Archives for August 2010

What is Phenoxyethanol?

I’ve seen the preservative, phenoxyethanol, on many cosmetic bottles so I finally took the time to find out what it is.  According to Wikipedia, it is an organic chemical compound, a glycol ether often used in cosmetics, vaccines, and pharmaceuticals. 

Chemical of the Day says that phenoxyethanol is commonly used as a fragrance ingredient so if you don’t see ‘phenoxyethanol’ in the ingredient list but you do see ‘fragrance’, it could be in there anyway.  The Green Beauty Guide says these are ‘nicknames’ for phenoxyethanol:

  • Dowanol
  • Arosol
  • Emery 6705
  • Phenoxetol
  • Rose ether (sounds really organic!!!)
  • Phenoxyethyl alcohol
  • Glycol monophenyl ether
  • Beta-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether

    Skin Deep considers phenoxyethanol a ‘4’ or ‘moderate risk’. 

    Numerous studies have shown it to be a skin irritant and the FDA warned consumers not use a nipple cream for breastfeeding mothers because the phenoxyethanol in it “can depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration in infants.” 

    The Environmental Medical Division at Oregon Health Sciences University reported 3 cases of phenoxyethanol neurotoxicity:

    2-Phenoxyethanol, used as an anesthetic for handling small fish at a salmon hatchery, caused three women to experience headache and symptoms of intoxication during use, followed by diminished sensation and strength of hands and fingers, worse in the preferred hand. Persistent neuropathy did not develop in any of them. After 1 to 2 years of exposure, the women manifested gradual onset of symptoms of cognitive impairment with an inability to work. Neuropsychologic testing verified that all three had focal cognitive impairments that persisted. One also had documented labyrinthine hypofunction, which originated during this exposure.

    Phenoxyethanol is considered a “safer preservative” so I bet if you look at many of the skin care products labeled ‘natural’, you’ll find phenoxyethanol as an ingredient. I’m constantly looking at the ingredients on products at the store so I see it all the time.   Up until this point, I haven’t specifically avoided it but I probably will going forward, as much as I can. 

    Do you read ingredient lists on cosmetics?  What chemicals do you specifically look for to avoid?


    Chlorine in Swimming Pools and the Link to Asthma

    My husband has asthma and while he hasn’t struggled seriously with it, I am hoping our children will not get it.  So far, I think our daughter is in the clear but time will tell whether or not our son has it.  I’ve done many things to reduce their risk including keeping harmful cleaning products out of our house, using organic dairy products, keeping pets out of our house and using allergen free products on our beds

    I’ve also kept them out of chlorinated swimming pools.  Don’t worry, our kids aren’t deprived of summer fun in the water.  There have been plenty of pools and sprinklers, but we’ve limited their swimming in chlorinated pools to the occasional pool party or vacation pool. 

    Several studies have found a link between chlorine in swimming pools and asthma in children.:

    •  Science Daily reported that a study in Norway found that children with mothers who had asthma or allergies have an increased risk of wheezing if the child takes swimming lessons before 6 months.
    • A study in Belgium found that teenagers who spent more than 100 hours swimming in chlorinated pools were up to six times more at risk of having asthma than other teens.
    • The European Respiratory Journal reportedthat children who start swimming ( in indoor OR outdoor pools ) before the age of 2 may be at increased risk of bronchiolitis, and those who developed the infection were also at increased risk of developing asthma or respiratory allergies by kindergarten.

     All that being said, 20% of the U.S. Olympic swim team have asthma and they are obviously talented athletes, despite having asthma.

    Alternatives to Chlorinated Pools

    In the U.S., chlorine treated pools has been the norm for a long time but that is slowing changing.  Ozone and UV treated pools, common in Europe, are slowly making their way across the pond.  There are a couple salt water pools in our city, as well.  While many of these alternatives do use chlorine, the chlorine used is a lot lower.  The best way to find out how pools are treating their water is to call and ask!  The best way to avoid chlorine is to visit the great outdoors where you can find fresh water swimming opportunities at the beach, in the river or at the lake.

    If you have your own pool, there are several purification systems that market themselves as chlorine-free including the Ecosmarte Pool, Carefree Clearwater, and EClear.

    Now that my daughter is 3, she’s in swimming lessons, in a chlorinated pool.  With her age and interest in water, I think it’s important for her to have swimming skills for safety, exercise and lifelong enjoyment.  From current research findings, it sounds like she is also past the point of highest risk.  We will likely keep our son out of chlorinated pools until he is 2 or 3 and then enroll him in swimming lessons, too.  Hopefully by that time, we will have the opportunity to put him in a lessons in a pool treated with chlorine alternatives.  

    Do you have chlorine-free pools in your area?  Are you concerned about chlorine in your pool’s water and the link to asthma?

    This is part of the Healthy Child Blog Carnival about Clean Water and Air Solutions  – an effort by Healthy Child Healthy World to help inspire a movement to protect children from harmful chemicals.


    BPA-Free Canning Lids

    We have some yummy strawberry jam stored in the freezer to be used all winter until next June when we can pick those juicy berries again.  That’s the only canning I do but I know people that do it year round.  Just like any food storage products,  you want to make sure you are using BPA-free canning lids.  Last fall, when we found out that canning lids had BPA in them, we could only find one alternative.  Since then, a few more have popped up.  Here’s those that make the list:

    Tattler Reusable Canning Lids – You can use these with any standard mason jar and metal screw band.  They carry both regular and wide mouth.  If they wear out, Tattler will replace them for free.  They are plastic, infinitely reusable and dishwasher safe.  Made in the U.S.A.

    Weck – Weck is a German company that makes beautiful all glass canning jars and lids.

    Ball Plastic Freezer Jars – These are great for freezer jam or sauces.  They are plastic and come in 8 ounce, 16 ounce and 32 ounces. Top-rack dishwasher safe.

    Lehman’s Reusable Canning Jar Lids – These plastic lids can be used with any standard metal band in pressure canners, water bath or vacuum sealers. The company states that these leads “do not contain BPA, lead, mercury or phthalates”.

    Have you found any other companies that make BPA-free canning lids?  Let us know in the comments!


    Organic Baby Formula and DHA

    When we did a review of organic baby formula, we briefly talked about an ingredient that is generally included called hexane processed DHA/ARA.  Since then, hexane processed DHA/ARA has been banned from organic baby formula (although it doesn’t appear to have been removed from organic formula yet).  The reason?  These DHA and ARA additives are produced using a potential neurotoxin known as hexane.

    So once hexane processed DHA/ARA is removed from organic baby formula, should you switch to non-organic formula or is DHA even important?

    What is DHA?

    DHA is very important for brain development, it’s food for the brain and because 60% of our brain is made up of fats, we need to be feeding it good fats.  According to Dr. Sears, “The body needs two kinds of fat to manufacture healthy brain cells (the message senders) and prostaglandins (the messengers). These are omega 6 fatty acids (found in many oils, such as safflower, sunflower, corn, and sesame oils) and omega 3 fatty acids (found in flax, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, and cold water fish, such as salmon and tuna).  A diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids (such as the LNA from flax oil or the EPA and DHA from fish oils) not only provides the body with healthy fats, but it also lowers the blood level of potentially harmful ones, such as cholesterol and, possibly, even reversing the effects of excess trans fatty acids.”

    Dr. Sear’s continues, “In fact, there are two windows of time in which the brain is especially sensitive to nutrition: the first two years of life for a growing baby and the last couple decades of life for a senior citizen.  The most rapid brain growth occurs during the first year of life, with the infant’s brain tripling in size by the first birthday. During this stage of rapid central nervous system growth, the brain uses sixty percent of the total energy consumed by the infant. Fats are a major component of the brain cell membrane and the myelin sheath around each nerve. So, it makes sense that getting enough fat, and the right kinds of fat, can greatly affect brain development and performance. In fact, during the first year, around fifty percent of an infant’s daily calories come from fat. Mother Nature knows how important fat is for babies; fifty percent of the calories in mother’s milk is fat.”

    Research has found that:

    • Infants who have low amounts of DHA in their diet have reduced brain development and diminished visual acuity.
    • The increased intelligence and academic performance of breastfed compared with formula- fed infants has been attributed in part to the increased DHA content of human milk.
    • Cultures whose diet is high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as the Eskimos who eat a lot of fish) have a lower incidence of degenerative diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis.
    • Experimental animals whose diets are low in DHA have been found to have smaller brains and delayed central nervous system development.
    • Some children with poor school performance because of ADD, have been shown to have insufficient essential fatty acids in their diet. (This is a very interesting theory, read more about it here.)

    So how can I get DHA in my children’s body?

    1.  Breastfeed The level of DHA in your breast milk is affected by the level you ingest via food or supplements.

    2.  Infant formula – Most infant formula on the market today DOES contain DHA and is labeled as such.  Currently, the only organic formula that does NOT have added DHA in it is Nature’s One Baby’s Only.

    3. DHA supplements –You can find DHA supplements for your infant, children, teens and adults.  In our home, we use Nordic Naturals, a brand my naturopath recommends – DHA for infants and DHA for children.

    4.  DHA food sources – The healthiest source of DHA is seafood. Two 4-ounce servings of omega-3-rich fish per week should yield a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Besides fish oils, vegetable oils (primarily flax seed, soy, and canola) are also rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids, with flax seed oil being the best. The two F’s, fish and flax, are the top brain-building foods for growing children, and adults.

    I want to plainly state that I’m not encouraging anyone to give up baby formula because it contains hexane processed DHA.  I am a huge believer in DHA and have seen it affect change, particularly in our daughter (I’ll write more on that later).  I just wanted to point out the importance of DHA and that there are multiple ways to get DHA into our bodies.


    2010 PVC Free School Supplies

    I can’t believe we’re in ‘Back to School’ season already.  In the Pacific NW, summer started, like yesterday.  It was a loooooong rainy winter and I’m not sure spring even showed up this year. 

    The Center for Health, Environment and Justice has just released their Back to School Guide for PVC Free School Supplies.  Remember, PVC is the “poison plastic” and one you should avoid as much as possible because of the nasty chemicals it leaches.

    This comprehensive 17 page guide lists everything from art supplies to backpacks to binders to dry erase markers and paperclips (colored paper clips are coated with PVC).  Everything you could possibly need for school is on this list.  Print it out and take it with you to the store.  If you want the condensed version, print out the wallet size version.

    A great place to start your shopping is Stubby Pencil Studio.  The owner and mama, Kate, finds non-toxic school supplies for all ages.

    My kids aren’t yet of the age where I need to purchase “school supplies” but many of the the items on the list we still use in our home office or for home craft projects so I’ll be referencing it frequently.  You’ll be surprised at how many things you use on a regular basis that have PVC.  The good news is that there ARE alternatives!

    What PVC free school supplies will you be buying this year?