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The Smurf Juice Syndrome
One day, I was visiting a new spa in the Phoenix area with another soaping friend of mine, and as we awaited our bill, we perused some of the beauty product offerings in the spa’s retail boutique. My friend picked up a small bottle filled with a conspicuously blue yet “natural” facial serum and suddenly exclaimed (not just a little loudly in the whispery quiet of the spa environment) with incredulity, “where’s the blue?!” She, a fellow formulator and artisan of her own line of handmade, natural bath and body products, was of course scrutinizing the ingredients label on the product box, because that is what we do. It is a compulsion and we can’t help ourselves, really. As far as I know, there is no 12-step program for this label-reading affliction because it doesn’t really constitute a diminishment of one’s quality of life; it’s just really annoying for anyone trying to get me to walk through any retail beauty aisle at anything resembling a brisk pace. I just can’t do it. I *have* to stop and read the ingredients.
Anyway, the problem with the ingredients listing on this particular product, however, was that it was incomplete. And anyone who formulates beauty or body care products for a living can tell this, simply by looking at it. There were actually more than a few little label lies happening in this case, but the most glaringly obvious omission was the fact that the stuff in the bottle was seriously, oceanically, azure blue. However, there was absolutely NO listing for a colorant anywhere in the ingredients. To nearly anyone else, this might simply not even matter. I mean, why NOT blue? It’s a “blueberry” serum, right? So it must be blueberries that make the serum Smurf blue, right? Even though it’s not even the color of blueberries? So what if it’s the color of Smurf juice? So what if they forgot to include blue on the label?
As creators and formulators of our own skincare and bodycare products, the ubiquitous and blatant mislabeling of products in our industry is well known to us. Yet when I tell friends, family and customers about this rampant labeling abuse, they are often shocked. Like most people (and like me, before I began making my own organic body care products over 16 years ago), they assume that there are laws and regulations and governing agencies (such as the FDA) which oversee these things to protect consumers. Right? Well, mostly. There are laws. There are rules. But you may be a bit surprised to learn there is very little, if any, actual policing or enforcement of those laws.
As indie beauty care artisans, we tend to take a great deal of care in choosing quality ingredients, painstakingly sourcing and blending and mixing and tweaking and testing (usually on friends and family) before finally releasing our creations into the world. And most of us follow the labeling laws. Many of us do so proudly, because we know how great our ingredients are and we want you to know, too. We pour our hearts and souls into our products, because we want to put something really good out into the world.
The problem with the smurf juice syndrome is that we indie brands are trying to compete on an unlevel playing field. The company that makes the smurf juice serum happens to take out two-page spreads in every spa, salon and beauty trade publication currently in circulation every month, and they claim to be offering “handmade”products using “organic” ingredients. Yet, as a literal handmaker of bodycare products using certified organic ingredients, I can assure you that this company is not. But how is the public to know the difference? How are we, as consumers, going to make informed choices if there is no transparency and truth in labeling? When the average consumer (who is not a formulator) picks up a bottle of something called “Rose Hip Toner” and the entire sum of the ingredients reads: “Rose Hip Juice” despite the fact that the product is red—very red. And despite the fact that this “rose hip juice” smells heavily of roses. And nevermind that, if I were to go out to my wild rose bushes this autumn and squeeze the juice from the ripe rose hips and put that juice in a jar and leave it on a shelf for, say, anywhere from one to two weeks at room temperature, the result would be at least fuzzy, probably covered in mold and certainly. Not. Red. And it would definitely not smell like roses. How are you, the consumer, to know that this product has to contain more than what its ingredients label suggests? I know, as a formulator, that there would have to be some type of preservative, whether natural or chemical-based, for any kind of liquid “juice” to not decompose in a bottle, unrefrigerated, unless that juice is sold in powder form. I know, too, that it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve or retain a natural red color in wet products. If you were to mash strawberries into a jar and leave them there, they would most certainly turn brown (and then into compost). And I can tell you that there is a fragrance in that bottle, because “rose hip juice” doesn’t smell like roses. In fact, I am not sure that there is even such a thing as “rose hip juice”. But this company, with its big advertising budget and its clever packaging will sell you its “handmade, organic rose hip juice” toner for the bargain price of $48.
There is currently new legislation being proposed to improve FDA laws for food as well as cosmetic products. And, as much as I am not looking forward to the prospect of having to pay more licensing, certifying or business fees, I think it’s long overdue. The European Union took the lead way back in 1976 with their European Cosmetics Directive, which has been improved and updated several times since, banning harmful ingredients such as known carcinogens and irritants and greatly restricting labeling nomenclature (http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/cosmetics/html/consolidated_dir.htm). Here in the States, we’re way behind. Aside from the lack of enforcement in labeling laws, there are many substances in commercial cosmetics and beauty products today which are quite frankly, toxic. They’re toxic to humans and they’re toxic to the planet. Although the proposed FDA requirements will hopefully bring some much needed attention to the way that cosmetics are made, packaged and sold in the United States, there isn’t likely to be a substantial restriction of known harmful ingredients. There are, however, a couple of independent sites trying to bring more transparency to the formulation of beauty and skincare products, most notably the “Skin Deep” site by the Environmental Working Group, which keeps a free database of cosmetic and beauty products and their ingredients, breaking them down by safety in a rating system. Although their system is admittedly flawed and imperfect, it certainly is a step in the right direction.
But regulation and databases can’t replace good common sense. You, the consumer, already have the senses to discern labeling omissions. Next time you pick up a beauty product the color of smurf juice, even though the “FD&C Blue No. 5” isn’t listed in the ingredients, you know it’s in there.
In the meantime, I am going to endeavor to utilize this blog space to educate, inform and hopefully entertain those who would be so kind or curious as to read it. It occurred to me that there are hundreds of blogs out there from organic product reviews to nothing short of a shill for organic product sellers, but scant few from the perspective of the actual indie formulator. I make absolutely no pretenses as to my point of view: I am heck bent on purity, and so about purity I will write. I may also occasionally shill for my own products, too, but I promise to keep it to a minimum. Until next time, please remember not to believe everything you read, especially if it’s an ingredient label for a “natural” or “organic” product that is bright blue, yet doesn’t list a colorant, or preservative, among its ingredients.
Founder & President, WoodSprite Organic Body
Here in Michigan, the lilacs are in full bloom, tender young leaves are filling the trees and the scent of honeysuckle blossom fills the air. Soon, it’ll be time for shorts, breezy blouses, and of course, those sassy, strappy sandals. After a long winter of neglect, a wonderful way to celebrate the rites of spring is to give your feet a little extra attention. Even if you aren’t able to get to the spa for a regular pedicure, you can treat your feet to some spa-worthy pampering in the comforts of your own home in just a few simple steps.
You’ll need the following equipment and products:
- Basin or Small Tub with Comfortably Warm Water
- Clean Towels
- Small Bowl of Hot Water for Washcloth
- Foot Soak
- Foot Scrub
- Foot Butter or Cream
- Nail Clippers, Emery Board, Pumice Stone, Orange Wood Stick
- Nail Polish (optional)
First, find a suitable place to work; ideally, with a soft, comfy spot to sit and a low stool or bench to prop up your feet. Remove any polish from your toenails. Fill a basin or small tub with comfortably hot water, then measure out and add your foot soak, giving it a swirl to dissolve. Of course, we recommend our Cool Your Heels Soothing Spa Foot Soak, because it contains natural epsom salts, soothing herbs and fizzing minerals that help to deodorize and cleanse. Ease your feet into the water, sit back, and relax for about 15 minutes as the soak softens your skin.
Next, remove one foot from the soak and gently dry with towel. Trim with clippers, buff and shape using a nail file or emery board, then clean beneath nails, and take care to gently push back cuticles using an orange wood stick. Smooth over especially tough calluses with your pumice stone or file. Return foot to soak, and then repeat procedure with the other foot. Add a bit more hot water to basin if you like, to keep temperatures comfortable.
Gently remove first foot from soak, prop up onto the side of basin or tub. Apply about ½ ounce (1 Tablespoon) of WoodSprite Organic Body Tea Tree & Peppermint Foot Scrub (or other foot polish) between palms, and then massage onto your feet, ankles, calves and lower legs, paying special attention to rough spots and calluses. Use even, smooth pressure, but don’t be rough. This important step stimulates nerve endings and encourages increased blood flow (and therefore oxygen) while natural black walnut shells exfoliate and smooth the skin. Return foot to basin and rinse off Scrub. Repeat for other foot.
Now, remove first foot from basin, and wrap in a hot, damp towel or washcloth. Apply gentle pressure, and slowly slide towel off of foot, wiping away any remaining foot scrub. Melt a small amount (about 1/2 teaspoon) of Overnight Sensation Organic Foot Butter (or another foot cream) between palms, and then massage onto foot, ankles and lower legs, concentrating on any rough spots such as calluses and the heels. Use more Overnight Sensation if needed, though this rich, conditioning butter is quite concentrated and a little goes a long way.
Now, this part is purely optional, but is an integral part of our Signature Spa Pedicure treatment and elevates the entire experience to true bliss! Gently wrap right foot in a fresh hot, damp towel (or place feet in plastic baggies first, then hot towel) and prop up in a comfortable position. Repeat with other foot, taking a few minutes to relax and allow the Butter to deeply infuse the skin with nourishing emollience. Unwrap, and continue to next step.
Finally, gently pat away any excess Overnight Sensation with towel. If applying polish, rub nail surfaces with a bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab to remove any Butter residue, then paint nails with preferred color.
Voila! Your toes will be pretty as shiny new pennies and better yet, your feet will feel tingly, refreshed and rejuvenated. Repeat this procedure every few weeks to maintain healthy, happy feet all year long.
For quite some time, folks have been asking me to start a blog about my organic spa and body products, and though I was flattered, I really didn’t think there would be enough for me to write about on a regular basis. Mostly, my day-to-day efforts are focused on running my business, dreaming of new products to make, trying to live as fully as possible while leaving as small an environmental footprint as possible, and trying to squeeze some traveling in here or there. In a nutshell, I’m probably kinda boring. And although my ongoing passion for creating and formulating new and fun products for my company is certainly fascinating enough to me, I wasn’t sure anybody out in the real world would want to hear about it.
Slowly, though, I began compiling little notes about the questions I receive over and over…mostly from customers, many of them from my own workers, friends and family. The growing trend to “go green” has brought with it more new companies and products trying to capitalize on the trend than ever. With them comes more competition, yes, but also a lot more confusion for the general public who are, perhaps in varying degrees, just getting used to the idea and are trying to untangle the truth from all of that marketing hype. Magazines and news media have jumped on the bandwagon, trying to give “green tips” and feature “green products”, but I often see them, in their zest to inform but limited time for research, relaying a lot of misinformation and perpetuating a lot of the confusion. If the reporters don’t understand the differences between “organic”, “natural”, “certified organic”, “wildcrafted”, “fair trade” and “all natural” (indeed–not many of us do), how can they educate their readers and viewers in the concept?
And so, I decided that I would just start talking with you about what I know. If it’s not of interest to you, then you don’t have to read it, right? But if some of you are curious about how I formulate my products, how I choose ingredients, what “natural” truly means, how the organic certification process works (as we at WoodSprite go through it ourselves) why I have such a passionate commitment to my definition of purity, environmental topics as well as some fun things like polls, advance peeks at new products and ideas we’re working on, green living tips and heck–what’s the world without recipes–a recipe or two, then I will do my best to make it worth your while.
One of the ongoing features of the blog will be a daily tip about how to make life just a little greener in small and large ways. It’s called “365 Ways to Live Earth Day, Everyday” and I hope you find it fun and helpful.
Today’s Way: New Life for an Old Phone…I’ve had a few friends mention that they need a new cell or cordless phone because they’ll no longer hold a charge. But there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater (or the phone into the landfill); you can find a replacement rechargeable battery pack for nearly every model of phone out there at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new phone. I’ve found great deals on Amazon and Ebay, for even my ancient phones, at as little as $5 each. Just remember, when you swap out the old battery, be sure to contact your local recycling authority to arrange for proper disposal or recycling.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to sharing with you next time!
Jacquelyn Ramsey, Founder & President of WoodSprite Organic Body