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide might still be considered a more appropriate sunscreen component.” — Gonzalez HG, Farbrot A, Larko O. 2002. Percutaneous absorption of benzophenone-3, a common component of topical sunscreens. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology 27(8): 691-94.

  •      Research is still being done, but there is enough evidence out there for me to switch to a healthier sunscreen.  I have tried a few different "healthier" sunscreens and really like Aubrey Organics the best.  I tested it out in Belize and loved it!  Some of the other brands I had tried were really thick and difficult to apply.  The Aubrey Organics sunscreen went on easily and I didn't burn at all on our trip!  Also, I assumed that I would go through the whole bottle during the week because we tend to apply sunscreen a little generously, but I'm still using the same bottle and have plenty left. 
         They also make a face sunscreen which I apply on top of my moisturizer every day so that my face is always protected.  It's not too greasy or too thick and really protects my face from the sun's damage.  Happy Summer!  Go out and enjoy the long day of sunshine, but be sure to protect your skin.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Healthy Eating

         I hope everyone had the opportunity to celebrate their fathers this past weekend!  We enjoyed our weekend in Dallas with friends and family, and celebrated father's day with my dad at the farm.  It was a little hot, but nice to be out in the fresh air and summershine!

         I keep trying to encourage my mom to set up an organic garden at the farm, and we've (or really SHE) has been reading up on different ways to get a garden started.  What we eat is a huge part of living chemically-free.  And while I'd like to say that washing my face with baking soda is the sole reason my skin looks healthy, what I eat also directly contributes to healthy skin.  The pesticides, antibiotics and hormones that are added to our food cause a myriad of problems that show up in our body, on our skin, and affect our quality of life.

         "You are what you eat! We hear that so often; yet don't consider what that truly means. What we eat determines what kind of life we will have. This process starts from where we buy it at the supermarket or the grocery, how we prepare it, and how it is cooked. Also, some other aspects to be considered are when we eat, how much, and how often.
         Studies have shown that buying organic foods and eating it can be beneficial to living health lives. For couples, it is very important to consider the possibility of having a child. Eating food that lacks the right amount of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients may impede the child's growth development.
         For a few years now, scientists and other experts in the field of health have been carefully monitoring non-organic foods and its affect on people’s health.
         To their shock, they discovered that the fertilizers and chemicals used to help the crops grow are more harmful than good. Tests have shown that increased amounts of these substances, when entering the human body, can lead to diseases." (courtesy of Organic Food Corner

         In an effort to start eating more healthy with less chemicals ON A BUDGET, I recently found an amazing produce co-op in Houston called Rawfully Organic.  Every other week I go down to the Houston Arboretum and get a half-share of produce for $47.  All of the fruits and vegetables are organic and seasonal.  We have loved eating fresh produce without the chemicals and my wallet has really gotten a break.  Not to mention, deciding what to prepare for dinner has become so easy because I plan around what I have.

         Local Harvest is a great resource for finding co-ops wherever you are.  My best advice is to try to find one that is convenient to get to and also does not charge a membership fee.  At Rawfully Organic, I can order a share whenever I want, and because there is no membership fee I don’t feel bad if we have to skip a week because we are out of town.  We continually get a bounty of healthy, fresh produce that is nourishing and satisfying.  What are you doing to eat healthy?

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Finding Healthy Deoderant Can be the Pits!

         Wow!  I'm not sure how the day got away from me, but here I am at the end of the day, sitting down to write for the first.  As I ran around town in the Houston heat, I thought about how thankful I was to have finally found a good-smelling, natural deodorant that works for me.  Neither of my younger brothers wear deodorant and they haven't for a few years, but until recently I didn't know just how smart they were! And while I'm not sure I could really go without anything to deodorize, I am all for finding healthy, natural alternatives to commercial deodorant.  Our bodies get rid of toxins through sweat, so blocking that process with cancer-causing chemicals doesn't seem right.  However, the search for finding a chemical-free deodorant that I can live with has been tough.  For lack of better words, let's just say it has been the pits!

         I have tried 5 different ways to mask my scent, a long and often expensive process.  My first attempt at a deodorant alternative was Tom's of Maine brand deodorant.  Tom's is natural and free of chemicals, but at the end of the day, I felt like I really didn't smell that great.  I would continually ask friends (really good friends) at work if I smelled bad and they always said no.  They could have been lying though because I really didn't like the odor.  R2 is always quick to give me his honest opinion, so I asked him what he thought and he agreed with my friends, I didn't stink.  I however wasn't happy with the smell and kept looking.  Attempt #2 was in the same aisle as Tom's at Whole Foods in the form of a Thai crystal stick.  The directions said to wet the stone and apply.  Easy enough.  However, the directions also said not to apply to broken skin.  Shaving and the Thai crystal were not friends which either meant I had to give up shaving or find something else.  You'll be happy to know that I didn't give up shaving my arm pits, but instead continued my search. 

         Attempt #3 was a little more extreme.   I talked to a friend who said lemon juice was great because it kills the bacteria that causes the odor.  I sliced up a fresh lemon and applied it directly to my underarms.  It smelled fresh, but I spent the next 10 minutes picking pulp out of my armpits.  During the week I need to be able to get out the door quickly, so this wasn't going to work.  Instead of abandoning my lemons, I decided to make a small spray bottle of lemon juice.  With anticipation I collected the juice of two lemons in my spray bottle and started using that as deodorant every day.  Again, I asked my very good friends as well as R2 what they thought about the smell, my smell, and everyone said they couldn't smell anything.  Odor reducing powers, check!  However, as the week wore on, I began to notice that my underarms were really sticky, my armpits stung like crazy after I had shaved, and the fresh lemon juice went bad really quickly.  Admittedly, I may have been a little over zealous in squeezing two lemons at a time for my spray bottle.  Ultimately I decided that I needed to keep looking.

         Attempt #4.  I have to say, trying new concoctions of natural products is somewhat addicting to me.  I sat down and googled how to make natural deodorant.  I filtered through various search results until I came to a blog called Passionate Homemaking that had a recipe for natural deodorant.  R2 didn't jump on the chemical-free bandwagonbeen quite as quickly as I, but he got right in the middle of making a batch of coconut oil deodorant. 

    6-8 Tbsp Coconut oil (solid state)
    1/4 cup baking soda
    1/4 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch (arrowroot is preferred)

    I used cornstarch instead of arrowroot, because that's what I had on hand, and bought pure, extra-virgin organic coconut oil from the grocery store.  We mixed everything up and put it in a little container.  I dipped my fingers in, applied it to my underarms, and voila!  This deodorant smells amazing.  I was so happy with our new recipe and tested it out over the next week. 
         This mixture was absolutely painless when applied to recently shaved underarms, smelled good all day long, and was really cheap.  I did note that coconut oil melts at 76 degrees so that "dry" feeling isn't really there, but over time I have gotten used to not using an anti-perspirant.  I thought I had found my match until I traveled with it to Belize for a friend's wedding.  I had thankfully put my little tub of deodorant in a plastic baggie, because when we arrived at the hotel, some of the liquid mixture had leaked.  In no time though, it was back to its solid state and on my armpits.  I was happy, until the night of the wedding.  I put on my coconut oil deodorant, noting how tropical I smelled, and put on the apple green chiffon dress.  I didn't think about my deodorant again until right before we walked down the aisle on the beach.  I looked down and realized that I had small stains on my dress.  Awesome.  Just in time for pictures.  The stains were partly from the coconut oil, and partly from me.  I vowed to keep looking and use a better alternative the next time I had to put on a fancy party dress.

         Said Belizian experience led me to natural deodorant attempt #5.  One Green Street is one of my favorite spots in Houston for organic and natural products.  Sherry has truly put her heart and soul into offering amazing products that are healthy and safe.  One afternoon I noticed she had a new deodorant, organic, natural, eco-friendly that I decided to try.  It promised a dreamy creamsicle scent and looked fun!  The packaging was intriguing and had funny one-liners on it.  I was sold.  My week of trials began.  By this point I had stopped asking R2 and friends how they thought I smelled.  If you can't tell already, I'm pretty sensitive to smells.  I wasn't particularly fond of the creamsicle, and my days ended smelling like the Tom's deodorant, not bad exactly, but not great.  Not to mention, the price tag on that little stick of deodorant didn't compare to the economical coconut oil deodorant.

         So my deodorant of choice after all those weeks of trying, coconut oil.  It may not keep me as dry as some of the other options, but it smells great all day long.  Aside from my experience in Belize, I haven't experienced any notable stains or problems with it.  Traveling with it becomes an issue when it is hot outside, but I just make sure the tub is well-sealed and in a plastic baggie.  I'll call in for back-up the next time I put on my party pants, but for now, I love my fresh coconut scent!

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Looking for a Non-Toxic Cleaning Solution?: Cleaning Up the Way You Clean

    I'm excited to share with you my favorite Non-Toxic, Multi-Purpose cleaning solution: Branch Basics.

         Everyone wants a clean house, but how clean is your house really?  A lot of what we typically use to clean our houses is actually contaminating more than cleaning.  Even products that claim to be "free and clear" are often filled with chemicals the manufacturers have tried to hide.  Most cleaning products are full of dyes, fragrances, and synthetic chemicals that weigh down our immune system and mimic our hormones, often causing a host of side effects and problems that you would never suspect from your "cleaning" products.  My mantra is to "give those chemicals a rest and let your body relax" by considering a lifestyle free of harmful toxins.  I have personally seen the effects of change as I have switched over to non-toxic cleaners and am so excited to share this with you!

         Branch Basics is a plant-based, non-toxic and chemical free cleaner that you can use for EVERYTHING!  I literally hauled all of our cleaning products out of the house and replaced it with this one bottle.  I use it to clean dishes, counters, windows, mirrors.  Toilets, showers, tubs, tile floors, hardwood floors.  For laundry, to remove stains, for just about everything.  Branch Basics kills bacteria, ecoli and a host of other germs that you don't want lurking in your clean home and is human safe.  While I wouldn't recommend sitting down and drinking a cup of it, Branch Basics is absolutely not harmful if swallowed (a huge perk for those of you with curious kiddos at home). 

         The best part about it is, I'll bring it to you!  Let me know what you want and I'll get it to you.  I have a pre-mixed multi-purpose cleaner as well as bottles of the concentrate.  I'm more than happy to answer any questions you might have or help you clean up the way you clean your home.  The most important thing to remember is that you don't have to do it all at once, although you certainly can!  I'm also in the process of putting together a "Starter Kit" for those of you who need some help getting started.  You can email me at if you have any questions or want to order Branch Basics.  I use Branch Basics to clean my home and have experienced amazing results.  I'm passionate about living chemically-free and am excited to help you get started too!  Happy Cleaning!
           Branch Basics All-Purpose Cleaner
         Pre-diluted ready to use solution
    Branch Basics Concentrate


    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Saving Face

         First, I have to say that I am SO EXCITED to have followers already!  There may just be 5 of you, but it's a dedicated 5 of you, and what can I say, I'M EXCITED.  In determining what to share with you today, I think it's only fair to start with the face.  That is of course how this whole thing got started.  One super star friend pays me a compliment about how good my face looks (that'll make any girl's day), and I'm off!  I'm not sure if that means that I'm extremely vain or not, but it definitely gave me the impetus to start writing about something that I am extremely passionate about.

         Everybody wants to have a pretty face.  The beauty industry pushes and promises that with their products years will be taken off your face, and that they have the secrets to a smooth, clear complexion.  What they don't tell you is that the chemicals in their products do more harm than good.  The long-term effects of those chemicals can be so severe no matter how enticing the "quick fix" is.  I don't care how young and beautiful they can make me look, I'm not buying it.  As I began seeking out clean alternatives, I came across a secrent little agent in a little orange box.  Yes, I'm talking about the little orange box that sits in your refrigerator and deoderizes everything.  The little orange box with the manly looking arm and hammer.  Baking soda.  Baking soda is made from a naturally ocurring mineral called soda ash.  It is a great neutralizer, mild exfoliator, and gentle cleanser.  It is apprently used at the end of many facial treatments to balance the pH of the skin.  In addition to all that, it is super cheap and can easily be found at any grocery store.

         I bought a box to keep in my bathroom and let the baking soda do its thing.  Twice a day I pour a little baking soda into my hand and mix it with water until it has a paste-like consistency.  I massage it all over my face and neck and voila, beautiful skin!  Any blemishes I had disappeared almost instantly when I started using baking soda.  And let's be honest, I still get the occasional break-out (I'm sure the harsh Houston climate is to blame), but nothing cleans and balances my face like baking soda.  It's also great to use on your back and chest if you have any problem areas there.  Baking soda has a multitude of uses, which I'll save for another day, but I'm especially happy with how effective it has been on my face.  It gently exfoliates without drying out my skin, and what really makes my husband  me happy is that it is so inexpensive!

         This summer we have been travelling a lot and I have constantly been experimenting with the best travel-friendly container.  So far I have found a little plastic tub with a tight-fitting lid works best.  How do you travel with your new favorite face wash?

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    I'm a Believer

         I'm no hippie.  The contents of my cabinets might lead you to think differently.  My family might argue that I am.  I make my own deodorant and carry around baking soda for face wash.  My husband definitely got worried that I was.  I hauled all of our household cleaners out of the house.  I'm not unconventional, I'm just trying to live without all the unwanted chemicals that sneak into everyday life.  I'm a believer that it works, and I'll tell you why. 

         Most of the credit for my changes goes to Allison Evans at Three Branches Healthy Living.  A friend of a friend, she did a workshop at DEFINE, one of my favorite Houston spots, that really got me thinking about how harmful the chemicals in "every day household products" are.  As I began replacing the chemicals with plant-based, natural solutions, my body immediately began to feel the cleansing effects.  For the last few years I've experienced throbbing pain in my neck and shoulder that often kept me awake at night or required repeated doses of Advil.  Chemicals gone, problem solved.  I have not once experienced that pain since I made the switch.  I have also suffered from hives as a result of chemicals in laundry detergents and had irritated eyes from makeup.  Again, I have not experienced any issues since I changed to a healthier detergent and started buying more naturally made makeup.  Convincing my husband had probably been the greatest challenge, but as I have started to feel better and we have made more and more changes, he's jumped on the bandwagon too!

         Since March I have been slowly but surely replacing every item in our house that contains contaminates, from cleaning supplies to personal products and everything in between.  I have tried and tested what works best for us with a little guidance and support from all the chemical-free resources in Houston.  The task can definitely be overwhelming at times as well as expensive, but my goal is to provide my readers with a small database of what has worked best for me.  No matter what city you're in, you can find ideas, suggestions, support, and research here.  And who knows, you might just evolve into an "illegitimate hippie" like me!  When you do, be sure to send me your ideas and findings as I am constantly trying new things, looking for better and safer alternatives.  I'll start sharing my favorite alternatives soon so you can get ideas for creating a healthier home.