When I see neroli oil (Citrus aurantium) listed as an essential oil ingredient in any product or mixture, I immediately think of bright flowers and exotic, sweet, calming fragrances. Doubly alluring as the oil itself is the unique way neroli oil is produced: acquired from bitter orange tree blossoms through water distillation. Pale yellow in color and similar in scent to bergamot and lime, neroli essential oil is used in facial toners for its antibacterial and emollient properties. Toners and facial products with neroli oil have also been used to fade acne scars, cleanse skin and improve skintone. Neroli oil’s distinct aroma and therapeutic effects have also been used as an anti-depressant and aromatherapy tool to calm anxiety.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had a love for mushrooms. While many people can’t stand the thought of eating mushrooms–my boyfriend blames the texture, a few of my friends can’t wrap their heads around eating “fungi”, I can’t get enough of these forest fixtures. Their varying textures, shape, smells, and even the way they grow in nature has fascinated me. My tongue begins to water when I think of the delicious traditional Chinese soups featuring savory mushroom bits that my mother and grandmother always made for me.
And what about a mushroom’s health benefits? Oh boy, don’t get me started! Ganederma lucidum, the Reishi mushroom (in Japanese) or “ling zhi” in Chinese, is the specific, iconic “red” mushroom most commonly used and commercially cultivated in East Asia and North America. Reishi mushroom is the most respected medicinal mushroom in Asia.
“Reishi mushroom is a fungus that some people describe as “tough” and “woody” with a bitter taste. The fruiting body (above-ground part) and mycelium (filaments connecting a group of mushrooms) are used as medicine.” (5)
In Ancient China, the reishi mushroom was revered by royalty as it was thought to be the “mushroom of immortality” and also used to help promote tranquility, thoughtfulness, and to improve memory. This type of mushrooms were also considered special for their unique and beautiful appearance; “Deep reddish brown and saucer-shaped, often emerging from a branch-like stem, its smooth upper surface looks lacquered when wet.” (2)
Often grown on old or dead tree trunks, reishi mushrooms were also traditionally ingested to prevent fatigue, asthma, insomnia, and cough. Disregarding its supposed mystical quality, the health-promoting effects of the reishi mushroom still plays an central role in the traditional medical systems of China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries. These health benefits have made using reishi mushroom popular within many Western medical and health communities.
“The active constituents are thought to include both beta-glucan polysaccharides and triterpenes.” (4)
“Reishi mushroom contains chemicals that seem to have a variety of potentially beneficial effects, including activity against tumors (cancer) and beneficial effects on the immune system.” (5)
Known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, reishi mushrooms help boost the immune system and is commonly used for reducing stress and preventing fatigue. It is often used to treat viral infections like the flu and lung diseases like bronchitis and asthma. There are also many claims that reishi mushrooms can prevent and aid in the abatement of many serious diseases. Many believe that reishi mushrooms can abate the effects of kidney disease, heart disease (including high blood pressure and high cholesterol), liver disease, and cancer. It has also been used for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, altitude sickness, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), insomnia, stomach ulcers, poisoning, and herpes pain.
These health benefits also contribute to positive aspects when used in skincare products. The ganodermic acid and ling zhi-8 protein within Reishi mushrooms are said to contribute in aiding and maintaining the skin’s health, vitality, and youthful appearance. Reishi mushroom in skincare products is also beneficial in reducing inflammation, prevent skin damage from free radicals, and promote skin cell regeneration.
Today, reishi mushroom can be most commonly found as an extract, supplement or as an added ingredient. It was traditionally ingested in teas or infusions but can now be found added in everything from chocolate bars, candy, energy drinks, or skincare products.
“Some experts believe that Ganoderma lucidum promotes longevity and maintains vitality of the human body. Reishi’s major benefit appears to be its immunomodulating action, improvement of liver function, and improvement and restoration of the normal functions of the respiratory system. Antioxidant effects, which contribute to the overall well-being of patients, have been proposed.” (1)
If this specific fungi can improve one’s health in so many ways, perhaps the ancient Chinese were onto something with their claims that this fungi provides the key to immortality.
Have you ever tried any products containing reishi mushroom in them? What are your thoughts on this ingredient?
Some natural and organic beauty products containing reishi mushroom that have caught my eye:*100% Pure- Purist, Mushroom & Peptides Firming + Antiwrinkle Eye Cream, $55*Antipodes- Immortal SPF 15 Face & Body Moisturizer, $48.80*CV skinlabs- Body Repair Lotion, $36*Foraged Fields- Face Cream, $15*ForestFloor- Reishi Mushroom Wound Repair, $12*LuLu & Max- Face Lift Cream, $28*ReturnToTheRoots- Organic Reishi Mushroom Forest Lip Balm Salve, $4*Tela Beauty Organics- Balance Shampoo, $36
I’ve been trying out some new natural skincare products lately. As always, I was skeptical of the claims that the products were totally natural because of some confusing, uncommon ingredients I needed to look-up first. To me, potassium sorbate just sounded a bit suspicious. So what is it and is it really a “natural” ingredient?
Potassium sorbate is a chemical compound produced as a result of a chemical reaction between potassium hydroxide and sorbic acid. It is the potassium salt of sorbic acid, a naturally occurring antimicrobial compound used as a preservative.
“Potassium sorbate is a salt of sorbic acid which is naturally found in some fruits” 
This compound appears as a white or white-yellowish crystalline powder whose slightly high acidic nature accounts for its antimicrobial properties.
Potassium sorbate is commonly used as a preservative in food products due to its ability to inhibit microbial growth thus reducing the risk of disease and increasing shelf life of food items. Food items such as “dairy products, baked goods, beverages, cured fish and meats, vegetable and fruits as well as confections” are products for which potassium sorbate is often used. Potassium sorbate also plays a role in the production of wine. After the fermentation process, active yeast still exists within the wine. Potassium sorbate is added to keep the wine’s flavor and body as well as to inhibit further yeast growth.
Within personal care products, potassium sorbate can be found in many shampoos, conditioners, lotions and cosmetics to prevent the growth of molds and fungi and to extend shelf life.
Regarding industrial uses, potassium sorbate is also used in improving the gloss of certain coatings, in manufacturing lubricants and plasticizers as well as perfects the milling characteristics of rubber. Potassium sorbate is inexpensive to produce, is easily metabolized by the human body, doesn’t accumulate in the body or environment and has a low toxicity in humans.
Through extensive testing and studies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has deemed potassium sorbate safe for use as a food preservative. There have been many concerns regarding potassium sorbate yet most studies found that the only legitimate health concern is rare allergic reaction or sensitivity resulting in migraines or diarrhea.
“Some sites express concern that potassium sorbate might be carcinogenic, neurotoxic, or an endocrine disruptor. However,[…] according to an exhaustive review published in the International Journal of Toxicology, the findings reveal: Potassium sorbate, at concentrations up to 10%, is practically non-irritating to the eye and only slightly irritating to skin. Potassium sorbate has been tested for mutagenic effects[…]The weight of evidence indicates that it is not mutagenic. Potassium sorbate at 0.1% in the diet or 0.3% in drinking water for up to 100 weeks was not carcinogenic. No developmental effects have been observed. Formulations containing up to 0.5% were not significant primary or cumulative irritants and not sensitizers. Currently, the legitimate health concern with this ingredient is a rare allergic reation or sensitivity (that could lead to migraines or diarrhea). But even that type of reaction can vary from formulation to formulation, so some products might cause irritation, while others don’t.” 
The EWG’s Skin Deep database ranks potassium sorbate with a score of 3 due to data gaps and the evidence that it may produce organ system toxicitiy (non-reproductive) and is a human skin toxicant or allergen.
“Potassium sorbate is well-tolerated in most people, being easily metabolized. Allergic reactions are rare.” 
As always, maintain extra care or caution if you are using skincare or other personal care products with potassium sorbate especially if you have sensitive skin. I choose to use certain products with naturally-derived preservatives because I believe that to a certain point, there is a need to keep products safe and bacteria-free.
I think The Honest Company’s explanation for using potassium sorbate and other natural preservatives says it best:
“Most personal care products are made with a lot of water and a variety of nutrients (consider all of the natural oils and botanicals in Honest products!) which makes an incredibly hospitable breeding ground for microorganisms. What’s worse – the product might smell and look just fine, but be swarming with bacteria or fungi that are dangerous to your health. Effective preservatives are vital for ensuring safety!” 
Do you use any products that contain potassium sorbate? What is your opinion on preservatives or alternative preservatives?
Image source: Epochemical
I’ve seen this ingredient listed in a few natural products before and I’ve always been curious due to its complex name, what exactly is bismuth oxychloride?
Used in cosmetics since the time of the ancient Egyptians, bismuth oxychloride is a pearly, white pigment used to give products a lustrous, iridescent sheen and also used because of its fine, powdery texture that adheres well to skin. You can find bismuth oxychloride in many mineral-based makeup products today like face powders, eye shadows and even in nail polish.
“Bismuth oxychloride was permanently listed by the FDA as a coloring agent in 1977 and as a synthetic ingredient.” -Paula’s Choice
Bismuth oxychloride is an inorganic compound of bismuth, which is found naturally in the rare mineral, bismoclite. While bismuth occurs naturally in bismoclite, the rare number of these minerals presents a production challenge. “To create the high amounts of bismuth needed by U.S. manufacturers, bismuth is also produced as a by-product from refining lead, tin, copper, silver, and gold ores. Once separated from these elements, it has to go through a long process of refining to make it safe for use in cosmetics.” (Source: Annmarie Gianni Skincare)
To get a little more technical, bismuth oxychloride is created by combining bismuth, which is also a by-product of lead and copper metal refining, with chloride (chlorine compound) and water.
There are many claims that bismuth oxychloride is a more natural, pure and healthier alternative to using talc, however, bismuth oxychloride seldom occurs in nature due to it’s inorganic origins. Bismuth oxychloride is also heavier and more brittle than talc.
Some concerns for using bismuth oxychloride in cosmetics and personal care products are largely that it is a skin irritant. Many people, especially those with sensitive skin, react to bismuth oxychloride due to its crystalline chemical structure which can poke at skin and get stuck in pores. Itching, rashes, blackheads, whiteheads, postules and even cystic acne may result.
“This ingredient requires a lot of refining to get rid of traces of lead. In the U.S., cosmetics have to meet certain standards for bismuth [oxy]chloride, but in other countries, those regulations may not be as strict, which increases the risk of bismuth oxychloride that may be contaminated with potentially toxic ingredients.” -Annmarie Gianni Skincare
The EWG’s Skin Deep database lists bismuth oxychloride with a score of 0 for overall health concerns and also due to limited data available. Though bismuth oxychloride may not be as terrible an ingredient as others, (there is no speculation it causes cancer or other serious health concerns) it is good to be aware of where your ingredients come from and the possible risks it can have on your skin. I personally have quite sensitive and reactive skin so I would stay away from any products that may have bismuth oxychloride in them. I also do not feel comfortable with this ingredient due to the possibilities of its inorganic sourcing.
Do you currently use or have you used any products with bismuth oxychloride? Do you have a favorite product or company with bismuth oxychloride-free products?
Popular mineral-based makeup products that contain bismuth oxychloride:
Mineral makeup companies with bismuth oxychloride-free products:
Au Natural Factual is back for 2014! Today, we’re talking about Lemongrass, an ingredient I have been loving lately in my hair and body products. It has also always been a favorite scent of mine.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon Citratus) is a perennial plant known for it’s many medicinal and therapeutic benefits and is indigenous to many areas of South Asia. Reported medicinal benefits of lemongrass are used in treating digestive problems, high blood pressure, fever, body pain, the common cold, cough and exhaustion. Lemongrass is also known for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antioxidant and astringent properties.
Used when dry, lemongrass can be steeped to make tea, used as medicine as well as flavoring for food. The plant is commonly used as an ingredient in popular South Asian cuisine and is commonly found in soaps and cosmetics as a fragrance. With it’s lemony, citrus scent, lemongrass can also be extracted as an essential oil and applied topically or when used in aromatherapy, often inhaled for muscle pain relief. It is also said that lemongrass has rubefacient properties which may improve blood circulation.
The chemical composition of lemongrass is also interesting in understanding the basis for its many health benefits and natural characteristics:
The main chemical component found in lemongrass is citral, an aromatic compound, also known as lemonal. The compounds myrcene, citronellal, geranyl acetate, nerol and geraniol are found in varying quantities in Citral. Myrcene, geraniol and nerol contribute to lemongrass’ strong fragrance, citronella acts as an insecticide and geranyl acetate is another flavoring agent. –Healthers.org
The presence of Vitamin A in lemongrass can also have benefits for skin. Lemongrass helps to treat acne, brighten dark spots and prevent oily skin. The herb’s astringent and antibacterial properties are also good at reducing skin bacteria and infection. Lemongrass has also been thought to improve poor body odor by controlling excessive sweating.
Some popular, natural products containing lemongrass:
- Acure Organics Lemongrass + Argan Stem Cell Shampoo (my current, favorite shampoo!), $9.99
- Aura Cacia Lemongrass Essential Oil, $6.39
- Dr. Hauschka Lemon Lemongrass Body Oil, $28.95
- Intelligent Nutrients Certified Organic Perfume Spray, $28
- Lotus Wei Infinite Love Perfume, $45
- Rahua Voluminous Conditioner (love this product too!), $34
- Soapwalla Luxurious Body Oil, $28
- Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser, $33
Have you used lemongrass in any products or in food? What are your favorite products or methods using lemongrass?
Elderberry or elder (Sambucus nigra, S. Canadensis) has traditionally been used on the skin to treat wounds or taken as medicine to treat respiratory illnesses like the cold and flu. Elder is a large deciduous shrub or small tree that grows in wet or dry soil in sunny locations. Native to Europe, Africa and parts of Asia, it is also widespread in North America. The flowers and berries are the components used for medicinal purposes. The elder flowers and berries must be cooked before they are collected to be used. Using raw and unripe berries can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and can be poisonous.
Many beneficial properties in elderberry have led to the belief that the flowering plant has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticancer properties. Elderberry has been used for sinuses, nasal and chest congestion, back, leg and nerve pain, as well as for chronic fatigue syndrome.
It is a great natural remedy for injuries, infection and various skin conditions. Elderberry has also been proven to boost the immune system and improve health due to its many beneficial components such as bioflavonoids, tannins, amino acids, carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin c. As a result of it’s many health benefits, some people also prepare elder flowers as food or use the flowers for tea and the berries for wine, jelly or jam. Taken internally, elder is said to cleanse the body and strengthen one’s immune system.
Elderberry/elder flower is also a popular ingredient used in personal care products for its natural benefits on skin and hair. Due to its emollient and mild astringent properties, elder is beneficial in calming sunburn, reducing eye puffiness or enlarged pores. It is also a great aftershave tonic for men and can be used as a calming bath herb. For hair, elder provides moisture and nourishment to dry hair and can be found in many shampoos, conditioners or hair rinses.
Elder blossoms are often found as an ingredient in facial steams, cleansers, scrubs, lotions, moisturizers, soaps and toners. Elderflower water, regarded as a natural beauty secret of many women, is traditionally used as a facial toner.
Burdock is a biennial plant, also classified as a common weed, that is most recognized for its stout growth and leaves containing prickly burrs. Due to its ability to grow relatively tall, the burdock plant (scientific name: Arctium lappa) has deep roots that are brownish green in color. The root, leaf and seed are used to make medicine and are sometimes eaten as food. Burdock root extract is typically used in skincare and hair products. This herb is native to Europe and Asia though is naturalized throughout North America. In traditional Chinese medicine, the burdock root was commonly used to treat many illnesses.
Burdock contains chemicals that might have activity against bacteria and inflammation. Burdock root consists of carbohydrates, volatile oils, plant sterols, tannins, and fatty oils which explain the plant’s healing properties. Burdock root has anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and demulcent effects on the body and skin. In skincare, burdock root is added to many facial steams, cleansers, lotions, toners and salves. The properties of burdock root help effectively treat skin ailments such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.
Burdock root is also used externally to treat painful joints, inflammation and often thought to purify the blood. Burdock root is also added to shampoos, conditioners and hair rinses especially for its beneficial effect on dandruff.
Recent studies have shown that burdock root also contains phenolic acids, quercetin and luteolin, all powerful antioxidants. Various cultures believe eating the leaves or roots of the burdock plant help to cleanse the bloodstream, prevent cancer, to treat high blood pressure and other common illnesses and to keep the body healthy.
Burdock root has also achieved culinary recognition due to its many health benefits when ingested. The plant contains dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, amino acids and is low in calories. Common in Japanese and Korean cuisine, burdock root leaves can be strained for tea, root or leaves added to a soup or drink, or the roots are boiled and braised like a potato.
I have recently loved using and discovering more uses for lavender.
Lavender is a flowering herb native to northern Africa and the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean. Its flowers and oil have traditionally been used for medicine. Most commonly found in the form of an essential oil, it’s botanical name is Lavandula angustifolia. Lavender is well known for its aromatic properties, its scent traditionally thought of as an aphrodisiac, but the herb also provides many benefits in skincare and beauty.
Lavender works wonders for curing restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, anxiety and depression. It can also be used for curing certain digestive ailments such as an upset stomach, nausea or vomiting and even for treating influenza, prevent colds and coughing. Lavender is also a great remedy for aching muscles, rheumatic discomfort and joint stiffness. In food and beverages, lavender is used as a flavor component. Some use lavender to prevent hair loss and can also be powerful in repelling insects.
“Lavender is particularly rich in aromatic molecules called esters, which are antispasmodic, pacifying and tonic, while other molecules give it its antiviral, bacterial and anti-inflammatory powers.”
The herb’s anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties provide many benefits for use in skincare. These properties reduce redness, scarring and speeds up healing of the skin. As a circulatory stimulant, lavender essential oil increases blood flow and brings more nutrients and oxygen to skin cells. This property increases healthier skin cells and more frequent cell turnover.
Many people add lavender to bathwater to treat circulation disorders and improve mental well being. It is also believed that lavender essential oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties making the herb useful in healing minor cuts and soothing burns or bug bites.
According this website, lavender is “especially beneficial to the respiratory tract in particular coughs, colds, influenza. Certainly eases breathing when lungs and sinuses are choked with phlegm. Defends system against airborne viruses”. It is advised to avoid using lavender during pregnancy, if you have epilepsy and fevers.
My favorite use for lavender essential oil is before bed as a relaxing scent that helps me sleep and de-stress.
Have you used lavender before and in what way?
Flaxseed oil or flax oil is derived from the flax plant (linum usitatissimum), a blue-flowering plant. This oil is also commonly known as linseed oil. The common species of the flax plant, linum usitatissimum is mainly cultivated for its fiber and seed. Other types of flax oils can be used ornamentally or for industrial and pharmaceutical purposes depending on the production method. Industrial uses for flaxseed oil include paint binders, waterproofing agents and glossing.
Flaxseed oil can be found as nutritional supplement and a topical oil. Traditionally, flaxseed oil was used as medicine by many different cultures specifically for skin irritation and other inflammatory ailments. High in anti-inflammatory properties, flaxseed oil is thought to be useful for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory (swelling) diseases.
The oil is produced by processing the seeds from the flax plant and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids (about 50-60% Omega-3s) and specifically, alpha linoleic acid (ALA). Due to its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed oil works wonders on the skin when applied topically as it norishes and locks in moisture on the skin. Flaxseed oil’s anti-inflammatory properties help minimize redness and skin irritation. The oil can also prevent skin having a dull appearance and smoothes fine lines.
Flaxseed oil can also be ingested as a nutritional supplement and is also said to prevent various diseases such as heart disease, cancers, diabetes allergies and more.
Because flax seed oil is easily oxidized, which diminishes its antioxidant capabilities, make sure to find and maintain flax oil:
- in a dark container
- protected from light
- vacuum sealed when you buy it
- stored in the refrigerator after opening it
Excuse my delay in posting, I have been feeling under the weather. There’s definitely something going around with all this change in temperature…
When I first started my green beauty journey, I stopped using products containing parabens when I learned how bad they were for my health as well as the culprit for most of my skin irritation. Parabens are a class of chemicals that serve as preservatives allowing for products to have a longer shelf-life and protect against bacteria and contamination. However, parabens can be dangerous in regards to possible toxic reactions with other ingredients and the side effects that are threatening to your health.
While there is still more research to be done regarding the long-term effects of parabens, using products with a limited amount of parabens may still have purpose in regards to anti-bacterial and anti-viral products. I suggest you read more about parabens and make your own decisions on the ingredients in the products you use. I suggest reading more on parabens from books like, No More Dirty Looks and research around the web.
With our modern lifestyles and growing awareness of bacterial contamination and diseases, preserving the shelf-life and cleanliness of products is important. So how does this work for organic and natural products?
Honeysuckle Flower Extract is an ingredient added to many of these products as an antibacterial and antiviral natural preservative. It is extracted from the flowers of the honeysuckle plant (Lonicera Caprifolium) which are known to be very fragrant and tubular. The fragrant yellow flowers of the honeysuckle plant have been used all over the world for medicinal purposes in teas and in herbal formulas to combat fevers, headaches and sore throat. Honeysuckle flower extract provides many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits due to its rich quantity of flavonoids and saponins.
Honeysuckle flower extract naturally contains para-hydroxybenzoic acid (also, hydroxybenzoic acid, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid), the substance from which the creation of synthetic parabens were based on. Present in most organisms (plants, animals, insects), in nature, para-hydroxybenzoic acid allows organisms to protect themselves against bacterial and microbial intrusion. This function is perhaps the main reason scientists decided to model the molecular structure and function of synthetic preservatives after that of para-hydroxybenzoic acid. Honeysuckle flower extract must be paired with a co-preservative in order to stably carry out its function.
There is a bit of controversy regarding the use of honeysuckle flower extract with some opponents arguing the main purpose is for companies that are “greenwashing” or masking their use of preservatives in natural products. However, if viewed by the extract’s pure function in natural products, honeysuckle flower extract does not seem to produce many health risks compared to synthetic preservatives. One should carefully research the origins of ingredients and understand the functions within products.
The EWG’s Skin Deep database rates the ingredient, Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract with a score of 0 for no known health concerns.
What are your thoughts on the use of Honey Flower Extract as a natural preservative?