August 27, 2012

Permeable Pavers for Improved Water Quality

Many communities across the U.S. are working to improve water quality by reducing storm water runoff. Just think: Every time it rains that water you see running into storm drains is carrying an assortment of debris, pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants into the same local waters we use for swimming, fishing, and drinking water.

Hard surfaces, such as roofs, pavement, and patios, are the main contributor to storm water runoff because they prevent storm water from naturally soaking back into the ground. To combat this problem many cities are issuing guidelines or regulations directing homeowners and builders to use permeable construction materials for walkways, patios, and driveways.

If a new patio or driveway is on your to-do list, consider using permeable pavers. They look like typical brick pavers but are more eco-friendly because they allow water to drain and return back to the earth rather than run off into storm drains.



August 20, 2012

The Case for Organic Cotton

Cotton, “the fabric of our lives”, is everywhere . . . clothing, towels, bedding, housewares, toys. Unfortunately cotton is as environmentally damaging as it is abundant. Cotton is considered the world's “dirtiest” crop due to its excessive use of insecticides – 16% of the world's insecticides are used on the 2.5% of land used to grow cotton. In the U.S. cotton growers are responsible for 25% of pesticides used. Some other unpleasant facts that may have you itching to get out of those cotton clothes:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency has labeled seven of the top 15 pesticides used in U.S. cotton production as "possible," "likely," "probable," or "known" human carcinogens. The World Health Organization considers the insecticides Aldicarb, parathion, and methamidopho to be the most acutely hazardous insecticides to human health – the three also rank in the top ten most commonly used in cotton production. 
  • It takes almost a third of a pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow enough cotton to produce a single t-shirt. Nitrogen synthetic fertilizers are a major factor in increasing the greenhouse gas N2O. N2O is 300 times more potent than CO2. 
  • Many pesticide residues have been detected in cottonseed hull – a secondary crop (i.e., the unusable leftover from the cotton plant) sold as a food product. As much as 65% of cotton production ends up in our food chain, either directly through cottonseed oil or indirectly through the milk and meat of animals given feed that contains cotton seed. 
  • Cotton production uses massive amounts of water. It takes about 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce one pair of jeans. 
  • Ninety-nine percent of cotton farmers in the world live in developing countries, leaving the poorest and most disenfranchised among us to bear the brunt of cotton productions' negative health and environmental impact. 

Organic cotton production, on the other hand, avoids the toxic chemicals that are so harmful to human health and the environment. By buying products made of organic cotton you support sustainable farming practices and humane treatment of workers and help keep harmful chemicals out of the environment and our food supply.

Organic cotton production still accounts for less than 1% of global cotton production, but it has seen significant growth in the past few years as more companies have started to offer organic cotton products. Consumers, with the power of the purse, can continue to drive that change to healthier production practices. Yes, organic cotton products are often more expensive than those made of conventional cotton, but when you consider the impact on human and environmental health it is certainly a justifiable expense. Plus, the more we support organic cotton, the more products will become available and the lower prices will drop.

You don't have to run out and replace all your cotton clothing and linens, but next time you do need something new consider the organic option. With more companies like Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, Pantagonia, H&M, and Banana Republic offering organic cotton products you now have more choices than ever.


August 13, 2012

What to Look For in “Green” Cleaning Products

A clean home is a healthy home. Right? But how healthy can home cleaning products be if they make your eyes sting, irritate your skin, and are labeled poisonous? Green cleaning products get your home clean without harmful chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and your health. Just make sure to take a careful look at those labels to ensure you are truly getting a healthier product and not being duped by the latest company to jump on the green marketing bandwagon.

Start by looking for products certified by EcoLogo or Green Seal. To earn these labels cleaners must meet certain health and environmental standards regarding things like toxicity to aquatic and mammalian life, biodegradability, possible soil contamination, the risk of microbial resistance, labeling and packaging standards, and human health. Not all green products will be certified so use the following guidelines for selecting your own green cleaners.

Select products with 100% plant-based ingredients rather than the ambiguous “natural” label. After all, cyanide is natural element. Look for products with primary active ingredients like tea tree oil, sodium borate (borax), soy, citrus oils, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and eucalyptus. These substances come from renewable resources, are biodegradable, contain no- or low-VOCs, and should not cause skin or eye irritation. Just take care to not use products with pine or citrus oil on smoggy or high ozone days because compounds in the oils can react with ozone in the air to form the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde.

Avoid products containing any of the following:
  • 2-butoxyethanol (also listed as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether) and other glycol ethers
  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates like nonylphenol ethoxylates, octylphenol ethoxylates, nonoxynols, and octoxynols
  • Ethanolamines like mono-, di-, and tri-ethanolamine 
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds, which are usually listed as alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC), benzalkonium chloride, or didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride 
  • Hydrocloric acid
  • Sodium acid sulfate 
  • Fragrance 

It's also advisable to pass on any products containing dye. It's an ambiguous ingredient that could mean a multitude of things – many of which are unsafe.

Take a products packaging into consideration as well. Look for lightweight packaging made from recyclable and/or recycled materials. Choose pump sprays over aerosols and look for dispensers that help limit unnecessary exposure. Concentrated formulas help cut down on packing as do products that can be used with refillable dispensers.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid the harmful chemicals often found in household cleaning products is to clean your home with all natural products like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, and baking soda. Click here for homemade, green cleaning solutions.


August 6, 2012

Natural Remedies for Common Skin Problems

For every skin problem there's several products out there claiming to be the cure all. Yet, we know that everyday personal care products can be loaded with harmful ingredients. Those suffering with skin problems such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea have enough to be concerned with without having to worry if treatments contain carcinogens, hormone disruptors, or harsh ingredients that will only worsen their condition. Taking the natural approach to soothing skin troubles helps keep toxic chemicals out of your body and avoids the severe reactions some aggressive treatments can cause.

Acne
The best way to start treating acne is from the inside out. Eat healthy, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, limit stress, never sleep with makeup on, wash your pillowcases regularly, and avoid touching your face. Then, try these natural remedies for acne.

Apple Cider Vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is rich in alpha-hydroxy acids – the main ingredient in a lot of exfoliating and anti-aging skin care products. While it's not as strong as a lot of acne products on the market, it is fairly strong. So it's advisable that you try a patch test (apply to a small patch of skin and wait 24 hours) before using apple cider vinegar on your face. If the patch test shows no adverse reaction, mix one part vinegar with eight parts water (you can always adjust the ratio as needed) and apply to clean skin with a cotton ball. Allow skin to dry completely before moisturizing as usual.

Calendula. Calendula is used to treat a variety of skin irritations, from minor cuts and burns to dry skin and acne. Calendula has both antibacterial and antiviral properties so it soothes inflammation and speeds up healing. It is so gentle it can be used on all skin types. Look for creams and lotions containing calendula or use cooled calendula tea as a toner after cleansing your face.

Tea Tree Oil. Tee tree oil is probably the most popular natural acne treatment available. It is very potent with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. It works by killing the bacteria that causes acne breakouts. Pure tea tree oil is very strong (a single sniff will leave your eyes burning), so it must be diluted. Start with mixing just a drop or two with a tablespoon of water and adjust as needed. Apply diluted tea tree oil with a cotton ball after washing your face. Allow skin to dry completely before moisturizing.

Witch Hazel. Witch hazel, thanks to its anti-bacterial tannin acid, makes a great astringent for acne-prone skin. It is strong enough to clear up acne-causing bacteria, but gentle enough to not disturb skin's natural pH balance. Apply witch hazel undiluted as a toner after cleansing.

Acne Scars
Aloe vera has been used for its healing properties for centuries. Over time aloe vera can help lessen the scars left by acne. Wash your face with a cleanser containing aloe vera and then apply aloe vera gel as a spot treatment.

Over time honey can also help fade acne scars. Opt for raw, natural honey. Apply honey to scars as a spot treatment at night. Honey can also be used as a facial mask to soften skin. Simply spread all over a clean face, allow to dry for 20 minutes, and then rinse with warm water.

Dry Skin
Drinking plenty of water and consuming a diet rich in magnesium, essential fatty acids, vitamin C, and beta-carotene can help make skin less prone to dryness. Try foods like oranges, mangoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, almonds and walnuts, and fatty-fish like wild Alaskan salmon. For topical treatments try:

Fruit. Foods like pineapple, papaya, and pumpkin are rich in alpha hydroxy acids – a natural exfoliator that helps slough off dead skin. For an all natural AHA mask, simply mash or puree the fruit and apply it to a clean face for 20 to 30 minutes before rinsing with cool water. Then moisturize as usual.

Honey. Honey is a great, all natural emollient. For a skin softening facial mask, apply a thin layer of honey (raw is best) all over, allow it to sit for 20 minutes, and rinse with warm water. You can also apply honey to chapped lips and rough heels and elbows at night.

Oil. Nutrient-rich oils like olive, grapeseed, and almond oil all make great moisturizers. You can massage oil into dry skin for a few minutes before going about your usual cleansing routine. You can also add a few drops of oil (olive, grapeseed, almond, or vitamin E) to your regular moisturizer to boost its effects.

Sugar. Sugar mixed with oil (any of the aforementioned oils will work) makes a great skin softening scrub. Simply mix equal amounts of fine brown sugar and oil, massage into rough, dry skin for a few minutes, and rinse. Moisturize as usual.

Yogurt. The lactic acid in yogurt makes it an effective, yet gentle exfoliator. Apply plain Greek yogurt to a clean face and allow it to sit on skin for about 20 minutes. Then, rinse with tepid water and moisturize as usual.

Eczema
There are few effective natural remedies for eczema. So it is especially important to focus on prevention. To reduce flare ups keep skin well hydrated with creams or ointments containing low water and high oil content. Apply moisturizing treatments to damp skin immediately after bathing and continue moisturizing throughout the day as needed. Avoid some of the most common eczema triggers: heat, stress, scratchy fabrics like wool, harsh soaps and detergents, and environmental allergens (i.e., pollen, mold, dust mites, and animal dander). These natural remedies may help soothe skin and lessen your need for stronger over the counter treatments.

Calendula. Calendula is used to treat a variety of skin irritations. Calendula has both antibacterial and antiviral properties so it soothes inflammation and speeds up healing. It is so gentle it can be used on all skin types. Look for creams and lotions containing calendula or use cooled calendula tea as a toner after washing your face.

Chamomile. Chamomile, with it's anti-inflammatory properties, is a common natural remedy for eczema and psoriasis. Apply cooled chamomile tea to skin with a clean cloth 2 to 4 times a day or opt for moisturizers and other skin treatments containing chamomile.

Flaxseed. Flaxseed is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids which help boost the immune system and fight inflammation. Flaxseed is often recommended to treat inflammation-based skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis. Start with one to two tablespoons of cold-pressed flaxseed oil, taken with food, daily.

Oily Skin
It's important to avoid the instinct to over clean oily skin. You don't want “squeaky clean” skin. Stripping skin of all its natural oils kicks oil production into overdrive leaving you worse off than when you began. If this is not the case, try the following remedies to soak up excess oil.

Apple Cider Vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is rich in alpha-hydroxy acids – the main ingredient in a lot of exfoliating and anti-aging skin care products. While it's not as strong as a lot of acne products on the market, it is fairly strong. So it's advisable that you try a patch test (apply to a small patch of skin and wait 24 hours) before using apple cider vinegar on your face. If the patch test shows no adverse reaction, mix one part vinegar with eight parts water (you can always adjust the ratio as needed) and apply to clean skin with a cotton ball. Allow skin to dry completely before moisturizing as usual.

Baking Soda. Adding baking soda to your liquid facial cleanser can help soak up excess oil. Simply add a small pinch of baking soda to a quarter-size amount of face wash, gently massage into skin, and rinse.

Egg. One of the simplest and most effective homemade facial masks you can make is an egg mask. Beat a single egg white, apply it to your face, allow it to sit for 15 minutes, rinse with tepid water, and allow your skin to air dry. Your skin will immediately feel firmer and look fresher.

Lemons. Lemon is full of collagen-boosting vitamin C and natural fruit acids that can help eliminate excess oil and balance out skin tone. Mix equal parts lemon juice and water, apply to your face, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing with tepid water. Alternatively, if your skin can tolerate it, you can slice off the quarter end of a lemon and rub the cut side of the lemon onto your skin for a few minutes. Then allow it to sit on your skin for 10 minutes before rinsing.

Milk. Whole organic milk makes a very gentle mask that can help balance skin's pH level. After cleansing your face, apply milk with a cotton ball, allow it to dry for 20 minutes, and then rinse with tepid water.

Psoriasis
Psoriasis can be difficult to treat – naturally or otherwise. It is important to focus on prevention. Start by avoiding the most common psoriasis triggers: dryness, cold, stress, alcohol, and smoking. Keeping a food journal can help you identify any food triggers. Make sure to keep skin moisturized and avoid picking and scratching. Hopefully, these measures will keep flare ups to a minimum. When psoriasis does flare up try these natural remedies to soothe skin and lessen your need for over the counter treatments.

Aloe Vera. Aloe vera has been used for its healing properties for centuries. Apply aloe vera gel to irritated skin to sooth and heal.

Chamomile. Chamomile, with it's anti-inflammatory properties, is a common natural remedy for eczema and psoriasis. Apply cooled chamomile tea to skin with a clean cloth 2 to 4 times a day or opt for moisturizers and other skin treatments containing chamomile.

Daily baths. Taking a daily bath with bath oil, colloidal oatmeal, or Epsom salts can help remove scales and calm skin. Avoid hot water and harsh soaps. Use lukewarm water and mild soaps that contain added oils and fats.

Flaxseed. Flaxseed is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids which help boost the immune system and fight inflammation. Flaxseed is often recommended to treat inflammation-based skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis. Start with one to two tablespoons of cold-pressed flaxseed oil, taken with food, daily.

Sunlight. Exposing skin to limited amounts of sun can help treat psoriasis. Too much sun can make psoriasis worse, so it's best to start with a single short session a few times a week. Keep a log of your sun exposure and its effect on your skin to help you determine if sunlight is an effective treatment for you and what amount works best for your skin.

Rosacea
There's no cure for rosacea, but lifestyle modifications can help reduce symptoms. Start by avoiding the most common triggers of rosacea: sun exposure, emotional stress, hot weather, wind, and strenuous exercise. The most important thing to remember is to keep skin cool and calm. Rosacea sufferers should avoid washing with hot water and skincare products that contain harsh ingredients or drying agents like alcohol.

Keeping a food journal can help in identifying food triggers. Alcohol and spicy foods are two very common triggers. Following an anti-inflammatory diet may also help ward off rosacea symptoms. The basic tenets of an anti-inflammatory diet are as follows: eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; minimize saturated and trans fats; consume omega-3 fatty acids from foods like Wild Alaskan Salmon and walnuts; limit refined carbohydrates (i.e., white flour and sugar), processed foods, red meat, and full fat dairy foods; eat plenty of whole grains; and stick with lean sources of protein.

When rosacea symptoms do flare up some of these natural remedies may help soothe your skin and lessen your need for strong prescription creams.

Green tea. We've all heard that drinking green tea can help ward off cancer and heart disease, but new research suggests it may be a good topical treatment for rosacea. Green tea is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Its greatest benefit appears to be that in can reduce the skin’s reaction to ultraviolet light, thus helping to reduce sun-triggered flare ups.

Lavender. Lavender has been used to treat skin problems for hundreds of years. When applied to skin the essential oil of lavender can help reduce inflammation and shrink blood vessels.

Licorice. Licorice extract is a strong anti-inflammatory that can help reduce redness. A 2006 study by the American Academy of Dermatology found that licorice extract products helped improve results in patients already using prescription rosacea creams.

Rose Hip Oil. Rose hips, the dried fruit of the rose, are abundant in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, riboflavin, and folate. The vitamin C in rose hip oil helps strengthens capillaries and reduces redness. Rose hip's anti-inflammatory properties help stimulate the immune system to fight rosacea. Rose hip can also help fade scars. Even skin creams containing rose can be helpful because they calm and sooth the skin.

Supplements. Alpha-lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10 are promoted for their ability to reduce inflammation in the body. And 100 mg of zinc sulfate three times a day is the most often prescribed supplement for reducing the symptoms of rosacea.