Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Misadventures in Going Green: The Coconut Oil Fiasco

To a lot of people, coconut oil is the stuff of legend. It's antibacterial, antiviral, heals cuts, soothes skin, moisturizes, keeps skin looking young and supple, prevents split ends, tastes amazing, and is purported to be a healthier source of fat than animal fats. It's solid at room temperature, which makes it a pretty decent base for balms and creams, but melts easily on your fingertips. It's inexpensive, lasts for a decent amount of time without refrigeration, and you can get it from pretty much any grocery store.

So, when I wanted something to replace my old moisturizer awhile ago, I figured I'd give it a go. It's cheaper, purportedly has a healing effect on skin, and was about six bucks at Sprouts. Sold!

[caption id="attachment_2355" align="aligncenter" width="300"]green coconuts, coconut I don't have any pictures of coconut oil's effect on my skin (you're welcome), so here are some coconuts.[/caption]


Now, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which is why it solidifies at room temperature. It's also reported to be highly comedogenic, meaning that it clogs pores. My skin isn't room temperature and I planned on applying it and then tissuing off the excess, so I didn't think I'd have to worry too much about the oil contributing to clogged pores. I'd used other oils on my skin before (Diamox can be extremely drying), so how bad could it be?

Answer: bad. Like, bad-bad.

The first few days weren't, of course. I applied a little bit around my eye sockets, which would allow it to moisturize my eye area as I slept. I also applied it only to the areas where my skin tends to be the driest-- my forehead, the corners of my mouth, and the tops of my cheeks. I even gave my arms and legs an occasional rub down with it when they got a little dry. And, as I mentioned before, I was always careful to tissue off the excess. Unfortunately, coconut oil didn't give a damn-- I broke out virtually everywhere I applied it.

Now, normally when my skin breaks out, it's for one of two reasons. I get tiny, itchy, rashy-looking pimples when I've come in contact with something I'm allergic to (ranging from certain antibiotics, to some synthetic fragrances, to skincare products containing citrus), and I get deeper, cystic pimples when I'm experiencing hormonal shifts or extra stress.
These were neither-- just red, angry, painful spots.

I'm aware that it's possible for certain oils to bring about a kind of "healing crisis" in skin (i.e., the "purging" experienced by a lot of people start using jojoba oil), where things get worse before getting better. Unfortunately, there wasn't really a "getting better" for me-- it really seemed like the coconut oil was clogging my pores and stopping right after the "getting worse" part. I'm old enough to start worrying about wrinkles, and here I was breaking out like a teenager!

In the end, I switched back to using jojoba oil, occasionally adding argan or maracuja depending on what my skin seems to need at the time. Oddly enough, I don't experience any problems using coconut oil to make deodorant-- even though I have had breakouts with other products I've used under my arms, they seem perfectly happy to be slathered in coconut oil. Go figure.

Do you use coconut oil on your skin? What have your experiences been?


Friday, March 18, 2016

These Natural Perfumes by For Strange Women Are the Real Deal

Note: While I was not compensated for writing this post, it does contain affiliate links. Thank you for helping to support this site!

Ah, essential oil perfumes. Unlike conventional perfumes, these scents are generally produced without an alcohol base and are intended the lie close to the skin-- the kind of fragrance you only notice when you're very close to someone. They're subtle, but still have all of the allure of a spritz of your favorite eau de toilette.

I prefer essential oil perfumes because I'm very sensitive to a lot of synthetic fragrances. (Honestly, it's rare that a perfume doesn't give me a headache!) I also dislike how easy it is to go overboard on a conventional perfume, especially a new one. Anyone who's ever bought a new perfume and used it right before a date or a long drive, only to discover that it was way more intense than it initially let on, knows what I'm talking about.

If you're an aromatherapy devotee, essential oil perfumes may confer benefits beyond conventional fragrances. Synthetic fragrance oils may smell amazing and be able to replicate scents that aren't able to be captured by distillation, but they don't contain the same natural compounds (or offer the same benefits) as essential oils.

After trying out a bunch of different perfume oils, I have to say that my favorites are part of the selection from For Strange Women. Their products are completely natural, created with organic and wildcrafted plant essences, and I couldn't be more in love.

I picked up a set of three of their samples: French Oakmoss, Moss & Ivy, and November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest. These were chosen specifically because I prefer woody, green-smelling, relatively unisex scents. Flowery smells tend to give me a headache, and sweet, foodie smells never seem to really work with my skin's chemistry. (I'm looking at you, expensive designer perfume that somehow ending up making me smell like an ashtray.)

french oakmoss perfume

First, I tried their French Oakmoss. The listing describes it as dirty, dry, and leathery, and it's true in all of the best ways. It evokes the scent of a forest floor, sun-baked lichen on trees, and turned soil. While it's certainly an unusual scent, it's still very wearable-- I actually received a lot of compliments on it, and I loved the way the deep, green earthiness harmonized with my skin's chemistry. Of course, oakmoss ranks up there with lavender and vetivert on my list of the greatest scents in the world, so your mileage may vary.


moss & ivy perfumeNext is Moss & Ivy. While it still incorporates oakmoss into its scent, it's a lighter, "rainier" fragrance courtesy of basil and lavender notes. It evokes the scent of wet moss, rainy woods, and fresh leaves, without any flowery sweetness. The result is a very fresh perfume, ideal if you love the forest after a spring rain. This perfume's a little more versatile than French Oakmoss, and those who enjoy lighter, more "feminine" fragrances might find it easier to wear. I actually liked putting a little on right before bedtime-- it's when I usually relax and meditate, and being surrounded with the scent of fresh herbs and moss certainly didn't hurt.


november in the temperate deciduous forest perfumeLast is my favorite, November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest. Just like it says on the bottle, this evokes Moss & Ivy's autumnal counterpart-- wood, earth, warm tea, and the scent of fallen leaves. It has a woodier character than Moss & Ivy, tempered with a little more sweetness. It's deep, meditative, restful, and complex. I would have loved wearing it before bed, but I wanted to make the bottle last as long as possible! All told, it's a scent that perfectly encapsulates my favorite place during my favorite time of year. I'd smell like this all of the time if I could.

If your tastes tend less toward the green and earthy and more toward the floral, sweet, or spicy, there are plenty of other offerings that might tempt you. Northern, Midwest, and Southern Moongarden offer regionally distinct bouquets of flowers and greenery (lilac and hydrangea in the north, iris, rose, and honeysuckle in the midwest, and gardenia and jasmine in the south). Meanwhile, Bollywood's blend of rose, cardamom, sandalwood, and masala chai provide an aura of musk and spice.

Have you tried natural oil perfumes before? What are some of your favorites?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Misadventures in Going Green: No Poo? No, Thanks.

Every now and then, I get notions about my hair.

It's long, kind of coarse, and very straight. I have very sensitive combination skin, and, unfortunately, it's a phenomenon that extends to the top of my head-- most shampoos make my scalp itchy and dry, but my hair has more of a tendency to be oily. The straighter your hair, the more often it generally requires washing. Wash it too much, and you'll just encourage it to produce more oil. In the end, there's a kind of not-too-dirty, not-too-clean sweet spot I need to find with each shampoo. After, of course, finding a shampoo that doesn't irritate my scalp and strip all of moisture out of my hair.

I tried having a "crunchier" hair regimen. I tried sulfate-free shampoos, and even gave a couple of all-natural, castile soap-based options a shot. In the end, I learned a few things:

  1. Hard water and actual soap (that is, anything that's just straight-up saponified fat) are not friends. This is why, if you have hard water, a lot of handmade soaps will leave your skin filmy and soap scum on your tub.

  2. You really, really don't want to mess around with combining hard water, soap, and hair. Not even a little.


[caption id="attachment_2226" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Good for the environment. Sucky for my tub. Good for the environment. Sucky for my tub.[/caption]

True soaps (as opposed to detergents), be they ever so natural, react with the minerals in hard water. The result is the deposition of waxy salts. These are annoying when they get on your bathroom surfaces or dishes. They are grody as hell when they get in your hair. Worst of all, they're extremely difficult to get rid of even when you switch back to regular shampoo.

Picture, if you will, hair that doesn't look like it's been washed in weeks. It's a stringy, clumpy, oily mess, and a mess you can't even style because every one of those clumps and strings is held together by thick, sticky, waxy gunk. So, no soaps for my hair. Helas.

When I heard about the "No Poo" method, it seemed worth a try. You wash your scalp with a baking soda and water solution, then rinse with vinegar and more water. Easy enough, right? Most of its adherents swear by it. They've developed softer, shinier, more manageable hair, and a hair product budget that comes in at under three bucks a month. It balances oily hair, clarifies abused hair, and, in short, is billed as pretty much the best thing to happen to hair since the invention of scissors. So, I gave it a shot. Why not?

The end result was not pretty. Even after trying a specially-modified version of No Poo for hard water, my hair felt just like it did with straight castile soap. I poured the baking soda and water solution over my hair, felt the "slippery" feeling everyone describes, and scrubbed away at my roots where my hair tends to be oiliest. After that, I rinsed with white vinegar and water, let it dry, and tried to brush it. Emphasis on "tried."

My hair was a sticky, nasty, gluey mess. If anything, it was worse than using castile soap. Worse, even, than homemade cold process soap.

In the end, I think boiling alone is insufficient for the hard water situations that I've experienced. To actually make this work, I'd probably have to lay in a decent supply of bottled water and avoid letting any of my "native" water touch my hair in the process. Considering that a big part of the appeal of No Poo for me was the fact that I'd be able to dispense with plastic shampoo bottles in favor of a little box of baking soda and some vinegar now and then, that kind of kills it. I'd be totally willing to give it another shot, but not until I've found either a different recipe or a water softener.