Category Archives: nature

Sunscreen: Healthy or Toxic?

It’s not an easy question. Most of us know that there is a relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer. But how many know about the problems inherent in many of the lotions that are on the market – there to supposedly limit damage to our skin?

What if the products you were buying and lathering on your face and the skin of your family contained chemicals that when exposed to sunlight actually broke down into compounds that can cause cancer? What if they contained chemicals that could disrupt normal hormonal function? But the government is there to help keep us safe, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the FDA has not made a final ruling on standards for sunscreens for the past 32 years. Proposed standards would require manufacturers to provide proof of their safety, UVA and UVB protection, and waterproof stability if those claims were made.

Research found on the website of the Environmental Working Group shows that 60% of sunscreens in the US contain oxybenzone as the active ingredient, to prevent burning and sun damage to skin. What the purveyors of these products do not tell you is that oxybenzone, which may be easier to apply to the skin than mineral sunscreens – like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – is absorbed into the skin in large amounts, potentially causing allergic reactions and hormone disruption. Researchers now recommend that oxybenzone not be used on children.

Vitamin A is a wonderful antioxidant and has been shown to beneficially reduce free radical damage when taken internally or applied to the skin in night creams. But using Vitamin A in sunscreen has potentially carcinogenic effects. So rather than preventing skin cancer, it actually may be contributing to it. Look for “retinol palmitate” as it is sometimes called on labels.

Much safer products are on the market now. But you have to be willing to do some research and read some labels. The biggest issue with the labels is that most of them have many ingredients. And most of the ingredients are unknown and unpronounceable by the general public.

But here is a good point. We know that our skin is a great delivery vehicle for medications, right? Why else would there be patches for quitting smoking, birth control and other medications? We do absorb substances readily through our skin. And yet we assume that the skin care industry, which is largely unregulated, has our best health at heart. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it’s not true. We live in a great capitalistic society, and they want to make money. Many of the chemicals and fragrances that are added to make them appealing are very unhealthy.

I don’t expect you to go out and get a degree in chemistry to understand all of this. Here are a few hints to help:

  • More is not better. Aim for labels with fewer ingredients – not so many that you are weary to read all of them.
  • Familiar is good! If it sounds like a strange chemical that you can’t even pronounce, you might want to think twice about it.
  • “Baby” in the name does NOT mean it is safe for kids!
  • Don’t assumethat there is someone knowledgeable at your health food store who prevents the unhealthy ones from being put on the shelves.
  • Mineral sunscreens – zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – provide physical barriers to the sun yet are not absorbed into the skin.
  • Check www.ewg.org to see if your sunscreen is safe, or to find one that is (as well as read more in-depth research on sunscreen ingredients).
  • Use other protective barriers against the sun, such as clothing, hats, and umbrellas. And avoid being in the noonday sun when the UV rays are potentially most damaging.
pink wildflowers

Pink wildflowers

We all love this surge in warm weather and ability to spend some time outside. Spring and summer are a wonderful time for enjoying nature. Soak up your summer rays safely.

Sara Thyr, ND

Willowbend Natural Medicine

www.DrThyr.com

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Like Water Off a Duck’s Back, or “Just Chill”

I have always wished that I were a more mellow person. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let it go like water off a duck’s back. I love those snappy little sayings. Love them until I try to embody them, that is. They make it sound so easy. Like that is just the way it happens. Water rolls right off.

Today I was vindicated. At least for the idea that it isn’t that easy. It takes practice and work.

On Thursday I was in my office when I received an alarming and disappointing email. There I was, all alone, nashing my teeth and crying in frustration. I knew it would blow over. But in that moment I thought to myself, “Why can’t this be easier? Why can’t I let it go like water off a duck’s back?”

Today I went on my usual Saturday sojourn to Cotati to pick up my fabulous organic eggs (at StonyBrookSustainables) and check on the new baby chickens and ducks. As we stood and watched the 6 week old “babies” (who mostly look like adults now), Suzi pointed out that they preen all the time. They have these oil glands on their backs by their wings, and they preen to get the oil to cover their backs.

Ah ha! That is how they do it. It is NOT so easy. It takes them the entire friggin’ day! That is all they do. They eat, swim and smooth oil onto their backs so that the water will just run right off.

I think if I worked at it all day, I might be cooler of the head. So red heads, fire signs and general over-reactors unite. Don’t let people tell you it’s simple.

Consider preening all day. I do think that will help.

Natural First Aid

My talk last week at Sky Hill Institute was a huge success. To keep the love going, I will blog this week on the contents of my home first aid kit.

The two things I use the most are undoubtedly homeopathic Arnica and All-Purpose Salve.

Arnica I carry with me everywhere. There is one in the tennis bag, my bike pack, my purse, and both of our cars. I don’t know if I am just a clutz, or if I’m just a huge believer. Giving Arnica immediately after any injury (or surgery) will dramatically spead healing.

There are other homeopathics for after particular injuries. But taking Arnica “no matter what” as quickly as possible is never a bad idea.

Keynotes for Arnica are:

  • any trauma
  • bruised feeling
  • the bed feels too hard
  • person injured says “I’m okay.”

One of my patients who recently feel directly on their tailbone was resistant to taking any homeopathic just after the fall. When she had been suffering for a while, she came in and I gave her one that is more specific to the falling directly on the coccyx. I truly believe that she would not have suffered as long if she’d taken Arnica immediately.

All Purpose Salve is a blend of herbs that is perfect for healing skin rashes and wounds. It seems as though we are forever dealing with some little cut, scrape or rash. The All Purpose Salve (made by Wise Woman herbals) combines herbs that not only reduce the itching and inflammation, but help to heal the skin. No antibiotic/petrochemical OTC ointment can claim that. (And I personally feel that putting antibiotic ointments, as well as using antibiotic soaps, just contributes to antibiotic resistance. You have an immune system! Don’t put that crap on little cuts and wounds!)

Some people have the idea that when you are hurt you need something more powerful than what nature has to offer. Quite the contrary – what nature has to offer is the most effective, as well as naturally safe.

Happy Spring!

Ahhhh! The first days of spring. Feel the warmth, the movement of new plants, the freshness. We all feel a bit more motivated when the sun shines hotter and the days are longer.

Take advantage of the longer light to tend to yourself this spring. Sit outside and listen to the birds for 15 minutes at the end of the day. Breathe deeply. Drop your shoulders away from your ears. Tune out the news and demands of the day.

Find your local CSA or farmer’s market and get some good fresh greens and make a salad or some other fresh food for dinner.

Consider doing a detox or cleanse. Clean behind the sink. Smile when you are drying your hair.

Enjoy the spring!!!

Regenerative Design Institute – easy on the planet

Imagine solid outdoor furniture not made with petro-chemicals or non-renewable resources.

Imagine solid outdoor furniture not made with petro-chemicals or non-renewable resources.

I had the most wonderful opportunity of touring the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, California a couple of weeks ago. James Stark, one of the co-founders gave us the tour around the place. The RDI is like a dream come true for me. The concepts that they have working on their land are what I want for my practice and whole healing center. But that is down the road for me. For now, enjoy the offerings at RDI.

Green is the new black, they say. It’s cool and good marketing and all that. RDI is like the root of the green. It’s why and how and seeing it all come together. Not just buying recycled $120 handbags. RDI helps us to think about how we can truly affect change in our planet. And in ourselves.

One of the classes that they offer helps students to track wild animals and learn about their habits and habitats. And in that process, they nearly always learn about their own natural habitat. What in their world needs to be back to basics…back to the earth.

Most interesting is how the space is laid out with great care and planning. It is designed, not just plopped together, hodge podge. Why put the chicken coup under the orchard? Keeps the weeds and grasses down around the trees and fertilizes them at the same time. Not to mention keeping little rodents out.

As we walked along viewing the organic gardens (herbs close to the house – you need them regularly for cooking; squash and apples further away up the hill – you will only harvest them a couple of times) James quizzed us on why they would want both goats and lemon trees. We were all trying to name some clever biodynamic rational. “Lemon cheesecake,” he grins. That is all you need. The juice of the lemon will curdle the goat milk and it is sweet enough that you just put those things together and you have a fabulous desert. It’s not like they are roughing it!

James Stark explains how the natural filtration system works to purify water.

James Stark explains how the natural filtration system works to purify water.

Inspiring. That is what I came away with. One story James told was about when there were going to have 150 guests for a week. The water system only produces about 450 gallons of drinkable water/day. He knew it was impossible. He had extra water brought in. But at the beginning of the week he asked all of the guests to act as though the water is gold. The most precious resource. By the end of the week they had not touched the extra water that had been delivered. We can change our habits and our consciousness. It has lead me to remember what it is like to live during a drought. How long is long enough for a shower? Why is the water running in the sink when we are preparing vegetables? Do we really have to flush after every pee?? I have paid more attention. Adjusted. And haven’t suffered in the slightest. I can’t wait to see my water bill.

It isn’t really about just saving money – although right now isn’t that nice?? But James mentioned and I have heard it before, that the next world battles will not be over oil, but water.

For me, it just feels better not to waste. Even “waste-water.” RDI has a grey water catchment pond

Grey-water is purified and oxygenated by plants and fish to be re-used for irrigation.

Grey-water is purified and oxygenated by plants and fish to be re-used for irrigation.

that takes most of the water that comes through the drains (kitchen sink, shower, etc.) and utilizes natural methods to purify the water. There are particular local plants in the pond, as well as fish, that are miraculous in their ability to clean toxins out of water.  It can then be used for irrigation for the gardens. They are certainly not using harmful chemicals in their sinks or showers, but who needs to be doing that anyway? It’s not good for you either! If it would kill a fish, you might want to consider not putting it on your skin.

What a concept – beautiful, functional and ecological. I think they may be onto something.

Sculpted roof brings cutting-edge style to natural building.

Sculpted roof brings cutting-edge style to natural building.

Up the hill a bit are some of the newer natural buildings. They are testing various methods for creating structures. And some are better for certain environments than others. What they might need in New Hampshire to get through the winter might be somewhat different from here. But what James and his colleagues are working on, are creating a variety of structures and seeing what works and helping people who come there to learn figure out what is going to work for them.

Being at the Regenerative Design Center is amazing and inspiring. As we stood by these beautiful, natural creations, many of us were a bit awestruck by what they have accomplished. Sensing this, James continued to impress me by quoting Mother Theresa: “You need not do great things, but small things with great heart.” We can all go forth and do what makes us feel good for ourselves, our brothers and sisters and our planet. Not necessarily to be oh-so amazing, but to

Recycled bottles add light and interest to this clay structure.

Recycled bottles add light and interest to this clay structure.

tranform lives with love and compassion. And yes, with eyes open to what we are doing to our stressed-out little planet.

You can tour the Regenerative Design Institute – they offer tours to the public every couple of months. Check out their website for more information about classes and other offerings. If you can make it, it is truly worth your time. See http://www.regenerativedesign.org.