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 drugstore.com 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

Friday, August 1, 2008

Bike commuting is green AND cheap!

I am the first to admit that I am not the perfect greenie. Or frugalista, really. In much of this, I am learning along with everyone else. However, I recently started riding my bike to work again, having done it a couple of times a week last winter. I had been waiting for cooler weather again, but decided to just go for it because, well, I ran out of excuses. It is so much better for the environment, better for YOU and it is cheap! I'm building up to cycling four days a week.

The most fabulous collection of bike commuting tips are here. I could not possibly come up with anything as comprehensive as this.

But I want to add my own tips too, just because I can. The first is some encouragement - yes you CAN ride your bike to work. It isn't the most frugal means of transport, which is walking, but it is way better than anything else around. Anybody who travels 5 miles or less to work can easily bike. 5-10 miles is harder but still doable for the novice. 10+ miles is getting daunting, I admit, but you can work up to it. This recent article in the New York Times talks of one guy who commutes 40 miles by bike. Um, yeah. It might take me a while to work up to that, but hey, you never know. Also, if you live far away, don't necessarily think you have to cycle the whole distance - maybe you cycle to a bus stop, take the bus, and then cycle from that bus stop to your work or school. Buses around here have bike racks on their fronts that are easy and quick to use - even if you have to ask the driver to come out and show you how to operate it the first time, as I did.

As for safety, just be alert, don't be afraid to wear dorky things like helmets and reflective gear, and follow the road rules. Signal with your hand if you are turning. Pay attention. There are risks, but you can minimize them by choosing your route carefully and being alert. And, 24% of bike fatalities involve an intoxicated cyclist, so that's definitely something that can and should be avoided. The failure to wear lights at night or a helmet significantly increases a biker’s risk. Finally, newer riders have to be especially careful about drivers opening doors (you’ll get clipped) and making turns (they can’t always see you), and about riding on the sidewalks (you’ll get hit by cars exiting or entering driveways). See here for some of the safety information.

*Start with one day a week. Fridays are good. You might want to do a few practice runs at the weekend to build up to the mileage you'll need to do.
*Get a helmet. This is an absolute must.
*Get mud flaps/fenders. You will at some point have to either cycle in the rain or go out on rain-splashed streets. You do NOT want this up your bum.
*Get lights. Seriously. No lights, no riding. Even if you don't plan to ever ride in the dark, you just never know when you're going to get delayed at work or if you're going to have to ride home while a storm is brewing.
*Get a bell or horn. This is another seriously. I tried to do without for a while, but I got shouted at several times for not alerting pedestrians to my presence. Pedestrians (especially, I have to say, older women with small dogs) get angry if you don't give them a wide berth as you are going past them.
*Get some reflective/flashing stuff for your bag or person. I like these which can fit on a bag strap. Sing along with me: I'm a dork, and I don't care.
*If your workplace doesn't have showers, take some wet wipes (or a damp wash cloth in a plastic baggie) and fresh deodorant, and wipe yourself down when you get there. Don't try cycling in your work clothes unless you are doing a mile or less. Change when you get there. Equally I'm not too keen on tight spandex that you'd be embarrassed to be seen walking in to the office building in, but whatever floats your boat.
*Use the balls of your feet on the pedals. I want to shout at everyone I see using their arches/middle of the feet on the pedals - you get much more bang for your buck with the balls of your feet as you can get more power.
*Think about changing your route or your hours to accommodate biking. It is much more pleasant cycling to work in the summer if you go earlier in the day when the sun hasn't had as much of a chance to heat the air up. Likewise in the winter you might want to go a bit later in the day. Cycling is also more pleasant if you are on smaller roads - if you normally drive along a busy highway, think about the smaller side streets that run parallel to the highway. Check google maps or mapmyrun.com for a route. I was able to cut half a mile off a 4.8 mile commute just by carefully selecting streets based on the distances that mapmyrun was showing me.