Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hair today: a fungus among us

Nontoxic haircare is one of the most difficult things for me. I've always been worried about how my hair looks, since it's so, well, noticeable. First, there's the products. Kenra works but it's full of sulfates. I tried a Shikai everyday conditioner, but it gets a "4" in the Cosmetics Database, plus I didn't really like it. Giovanni conditioner is rated better but I didn't like it either. I am now using Avalon Organics Biotin B-Complex Thickening Conditioner, which is still a "3" but I do like it. The search continues. If only I liked Dr. Bronner's. It's one of the safer ones and super concentrated (read: economical).

For the kids, I use California Baby Super Sensitive Shampoo & Body Wash (comes in gallon jugs so it's not only super nontoxic, it's also earth-friendly). Sometimes I use it, too. I've also started to use Kiss My Face Orange Shampoo & Conditioner (not the exact name) for Gregory.

I seek out great stylists (my all-time favorite is Christina Liberatore in NYC at Salon Chinois) and I always color it or lighten it to get rid of that dishwater ashy brown-blonde color it's become. I used vegetable-based dyes while I was pregnant and living in Connecticut. Pia at Noelle Spa did my color and it looked and felt great. Was it really healthier? I don't honestly know. I can tell you that the other demi-permanent color she used on my hair would burn my scalp, so I'm guessing that stuff wasn't so great. She used to add Sweet-N-Low to it and it would not burn as much. Evil calmed evil. Bizarre.

Single-process brunette is easy, but I'm always toying with the idea of going back to blonde, so this article caught my eye. A Japanese company is working on an alternative to the standard hydrogen peroxide bleach based on a type of white-rot fungus. While it's better for your hair, for salon workers and the environment, I have to chalk this up to one organic idea that's going to need some serious marketing magic to sell! Sorry, but I'm not easily able to associate "rot" and "fungus" with something I willingly put on my head.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Found art: baby food jar chandelier

Kudos to Natural Home for publishing this pretty darn cool looking project. I have not tried it myself, but I am accumulating jars so if anyone wants to get crafty, let me know and I'll donate as many glass jars as I can. Seems like an inexpensive, creative way to upcycle them.

(Photography from Natural Home by Susan Wasinger)

Don't get burned by lousy sunscreen

I did a post a little while ago about eco-friendly, kid-friendly sunscreen, but it was hidden in a post about Vitamin D. (Getting your R"D"A of Sunshine)

Today, I saw another article about avoiding nanoparticles in sunscreen, and this one actually said why they might be of concern. So I wanted to share. Click through to read, or just try to buy one of these readily available brands, who all refuse to use nanoparticles:

Alba Botanica
Avalon Organics
Black Opal
Soleo Organics

I always recommend cross-checking your selection with the Cosmetics Database from Environmental Working Group.

Also, remember, the average t-shirt is only an SPF of 7, so covering up little ones (and yourself) with SPF-enhanced apparel — in addition to sunscreen — is recommended.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Brush up on healthy dental care for kids

A recent article in Kiwi Magazine made me think more about dental care products for my kids, well my older one anyway. Right now, Gregory does a great job of brushing his teeth, however he does chew through more than his fair share of Dora, Elmo, flashing Firefly and singing Thomas brushes. He doesn't use any toothpaste, mostly because I am sure he will swallow it and partially because I have a vivid recollection of my late uncle, the dentist, saying toothpaste was completely unnecessary if brushing and flossing were done frequently and correctly.

Still, the mister and I use Tom's of Maine toothpaste most of the time. I don't know that it's the best product on the market, but it's definitely better than the mass products and it's readily available (and sometimes even on sale). My husband hates (with a capital H) any unconventional flavors. For instance, I like Cinnamint; he does not. We both intensely disliked the Ginger flavor, but luckily it's been discontinued.

Another brand I've tried and which has its merits is The Natural Dentist. Back when I lived in NYC and was working at a healthcare marketing agency, I worked on this account. It was basically one guy in New Jersey who'd created this line and was committed to growing the business. He was a little ahead of his time, but now I see it's got a shiny new brand and seems to be thriving. When my grandmother was in her late years, she could not have products with alcohol in them (a medication-related, dry mouth thing, if you must know). The Natural Dentist's mouth rinses are all alcohol-free and they were a godsend for her. She really loved the stuff. Of course, they are also perfect for kids, with no artificial sweeteners, dyes or preservatives either. I was not a fan of their toothpastes, but that was awhile ago, so judge for yourself. These products are available at Rite Aid, CVS and Vitamin Shoppe stores and online at, among others.

A European brand that is very eco-friendly and kid-friendly is Weleda. You can get Weleda products at Target, Whole Foods or your local health food store and online at Their Children's Tooth Gel is likely the first type I'll let my kids use.

For something with ayurvedic underpinnings, consider Organix South's TheraNeem. I am not familiar with these products, but here's an excerpt from their site: "Original Herbal Mint and new homeopathic-friendly Cinnamon Cardamom Flavor toothpastes support healthy teeth and gums with organic supercritical extracts of Neem bark, Neem leaf and more. All-natural, concentrated formulas contain no sodium lauryl sulfate or parabens." You can buy online direct. If you try it, please report back to me with your review.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Greendex is 51. What's yours?

My husband and I try really hard to be eco-friendly in our daily lives. So I felt pretty confident we'd score well in the Green Guide's Greendex.

Of course we can do more, but already we compost, grow our own food, recycle tons, buy local/organic, support community businesses, live close to work, use energy-efficient appliances, wash most clothes in cold water, use CFLs and keep the house temperature low in winter and high in summer.

Our score, 51 out of 100, beats the U.S. consumers' pitiful 43.7 by a decent margin. Of the 17 countries indexed, the U.S. was the least green, India was most at 59.5 and Brazil's 57.3 was second most. Our score took hits for driving to work individually (me in an SUV), eating too much meat and living in a heated, air conditioned 7+ room house. These dings are consistent with all Americans.

Try the Greendex calculator, see how your household is doing and leave me a comment with your score.

From 2008 to 2009, the U.S. was up 1.3 points. I am every hopeful we can make a more substantial jump in 2010. Let's aim for a 10% improvement to a 48!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Green America's tips for saving money

Since we can always use some good-sense nudges to stay on track, I've summarized Green America's article, "13 ways to go green and save green" here for you:
  1. Grow your food — a little work in the dirt really pays yummy dividends
  2. Use your car less — combine trips or ride a bike
  3. Freecycle — give away what you don't want, get what you need:
  4. Unplug electronics/appliances when not in use — saves electricity
  5. Go solar — while the initial investment is expensive, savings should only increase over time
  6. Compost — this is really easy and you'd be amazed at how much less trash you have
  7. Dispense with disposables — choose hand towels and cloth napkins over their paper counterparts
  8. Think about what you buy — what do you really need? you can be happy with less stuff
  9. Think about who you buy from — support local businesses and farmers; your community will reap the benefits
  10. Eat less meat and more beans — meat is yummy but it's not all that healthy for you or the planet

    And if I can add a few of my own...

  11. Make your own cards or send eCards — find scrap paper and get creative for local loved ones, otherwise use an online greeting
  12. Take the stairs — burn your own calories instead of elevating your electricity use
  13. Buy in bulk — refilling containers saves money and packaging (note to Costco, your vendors need to rethink their offerings to reduce packaging!)
  14. Cook extras — turn on the stove or crockpot once, make extra meals and freeze the leftovers (this also saves you time and your sanity)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Before you give that baby Tylenol, consider this

Last visit to the pediatrician, he mentioned that I should not use Tylenol unless absolutely necessary, as new research linked frequent use to increased incidence of asthma. The study was actually done back in September 2008, but I had not heard about it.

Before you dismiss this as just one more study, it should be noted that the "group collected data on 205,487 children from 31 countries." Dr. Norman H. Edelman, vice president for health sciences and professor of medicine at SUNY Stony Brook University in New York and spokesman for the American Lung Association, added, "The study is consistent with quite a few others which show that use of acetaminophen [sic] associated with an increased [sic] in the risk for asthma."

With our first kid, we were instructed/permitted to use Tylenol when he was cranky from teething or feverish for any reason. He has had asthmatic issues. Maybe a coincidence, but with number two, we won't be taking any chances. It's really no surprise to me that it's better to let the body's natural reaction -- fever -- do its thing, however miserable it seems for baby, unless it spirals out of control. Score another one for nature over meds.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Green your mind and your grass will follow

Our neighbors take great care to ensure that their pristine lawns are kept up perfectly. No pressure, but I have actually seen the guy next door out picking leaves up off the lawn one at a time. With two small kids, my husband and I don't have all the time in the world to spend on yard work. However, we've taken some small steps to get a respectable-looking lawn in a green and nontoxic way.

First, we bought an electric lawn mower. We talked about getting an old-fashioned push mower, but our yard is big enough and, in some places, steep enough, that it would have been extremely difficult. It charges in our garage and we can mow the entire front, back and side yards on one charge. It's quieter than a gas-powered motor and, of course, there are no fumes. We love it.

Second, we let the grass grow pretty high in between cuts. This allows the grass to be stronger and blot out the weeds on its own, so that's an added benefit to just using less energy than if you're mowing all the time.

Third, we use the clippings for mulch and compost. It works great and costs nothing, and it's easy to do.

You may have guessed now that we do our yard work ourselves, but we have discussed hiring a service to get some of the stubborn parts under control. Recently, a coworker told me he was using NaturaLawn and just loves it. It's apparently completely "organic, eco-friendly and nontoxic" and it doesn't cost a fortune. We are considering it, but hoping our DIY efforts will pay dividends and we won't have to spend money on a service.

I'd be curious to know if any of you readers out there use this service and learn what you think about it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Coke's new bio-bottle: sweet irony

A headline yesterday read: New Coke Bottle Made Partly of Molasses and Sugar Cane, which totally made me laugh. Considering Coke is sweetened with High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and not something natural like sugar cane, the irony was too much.

However, as you read further into the article, it seems that Coca-Cola, the company, is creating this bottle to use on their "natural" brands, including
Vitamin Water (admittedly one of my eco-vices) and Dasani (filtered water people pay top dollar for, in a plastic bottle, no less).

People, the solution here is not to green the bottles; it's to lose the practice of bottled beverages altogether. Argh. This seems so obvious to me. There is a
mass of plastic bottles in the Pacific the size of Texas—you've seen this, right?

If you are having a hard time replacing the habit of plastic bottles with reusable ones, here are my top picks for reasonably priced, good-looking, functional alternatives on the go:

SIGG now 20% off on this site with code "ECO20"
Kleen Kanteen this is one of my favorite sites, too, for eco-fun things
Nalgene for those who don't like metal (I happen to prefer stainless)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

MSG Part 2: KFC is all about MSG

When I was pregnant the first time, I really wanted some KFC chicken. Thing is, I also had to be aware of my migraine triggers, because medicating for a headache was limited. So when I had this craving, my husband said he didn't think it was a good idea, that surely, KFC's food had MSG in it. I just couldn't let it go, so he found their toll-free number and called to inquire about ingredients.

He asked if there was MSG in the original recipe fried chicken. The representative answered "yes." How about in the extra crispy? Yes, she said, cutting him off with the statement, "everything we make has MSG in it." Everything? He was taken aback. Fries? Yes. Mashed potatoes? Yes. Pepsi?!?!

I was heartbroken and in disbelief. Clearly this woman was exaggerating, right? Here we are years later and I'm still thinking about it. I thought I'd use my last post and see if MSG indeed does appear in all of their foods. I went to the website and downloaded the complete ingredients statement. Sure enough, there is MSG in pretty much everything, if you include all the names it can be "hidden" under. Pretty much the only thing I could find that appeared to be free of MSG was some of the salad dressings and the garden salad.

Phew. If I ever found myself in a situation where I could only eat KFC, I would at least have one option. On the other hand, I'd probably already have a migraine if I was in this position, so how bad could a little extra trigger-food be?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Babes in Ecoland

Ever feel like the older generations just don't "get" environmental or eco-issues? I don't think it's a lack of caring, per se. It's more about laziness (e.g., I can't be bothered to compost) and fear of change (e.g., what's wrong with driving everywhere).

One activist, Annie Leonard, decided to focus on people who didn't have engrained bad habits. School kids. She created a 20-minute video, "The Story of Stuff," about the effects of human consumption. Teachers have embraced this tool to raise awareness about climate change and pollution.

I found out about it in Ode Magazine, who reports that according to the New York Times, "more than 7,000 schools, churches and others have ordered a DVD version" of the video. Awesome!