I’ve taken courses on skincare and nutrition and have researched natural medicine and healthy foods. It’s fascinating how our diet affects our body’s health. There are some nutrients you can both ingest and apply topically, some that can only be ingested (or produced by the body) and some that can only be applied topically. Today we’re going to look at how our diet affects our skin, what nutrients the skin needs, what benefits they provide and what foods you can eat.
To maintain healthy skin, you need water, vitamins A, B, C and E, zinc, essential fatty acids and proteins:
Collagen cannot be applied topically as the molecules are too big to absorb through the skin. Collagen doesn’t exist in any food other than homemade bone broth and is instead produced in the body (The Best Way You Can Get More Collagen, Cleveland Clinic). As we get older our body produces less collagen. Here’s what to eat to help boost collagen production:
Zinc can be found in:
These foods contain antioxidants:
Eat many of these different foods and make your skin happy. It will reward you with beautiful, healthy looking skin!
Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/essential-fatty-acids
The Best Way You Can Get More Collagen https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-best-way-you-can-get-more-collagen/
Here are some of the aromatherapy myths that I hear most often.
1. You can ingest essential oils.
Oral use of essential oils has not been approved in North America. The only country that allows the administration of essential oils orally is France, and even then, you have to be under the close supervision of a licensed medical practitioner. Generally, it’s safe to add a couple of drops to food or to swish around a dilution in your mouth before spitting it out, but even then, some essential oils can irritate mucus membranes. Make sure to do your research before using any oil orally.
There is a company out there that will completely disregard this and advise you it’s safe to use essential oils orally. At a market I was at, a rep from this same company advised a customer to put a drop of peppermint oil in her eye. This should never be done because it burns!
2. You can apply them directly to your skin.
Almost all essential oils should be diluted before applying them to your skin neat. Essential oils are extremely concentrated and can cause irritation, burns and rashes. Don’t take chances – dilute them in lotion, carrier oil, shower gel, bubble bath, liquid soap, massage oil, etc. If you’re going to use one neat, do a patch test and don’t use it for a prolonged period.
3. Essential oils labelled pure and therapeutic are of better quality.
Essential oils, by their nature, are pure and therapeutic, whether it’s on the label or not. An essential oil labelled “pure” means only that it hasn’t been diluted. Using “therapeutic” on a label is only a marketing strategy. There is no such thing as a non-therapeutic version of an essential oil!
4. Essential oils are safe because they’re natural.
While essential oils are indeed natural, they still need to be used with caution. Just think of poison ivy, some types of mushrooms, stinging nettle, poinsettia. You get the picture. Essential oils are extremely concentrated and many have contraindications (specific situations where they may be harmful), for example in pregnancy, with medications or in other medical conditions.
5. Major brands sell superior quality essential oils.
If you’re comparing apples to apples, this is simply not true. If an essential oil is pure, then an essential oil is an essential oil is an essential oil. An organic essential oil may be regarded as a better-quality oil but that’s because of the lack of pesticides and herbicides, the oil isn’t any different. And the essential oil’s chemical constituents (affected by country of origin, soil conditions, weather, time of harvest, etc.) may cause one oil to be safer, sweeter or better for a certain condition than another. But again, if you compare an organic lavender oil from Bulgaria from one company to another they would be the same. When you shop at a major brand you’re not paying for superior quality, you’re paying for their name.
Bonus myth: There’s a company out there who claims that you can only use their essential oils in their diffusers. Great marketing ploy! I went in to one of these stores to “shop” for a diffuser. As soon as I questioned this, the employee quickly backed down.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that results from uranium breaking down underground. It gives off radiation and is odourless, colourless and tasteless. Remember your table of elements? Its symbol is Rn.
It’s found in homes across Canada and gets in through cracks in foundation walls, floor drains, or anywhere the house contacts the soil.
It’s the second highest cause of lung cancer behind smoking and the number one cause in nonsmokers. This is especially important if you spend a lot of time in the basement, specifically in winter, as our homes are more air tight with all our windows closed.
You can buy a do-it-yourself test kit for about $30 and then ship it to a lab to analyze the results. Or you can hire a professional to test it for you (some even do free testing). You can also purchase a radon detector for about $200-300 and monitor it on an ongoing basis. See https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/radon.html for more information and links to where you can find a test kit or professional near you. Regardless of the method you choose, the test should last three months.
The Canadian guideline is 200bq/m3. If it’s over this amount, you should take steps to remediate it. This can be done by venting the gas from under the basement floor to the outside.
For a more comprehensive guide check out Radon - A Guide For Canadian Homeowners.
Health Canada has Cosmetic Regulations that state what ingredient information needs to be on a cosmetic label and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act & Regulations describes other mandatory information.
Labels must include:
All essential oils have multiple beneficial properties but geranium, German chamomile, lavender, lemon and peppermint are five of the most versatile must-have oils. Remember that all oils should be diluted for topical use and can be diluted in lotion, body wash, liquid soap, carrier oils, etc. They can be used for inhalation with a diffuser, lava bead bracelet or a couple of drops on a tissue.
Geranium is a strong but lovely floral scent.
German Chamomile is a sweet, expensive and very strong essential oil. It is often available diluted in jojoba oil at 3% or 10%, which is still enough to give it a good scent and retain its beneficial properties.
Lavender has a fresh floral scent.
Lemon has a fresh and sharp citrus scent.
Peppermint has a sharp but minty sweetness.
“There is no single disease which causes more psychic trauma and more maladjustment between parents and children, more general insecurity and feelings of inferiority and greater sums of psychic assessment than does acne vulgaris” (Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine 3rd Edition, 2012).
Wow! Even 20 years after my acne it still reminds me of those feelings. My acne was something I never talked about, but I’m ready to share my story with you now.
My acne started in junior high school and my doctor started me with soaps and cleansers (Neutrogena, pHisoderm and Sea Breeze) and then topicals. No improvement, just acne and drier skin. Then I tried courses of antibiotics (tetracycline, minocycline, erythromycin, etc.). Nada. Finally I tried Accutane in high school. If you’re not familiar with it, it has a long rap sheet of side effects and can cause severe birth defects and liver damage. I was required to be on birth control pills and have my blood and urine tested every month. But it was a miracle, it worked! And back then I didn’t care about the side effects, I just wanted to look normal. I experienced night blindness (which meant I couldn’t drive at night) and dry cracked, bleeding lips. I was on it for a few months and my clear skin lasted for about a year. But it came back, and I was back on it for another round.
Worse than the side effects was the embarrassment, low self-esteem and social stigma. I remember working my cashier job and having customers giving me unsolicited advice. I was told to try sugar paste, baking soda paste and toothpaste. I know they all meant well but it embarrassed me further and each comment was a constant reminder of my acne.
I was told not to eat sweets. I cut sugar out of my diet but it seemed to make no difference.
In a teen magazine, I read an interview with Catherine Bach (who played Daisy Duke in the Dukes of Hazzard - loved that show!) and she talked about how she was an ugly kid. She advised readers that ‘every ugly duckling turns into a beautiful swan’. I held onto that hope for years. I’m certainly no swan but my looks definitely improved.
The school photographers were able to touch up my photos, which made me look better but they felt fake. I threw away any photo of me with acne except a single untouched high school graduation photo, pictured here (complete with bushy eyebrows and permed and back-combed hair!).
My acne problems weren’t over however. Well into my late-twenties I used ProActiv and stayed on the birth control pill which helped keep things in check. These days I still get whiteheads if I’ve had too much sugar or have lost weight (the toxins stored in your fat are released into your bloodstream). As a matter of fact, as I write this I’m experiencing two cysts which I rarely get unless I’ve been eating poorly (I’ve been eating fast food for a couple of days!).
I guess you can say I was left feeling scarred for life. All this time I’ve been covering my face with foundation or a tan, looking but not seeing the marks on my skin. I’m finally ready to face it, to look in the mirror and see my scars and my broken capillaries for what they are.
But enough about me, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned so far, from experience, research and by reading Clear Skin by Nicholas Perricone, MD.
Let’s start with how acne forms as its important in understanding how to prevent or reduce acne. When there’s an increase in inflammatory chemicals in the cell, proinflammatory cytokines (proteins) are produced by your immune system. Cytokines make the skin cells sticky and trap dead skin cells, clogging the pore (Perricone, N., MD, The Clear Skin Prescription, 2004). This causes sebum and bacteria to build up resulting in a comedo (whitehead or blackhead). A comedo can develop into a papule or pustule, better known as a pimple. These can develop into nodules or cysts.
When we’re stressed, lacking sleep or eating inflammatory foods (not just sugar but high glycemic foods such as juices, white bread, potatoes, white rice, etc.), the hormone cortisol is released, increasing our blood sugar and leading to inflammation (Perricone, N., MD, The Clear Skin Prescription, 2004). Additionally, the hormone androgen exacerbates the condition by increasing sebum production.
In order to reduce inflammation, we need to drink plenty of water, sleep well, reduce stress and consume an anti-inflammatory diet. This diet means low glycemic index foods, moderate amounts of lean protein and unsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados, salmon, nuts and seeds) and plenty of vegetables. Here are some resources to check the glycemic index of foods:
Topical anti-inflammatories can also be used in conjunction with an anti-inflammatory diet. Look for products with alpha lipoic acid, dimethylaminoethanol and glutathione (Perricone, N., MD, The Clear Skin Prescription, 2004).
Another alternative is to look at a face map, especially if your acne occurs in one spot. This is based on Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Think of it like reflexology, where problems with a specific part of your body are a window to an internal problem. This helped me clear up the acne on the tip of my nose. The face map says it may be related to circulation, heart issues or gastrointestinal problems; and as soon as I resumed regular exercise, it cleared up. Here’s a comprehensive face map for you to explore: https://www.muktiorganics.com/blog/face-mapping-how-to-read-your-skin-from-within.
Hopefully one of these more natural ways to deal with your acne works for you. And there’s a bonus. The side effects of eating an anti-inflammatory diet are disease prevention and looking younger!
Stressed out? You’re not alone. A 2017 survey by Accountemps found that “58 per cent of Canadians feel stressed every day while at work and 70 per cent said work-related pressure had increased in the past five years”. And an increase in stress is nothing new. An IPSOS survey in 2000 found that 42% of Canadians felt more stressed than five years earlier. The only thing that seems to have changed is that men are now feeling almost as stressed as women.
Even in my 15 aromatherapy case studies, 80% of participants named stress as one of their top issues. And of those participants, most didn’t see their doctor about it. Those that did see their doctor felt that their doctor couldn’t do anything for them or didn’t care.
What happened to technology making our lives easier? Maybe it does make tasks easier, but I think instead of using that extra time to enjoy life, we just try to achieve more. Instead of enjoying the moment, we’re busy checking email and social media or booking our calendars full of events.
So what’s causing all this stress? Usually its work, finances, relationships, school or health and mostly like a combination of these. There’s just not enough time to get it all done.
Stress can affect your sleep, increase headaches, lower your immune system and make you irritable. Because stress leaves you feeling tired and short on time, we tend to drop all of our healthy habits (healthy eating, exercise, sleep, socializing and relaxing), even though these are the very things we need to combat stress. And our health only gets worse when we’re chronically stressed, leading to more stress. “Stress carries several negative health consequences, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, as well as immune and circulatory complications” (Perceived Life Stress, Stats Canada, 2014).
We are all familiar with at least some of these stress reducing activities:
We know what we need to do, so why do we struggle with it?
The main problem is these activities all take time, time that we don’t have. When we’re stressed we often feel like things are out of control and we promise ourselves we’ll do these things just as soon as we get A, B and C done. And as you know, those things are replaced by new priorities that can’t wait either. The truth is, nothing is going to change unless you take the time to change it. Because believe it or not, you ARE in control! And if you don’t take care of you, who will?
The best piece of advice I’ve received in all of my 48 years, is this: If you don’t like something, you have three options: accept it, change it or leave it. Some things we may not like but can accept. If you can’t accept it, you need to try to change it. If you’ve tried to change it and things don’t improve then it may be time to leave it.
Assuming you don’t want to accept feeling stressed all the time, you can try to change it. To make that easier for you, here are things I’ve learned about de-stressing my life:
And there is one last thing you can do to help with your stress which isn’t mentioned in most articles and books and takes no time at all - aromatherapy! 92% of my case study participants confirmed that essential oils helped with their stress as well as sleep and headaches. You can inhale essential oils using a diffuser, a couple of drops on a tissue, an aromatherapy inhaler or by diluting it in soap, lotion or oil. Here are some common oils you can use separately or in a blend:
Some of you may need to change or leave a job, your studies or a relationship to improve your stress or life. None of it is easy but only you can improve things by taking control. And trust me, when you do it you’ll wonder why you waited so long!
That’s a tough question! My short answer would be, if you’ve bought your cosmetics in the European Union (EU), you can certainly consider them safe. If you’ve bought them here in Canada, you can consider them mostly safe. If you’ve bought them in the USA, I would personally throw them in the trash (or become an expert label reader)! In an earlier blog, I talked about what Health Canada does to control cosmetics and compared that to the EU and the US. Read it here.
Now grab a coffee and a chair because tough questions don’t scare me! My long answer would have to factor in when ingredients are banned or restricted, scientific research, opinions and bias (industry influence, media coverage), contaminants, the type of risks we are willing to accept, how you use the ingredient, the amount of it in a product, available alternatives and whether we’re talking about human safety or environmental safety (not an exhaustive list!).
I can see your eyes glazing over already but stick with me. You can either do the work yourself, and believe me, it’s not easy, or you can do a little bit of work to find someone you trust to guide you. Maybe, even me! Either way, the only way to discern what is safe is for you is to be aware of all the factors. At the end, I’ve attached my own list of ingredients of concern for your reference.
You see, here in Canada, ingredients are banned or restricted only when its proven that they ARE harmful. This poses quite the problem as most companies aren’t going to spend the money to test this. The groups that care about ingredient safety often don’t have the funding to sponsor the research. So, we have to wait until there’s a number of reported incidents or there’s a public outcry about an ingredient that triggers Health Canada to consider performing a risk assessment. See Health Canada’s Hotlist. By contrast, in the EU, an ingredient has to be proven safe before it’s accepted for use.
New ingredients are only screened by Health Canada and there are a LOT of new synthetic ingredients coming out all the time.
So, what does science have to say about all of this? Not that much unfortunately. As I mentioned earlier, research is costly and someone has to foot the bill. There are some studies that are done but not published because the results were not "desirable". And there are studies published but all factors weren't controlled which makes them less reliable. When you’re reading information, ask yourself if the author has provided scientific references, not just referred to a “study”. Next, is the author and study creditable? Where has it been published? And sometimes it takes a scientist to point out the weaknesses of another’s research.
When there’s a lack of science, all you have to go on is opinions and hearsay. I think personal experience counts for something but I take it with a grain of salt. Is the source biased? Industry, media and other groups certainly can be.
Let’s use talc as an example (Health Canada is currently performing a risk assessment on it and it may soon be added to the Hotlist). “My Grandma used talcum powder all the time, but she never had lung problems or ovarian cancer, so it must be safe”. Whoa there! That’s a pretty big assumption. How much did Grandma actually use and how often? Where did she use it? Was it 100% talc or was it mixed with something? Did she avoid inhaling it? Did she still have her ovaries? Was she lucky? What about other Grandmas? You get the picture.
Contaminants are a tricky one. They may not be added intentionally so you won’t find them on the ingredient list. However, they can exist in an ingredient because of how its processed.
It also comes down to what we’re willing to accept as safe. If it causes allergies, dermatitis or skin irritation, some might be willing to take that risk but not those with sensitive skin. What if it’s been linked to cancer or hormone disruption? There’s a chance its responsible but there isn't enough evidence yet. What if it causes reproductive toxicity in rats but we don’t know the effect on humans?
This ingredient that you may be using, is it in a rinse-off or leave-on product? Rinse-off products will pose less of a risk. Where is it on the list of ingredients? If it’s near the end of the list, there’s less of it present. How often do you use it? Something you use every day would be more risk than something you use occasionally.
What if there are currently no alternatives to that ingredient? Does the convenience it brings outweigh the possible harm it could cause?
And finally, what if it’s safe for humans but harmful for the environment?
Phew! Are you still there? Awesome. Okay so now what? With all that in mind, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions. Is there a trusted reference you can use? Well, sort of. Here are the three I rely on most, but even they have their problems. You can use Safe Cosmetics but they are very conservative and make unvalidated claims. For instance, in oxybenzone (used in sunscreens) they say it causes cancer and refer to California’s EPA which states that it’s a “possible carcinogen”. They also refer to a study on feeding the oxybenzone to mice and rats to infer that topical use can lead to cancer in humans. They also rate ingredients as toxic when there’s not enough information and when the risk doesn’t affect the consumer (i.e., inhalation in manufacturing). There’s Cosmetics Info which has a safety section and sometimes outlines the status of the ingredient in other countries. However, this website is sponsored by the Personal Care Products Council which represents cosmetic companies. So, it might be a bit biased. Looking at oxybenzone again, they include ‘myth busting’ where they allege that the studies were misleading, generalize their major concerns and refer to other supporting studies. However, I find them weak and could shoot a few holes in their arguments myself. They even mention their greatest concern about banning this ingredient: it may result in fewer people using sunscreen and the risk for skin cancer (heard of zinc oxide?). There’s also Cosmetic Ingredient Review which is so scientific it may be difficult for most people to navigate.
That’s a whole lot to consider for a single ingredient! Now, I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve taken what I’ve learned and put it into the attached reference for you. As more studies are done, some of these will drop off the list because they have been found to be safe or because they have been found to be unsafe and are prohibited or restricted by Health Canada. And there will always be new ones. But now you can decide what’s safe for you!
There seems to be a number of stories out there about how essential oils are toxic for pets. And it’s no surprise really, as there’s very little scientific research readily available on how they affect pets. Because of this lack of information, people are quick to believe opinions. I can’t say I blame anyone, as it's better to be safe than sorry and digging for the truth is time consuming and difficult.
These often unscientific opinions conclude that an essential oil was responsible for an effect on their pet. Most likely it was their misuse of the essential oil rather than the essential oil itself.
Anytime I need to research something, I start by googling it, reviewing the results and the frequency of the information. Skeptically, of course. I think about what sources would be trustworthy. In this case, aromatherapists, veterinarians and reliable scientific studies.
My search turns up no results from aromatherapists, probably because few of them specialize in pets. I found a few vet clinics that were happy to publish some information that sounded scientific and reliable. These veterinarians want to help protect pets, even though they are not essential oil experts, which is great, but none of them seemed to reference any scientific studies.
Then I hit the jackpot! An Alternative Care Veterinarian. There’s so much scientific reference here it even made MY eyes gloss over! Melissa Shelton has been working with essential oils and pets since 2008 and has dedicated her practice to it since 2011. In her article she dispels all the myths and bad science that is sometimes referenced. Here’s an overview, but you should really read it here: https://londonalternativevet.com/2018/01/12/essential-oils-with-pets-dr-melissa-shelton/:
Most issues with pets occur because of misuse. It’s like making prescription medicine available to everyone without any dosage or instructions. A leading expert in aromatherapy, Robert Tisserand, cautions that it’s not that we need to avoid certain essential oils but that we need to use essential oils responsibly. See https://roberttisserand.com/2011/06/cats-essential-oil-safety.
So how do we use them responsibly? Treat them more like medicine and less like an air freshener, being conscious of how much and how long you use them. Don’t trap your pet in a room with a diffuser running all day; they need to escape if they're impacted negatively. And do not use essential oils topically, unless advised by your veterinarian.
See the attachment below for some rules that you can print or share. Happy and safe diffusing!
More reading: https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/cats-and-essential-oils.
Health Canada regulates all cosmetics in Canada, as well as drugs, pesticides, natural health products, etc.) and each classification has their own list of requirements. First, let’s start by looking at how Health Canada defines a cosmetic:
"Any substance or mixture of substances manufactured, sold or represented for use in cleansing, improving or altering the complexion, skin, hair or teeth, and includes deodorants and perfumes." Cosmetics
Side note: A sunscreen is considered a natural health product and requires a product license. In order to obtain a product license, you must have a site license. In order to obtain a site license, you need to follow all the Good Manufacturing Practices. And sure, those practices sound like a good idea but it’s overkill for a small business like mine. However, I do follow as many as I can and keep working towards more! (This is why I will no longer be making my Sunny Day Lotion.).
Back to cosmetics….
All products meeting the cosmetic definition, no matter where they are from, MUST have a Cosmetic Notification Form (CNF) submitted to Health Canada. This form contains:
Submitting the form ensures that the ingredients used, and their proportions, are within acceptable guidelines. Health Canada reviews the CNF and follows up with any questions, but they never approve products. This process can take six months to a year!
Is it effective enough? Let’s look at what other countries are doing:
So, we fall somewhere in the middle which isn’t too bad, but there’s always room for improvement. I’m not one for mediocrity! Industry exerts a large amount of pressure and influences some decisions, not necessarily for our health or benefit. More on that another time…!
Additionally, cosmetics also have to follow the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. I’m saving that for another day too but you can learn more here: Labelling Act.
If you’re shopping in another country, you might want to pay attention to the ingredient lists. And what about right here at home? Handmade markets are always offering cosmetics for sale, but the makers may not be aware of the requirements. If you’re concerned, ask the vendor if they’ve filed anything with Health Canada.
For more information see International Cosmetic Lists.
Loves living a healthy lifestyle and sharing what she learns along the way.