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Skin Deep
A Virtual Lifeline

For the past couple of years, I have received a bounty of good information from an organization called The Environmental Working Group in the U.S. These are folks who believe in safe products, and their watchdog organization is looking out for you. They have done great work in the area of cosmetics and have uncovered a multitude of sins. It was the EWG that did ground-breaking research for their publication of ‘Not Too Pretty’ the study of pthalates in cosmetics.

Their latest achievement is the release of a huge Product Safety Database called ‘Skin Deep’. This is a tool like no other: it gives safety ratings for about 25,000 personal care products, roughly a quarter of the market total. The rating system begins at 0 (no problems) and goes to 10 (scary). Scores 1-6 are labeled in yellow, 7-10 in bright red. Even if you are not too good at reading labels, you can punch in your favourite products and find out how they rate. I tried putting in Johnson’s Baby Oil and found that Johnson and Johnson makes more than a dozen baby oils, ranging in score from 2 right up to 9. Young ‘moms’ should definitely check this out, along with the rest of your baby products. It was gratifying to find that Clear Eyes, my husband’s beloved eye drops (the ones I have been trying to stop him from using for years) had glaring red scores of 7,8 and 9. I couldn’t wait to show him!

Look for the website at www.cosmeticdatabase.com

In the words of Jane Houlihan, who heads the data base team, “Due to gaping loopholes in federal law, companies can put virtually any ingredient into personal care products. Even worse, the government does not require pre-market safety tests for any of them. Our aim is to fill in where companies and government left off. Looking for safer sunscreen to protect the kids this summer? Or shampoos without dangerous preservatives? Skin Deep helps you to learn what not to buy, and helps you find safer options for you and your family.”

 There is a section on ‘What not To Buy,’ that lists ingredients of major concern. It tells you why you should avoid products containing the following ingredients:
  • Mercury
  • Placenta
  • Fragrance
  • Petroleum by-products
  • Pthalates
  • Animal parts
  • Hydroquinone skin lightener
  • Lead
  • Nanoparticles

The site has headings to check all listed products in various categories such as Makeup, Skin Care, Hair Care, etc. You can also search for products that are made with organic ingredients, are made by a brand that has signed the ’Compact for Safe Cosmetics’, or are fragrance free. Best of all, you can find specific products that exclude ingredients with concerns that include cancer, neurotoxicity, developmental or reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergies, irritation of skin, eyes or lungs, mutations and other dangerous elements.

 Although I still believe that making your own products is the best solution, this website is a virtual lifeline for people who depend on shopping. 


Do you eat wisely? Many people in our ‘advanced’ society choose food that leaves their bodies unsatisfied and unwell. We could learn something from the diet of the sixteenth-century Aztecs – their ABC foods (amaranth, beans, corn and chia) were usually home-grown and supplemented by wild game and herbs as well as the more exotic maca and cocao. Analysis of their diet meets the criteria suggested by our health regulators, a criteria that too many of us ignore.

Chia is a power food. Although fairly expensive, a little goes a long way and it is dream-stuff for dieters. The little seeds swell readily into a gel that can be kept in your fridge and used as an extender for the ‘fat’ stuff like margarine, yogurt, jam, mayonnaise, puddings and most everything you count calories for. The gel is flavourless so takes on the taste of anything you add it to without affecting the overall chow-down experience (it is also much better for you than most of the stuff it displaces).

To make the gel, use a scant tablespoon of seed to a cup of water. Whisk with a fork or a wire whipper to break up the clumps and leave for five minutes before whisking again. Sit for a further fifteen minutes before using – it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but I guarantee you will have used it long before that. Use for baking in place of oils and fats, for an extender in anything you can blend it with or for a fortifier in juice, smoothies and any drinks, hot or cold. It adds an interesting texture to drinks, but the best thing is that you know you are being good to your body. Great for the conscience!

The perfect balance of Omega3 and Omega6 oils in chia is one of its important power points. It is equally as valuable as flax seed, without the problem of having to add preservatives for storage (the seeds will keep for years just the way they are). Fish oils, our other great source of Omega3, have become a bit scary with the issue of mercury contamination being prevalent. Chia is squeaky clean from the ground up, as the plants have their own natural bug repellent in the leaves and require no pesticide spraying while they grow.

I am still waiting to get my hands on some chia oil, as I think it should make an interesting cosmetic ingredient - the Aztecs used it for a base for their body paint. They also packed infected wounds with the gel as a poultice to draw out infection and put a few seeds in their eyes to clear up eye problems. But the most interesting use of the gel was by the Indian tribes who used the seeds as ‘running food’. The night before a deer hunt, they would sleep with chia gel under their arms. This sounds a mite uncomfortable, but apparently it would remove every trace of underarm odour so that the deer would not smell them coming. Now there is an idea with possibilities!