Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is it Easy Going Green?

We know Kermit thinks it isn’t easy being Green but today, with the increased focus on the environment and the proliferation of organic, non-toxic natural products, is it really difficult to be Green? It is all relative. When I started on this path about 8 years ago, it wasn’t nearly as easy as it is now. I recall making most of my Green purchases over the phone from small companies who did not have websites yet and were not close to our NYC apartment. I would order whatever limited Green products I could over the phone: non-toxic paint and cleaning supplies, organic mattresses/sheets/towels, some organic food and personal care products.

We’ve come a long way in a few years. Today, Green and organic labeled products are everywhere. Our earnest, niche movement has gone mainstream. I’m pleased that more people realize the importance of being eco-friendly – for their own personal health, their family and the health of our planet. This increase in Green demand makes it much easier to find Green products. Yet I’m concerned that some “Green” companies are labeling their products as organic or natural when they indeed are not. How is a lay person supposed to know the difference?

Here, I seek to shed some truth on the products that are indeed organic and not harmful to you or the environment. I’ll embark on this mission thru a combination of my own personal experience and research, and I’ll share the discoveries of trusted medical and environmental experts.

Let’s start with an analysis of natural beauty products. With help from Skin Deep at , we all have access to the truth about how safe cosmetics and personal care products are for you and the environment. The lower the Skin Deep score on a 1 to 10 scale, the safer the product.

Who doesn’t have a friend who swore off makeup because it “clogged her pores”, “caused wrinkles” or “took too much time to put on in the morning or to remove at night”? Like many women, I was taught that wearing makeup harmed my skin and that a natural, no-makeup look was the best thing I could do to keep my skin young, healthy and clear. Then I learned about natural mineral make-up. Did you know that you can wear simple, natural mineral makeup and not only look good but also do good for your skin? I thought it was too good to be true so I put my face to the test and tried 3 natural mineral based makeup lines over the course of 3 months. I used each product for a month so I could see the effects through a complete monthly cycle and also gauge the reactions of others.

It seems that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. My best critics noticed that something was different, but they kept asking me if I had done something to my hair. I even tried wearing one makeup to bed one night because it was advertised to be so good for my skin that I could wear it overnight. I got more makeup on the sheets then I got compliments from my husband. But it didn’t matter because I was already hooked, line and sinker. I didn’t need to look in the mirror. I knew that I looked healthier, more natural and more glowing…if only from the inside out. Just knowing that my new makeup brands were natural, free of chemicals and preservatives (as well as not tested on animals) brought a rose to my cheeks. And while I wasn’t completely blemish free for 3 months, I did notice a decrease in periodic eruptions and overall redness.

My favorite natural makeup brands:
- Bare Escentuals: The most natural “bare” look imaginable with mineral makeup that actually heals and protects your skin. I sprung for the Introductory Kit because it was a great value with foundations, blushes and brushes as well as an easy to follow DVD showing how to get that gorgeous bare, natural look both day and night. Not only do you look like you don’t have makeup on (in a good way) but you don’t get that “I’m wearing makeup” goopy feeling. I also like their bareMinerals Lip Kit in Perfect Bronze that provides a 100% natural lip trio: lipliner, lipcolor and lipgloss with easy instructions. Skin Deep scores: 3-6

- Jane Iredale: Literally referred to as “The Skin Care Makeup”, this mineral makeup produces an effortless, flawless finish that dermatologists and plastic surgeons highly recommend. I’ve grown quite attached to her Amazing Base, 24-Karat Gold Rose blush/bronzer, Zap&Hide Blemish concealer, PurePressed Silver Lining Eye Shadow and PurePressed Cotton Candy Blush, UnderEye brightener and her luxurious brushes. For summer, I’m wearing DreamTint – a moisture tint with SPF15. Skin Deep scores: 1-6

- Dr. Hauschka: Combining mineral makeup with natural botanicals makes this makeup nourishing as well as beautiful. I found their lipstick with shea butter and carrot extract to be moisturizing and yummy too (important since the average woman ingests 4.4 pounds of lipstick a year) and I like their Translucent Makeup with carrot and witch hazel extracts that soothes and calms my skin while avocado and jojoba oils keep it moist and glowing. Skin Deep scores: 0-6
If you want to try the adventure for yourself and explore the world of natural makeup, I recommend that you seek out products that are paraben-free, preservative-free, fragrance-free and not tested on animals. I also suggest that you select one brand and then use their products exclusively as they work best together to enhance, balance and nourish your skin. Plus, then you just have one place to travel to get all your makeup (cutting down on carbon emissions). My favorite products above are also all available through their online stores where they often provide a retailer locator.

Now I’ll never wander aimlessly through a department store makeup floor again because I’ve found true natural beauty in a recyclable bottle. As Green continues to mainstream, I look forward to the day when I can find these superior natural makeup products as easily as I can now find organic milk at my local deli. However, for this to happen, we each need to do our part and raise the demand for more truly green products. We need to vote for Green with our dollars and support these companies as only then will going Green continue to get easier every day.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Organic or Bust

So my first trip to the grocery store as a Greenie was a bit taunting. So many decisions to make! Organic or Conventional? What about Local? Which was Greener? And what should I do if the produce I wanted wasn't available in organic form? Was it worth the additional price?

I realized that I needed to be better informed before I went to the store so I could feel better about the choices I needed to make. After a few weeks/months of research and long grocery trips where I read all the food labels, it got easier. By asking a lot of questions and reading various research and opinions, I found the answers that worked for my new green lifestyle.

I found that for people seeking high nutritional value and reduced risk of exposure to the toxins associated with factory farming practices, organic Green produce offers peace of mind. Organic and conventional produce differ in how the food is farmed as the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is restricted in organic production. The pesticides used in conventional farming can accumulate in our bodies and may have subtle and long term effects on our health. In addition, research increasingly shows that the nutritional content of organic produce is significantly higher than conventional produce.

I believe that food that hasn’t been treated with pesticides and other chemicals is preferable to food that has been treated. Even if you really do wash all your fruits and veggies before you cook or eat them raw, it is impossible to wash off all the chemicals. We tend to think that pesticides are sprayed on the surface of fruits and veggies as they ripen but farmers can now apply sophisticated new bug killers into the soil that then make their way into the plant and into the future food. Such systemic pesticides cannot be washed off.

Finding all your favorite produce in organic form at a reasonable price and within a reasonable distance is becoming increasingly easy- many supermarkets now provide organic food sections for their customers. I shop at my local Whole Foods and Food Emporium but do my main grocery shopping via Fresh Direct where they have a good range of Green products. We also belong to a local organic farmers buying club and have frequented NYC farmer’s markets.

If you are just starting to think organic, or find the local supplies limited, not all conventional produce is heavily treated and some have more protective coverings to lessen chemical penetration. Here is a list of the produce that you should always buy organic: strawberries, apples, grapes, apricots, bell peppers, peaches, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupe, celery, cherries, cucumbers and green beans.

The truest Green food is Local Organic produce, grown on farms in the nearby countryside. These fruits and veggies are by definition seasonal. In spring in California, that means artichokes; summer in Michigan means blueberries and autumn in Washington means apples. Typically, only produce that has traveled less than a day (7 or fewer hours) from the farm can be labeled "locally grown." Less travel time means less energy expended to get these fresh organic foods to your table. In many cities, farmers markets have become a fun and nutritious adventure, providing locally grown produce, while at the same time helping to support farmers and their land. If you are interested in supporting locally grown farmers check out the USDA website and for some fun sustainable food tips and great info, try Sustainable Table.

For more scientific information on the benefits of organic vs. conventional food download this PDF:

What have you discovered on your way to going green? Does your local supermarket offer enough green options? Are you able to see beyond the price tag and see the value of eating organic?