Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

All of us—at least those of us with children—currently use or have at some time received or bought a piece of colorfully-decorated melamine dinnerware. Many consider melamine dishes the perfect choice for kids because they are practically unbreakable.

I have a set of melamine mixing bowls from Williams-Sonoma which I use regularly–although one did break in a freak accident last year, and until very recently, I used melamine dishes for most of my kids’ meals.

A friend who visited recently said, “I’m surprised YOU (meaning you who professes to be a health and safety fanatic) are serving food to your kids on melamine!”

I confess that while I had heard of health issues concerning melamine, I thought the issues were around the improper care and use of melamine (i.e., they should never be used in the oven or microwave) and as a food additive. I made a mental note to do more research, hence this blog posting.

First, what is melamine?

Melamine is an “organic,” nitrogen-rich industrial compound, created from one of three materials: urea, dicyandiamide or hydrogen cyanide. The hard and sturdy melamine resin is created by combining melamine with urea and formaldehyde. Melamine resin is fire and heat resistant, durable, and versatile. It is used in the manufacture of floor tiles, whiteboard and numerous kitchen items, including melamine dishes.

By all appearances, melamine dishes seem incredibly practical and convenient. They are dishwasher safe, light, nearly unbreakable and can be molded into various shapes and designs, which can be brightly colored or printed.

Potential dangers

Some of the first dangers concerning melamine appeared in 2007 and 2008 when it was reported melamine had been added to certain brands of pet foods and infant formula as a cheap filler. There were reports of illness and deaths from renal failure in the animals and babies that had consumed melamine-contaminated food. Shortly after this melamine “scare,” the first concerns were raised about whether melamine could leach into food from dinnerware made from melamine resin.

Melamine resin is fixed and unchanging unless it is exposed to excessive heat, which is why you should never put your melamine dishes in your oven or microwave. Excessive heat can make the plastic unstable and allow the resin to decompose back into its original elements, several of which are highly toxic.

What also is poorly understood is “synergistic toxicity” or the combined effects of consuming a product, for example bread, made from wheat that was grown with a melamine-based fertilizer (remember, it’s nitrogen-rich!), served with milk that has added melamine (increases protein levels), on melamine dinnerware which has possibly become unstable due to improper use or handling.

Note: The levels of melamine in dinnerware are considered safe by the FDA, but this does not account for others sources that can build up melamine in the body.


Although melamine dinnerware seems incredibly convenient—with it’s bright colors and nearly unbreakable design, why risk your or your children’s health?

If you and your family use melamine dishes, but eat only organically grown food, then presumably your sole concern lies with the condition of your dishes. However, as I stood examining my own melamine dishes for hairline fractures or scratches, knowing I have never put them in the oven or microwave, I quickly decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Bamboo, BPA-free plastics, stainless steel and glass or china are safer alternatives. I found some nice-sized, colorful china dishes at Crate & Barrel (link).


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Here’s a product I wanted to blog about after the first use, but thought I owed it to my readers to really test it out.

After losing a close friend to breast cancer, and knowing too many women who have battled it, I have long been suspicious of anti-perspirants and their suggested link to the deadly disease. It just seems too unnatural to literally block sweat from exiting your body in one of the main places it wants to do it.

While the jury is still out on whether the active ingredients in anti-perspirants (aluminum-based compounds) contribute to the development of breast cancer,* I chose to play it safe more than a decade ago by switching to deodorants only. That said, I never was–until now–satisfied with their performance. Some were goopy, and some were sticky, but more importantly, all seemed unable to keep me feeling relatively dry and odor-free for an entire day.

In my pursuit of the best natural deodorant, I have tried nearly everything available in a natural foods stores (Tom’s, Kiss My Face, Desert Essence, etc.). All couldn’t last a normal day or any type of strenuous work or particularly stressful situation (e.g., running through the airport trying to catch a flight).

Approximately three weeks ago, I tried Weleda’s Sage Deodorant. While my expectations might arguably have been low, I was literally shocked by how good this product performed. It hasn’t just kept me smelling good doing desk work and going about a quiet day. It has kept me from smelling bad even after a 2-hour power hike up the mountain, working in the garden and running through the airport to catch a flight to L.A.

This deodorant is the best–without a doubt–of any I’ve tried. It comes in a glass bottle with a non-aerosol pump that delivers a concentrated spray. Although wet at first, it dries quickly due to its alcohol content. It leaves no visible residue nor anything you can detect by touch–making it superior to any product I’ve ever tried–deodorant or anti-perspirant. And it’s subtle herbal scent makes it truly unisex.

It’s not completely natural, but the ingredients are relatively benign even to those with the most stringent standards (e.g., the Environmental Working Group link). You can find it in many natural food stores, including Whole Foods, as well as on-line.

I recommend this product to everyone!

*”Some research suggests that aluminum-based compounds, which are applied frequently and left on the skin near the breast, may be absorbed by the skin and cause estrogen-like (hormonal) effects. Because estrogen has the ability to promote the growth of breast cancer cells, some scientists have suggested that the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer.” [National Cancer Institute]

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One of my favorite skincare lines, and the maker of my absolute favorite all-natural, mineral sunscreens, is offering two Valentine’s Day specials.

Enter promo code roses to receive 20% off your entire order, or spend $100 and receive a 2 oz. bottle of Marie-Veronique’s Anti-Aging Body Oil ($36 value) using promo code valentine.

To order Marie-Veronique products click favorite.

To read my initial review of Marie-Veronique Organic’s Kid Safe Screen SPF 25 and their Moisturizing Face Screen SPF 30, click here.

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Photo: Dave77459

A friend recently asked my opinion about nonstick pans and their potential dangers. The issue has been in the news sporadically over the past several years, and I thought it was an excellent topic for this blog.

In past years, the concern was that non-stick coatings in cooking pans would eventually flake, and that the material would end up in our bodies. Warnings were released about the potential health hazards of ingesting nonstick coating material. We also were advised to avoid using metal utensils in the pans, which could damage the non-stick coating. The FDA’s response was that the pans were perfectly safe to use because the chemical coating is inert and passes right through our bodies.

Newer generations of nonstick pans have all but eliminated the peeling/flaking problem. Ceramic, stainless steel or titanium powders are now included in the mix making the coating much more durable. In addition, the coatings are applied much more thickly.

That said, DuPont has acknowledged that the fumes emitted by non-stick coatings can sicken people, an effect known as “polymer fume fever,” a temporary influenza-like syndrome. The effects on humans of long-term exposure are as of yet unknown.

DuPont has also acknowledged that the non-stick coatings begin to deteriorate at high temperatures (approximately 500 degrees F), but that those temperatures are higher than those typically used in cooking. The company has also admitted birds may be harmed by the fumes emitted by the heating of non-stick pans. Exposed birds have been known to hemorrhage in their lungs leading to death by suffocation.

On DuPont’s own website, the company carefully states that non-stick cookware “should not be allowed to reach extreme temperatures. Additionally, cooking should not be conducted in poorly ventilated areas.”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has recommended that people phase out nonstick cookware. In a study conducted by the advocacy group it was found that non-stick pans could reach temperatures as high as 700 degrees Fahrenheit in 2 to 5 minutes, releasing more than a dozen harmful chemicals and gases, including two carcinogens.

Studies have shown that there are toxic chemicals from the use of non-stick pans that persist in the environment. A 2005 study by the EWG found perflouroocanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical commonly found in non-stick coatings and a known carcinogen, in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. A similar study by John Hopkins Medical Center in 2006 found PFOA present in the umbilical cord blood of 99% of the 300 infants tested. And in 2004, the chemical giant, 3M, shocked the rest of the industry by announcing they would no longer produce PFOA.

But we can’t place all the blame for PFOA’s existence on non-stick cookware. PFOA and similar chemicals are also commonly used in other applications, such as the non-stick coating on other household appliances like irons, in the coating of water- and stain-repellent clothing and furniture and in regular carpeting.

There is a non-stick coating on my panini maker and my waffle machine. I have gotten rid of all other non-stick pans.  Instead, I primarily use cast iron. It is incredibly durable (incredibly heavy, too, depending on the size of the pan!) and resists sticking beautifully if properly maintained. The friend who asked me if she should get rid of all her non-stick pans also wondered if it was going to be an expensive question. Luckily, it’s not. Cast iron is unbelievably cheap, and the pans will last a lifetime. Note: my non-cast iron pots are anodized aluminum or steel.

My recommendation, which also happens to be the EWG’s:

  1. Start to phase out your non-stick cookware (and appliances).
  2. Use the pans on low or medium heat only.
  3. Never heat an empty pan on a burner.
  4. Always use an exhaust fan or open a window.
  5. Always carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.

Happy cooking!


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OK, since a lot of people have been asking, here are my top picks for skin and hair care products. Keep in mind I have combination skin which under the California sun changes quite dramatically between summer (oily) and winter (dry).

I categorized my product picks as “steal” or “splurge” even though none of them is terribly expensive or anywhere close to the prices of some products, such as those by SkinCeuticals, La Mer, etc. I don’t believe you have to spend a fortune for natural, high-quality products. Besides, it’s good to pay homage to frugality during these economic times.




Beauty without Cruelty (BWC) 3% AHA Cleanser, $10.99/8.5 fl.oz.

Duchess Marden’s Foaming Cleanser, $34/4 oz.



Avalon Organics Exfoliating Enzyme Scrub, $16.95/4 fl.oz.

Pevonia Special Line Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser, $25/5 oz.



Queen Helene Organic Fair Trade Certified Cocoa Butter Body Scrub, $7/6 oz.

Reader input?

Facial toner

I’ve used Witch Hazel in a pinch.

Arcona Cranberry Toner, $32/3.67 fl.oz. or

Duchess Marden’s Pure Rose Water, $38.75/4.06 fl.oz.


Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer, $28/2 oz.

Normal/Oily Skin:  Dermavita Perfecting Time, $27.95/1.7 fl.oz.

Normal/Dry Skin: Duchess Marden Damascena Face Cream, $57/2 fl.oz.

Eye Cream

100% Pure Acai Berry Antioxidant Eye Cream, $25/1 oz.

Jurlique Purely Age-Defying Eye Cream, $45/.05 fl.oz.

Hand lotion

Pure shea butter is great  at night or under gloves in the winter.

Weleda Skin Food, $17/2.5 oz.

Body lotion

Make your own (recipe coming soon to this blog) or

Griffin Remedy Body Lotion Orange Blossom, $7.99/8 fl. oz.

Jurlique Body Care Lotion, $38/10.1 fl.oz.

Bath Gel

Griffin Remedy Orange Blossom Natural Gel Body Wash, $7.99/8 fl.oz.

Jurlique Shower Gel, $22/10.1 fl.oz.

Time to pamper!!

Note: I haven’t included facial or body sunscreen here as I have already covered them in previous postings, link

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As an update to my earlier blog, “The Best Natural Sunscreens for Kids,” the maker of my favorite sunscreen for adults has just released a sunscreen for kids.

Marie-Veronique–a mother-daughter team producing completely natural skincare in Berkeley, CA–is now selling Kids Safe Screen, SPF 25 ($24 for 2.7 oz). Just like her “adult” sunscreen products, this product uses non-micronized (i.e., non-nano) zinc oxide, which is considered the safest, most-effective broad spectrum blocking ingredient available. (Note: Marie-Veronique is a former chemistry teacher and her daughter is a physicist.)

Because it is brand new, I have just ordered a bottle and cannot comment on its formulation, application, etc. However, the Marie-Veronique Moisturizing Face Screen, SPF 30 ($40 for 2 oz), which I use daily, is by far the best natural sunscreen I have found (and I have tried nearly everything out there!). Regarding the later, it is quite liquid so you don’t need a huge dollop, and it leaves a elegant matte finish. There is a slight “casper” factor when you first apply it, but within 10-15 minutes (i.e., by the time I finish my morning routine and head to the kitchen for breakfast), it has completely absorbed.

I cannot say enough good things about this line, and can’t wait to try this new sunscreen for kids.

Safe sunning!

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The next time you reach for that bottle of lotion, make sure you know what’s in it before you slather it all over your body.  After all, your skin is your largest organ. Hence much of what you put on it has the potential of being absorbed into your system.

Most of us are too busy to scrutinize every ingredient in every cosmetic or skincare product we use. Even if we had the time, for some, the task of learning the hundreds of potential ingredients—and  their possible dangers or benefits—is just too daunting.

And you’re not necessarily “safe” buying products labeled “natural.” Many products with “natural” or “botanical” in their names or descriptions contain potentially harmful ingredients. You might be surprised to know that currently there are no regulations on what products can be called. For example, products with “natural” or “organic” in their name may not contain many, if any natural ingredients. And products labeled “made with organic ingredients” may contain many unnatural, nonorganic and synthetic ingredients.

Even products certified “organic” require a closer look. Under the current regulations, a product can be certified “organic” even if not all of its ingredients are organic. Current regulations for “organic” labeling require that only 70% of the product must be organic. The rest can be just about anything. To date, the purest products are probably those that adhere to The Natural Standard for Personal Care Products. If you do have the time or inclination, educate yourself on the FDA’s Definitions of Organic and requirements for using the USDA Seal.

In the meantime, here is my list of the top 12 ingredients to avoid.

Sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate – These harsh and potentially irritating detergents are found in most drugstore hair care products and facial and body cleansers.

Parabens (Methyl-, Propyl-, Ethyl-, Butyl-) – These are perhaps the most commonly used synthetic preservatives found in all forms of cosmetics and personal care products. The EPA recently determined parabens cause questionable estrogen activity, and numerous studies have linked parabens to breast cancer and male reproductive disorders.

Oxybenzone – This common sunscreen ingredient enhances skin absorption which has raised issues of bioaccumulation in human tissue. Studies have also suggested it may be an endocrine disruptor and potential neurotoxin.

Hydroquinone – the FDA recently issued a warning regarding this commonly used skin bleaching chemical after it was determined it can cause a serious, disfiguring skin disease called ochronosis.

Formaldehyde – commonly used in nail polishes, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, allergen and skin, eye and lung irritant.

Placenta – found in some hair care products, can give you an unwanted dose of hormones.

Lead – a potent neurotoxin banned by the government for use in gasoline and house paint, but still found in some cosmetic and hair care products.

Phthalates – These chemicals found in many plastics and products containing “fragrance” (e.g., many perfumes/colognes on the market) have been linked to infertility in men and developmental reproductive issues in baby boys.

Petroleum byproducts (petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin) – To begin with, why would anyone want to put a product derived from the same source as gasoline on his or her face? In addition, these ingredients carry a high risk of contamination with cancer-causing toxins.

Phenoxyethanol – This is a known allergen and common irritant.

Imidazolidinyl urea – Has been linked to immune system disorders, specifically, skin sensitizing.

“PEG” and “-eth” – May contain toxic contaminants and studies have linked it to developmental and reproductive disorders.

Be well and happy shopping!

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OK, for starters let’s admit I’m someone obsessed with sun protection. Perhaps it’s a genetic or cultural thing—after all, I am part Japanese (picture umbrellas on sunny days)—or maybe it’s just vanity. I tanned incredibly easily and frequently as a teenager and would get so dark I am unrecognizable in old pictures. Now due to a fear of cancer and premature aging, I lube up the kids before they step foot outside, and for more than a decade I’ve worn SPF 30 on my face every day, rain or sun.

But as you know, finding a safe and effective sunscreen can be a daunting task. Last year, after an extensive review of more than 1,700 sunscreens, the not-for-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) determined that 85 percent of sunscreens on the market either inadequately protect against damaging ultraviolet rays and/or contain ingredients that are known or suspected to be toxic.

Below are my top picks for natural sunscreen products for kids based on personal experience as well as the detailed reviews of the EWG.

1. Badger Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($14 for 2.9 oz tube)
This non-nano* zinc oxide cream is my top pick because EWG gives it a very high rating, the price is good and it really protects. The consistency is thick and it does have a high “casper” factor (white cast), but most of it absorbs in, and quite frankly, I’m not concerned about the beauty factor with my kids.
2. Keys Soap Solar Rx Therapeutic Sunblock, SPF 30 ($32)
This nano-zinc oxide product protects well, leaves no white cast—because it has nano particles*–and comes in an easy to use “stick” form (similar to a deodorant stick). However, it’s a tad pricey.
3. Soleo Organics Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($17 for 2.6 oz)
I really liked this non-nano zinc oxide product. It has no casper effect and moisturizes well. That said, the company is relatively new and may have some quality control issues because the user reviews on Amazon are terrible (although it ranks high with the EWG). Another drawback, it seems as though the tube doesn’t last more than a few weeks during peak summer usage.
4. UV Natural Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($34 for 5.3 oz)
I haven’t used this nano-zinc oxide product for a year, but I thought it protected well and again, there is no casper effect because it uses nano technology. It was a tad greasy, but also moisturized well so I didn’t mind.

(Please note: All prices are approximate and may vary slightly by retailer.)

Several people encouraged me to include California Baby Sunscreen Lotion No Fragrance SPF 30+. I know many parents who love this product. However, I haven’t used it on my children for several years because it relies on titanium dioxide, which according to the EWG doesn’t provide full protection from UVA rays.

There are three more products I have yet to try, but I will do a follow-up to this article as soon as I do. All three are in the EWG’s top 10 from their 2009 study. They include:

  • Heiko 40 SPF Kids ($36 for 6.7 oz)
  • Loving Naturals SPF 30+ ($19.95 for 4 oz)
  • Thinkbaby Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($16.90 for 4 oz)

If you have tried one of these three products, I would love to share your feedback with others.

Now go out and soak up the sun!

*Nano technology is controversial, and from what I understand, the jury is still out on whether we should fear them. Stay tuned for a separate article capturing the latest information and opinions. For now, I’m paranoid enough that I use only non-nano formulations on myself and my children.

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