Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sustainable Palm Oil

Maybe you've heard the hullabaloo about the evils of palm oil and the poor orangutans.  It's gotten a lot of attention recently. But you might not have heard the whole story. Or you might not know why it's so important for soap.

 It's a thorny issue and one that I've been trying to figure out for some time. I am currently using SUSTAINABLY produced palm oil for all my soaps. The explanation is a bit long, but I'm going to start at the beginning and try to cover all the bases.

What It Is

Let’s start at the very beginning.  What exactly IS palm oil? Palm oil is produced from red seed pods of the palm tree and is used as cheap cooking oil for most of the world.  Large (well, mega) food manufacturers jumped on the cheapo bandwagon for profit reasons and now use palm oil in almost everything.  It accounts for almost 50% of all food products in the grocery stores today – crackers, cookies, ice creams, all hydrogenated trans fats stuff. It also happens to be used a little bit in personal care products (shampoos, body washes, bar soaps).

Where It Comes From

The vast majority of palm oil comes from Indonesia. At least 85% of it comes from vast plantations of palm trees in Malaysia. Currently the world appetite has outstripped the production and there are both shortages and price increases.  For impoverished nations like Borneo, Sumatra and Malaysia, the production of palm oil gives them their only opportunity at a better economy, and lifts many families out of poverty. In the rush to make more, they have been clear-cutting and devastating the natural rainforests to make land available to plant new palm plantations.

Why It’s Bad

As these rainforests are being destroyed, the natural habitats of many animals are being affected, including many endangered species, such as the Asian elephant, the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros and Bornean orangutan. Slash and burn techniques as well as outright shooting of the wildlife, especially the orangutans, has outraged the rest of the world. These vast rain forests are incredibly important areas for climate change and our Earth's sustainability, and even for their own people’s sustainability. It’s a short-term gain for a long-term disaster.

If you’re interested in seeing first hand how it’s grown, produced and ultimately harvested – check out WWF International’s video:

Palm Oil In Soap

From a soapmaker’s point of view, palm oil is a necessity – one of the trinity of base oils used in most soap recipes. Olive oil, coconut oil and palm oil have become the foundation of soap making because they complement each other, working synergistically to make the perfect bar.  Palm oil acts as a secondary lathering agent, and since it’s a solid, contributes to bar hardness, giving longevity to the life of the soap.  Coconut oil produces a rich creamy lather and is a superior cleanser, while olive oil is the moisturizer, giving the soap a silky feel. As the issue has heated up, even the largest manufacturers have struggled with creating a quality product for a reasonable cost without the palm oil component.

My Tiny Stake In It

This is important to know: the degree to which palm oil is used in cosmetics, including soaps, is quite small.  I’ve heard various statistics ranging from 1% to 6% of the total amount of production in the entire world goes towards cosmetics. The remaining 99% is used for food production. Given that my small cottage soap business is the tiniest sliver of that maybe 5% globally, I want to do the right thing but I need to keep it in perspective too. It’s my only source of income, and losing business by doubling my soap prices is not an option. Or losing all my customers because I suddenly had an inferior product doesn’t work either. My beliefs and personal responsibility are at the heart of everything I do, however, so I knew I had to find an answer and take action.

Sustainable Palm Oil

Ultimately, I would prefer to create a better recipe that does not use palm oil at all, but that’s still in the experiment stage. In the meantime, I have found a fairly priced, reliable supply of sustainable palm oil, certified and sanctioned by the RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil).  

Starting a few months ago, all the Soapworks Studio soaps have been made with sustainable palm oil. I am in the process of transitioning all the labels and ingredient lists to reflect this change.

The Bigger Problem

As I mentioned, food products account for the vast majority of the palm oil production. As long as companies continue using palm oil, the Indonesian and Malaysian governments will allow the clearing and burning of rainforests to develop new plantations.  Oil palm trees are so lucrative that governments and businesses only see dollar signs.

It’s not the cooking of households and street food vendors in Indonesia that are making this such a hot button issue.  It’s PepsiCo, Kraft, Heinz, and other corporate food conglomerates. Palm Oil and its derivatives are packed into almost everything we see as walk down the grocery store aisles. Packaged foods of every kind -- ice cream, cookies, crackers, chips, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, dry and canned soups, margarine, cake mixes, doughnuts, frozen sweets and meals, infant formula, yes, even Skittles (and holy crapola! Girl Scout cookies!!). In the US alone palm oil imports have jumped 485% in the last decade.

Obviously any steps we can take individually to slow down or stop our consumption of this product is important. And if you want to know more, or do more, including signing petitions or sending letters, a great place to start is the Rain Forest Action Network.

Questions? Do you have something to share about this? Please join the discussion in the comments below.

And if you want to know more about all the ingredients I use in my products, check out my FAQ here.  Or see my other blog posts, with in-depth descriptions of ingredients by clicking on the label "Ingredient Insider" below.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What's your best seller?

This question is almost always asked in relation to the soap scents. (But I'll touch on the other stuff too!)

Ok, if I'm being totally honest? This is not what people ask me first. What they DO ask is "what's YOUR favorite?" and sheesh, I can't answer THAT!  Like your kids, these babies are all my own creations and I can't pick one over the other. I should say I love them all, but there are a few that I go back to more often than the others.  However this varies by month or by year or by what's new this season. And I won't trash talk any of them.

So I steer people in different directions, like what scents they like best, or more often, what are the most popular soaps. So here we are. What's my best seller? You'll be shocked to know the real answer, but as with all things, there's a story to it.

The number one best seller of soaps last year was . . . drumroll .  . . PATCHOULI!  Oh my GOD you're thinking.  That stuff stinks!! Well, yes. Sorta. But Patchouli fans are very loyal and when they find a good thing they buy it by the dozen.  Or maybe 8 at a time. And they just restock regularly by mail order, and don't even run around to shows to find me any more. They found it. They love it. They can't live without it. And I made more of that than any other soap scent last year.

But the very close runner up, and the one that sells by far the most at any festival, show or craft sale  - day in and day out, year round -  and has been the best seller since Day One in my business is LAVENDER LEMONGRASS.

So the Top 5 are probably the ones in my Helping Hands set - which is why they are there:  Lavender Lemongrass, French Lavender, Vanilla Bean & Honey, Clove Mint and Moroccan Fig. Well the fig one might be not be top 5, but it's definitely top 10 - it just looks so pretty in there.

Others that make the cut:  Lavender Pear, Breakfast, and Tea Tree & Blue Clay. And the seasonal scents are often more popular than anything else at any given moment, because they are new and fresh and only available for a limited time. So the whole question can get a bit complicated. Really, scent favorites are such an individual thing, and what one person loves, the other one doesn't.  Or vice versa.

Top spray - tie between the Lavender Lemongrass and the French Lavender. But the Coconut Lemon gets a lot of raves during the summer months. And the Holiday Spice is unbeatable during the holiday season.

Top bath salt - Vanilla Bean & Honey. Usually. Sometimes there's a run on the French Lavender, or the Almond Ginger.

Top lip balm - Vanilla Tangerine, followed closely by the Coconut Lemon. And maybe the Herbal Mint. But lately the Blackberry Pomegranate too. See? It's hard to choose!

When you see me the next time - you can still ask me "what's your best seller?" and maybe the line-up will be a little different by then. In our current ADD/Twitter culture, what's "trending" moves more quickly than ever. But the stuff that really smells good never goes out of style.

P.S. If you want to answers to other very often asked questions, click on the tag "Q&A" to see what other burning hot Q's I've A'd in the blog.  I'm doing these at least once a month so you'll all be experts too.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dry Skin Brushing - A Diagram

Maybe you've already heard my preaching about dry skin brushing.  Or maybe you've heard about it from somewhere else and are still not sure what all the hoopla is about.

I've put all the benefits and how-to's in one place on my web site, here. But I hadn't seen an actual diagram of how the brush strokes were supposed to go.  I'd only read the usual directions - that the strokes should go towards the heart.

Just a few days ago I found this site which has several posts about what it is, the benefits and finally the (very strict) Ayuverdic technique, which has been used for thousands of years. Personally, I just don't like to follow rules, any rules, that strictly. I'm not afraid that if my brush accidentally goes up in one spot instead of down, or vice versa, that I'm going to mess up my entire lymphatic system or rupture a blood vessel.  But that's a decision you can make for yourself. I do try to follow the strokes as they are generally advised, but mostly I follow my own intuition about what feels good on my own body, and I believe we all should use that power as much as possible. Having said that, below is the front and back diagram, and if you want to read more about what these folks have to say about it, check them out here.

If you want to know more about the whole process and why to do it, then head over to read the biggie guide on my site and see what the fuss is all about.  And it's good.  Real good.  Like super healthy, anti-aging, get rid of cellulite forever good.

Also, if you just need a new brush, I've got two styles located here.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Poetry: June


Mine is the time of foliage,
When hills and valley's teem
With buds and vines sweet scented,
All clothed in glowing green.

My nights are bright and starry,
My days are long and clear
And truly I'm the fairest,
Of all months in the year.

- Mary Fordham

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Dad's Day - Keepin' It Clean

Did you know?  A Spokane, Washington woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower, was the woman who took up the cause of creating an official holiday equivalent to Mother's Day for male parents.  She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea.  And eventually she was successful.  Washington State (our very own Washington State!) celebrated the nation's first statewide Father's Day on July 19, 1910.  Civil war veteran William Jackson Smart must have been a pretty great Dad.  Thanks Smart family!

So we've been honoring, celebrating and pampering our fathers on the second Sunday in June for a while now.  Mom's get their day in May, and it's all wagons of flowers and over-the-top brunches, giant boxes of candy, and sentimental and gooey.  Dad's get their day and we usually just buy them a tie and let them play golf.  Maybe grill steaks later for dinner if it's nice out.  Dad's are easier and usually just want to do their own thing instead of be the star of a big party.  So it makes sense to show them how much we appreciate all they do for us with gifts that make them feel treasured, and might not be something they would already buy for themselves, right?

Keeping clean and smelling good is not only for girls. I'm hear to tell you that there are plenty of men who use, like, even enjoy those "special soaps" in their morning shower. Sometimes they are brave enough to actually approach the booth, sniff up a bunch of stuff and choose their own favorites.  Often though, they will pretend they don't care while in public, non-chalantly whiffing a few bars their wives hold up to their noses.  But once home, they absolutely love lathering up with a really nice bar.  Gals will tell me that their hubbies have taken over all the bars they brought home and they need to get more.

Why not just buy them their own little supply so they can continue sudsing and smelling fine, while keeping that little secret to themselves?  I've got all kinds of soap scents, manly, neutral, spicy, or perhaps, even a bit flowery.  Who says a guy can't like lavender too?

I've even heard about some men who like to take baths! Can you imagine?! If you've got a Dad (or hubbie) like this, you might consider buying a little soap or bath treat for the super hero guy who works so hard and takes care of so much.

I'll help out. Type the word DAD in the message box of one of the items you're buying and when you ring up at the end, you'll see a 20% off discount on your whole order. It's good starting today, but ends midnight Wednesday, June 11. Because Thursday is the last day I can ship something to arrive before the big weekend (if you live semi- close by).  But don't wait that late if you live farther away!  East Coast folks should get their order on now, or they'll be late to the party.

Happy Dads are the best Dads.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Eating for the sake of beauty.

Beauty is an inside-out job. That whole "you are what you eat" thing? It's for reals. Harsh, I know, but oh so true.

It doesn't matter how much you spend on pricey face creams.  If your lifestyle includes smoking, drinking, partying all night, and snarfling junk food, or any combination of those things, it's going to eventually show up on your face, and the rest of your skin too. And even more so once you've past those dewy golden 20-something years.  It's cumulative.  And it's not pretty.

The good news is that it's not hard to boost the beautiful.  And it involves eating.  Bonus

Obviously following a few of the other basic rules is going to take you farther down the road:  reducing stress in your life, getting enough sleep every night, moisturizing well, using sun protection, etc.  None of that is new info.

But the eating part is where you might want a little more advice.  Again, there are some really obvious ones, like ditch the processed foods, reduce sugar intake, avoid over-imbibing on alcoholic beverages, and the other trendy one now - try gluten-free. 

So what are you left with? Well, piles of great stuff that not only makes you feel good - they make you look good too:  fruits, vegetables, whole foods of all kinds.  There are many that boost your body’s skin-beautifying, specifically collagen production, the stuff that keeps your skin, firm, tight, taut and toned, sorta like it's workin' the CrossFit.  Here are 7 foods you might want to add in to your healthy eating that just might do a little something for your looks too.

1. Water-rich vegetables like cucumber and celery have a high sulfur content which is important because collagen can’t be produced if sulfur isn’t present. Plus they are naturally hydrating.  Fresh, plump and resilient is what we're going for, not dried up, flaky raisin.

2. Seafood (fish, mostly, not shellfish as much) is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which helps create stronger skin. Skin cells are surrounded by a fatty membrane that protects them. When the cells are healthy, they are able to support the structure of the skin.  Going for that smooth, wrinkle-free look. We love our Pacific Northwest Salmon around here and it always tops the omega-3 list. (Bonus points for eating sustainable fish and/or wild-caught instead of farmed-raised.)

3. Red vegetables are a natural form of sun protection. Tomatoes, peppers and beets contain the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene acts as a natural sun block, protecting the skin from damage while increasing collagen levels at the same time. (Bonus points again for organic and/or local. And if both? Jackpot.)

4. Dark green vegetables which are rich in vitamin C (especially spinach and kale) have multiple skin benefits. Vitamin C is key to the production of collagen, maintaining firmness and elasticity, creating scar tissue and ligaments, and helping skin repair itself.  It also takes those dastardly free-radicals out at the knees - the ones that cause dryness, fine lines and wrinkles.  It's been found not not only neutralize free-radicals, but reverse DNA damage, including sun damage. (Again, go organic if possible, and local if that's an option.)

5. Berries scavenge those pesky free radicals too, acting as anti-oxidents and anti-agers.  They're chock full of Vitamin C also - helping you get back that radiant glow.  Blackberries and blueberries are the real go-getters, but all berries are your friends. (Organic, blah, blah, local, blah, blah.)

6. White tea.  Another anti-oxident super beauty food. You've heard all about the incredible benefits of green tea, for everything including skin.  Well white tea is even better, because it's the least processed tea leaf, keeping more of its catechins intact, the polyphenols that go to town on free-radicals. White tea protects the structural proteins of the skin, specifically collagen. It prevents enzyme activity that breaks down collagen, contributing to lines and wrinkles, keeping you more juicy, plump, and fresh. One other benefit I might add, white tea contains ECGC, an antioxidant that prevents new fat cells from forming - not like anybody cares about that, right
(Organic? yes, please.)

7. Orange vegetables, like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin, are rich in vitamin A, in addition to other nutrients, which restores and regenerates damaged collagen, plus increases overall skin tone, health and appearance from sun damage. (Just because I can't say organic enough in one post.  Organic is the bomb.)

No need to starve for beauty.  Just keep it clean and the world will be a prettier place.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Sorticulture reminder and free wood chips

Just a reminder that this coming weekend is the Sorticulture event - the awesome garden plants and art show in Everett.  It's Fri - Sun in Legion Park. And if you need more info, see the Event Listing on the FB page or on my site (or just scroll down the blog here, I did a whole post about it last week).

They've got display gardens from landscape designers set up too (with plants labelled) which is great inspiration for your own garden. Plus lectures and demos all weekend so you can learn the best tips and tricks.  Even Ciscoe Morris will be there! I credit him with the great tip on where to get free wood chip mulch from arborists. Need some too?