Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolutions for 2009

Another year is nearly upon us. And I'm often still saddened at how often organic and/or natural products are inaccessible or too expensive for most of us. I read various "green" websites and always get that sinking feeling in my stomach when they are recommending a $90 face cream, or $45 underwear. Having said that, buying an expensive item is not necessarily going to be off the radar. One thing I am going to try to do this year is to really think about what I am buying, and perhaps spend a bit more. Especially on clothing. So here are my green New Year's Resolutions:

1. Only buy ethical clothing. This may be organic, fair trade, US-made, vintage and/or recycled. I am definitely caught too often by the allure of low priced non-organic clothing that is produced in the far east. Is this doing anyone much good? Even if the jobs are good for the workers, they are paid minimal wages, and have to deal with all the chemicals that the fabrics are processed with. This will involve spending more per item, but hopefully it will be a frugal choice over all because I will buy fewer items. That's the plan anyway.

2. Cut out some of my non eco-friendly hold-out habits, provided I can find good alternatives. Swiffer sweeper, I'm looking at you. And little plastic disposable flossers. And not always having a reusable bag in my purse for those impromptu purchases. And I'm sure there are many others.

3. Stop frivolous purchases of "stuff" that I just don't need. Just because something is cute, and on sale, does not make it good for the planet. I resolve to go home, research it on the interweb, look in the house to see if I already own something similar, and then buy it only if I still want it after that.

4. Keep up with the reviews. Sorry I have been slacking a bit of late - I will try to do a minimum of one per week, if not more.

5. Learn how to make at least one "green" thing from scratch, and then make and use it regularly. This might be exfoliator, or a cleaning product, or even bread.

What are you going to do to go more green this year? Any tips or hints that I should adopt too?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: Kiss My Face Whitening Toothpaste

I've resisted reviewing toothpastes up to now. I just couldn't get inspired by them. I mean, JASON makes one that tastes really great (Powersmile) but it doesn't contain fluoride and my teeth always start hurting after a while of using a non-fluoride toothpaste. And then Tom's of Maine makes lots of toothpastes that are often fairly reasonably priced. So I would usually whatever variety of Tom's was cheapest, and would use both a non-fluoride and a fluoride containing toothpaste at the same time, alternating them randomly. But I found that the bacteria in my mouth must have got used to Tom's of Maine (or something) because it wasn't doing me much good on the breath-freshening front.
I saw the Kiss My Face toothpaste on special offer at Whole Foods, in a "buy one, get one free" deal. So I snapped up a couple of tubes to try them out, even though I would normally never pay $5.99 for a toothpaste.
First of all, the color. This stuff is bright green. And although it foams up to a white color fairly quickly, as it starts out, it I have to say, it's a bit weird at first to be brushing green stuff on your teeth. Then the taste. When I first tasted it, I thought it was far too sweet. It didn't taste like toothpaste at all, but rather that you're applying candy. Or perhaps dessert. But then the minty-ness hits, and it's a very pleasant herbal minty taste, so I got over my thoughts on it being too sweet fairly quickly. More importantly, it's a long lasting mint taste, so your breath feels like it stays sweeter for longer. And, after a few uses, the sweetness was no longer odd, but refreshing, and tasty too!
Surprisingly, I haven't had any tooth sensitivity issues since using this toothpaste, and I've been using it exclusively to see if I'd get that familiar "ouch, I need some fluoride" feeling. Many people think that fluoride in our water and our toothpastes is contributing to thyroid issues, so I do try to limit my intake as much as I can. However, I don't want to be without teeth as an older person, and I do have some enamel quality problems with a few soft spots that can get sensitive, so I flip flop on this issue. I must say though, if I can get good results without extra chemicals, then I think that's the way to go. The pain just hasn't come, though, and I've finished one whole tube now, so it's clearly doing something different from the other non-fluoride toothpastes I have tried.
And finally, efficacy. It's a bit hard to say how effective a toothpaste really is, apart from on fresh breath issues. I don't know if it's actually helped keep my teeth whiter or not. But I'm pleased to say that my dentist told me this morning that I've been doing an awesome job with brushing lately. I also cringed less when he was using the long pointy torture device to check for cavities, so I think some of my sensitivity issues have really lessened quite considerably.
I checked the price of this on the internet, and it seems to be in a broad range from $3-something up to $6-something. One comparison site showed a general price drop this month, so it could be that the price is coming down but not all retailers have caught up.
I'm going to surprise myself here and give it the full 5 stars. I really like this!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Review: Physician's Formula Organic wear Concealer

I'm so glad that I didn't review this concealer quickly. I bought it and used it without too many problems for a while. It didn't sink in to my skin much, so required a lot of rubbing so as not to look obvious. But it seemed to do its job adequately. I was, if not pleased, at least not displeased.

And then the stick broke off.  I mean, the actual concealer, not the holder part of the stick. I wasn't even doing anything - just trying to smudge the darn thing into my face. It obviously wasn't a solid enough formula to put up with everyday usage. I pushed the stick back into the holder and decided I would continue using it anyway, although of course it became a bit more difficult to use, so I used it less and less.

And then I dropped it, and the stick dislodged again. Again I pushed it back in to the holder. Again I tried to keep using it but it got annoying, so I put it aside for a month.

Today I went to use it again, and as soon as I took the top off, the smell of rancid grease hit me. It's gone off!!  I've had this less than six months. Now, OK, I accept that organic items have either no preservatives or fewer preservatives than their chemically-laden counterparts.  So I try not to horde them, and try to pay attention to "best before" dates. But to have something give up the ghost on me in less than six months is really quite annoying. Not to mention, nasty.

So, I'm sorry, Physician's Formula, this one is a dud. I still like your tinted moisturizer and wear it every day, along with your powder foundation. But the concealer? No stars for you.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Feeling content

It's Cyber Monday, the time of year when online shopping is supposed to be crazy, and I have been getting plenty of emails with discounts that I have been checking out. The emails included $15 from my formerly favorite cosmetics/skin care specialty store - you know the one - it's sometimes referred to as "Disneyland for girls." Anyway, I went off to scour the natural and organic skin care and makeup lines, thinking that I might splurge on something. And I have to tell you, nothing appealed. I did not want to buy anything.

The reason? I'm pretty darn happy with my current skin care routine. Which is a complete first for me, I must admit. After jumping from product to product for decades, always trying to find the next latest and greatest product, usually a moisturizer, I have no desire to change. Not even for a more expensive product line. I'm shocked at myself.

I think most of the accolades have to go to Burt's Bees Radiance Night Creme. I started off hating it, and gradually revised my opinion upwards as I kept using the jar and started seeing results. Now I'm half way through my second jar, and I feel that my skin is all sorts of glowy, and yes, radiant. It's smooth and moisturized and just feels very soft and dewey. And all for $15 a jar! So I have revised its star rating upwards to five stars. Now, sure, I don't look 20 again, but then again, I don't need to look 20 again. I just need to look as good as I can.

The other things I am using are:

Juice Organics Brightening Cleanser - a good all-around cleanser that does a nice job for me.

Lavera anti-age sunscreen and Physician's Formula Tinted Moisturizer. I found both of these products to be adequate when I used them separately, but nothing to get excited about. However, now I am putting a squirt of each onto my fingertips in the morning so that they mix together as I apply them, and I am really liking the mixture. The Lavera is a bit thick for my liking, and the Physician's Formula a bit thin, so together they do a really nice job. The scent of the Lavera, which is slightly minty, is also nicely uplifting.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: Nature's Gate Tea Tree Calming Conditioner

I have issues with my locks. In addition to my frizz-prone moisture-sucking hair, I admit that I have scalp issues. I should have known that I would, seeing as my father has been sporting a collar-full of flakes for as long as I can remember. He has always used an anti-dandruff shampoo with absolutely no effect whatsoever, so he just lives with it.

I had some flakeage, but it wasn't too bad, and wasn't bothering me much. But then lately it seemed to be increasing and started making me feel self-conscious. I don't want to be the woman with the dandruff, but I didn't have any faith in anti-dandruff shampoos either. So I wasn't quite sure what to do to improve the situation.

And then I needed some more conditioner, and looked at the Nature's Gate shelf in the store for their Hemp Moisturizing Conditioner, which would be my holy grail product if only it was organic. The store was out, unfortunately, but I saw the Tea Tree Calming Conditioner for irritated, flaky scalp, and thought "what the heck, I'll give it a go."

The conditioner is a great texture - not too thick, not too thin, and has a really invigorating mint smell. As soon as you put it on, you can feel the mint + menthol seeping into your scalp, so it really feels like it is doing something good. It moisturized my hair well, leaving it soft and not frizzy, which was a surprise, as usually that's a tall order for a lot of hair products. But the most amazing thing? It calmed my scalp right down.  You see, I didn't even realize that I had an irritated scalp until the irritation went away. I didn't realize how often my scalp bugged me, or itched, during the day - I must have been scratching away unconsciously all the time.

And of course, I can't really say how much flakeage actually makes it to my shoulders, and how much this has reduced it by, as I've never really measured. But it seems to be causing less snow to fall on me, so I think it is working. It hasn't gone away 100%, but it's enough to cut down on the self consciousness a lot.

So now you'll have to count me in as a Nature's Gate fan. Not only are the conditioners paraben-free and full of lots of herbal goodness, not only are they reasonably priced ($4.89 for 18 fl oz) but they work. Two winners out of two that I have tried.  If only they were organic! 

Four and a half stars. It would be five, nay in fact it would be six stars, if only it was the same price, the same quality AND organic.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: Alba Botanica Pineapple Quench Lip Balm

If you were to dredge through my various handbags, work bags, cosmetic baskets, and cabinets, you would get the distinct impression that I am a lip balm fiend. I have many, many of the little buggers. But the actual truth is that I am often tempted by a cheap, shiny, new little stick of potential heaven, and then I am often sadly disappointed when I go to use it. Sometimes they are too greasy, sometimes sticky, sometimes the stick breaks when I go to apply it. Sometimes they are OK but just don't live up to the hype. Sometimes they start out well but then the texture breaks down over time.

But there is one lip balm that I reach for again and again, and has a fairly permanent place in my most-used bag. And that is Alba's Pineapple Quench lip balm. It's not colored, it's nothing fancy, it doesn't taste (or smell) too pineapple-y. It has nothing really to mark it out as being a winner. And yet, it works for me, and somehow I find myself reaching for it in preference to most other balms in my collection. It goes on smoothly, it is not too greasy, and it keeps my lips moisturized for a long time when the weather turns cooler. 

It's about $3.49 and lasts a good long time. I think I might stick my neck out and give it 5 stars.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review: Pacifica Spanish Amber Soap and Perfume

I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of Pacifica's French Lilac soap. I am pretty much working my way through their entire range in search of another one that I love as much!

While I love the Tibetan Mountain Temple perfume that Pacifica makes, the matching soap did not wow me as much, mostly because it is a hard glycerin bar that doesn't lather very well.

Sadly, the Spanish Amber fragrance (I have tried both the soap and the spray perfume) is both not wowing me on the smell factor or the soapiness factor.  I know fragrance is such a personal thing, and what I dislike you may very well love - and vice versa. But the Spanish Amber really is a huge blast of sandalwood and not much else to my nose. Sure, there's a hint of amber in the top notes of the perfume, but it is very fleeting.  The soap, when the packet was first opened, was also a big burst of sandalwood and not much else, but after having been next to the sink for a few weeks it has mellowed into more of a straight, yet disappointingly feeble, amber smell. It barely lathers, however, and is not endearing itself to me, given that sandalwood just makes me think of hippies. And while I am often proud to be called a hippy, I don't necessarily want to smell like one.

Sigh. 1 and a half stars. Maybe. I think I am being generous here.  But then again, like I said, fragrance is a personal choice so you may love it, and it might work better on a man.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Review: Lavera Anti-Age Sunscreen SPF 20

I may have very strong cheap tendencies, but that doesn't stop me wishing that I could slather my face with the likes of Creme de la Mer on a regular basis. There's a part of me that secretly thinks that using a $100 face cream will have me looking 20 again. Even when nobody ever thinks I look as old as I really am, and my $15 face cream is working just fine, thankyouverymuch.

But still, seductive catalogs can still draw me in. There I was, perusing a natural beauty type catalog, sighing longingly over all the Lavera organic vegan anti-aging goodness, which had an average retail price of about $65 when the anti-aging sunscreen caught my eye. At a price of $28 or thereabouts, I wondered if it might be worth spending a little more than I usually do in order to get some anti-aging benefits at less than half the price of their night creams.

Once the product arrived, I was a little taken aback at how little it was, although I knew I was getting 50ml but somehow the size of the tube brought home the idiocy of trying to go cheap on high end products.

The sunscreen is a titanium dioxide physical sunscreen, which means that you have to rub it in or you'll end up looking like a 16th century lady who has painted her face in white lead powder. This product seems to require more rubbing in than others of the same type. I have regularly gone out of the house with a big unnoticed smudge, or a white eyebrow, or what appear to be white hair roots around my forehead. In fact, sometimes I stand in front of the mirror and carefully check for no white smudges, only to find some a few hours later. I guess I rub my forehead and some of the sunscreen forms into new smudges.  Otherwise, it has a pleasant texture. It is designed for sensitive skin, and as I don't have sensitive skin I can't comment on that, but I am not careful with it around my eyes and haven't noticed any stinging or other problems.

As for the anti-aging benefits, if you concentrate really hard after putting it on, you can feel some slight skin tightening. The dark shadows under my eyes appear to have lessened, but that could be due to the time change and getting more sleep.  Overall, I can't really ascribe too much difference to this product, not that that's a really fair test, as nothing is really going to give a dramatic effect.

I'm undecided on whether to buy another tube of this. I like it well enough, and am willing to hope for more anti-aging benefits with continued use (after all, that slight tightening might be doing something). But it's not wowing me, I have to say. If this was a $12 product, I'd probably be gaga over it, though, so perhaps I was expecting too much.

3 stars.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Review: Giovanni Organics Frizz Be Gone Hair Serum

I can't say that this hair serum is particularly frugal.  In my ongoing quest for frugality and greenness, I have tried to do away with unnecessary products as well as unnecessary chemicals. So, eye cream, toner, shower gel and a few others have all disappeared from chez Frugalista.  I have also tried to buy the cheapest green version of products I can find - while I'm not quite at the point of making my own green products yet, I figure the cheaper and simpler something is, the better. 

Except where things don't work, that is.

See, I keep trying to do away with the Giovanni Organics hair serum.  I keep trying cheaper products. But either I end up with a head full of fluff, looking like I've gone back to 80's-style backcombing, or looking like I haven't washed my hair for several weeks. And then I give up and go back to the Giovanni, my hair thanks me profusely by looking cute and curly rather than like I just stuck my fingers in an electrical socket, and all is right with the world. A little really does go a long way, it doesn't feel too oily or greasy, and has a barely detectable herbal smell. Except my wallet isn't necessarily thrilled with me, but hey, when you're trying to be all organic, at least $7.95 or thereabouts for a teeny 2.75 fl oz bottle is better than $35 for a different teeny bottle of a similar product. So I console myself that sometimes frugality is a relative concept, and sometimes you just gotta hang on to what works. This does. In spades.

3 and a half stars, only marked down because I'm cheap and don't like the price.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Review: Ultra Dishmate Natural Grapefruit dishwashing cleaner

I've been having dishwasher issues lately, so I've been doing all my dishes by hand. It's been strangely calming and I have (don't tell anyone) enjoyed doing it, which is in stark contrast to other times when the dishwasher has had mechanical problems and I have rushed to have it fixed before doing anything else.

Dishmate is made by Earth Friendly Products, and it's about $3.99 online for 25 oz, though I can't remember what I paid for it - I bought it when it was on special offer. I like that the cleaner itself is more or less transparent - it has a very slight yellowy/peachy tinge to it. I much prefer when manufacturers don't waste chemicals just coloring up something to make it look "prettier." The scent is a nice mild grapefruit - it is quite true to life, and is mildly uplifting and not at all overpowering.

However, despite the label's claims that the cleaner is very concentrated and that a little goes a long way, I have found myself using quite a lot of it. It seems to lose steam quite quickly and gives up the ghost with pretty much any sautee pan with a small amount of grease on it. So I end up using more and more in order to try to get the pan clean. It seems fine for dishes at the beginning of the wash, but the bubbles don't last a terribly long time. Call me a bubble freak if you will, but having done a dishwashing job in the dim and distant past while at school, I know that once the bubbles have gone, the grease fighting ability goes fairly quickly afterwards.

One nice thing is that it doesn't seem to leave a residue on the dishes, and even glasses can be done without rinsing them afterwards but just letting them drip dry - they still seem to sparkle. As it's a saving on water if you don't rinse, that's a good thing in my book.

Comparing it to my last dishwashing detergent, which was Mrs. Meyers - green but definitely not budget, I'd say that the Mrs. Meyers has Dishmate beat very slightly on effectiveness. I used slightly less Mrs. Meyers to do the same job. But all-in-all, this is a good product, and what with the dark color of the Mrs. Meyers and the increased price, I think I'll stick with the Dishmate. I expect that using a tad more of Dishmate which doesn't contain color chemicals vs. a tad less of the Mrs. Meyers which does, it's probably a wash (pun, geddit?) as to how many chemicals in total go down the drain.

3 stars.

A review a day

When I first started this blog, reviewing was so easy. I had a lot of things to say, and a lot of products to say them about. Now...not so much. There are many products that I haven't been inspired to write about because they are....adequate. They do what they are supposed to, more or less. And I have been waiting for inspiration, or telling myself that I should just keep testing for another week in case something comes to mind.

But, I could be waiting for ever. So I have decided that for the next week, I will commit myself to writing a review a day, to see if I can get back into the shoot from the hip groove.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Shopping Report: Walmart

It's been a while since I was in Walmart but I was there today and my eye was drawn by a large display area with colorful t-shirts and other basics at pretty great prices. So I picked one up, thinking I might allow myself a non-organic purchase but when I looked at the back of the packet I was stunned that they were all organic cotton.

Be still my beating heart! 

I couldn't snap things up quick enough. In fact, I may have to go back to get more.  They're all made out of thin t-shirt fabric, some with an interesting knit, some a standard jersey knit.  I don't think the dyes used are eco-friendly but I just think it's such a game changer to be able to get organic cotton at reasonable prices so I think it's a great, great first step.

They do have a chemical/plastic odor when first removed from their bags (which are ziploc-type bags so they can be reused). I can't tell if that is from the plastic bag, or from the item itself. If you're very chemically sensitive, you might want to skip these, but for the rest of us hopefully one wash will take care of that issue. Be careful if it looks like something has been replaced in the bag - I just opened one of them to find it was the wrong size - typical Walmart. The tops seem roomy, the pants seem snug, but that could be due to the enormous size of my backside.

Bags and scarves are $5, tanks are $6, t-shirts are $7 or $8, and the pants are $9. They are labeled Seed Supply Co. and have various countries of origin.

Get some before they run out! Get some to tell the big suppliers that organic cotton is the way of the future! Get some because they are amazing prices!

Can you tell I'm excited?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Review: Arm & Hammer Essentials Natural Clumping Litter

This kitty litter promises to be "so effective, you won’t believe it is natural! It harnesses the power of nature to deliver outstanding odor elimination." I am not quite sure if the writers of this ad copy were using quite the same kitty litter as me, or whether they even know the meaning of the term "odor elimination."

This stuff is awful, in my view. First, it doesn't eliminate odor at all. In fact, my house now stinks of cat pee. Which is not a very welcoming smell to come home to, I've got to say. Second, it doesn't clump well. Wait, I should rephrase that - it clumps fine enough when the cat pees on it, but when you go to actually scoop up the clump, it falls instantly apart, breaking back into a powdery mess without any hint of clumpage remaining. Except now the powdery mess stinks, which doesn't please me OR the cat, and as I can't manage to scoop all of it up, it just adds to the ammoniacal whiff that is constantly coming off the box.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong. I admit that I am not the type to completely empty the kitty litter constantly so that I can refresh with all new litter - I know I do not do this as often as I should because I usually try to get to the end of a bag or box before emptying the old stuff and scrubbing the litter box clean. So perhaps my testing is not in accordance with manufacturer's instructions. I've read a few other reviews on this, which seem to either be completely glowing, or completely awful, making me wonder if the people that love this are reviewing it for the money or somehow completely emptying and scrubbing/bleaching their litter boxes every night.

Put me in the "awful" camp. I really didn't like this, and can't muster up any stars for it, I'm afraid.

Friday, October 17, 2008

$5 off coupon at Whole Foods

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted. I have been being very green, and not buying much stuff. But never fear, I am brewing reviews in my head. Plus, I've just done some internet shopping, so I will have a couple of things to talk about.

But, I wanted to post with a $5 off coupon at Whole Foods that a friend sent me. It is at and is valid until October 22, 2008.

Happy Shopping!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review: Burt's Bees Radiance Night Creme

Stephanie persuaded me to buy this moisturizer on the basis that she'd review the day cream and I could review the night cream. So hopefully she'll come through with that review soon!

It costs $14.99 or thereabouts for 2oz, so it definitely fits within my budget. However, at first I hated it. It seemed too thin, I didn't think it moisturized enough, and I wasn't happy at all. I was ready to write a review of how me and Burt's Bees just don't get along (apart from their lip balm) and that I'd never waste my money on their stuff again.

But I kept using it, just to give it a fair trial. And something strange started happening...I started liking it. I still would like it to be a bit thicker. I still probably use a bit too much because I want a bit of extra moisturization around my eyes, but it has definitely grown on me. It is slightly sticky when first applied, but sinks in well. It has a very pleasant apple scent (at least, to my nose - it doesn't list apple on the ingredient list, so perhaps it's supposed to smell of something else). It leaves my skin feeling soft and nourished, and, yes, plump and not too lined and wrinkly. It must be the royal jelly or something in there that my skin is enjoying, but I definitely feel like something is working.

Three and a half stars.

Update: I'm revising my opinion of this cream upwards. I've just bought my second jar because my skin has been feeling silky smooth, and well, moistened. So I'm going to go for four stars.
Update #2: I'm revising this upward again, to 5 stars. See also this post. This is really working well for me. I've also got very used to the consistency so I don't mind that it's a bit thinner than the moisturizers I previously liked. I am hooked!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Review: Kashi Garden Vegetable Pasta

I've reviewed a Kashi frozen meal before so I thought I may as well do another one. But I'll just reiterate my reasons for liking them - although these food items are not organic, which is a shame, they are not chock-full of chemicals and preservatives, are easily available and are relatively cheap for a prepared meal. They are retailing at $3.59 at most places that I shop at.

I've had the Kashi pesto primavera pasta (or whatever it's called), and despite my general love for all things pasta-related, and especially pesto, there's something about it that just isn't quite right. No such problems with the garden vegetable pasta, which I really like. First of all, it's vegan, getting its protein from the mixed whole-grain pasta, and beans. So many prepared pasta dishes rely on cheese to do the job, that this makes for a very welcome change. I'm always on the lookout for easy vegan meals, and this fits the bill nicely.

The sauce is a rich tomato-based sauce with just the faintest hint of a spicy kick. And by "faintest hint" I really mean it is super mild, but I think with beans, tomato and pasta you need a bit of a kick otherwise it is all too bland, and this is just enough to give a nice little boost to the flavor. There aren't quite as many veggies as the picture on the box would imply, but those that are there are well chosen and survive the freezing and nuking process well.

This seems to be a great addition to the Kashi line. I think I'll be buying it regularly!

Four stars.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review: Nature's Gate Hemp Nourishing Conditioner

I think I've mentioned before that I have dry, frizzy hair, so every time I see a product that claims to be able to help, I always seem to end up trying it. I've been looking for that holy grail product for a very long time.
Nature's Gate Hemp Nourishing Conditioner comes awfully close to the holy grail. I really like it. It doesn't seem to have much of a scent at all, and if it didn't list fragrance in the ingredients I'd be prepared to believe that it was unscented. It mostly smells wholesome if that's even a smell - like a generic, but not unpleasant, natural product. Perhaps a very faint floral - or is it citrus - smell. It's hard to identify. It has a great, thick consistency - just as I like a conditioner to be. More importantly, it has left my hair very soft and nourished. I mean, OK, I could get slightly better results to start with if I used Pantene, but as that leaves a deposit on your hair eventually I would have to stop using it anyway. I am more than satisfied with the results I am getting from the Nature's Gate.
It's quite reasonably priced - I think I paid around $4.99 for this, for 18 ounces, which compares very favorably with the usual organic conditioners which are about $8 for 8 ounces. However, therein lies the rub - this isn't organic. It's mostly natural, doesn't have any parabens or other nasty chemicals that I can see, and contains lots of oils and herbs. But not an organic one among them, it seems, which presumably explains the price. I think I will keep buying it, though, and use it in rotation with some of the organic products, just to try to keep costs down.
Four stars. It would have been higher if only it was organic.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Review: Ecover Automatic Dishwashing Tablets

Have you looked lately for a green automatic dishwasher detergent? They are hard to find. I don't know if we're all supposed to be handwashing dishes in a mountain stream or something, but I'm sorry, I don't do that.

I had been using the Mrs. Meyer's dishwashing powder, which I loved - it worked well, it was a loose powder so I could choose how much to use, and it had a nice smell. The only problem was that it came in a plain cardboard box, so the humidity had turned it into a solid brick. I had to rip the box apart, put the brick into some large ziploc bags and hammer it apart. Oh, and the other problem was that I was concerned that it wasn't especially frugal.

I decided to try the Ecover tablets, even though I think tablets are a bit wasteful. After all, they come individually wrapped in plastic which surely adds to the waste stream. And you might end up using more detergent than you need, especially if you have a small dishwasher like I do, or you are washing things that aren't heavily soiled.

These are available for about $6.99, so they're not especially frugal either, but I'd got to the point where the Mrs. Meyers had run out and I was getting desperate!

I really don't like them. I have had to run everything through the dishwasher at least twice, and even then had to carefully pick out the dishes that were clean enough to put away (though not as clean as I'd like), in order to try to start washing some other things. I even had to (gasp!) do some hand washing to keep up.

I'm going back to the Mrs. Meyers for now. One star for Ecover.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Review: Kitchen cleaner comparison

I have a bad habit of forgetting that I have plenty of kitchen surface cleaner, and buying more.  Or something new and sparkly catches my eye in the store and it goes into the shopping cart before I've even really thought if I need it. I vow to be better at this, and actually organize my cleaning supplies to prevent overbuying in the future, I promise! However, my poor shopping habits meant that I have ended up with several different cleaning products at home, so in the interests of science I decided to conduct a cleaning experiment. Yesterday, therefore, I carefully spread a greasy concoction of salad dressings, mustard and marinade over my granite kitchen countertops and left it to dry, then set to it to see which cleaners worked better. I also ended up trying them all out on my stainless steel stove hood/extractor fan thingie, to see how well they performed on metal. 

The contenders were:

1. Ecover Glass & Surface Cleaner. This is not a very frugal choice. It retails for about $4.50 for 16 ounces, and I haven't come across a refill for it, though I hope one exists - there's a lot of plastic in those spray heads that we don't need to be using up every time. I have seen a refill of their all-purpose cleaner, but I'm not sure if there is one to the glass & surface cleaner. It has a light, fresh and vaguely citrusy scent that is hard to place but is pleasant enough. I'd originally bought this one just to use as a glass cleaner, and hadn't previously tried it on kitchen grease.

2. Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Countertop Spray in geranium scent. Again, not a frugal choice as it retails for about $4.99 for 16 ounces. A large refill bottle is available of the general purpose cleaner, but not the countertop spray - the bottle says the countertop spray contains an additional vegetable protein extract to remove odors from kitchen and bath. I bought this one for the scent, which is a lovely lemony-floral, rosy-minty geranium. I have several products from the Mrs. Meyer's range, and they do make the kitchen and bathroom smell lovely, so it definitely helps me get on with the cleaning chores that I might otherwise be reluctant to tackle. The bottle includes a "common sense caution" to avoid eye contact. 

3. Clorox GreenWorks Natural All-Purpose Cleaner. I decided to try this one as I felt guilty about the amount of money I was spending on products. I worry about how green it is, as it is first of all made by Clorox, and secondly has "CAUTION: EYE IRRITANT" on it although it is endorsed by the Sierra Club. The bottle is about $3.29 for 32 ounces, though I have spotted it in Walmart and Target, so I am sure it is cheaper there. I have also seen a large refill bottle available. The scent of this cleaner is quite lemony, and it has a light green color.

4. Arm & Hammer Essentials Multi-Surface cleaner.  This caught my eye as it is sold as an empty 32 oz spray bottle, with a mini bottle of concentrate attached to it. You fill the bottle up with water when you get home, add the concentrate and voila. This is a pretty darn good idea for transport purposes, as it costs less to transport lighter weight products.  The "starter kit" was $2.99, and refills are available as a package of the two mini bottles for $3.99. It is a shockingly deep green color, so they went completely overboard on the colorant. I also tried to find the ingredients of this online yesterday but failed miserably, so I don't know how environmentally friendly it really is. This bottle has several cautions in large letters - the front says "CAUTION: EYE IRRITANT, MAY BE HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED" and the back says "CAUTION: CONCENTRATE IS COMBUSTIBLE". The cautions do not give me the warm fuzzies on this one, I have to say.  This one smells the most ammoniacal - I can't place the scent as it mostly just smells of cleaning fluid to me.  This is clearly the least "green" of the cleaners I tried.

I also initially tried a Seventh Generation bathroom cleaner, but quickly took it out of contention because bathroom cleaners don't typically have degreasers, and as I'd created a big ole greasy mess that it was struggling with, I didn't think it was a fair comparison. 

First test - grease fighting. All four cleaners were surprisingly close in how well they performed on my greasy, dried up lake o' salad dressings.  The Clorox cleaner got more sudsy than the others, so required an extra wipe or two to clean up the suds. But it was very hard to declare a winner on this test. The Ecover particularly surprised me, as I'd never even tried it in the kitchen before, and had it pegged as a lightweight, but it definitely kept up with the big boys. If I had to put it in order of efficacy, I'd say the Ecover and the Arm & Hammer came out top, the Clorox was next (but only marked down due to having to do an extra wipe to clear off the suds) and the Mrs. Meyers was last. I want to stress, though, that these are marginal differences - all performed admirably and I'd be happy to use any of them.

Second test - cleaning greasy stainless steel. I admit, I don't get up on a chair and clean the stove hood very often. This was therefore a tough test, with grease and dust to shift. Again, all four products cleaned admirably. If I had to declare winners, it comes down to the lack of streaks left behind, and the Ecover and Mrs. Meyers seemed better on that score. I double-checked streakiness on the front of the fridge, which is a brushed stainless steel, and there again the Ecover and Mrs. Meyers worked the best - Ecover being slightly better.

All in all, I feel I have to declare Ecover the winner, which I found quite surprising as I expected it to be the least efficacious. Part of this is due to the fact that one product will work well on kitchen countertops, stainless steel, AND glass (I've used it on the shower door several times and it does OK there too) - there shouldn't be a need to have several different spray bottles at one time. It's also vegan and seems the most environmentally sound product of all four - no scary warnings on this label! My concern is in the cost, but if I can find a refill bottle I think I will switch to using this one all the time.

Second place goes to the Clorox because of the price. It worked well on the kitchen counter mess, but I don't think I'd want to use it on metal or glass.

Third place (though it was very nearly a tie for second with Clorox) goes to Mrs. Meyer's. I do love the scent, and it did well in the streakiness stakes. In the end, the higher cost marked it down.

Fourth place goes to Arm & Hammer. It worked great on the greasy mess, but alas, all those warnings and the crazy color are off-putting because they imply that this contains lots of chemicals. I wish they'd have put the ingredients on the web, too. The price is good, and I like the concept of selling just the concentrate, but it just doesn't seem green enough.

Of course, if I was being uber frugal and green, I'd make my own cleaning products, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet - maybe one day, eh?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Review: Kashi Ranchero Beans

I did have something to review today after all!
Strictly, I suppose, a frozen meal is neither green nor frugal. We should all be making our own organic meals, preferably from vegetables that we grew ourselves. But then again, I've never pretended that this blog is about being uber-green. It's more about buying smarter products to make your life greener as you either learn about taking the green life one step further or decide that light green is just far enough, thanks.
So, this is what I'd call a "light green" product. It isn't organic, but I wish it was. It is a frozen meal, yes, but it isn't chock-a-block full of unpronounceable preservatives. Kashi as a whole are a reputable company, I think, who do seem to care about the environment. They've reduced their packaging, as an example. They seem to care about producing healthy food. All in all, I think it's a fair choice for those times when you just don't have the time or energy to make something yourself. And, more to the frugal side of my nature, the Kashi meals are a lot cheaper than Amy's Kitchen or similar products. And they are easily found in most supermarkets, which is not true of many other products. I picked this up at my local Publix for $3.59, when most of the Amy's meals were retailing at $5.69 or so. That difference sure adds up over time.
Kashi has had a small selection of frozen meals for a while, and they've just expanded them, adding two new vegetarian options. Sorry, I don't know how many non-vegetarian ones they've added as I don't pay that much attention to non-vegetarian items. But the first of the new meals that I've tried is the Ranchero Beans, which is vegan. It's a southwest-themed meal, with roast corn, pinto beans, and red peppers in a chipotle sauce. The base is Kashi's usual 7-grain pilaf.
The bean mixture has a nice kick to it, but not so much that it is painful or in any way overbearing. It may not be enough if you're a true spice lover, but for the average Joe or Jane, I think they got the level of spice just about right. This is unlike the Black Bean Mango meal, which I do like but I find a bit too spicy on occasion. I have to admit, there's also something about the Kashi pilaf blend that I don't quite dig - perhaps the texture of the wheat berries - but I am getting more used to it as time goes by. I wouldn't say this is my favorite frozen meal but I liked it, and it's going to go straight into the rotation as something I will buy regularly for quick lunches at work, because it was tasty, seemed healthy and more importantly, fits into the budget.
3 stars.

Posting drought

Sorry for the lack of posting. You know when you get in those modes where you just don't have the need or opportunity to buy or try anything new because your shelves are groaning with so many products that need to be used up? Well, maybe not, but I'm in one right now. I was going to switch my attention to reviewing cleaning products, but I'm finding that I have a mental block on how to review them - I mean, seriously, when was the last time you picked up a counter spray type cleaner and have it not work? But I will find a way, I promise! I will definitely have more reviews up by the end of the week.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Review: JASON Aloe Vera 84% Hand & Body Lotion

I bought this product not even intending to use it. It was a bargain at Marshall's and I thought I might give it away as a holiday gift or something. I'm not a big user of hand and body lotions, and I have a large supply of them that other people have given me over the years. So I really didn't need any for myself.

And yet, curiosity got the better of me, and I thought I might try just a tiny bit to test it out. And the tiny bit became a bigger amount, and then I suddenly seemed to be using it regularly.

This summer I have suffered from painful, dry, cracked heels. Nothing seemed to be working on them - lotions would either not absorb, sliding right off my skin, or would make no difference whatsoever. However, right from the start the JASON lotion seemed to help.  Now, after only a week of regular use, my heels are almost as baby soft as nature intended. It's quite a remarkable change.  The aloe lotion feels silky smooth, and has a very slightly pearlescent quality. It feels very slightly greasy when you first use it, but that goes away quickly as the product sinks in. The smell is not all that wonderful, as it mostly just smells like a plain lotion with aloe in it, but that's OK, as it means that there's nothing that is noticeable to others or would clash with any perfumes you may be wearing. Personally, I would prefer a more scented product, but I can live without it. More importantly, it really does deeply moisturize and sooth, as it says right on the label. And finding something that works well without costing a fortune is a wonderful thing.

The lotion is paraben free, and contains some organic ingredients (most notably the 84% of aloe gel) however I can't help wishing it contained more organic ingredients. It has ingredients such as avocado oil, camomile, green tea extract and ginseng extract, none of which are organic - which only leaves me wondering why not? It's not like JASON couldn't have made the extra effort here. But, gripes aside, I do like this lotion, and I will continue to use it as so far it's the only thing that's helped my heels look even remotely presentable.

4 stars simply for the fact that it works. It could oh so easily have been five stars if JASON hadn't skimped on the ingredients and the scent.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Free Origins samples

Check out this link which I spotted over at TreeHugger.

Origins are giving away a 2-minute skin care consultation and 4 free "super samples" if you visit a store between now and 9/3/08, or you can shop online and get the sample set free with a purchase. I wouldn't normally regard Origins as being a terribly frugal choice, but it's free! One of the sets is from their new organics line which they are touting as the "purest products on earth" - I'm sure the purest skin care products on earth don't actually come in a bottle, but I'm still keen to try it. Although the sample set comes in a nice box, which has me thinking holiday gifts again. Maybe I'll try to get two sample sets somehow - one to try and one to give away.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Organic clothes shopping

At some point, I hope to write about affordable organic clothes shopping on this blog. But frankly, right now, it's all a bit depressing. I regularly google for organic clothes sales, or bargain organic clothes, or low-cost organic clothes, or...well, you get the picture. I am not having much luck finding things in actual stores, nor am I having much luck finding anything reasonably priced online. And even then, while I would happily spring for a t-shirt online, it is a bit more difficult shopping for jeans or pants because you just don't know if they'll fit properly. Especially if they're $200 organic jeans which are only in stock up to a size 2, which is what I always seem to come across.

Anyway, this week in my searching, I did notice a few promising items.

Target has some reasonable-looking organic men's shirts on clearance here.

JC Penney also has some organic men's shirts on clearance here.

I hope the links work, but if they don't, you should be able to find them going to the main store website, typing "organic" into the search box, and then going down to either "clearance" or "outlet + clearance" in the sub-headings.

Gaiam is running its annual sale at the moment, with prices at 50-75% off. This still doesn't leave things terribly cheap, but they have some quite nice women's tops at around $18.99. The Gaiam sale includes clothing, yoga gear and some home accessories, as well as sheet sets.

If you know of any good places to find reasonably priced organic clothing, let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Review: Boscia Willow Bark breakout treatment

Part of being frugal, I think, isn't always about being cheap. It is about making the most of your money, cutting back where it isn't important or necessary to spend extra money, but equally being prepared to spend a little more when it is worth it.  Although the Boscia skin care range isn't terribly expensive (products are typically $20-$30), it's also not the cheapest out there, but I think some of the products are worth it. In particular, the breakout treatment. 

Boscia is a natural brand, rather than an organic brand. There are no preservatives, and the products contain a lot of herbal and natural plant-based ingredients, but that also doesn't mean that it's necessarily as pure as the driven snow. However, when I have any breakouts, I mostly want something that will work.

Willow Bark breakout treatment contains as its major ingredient, willow bark, as the name implies. For those of you that don't know, willow bark is what the first salicylic acid and hence aspirin was made from, as people had known for millennia that willow bark included a pain reliever. It also contains willow herb, which reduces inflammation, and soapberry peel which is rich in saponins which cleanse, purify and heal.  It's a clear gel that is slightly sticky, but which absorbs well. It isn't going to prevent future breakouts, but dab some on a breakout you already have, and the redness and inflammation will go down remarkably quickly without it seeming to dry the skin out. In fact, I think this works far better than most harsh chemical-laden breakout treatments, which always dried my skin out so much it would peel. Or made it redder than it already was to start with.

Boscia is available from places like Sephora and Amazon. There are two sizes - the smaller one is a pen that you click the base of and a little gel pops up, and the larger size is a pump. I have the smallest size (0.14oz), as my skin has got drier in recent years and I don't need to use it very often. It has lasted me quite a long time! The pen usually retails for $15, the larger 0.5oz pump is $22.50.

Just good stuff. Four stars.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Review: Alba Pineapple Enzyme Scrub

One of the things I have tried to do as I go more "green" is to look at my usage of products, and try to decide if I actually need them. When you think that the average woman uses 12 products a day which include 168 chemicals (according to Environmental Working Group), it's easy to see that we shouldn't just be making sure each product is green, but that if we cut out a product or two, we'll save adding a few more chemicals to our systems. Because even green products have chemicals, so unless you are prepared to make everything from scratch, it's hard to avoid them.

So, toner has gone from my shelves, as has eye cream, as has shower gel. I'm trying to cut down on my perfume addiction, but it's hard. At least I'm trying not to buy more! But then I got to exfoliants. You could argue that it's a product that we don't really need, and therefore it's an easy one to ditch. But my skin reacts well to exfoliants and they definitely help me to feel like I'm looking more fresh-faced and healthy, so I don't really want to give them up. What I try to do is not use them in addition to cleanser, but to find an exfoliant that I can use once or twice a week instead of cleanser.

I quite like the Alba pineapple scrub, but there's something lacking. There aren't many exfoliating grains in it, as presumably it relies more on the enzymes than on a physical scrubbing action. But half the time, I don't think the enzyme are really enough. I want more grains! The scrub has quite a creamy feel, and has a pleasant pineapple-papaya scent to it. It doesn't really lather, but that's just fine in my book. It is quite gentle on the skin, and would probably be good for sensitive skin. It also has a nice cleansing action, so I don't feel like my skin has been cheated out of a step if I use it in place of cleanser in the morning. However, I always want to dump a teaspoon-full of brown sugar or something into the mix, in order to boost the exfoliating power.

Maybe one of these days I really will become a proper greenie, and start making my own exfoliant, but in the meantime, this one is average-to-good. It usually retails for about $11.99 although I notice that currently has it on sale for $9.59.

Two and a half stars.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shopping Report: Dollar Tree and Marshall's

This weekend I decided to test how much organic goodness I could pick up at some discount stores.

My first stop was Dollar Tree. I knew this would probably be a plastic-filled wasteland with nary a green item in sight, and my suspicions were oh so nearly proved true.  But much to my surprise, after ambling up and down all the aisles for a while, I spotted some WestSoy organic soy milk - 32 fl oz. (very nearly a liter) for a dollar. Yup, $1. Now, OK, it's probably not worth a trip just to go to Dollar Tree to pick up one item, but maybe just maybe you can combine it with a visit to another store close by and start to put together a decent basket full of things. They also had some white vinegar, which you could use for cleaning or washing fruits/veggies (diluted, of course), but I didn't pick any up. And some Mediterranean sea salt. And that was about it.

My next stop was MUCH more successful. I went into Marshall's trying to see if there were any organic skin care items that I could pick up. In actual fact, there was such an overabundance of items, I almost felt ashamed that I hadn't thought of going there in the first place and that I have been wasting my money at other stores. There were many many shampoos and conditioners (Giovanni Organics, Nature's Gate, EO, etc), a large selection of Juice Organics skin care items, more natural soaps than I could possibly use in several years, some JASON hand lotions and other smaller labels that I can no longer remember.  They also had some giant 32 oz family-size Nature's Gate lavender & aloe shampoos and conditioners (for $5 if I remember correctly!), and family-size Giovanni Organics tea tree shampoo and conditioner (for $12), which would both be great for kids. I would definitely have bought them if my hair weren't so picky and in need of more oomph than a family shampoo can give me. I do love a giant family value-sized item, though, and actually, the amazing bargain of the Nature's Gate stuff is eating away at me, such that I may have to go back and snap up the giant sizes just because. I can always use them every other time I wash my hair and it hopefully wouldn't leave my hair too lackluster. Besides, I may have hallucinated the $5 price tag so I may have to go just to double check. Or double-take, depending on your point of view.

In the end I picked up a Giovanni Organics shampoo for $4.99 ($7.95 at Whole Foods), a Juice Organics Brightening Cleanser for $4.99 ($9.99 at Target), two Giovanni Organics vegetable oil soaps for $2.99 each, and a JASON hand & body lotion for $3.99 (which was even more of a bargain because it was a "25% extra free" size). Some of this stuff I don't have any urgent need for, but it will keep until I get around to using it - I figure with places like Marshall's and TJ Maxx you need to buy when it's there because you never know what merchandise they are going to have available. I may be doing a good portion of my holiday shopping at Marshall's over the coming months, as some nice natural soaps and/or body lotions could be good stocking stuffers. I didn't check the clothing section for organic cotton items, but I may just have to do that one of these days. Marshall's/TJ Maxx is definitely a winner in the frugalista's book.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Review: 365 Organic Black Tea

Most organic teas seem to run in the range of $4.99 and up for 16 or 20 bags, and as lovely as the tea may be, it is hardly what I'd call frugal. So when I saw that Whole Foods has some organic teas at $3.99 for 80 bags under their own "365 Organic" label, I knew I had to snap some up to try it. The range includes black tea, green tea and a pomegranate/cranberry green tea. It also had a decaffeinated green tea with some other flavorings, but that was $3.99 for 40 bags so it was twice the price, and therefore didn't get a second glance from me.

Inside, the 80 bags are portioned out into 8 sachets of 10 teabags each. While this doesn't please the plastic-hating part of me, because it means more plastic has been used in the packaging, it does please the tea-loving part of me because it keeps the teabags fresher for longer.

The tea itself was very nicely refreshing and definitely not stale, so I know the packaging had the desired effect. It isn't a strong tea, but has a pleasant flavor (sorry, my tea vocabulary is not up to snuff so I can't describe it very well). The black tea is a standard English-style blend, and it has a fresh, almost fruity tang to it (somewhat reminiscent of a perfectly brewed cup of PG Tips, and definitely better than Lipton). It's no lapsang souchong or bohea, either of which would have me swooning with ecstasy over finding an organic tea for this price, but it is a wonderfully smooth cup of regular, everyday tea that will give you a great pick-me-up. And at slightly less than 10 cents a cup (or 5 cents if you use a pot and eke at least two cups out of one bag as I do), it seems like a veritable bargain compared to the other organic teas out there. It is going straight onto my "must-have" list as a regular staple item.

Four and a half stars. It's only lacking a half star due to my predilection for more robust, smokier-flavored teas. Which isn't its fault, really, as it is perfectly fine for what it claims to be - a standard black tea blend. OK, maybe 4 and three-quarters stars.
Update: I'm bumping this up to 5 stars. It has really grown on me, and is now my go-to tea. WTG Whole Foods!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Review: Juice Organics Brightening Moisturizer

I've had a mental block with this moisturizer. I've been meaning to review it for days, if not weeks. And yet, I haven't been able to come up with anything insightful to say so I kept putting it off thinking I would be inspired by something - but perhaps that's the real problem with this moisturizer. It is just kind of blah.

I picked this up from Target for $14.99 at the same time as I picked up the Juice Organics Brightening Cleanser. I've been using it on and off ever since, but it is not inspiring me at all. It has the consistency of a lotion, which is fine for daytime (if it had an SPF in it, that is, which it doesn't) but for nighttime, I tend to want more of a cream. I want to at least believe that my nighttime moisturizer is doing something special, even if it isn't really. This is too thin for me to believe that. It is in a pump container, which is a good thing as keeping the air out means potentially having to use fewer preservatives and anti-bacterials. But one pump leaves me wanting more moisturizing (especially around my eyes), and two pumps leaves me feeling like I'm drowning in the stuff. The scent is nothing to write home about, slightly orangey/appley but it's the type of smell you get if you've left the juice sitting around just a tad too long, so there's something mildly unsettling about it. There's a hint of stickiness once it's on your face, which isn't necessarily what I want either.

It's not bad, but it's not special either. Two and a half stars. It might work more on someone with oilier skin than mine, who just needs a light dose of moisturizing at night.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Review: Pacifica Tibetan Mountain Temple soap

Oh, I wanted to love the Tibetan Mountain Temple soap from Pacifica so much. The perfume is my current favorite of their range. It has notes of vetiver, patchouli, ginger and orange, but on my skin the orange comes through loud and clear, tempered by just a hint of ginger and incense. I find it lovely and refreshing on a hot summer day when you want something that will cut through heat and humidity - there's something so uplifting and head-clearing about a good citrus scent.

So when my trusty French Lilac soap ran out, I was very keen to try the Tibetan Mountain Temple soap. Unfortunately, it isn't wowing me. The soap bar itself is more of a translucent glycerin soap, whereas the French Lilac is a creamy, opaque soap. The Tibetan Mountain Temple doesn't lather nearly as well as the French Lilac, and it doesn't feel like my skin is as moisturized. That could all be completely in my head, of course, as it's not like I've had to add a moisturizer on top so it's clearly not drying my skin out. But it's not feeling quite so luxurious either. I have a feeling that this soap may be a bit longer lasting than the French Lilac, just because not so much of it is lathering up each time I use it. The scent is also not quite as good as the perfume, to my nose at least. I keep detecting a hint of coal tar soap, even though there probably isn't any in there, but one of the notes has turned slightly astringent in the soap. I suppose it seems a bit more manly than the perfume, which I regard as a soft unisex scent. I would love to smell both on a man to see how they compare.

3 stars

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Synthetic Ingredients to avoid

I have a great little booklet called "Natural Ingredients Dictionary" by Aubrey Hamilton of Aubrey Organics.  You can look up a bunch of ingredients that are present in food, cosmetics and personal care products and find out about them.  At the back it also has a very handy little reference guide called "Ten Synthetic Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid" which I'm going to paraphrase from because I find it useful.

1. Parabens - Methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and ethylparaben
These are preservatives which extend product shelf lives and inhibit microbial growth.  They are hormone disruptors and many people can have allergic skin reactions to them. Not to mention that they are known to be toxic.

2. Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA)
These are emulsifiers and/or foaming agents. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritations and dryness, and can also be toxic. 

3. Diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl urea
More preservatives. These have been shown to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis and can release formaldehyde, which is toxic.

4. Sodium lauryl sulfate, Sodium laureth sulfate
A cheap, harsh detergent used for its cleansing and foam-building properties.  Can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions.

5. Petrolatum
Also known as petroleum jelly. This is a cheap mineral oil that is supposed to be moisturizing but it can interfere with the body's own natural moisturizing mechanism leading to more of the problem it is supposed to help with.

6. Polyethylene glycol (PEG), Polypropylene glycol (PPG)
These are synthetic petrochemicals used as humectants (moisturizers). They have been known to cause skin irritations. They are somewhat similar to propylene glycol which actually may be OK if it is formed from a vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol - so check to make sure you are getting a product from natural ingredients if propylene glycol is listed, otherwise avoid it to be safe.

7. PVP/PVA Copolymer
An oil- derived chemical used in hairsprays, styling aids and other cosmetics which is toxic when inhaled.

8. Stearalkonium Chloride
Originally developed as a cheap fabric softener, this is now used in hair conditioning formulas. It can cause allergic reactions and is toxic.

9. Synthetic Colors
These may be labeled FD&C or D&C followed by a color then a number. Many synthetic colors can be carcinogenic.

10. Synthetic Fragrances
Some of the fragrances can contain over 200 chemicals and there is no way of knowing what is in them because it will simply list "fragrance". Problems caused include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, vomiting, skin irritation, etc.

Personally, I don't worry so much about synthetic fragrances. Some of my favorite products, such as Pacifica soaps and perfumes, contain synthetic fragrances. I just hope that by using a company that is reputable, they will have taken care to ensure that the bad guys are left out.  I guess we'll see if I'm just a fool or not.

I'd also add to the list:
11. Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone
These are preservatives that are cropping up in products I strongly suspect are greenwashing us just so they can advertise "no parabens". They seem to be implicated in neurotoxicity and allergic reactions.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Review: JASON Vitamin E with A & C Shampoo & Conditioner

By Stephanie

After the Frugalista’s review of the Desert Essences Organics shampoo (which I also tried and hated) I wanted to review a product that has really worked for me.

I was nervous to invest any money in something else. Standing in front of the shampoos and conditioners at Whole Foods, I was totally overwhelmed. Sometimes, they say “paraben free” or “sulfate free”. That I understand. But, some of them were saying “grapefruit extract free” or “gluten free”. Since when are grapefruits evil? And, being gluten sensitive, I still wonder if shampooing my hair with it would matter in the least. Maybe I’m just missing something.

So, then I saw Jason. The bottles aren’t flashy or even particularly inviting. But, when I flipped the bottle, I saw great ingredients. Also, this particular formula of their shampoo gives a nod to the idea that hair that needs body still needs moisture. As a fine haired girl who is totally chemically dependant for my haircolor, I appreciate this.

So, I bring it home and use it the first time. Instead of getting that “dry shampoo” feeling that I get from a lot of natural shampoos, it actually lathers! And, it makes my scalp and hair feel clean without feeling stripped. The scent is clean and green- not like anything in particular. The conditioner is thick without being too thick and oily and rinses nice and clean as well.

My hair feels "bodified" from the active ingredients (which are vitamins and proteins) but, not weighed down from any natural oils they put in the product.

For about $8.00 a bottle it’s a good deal ($6.59 online). I can’t give it 5 stars because that would be for a perfect product. For me, a perfect product would have an amazing smell, too. This one doesn’t. I guess it’s too much to ask for this product to be infused with the great scent of the Desert Essences Organics line. Ah well, 4 stars it is.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Taking steps to make your home more energy efficient

I just spent a very nice hour with some energy efficiency guys that came over to discuss what next steps I should be taking to make my home more energy efficient and treehugger-y. It was quite an enlightening experience!

But first things first. They said that absolutely the first steps you should take are:

1. Buy CFL (or LED) bulbs and replace your incandescent bulbs.
2. Buy power strips and put your electronics on the power strip and turn it off when you are not using it. Or, you know, unplug them. No more "standby" mode sucking power constantly.

The green frugalista has already done both of those. The TV/DVD and the wireless internet thingie are both hooked up to power strips that go off when not in use. Most of the bulbs are already CFL, although I have some recessed lighting in the kitchen that I had not switched because I didn't see any similar bulbs for sale. The energy guys assured me that I would be able to find them if I looked, so that is my next mission.

Both of these are cheap steps, so if you haven't done anything because you are paralyzed with indecision or think that things will be expensive, that's where you should concentrate your first efforts. There are also "usage" steps where you don't need to buy anything, you just need to use things less/more efficiently - like using cold water to do laundry, not using the dryer on a sunny day but instead hanging your clothes to dry, turning the thermostat up (or down, depending on the season) a degree or two. I also try to do as many of these as possible.

The next step up has been stumping me for a long time, though. Being frugal, I want bang for my buck. I don't want to spend a lot of money on a solar power system only to have it not save me much in terms of electricity usage. So I was never sure whether to replace the windows, put more insulation in the attic, have a solar or tankless hot water heater, have the a/c unit upgraded or what.

And what I found out was that the answer of what the next step should be depends completely on your home type, your household and where you live (as in, do you live in a hot or cold climate and need more cooling than heating or vice versa). No wonder I was confused, as I kept coming across seemingly contradictory advice because the advice varies so much. So the answer is...the next step is to:

3. Get some energy guys in, and have them check out and audit your home and your energy usage. You can either get your power company to come and do an audit, or a separate green energy consultancy/contractor. Get out your old power bills, and sit down and talk with them about your usage. It is either free or quite low cost to have someone come out.

Surprisingly, my next steps as recommended by my energy guys are not what I thought they would be. I am already frugal on the hot water front (cold water is now my laundry friend) so a solar water heater or tankless heater would not bring me large savings. It would be different if I had a larger family with hot showers being constantly taken and a bazillion loads of laundry being done a week. Similarly, my windows are fairly new and would cost far more to upgrade than I would save. However, because I live in a hot part of the world, my biggest costs and energy usage goes to air conditioning, so that's where we need to focus our effort, mainly in insulation and duct work improvements.

So my next steps (remember - your mileage may vary) involve:
4. Installing a UV-blocking film on one or two of the windows that need it and don't already have it. The energy guys recommended doing this myself, using a kit I can pick up from Home Depot or somewhere similar. I'd already done the south facing windows but they said to do west facing windows too.
5. Having the power company come and check for a/c duct work and window leaks. Have the leaks sealed. The power company will come and do this check for a mere $35. Window leaks can be sealed by the homeowner cheaply, using a sealant you can pick up at most hardware/DIY stores. For the ductwork I'll need to get an a/c company in and it might cost a few hundred dollars.
6. After the ductwork is nicely sealed, install more insulation, on the underside of the roof (I already have it on the floor of the attic, but as the a/c ducts run above that insulation, the energy guys recommended having insulation added above the duct work so that the ducts aren't sitting in a hot attic). They recommended Icynene which will be a few thousand but hopefully will have a quick payback in terms of lower cooling costs.
7. Think about solar power. Eek! This may be more than the green frugalista's budget can stand, but the energy guys are going to look into costs and financing. In fact, they said they could work out an entire 10-year plan for me on what I should be thinking about doing, and when, based on the age of the a/c system and windows and all that jazz. So I told them to knock themselves out with a plan and we'll go from there - hey, I figure even just having a plan is going to be valuable, either for myself or for the next owner.

I hope this helps someone out there. I'm pretty pleased I had these guys come out, as now I am not left flopping about with indecision. Get some energy guys! I found mine by Googling.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Review: Desert Essence Organics Italian Red Grape Shampoo

I've wondered since starting this blog how fair it will be to do reviews of products that I really don't like. After all, just because I don't like something doesn't mean that you won't. For your hair, or skin, or body, or whatever, a product may be perfect even though it isn't for my hair, or skin, or body. But then I thought I should bite the bullet because maybe it'll help you save money. Or at least you can buy it knowing that the product might be a bit iffy.
So, Desert Essence Organics - they do some great stuff. I quite like one of their facial cleansers. But this shampoo is horrible. It barely, barely lathers. And I know that that's a good thing with natural products, as there's really no need to have a profusion of bubbles, nor for the chemicals that produce that much froth. But this one lathers so little I can't even spread the product around my hair. I find that I have one little patch of shampoo on my head and I can't seem to get it to the rest of my hair. So I end up working it around for a long time, just getting frustrated. And it's not a thick shampoo by any means - it's quite runny, in fact, so you'd think it would be easy to spread around.
It doesn't leave my hair feeling nice. In fact, on days when I used this and the matching conditioner at the same time, I was left with basically straw on my head. Now, I do need a lot of moisturizing on my hair, so perhaps this was not the best product to pick up as it doesn't really promise to be very moisturizing. But still.
I have had this shampoo for forever. I am not one to throw away products that don't work for me, as that seems like a waste. Instead, I will keep them in rotation but only use them once a week or so. This one was so horrible that I had to force myself to use it once every few weeks. And it still never grew on me. I hated to look at it sitting in the bathroom because I knew I'd have to keep using it and that made me shudder. I finally finished the bottle today, and lo, there was great rejoicing in the house that I will never have to use it again.
I'll give it one star for being organic and not super expensive - that's about the best I can say of it. It's about $8.99 a bottle.
I'm interested if anyone out there does love it, though. So if you use it and like it, please comment!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Review: Alba Fragrance Free Mineral Sunscreen

I have tried a lot of non-chemically based mineral sunscreens. A lot. And most of them leave something to be desired, quite frankly. They feel greasy, or they don't rub in, or they separate in the tube into a sludge-y portion and a greasy portion. Not terribly pleasant.

The reason I was trying all these sunscreens is that first of all it freaks me out a bit to put a chemical sunscreen on my skin. A review of the Skin Deep investigation into sunscreens is posted here. I need some sun protection because I'm pasty, freckly and live in a sunny place, so it's something I use every day - either just on my face or on my arms as well. And I treated myself to a facial the other year and the facialist told me that chemical sunscreens were clogging my pores and causing breakouts. So I set myself a mission to find a good non-chemical sunscreen. I didn't realize how long of a mission it was going to be. Some things that are reviewed as being safe I just can't find in my local stores. Some are expensive, although I've tried some of those too. Some just don't perform well.

And then came Alba Botanica's mineral sunscreen. I've read one review of this which was not positive. The user claimed it dried her skin out and was hard to rub in. Well, yes, it's hard to rub in. It's a mineral sunscreen - they're all hard to rub in. Maybe having come from a year of testing out absolutely awful mineral sunscreens, I feel differently about things. But you have to come to this expecting that it's going to take a while to rub in - the point of a mineral sunscreen is that it contains particles that block the sun from getting to your skin. So you've got to spread those particles around and it's going to take a little while for you not to have a thick white coating on you. But at least it does all disappear after a short time. Think of a surfer dude with his nose completely covered in brightly colored sunblock and thank your lucky stars that you won't look like that. That's where I'm coming from, not from the point of view that it should be an instant sinking in like it's some super-expensive facial moisturizer.

The Alba sunscreen sinks in well, after some rubbing but not too much rubbing. It doesn't smell much of anything - it's fragrance free, after all, although there is a slight metallic tang to it. It hasn't separated in the tube, and I've had mine quite some months now. It doesn't feel greasy on the skin or in any way nasty. Your skin has a slightly powdery sheen to it after you first put it on - I guess that's the sun reflecting off the particles of titanium dioxide. But it feels soft, so it's quite pleasant. And, importantly, it works. I was initially hesitant to buy this, as it's only SPF 18, and normally I try to get SPF 30 or higher. But I haven't burned yet while I've been out gardening or doing whatever in the hot Florida sun while I have this sunscreen on - OK, so I haven't been laying out on the beach for hours at a time, but for general usage it hasn't let me down yet. And that's more than can be said for some sunscreens which sport a higher SPF on the label.

I will definitely buy this one again. It retails for about $7.99-$9.99. Four stars.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Greenwashing? Organix Hair Care products

Sometimes (well, a lot of the time) I come across products that are half green and I then stand in the store forever, trying to make the decision of whether they're green enough or not. I mean, I don't claim to be an uber-greenie who makes my own shampoo or anything, but I also hate falling victim to greenwashing. If I'm going to use a half-green product, I want to know what I'm doing. In some circumstances, I will take a "better than the average" product, and in some I won't.

Case in point: the Organix line of hair care products. Look at their name - Organix. Doesn't it conjur up images of purity, and innocent children skipping through meadows of untouched wild flowers? But I don't think they're as green as all that.

For a start, they claim that the products are "sulfate free" when what they really mean is that they are free of sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. It doesn't mean that there are no chemical compounds ending in "-sulfate", because there are. But hey, no SLS's is a very good thing. Also a good thing - the bottles are supposedly made from recycled post-consumer resin and use environmentally-friendly inks on compostable label film. They're also not tested on animals - again, a good thing.

However, the conditioner I was looking at includes methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone in it, which as I discovered when looking into a Be Fine cleanser, are somewhat nasty preservatives that manufacturers now seem to be using in order to claim that their products are paraben-free. Sure, so they won't disrupt my hormones, but does that mean I want a neurotoxin instead?

Then if you read the label verrry carefully, you'll see that it only claims that one ingredient is organic, and the website also carefully only claims the use of "organic active ingredients". In the case of the conditioner I was looking at this morning, it was "organic mango citrus oil". Given that mango is not a citrus fruit, I assume that they mean it's a mixture of mango and a citrus. But is it the mango or the citrus that is organic? Or both? Also, the mango oil was listed as the 16th ingredient out of 22. Sixteenth. That's hardly a big chunk of organic goodness in there, now is it?

They're also not that much cheaper than some of the truly organic products, averaging about $6.99 for a 13 oz bottle, although they are admittedly cheaper than most.

Having said that, they have won beauty awards, I have used three of the conditioners and they seem OK, results-wise. For my hair, the citrus mango actually does a fairly good job - the shea butter was adequate and the vanilla silk not quite moisturizing enough. If you can't get anything else because this is as natural as your local store gets, it's probably a good start. However, I've decided that I really shouldn't be buying them again. They just don't seem good enough, environmentally speaking, and I know I can find better green/organic products if I just plan a bit more so I don't run out and have to make a quick dash to Winn-Dixie for emergency haircare items.

Umm, 1 and a half stars for trying a little bit?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Whole Foods article

The New York Times has an interesting article today about Whole Foods trying to be more budget-friendly. It includes a little comparison price chart that makes interesting reading.

It's timely, because it repeats what I've been noticing - that on some things, Whole Foods is actually quite good on prices. And saves me the planned trip to Whole Foods today to do some price comparisons. But you have to be really careful - in fact, I have a notebook that I take grocery shopping with me sometimes, in which I jot down the prices of my staple items at each of the stores I go to. Otherwise, I'd never remember which store charged which amount. It was due to my notebook that I discovered that Whole Foods actually had the best price on Ezekiel bread. And these days I always get my organic oatmeal from the Whole Foods bulk bins - at $0.99 per pound, it's a much better deal than anything you can get prepackaged at other stores. However, some things can be much more expensive at WF than at other stores, so unless you do as I now do and spread your shopping over different stores, what you might save at WF on some items will be more than taken up with what you are paying in excess on other items.

Review: Burt's Bees Soap Bark & Chamomile Deep Cleansing Cream

[Our first guest review! Hopefully the first of many.]

By Stephanie

I have been on the lookout for a cleanser that will CLEAN my skin. I didn’t want something that just made me feel good about the greenness of the product I was buying or the fact that it doesn’t flood my body with harmful chemicals.
Lots of other cleansers left me feeling more oily than before I used them. I never felt clean and my skin felt clogged and congested.

I’m selfish and picky- I wanted something that really made me feel like it was BETTER than the chemically choices I had out there. Not just something that I lived with because it was better for me.

This cleansing cream really hits the mark. I worried, at first, because being an oily skinned girl, the idea of a “cream” usually means that it isn’t a good choice for my skin. Usually, the foaming gel type ones are the only thing for me. Unfortunately, the sulfates that make those gels foam are a no-no for a green type gal.

So, when I was overnight at a hotel for a work conference, I noticed that my co-worker roommate (who is also working on trying to be as green as possible) had this cream. Well, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to try before buying so, I asked her if I could try it.

I was really impressed. It is a thick cream but, it spreads easily on a slightly damp face. It smells nice, too. A little different than what I’m used to- sort of an anise or licorice type smell. It also had a tingly sensation which, for me, replaced the need to feel foamy to feel clean.

I removed it with a warm, wet washcloth (I rinse in the shower, too) and I felt velvety soft and clean and with just the right amount of emollient feeling- like I was clean but not stripped.

I was in love. And, for about 8 bucks depending on where you buy (Whole Foods, Burts Bees online, Ulta, Target) you really can’t go wrong.

Sometimes, I’ll even use it at the sink before I shower and leave it on for a few minutes before I rinse it off in the shower. It sort of “digs deeper” during that time and acts a little like a deep cleansing masque.

Obviously, for me, this is a 5 star product