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      Argan Oil – Argania Spinosa

      Argan Oil – Argania Spinosa

      Occasionally I come across a plant raw material for use in personal care that seems too good to be true. Argan Oil (Argania Spinosa) is one of those. From a functional, environmental and social aspect, argan oil is truly amazing. This is probably why in 1999, UNESCO added the argan tree to the World Heritage List.

      The argan tree (Argania Spinosa (L.) Skeels), is endemic to a particular area of Morocco (South- Western) where it grows over about 800,000 hectares. It is not unusual for Moroccans living outside of this region not to be familiar with this tree as it is only in this specific region of the world that it can be found. This fact actually makes argan oil one of the rarest plant oils in the world.

      For centuries now the argan tree has played an essential ecological function in this part of Morocco. Its roots grow deep in search of water and thus help retain the soil, preventing erosion and limiting the ever-increasing advance of the desert. Its ability to survive in this otherwise harsh environment is nothing short of miraculous.

      Not only does the argan tree plays a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance, but it also provides a source of income for the local Berber women who have few other means to support themselves.
      It is estimated that the argan forest can provide subsistence for as many as three million people.

      Almost all of the argan production is and has for centuries been run by women (women’s cooperatives).
      These women working today come from the villages nearby and are offered to work half days (so they can still tend to their families) in exchange for fair wages and good working conditions.
      These cooperatives have two objectives:
      1- to preserve the argan forest by finding sustainable economic use for its products
      2- to improve the social and economic status of rural women.

      It was traditional Moroccan medicine that gave us a clue as to argan oils benefits for the skin. Traditionally it has been used to treat all kinds of skin ailments including acne (particularly juvenile acne) chicken pox, pustules, dry skin, wrinkles, and even rheumatic conditions

      Modern science has determined that argan oil contains exceptionally high levels of natural tocopherols (vitamin E), actually almost twice as rich as olive oil and is also high in phenols and phenolic acid, carotenes, squalane, essential fatty acids, and unsaturated fatty acids (80%). The tocopherols (vitamin E) and saponins in argan oil help to restore the skin’s water lipid layer while also soothing inflammation. We now believe that the unique combination of phytosterols, containing the rare D-7 stigmasterol is one of the main factors in the highly effective treatment of skin diseases, wound care, burns and compromised skin tissue.

      Anyone who develops personal care products can truly see the bonus of working with argan oil in that it is relatively stable when compared to other oils with high essential fatty acids profiles. Argan oil is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil which gives a good indicator of its preservation properties.

      The propensity for rancidity has always been a challenge for companies that use ingredients like borage, hemp or evening primrose oil. It is all too often that I will see a tester in a store with these oils that have obviously gone rancid. The smell and consistency are immediately apparent.

      Today the argan tree is threatened: in less than a century, more than a third of the argan forest has disappeared, reducing the tree count to approximately 20 million. The reduction is largely due to the locals allowing foraging goats to damage the tree as well as using the tree for wood. Another factor to a lesser extent is that the climate has become increasingly arid over the years.

      BHT and BHA

      BHT and BHA

      Butylated Hydroxytoluene- BHT, and Butylated Hydroxyanisole- BHA are preservatives for oil containing products due to their antioxidant properties. BHA is generally used to keep fats from becoming rancid and BHT is used to prevent oxidative rancidity of fats. BHT has been used since 1949 and despite it being a known carcinogen, it is still used today.

      These two closely related chemicals can still be found in many foods and personal care products like, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, personal ointments, meat, beer, butter, meats, cereals, chewing gum, baked goods, snack foods, dehydrated potatoes, rice products, dried soup, food packaging, animal feed and rubber and petroleum products.

      Why should we care that these two chemicals are used in our food and personal care products?
      Based on animal tests, a chemical that causes cancer in at least one organ in three different species indicates that it might be carcinogenic in humans. BHT has caused various disorders in animals such as cancer, reduced body weight, increased blood cholesterol levels, and it has been linked to birth defects in rats. That is why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers BHA to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration still permits BHA to be used in foods. Japan has banned the use of BHT and BHA and the U.K. and several European countries have severely restricted its use all citing considerable safety risks.

      Are they really necessary?
      These synthetic chemicals can be replaced by safer chemicals and/or better quality oils (e.g vitamin E, olive oil, argan oil). We know these ingredients are not necessary as many brands of food and personal care do not use them…. and for good reason.

      The Management of Eczema / Atopic Dermatitis

      The Management of Eczema / Atopic Dermatitis

      Eczema affects 2 million Canadians and 15 million American, it is also the most common skin disease in children affecting 12% – 15% of children worldwide.

      Eczema is a general term for several types of inflammation of the skin with atopic dermatitis being the most common. Atopic dermatitis is also interchangeably described as eczema.

      For this article, we will stick with the term eczema mostly because it is shorter and requires me to type less. So what is eczema….in short it is inflammation of the skin, it is also a chronic life-altering sometime debilitating disease of the skin. The word eczema comes from the Greek word ‘weeping skin’, in Chinese medicine it is called Shi Zhen roughly translated to ‘damp sore’. These descriptions give you a good idea as to the nature of eczema. Eczema plays a negative effect on the quality of life of the sufferer more so than other skin disorders such as acne and psoriasis. The disorder is likely hardest on children as they can suffer a loss of confidence and low self-esteem compounded by interrupted sleep patterns due to the itch-scratch-itch cycle that is often worse at night. Eczema sufferers on average will experience 8 flare-ups a year. There is also a strong genetic predisposition to eczema, if one of your parents has eczema, you have a 40% chance of inheriting the same condition. If both parents have eczema you have an 80% chance!

      Here is the bad news first… eczema can be challenging to treat, the good news is that flare-ups can be eliminated or the severity greatly reduced, as well the frequency at which they occur can also be greatly reduced.

      If you have suffered with eczema you are all too familiar with topical corticosteroids, oral antihistamines, and antibiotics. This is the extent of the tools used in conventional medicine. I actually believe that dermatology is still one of the weakest areas of Western Medicine… we have much to learn.

      I do have to say that corticosteroids are effective to initially and quickly reduce inflammation, however, the side effects, systemic toxicity and subsequent ‘back with a vengeance’ flare-ups make them a less than ideal treatment option.

      How can eczema be reduced or even prevented?
      Eczema outbreaks can usually be minimized with some simple precautions. The following suggestions may help to reduce the severity and frequency of flare-ups:

      1. Moisturize twice a day with a ‘Clean” plant-based moisturizer – no harsh synthetics, or petrochemical based moisturizers – email me for my recommendations. This is especially important after showering or bathing as water can reduce the natural lipid layer that protects the skin.

      2. Eliminate cosmetics and personal care products based on petrochemicals. i.e. Mineral oil, petrolatum, carbomber, paraffin, propylene glycol, and other PEG’s... These ingredients greatly impair the respiratory function/elimination function of the skin.

      3. Observe skin with changes in temperature or humidity.
        Observe your skin's reaction to sweating or overheating. Some will notice that sweating can induce outbreaks, however, I have also observed some individuals who can greatly reduce or eliminate future outbreaks by regularly sweating either through exercise, hot yoga or infrared sauna. One theory why this can work is due to the fact that one of the skins main function is the elimination of toxins from the body. Through this cleansing, the skin respiratory and immunologic function is increased thus reducing outbreaks. One other important note is that often the skin gets much worse before it gets better with the ‘sweat it out’ regime.

      4. Reduce stress – There is no doubt that the hormonal/chemical changes in the body that occur during periods of high stress can induce eczema outbreaks.

      5. Avoid scratchy materials (e.g., wool and synthetics like nylon) Natural breathable products like organic cotton and bamboo feel great and let the skin breathe freely.

      6. Avoid harsh soaps, detergents, and solvents. I recommend olive oil soaps (or just water), no fragrance or additives. Eliminate sulfate based cleaning products (laundry).

      7. Avoid environmental factors that trigger allergies (e.g., pollens, molds, mites, and animal dander).

      8. Consider installing wood or laminate flooring and consider dust/allergen-proof mattresses and pillow covers. (See more information on dust mites below)

      9. Keep fingernails short and clean to reduce the damage from unconscious scratching

      10. Avoid bacterial infections by keeping areas of inflammation clean

      11. Research in the last 10 years has proven the link between common dust mite and eczema. Researchers found a clear and significant link between the reduction of dust mites from bedding materials and the reduction of eczema symptoms. The solution was simple and highly effective, gortex mattress covers were used instead of cotton

      12.  

        Dietary Advantage – This is one area that is rarely discussed and can be instrumental in reducing the frequency and severity of flare-ups. Be aware of any foods that may cause an outbreak and avoid those foods. the big ones to watch are cow’s milk protein, hen’s egg white, peanuts, soy, shellfish, codfish and even wheat. Avoid overeating and incorporate more easily digested foods. Avoid or eliminate refined sugars refined starches and processed food. Try to move gradually towards an organic whole grain and organic vegetable diet. Little changes such as cooking brown rice instead of white, buying whole grain artisan bread and shopping at the local farmers market for organic veggies are just some of the many modifications that can be incorporated to obtain a healthier diet. Breast milk is the single best food for infants and has been shown to decrease the incidence of eczema.

      13. Hydrate frequently (but not excessively) with clean, quality room temperature water.

        Consuming foods rich in omega-3 and GLA fatty acids can greatly benefit inflammatory skin conditions. Consider flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, walnut, tempeh, sardines, anchovy, herring, mackerel, salmon, krill oil. Additional sources of omega 3 are dark leafy green vegetables like kale, collards, chard, parsley and cereal grasses (wheat and barley grass products).

        Another reason to load up on dark leafy green vegetables is the fact that all greens are rich in chlorophyll which purifies the blood helping eliminate toxins that cause skin eruptions.

        Foods that contain beta carotene/provitamin A should also be consumed by anyone with inflammatory skin conditions. Examples include carrots, squash, spinach, beet greens, kale, chard and dandelion greens.

        Adding sea vegetable to one's diet is also suggested due to their nutritional profile and cooling and detoxifying nature.

      Living in Nature - Trip to Amazon

      Living in Nature - Trip to Amazon

      I remember watching a tv program many years back where David Blaine the famous illusionist went to the Amazon region and performed some magic tricks to a group of children who were living in a remote traditional village. What was most striking to me was that these kids did not even look surprised at a trick that would have most people standing there with their mouths hanging wide open. Having had the opportunity to visit a similar type of village in the Amazon, I immediately got why…… they were surrounded every day by magic and wonder that was their backyard.

      About 15 years ago after escaping from a tedious work situation, I managed to convince my wonderful wife that I needed to do something that I had always dreamed of. (I conveniently neglected to mention anything about mosquitos, bathing in rivers, sleeping in hammocks or walking in mud up to your knees!!)

      We were off to a city of 30,000 called Leticia located at the southernmost point in Colombia in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest. The location was inspired by a book I read by Wade Davis called One River which is about his mentor Richard Evans Schultes. (the Indiana Jones of the plant world) This book is one of my favorite reads and the life of Schultes brought up a strong yearning to experience this magnificent part of the world. Flying into this city you can sense the vastness of the surrounding Jungle with the many tributaries that branch off the main Amazon river.

      The Amazon region is truly the lungs of the world producing almost 30% of the oxygen on the planet. Apart from the oxygen high we could spend time with the local people where they taught us how to harvest acai berries and make a drink (Don’t drink river water like I did!), finding “camu camu” fruit for a snack, fishing, identifying plant medicines, swimming and just overall enjoying the scenery. It was amazing how rich and fulfilled their lives were, everything they needed existed within their surroundings – food, medicine, entertainment. Most of all no mind-numbing television or video games, depressing newspapers, traffic jams or people hustling to get somewhere to do relatively unimportant tasks. I think we could all take a lesson from my new friends.

       

      Sharks Without Livers

      Sharks Without Livers

      We are not a fan of the use of shark liver oil in personal care products or dietary supplements that can often be found in face creams, liquid supplement and even otc (over the counter) remedy ointments.

      Shark liver oil or squalene as it is sometimes called is a raw material that has been used for centuries as a folk remedy by fishermen for all manner of ailments from respiratory tract problems, skin problems, and for lymph node swelling. Shark liver oil can come from over 100 species of deepwater sharks.

      An unusual fact regarding the use of shark liver oil is its supposed ability to predict the weather. The local folks from Bermuda have for many centuries placed SLO in a glass bottle, whereby the oil will switch from a clear golden color like cooking oil to a milky white with the atmospheric weather change. Seems like no one knows exactly why this happens apart from also noticing that electrical changes in the atmosphere affect the shark’s liver and alert the shark to move out to deeper water before a bad storm.

      Why is Shark liver oil or squalene oil used in personal care? Well for one in it is a great penetrating carrier (brings active materials to the deep layer of the epidermis) that blends well with other oils and nutrients. It also is a good moisturizer that does not leave a greasy feeling on the skin. These facts are true of most squalene (botanical and animal source) with the molecular formula C30H50.

      Other constituents found in squalene include Vitamin A, and D, omega -3 fatty acids, triglycerides, glycerol, ethers and fatty alcohols. A constituent unique to Shark Live Oil squalene not present in botanical sources is a lipid called alkylglycerols. This lipid is founded in mother’s milk and also in the bone marrow.

      Alkylglycerol is the chemical that was thought to have anti-cancer and immune enhancing properties, however, no studies to date have proved this. Additionally, a Japanese study found some shark liver oil supplements to be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) (Cancer causing agents).

      I believe that Shark Liver Oil is a raw material that has seen it’s time come and go, especially with the many superior sustainable and kinder alternatives available. I relate the use of shark liver in personal care to the use of Ambergris (Whale upchuck) or Civet musk (a foul-smelling secretion extracted from the anal gland of a cat like species) in traditional perfumery.

      So what are the alternatives to Shark Liver Oil Squalene? there are several such as amaranth seed, rice bran, wheat germ, and my favorite olive. For personal care olive squalene wins hands down, it is relatively stable and the fatty acids profile in olive squalene is the closest an oil can get as far as similarity to human sebum (The important protective fatty layer on the skin).

      Why I am so hard on Shark Liver oil for use in personal care or nutritional supplements?
      The most important reason is that deepwater shark populations are severely endangered, and it is not right see the end of a species for the sake of our wrinkled faces… especially when squalene can be made from botanical alternatives.

      Oceana – the worlds largest ocean environmental advocacy sums it up by stating;
      “Nearly all shark species are experiencing severe population declines -some are at population levels less than 1% of their numbers just 35 years ago. Sharks are generally slow-growing and long-lived and breed late in life, making them extremely vulnerable to exploitation and slow to recover from decline. While all shark populations are experiencing declines, deep-sea sharks are the most vulnerable to overexploitation and take the longest time to recover, if they recover at all.”
      More about Oceana can be found at www.oceana.org.