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Fabulous Skin!

Our skin, with visible and hidden components, is a barometer of both internal health and emotional equilibrium. It is a protective shield as well as a self-decorating canvas and is a critical gauge in our quest for daily health and well-being. It is also the most neglected organ we have.

Many myths surround the care of our largest organ, the skin. In its protective role, our skin shields us from environmental toxins and hazards. It forms a protective barrier that seeks to minimize intrusions of foreign invaders into that sensitive inner realm: our cells and bloodstream. With such a full-time Herculean labor force, our skin requires both nutrients and water to keep itself performing at maximum efficiency. Let’s examine some of the factors in healthy skin care.

External

In its task of shielding our bloodstream and inner workings from toxins, our skin collects pollutants, cosmetics, dirt, bacteria and other particles throughout the day. Therefore, a good cleansing regime is critical to maintaining clear and smooth functioning skin pores and dead skin cell sloughing. The first step in a cleansing regime is soap. I don’t mean those mass market bars and liquids often unthinkingly, and mistakenly, accepted as “soap.” These products are primarily cleansers and salts, and rarely real soap. Read the packaging and you will find the label lacks the word “soap.” This is because “soap” is a specific product defined by the FDA and most, if not all, these products are detergents and cleansers. It is this little noticed fact that has led to the misconception: soap causes dry or sensitive skin. Even so called “glycerine” soap tends to contain cleansers and solidifying agents since its natural state is liquid and it possesses no cleansing qualities of its own.

Natural soap is the best cleaning agent for the skin you will ever find. And I mean REAL soap. Real soap can only be made one way: with sodium hydroxide, or lye. Even the big commercial manufacturers make soap the same way we handcrafted soap makers do, with lye. When lye joins together with the fatty acids contained in vegetable oils, the chemical reaction process known as “saponification” produces soap. Soap is naturally one-third glycerine molecules and two-thirds soap molecules. The oil blend that makes up the soap formula determines a soap’s characteristics, like large or small bubbles. As a handcrafted soap maker, I have the luxury of using nutrient-rich vegetable oils that contribute additional benefits to my soaps and hence, to the skin. When properly formulated, real soap will not dry the skin. On the contrary, handmade soap will leave your skin feeling soft and moisturized from the natural glycerine content. When used consistently, you may find that reliance on lotions noticeably diminishes, saving money and time, a savings that will allow you to indulge in your new-found bathing treat — handcrafted soap!

Handcrafted soap tends to cost more than mass-market cleansers not only because it is made by hand but also because of the nutrient content of the oils. This is an important consideration when determining benefits versus cost. It is also important to consider whether essential oils or fragrance oils scent one’s soap of choice. In addition to an emotionally soothing component, most essential oils like lavender and tea tree add additional skin care benefits to soap whereas fragrance oils merely contribute scent. The point of bathing and washing is to cleanse the skin. Where department store cleansing products are heavily perfumed and leave fragrance behind, real soap will leave your skin feeling clean, soft and smelling fresh!

Internal
Vegetable oil-based soaps bring another important dimension to skin cleansing: essential fatty acids. High quality soaps often use oils rich in essential fatty acids, especially an Omega-6 fatty acid called Gamma Linolenic Acid, also known as GLA. GLA is vital to the health of many body systems including the skin.  Frequently, acne and other skin eruptions can be traced to a lack of essential fatty acids (EFAs) rather than bacteria. Adding EFAs in the form of supplements to one’s diet can do much to bring renegade skin conditions into balance.

Hormone fluctuations also influence how the skin appears and EFAs, along with stronger nails and healthy hair, contribute to hormone health and balance as well. In aromatherapy, tea tree oil is said to release emotional trauma and hence, its association with external skin health under its anti-bacterial umbrella. From a holistic standpoint, when it is said something “got under one’s skin,” tea tree oil soap would be the blend of choice. Nonetheless, when someone comes to me with acne or other skin issue, my first suggestion is usually soap enriched with a GLA-heavy oil like evening primrose, borage or black currant. I usually reserve tea tree oil soap suggestions for those prone to emotional distress, especially those who are reserved about discussing such intimate feelings.

Water is another important ingredient in healthy skin. When the body’s detoxification systems like the kidneys and liver are overloaded for one reason or another, the skin becomes the primary detox mechanism.  Drink plenty of spring water everyday so that organs like the kidneys can effectively perform their detoxification functions and allow the skin to focus on its protective role.

General
Herbs are nutrient-rich botanicals with a wide range of health supporting capabilities and many supplements support healthy skin as well. For example, the herb gotu kola is said to encourage collagen production while supplements like CoQ10 act as antioxidants with the potential to encourage new cell formation. Green tea can be a tea as well as a supplement and plays an important role in both internal and external skin health. Studies show certain of green tea’s anti-oxidant constituents may aid in skin cancer prevention and treatment and thus may be beneficial when made into soap. In addition, these anti-oxidants provide a plethora of benefits for the body’s inner processes, too.  Anti-oxidant rich chocolate also makes a wonderful soap ingredient and contributes not only to skin health but provides a novel bath time treat.

Other ingredients can also add fun and nutrients to soap and hence, to skin cleansing. The most familiar of these is beer with herbal hops and other whole grain components. Wine and champagne made with anti-oxidant rich grapes also add nutrients and lather-enriching sugars while lending a distinct, elegant air to any cleansing ritual. Then there’s mead, or honey wine, nectar of the gods.  Much has been written about the benefits of honey on skin wounds as well as its anti-bacterial and moisturizing capabilities. Soap made with mead combines these benefits with a cleansing regime bringing a distinctly different element to an otherwise ordinary routine.

Overall, the skin plays an important role in our daily lives while showcasing our personality. Skin health can effect how we see ourselves and hence, influence the impression we make with others. As the biggest organ of the body and the shield between your inner processes and the environment, your skin’s nutritional needs deserve equal importance to those of the heart. Everything that goes on your skin can eventually make its way into your bloodstream. Choose skin cleansing products with an eye to health and witness the visibly radiant bloom of ravishing skin reflected in the eyes of everyone you meet.

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A Wine for Every Body

A vineyard is a beautiful sight to behold in the spring with its freshly manicured grape vines giving birth to new limbs with clusters of buds and the promise of ripe fruit. During the fall harvest season, the now pampered globes are collected and relocated to the winery where the fruit is processed into red, white or sparkling (i.e., champagne) wine. While a particular wine is determined by its grape or other fruit component, nearly all wines provide a liquid opportunity to share in the health supporting profile of this splendid fruit.

Wine is a historically diverse beverage, used in an infinite variety of recipes with dishes like beef and seafood, as well as in flavorful punches. Even mead, or honey wine, is an enthusiastic addition to the wine marketplace enjoying renewed appreciation for its versatility and distinct flavor. Wine’s multi-faceted talent does not end in the kitchen, however. Wine also makes a wonderful, healthy base for soap by bringing the antioxidant-rich profile and nutritional value in grapes and other fruits to the soap making pot and hence, to skin care. The fermentation process used to make wine allows we soap makers access to fruit and berries and hence, to a broader range of skin-loving nutrients not otherwise available due to its perishable nature. Even preservatives can not significantly increase fruit’s shelf life as a soap ingredient, an addition which ultimately compromises the basic tenure of “natural soap.” While honey can be added directly to the soap pot, mead allows for a larger serving and provides the distinct fragrance and color of honey.  In its melomel form, i.e., combined with fruit, mead blends the anti-bacterial and skin-healing attributes of honey with a fruit’s nutrient profile for an extraordinary skin-loving ritual via a simple bar of natural soap.

Grapes contain the anti-oxidant quercetin, flavonoids, minerals and vitamins. The beautiful color of red wine is derived from the grapes’ flavonoid content. Red grape skin and seeds also contain resveratrol, a chemical receiving a lot of press lately for its health-promoting properties. Resveratrol is thought to provide red wine with anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. When added to soap, these qualities may become directly available to the skin via the cleansing routine. Because of its unique astringent quality, essential fatty acids and vitamin (including vitamin E) profile, I also blend a liberal helping of grapeseed oil into nearly all my Winery soap formulas. The beautiful green tint found in grapeseed oil comes from its chlorophyll content; chlorophyll’s importance to plants is considered equal in importance to human blood. In addition to providing a deodorizing factor, chlorophyll is studied for its potential anti-cancer effects. Grapeseed oil contains abundant anti-oxidants and with its ability to support and nourish the epithelium/skin cells, makes a wonderful skin care ingredient. This characteristic also encourages damaged tissue to regenerate restoring the skin’s moisture-retention capacity.

Along with nutrients, wine adds a superb lather-boosting element to soap due to fruit’s natural sugar content — some soap makers add a bit of refined sugar to a batch just to increase lather. By using fruit wines, however, this boosting mechanism is achieved via a natural sugar complex. With its rich, multi-layered bouquet, wine adds a distinct aroma note to a soap blend as well. Since grape wines tend to have complex fragrances, wine provides a distinct aroma landscape not otherwise available in a natural form.

Not only do fruit wines such as strawberry or raspberry provide their health-promoting nutrient profiles to soap, they lend the distinct fragrance of these extremely popular fruits to the soap bar.   In addition to being attributed with aphrodisiac qualities, strawberries contain anti-oxidants along with several vitamins including C and K. Being highly perishable in its raw state, the nutritional profile of strawberries becomes directly available to the skin through strawberry wine soap. Our “True Love” soap is made with 100% strawberry wine and has a mild strawberry fragrance. Swirled with dark chocolate, packed with anti-oxidants, this dense-lathering bar soap is a healthy treat for both the senses and skin alike.

Raspberries, too, are packed with vitamins and contain ellagic acid, a compound found to have anti-carcinogenic activity on skin cancer cells as well as other cancers. When fermented into wine, the highly perishable nature of raspberries is transformed allowing our skin the opportunity to directly benefit from its nutrient content. There is a wide variety of fruit wines available on the market, including elderberry, cranberry and blackberry, each of which may offer distinct skin care benefits through soap making.  Even mead, or honey wine, adds a distinct, fabulous element to bar soap. Along with its amino acid content, the skin care and healing attributes of honey are well documented and with its particular sugar profile, mead soap has a lush lather, intriguing fragrance and unusual look.

No wine soap would be possible without first removing its alcohol content. Not only does alcohol inhibit the chemical reaction necessary to the soap making process, it also dries the skin. While nearly any wine can be mixed into soap, I prefer working with 100% fruit wine rather than flavored wines, and mead in nearly any form or combination of ingredients. By adding a de-sparkling step to the soap making process, elegant champagne becomes another goldmine in my quest for an assortment of distinct, nutrient-rich, all-natural handcrafted soap blends. Associated with romance, elegance and celebrations, champagne makes a remarkable soap with its fabulous nutrient profile and rich lather, an elegant touch to an otherwise ordinary routine. Our “Mimosa” champagne soap, with orange essential oil and Vitamin C-rich rosehip swirls, is modeled after the famous brunch beverage and a distinct bathing experience.

Wine and champagne soap is a wonderful, luxurious cleansing and moisturizing experience. When incorporated into soap, these time-tested beverages add their health supporting qualities to everyone’s skin care regimen. Special occasions and special harvests become memorialized events when fine spirits in soap are added. And when coupled with that special person, a simple bathing routine can become a romantic interlude, too. In addition, wine soap gives a whole new meaning to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bar) on an invitation. When attending such an event, along with its liquid form, be sure to include a lovely wine soap for the host.

Salute!

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Living Smoke Free – I did It My Way

It was the fall of 1996 and I had decided to finally stop smoking. I smoked for over 20 years and enjoyed everything about it: the scent, the camaraderie in smoking circles, the self-contained privacy of a good cigarette and the sensuality. Yes, I loved everything about smoking and still do — I just don’t smoke anymore. No one was more surprised than my family when I stopped. I was a staunch advocate of smokers’ rights and very much enjoyed my habit and its routines. When asked why I stopped smoking, my response is the same now as it was then: it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

When I realized it would soon be time to stop smoking, I approached the release process with some holistic healing ideas I had explored over the last few years. If I was going to succeed at not smoking, I would have to ignore the propaganda about smokers, i.e., people who smoke, and cigarettes. As a stereotype, the word smoker carries numerous negative emotional and mental associations and as a declaration of free will, I released myself from this identity. The idea of “quitting” something is usually classified as an undesirable act as well. To mentally facilitate my decision, I also shelved the “quitting” approach. I set about cultivating a mental and emotional movement away from being a smoker to someone who smoked and in the process, freed myself from psychological barriers that were likely to complicate my progress.

I affirmed that I was a valuable person who simply chose to enjoy cigarettes, nothing more and nothing less. After all, without Prohibition, people who drink alcohol are acceptable and because of a simple change in politics, I saw no reason to accept the mainstream Society’s attempts to brand me as some alien life form on the sole basis that I smoked tobacco. Though I never did berate or hate myself for smoking and encouraged others who wanted to stop smoking to discontinue that toxic practice, I concluded that in order to succeed with my goal, I would need to cultivate the most powerful force in existence — love. I immediately discarded any ideas that elicited even one iota of guilt for enjoying cigarettes, or fear of some physical disease as motivation to stop smoking. Both fear and guilt require reinforcement to maintain their life span and hence, motivating power. Love on the other hand, is self-contained, self-supporting and self-perpetuating.

I took a good look at cigarettes and their role in my life. I realized these rolled-up tobacco packets were friends — yes, friends. I loved my cigarettes like a best friend. These dried plant sticks were with me through good times and bad; whether or not they approved of my actions or decisions, and were never too busy to talk or hold my hand when I needed a friend. In essence, cigarettes were always there for me no matter what. As friends then, I recognized each one for the service it provided me. I showered love upon these little tobacco leaf bundles and with gratitude, acknowledged the important role they had played in my life. And, like any other inevitable parting, I gradually said good-bye to my dear friends — not with guilt, hate and disgust, but with grace, appreciation and Love. Through this path, I empowered my stop smoking decision from a place of purposeful choice.

The night I smoked my last cigarette, I made a 72-hour bar graph to mark my progress since this period is particularly critical. The first 24 hours were easy; the next 48 hours were more challenging with physical withdrawal symptoms. I drank lots of water and pure fruit juices. I played with my cigarettes, went outside for breaks, something I discovered I greatly enjoyed and saw no reason to discontinue simply because I had given up the habit that required it, and played with burning cigarettes in an ashtray while I talked on the phone. Simply having the smoke around me was enough to soothe my desire until I no longer needed the burning cigarette ritual. I continued to carry cigarettes and a lighter for 3 more years recognizing that not smoking was always by choice and that if I really wanted a cigarette, I could have one.

While there are now options like nicotine gum available to aid in non-smoking, I did not know of anything but the patch in 1996, and I had seen what those could do to someone’s skin. Having recently begun exploring flower essence therapy, I decided to add some additional self-support with a few select essences. Flower essence therapy was initially discovered by a British physician named Edward Bach and the original flower essence line is still known today as Bach Flower Remedies. Flower essences are the result of infusing a flower’s signature into water primarily via solar heat. This mother tincture is then diluted and potentized and the result preserved with brandy, apple cider vinegar or glycerin. The water molecules become a carrier for the flower’s infused energy signature and these attributes are then delivered to the recipient either orally or topically. In a nutshell, flower essences work with emotional, mental and spiritual components and are a non-invasive and very safe therapy. Flower essence choice is important as effectiveness matches the mutual resonance chord struck between issue and essence. As such, if a non-matching remedy is used, the essence has little if any impact. This aspect of flower essence therapy provides a safety net unheard of with conventional drug therapies, including nicotine substitute options.

Researching with a “stop smoking” focus, I selected four flower essences to form my support community: Nicotiana,
Pine, Holly and Self-Heal. Nicotiana, or Flowering Tobacco, is helpful for cleansing and revivifying the heart forces. Many folks who smoke are sensitive and smoking seems to help ease the powerful feelings and sensations they experience. Other common wounds include the need to move from a survival mode to skillful living and Nicotiana can also help with this. Pine, an original Bach remedy, is indicated for guilt and feelings of inadequacy. Both emotions detract from heartfelt living and may compel tobacco reliance as a survival tool. Holly is a beneficial essence since it supports the heart area and its ability to express and receive love as well as providing an opportunity to gain a transpersonal perspective on love.

Many that smoke have a profound ability to love but this capacity is censored from fear of being hurt or because of perceived early life betrayals. Many cigarette devotees also seem to share a common theme that they are somehow defective. As a result, authentic self-expression and its creative power, heart chakra doctrines, are stifled due to
survival concerns. Holly flower essence can reestablish Self integrity and dissolve this bondage. Self-Heal, an FES Quintessentials flower essence, is a wonderful all-around remedy. It grants strength and connection to our own powerful inner healing components. I recommend this essence for virtually every situation as it supports all other essences in addition to being its own dynamic healing agent. Taken 4 times a day for 12 weeks, these flower essences carried me through this transition.

As I encountered the world nicotine-free and grieved the loss of my friends, a re-integration period was required. Over the course of several months, I engaged another dozen flower essences to assist in various aspects of this process. Some of these included Dogwood, Olive and Dandelion remedies. After 19 years, I still keep a bottle of Five Flower Formula, the equivalent of Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy, around for stress and other emotionally-challenging times finding it an effective antidote regardless of the stress source. While there are moments when I consider striking up my friendship with cigarettes again, with the help of flower essences and loving choice, as of today, I still live smoke-free.