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The Beauty Connoisseurs

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Natural vs Synthetic: A Chemist's Perspective

The craze to "go green" and buy "organic" and "natural" is growing exponentially. The proponents of "natural" speak highly of the benefits and tend to leave out the possible risks, while the big name cosmetic chemists will tell you there is no harm in using synthetics. So, I'm offering my unbiased perspective as a cosmetic chemist that has developed a natural bath and body product line. I'll keep it short.

If you flip through the previous posts you'll find that I have defined quite a few of the typical ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. As a chemist, I have a healthy respect for chemicals; they serve their purpose and most are harmless in the concentrations used. What synthetics lack is the nutritive benefits that "natural" ingredients have. I refer to natural in quotations for two reasons. 1) There is no FDA standard for what is considered natural. Anyone can make the claim whether its true or not. 2) Chemicals are "natural" too! Every element in the periodic table comes from the earth. Those elements come together to make both natural and synthetic ingredients alike.

There are two problems with synthetics that I consider significant. The first problem relates more to vanity than anything else. Synthetic ingredients (silicone oils for example) cannot be absorbed by the skin. They sit on top of the skin forming a protective barrier (good), but don't provide any health benefits. The second problem I find with synthetics is that the chemicals end up in our water supply and reek havoc on our environment and ecosystem. They also increase air pollution. With natural ingredients, you give your skin vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, alpha hydroxy acids, etc; a lot of which your body cannot produce on its own. Going natural means less pollution, better air quality (indoor and outdoor), less chemicals in the water run-off and higher profitability to farmers-- local, nationwide and global.

Synthetic ingredients are often noted for "dermal irritation" especially when being discussed by natural product developers. However, it is important to note that natural ingredients can cause just as much if not more dermal irritation and allergic reactions. The truth is, allergies exist no matter how we try to eliminate them. Actually quite a few essential oils are known to cause skin sensitization and there are others that are toxic as well.

The moral of the story is synthetics and naturals have an equal list of pros and cons. It is up to the consumer to decide what is important and make purchases based on that decision. I have used synthetic personal care products up until now and they served me well. But at this point in my life, I feel a responsibility to protect my environment and to give my body more benefit than harm.

Whatever you choose, glam it up!
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Long, Luxurious Hair: The Technique

In order to maximize your personal hair growth cycle, you should implement a consistent hair care routine. This post is just my suggestion; the technique I use to ensure my hair is as healthy as possible. Remember healthy hair is key to getting your hair to its longest length. Alter this technique so that it suits your particular needs.

Wash your hair often (at least once a week) with a good quality moisturizing shampoo followed by moisturizing conditioner. Remember to steer clear of alcohols which are very drying to the scalp and hair. Greasy hair needs to be washed more often than dryer, curly hair. **Dirty hair does not grow faster than clean hair. That's just nasty! Avoid 2 in 1 products; their conditioning is rarely as effective as a stand alone conditioner. For softer hair, do not rinse away all the conditioner. Leaving a trace of conditioner on the hair helps to smooth the cuticle layer and provides a layer of protection until the next wash. Once a month, I recommend a deep conditioner. Leave it on for no less than 10-15 minutes, but really what's the rush? Relax, watch a movie, read a book.

As previously discussed, regular trims are essential to ensure the hair on your hair is its healthiest. I usually get my ends trimmed with every relaxer treatment. For me that is every 4 weeks. Most stylists recommend a trim every six to eight weeks. Just be mindful of how your ends look. If they are frizzy, dry or transparent, its definitely time for a trim.

Since heat is not a friend to our hair, keep heat styling to a minimum. Blow dry your hair and then heat style as desired ONCE A WEEK. Use a light hair oil or a thermal styling product to help protect your hair from heat damage. Do not pick up a flat iron, curling iron, crimping iron, etc again until the next wash. You'll be surprised how much you reduce split ends and breakage just following this one rule.

There is a lot of pressure to go natural these days. If you feel the urge, look for products with botanicals, herbs and minerals in the ingredients. Such products will provide many nutrients that the body does not produce on its own. You can get the same benefits of natural hair care by altering your diet to include the foods discussed in "The Friend". When making the switch from mainstream hair products to all natural hair products, the condition of your hair may appear to get worse before it gets better. This phenomenon is similar to an addict in recovery, the hair goes through a withdrawal period.

One last note, chemically treated hair needs extra TLC. If your hair is permanently colored, bleached, permed or relaxed, you should consider using a deep conditioner with each wash and adding a hot oil treatment once a month. You may also find that you need to get your ends trimmed more regularly. To one and all-- go easy on the styling products. Product buildup is definitely "The Enemy".

Here's to the Glam Life and Long, Luxurious Hair!
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Monday, May 4, 2009

Long, Luxurious Hair: The Friend

In the previous posts for the Long, Luxurious Hair Series, we discussed the science behind hair growth and factors that negatively affect the growth process. Armed with that information, we are now able to investigate ways to optimize individual hair growth cycles. The key is to protect the hair from extensive damage and breakage.

The very best way to promote healthy hair growth is from the inside out. Incorporating foods that aid in hair growth and strength is a healthy and safe way to reach the ultimate goal. Hair is made primarily of a strong protein called keratin which is also found in skin and nails. Variations in the amino acids found in keratin account for the differences in texture with some being soft and/flexible and some being hard. Since hair is made of protein, eating foods that are high in protein will be beneficial to the condition of the hair. Iron, B Vitamins, Essential Fatty Acids, Vitamin E and sulfur are also good additions to a healthy hair diet. Adding more of the following foods will be a good start: fish, eggs, leafy green vegetables, yogurt and nuts. Experimenting with different recipes that include these foods is a fun way to change your diet. Stear clear of hair growth supplements, they are potentially dangerous and unnecessary.

Aside from altering your eating habits, there are some topical hair treatments that will help to repair and prevent damage. Moisture is a must for healthy hair. Dry hair is often brittle and easily broken. It is important to note that hair oil products are not moisturizing products. Good moisturizing products will infuse moisture (water) in the hair shaft which hydrates the cuticle layer helping to create shine and prevent breakage and/or split ends. Use shampoos and conditioners that have humectants in the ingredients list. Humectants draw moisture to the hair and hold it there. Some humectants are glycerin, honey, sugar cane, hydrolyzed wheat starch, sodium PCA, panthenol, sorbitol, propylene glycol, butylene glycol and acetamide MEA. Also be sure to avoid of sulfates and alcohol which strip the hair of its natural oils.

Heat styling can cause damage to the hair shaft when used in excess. In addition to minimizing the use of heat, you should invest in thermal styling hair products which help to protect the hair from permanent damage and usually have other nutritive properties.

Finally, having your ends trimmed on a regular basis is your hair's very best friend. Split ends are not only unsightly, but they spread. Ragged ends easily get tangled with other strands of hair and cause breakage when the hair is combed or brushed. Uncontrolled split ends continue to split, higher and higher up the hair shaft causing frizzy, dry, damaged looking hair. When this sort of damage is finally addressed, the hair has to be cut much more than it would had it been dealt with early. Most stylists recommend a scheduled trim every six weeks.

In the final post of the series, we will discuss a technique to maintaining healthy hair for optimal hair growth.
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