Categories
History Series

The Importance of Choosing Natural

This post is part of a series exploring the story of some of the hottest debates in personal care products today – the use of preservatives, petroleum products, synthetics, sulfates, and fragrances.

Everyone wants to spend their money wisely, be as healthy as possible, and feel good about making a positive impact through the products they choose for themselves and their family.

When evaluating which products to choose, the factors to consider are overwhelming. It is a mini-career to keep up with the sheer number of things that are “good” and “bad” for you.  The trends in vilifying or praising ingredients change weekly.   Trying to figure out exactly what all that stuff on a product label is seems like it requires a degree in chemistry. 

In the past we learned not to rely on manufacturers to provide accurate and complete details about what goes into their products and how they are made. Today, we face information overload, we have gone from having dubious facts to being mired in details. 

How does a concerned consumer make smart choices in this environment?

The usual response is that “knowledge is power”.  But knowledge is only one part of making smart choices.  Having a basis for discerning the right personal choice is also required. We must form our own opinion and judgments about the products we choose based on our priorities, risk tolerance, budgets, and values.

Advertisers would like us to adopt their opinions about what is right for us.  Champions of particular issues would like us to adopt their opinions.  Online influencers make a living adding their opinions to the mix.  All this opinion sharing adds a layer of even MORE information to learn and interpret.

Natural becomes mainstream

Regardless of the challenges, more and more consumers are choosing to demand natural products. This trend is important for everyone, as we will see in a moment.

Manufacturers are responding to this demand, and large corporations are introducing variations of their products with reduced chemicals and less processed ingredients.

Read more about natural products trends on the New Hope Network

As large companies begin to populate shelves with products that claim to be more natural, the confusing volume of information and opinions grows.  We are bombarded with a new wave of marketing messages and trendy issues. 

The advertising machine is hard at work trying to get us excited about specific features and ingredients. For example, there is a TV commercial that talks about “oil infused lotion,” which might seem like a really cool development. However, upon learning that the definition of lotion is oil infused in water, and every lotion and cream on earth is “oil infused,” one may be given pause to wonder that such a statement is actually being used as if it were a unique feature. Do we really understand what we are being sold?

It is a positive direction that awareness of natural products is expanding. It is important that companies are motivated to continue this trend for the right reasons. Responsible advertising must support the original intent of good health, clean products, and preservation of the planet. If we are not careful, the term “natural” could be fast on its way to becoming a trendy buzzword.

The Power of Choice

In our consumer society, we vote for the products we want to remain available with our dollars. Over time, what we buy determines what will be offered. This is the power of choice. We are tasked with making the best choices possible to ensure the health and well being of humans and the planet in the long run.

As a concrete example, let’s say there are two shampoo products on the shelf, and you know both work the way you like. Both are about the same size, one costs twenty-five cents more than the other. How do you decide which to buy? Is the one with the flowers on the label really more “natural”? Do both of these companies engage in responsible advertising? Reading the label is no help, even products that claim to be natural have ingredients with long chemical sounding names.

The good new is, if you understand the “story” of shampoo and its ingredients, you will be able to read the label and make an informed choice quickly. If you have access to online content while at the store, you will be able to evaluate at a glance the brand message from the manufacturer in the context of responsible advertising. Knowing a bit about history can help you make the future better.

The Start of Natural Products

The natural products movement began as a response to the introduction of synthetic pesticides in 1920s Germany. The US experienced a similar effect when synthetic pesticides were introduced in the 1940s. Through the 50s, 60s, and 70s, efforts to raise awareness about harmful farming practices and ingredients continued. Notably, in the 1960s, key research documenting the negative effects of certain chemicals was published, fueling a growth in awareness of the long term effects of some substances.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, several of the brand names we recognize today as leaders in the natural products movement were started, such as Tom’s of Maine and Whole Foods. The USDA created the National Organics Program in the 1980s, and at the start of the 21st century, Certified Organic farming and processing was in high growth mode.

As we approach 20 years of the growth of natural products in the mainstream, the industry is still in its infancy, representing about 8% of total sales of consumer packaged goods. The good news is that there is a continual expansion, and this small sector is driving disproportionate growth as major players are joining the trend.

What Natural Means

Despite a hundred years of natural commercial products, there are still wide variations in what exactly it means for a product to be “natural.” The USDA provides for the classification and grading of agricultural products specific to each type of crop, but no generic qualifications for natural farming exist. While there are standards in the US that dictate what kind of medicine and feed can be given to livestock, natural farming remains a philosophy.

The establishment of the USDA Organic program has given some structure to the definition of natural products by making products that are on the purest end of the spectrum instantly recognizable. Worldwide, there are several Organic standards, but in some places, organic is not a standard at all but simply an adjective.

Natural Products are Important for Everyone

Among the natural and organic product industry members, there is a long-suffering faction of people who, for decades, have been hopping up and down about the safety of cosmetic and food ingredients.  These voices encourage us to look at the elemental, to consider the sources, and to understand where it all comes from. They ask that humans maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with nature for our own good.

For most of us, the source of the food and products we consume is not given a daily thought. We are all specialized, going to work daily and doing a single job. We don’t need to grow and pick our vegetables daily (unless we want to). Others grow our food and make the products that we need in return for the capital that allows the cycle of production to continue.

There is nothing wrong with this arrangement. The human race advances because some people are able to concentrate on building on past successes, developing technology, and leading us to the next phase of our evolution. But due to this division of labor, it is easy to lose touch with the source of energy and nourishment that goes into the products we buy, and we must guard against forgetting to protect our resources in the name of convenience.

The Natural Products industry is a way to stay connected to the source of goodness that supports us. We as consumers are the source of the demand being placed on the natural world. It is crucial to understand what is being done by farmers, manufacturers, and retailers in order to satisfy the demands of the specialized population. Especially in the Western world, the system is set up to reward those who meet demand. It is our responsibility to understand what we are asking for.

My Journey – Blossom to Bath

My mission is to develop products that are affordable for daily use but overwhelmingly natural in content. The process included learning a new vocabulary, wading through technical research papers, and experimenting with old and new ingredients and methods of production. I have found that I could spend another 5 lifetimes on this effort.

In 2017 my company introduced a line of Certified Organic Body Care products. A giant focus has been on researching ingredients, dealing with product testing and consumer safety factors, and making decisions about what to include and what to leave out of natural product formulas.

It was only when I began to understand the history of these products and the effects of the revolutionary developments in science in the last 150 years that the path became clear.

Taking a Historical Perspective

Investigating the stories of products we use every day can help to create a road map for navigating the hype and mountains of detail. Understanding the background behind the messages and claims we are bombarded with helps us to make wiser choices.

The goal of taking a historical perspective is to tell a story about the products we see on the shelf every day, to make the details and history of these products and ingredients easy to remember and evaluate.

This series of articles is intended to provide a tool for use by others who would further their understanding of natural Body Care products.  

Categories
Organic

Blossom to Bath – Pure Ingredients

Thanks to modern technology, a diversity of products from all around the globe are widely available.  Most average people understand that there are places in the world where consumer protection may be low, pollution may be high, and production practices may be focused on profit vs quality or purity.  Some people believe ingredients that are in their natural state yield the most reliable benefits with the least risk of unknown long term adverse effects.  However, consumers may not have the ability to research every ingredient used in the products they buy.

The United States Department of Agriculture National Organics Program (USDA NOP) was created as a set of standards for certifying the integrity of agricultural products and non-agricultural ingredients that may be added to agricultural products destined for human consumption.

In order to be USDA Certified Organic, a product must be documented as managed according to the rules of the NOP, starting with seeds and ending with the final steps of preparation for consumer use. 

There is a list of substances that are considered not healthy for humans which are prohibited, severely restricted, or can only be used at certain times of the growing or processing cycle.  Non-agricultural ingredients must be documented as not having come in contact with any prohibited substances.

Handlers and processors like Flowersong Soap Studio purchase certified ingredients only from suppliers who can provide the proper documentation.  Handlers and processors are required to prevent contamination of the ingredients during their operations.  The prevention of contamination of organic ingredients means that

  • organic materials are segregated and protected from conventional ones
  • special cleaning rules are applied to equipment that comes in contact with organic materials
  • all recipes and formulas must contain approved ingredients
  • finished products must be protected as they are handed off to consumers

Organic processors must monitor their suppliers annually to ensure continued compliance with organic standards is in place.  Changes to formulas or suppliers and any new formulas must be approved prior to offering products as organic.

USDA Organic standards create a “chain of organic integrity” that can be relied upon by consumers who desire the most natural products possible while experiencing the rich diversity of nature’s bounty from around the world.

Categories
Organic

What is Blossom to Bath?

Organic Four Color Organic Seal-.25b

Blossom to Bath is a description of the new line of certified organic bath and body products from Flowersong Soap Studio.

In the same manner that food is “Farm to Fork”, “Blossom to Bath” is an expression of the direct path from fields of flowers, roots, herbs, nuts, and fruits to the cosmetic ingredients you put on your skin daily.

You can be sure these USDA Certified formulas of bath and body products adhere to the latest standards of freshness and purity for organic products.

OTCO-color-.25

Certified by Oregon Tilth, Flowersong Soap Studio is part of a community of manufacturers and retailers that have set a high bar for “natural” and “organic” products.  These companies voluntarily adhere to the National Organics Program rules for sourcing, handling, and processing of agricultural and non-agricultural ingredients to ensure products are free of synthetics, genetically modified materials, pesticides, and other unwholesome substances.

Flowersong Soap Studio’s current line of products includes 8 formulas that have been approved by the USDA as Organic and 2 that are certified as Made with Organic ingredients.  Organic products include our Sugar Scrub, Salt Scrub Stick, Face Balm, Face Scrub, Whipped Body Butter, Beard Butter, Beard Oil, and Scented Oils.  Certified Made with Organic ingredients include our Natural Deodorant and Handmade Soap.

Categories
Soap

When is Soap not Soap?

Next time you are in the grocery store buying a 6 pack of bath bars, have a look at the label.  Does it say “soap” anywhere?  Some do, but some do not.

Why does it matter?  Because soap is the cleaner meant for human skin.  Do you clean your dishes with carpet cleaner?  Do you wash clothes with toilet bowl cleaner?  No.  Different surfaces and materials require different cleansers.

So what are bath bars?

Products marked as “bath bars” (with no mention of “soap” in sight) that are very inexpensive are usually blocks of detergent.   Yep, like the one in your laundry cupboard.  Heck, some manufacturers actually give instructions how to turn their bath bar INTO laundry detergent – like that is a GOOD thing!

Some bath bars started life out as regular soap, but then are processed until they are no longer recognizable as actual soap.  That is when additives are introduced to make up for the fact that this cleansing bar would be far too harsh on its own.  And again, these additives are touted as advantages of the product.

Common Chemistry

All cleansers share some like-minded chemistry.  The basic theory is the combination of a certain cleanser and water will remove unwanted substances.  Water washes away any water soluble material, and the cleanser is formulated to remove the dirt that is not water soluble, but is also not the surface of the object being cleaned.

All cleansers will clean using a “surfactant” action – which means reducing the stick-together power of the particles it encounters.  The question is: how harshly, how effectively, and with what side effects?  The ingredients used to make the cleanser determine the degree of stripping, what kinds of dirt it will attract, and the impact on the surface being cleaned.

Cleansing Skin

When it comes to complex surfaces like human skin, there is a bit of an art to predicting what needs to be “removed”.  Skin is made of some of the same substances as the kinds of dirt we humans get into.  We also consider the normal by products of our body’s functioning to be “dirt”.   A skin cleanser must be effective at removing the materials that are waste without stripping the actual skin.

Real soap made with a strong base (lye) combined with carbon based fatty acids (vegetable oils and animal fats) is a cleanser that is strong enough to remove the unwanted materials found on humans without damaging the skin itself.

Isn’t Lye Soap Harsh?

Lye soap with too much lye is indeed quite harsh.  Prior to the days of precise chemistry, the process of creating lye for soapmaking had a lot of variables.  It is very hard to produce an accurate measure of the concentration of lye in a solution without modern scientific methods.   Today we have confidence that our lye amounts are correct and our recipes produce gentle products.

 

Categories
Deodorant

What you need to know about natural deodorant

Natural deodorant is not just a replacement for the deodorant/antiperspirant products from the grocery store that most people use.  It is an alternative style of personal care that works with the natural processes of the body.

But what if it doesn’t work for you?  No one wants to get caught without odor protection in the middle of the day!

What is the difference?

Natural deodorant uses a totally different strategy for accomplishing odor protection vs antiperspirant.   Antiperspirant says “Not to worry!  I will shut off that smelly body function so you don’t have to sweat ever again.”  And your glands say “Alert! Alert!  Lock down mode imminent!”  Natural deodorant does not have the gland blocking antiperspirant ingredient that causes the shut down.  Instead of blocking your natural functions, natural deodorant says “OK you need to sweat, let’s address the sweat issue.”  And your glands say “Thank you for working with us, life is so much easier when everyone is enabled to do their job.”

At first, it takes some getting used to – being a normal, sweating human being.  After many years of equating “damp” with “smelly”, our brains are prone to think “oh this deodorant does not work” because it feels different.  The trick is to remember to check for ACTUAL smelly-ness before deciding there is a problem.

It may take experimenting with different brands of product to find the one you like best.  Sort of like hair products or skin lotion, everyone has their preferences and different formulas work better for different people.

About baking soda

Baking soda is a POWERFUL deodorizer. It is a pretty harsh chemical, actually.  Baking soda should be present in TINY amounts in any sensitive skin leave-on product.  Its job is deodorizing.  Moisture is absorbed by other ingredients in the product like clays and powders.  If you have tried a product that made your underarms dry, itchy, burning, and scaly – look at the ingredients and see if high levels of baking soda are present.  It should be one of the last ingredients on the list.

On a personal note

I was at the top of the list of unbelievers in natural deodorant EVER being a replacement for my well loved brand of antiperspirant.  On the day I was testing the first version of this product, I had quite a deodorant testing day!  I locked my keys in my car (including my house keys), so I had to get a cab, call the locksmith, and of course, it turns out my house is pretty tightly locked down…. short story, I was in the Arizona sun on a sweltering August afternoon (114F!) in a suit and heels for over 4 hours.  There was sweat!!! but no smell! No one was more shocked than me.  I have not looked back since then – almost a year!

If you choose to join the liberated legions of sweating-but-not-smelly natural deodorant users, be sure to check out our selection.  New fragrances are being added all the time.