What is the Truth About Parabens?

This morning I was reading an email that I received from on of my skin care groups about parabens. As many followers of natural skin care will tell you, parabens are bad. Parabens are chemical preservatives that are used in almost every mainstream personal care product on the market today. You will find then in deodorants, lotions, creams, body washes, shampoos, conditioners, and more. The reason why parabens are so widely used is because they are very effective in preventing bacterial growth and have a relatively low cost. Though the FDA says they are safe, they are believed, by some, to cause cancer. This fear has spawned a small movement of people to try natural skin care products preserved with other more natural alternatives to parabens. I myself have used Cosmocil CQ and Germall Plus in lotions and creams, both are paraben free preservatives.

So, do they really cause cancer?

According to the chemist who wrote the post, parabens have not been proven to cause cancer at all, and this whole paraben scare is really the result of misinterpretation of scientific findings. A study in the UK of 20 women with breast cancer found parabens in the tumors of 18 of the women. But... no other body tissues were sampled, no normal breast tissue was sampled, they could not identify the source of the parabens (we don't know that they came from skin care products because parabens are also present in food we eat), and they only sampled 20 women (a very small test group). Results from this study were found to be inconclusive.

So, why do we all believe parabens are bad? Well, another article I read stated, "studies began to expose the estrogen-like property of parabens. Twelve studies have confirmed estrogen-like activity in laboratory rats injected with parabens. The results indicate a weak form of estrogen, but it's there." I also found that, "scientific evidence suggests exposure to estrogen and substances that behave like estrogen may increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer." Because of the wide use of parabens in personal care products, this may indicate some area for concern, but since there is no actual scientific proof, manufactures see no reason to stop using the preservative.

Personally, I'd like to err on the side of caution.

Sure, parabens may not have actually been proven to be harmful, but if there are more natural alternatives out there, then that's what I am going to use. It's not just about preventing cancer, it's also about preventing toxic buildup in our bodies in general. Spiritually, I'm getting closer to nature. I'd like that to be reflected in my skin care as well.

African Black Soap

Have you ever used African black soap? Well if you haven't you don't know what you are missing. African black soap is one of the most gentle, deep cleansing, and non-drying natural soaps out there. Traditionally made in Africa, black soap has been shown to smooth skin, relieve acne, and treat skin irritations. It works for all skin types, from oily to dry, but because of its gentle nature, black soap is an excellent cleanser for sensitive skin, you can even use it on your face.

I was first introduced to black soap by a vendor at Chicago's African and Caribbean International Festival of Life and, I have to admit, when I saw it I was a bit skeptical, and totally against using any bar soap on my face. However, when I finally tried it, I loved it. The soap felt so gentle! I have combination skin, so the black soap turned out to be perfect for me by cleaning the oily spots and not over drying the dry areas. I never thought I'd be able to use a bar soap on my face, but with African black soap it is possible. Anyone looking for a mild cleanser with skin clearing benefits look no further, because black soap is definitely for you.

Varying by region, traditional African black soap can be made from a variety of natural oils in Africa such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter and the ashes from plantain leaves, agow tree bark, and cocoa pods. When the plantain or cocoa pod ashes are combined with water they form a natural lye. Then the oils are added to the water and stirred to form soap. The black soap I sell contains unrefined shea butter, virgin palm kernel oil, plantain leaves and cocoa pod ashes.

African black soap is naturally a soft soap. It also has a high glycerin content. Because of this, black soap will readily absorb moisture from the air, and if it is left sitting in water, black soap will dissolve into it completely. On the bright side, you could bottle the watery leftovers and use it as a shampoo, or liquid face wash. That is, of course, up to you. To keep black soap a bar, store it in a dry place between uses.

Traditional African black soap is available at Astrida Naturals. It's available unscented and scented with all natural essential oils.

How to Heat A Jar Shea Butter To Prevent Graininess

I've been getting a few questions from people about what the consistency of unrefined shea butter should be and how they can safely heat it.

At 65 - 75 degrees, approximately room temperature, your shea butter should be semi-soft or solid. This may be harder than you expected if you were envisioning a more buttery consistency. But don't worry! The melting point of shea butter is about 85 - 90 degrees. This is why when you rub a bit between your hands or on your skin, it will melt easily and absorb quickly into your skin or hair.

So, what do you do if you feel your shea butter is too solid? Well you have a few options, first you can leave it as is and use a finger to warm the area you want to scoop out of the jar when you want to use it (this is what I do). Another option is to simply leave the shea in a warm area of your house, such as under a lamp for about an hour or so to soften the entire jar. If you want more immediate gratification, then you can place the jar in the microwave and heat it GENTLY. I'm talking 10 seconds at a time at medium heat, people! You never want to heat unrefined shea butter too long or too fast or you will ruin it and cause it to go grainy. As long as you don't do that you should be fine and can heat your shea until it becomes oil (shea makes a wonderful hot oil treatment or massage oil). If you need to solidify your shea back up, then just place it in the fridge until it reaches the consistency you like.

Do you have any other questions about shea butter? Ask in the comments section below.

The Incredible, Edible . . . . Shea?

The other day I was chatting with some people in an Etsy chat room, when one chatter exclaimed that her husband thought that shea butter was for cooking.

LOL's came rolling out on the screen until I informed the other chatters that shea butter can be eaten.

Of course, I can't really read any expressions through my computer, but I think some people may have been shocked. Someone said that was gross, but I said that in West Africa women have been cooking with shea for years, and it's also used in the US and Europe in the chocolate industry as a substitute for cocoa butter. Rumor has it this is also a healthy butter/oil. I once read that it is similar to olive oil in the fact that it is a healthy cooking oil for frying foods, but I have yet to verify this. (If anyone finds out if this is true please let me know!)