Getting pretty without getting sick, Pt 4 – Skin Care!

That stuff we put on and take off our skin for various reasons

That stuff we put on and take off our skin for various reasons

I have a confession to make. For most of my life I didnt do much more with my skin that clean it, dance it around in the sun and put it to bed in soft sheets. It wasnt until my 30s that I even really used moisturizer. It just never seemed necessary. Then suddenly my skin was dry. All. the. damn. time. ugh. Even then, I didnt think much beyond “moisturize me, moisturize me!” When I got sick, I learned to check labels for every kind of scent and fragrance possible but again, I didnt change what I did with my skin beyond that. So trying to come up with interesting things to share with everyone about skin care that doesnt make us sick? yeah… not so much.

What I will do is tell you what I’ve found works for me and then share a couple of good links I found while poking around the web for information on healthy skin care.

 

Me and My Skin:

Your's truly in a goofy mood circa 1985

Your’s truly in a goofy mood circa 1985

 

Back in the day, I was a Clinque girl all the way because that was what my mom used. And that worked for me for years. Till she stopped paying for it and I had to cover my own skin care costs (ah the fun of growing up and getting all responsible). After that, I pretty much let things fall by the wayside. A little BuffPuff here, some soap there and the requisite cold cream to take off the stage make up. College was distracting and busy. Then life after college was… well, the typical time of “finding myself” – which for me meant spending a lot of time trying different jobs, many of which included film and television sets and 12 hour days. Skin care was really not at the top of my list of things to care about. I was in my 20′s, blessed with good skin, what did I have to worry about?

I also didn’t understand an important fact about our skin: “Whatever you put on your skin is totally absorbed into the body and into the lymphatic system. That includes the many toxins (including carcinogens) in skin creams. How many of the ingredients in the label on the right do you feel good about having inside you?” – “Coconut Oil, one solution for All skin conditions“, GNet.org 8/2/12

Skin Care Products I have tried and liked

When I became increasingly sensitive to chemicals in all their forms, I suddenly had to pay attention to what went on my skin because now this fact did apply to me, inside and out, in really problematic and powerful ways.

My main skin care routine, for the last ten years or so, has been products that keep my skin soft and counter act the dryness that seems to have become part of my daily life. I have picked my products based on the sniff test “take a sniff, does it give me a headache just opening the bottle?” yes means “back away slowly”, no means, “eh, this be safe for me”.

Aveenno 

“We use only high-quality natural ingredients—grown in regions that provide an ideal environment for the plant to thrive and produce beneficial ACTIVE NATURALS® ingredients.  //  Our scientists follow high standards of ingredient selection, formulation and manufacturing, with processes that retain the strength and purity of the ingredients.”

Aveeno is a big name, find it most any local store, brand of skin care and for the most part I really like their products. The biggest issue has been reading the ingredients list for any new product I want to try. Only some of their lines are scent / fragrance free, as I learned the hard way. While their website proclaims their natural ingredients in bold letters and pretty pictures, they are not as forth coming about the other things, like perfume and not-so-good-for-you chemicals that are in at least some of their products.

That being said, within the scent / fragrance fee products there are many really nice ones that are my current go-to for moisturizing. Both the Dry and Sensitive Skin lines are “no added fragrance” – which is code for “its gonna smell like herbs” in general the smell is specific to the herbal ingredients because those herbs smell as a part of their nature, as apposed to a processed chemical made to smell like that herb. For me that is generally fine – your mileage will vary depending on your allergens and sensitivities.

And if you have skin irritation from allergens, you are probably already familiar with the oatmeal bath in their Anti-itch line. On really bad days, that can be a saving grace.

Of course, as with the make up and nail polish research, going to the company site introduced me to more potentially safe products that I want to try, but never saw at my local store.

 

Coconut Oil

Yup, I have become a member of the cult of the coconut. :) I use it after every shower and my skin LOVES it. I have a bottle on my night stand alongside by bottle of Aveeno moisturizer and I will use the coconut oil as often as I will use the Aveeno.

Why coconut oil is better than the average face moisturizer. And hair serum. And body lotion: “Commercial moisturizers contain lots of water, which makes you feel like your skin is being moisturized. But as soon as the water dries, your skin becomes dry again. Also, many commercial brands of moisturizers contain petroleum-based ingredients that can suffocate the skin. In contrast, coconut oil provides deep and real moisture. It helps strengthen underlying tissues and helps remove excessive dead cell on the skin’s surface that makes your skin rough and flaky in texture. It also great for shine and as a natural moisturizer for your hair.” – “Coconut Oil For Skin, Hair, Body: 6 Things To Know About The Super Ingredient“. Huffington Post 06/27/2012

Pretty much every informational site suggests using only virgin (first press)  and cold press (manually extracted) coconut oil for the best benefits all around.

Of course there is a draw back, at least for some people. I have a friend who is severely allergic to coconut in all forms, so putting it on her skin is never going to be a good idea.

 

Argan Oil

Another oil that is spreading in popularity and I owe several friends drinks or chocolate for introducing me to its uses.

“In Morocco, argan oil is used to dip bread in at breakfast or to drizzle on couscous or pasta. World-wide, it’s gaining a reputation both as an ingredient in high-end, personal-care products and as a heart-healthy gourmet product.

The golden-colored oil, extracted by hand from the fruit of a thorny tree that grows in southwest Morocco, soothes rough skin and gives hair a nice shine, dermatologists say. But while some argan-oil cosmetic products are marketed as anti-aging, there is no evidence it slows signs of growing older.

When ingested, preliminary studies suggest the nutty-flavored oil may have heart-health benefits comparable to olive oil. The data are “encouraging” says Michael Miller, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Preventive Cardiology in Baltimore, but “the jury is still out” on its health benefits” – “Hard Nut to Crack: Beauty and Antioxidant Oil“, the Wall Street Journal June 11, 2012

“The active substances called triterpenoids that occur in Argan Oil offer amazing skin protection benefits. These include tissue healing (scars), anti-inflammatory, sun-protective and disinfectant properties.

The oil contains 80% unsaturated fatty acids and is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Argan oil also contains 0.8% unsaponifiables (a large group of compounds also known as plant sterols or sterolins). Sterolins improve skin metabolism, reduce inflammation and promote excellent moisture retention.” – “The benefits of Argan oil“, the Natural News 3/1/10

So far I have only tried using argan oil on my face (the coconut oil has been distracting) but after reading more about it, I think I will expand my explorations into how it can I use it. I have some scars that I would love to make less obvious…

As with coconut oil, you want virgin / first press, cold pressed/manual Argan oil for the highest benefits.

 

Eminence Organic Skin Care

“Éminence is picky when it comes to the ingredients we include in our award winning products. We believe that Mother Nature has the best tools for effective skin care so we take great pride in only using her bounty to create all that we offer you. Our products contain organic and Biodynamic®  grown fruits, vegetables and herbs.  //   It is important to read and understand the labels of the products you use, and with that in mind, there are some ingredients that we avoid. Our products do not contain harmful chemicals like Parabens, Petrolatum, Mineral Oils, Propylene Glycol or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. They are not tested on animals and are packaged in environmentally friendly packaging.”

I discovered Eminence when I went looking for a new toner to use after washing my face. I settled on their Wild Plum Tonique and am pleased with the choice. It’s taken some getting used to because the key ingredient is wild plum juice which does have a scent, but its one that is toxin free.

Eminence has many other skin care products from the basic toner I have to “Booster Serums” and body treatment (sugar scrubs and such) as well as a line of organic mineral make up (something I just discovered poking through their website).

 

Recommendation Links

As for the rest of the skin care options? Honestly, the lists are a little overwhelming, so I’ll leave you with two really good lists from journalist, blogger and health coach Sarah Wilson:  The best toxin-free cosmetics: a listicle Part 1 Part 2

What have you tried that works well for you? What kind of issues are you dealing with that still could use some alternate answers? Let me know and we can explore this world together.

Next Up – Hair Care and Hair Color!

Glitter – the Ultimate Power Up

The last few weeks have been exhausting and spoon eating.

red plastic utensil broken in half. One end is a spoon, the other is a spork.

Broken spoon, broken spork

The sinus infection I’ve been negotiating with got ahead of me and started to build camp in my lungs. This is generally the point at which I tell it to bugger off through the use of antibiotics. (Since I have a near constant sinus infection and living on antibiotics sounds like the least fun thing ever, I wait until things get worse because otherwise I really will be living on ABs.) Monday the antibiotics started which is great, but draining in its own way.

About two weeks before all of that, my insurance company micro-managed me into a corner that I had been heading towards but wanted to settle into on my own terms and in my own time. *sigh* Namely, one of the medications I’ve been taking for about five years was cut off because I cant take the generic (Seriously nasty side effects for me) and the Insurance co wont pay for the label. The neurologist and I had already decided that medication was going to come out of the “cocktail”, but cold turkey is never fun. At least my dosage was fairly low to begin with. Of course, at the same time this happened, the neurologist upped the dosage of one of my pain meds. Either one of these on their own is enough to make a person a little off kilter. Together? *boom* brain explodes, body hates me and where are my blankey and my cave thank you very much.

 

black and white photo of the back of a bald head. Top is broken open, there is black spoke coiling out and upwards.

Brain explosion (anyone know the artist for this? I love it and would like to see other stuff by this artist.)

While I have managed to get a little bit of work done on the new novel, mostly I’ve been wishing for a vat of really good (non-allergenic to me) chocolate ice cream.

What does all of this have to do with glitter? Well, I’ll tell you – (yes, the snark is in rare form this week) – I have always known glitter was my friend, that is part of why this blog is titled Call Me Glitter. This week I discovered that it serves as an excellent power boost – Power Up for you gamers. I’ve taken to sprinkling a little on before I leave the house to help get me through whatever I need to do. Not only is it fun and pretty, but it really does help. Even if its just a mnemonic of sorts, it helps me to focus on the good and have faith that I can get through my day, one way or another.

I first met glitter when I was three (or five depending on who you believe and what calendar we are using) when I was inserted in to a whole on the stage of a “transvestite review” called “The Angels of Light” being done at Theater for the New City in NY in the early ’70s. I remember very clearly that there was this bucket of glitter on the floor beside the stage and I wanted to play with it so badly! But no one would let me!

It was pretty much down (up?) hill from there. Growing up in the theater and arts world in Greenwich Village in the 70s and 80s meant there was always glitter somewhere and there was always an event going on and I always wanted to be a part of the shiny things! At one point my mother created the “Super Brat Club” complete with brown  t-shirts with those words emblazoned in orange glitter on the front. (the 70s where many things, including painful on the eyes). So, I come by my love of glitter and all things shiny honestly.

There was glitter hair spray, glitter make up, glitter on the desk, glitter on the floor and even so much glitter on the walk way a while back that my husband suggested we get a concrete sealant so we could have the “glitter brick road” leading to our door. (that is still a pending project).

I have glitter clogs:

clog covered in dark pink/purple glitter

Glitter clogs for the 2013 season

SO Much glitter nail polish:

green glitter polished nails.

Five greens and a gold

and even a glitter lispstick – Zuzu’s Uber

glitter lipstick

Zuzu – gluten free lipstick “Uber”

And this morning I finally painted and glittered a shirt that has needed its own kind of power up for a while now: my “Treble maker” t-shirt (hmm, actually its name is “Trying to Sing” and was created by Tobe Fonseca)

photo collage - upper and lower images are of the same dark gray shirt with black raven silhouette holding broken musical notes. Bottom one has added glitter.

Photo Collage – treble maker shirt gets a glitter/glow in the dark power up

Glitter doesn’t change the fact that I have a chronic illness or that today is a bitterly low spoon day, or that I have to go get something done outside the house anyway. Glitter reminds me that there is beauty and joy and silliness in the world, and THAT makes every day a little better.

 

And when all else fails… take a trip and fall into the glitter ….  Aftermath, lyric video, by Adam Lambert

Getting pretty without getting sick, Pt 3 – Nail Polish to live for!

(Sorry for the delay on getting this post up, its been a week+ of chronic illness flares. Kind of appropriate I suppose since these posts are about finding ways to live with and through chronic illness.)

Back before MCS I was a nail polish freak. Loved it, had no real clue about who made what other than the big name brands, but still it was fun. The fact that I had no nails to speak of (still dont, the dang things refuse to grow without thinning and splitting) didn’t stop me from having fun. I would even do silk extensions as often as I could afford them. It was fun and I liked the look of both the length and having color on my nails.

Even back then I knew getting my nails done in a shop was probably not so great for my health – you’ve been in those places right? Wow the concentrated smell of polish and cleaner and adhesives. Yuck. So when I got sick it was clear to me that I was never getting silk or acrylic tips again. I also gave away all my polish (mostly blues and golds lol) and resigned myself to boring nails.

Thankfully I am a stubborn cat and the lure of color and sparkle is generally too much to resist. As with the desire for new, safe, make up, I went on the hunt for new, safe nail polish. And wow did I find them. I honestly have more polish now than I did seven years ago! lol (yes honey I can hear you groaning from here. You love me and you know it.)

drawer of nail polish bottles in assorted colors

mmmm shiny shiny nail polsih

Why yes, those bottles are arranged by color. Doesn’t everyone do that with their nail polish and their paint jars and colored pencils and colored markers? :D

 

I’m putting what on my nails? 

So the first thing I learned about safe nail polish is that there are a lot of lovely companies out there making them. Some of them are on the large commercial side and some are on the small hand crafted side. The vast majority of them are wonderful.

Things to look for: Big 3, Big 4 or Big 5 free. These refer to what isnt in the polishes, the main three being: Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde and Toluene.

All Lacquered Up has a nice explanation of what these chemicals do and why they can be problematic:

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) is a plasticiser to prevent chips and cracks. DBP is an oily liquid that is soluble in fat and slightly soluble in water. It is not very volatile so it does not evaporate readily into the atmosphere.

Over 75% of DBP is used as a plasticiser in polymers such as PVC, 14% is used in adhesives, 7% in printing inks and 3% in other miscellaneous uses, including sealants and grouting agents used in construction as well as consumer products such as cosmetics.
http://www.greenfacts.org/glossary/def/DBP-dibutyl-phthalate.htm

Formaldehyde does not exist in nail polish. It is used in some nail hardeners but not in the actual polish. A resin, tosylamide/formaldehyde resin, makes the polish tough and resilient. While the resin is manufactured from formaldehyde, once the product becomes a resin, the formaldehyde is chemically changed and essentially no longer present. So while formaldehyde is grouped in with toluene and DBP in marketing statements and considered one of the Big 3, it isn’t actually an issue unless you have a reaction to the formaldehyde resin.

The bottom line, you should be aware of formaldehyde in your treatment products, not polish.

Toluene (methylbenzene, toluol, phenylmethane) is a solvent that makes the polish easy to apply. It is an aromatic hydrocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent for the manufacturing of paints, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and rubber.

Toluene is found in gasoline, acrylic paints, varnishes, lacquers, paint thinners, adhesives, glues, rubber cement, airplane glue, and shoe polish. At room temperature, toluene is a colorless, sweet smelling, volatile liquid.
http://www.emedicine.com/emerg/topic594.htm 

Big four Free means free of: Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin

Big Five Free means free of: Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, and Camphor.

Formaldehyde Resin is exactly what is sounds like, a resin derived from formaldehyde with all the attendant problems that includes. As I say to most people when they hear that I am allergic to formaldehyde and how many things its used in: its a really useful chemical, in the right place and the right time. Sadly for me, and many other people, that means pretty much never.

I’ll let KAM at RawLife explain the last one: “Camphor?  Yeah, you read that right, camphor, the same minty stuff that they put in muscle rubs goes into nail polish, great huh?  It really does a lot for the polish smell, yeah right.  There’s pretty much no reason at all for camphor to be in your nail polish.  Camphor is considered an irritant in large amounts–amounts that are much higher than what you’d find in nail polish.  But either way, irritant or not, there’s no point for it to be in nail polish.  So you might as well grab a bottle without it.”

Well + Good NYC adds: “As for camphor, it might be taking a toll on manicurists regularly exposed to its fumes, according to the Center for Disease Control. That comes as a shocker since the oil, which is tapped from tree bark or synthetically made, is used in aromatherapy and Vicks VapoRub.

“Camphor is a lovely example of how natural doesn’t always mean non-toxic, explains Spirit Demerson, founder of the all-natural Spirit Beauty Lounge and a professional ingredient-label reader. “Like clove and citrus oils, camphor can be toxic if ingested or even inhaled or absorbed in large amounts,” she says.”

With my originating allergy/chemical exposure being Formaldehyde, I have to be careful of it and all of its family members because even a little bit of formaldehyde can make me sick. For some people, the same can be said of Camphor. Since everyone’s sensitivity is different, what you react to or don’t is going to vary, just keep an eye on how these things effect you and adjust your choices accordingly, you know, like we do with pretty much everything in our lives now that we are allergic and sensitive to stuff.

There are also Water Based nail polishes which, while mostly what they sound like, contain a few chemicals depending on the brand and their recipe.

 

two hands with painted nails, one beginning to remove polish from the other.

Time to change colors!

 

Taking it off

The other thing I learned is that for me, acetone nail polish remover is a huge problem.

Acetone is a clear, harsh-smelling and highly flammable liquid. It’s asolvent, capable of disintegrating even plastic. This explains why it works so quickly breaking apart and removing your nail polish. Isopropyl alcohol is typically used in the making of acetone.

The key active ingredient in non-acetone removers is usually ethyl acetate. Made from ethanol and acetic acid, ethyl acetate is colorless and also flammable. In addition to also being used as a solvent, its fragrant smell has led to its use in perfumes.” – from How Stuff Works – Nails

I”m still experimenting with different polish removers. I have three so far that I mostly like. They work, I just dont know if there isnt something out there that works better.

My current polish removers:

Go Natural

“There are two versions of the remover: the first is a very low odor, formula based on corn alcohol that is available in every state except California. Aloe Vera is added to supplement the natural oils that protect your nails and cuticles. The second version of our remover is a low odor, zero VOC formula specifically designed for sale in California which contains no solvents that can contribute to the formation of ozone or smog in our atmosphere. If you reside in any other state you can still of course do your part in keeping our environment clean by purchasing this low-VOC, non-polluting version.”

GN really is pretty much odor free and good at its job. (oh, it also degrades the plastic on keyboards if/when you spill have the bottle over them. Who me? I would never do such a- ok, fine. yes. I did that. *sigh*)

I got my first bottle of GN polish remover from a third party distributor so I missed the fact (until now) that they also make a line of non-toxic nail polishes in some vibrant colors. Mmmm more polishes to try!

Honey Bee Garden Nail Polish Remover

“Our acetone-free formula is enriched with horsetail extract to strengthen nails, and fortified with vitamin E and aloe to soothe and protect cuticles.  It works to remove our WaterColors Nail Enamel as well as conventional polish.  Meets environmental VOC standards set by the state of California.”

I like HBG’s remover, it works well on both kinds of polishes just as they promise and mostly smells like rubbing alcohol with a dash of something herbal.

Piggy Pain Nail Polish Remover

“Try our low odor, acetone free nail polish remover. Our remover has Aloe Vera and Vitamin E added too!”

Like HBG’s PP has a California version and an “everyone else” version of their remover.It also has almost no odor and works well on both kinds of polishes.

The CA requirements must have gone into effect recently because, while I live in CA, I have the non-CA version of both HBG and PP polish remover.

Groovy Green Living offers this list of non-toxic nail polish removers (I havent tried any of these yet, so let me know if you have and what you think, okay?)

A few safe nail polish removers options

Remember: Traditional nail polish removers take the polish right off. Be prepared with a water- based nail polish remover to spend a bit more time and a lot more muscle to dissolve the polish. It’s worth it.

six bottles of various shades of blue nail polish

Tardis inspired nail polishes pt 1 at Accio Lacquer

Shiny Shiny Polishes!

Okay, now for the fun stuff – Polishes to play with and enjoy. I’m only going to list the companies I’ve actually tried, because wow – there are a lot of great folks out there making lushous polishes.

First off, rec lists from others:

Goddesshuntress has a list of Big 3 and Big 5 free polishes that you can look over (and add to as you find others that fit) here: The List

Well+GoodNYC has a list of their top 12 – Big Five free polishes

KAM at RawLife also has a list of Big 3, Big 4, Big 5 and Water based polishes at the end of her post.

Now, mine mwhahaha *ahem* was that my outside voice?

SpaRitual

“Dedicated to the spa tradition, sparitual is committed to creating eco-friendly products and packaging perfectly crafted for the enlightened consumer. We use Vegan ingredients from around the world, including many specially sourced and selected plant essences that are wildcrafted OR organic. The formulations are naturally colored and free of synthetic dyes. SpaRitual is constantly monitoring sustainability issues and strives to be on the cutting edge of environmental awareness. Enlighten yourself. Be a SpaRitualist. Because we all deserve to live the good life.”

SpaRitual was the first new polish I tried when I started looking for safe polishes. I love them. They have rich, vibrant colors as well as soft mellow ones. They are Big Four Free and Vegan.

Zoya

Zoya Nail Polish has been awarded as the longest wearing natural nail polish by an independent panel in Women’s Health Magazine. Zoya Nail Polish is a nail polish free of toluene, formaldehyde, DBP (phthalates) and camphor. Nail Polish by Zoya offers over 300 gorgeous nail polish colors to choose from, plus 4 seasonalcollections of nail polish every year. Zoya Nail Polish was specifically formulated to deliver the longest wear possible on natural nails. Zoya Nail Polish can be found in better beauty salons, spas and online at www.zoya.com.”

They also do an Earth Day Polish Exchange where you can “Clean out your nail polish wardrobe and get rid of old nail polish that may not be BIG5FREE (Free of Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Toluene, DBP and Camphor) and exchange it for a greener alternative – long lasting, award winning, healthy ZOYA Nail Polish Bottles1″

Friends turned me on to Zoya with innocent (hah) comments about how pretty their safe polish was and then showing me pictures (my friends are cruel I tell you!) I was going to be good and only try one or two. Then they came out with the Pixie Dust line and it was all over. Because my husband loves me, I actually own All 12 colors of Pixie Dust. I adore them all.

Vivid Lacquer

These ”Handmade Franken Nail Polish & Stamping Plates on Etsy” are Big Three Free and delicious. Most of her polish colors are inspired by geeky things like “Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog” and “Doctor Who” (I have a couple from each of these plus a few more). There are lots of glitter polishes (happy dance) all filled up with swirls of color and flecks of sparkle.

Because these are handmade in small batches its best to either check the site often or sign up to her Face Book page for updates and notices about when the store is restocked and for new lines.

Digital Nails

“Hi! I live in sunny Austin, Texas and I love nail polish & sewing. I love microbrewed beer, Indian food and green tee shirts. I love glitter nail polish ( in blues and greens!) and I change my nail color almost every day. I draw inspiration from all things geeky – science fiction tv shows, comic books, cartoons, video games, etc. My favorite things to sew are plush creatures including monsters, cartoon characters, video game characters & items. Ya know, generally nerdy and goofy things. I love to travel and I get my inspiration from all kinds of places. I love making the world a more fun & squishy place to enjoy”

A Big Three Free, hand-cafted polish maker, DN has one of my favorite nail polishes: Leviathan based on the ship Moya from “Farscape” Its a tri-color shifting glitter that could keep a toddler distracted for hours! DN does rich, intense color polishes, most with glitter(!) inspired by Geeky things like “Doctor Who”, Sci-fi movies and other TV shows, as well as science facts and heroes.

Since DN does small batches, its best to either check the site often or sign up to her Face Book page for updates, info on new colors, and notices about when the store is restocked.

Lucky 13

“Just a few short months after my obsession with nail polish began I found that I was no longer satisfied with commercially available colors. They didn’t fit exact colors I wanted, so I decided I had to make them myself.

A bit of mixing (and quite a few failures) later and I had my first official collection. Now my head is full of ideas and not enough time to make them all! I still have a deep love for lacquer, as those of you who are my friends will know! If you check out my InsomniLacq blog you’ll see reviews of other brands and cosmetics as well as nail art and nail of the day posts (when I have time for them!)”

L13 is a Big Three Free vegan hand-crafted polish line with lovely glitters and rich colors. The different lines are inspired by some Geeky things like “Doctor Who” but also fun concepts like the current FemmeFaTeal line.

Because L13 does small batches, its best to either check the site often or sign up to her Face Book page for updates, info on new colors, and notices about when the store is restocked.

A England

“A England is the creation of Adina Bodana. … Passion and the search of quality and beauty have always been the constant in every project. … Painting her nails through the bitter sweet stages in life has been a constant moment of enjoyment and empowerment. Sometimes a way to start a conversation, then share an impression, a smile, a story.”

AE creates deep, vivid color polishes inspired by myths and legends. One of the richest most luscious purples I have is AE’s Ophelia. All their polishes are Big Three Free and cruelty free.

Sadly, for those of us in the United States there is a catch. As of January 2013, the Royal Post began enforcing a ban on the shipping of nail varnishes internationally. My shipment was among the last to be sent to the States. The company is very aware of the problem and looking at alternative options. They have a list of places where their polishes can be purchased, four of which, so far, are in the US.

Mineral Fusion

“Based in Denver, Mineral Fusion began as a mineral cosmetics brand in 2007.  Mineral Fusion is now the leading natural cosmetic brand proudly offering cosmetics that instantly improve your complexion while nourishing the skin, all while being appropriate for even the most sensitive skin types. A range of shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, body washes and a full skin care line are our latest innovations - each delivering the uniquely beneficial power of minerals to the skin.  All of our products are made in the USA and many of them are still handmade.”

I discovered MF nail polish at my local WholeFoods, completely missing the fact that they made make up and skin care (oops? I get a little distracted when it comes to color). Their polishes are Big Five free and come in a whole bunch of rich and vivid colors. I have a red from them that is to die for!

I also just discovered that they make an acetone-free polish remover that I need to try!

Water Based Polishes

I’ve only tried two brands of water based polishes so far. I have to admit, I’m not sold on water based polishes yet. The concept is great and certainly they are ideal for people who have severe allergies or sensitivities and want something to play with. With my passion for rich hues, the water based ones I’ve tried so far just havent been intense enough for me.

Piggy Paint

“Piggy Paint is a natural, eco-friendly nail polish designed for fancy girls. Its non-toxic, hypoallergenic formula makes it safe to use on all piggies.”

I love that PP polishes were created with kids in mind, all kids should get to paint their nails whenever possible! :) I have a fun green glitter from them called “Putting on the Glitz”. I know people who have had great results with PP, but I find it chips quickly which is a bummer because the color is really fun.

They have recently created a line geared toward adults called Refined with, well, more adult like colors. There’s no direct link to the company’s new line but several stores are carrying it and a few of the nail bloggers are talking about it. From the sound of things, the formula is the same water based, non-toxic blend as the kid polishes, so that’s cool.

Honey Bee Gardens 

“For those who want an alternative to solvent-based nail enamel, we’ve got the solution for you! Our unique water-based polish is free from harsh chemical odors; no more nasty fumes! But perhaps best of all, there’s also no need for toxic smelly nail polish remover – this product removes with rubbing alcohol, vodka/grain alcohol or our Nail Polish Remover! Thanks to our new patented technology, there’s nothing else like it on the market!”

When I first found HBG’s polishes their color selection was a little “normal” and “tame” lol for me – lots of pinks and neutrals. I got two of them to try and the quality is great. The colors aren’t ones I wear alot but that’s me. Going back to their site for this post, I got a lovely surprise. They now have a kick-ass looking blue and a dark maybe black, both of which I want to try!

 

There are so many more companies out there making safe nail polishes that I will probably spend years trying them all (oh darn). Let me know your favorites so I can add them to the top of my list of things to try next!

 

Next Up – Skin care!

Getting pretty without getting sick, Pt 2 – Safe and Spectacular Make Up!

When I first got sick I figured I would have to give up make up and nail polish. In fact I gave away all the nail polish I had at the time (strangely it was a lot less than I have now) but I clung to my make up. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I hoped that they would miraculously not be toxic for me, or that I would wake up one morning and not be allergic to them (don’t laugh, I’ve had that dream *sigh*) Since neither of those things happened and I got stubborn about not giving up the pretty, I had to go looking for alternatives.

Part of the research process was looking into what actually goes into most make up and nail polish (that’s what that last post was all about, its here if you missed it). Then, armed with what I didn’t want in my supplies, I started looking at what alternatives existed.

This is not a complete list of companies creating safe (or safer) cosmetics by any means. These are companies I either have personal experience with (the top bunch) or which have come highly recommend. If you know of any that are not on this list, please let me know, I’m always looking for more data :)

Make-Up companies and product recommendations – Stuff I’ve actually tried:

One note first – I am a pale skinned Western / Northern European mutt. Finding something light enough to work on my skin can have its challenges, but there are at least a bunch of options for “fish-belly-white”. Sadly most cosmetic companies are severely lacking in shades that work well for dark skin tones, or even carry enough diversity within what they call “dark” colors. Not being being able to evaluate what defines dark or light, olive or peach, I am not going to try (with one exception – take a look at Alima Pure and see what you think). I would love to add companies that do carry wider ranges of colors, so if you have experience with any, please let me know!

Tarte Cosmetics

“I set out to create a line that would prove that glamour can be good for you by pioneering the use of high-performance naturals™. Today tarte is a leader in healthy, eco-chic beauty, offering cruelty-free cosmetics infused with skinvigorating™ ingredients like superfruit and plant extracts, vitamins, minerals, essential oils and other naturally-derived ingredients. But it’s not just about what’s in our powerful formulas; it’s what’s not in them that really sets us apart! All of our products are formulated without parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate, triclosan, synthetic fragrances and gluten, just to name a few. Ingredients are absolutely important to me, but so are formulas that perform. We call it tarte 12-hour power™, but you’ll just notice it lasts. Not to mention that we’ve got budgeproof, waterproof, sweatproof, SPF and formulas with truly compelling consumer panel claims” – Company Founder Maureen Kelly

Tarte is probably my favorite safe brand of make up at the moment. I have their neutralEYES eye shadow palette volume II which I adore. It looks and feels great, Lights, Camera, Lashes mascara which is possibly one of the nicest and best mascaras I’ve ever used and glamazon™ – pure performance 12-hour lipstick, which, beyond having a kick ass name and gorgeous packaging, feels Amazing to wear! I honestly wish I didn’t have to wear a mask all the time so I could show this stuff off. To top it off, the ingredients lists are easily accessible on each product page.

Zuzu Luxe and Gabriel Color by Gabriel Cosmetics 

“Drawing from his grandmother’s homeopathic practices and teachings, Gabriel DeSantino, CEO and Founder of Gabriel Cosmetics, Inc. always believed that the sea embodies special healing and revitalizing properties. As a young child, Gabriel frequented his grandmother’s home near the coast of Mexico where he learned the significance of seaweed and kelp. As his curiosity heightened and his passion for healthy living and natural beauty developed, he knew it was his calling to bring these special properties to the forefront and become an advocate for all natural and organic beauty products. By carrying his grandmother’s wisdom for healthy alternatives as he began his beauty empire in 1992, Gabriel developed a vegan and gluten free skincare line, full of sea-derived ingredients called Gabriel Skincare. By using 100% natural ingredients including plant oils, extracts, and botanicals, his high-quality skincare products are non-allergenic and fragrance-free, consisting of a complete collection suited for every woman’s skincare needs.”

Zuzu Luxe was the first non-toxic make up brand I found and I still really like them. I have several eyeliners (and got my first liquid liner from them – the applicator rocks – though I still suck at using it) and one of my favorite lipsticks (Uber - clear with glitter!) from them.  The ingredients are listed on the product pages.

According to their FAQ Zuzu is considered to be fashion forward and have a larger range of colors than Gabriel Color while the Gabriel Color line focuses on natural/earth tones for their color palette.

Nvey Eco Pure Organic Mageup

“‘What interested me in creating NVEY ECO was the challenge to develop and bring to the world a true certified organic makeup brand that could bring to life the artistry values and styles that I had longed for during my decades in the beauty industry, combined with organic formulas that would nurture and care for my client’s skin.’ Rohan Widdison’s bold and insightful approach to makeup and organics led to the launch in 2005 of NVEY ECO. With NVEY ECO Rohan has explored and brought to light the connection and intimacy we have with fashion and nature, uncovering the signature style and techniques of NVEY ECO’s Pure Organic Makeup Artistry, that forms the style and direction of the brand. Rohan’s transformational approach to makeup and collaboration with artists has challenged the concept of cosmetics and what we believe makeup is, creating a new category for colour – Pure Organic Makeup Artistry.”

I have one of Nvey Eco’s eye shadow palettes and really like it. The color isn’t as intense as some of the more chemically processed shadows but it feels lovely and looks good. The ingredients for all their products are listed on each product page.

Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics -

Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics? What’s up with the name?
“The first step is admitting you have a problem,” says company founder David Klasfeld, “I did and the result is a line obsessively crafted from the finest ingredients possible, to celebrate the driving compulsions of makeup fanatics everywhere.”

What’s with the ‘Vegan’ thing?
In a time when many cosmetic companies make the claim that their products are “Cruelty Free” simply because Animal Testing has become unfashionable and less cost-effective, OCC felt it was necessary to raise the bar on this issue. We pledge never to use animal-derived ingredients (including Lanolin, Beeswax, Carmine and more) in our products and accessories. Beyond any personal convictions, we simply believe that it’s unnecessary, especially when there are alternatives that are just as readily available, and equally effective in the formulation of our products. Further, you need not necessarily be aligned with animal rights issues to reap the benefits of a vegan cosmetic line: animal ingredients can be amongst the most allergenic and skin reactive, and prevent makeup from being considered Kosher, Halal or otherwise compliant with various dietary (and sanitary!) regulations.”

OCC is well named :) So far I have only indulged in one of their Lip Tars (black lol) but I lust after several others. Its not your average lipstick, for one thing you apply it with a brush, but ooooh is it fun. No surprise, one of the other reasons I like them is that they have glitter in some of their mineral shadows! mmm glitter. Minerals by their nature aren’t for everyone, read the ingredients lists carefully, they are listed at the bottom of the category page.

Sweet Libertine Cosmetics

“Sweet Libertine is comprised of Sarah and Justin. Along with Sarah and Justin there is also Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, their three black cats. … Our products contain no parabens, talc, or bismuth oxychloride, which can irritate skin. I have severe sensitive skin, so I make sure I can wear my own product.”

SLC makes hand crafted geek themed mineral and glitter shadows that are rich and vibrant and filled with Fan-tastic love! (Their Firefly line is gorgeous, but sadly flies off into the stars at the end of June.) They also have bronzers and mineral veils as well as lip colors. I have DragonFly and Fascination.  I also have samples of Forever Jung and Smokey Joe and love them all lots! The colors are all gentle on my skin while still being luscious and fun to wear.

Lumikki Cosmetics

“”Lumikki” means “Snow White” in Finnish. My makeup line is inspired by fairy tales, rock and roll, fashion, style, art, languages, culture and travel. I love the Finnish language and thought “Lumikki” would be a perfect name for my makeup line!

“Lumikki cosmetics are 100% handmade, uniquely designed, created and formulated. I do everything myself– from creating the colors, designing the packaging to naming the shades. I create the colors myself, mixing products to create unique shades, finishes and textures. I am an artist and color is a strong point for me, have naturally a strong eye/instinct for color. I am passionate about art, design, fashion, style, beauty, history, culture and nature… you will see all of this reflected in Lumikki Cosmetics.

LC makes hand crafted mineral shadows in vibrant colors. I have Belly Dancer, Witches Brew and a sample of Exploding Star. They are soft and dont both my skin at all as well as being delicious fun.

Orglamix Cosmetics

“Orglamix cosmetics are free from harmful ingredients: synthetic dyes, parabens,  preservatives and free irritants like bismuth oxychloride. We encourage buyers to pay attention to the actual ingredients and read labels. Experience the Orglamix difference: zero synthetic ingredients.

“Not only do we choose the most natural and the safest ingredients, but we carefully select the source of those ingredients to ensure the purest product of the highest quality. This means triple jet milled, pharmaceutical grade minerals and pigments, as well as botanicals, antioxidants and certified organic ingredients whenever possible.”

Seriously, how could I pass up trying make up made by a company called Orglamix?  I couldn’t. In fact waaay before I understood what I could and could not wear in make up, I succumbed to the lure of this company and was very glad I did. I have several of their mineral shadows in shades from deep colors like Lavande to Fig and into lighter shades like Spark and Buttercream.

Since then the company has expanded their range and branched out from the Etsy site I first found them on to flashier company site that includes a very nice Ingredients page.

 

Companies that I haven’t tried but which have been recommend to me: 

TerraFirma Cosmetics

“We offer safer choices in beauty care products.  This means that the safety of our products range, depending on the type of product it is and the ingredients we used to make it.  This makes it so that there are safer alternatives available to meet the varying needs of our customers.  Some customer’s require highly safe products and are willing to sacrifice the function of the product to get this.  Alternatively we have products to meet
the needs of people that are not willing to sacrifice the function of a product and we offer safer alternatives to the more toxic products found on the market.  In essence, safer choices.”

Make Up – TerraFirma is a mineral’s line with two types of foundations, bronzers, blush, eye shadows, and lipsticks. They are non-toxic and the ingredients are listed on the product pages.

Face Paint – I’ve been on the hunt for stage make up to replace all the stuff I had to get rid of (both do to ingredient issues and just plain age – its been awhile) and these look good. It is paint as opposed to pressed color or pencils. It will certainly work for decorative make ups for kids and parties, beyond that? No idea at this time. The ingredients list is easy to find at the bottom of the page.

A European based company, “Lavera was ranked #1 in a study on safe cosmetics conducted by Oeko-Test Magazine, an influential consumer advocacy magazine in Germany, beating out 32 natural and mainstream manufacturers. In addition, Lavera has received more than 150 Oeko-test awards in the category “Recommended / Very Good”, more than any other manufacturer of cosmetics! The tests done by independent institutions and judges and the resulting awards prove our commitment to highest quality”
They also have a fantastic Ingredients information page telling you exactly what they will never put in their products. They carry makeup and skin care products as well as products for children and others for men.
This California based company prides itself in their commitment to organic, non-toxic quality products. “The Juice Beauty team continually searches the West Coast for the purest, most effective organic ingredients, including organic juices, aloe vera, honey, botanicals, plant oils, and raw cane sugar from farms that specialize in sustainable and organic farming. These amazing formulations are made without parabens, petroleum, propylene or butylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfates, pesticides, phthalates, artificial dyes or synthetic fragrances.”
They make skin care, make up and hair care products with ingredient lists on the product pages.
Afterglow Cosmetics focuses on offering the most natural color cosmetics on the market, free of many of the synthetic preservatives, bismuth oxychloride, petro-chemicals, synthetic dyes and fillers found in traditional cosmetics. Afterglow is a proud signer of The Breast Cancer Fund’s ‘Compact for Safe Cosmetics’, sponsored by The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.”
AG creates bio-active mineral make up with a commitment to organic and non-toxic ingredients. They have a Resources section which includes an ingredient list for all their products as well as additional information on a variety of safe cosmetics topics.
“Alima Pure was born from a place of love. Inspired by our mothers, moved by our daughters, we took our own leap of faith to express ourselves and share our joy for living with others. We believe that skin is the connection between inner and outer beauty. So why put anything on your body that won’t support whole health of mind, body and spirit? Made from the highest quality, purest mineral pigments, we craft Alima’s natural mineral make up to enhance beauty in a way that feels amazing and lets your individuality shine through. No toxic chemicals, irritants or preservatives.”
I could almost put Alima in the “tried” list because one of my housemates swears by them and they do look amazing on her. But not having personal experience with them, I’m being good and listing them here. :)
I kinda love that in their web menu, in addition to offering accessible information on their ingredients, they include “Play” which offers information about choosing colors and application.
I also have to say that they have the widest range of color for foundation of any of the safe brands I’ve seen to date. They also have a great section on “how to choose your color” that looks really good.
The company’s mission statement says: “We pledge to provide a product line that has the utmost integrity and the ability to enhance the lives of women through its effectiveness, simplicity and beauty. We believe that our activities should be governed by the requirements of our customers and our concern for the environment.”
JI offers creates all natural make up and shares makeup techniques and recommendations on their website.
Many thanks to LearnVest for their informative article “Your guide to safe, non-toxic make up” for introducing me to several new safe cosmetic companies.
Next Week – Nail Polish to live for!

Getting pretty without getting sick Pt 1 – Things to look out for

In the great adventure that is changing my wardrobe and updating my look, I realized that I needed to learn about what was in and on the things I wanted to wear.

The incident that lead to my *first* trip to the ER (and there’s a phrase I never thought I would get to say) was triggered by two factors. Doctors couldn’t tell me if one or the other did the trick and most of them assume that it was the two chemicals acting together that finally kicked my body over into anaphylaxis- the sulpha antibiotic that I had been prescribed for a persistent sinus infection and the brand new, unwashed sweatshirt I was wearing. The sulpha drug was a fluke. I’d never taken that medication before and for the three weeks prior to the ER, I had had no adverse reactions to it. Staying away from it now is pretty simple – just make sure the doctors and pharmacist know, and things are cool. The chemicals in and on the sweatshirt are another matter.

Do you remember your parents telling you to “wash your new clothes before you wear them”? I do, but I never gave it much thought. Sure, sometime clothes felt stiffer or itchy before washing but no big deal right? Turns out, no, not so right. The fabrics used to make our clothes can contain chemicals and the end products – the completed item of clothing -can contain other and/or additional chemicals. For lots of people this is no big deal (kinda, sorta) just wash before you wear and you should be fine. For people like me with allergies and sensitivities it can be down right dangerous.

“There are a couple of reasons to wash new clothes once before you wear them for the first time. One is to remove or diminish the chemical finishes that manufacturers put on clothes to make them look better, and the other is to rinse out excess dye. …  One common question that many people have at this point is, “Wouldn’t it be better if the clothing makers didn’t put any extra chemicals on new clothing?” One common reason to apply chemicals is mildew. Clothes that are made of natural fibers, such as cotton and linen, can mildew if they are exposed to moisture. Manufacturers use formaldehyde to treat clothes that have to be shipped a long way, say, from Asia to the United States, to prevent mildew.” - Why do some clothing items have a tag saying to wash the item before wearing?, TLC How Stuff Works.

“Tests at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at Exeter University in the UK and at independent accredited labs found hazardous chemicals in clothing from 20 well-known fashion brands. The tests were conducted on jeans, trousers, t-shirts, dresses and underwear designed for men, women and children and made from both artificial and natural fibers… ‘Hazardous chemicals are both incorporated deliberately within the materials or left as unwanted residues remaining from their use during the manufacturing process,’ said Greenpeace International, releasing the report.” - Greenpeace Exposes Toxic Chemicals in Fashionable Clothing, Environmental News Service.

“Most synthetic fabrics, from towels to dress shirts and bed linens, are treated with chemicals during and after processing. These chemicals not only leach into the environment, impacting groundwater, wildlife, air and soil, but they also may be absorbed or inhaled directly.” - Consumers Beware: Toxins Lurking in Your Clothing!, TotalHealth Magazine

There is good news however, some companies are paying attention and making changes for the better. ”Swedish retailer and fashion company H&M Group is pledging to stop the use of toxic chemicals -  it will not use perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in any items it buys after January 1, 2013, following its early move to eliminate other chemicals from its products. …PFCs are often used as a water repellant to protect against stains, usually on outer garments, shower curtains, tents and other fabrics that often encounter moisture. They have been shown to be toxic in laboratory animals and tend to accumulate in bodies over time, causing reproductive and developmental problems.” - Big Retailer Bans PFC Chemicals in Clothing, Sustainable Business News. In addition the Sustainable Apparel Coalition has been created “to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products sold around the world by establishing an industry-wide index for measuring and evaluating apparel and footwear product sustainability.” - New Sustainable Apparel Coalition Will Index Consumer Products, Sustainable Business News.

 

Of course chemicals are not limited to our clothes, they are in our make up, nail, hair, and skin care as well.

Many of the popular name-brand make up and nail polish products are filled with toxins that aren’t spectacular for anyone but will make people like me sick just opening the packages. But saying I wanted healthier products didn’t get me safe stuff because in the beginning I had no idea what constituted “safe cosmetics”.

“Some of the ingredients in beauty products aren’t that pretty. U.S. researchers report that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors. Many products include plasticizers (chemicals that keep concrete soft), degreasers (used to get grime off auto parts), and surfactants (they reduce surface tension in water, like in paint and inks). Imagine what that does to your skin, and to the environment.”The Dirty Dozen, David Suzuki Foundation

With the important exception of color additives that are not coal-tar hair dyes, cosmetic ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority. However, regulations prohibit the use of some substances and restrict the use of others because of safety concerns or environmental factors. Violating the restrictions on the use of these substances may cause FDA to pursue regulatory action.” - Ingredients Prohibited & Restricted by FDA Regulations (emphasis added) 

Natural Skin Care Concepts blog has a useful infographic of chemicals  to look out for and where they can be found.

You know that smell you put up with when you do your nails? Yep, some of it comes from toxic chemicals (of course even some of the “non-toxic” polishes stink – just ask my husband). I thought for the longest time I was going to have to give up nail polish completely because it made me so sick to use. Luckily there are companies who are aware of the toxins that cause problems and don’t use them. The Big Three to look out for are Formaldehyde, Toluene and Dibutyl phthalate. Some companies have also gone so far as to take out gluten, only use vegan products, and do no animal testing.

“Formaldehyde, which is used as a preservative in nail polish, is known to cause cancer, asthma and skin problems in large enough doses, according to the state toxic substance department. Toluene, which helps create a smooth look and clear colors in polishes, can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and short-term memory loss, and it can harm fetuses and cause miscarriages. Dibutyl phthalate, which gives polishes a hard but flexible finish, has been associated with reproductive problems and birth defects even in very low doses.”. – Study finds hazardous chemicals in some nail polish published in SF gate April 11, 2012

Of course in the hunt for safe products I ran into a lot of companies proclaiming their products to be all natural or to use natural ingredients. Yeaaaaah, right. Just like when buying things that say “scent free” you sometimes end up with perfume added because of weird rules and lack of regulation about what “scent”, “fragrance” and “perfume” can all mean, there are all kinds of “natural” products that can be included in make up without being good for us.

“Read the Label - Every makeup product has a list of ingredients, and there are a few red flags that should make you think twice about buying that mascara. Namely, ingredients like “phthalate,” “sulfate,” “paraben,” “triclosan” or “toluene,” listed as either a stand-alone ingredient, or as part of a longer-named ingredient, means you can be sure this product isn’t safe for your health, no matter how natural it claims to be. For more details on how to tell green from “greenwashing”—a phenomenon in which companies trump up their green claims with false labeling—read our post on the subject.”Your Guide to Safe, Non-toxic Make Up, LearnVest 

Myth – Natural and organic products are always safer. Fact – Products labeled natural or organic often contain synthetic chemicals, and even truly natural or organic ingredients are not necessarily risk-free. The global, plant-based pharmaceutical market, valued at $19.5 billion in 2008, relies on the ability of “natural” chemicals – like those used in some natural cosmetics – to significantly alter body functions, a far cry from innocuous (BCC Research 2006, 2009). On the other hand, products labeled “organic” or “natural” can contain petrochemicals and no certified organic or natural ingredients whatsoever. Products certified as organic can contain as little as 10% organic ingredients by weight or volume (Certech 2008). FDA tried establishing an official definition for the term “natural,” but these protections were overturned in court (FDA 1998). Research shows that 35 percent of children’s products marketed as “natural” contain artificial preservatives (EWG 2007a).”Myths on cosmetics safety by the Environmental Working Group

There are two online databases you can use to check out ingredients and their problems. EWG maintains Skin Deep - a cosmetics database you can search through  to look up ingredients and see their Hazard Score. Good Guide evaluates make up, skin care and most any other kind of household product for not just its chemical hazard level but also by a company’s level of social responsibility.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website has Whats in Your Product? a collection of articles and links detailing the various issues with ingredients in cosmetics as well as an FAQ section with addition information and the ability to ask them your own questions.

Not only is all this stuff in our clothing and cosmetics, but the companies using them don’t want us to know about them. One of the first things I discovered in researching non-toxic cosmetics was that if it was hard to find the ingredients list, I was probably not going to like what was in it. Companies who have done the work to craft non-toxic products are proud of that fact and want us to know that they are doing it, so they make it simple to find the information about what they put in their cosmetics.

When dealing with our health and well being, knowledge is definitely power.

Next week – Pt 2 – Safe and Spectacular Make Up!

On Silence

I went to see the ENT (aka the Ear, Nose and Throat doctor) recently to have my throat checked after my adventures with pneumonia and the intubation tube. I had been warned that sometimes when the tube is pulled out (by wigged out patients like me) one can do damage, up to an including paralyzing ones vocal cords. Being friends with a ton of performers means I got harped at to go make sure I didn’t do any damage.
The good news was that there is no damage. My throat and my vocal cords are fine. The bad news is they are all over taxed and need some time off, so I got put on vocal rest for at least two weeks. Me, miss chatter box. Yeah… this just became a life lesson.

I did pretty well actually the first week. I carried around a pad of paper and pen at first to write notes and then when that got old, hunted up a white board app for my iPad which works reasonably well. I used both nearly all the time, with only a few slips. I learned to knock or snap to get peoples attention and bang on walls to reply from a distance to simple questions. My husband and I even had a few really cool conversations about normal life stuff with him talking and me writing. All cool.

Then this week happened. I don’t know what is going on but I cant seem to keep my mouth shut. I’m even reading things out loud – its like I *need* to hear my own voice. Its really weird. I keep replying to peoples questions with real words and joining into conversations verbally. My youngest son has been on my case about it for several days now trying to remind me that my time was almost up – My two weeks ends Saturday or Wednesday depending on how I choose to measure things. I had to point out to him that with all the talking I have been doing it is more likely that I will need to go longer – kind of like when he doesn’t do his homework. Its not that it goes away, the work is still there, its just been put off.

So, here I am, a week plus into my two weeks of vocal rest. Every time I talk my throat gets sore, yet I keep talking this week.
I decided it was time to try another approach. I dug into NineSisters fu and wouldn’t you know, I just happened to have a candle for Crone-Mother – the last of the Mothers in the cycle – who also happens to be ‘Silence’ in that work. (You can read more about NineSisters, the work Scott and I created a while back, over here) ((This is why I occasionally think the gods are either ganging up on me or mocking me… I’m never sure which but since the eventual outcome tends to work in my favor I usually just grumble under my breath and go along with the feeling of being a cat-toy.))

I lit the Silence candle and settled into do some meditating.

Apparently I am a little rusty.

My head was filled with a million thoughts and buzzing with noise. It took forever for me to settle down into something that looked and felt like meditative work but once I did I finally got the memo that this was a beginning, not the end point. I am rusty. I have let my meditation work slide in the face of all the noise and fear of being sick and trying to learn how to heal. For a time just focusing on the healing work was enough, but now its not. Now its time for me to find a new ground and reconnect to the work I know.

It was not what I expected at all from the meditation. To be honest I was kind of hoping for a grand light bulb kind of moment of insight about what silence and not talking means and why I am having to deal with it at all. Figures that’s not what I got. What I did get was an amazing sense of peace. I felt better when I was done, less scattered and more – well dare I say it? Grounded. I also felt able to be quiet, able to not speak. I didn’t feel the fear of isolation that had been pushing at me for the last few days, driving me to talk and connect with sound instead of ink and pixels.

So, yeah, a start.

Learning to shop less and love more

Wish Father Altar 2008

I used to be one of those people who went whole hog at Christmas time. I’d buy everyone I knew a present whether I had the money to spend or not. I’d adjust my bill payments till I had squeezed my bank account for that extra penny and pushed my check book to its limits. I didn’t care. Christmas was for SHOPPING and sharing love with people. Of course somewhere along the lines I mixed up things and love but whatever.

Skip ahead a couple of years to me getting married and inheriting two kids (yup I got three guys with my marriage how cool is that?).

Me and my two little boys at the wedding

The husband and I are both pagan and both strong believers in making the world a better place for everyone by starting with cleaning up our own crap first. This apparently meant we got to work on our issues around Christmas together. The first year we were together we did the whole “if I give you a present you must know I love you and you must love me back” thing. We swore up and down the aisles of Toys R Us that we were fine with what we were doing and how much we were spending. But wouldn’t you know it, when Christmas morning rolled around and our offerings were not mirrored back at us our resolve crumbled. We swore never to do that again! Yeah. Right. It took a few years but things did get better.

Now add those kids back in, the ones the husband came with. For the first few years of our relationship the kids were living with their grandmother and we had them on the weekends. That was pretty cool, and a whole other blog post about the differences between part time and full time parenthood. After the wedding we had them 24/7, which means we had them for Christmas, that’s when life really got interesting.

My husband and I were both raised in households that were only sort of religious and predominantly Christian, so we both had the basics of Christmas as part of our cultural and spiritual histories. In both our cases our parents are open and welcoming of our pagan beliefs so there’s never been a problem talking with them about our practices or our choices. It’s more the noise that many people who are not Christian deal with around this time of year when so much of the Western world is focused on this one holiday. Add to this the fact that Wicca and Paganism share a number of symbols and mythic elements with Christmas (and no, I am so not getting into the discussion of which ones and who got what from where) and things start to get pretty muddy.

As Pagan parents, my husband and I have always tried to include our children in as many of our Sabbat rituals as possible. They have celebrated Imbolc with us and been wrapped in hugs by Brigid, welcomed the spring with Ostara, helped danced the May Pole at Beltane, laughed with their father when he and our High Priest were the very sill priests for our Summer Solstice ritual, helped act our the story of John Barley Corn, enjoyed the harvest from our garden at our harvest feast and learned about divination at Samhain. And of course they have been to coven Yule where they got to dance a Mummers Play and exchanged gifts along with everyone else at the party. All those celebrations were easy compared to celebrating that holiday with presents under the tree and the jolly fat man in the red suit. We wanted the holiday to have meaning for us as Pagans and for the kids as kids, but the kids had picked up as much Christmas as we had, so they were expecting Santa Claus and baby Jesus. As a compromise we tried, once and only once, to do the whole present opening thing on Yule itself instead of Christmas day. That worked. Sort of. And yeah we did have Chinese food for dinner on December 25th.

In the long run though, my husband and I chose to stick with celebrating on December 24/25th but with a twist. At our house we get a visit from Santa’s magical cousin Wish Father.

Odin plaque by Paul Borda

The whole Wish Father thing came about because both my husband and I, while wiccan trained, are also Norse leaning pagans. Wish Father is a use-name for Odin who is the All Father and High Lord of the Norse Gods. Now I know some people see him as an unholy terror, and I admit he can be a pain in the arse, but he is not only a military god, he is also a god of magic, of knowledge and travel, of leadership, and though he’ll protest for the sake of it, of tricks and trickery. As Wish Father he is the one who brings us our dreams and wishes, so he’s the perfect guest on a cold winter’s night. Now-a-days many people see Thor as connected to Santa or Saint Nick because of the red suit and the beard and thick stature, but Thor isn’t a god of magic or dreams. He’s a good god, but he’s more about protection and straightforward action that gets the job done. If you want someone sneaking in your house late at night to leave something shiny and rare under your tree, then the god you want is Odin. So, Odin = Wish Father.

Presents under the tree 2006

In our house the tradition is that the kids set out a plate of cookies for Wish Father and carrots for the reindeer and beer for Wish Father (because really milk for a Norse god?). Then they leave him a note. They ask him questions about his year or his trip or just say hi and thanks for the presents. Then it’s off to bed.

Bottle of Beer and Plate of goodies for Wish Father 2006

Now the trick with Wish Father is something that has taken me most of my life to learn. Wish Father is like every other spiritual power we bring into our lives in ritual. He is a god that we host or trance or whatever word you wish to use. He doesn’t have a physical form or voice, so he borrows ours. This is part of the magic. As the parents, we offer our energy to the god to allow Him to come through us and gift our children and ourselves with a bit of fairy dust and dreams because we all have a right to beauty. We carry this idea through to the Wish Father presents as well. In our house each person gets only one Wish Father presents each year. For the kids there are two presents. The first gift is a stuffed animal that appears on their beds sometime in the middle of the night wrapped with a bow or ribbon. They know its from Wish Father because… well because when we first started this tradition we all got stuffies and made a big deal about the stuffed animals turning up and not being from us, so now the kids look for them. The second present is under the tree and is always something truly special, usually something “spendy” or “big” feeling. Something we really want and wouldn’t just buy for ourselves. It might seem a little frivolous to someone else, but to the person getting it, the present is a wish fulfillment. So no clothes unless that’s what the person really really wants, and then it has to be something completely awesome.

The remains of Wish Father’s snack (and a stack of Wish Father presents – they were small but mighty that year) 2005

Once the kids are off to sleep, my husband and I pull out the special Wish Father paper. This paper is completely different from all the other wrapping paper in the house, it’s usually metallic or iridescent or glittery or all of the above. Whatever it is has to be spectacular. It is only used for the Wish Father presents. As a final touch, all the other presents we get each other are wrapped in normal “plain” holiday paper and have to be under the tree before the kids are in bed. Since my husband is the better wrapper of the two of us, he does all the presents except his own (I get to wrap his!) while I write out the labels in my best Wish Father formal handwriting.

Stack of Wish Father presents 2008

Next we eat our way through the cookies and carrots, being sure to leave teeth marks in a couple of the carrot stubs and cookie crumbs as evidence. The hubby drinks the beer and responds to the kid’s letter on behalf of Wish Father while I fill the stockings.

Then we sleep, like every other exhausted parent on Christmas Eve.

Somewhere after 7:00 am and before Noon, breakfast happens. My kids are sweet and, thank the gods, not morning children. My husband, however, is. This works in my favor though because it means he makes breakfast! So with breakfast in hand we all gather around the tree and scope out the additions from Wish Father. The new presents are always set out a little apart from the others. Its not like you could miss them with their amazing wrapping paper, but Wish Father still wants to make certain we see them I guess. Wish Father’s presents are the first ones that we open, and then the ripping and tearing continues as normal.

The boys Yule morning with their Wish Father Stuffies 2005

In raising two children, and figuring out how I wanted to explain this crazy thing called the winter holidays to them, it seems I have finally managed to grow up a bit and learn a thing or two about what it is to share love, not just money. As corn-ball as that might sound, it’s absolutely true. When my kids come up blank about what to get each other for gifts or for their assortment of grandparents, I remind them that all anyone really wants is to know that they are thought of with love and kindness. I think 15 plus years of repeating this must be wearing off on me. This year we have the fewest presents ever under the tiniest tree ever and the stockings are nearly barren, but I really don’t mind so much. I have my two amazing kids and my awesome husband. I have friends and family who love me just as I am – glitter and silliness and all. Really, what else do I need for Yule-Solstice-Christmas-Kwanzaa-Hanukkah-Hogmanay-Twelfth Night?

This years tree, stockings and Wish Father altar all in one. Small but sweet!

May your holidays be blessed with glitter and love and may Wish Father bring you your hearts desire.

Blessings,

Kate

All Ceramics All the time… er… sort of?

Happy Lammas, Happy Samhain and Happy T-day (I think that covers all the holidays I have missed while life has had me tied in knots… sorry about that!)

I have been a ceramics making fool! I am in coming to the end of my second semester at the community college and still love the work. I am now signed up for a beginning ceramics sculpture class so I can get some techniques I feel like I am missing, but in the mean time I have been having a blast experimenting with blending clays together within the same piece. You can see three of the most success pieces to date over in the gallery now and over at my shop on Artfire.com.

A couple of the experiments that I am keeping for myself and friends include an amazing number of pieces for Hella – funny that. I have five or six more piece still to come including a mermaid statue that I am really hoping turns out well (I should know next week when she comes out of the glaze kiln).

A square bowl for Hella

- Black Mountain and Porcelain with Cinnamon chips, Sapphire glaze, hand built, fired to cone 10

Odd Pot

- Black Mountain and Porcelain, Sapphire glaze, hand built, fired to cone 10

Hella Votive Figure

- Black Mountain and Porcelain, Satin Crackle glaze, hand built, fired to cone 10

Every piece needs a cat for perspective… at least according to Shadow…

Hella Offering Bowl

- Black Mountain and Porcelain, no glaze, hand built using a mold, fired to cone 10

This one is already set up on my Hella altar in the back yard :)

Ceramics Part 2 – the projects come home!

Well my first ceramics class is complete! It was amazing and exhausting and wonderful. I met incredible people, got to talk “shop”, and play with dirt! I’m all signed up to do it again in the fall. With a longer running semester the classes are only two days a week and three hours a day (instead of four and start at 1 pm) so I am hoping to get to keep a few more spoons this time around. I already have plans (and two orders!) for things I want to make, a few things that I want to test and an idea for a VERY long term project that would be part installation and part ritual *grin* color me ecstatic!

But first – the rewards of five long weeks of work – shiny stuff!

The odd things first:

My candle holder thing is MUCH prettier with glaze – a nice dark blue, as is the weird plant/frog holder thing that will live in my backyard for the moss to grow on. It got a green celedon glaze with a splash of rutile blue for accenting. Inside I placed a couple of glass pebbles – those melted and then cracked during firing creating a still water effect.

The three pinch pots did exactly what I hoped they would and darkened up nicely. The Black Mountain clay comes out a lovely dark chocolate and the Rods Bod looks like warmly toasted stone ground wheat. I did discover that I hadn’t applied enough white slip to the black piece so the streaks where I missed are noticeable. A good thing for me to remember. Working with clay and the glazes takes a hell of a lot more patience that I normally have, and the glaze process in particular is bloody repetitive! ugh. but… its worth it in the end.

The other pinch pot I did everyone seems to like – I think it looks like the closest thing to an “ashtray” of all the things I made. You know what I mean… that “thing” you made in elementary school ceramics by squishing the clay around with your hands and then handing it to one of your parents with great pride. When they asked you what the lumpy thing (painted pink or glazed lemon yellow no doubt) was you proudly declared “An Ashtray!” even if your parents didn’t smoke? yeah… that project.  Well its not quite elementary school work, but I of course see all the lumps and bumps and think its fugly. I’m pondering giving it to my dad for Yule as an “ashtray” (even though he quit smoking more than 20 years ago – I think he would get the joke).It was the other “patience” teacher. Again, I thought i had painted on enough colored slip along the vines, but after firing it was clear that was not the case. Ah well.

Of the plate / bowls I made The seashell one seems to generate the most interest. The crack I was worried about did seal up, but the seam is rather evident, so to solve that I am going to get help epoxying (no breathing in THOSE fumes for me) a set of shells / beads / pears – things over the seam. I figure it will look a bit like a waterfall or a treasure trove when we get done with it, so that should be cool. The black glaze worked perfectly, so once the seam is no longer an issue I will indeed have a lovely scrying bowl. I’m looking forward to testing it out.

The Demeter bowl turned out incredibly cool, though vastly different than I expected. Apparently one of the things that can happen during high fire is that clay can bounce back into a shape you pulled it into or out of, even if you have bisqued it already. The heat of high fire picks up the “muscle memory” of the clay and enhances it. Taking the bowl of the plaster mold I was a little rougher than I should have been and now we can see that – the bowl is warped. Along with the kind of patina quality of the green glaze gives the bowl a very archaic feel. I looks like something from an ancient temple – that alone is cool. Not exactly what I was expecting, but interesting none the less – and Demeter seems pleased, so its all good.

The Brigid plate suffered from “end of the semester” rush and a crack in the edge. Because of this I couldn’t put it through the high fire process so the distinction between the Cinnamon and Rods Bod clays is barely visible. It’s still lovely, but again not quite what I was going for. I did a simple clear glaze over the plate which worked nicely to enhance the two colors and make the plate food safe at the same time. That’s going to live in our temple for coven work.

And last, but hardly least… the Tree. (OH MY GODS) um.. yeah… to say it worked would be a bit of an understatement. I am hopelessly in love with how it turned out, plotting more trees and have been given the (squeal) of approval for the work by the client it is going to. All is VERY very right in this artists world.

Now that class is over and the tree is complete, its time to start working on the doll that goes with the tree. Mmmm… tattooed, long haired, pretty Norse God… one of my favorite people/gods to work with!

Ceramics, the beginning of the results

So Ceramics, the new and utter love of my life, let me show you it :)

As of today’s nearly six hour marathon session of work (yes, we are all crazy) all but two of my piece are now glazed.  The last two pieces were snuck into a last minute bisque fire run, so they will be ready to play with next week.

Over the past month I have made eleven pieces. One of the pieces is part of a commission for a doll I am working on – Frey, the Norse God of wealth, growth and a whole lot of other lovely stuff. As part of his design he gets to lean up against the World Tree, or at least the lower part of the world tree, and I get to make it – or rather I have made it – out of clay.  I also made a bowl with wheat pressed into its sides for Demeter, a strange Seashell type bowl, a bowl for Brigid made out of two types of clay and an offering “thing” made up of the scraps from that bowl, three pinch pots that proved to me I have studied a lot of of anthropology, archeology and art history, a weird “Yes, this is my first ceramics project in years” thing which just missed being an ash tray by a few inches, and two other …er… experiments.

Pictures-

The Tree and the Demeter bowl are both in the kiln RIGHT NOW!! (top shelf near the back in front of and next to the yellow and red figure) see – I have proof:

The three pinch pots are also in there somewhere. Those I did out of two different kinds of clay – the class standard Rods Bod, which is gray when we work with it and ends up kind of grainy and earth like after all the firings, and Black Mountain which looks just like it sounds, a nice rich black – no glaze, just colored slip on the lower half of each (white on the Black Mountain one, black on the two Rods Bod ones so they look like mirror opposites) and the natural clay as is. I’m really looking forward to seeing how those turn out.

Frey’s Tree is a huge project but so much fun! I had to scale it to match the doll and then increase *that* to account for the natural shrinkage that occurs in the drying and firing process. It started out 10 inches tall, and completely circular – just a slab of Black Mountain clay pressed to the inside of a bucket.

Once the form was dry enough to get out of the bucket, I cut it in half and stacked the two pieces one on top of the other to get a full 20 inches of height. Then I got to play! I added the roots and veining to the front of the tree and a shelf (for stability and offerings) to the back all with more Black Mountain. When one of my cohorts in crime at class asked if I wanted any of her trimmings (from her thrown pots) I grabbed them up and used them as “bark” along the veins. Conveniently she and our other cohort were working in both the BM and a lovely rusty colored clay so I could do two tones for more fun and effects.

Here’s the tree just after bisque fire (the first and longest of the firing processes, this dries the clay out completely and starts the molecular change that gives us stoneware)  – a little shorter (by one inch – for a total of three inches down since I started) and a whole light lighter in color – don’t worry it will darken back up in the next firing!

Here is the tree nearly done with glazing – it looks odd – the “pink” will turn yellowish brown, the “green” will go black/green, and the black will actually be brown/black – all the changes are because of a. it’s glaze and fracking weird (yes the painter in me is twitching) b.on top of the Black Mountain clay which is seriously DARK it will all go shades darker than it would on a lighter clay and c. it all depends on how many coats you apply so I played that up and did very thick in some areas for the green, so it will look like moss, and very thick with the black in the hallow/burned out section so it will look… well… burned out, and then lighter in other areas to keep the darkness of the clay from getting overwhelmed. We shall see if my evil plot worked. Since this is hire fire glaze, there will be some melting and mixing going on as well – I just have no idea how much… which is half the fun or half the terror depending on my mood. lol

Other pictures…

The Demeter Bowl

The first image is of the clay drying over the mold. The next two are once it was bone dry and ready for the Bisque fire showing the wheat pressed into the outside and the center of the inside.

The Demeter bowl after Bisque firing.

The wheat has burned off (I REALLY should have taken a picture of the ashy wheat before I brushed it out, that was gorgeous – nearly white and still clinging to the shape of the stalks, but truly just ash. So cool!)  Now you can see the depression left by the wheat…  This clay will also darken up. It’s freaky though looking at it at this stage (the lighting here doesn’t do the color justice)- it’s nearly a pale salmon color instead of the gray it was when working or the kind of “stone ground wheat” look it is supposed to get after the next firing.

And inside the bowl- My brilliant plan worked! - the wheat that I taped onto the mold just before I draped the slabbed clay over it stayed in place and now shows up perfectly in the center.

I didn’t take any pictures of the bowl after I painted it because our Kiln Master was rushing to get the kiln loaded and had a space waiting for it and because really it looks silly at this stage. The wheat which I painted with a yellow looks pink, and the rest of the bowl which is in the same black to green (that’s its name, I swear) I used on the tree is supposed to come out somewhere along the forest green end of the spectrum currently looks like a pastel mint. UGLY! lol. It should be stellar when its done firing though.

The Sea Shell bowl
This is a bit of an experiment. I was going to do another pressed piece like the Demeter bowl, but was so intrigued by the way the clay over hug the mold that I started playing with its shape and well… things just sort of went from there. Here it is at bone dry – ready for bisque fire.

Sadly the shape itself has caused some problems. Two cracks formed as it was drying. I repaired them, but one reopened during the bisque fire which meant I couldn’t do any high fire  – aka *glass* glazes on it. They would just get into the crack and split the thing down the middle. Instead, on our teachers recommendation, I patched the crack again with underglaze and then painted with more low fire underglaze. It will have a very different look and feel from the high fire work, but still incredibly cool (if it doesn’t just blow up on me as it fires)  I was rushing to get out of the studio and didn’t take any pictures of the finished glaze work, so you will have to imagine the inside as solid black which will be glossy, and the outside a mix of black and blue sponged off – really just a very light tinting of color and matte finish. If it all works out I think it will make a very nice scrying bowl!

More pictures once everything is out of the kilns and shiny!