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I LOVE MY BUBBLE BATHS! HOW COULD THEY POSSIBLY BE BAD FOR MY HEALTH??

I LOVE MY BUBBLE BATHS! HOW COULD THEY POSSIBLY BE BAD FOR MY HEALTH??

Most of us would agree that a little self-pampering is a good form of stress relief. Some would prefer soaking in a bath full of bubbles in candlelight, others might opt for having a massage or a facial… Either way a little “me time” and a treat to yourself feels quite luxurious – what’s not to like??

 

But what if I were to point out that this experience might actually be UP-ING your stress levels? If I were to say that:

  • many bath products on the market are full of industrial chemicals.
  • candles can contain almost as many toxins as cigarettes [click here for more].
  • parabens in facial products MAY be hormone disruptors and may be highly detrimental to human health.

…would you think again?

 

Granted, there is a lot of scaremongering out there on this one. It can be confusing reading the endless articles in the media on the subject, and there are many grey areas where more research is necessary. HOWEVER, my logic says to me that it’s really quite simple: why use products which MAY be seriously damaging to my health when there are other, natural alternatives…?

 

 

 

THE FACTS

  • our skin is a complex structure, and often works as a very effective barrier. It was brilliantly designed to protect us from the daily onslaught it received from the environment, BUT that was the environment of yester-year. In today’s world, toxins are far more rife, so the barrier doesn’t always work so efficiently…
  • our skin is the largest organ of the body and is exposed to endless chemicals on a daily level. Whilst some of these are never absorbed into the system, others are. Equally, the oft-made claim that “all cosmetics enter the bloodstream” is NOT true. However, it is true to say that some do…
  • The skin’s ability to absorb is affected by many factors: skin type, age, ethnicity, environment, seasonal change, extant skin conditions…
  • 90% of the chemical ingredients used in self care products have never been fully evaluated for safety.
  • Many of us use endless cosmetics without even consciously realising it. On a daily basis we may use deodorant, toothpaste, shower gel, hand wash, shampoo, conditioner, facial wash, cleanser, moisturiser. In addition there are those products which we perhaps use less often: facial masks, exfoliators, bath products, hair masks, hair gels & oils, foot balms, antiseptic creams… Surely then our choice of self-care products matters just as much as our choice in nutrition?

I am NOT here to tell you that you will get breast cancer if you use the wrong deodorant, nor that your paraben-loaded facial cream will slowly kill you: it is just not as simple as that. What I am saying however is that much of the research IS worrying: surely if there is a possibility that these chemicals are detrimental to our health, and there are other options on the market that

  1. don’t contain these toxins
  2. actually contain ingredients that are BENEFICIAL to our health

…then it is worth re-vamping our bathroom cabinets to contain these?

 

 

WHICH PRODUCTS MATTER MOST?

There are various factors to consider here:

  1. Our face and scalp absorb 5-10 times more quickly than other parts of the body, so facial and hair care products immediately have more potential for damage.
  2. Hair products are absorbed into the scalp, AND then wash over the rest of the body. Consider also that reading the label on a “typical” shampoo bottle, “you may see as many as 20 ingredients, many of which have been synthesized in the lab”.
  3. Generally speaking, those products which we wash off will have less chance of penetration. Some products spend much longer on our skin: consider body creams; hair and face masks; deodorants; moisturisers, make-up.
  4. Deodorants used on the armpits are relatively close to the breast. Aluminium is a common ingredient in deodorants, and can clog lymph nodes in this area. Aluminium has been found in breast tumours so using such deodorants MAY present cause for concern.
  5. When it comes to our children’s skin, we surely want to avoid all toxins: consider the sheer quantity of creams, powders and oils we often drown our babies in… A particularly worrying example is eczema creams which often contain steroids (and this is made more poignant when we consider the belief – held by many – that numerous of the chemically laden moisturising creams on the market are one of the chief causes of eczema in the first place). 

 

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that many of these ingredients are harmful and may produce long term health issues, though more research is needed to substantiate this. I would still insist: why encourage chemically derived products that your body simply doesn’t recognise and cannot synthesise when there are other natural options? I know with surety that I would rather not use bath products which contain petroleum, or deodorants containing aluminium, when other products do not include these potential toxins, and in addition they DO utilise ingredients which enhance my health…

 

 

WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?

 

 

1. If I am soaking in a bath it may seem wonderful to watch those large, soapy bubbles around me, but these are typically created by a surfactant or detergent (usually containing petrochemicals). Try instead a product containing coconut oil, which will produce bubbles whilst also offering a host of health benefits. It’s naturally antibacterial and anti fungal, so as well as being an effective, natural moisturiser it will boost your immunity too.

2. If you don’t feel the bubbles themselves are such a necessity, then how about going for a bath oil instead? There are many natural bath oils on the market, or you might choose to create your own. If you’re getting creative, it is important to help your chosen essential oil(s) to disperse by placing them in a base or carrier oil: this will also avoid any possible skin irritations from direct contact oil-to-skin. In addition, a carefully chosen base oil will help to naturally moisturise and nourish the skin. Examples are apricot oil, safflower oil or olive oil. [N.B. some essential oils will irritate skin and/or mucous membranes so should be avoided in bath creations – e.g. clove, cinnamon, spearmint. Try starting with some of the milder options which are definitely kind to skin, such as lavender, rose or chamomile].

3. The fragrances typically used in cosmetics can also emit endless pollutants: in a world so heavily populated by cars (meaning that burning of fossil fuels – and therefore air pollution – is ever on the increase), surely it makes sense to replace chemical fragrances with a more natural alternative where possible? Try products containing essential oils, which will produce a wonderful fragrance (opening a bottle of lemon or orange essential oil is EXACTLY like cutting the fruit in front of you & drinking in those wonderful scents). Additionally, these oils are derived from nature, and if used carefully can offer a myriad of benefits for both mental & physical health. Many are naturally antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and they are also believed to balance mood, to help boost immunity and influence hormones… Why oh why use chemical fragrances when you could choose essential oils which will genuinely enhance health holistically?

 

 

4. Our 21st century mania with keeping “clean” to avoid picking up bugs and viruses seemed innocent enough, and certainly explained soaring sales of anti-bacterial hand washes. Since 2017 however, when the American Food & Drug Administration (FDA) pointed out the potential health risks these gels and liquids present, many of them were banned in the US. The two ingredients that were deemed especially worrying were triclosan and triclocarban, but there were in fact a total of 19 suspect ingredients. Washing hands WELL in plain soap and water is actually just as effective and far less damaging, but if you’d like a further boost, guess what my fave suggestion might be? Oh yes, it’s essential oils!! So many of these oils are anti-bacterial, and by using them you will of course reap many other health benefits. Click here for more.

5. Anti-ageing creams would seem to be another 21st century mania.  Yet again, many potential risks have been at least anecdotally connected with these creams. Why not look instead for a natural alternative? At the risk of becoming repetitive, essential oils step in once more. There are many oils which possess anti-ageing properties, whilst also enhancing health on so many levels. Just one example is frankincense:

“…a cytophylatic oil which means it aids the process of skin cell regeneration. Tonifying and rejuvenating, it’s one of the most important oils for improving skin tone and treating aging skin as well as reducing scar tissue.”

6. If you use exfoliators this should be looked at both in terms of your own health and that of the planet. Most commercially produced scrubs contain microplastics which are massively damaging to our planet and by default to ourselves. Alternative options might be oats, apricot kernels, ground rice, crushed seeds, or sea salt (for a body scrub rather than for more delicate facial skin).

 

IN CONCLUSION…

This really is a post which could go on forever, but I feel I have covered those self-care products which I feel most strongly about, and those which come up in conversation with clients most often. Taking on the task of switching ALL your products may seem like a mammoth job, so do be realistic and try making the change bit-by-bit. Similarly overwhelming is the job of deciding which products to change to, especially when labelling is often less than helpful in this sector. For a reliable guide to more ethical and genuinely natural products click here.

If it does all seem a little insurmountable, try to see it as a fun process: the chance to explore new products that will smell & feel fabulous as well as being good for you! And hold on too to the fact that you are making a decision which is powerful on so many levels. You will be reducing your own stress levels, enhancing both your physical and mental wellbeing, and encouraging the health of our beautiful planet as well: surely that is a decision worth making. So go on, take the plunge and start to make that change…TODAY.

 

HOW TO RID YOURSELF OF SLEEP PROBLEMS…

HOW TO RID YOURSELF OF SLEEP PROBLEMS…

There are two distinct phases of my life that I remember as being ruled by sleep – or a lack of it! The first was with my first born: he didn’t actually sleep through the night until the age of 22 months, and there were plenty of nights when he woke 3 or 4 times through the night. By the end of it all I was run ragged & I felt permanently drunk on lack of sleep…but it surely taught me not to make the same mistakes when number two came along! So the second time around, a combination of far more sensible parenting (e.g. NOT running to check on him every time he moved or murmured) plus a little luck along the way meant I had a much easier journey (he slept through the night from 4 months!!).

The other time that the Sleep Curse hit me was shortly after I returned to live in the UK, and it was – very definitely – 100% stress related. For the first 6 months or so I would go to bed and simply toss & turn trying to get to sleep (& as anyone who has suffered from sleep issues will tell you, the more you “try” the more difficult – & utterly frustrating – it becomes). I would usually finally drop off at around 4 or 5 in the morning, only to be greeted by a bouncing 4 year old leaping on my bed at 6am. Weeks turned into months, and the exhaustion was becoming unbearable. Then something changed: for some reason, I suddenly found myself quite able to drop off…but then I would wake at around 3 or 4, and would be totally unable to get back to sleep again. I couldn’t believe that my original problem had totally disappeared – only to be replaced by another! I tried everything, from counting sheep to visualising relaxing golden beaches and warm sunshine, but I could never maintain my focus on those thoughts – my mind just kept getting dragged back to the same utter frustration of not being able to sleep. So there I would lie til 5 or 6, wide awake and “wired” – and good for nothing when the Bouncing Boy bounded in shortly afterwards.

 

WHY?

In my case, this was all about “mind chatter”. I would go to bed thinking of something – absolutely anything – & I simply would not be able to get it out of my head. I would lie there “spinning” on things: what I’d watched on TV, what I had to do the next day, even what football kit the kids would need next season! Nothing I could do seemed to make any difference, and every night felt like an endless battle.

I will NEVER forget what that utter exhaustion felt like, nor the sheer frustration of lying awake, trying to sleep, and feeling totally out of control of the whole situation. It was quite literally horrible – as was my level of patience with my boys as a result. I would spend my day times feeling I could literally fall asleep on my feet – and the whole thing felt pretty desperate.

 

 

There ARE ways out of this place: for me, the turning point was a meditation course which helped me with my mind chatter. I don’t believe in a ‘one size fits all’ solution, so I can’t promise that meditation will be your Golden Secret to sleep. Since my own issues, I have had endless clients asking me for help with sleep, so have researched (& tried out!) many different possibilities. My hope is that one – or maybe some – of those shown below will resonate with you. I honestly know the misery of sleepless nights, and I also know that it literally turned my life around the day I conquered the Sleep Curse…

 

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS…

 

The first, simple suggestion here is creating and maintaining an evening routine. As parents we surely know that developing regular bedtime habits helps our kids to sleep, (and we also know it is oh so wonderful to see them sleeping peacefully…)

 

 

So why shouldn’t a regular routine help us too? Once again, we are all different so we don’t need to be rigid: instead we need to experiment with what works best for us. There are however a few things that should be absolutes…

[You will see that several of the suggestions below are based in facts surrounding circadian rhythms, melatonin & serotonin. It is therefore worthwhile gaining a (very basic) understanding of these 3 concepts:

  1. Circadian rhythms are essentially our internal body clock, which runs 24/7 in the background of our brain (otherwise referred to as our sleep/wake cycle). These rhythms are basically the reason why at some times we feel drowsy, whereas at other times we are wide awake & raring to go. They are controlled by a part of the brain (the hypothalamus), but external factors such as lightness and darkness can also impact them.
  2. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland. The gland is automatically ‘switched on’ when darkness falls, and this causes the hormone to be released into the blood stream, which in turn makes us feel less alert and more inclined to sleep. Conversely, during the day melatonin levels are hardly noticeable.
  3. Serotonin is a “happy hormone”. High levels of serotonin are associated with wakefulness; lower levels with sleep. The key here is that this hormone is synthesised by the pineal gland to make melatonin – hence both hormones are directly connected to good sleep.]

 

THE “DONT’S”

  1. Don’t drink caffeine for at least 4-6 hours before bedtime (caffeine suppresses melatonin production). Don’t forget this doesn’t just mean tea & coffee: think fizzy drinks & chocolate too, and do check food labels for caffeine content.
  2. Avoid alcohol (which disrupts sleep patterns – especially during the second half of the night when you would usually be sleeping more deeply) & nicotine (smokers’ sleep will be disrupted throughout the night by their cravings for nicotine).
  3. Don’t eat too heavily before bed, and be mindful of what foods you do eat. Eating some carbohydrates may induce sleepiness, but eating too heavily may lead to poor sleep. Foods rich in magnesium will relax muscles, foods which boost serotonin and/or melatonin levels will help encourage sleep.
  4. Avoid “screen time” before bed. Electronics & /or TV contain so many graphics that they will over stimulate you at bedtime. Electronic devices also contain a blue light which “suppresses melatonin production for more than twice as long as other light wavelengths, and alters circadian rhythms by twice the degree”. It is hugely important to turn off all such devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime (and 2 hours would be better still!). DO NOT use mobile phones, tablets etc in bed.
  5. Aim for a regular bed time & wake up time.  Resist the temptation to change this, even at weekends.
  6. Think of keeping your bedroom fairly cool at bedtime. Your body naturally cools down before sleep to encourage sleep: by keeping your bedroom cooler you will enhance this (ideally between 18-22 degrees).
  7. Do keep your room dark, either with curtains or black out blinds, or alternatively with an eye mask. Again, this is all about enhancing melatonin production. If you enjoy reading in bed, do so with a soft light.
  8. Try to keep clutter OUT of the bedroom. This will enhance your sense of relaxation, whereas clutter will do the opposite…

 

 

 

THE “DO’S”

  1. DO exercise during the day. Getting active will lift your mood & relieve stress – both of which are likely connected to your sleep patterns. It is also believed that exercise improves circadian rhythms “promoting daytime alertness and helping bring on sleepiness at night”.
  2. Doing vigorous exercise close to bedtime may be too arousing, but yoga and/or deep breathing exercises are definitely sleep inducing. Gentle mobilisation exercises are also helpful, as they will encourage muscular relaxation to combat the tensions of the day.
  3. If mind chatter is an issue for you, try journaling, or at least writing a ‘To Do List’ before bed to get these things out of your mind & on to paper.
  4. Consider the bed you’re lying on. Is the mattress good? Is the pillow right for you or do you wake with a stiff neck? Even the fabrics & colours you use on your bed may either enhance or deter sleep.
  5. Try drinking herbal tea before bed (chamomile is especially good for inducing sleep). Some say that milky drinks can help too, though there are mixed views on this one… It’s always worth trying it out to see what works for you.
  6. Consider any products you are using directly before bedtime. Many cosmetic companies offer a range of products which will help encourage sleep using things such as lavender essential oil, which is a relaxant. There are increasing numbers of companies that produce natural face and body creams, shower & bath products & pillow mists, all of which can genuinely enhance sleep if carefully chosen. It is vitally important to do the research and always read labels carefully.
  7. A warm bath can be incredibly relaxing, or for some a shower may have the same effect (make sure you do it mindfully!) Again, be careful which products you use: the wrong (chemically laden) cosmetics can load you up with toxins and make sleep ever more elusive. Alternatively, using products containing appropriate essential oils can enhance the sense of relaxation much further.
  8. Diffusing essential oils can be extremely calming – & will enhance your health on so many levels too. Lavender, frankincense, geranium are examples of oils to induce relaxation during the evening before bed. Lavender or chamomile are perhaps the best choices to have actually in the bedroom. [For more about which essential oils may enhance the mood you wish to create, click here].
  9. Establishing a regular mindfulness or meditation practice can help to calm “mind chatter”.

 

 

This was definitely what did it for me! I was so lucky in that I had the fabulous Mita to teach me on my 6 week Meditation Course, where I learnt to quieten my mind chatter by focusing on my breath. My main “take away” from the course was that when your mind wanders from the focus of your breath this is entirely natural. When I had spent hours lying in bed trying to do my own relaxation techniques, I had become sooo frustrated because I never seemed to be able to maintain my focus on relaxing – my mind was always grasshopper-ing off to something else. To this day I can hear my teacher saying “if the mind wanders this is totally natural: the mind is made this way. When it happens, you simply gently draw your thoughts back to your breath, back to the sensation of your breath within your body.” This for me was key: it was the thing that turned me away from frustration, and towards a true solution for my spinning mind…and sleep. On those rare occasions when sleep escapes me these days, I still hear Mita’s voice, and I know that softly focusing on my breath is my secret weapon to return me to the land of dreams.

 

Whether it’s you that is having problems with sleep, or someone you know, the above techniques genuinely work – and they are actually pleasant things to do. So if your body is crying out for a little more sleep – or for a little less stress & anxiety, as the two often go hand in hand – then please do try out these suggestions. We cannot over estimate the importance of sleep to both our physical and our mental health, and yet sadly this is so often overlooked…

 

 

If you do intend to try out some of these methods, it is a good idea to keep a diary of how your sleep patterns alter / progress as time goes on, so that you can then check back & see what might have worked best. If you would like a little more support or guidance with any of the above, do check out my “Notes for a Shaw Lifestyle” and my “Shaw Lifestyle Video & Audio Tips”, accessible here. There are various tools which you may find helpful, such as a Sleep Diary, a video of Mobilisation Exercises and an audio aid for Relaxation Techniques…

MY LOVE FOR ESSENTIAL OILS…

MY LOVE FOR ESSENTIAL OILS…

Ok, so I need to come clean here. Three years ago I knew absolutely NOTHING about essential oils: I mean literally nothing! Even when I first started to get involved with Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic (NYRO), although I knew they used something called “essential oils” in their cosmetic products, to me that simply meant they were using natural fragrance instead of synthetic ones – I still didn’t really ‘get it’.

 

and.then.I.discovered.diffusers

 

…and then I got totally addicted to using essential oils! (Well, let’s face it, there are worse addictions out there).

It all really started when a friend bought me a diffuser as a birthday present. I have to confess it sat on my sideboard looking pretty but not doing a lot for quite some time: I don’t think I really understood what it COULD do to be honest. It was only once I’d been working with NYRO for some time that I thought I really ought to do some research into these oils: I realised you can put them in a diffuser (light bulb moment!!)  realised they have endless health benefits, & realised I absolutely love them!!

These little bottles of oils can improve both mental & physical health. They can help with relaxation and improve your sleep, but they can also help revitalise & restore energy. Amongst them you can find remedies for headaches, digestive issues, cold & flu symptoms, immune disorders…the list is endless!

 

 

 

SO WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?

“Aromatic essential oils are highly concentrated essences derived from plants”.

It might be from the dried seeds, from the petals, the roots or the bark, or even from the peel or the resin. In every case, the oils that are extracted can be used for #naturalhealing – & have been used in this way historically since the ancient Egyptians, Greeks & Romans.

It all sounds a bit random until you look into it a little more. These oils are actually the plant’s protection mechanism: they attract pollinators (therefore ensure the plant’s life cycle continues), & they fend off fungi & bacteria (therefore safeguarding against disease). So if they afford plants all these ‘health’ advantages by natural means, why shouldn’t they enhance our health too? Well here’s the thing: they actually do! According to aromatherapy, essential oils “harness a plant’s therapeutic properties to restore balance to the mind, body & spirit”. So these oils really are natural, holistic healers…& they smell fab as well!

 

 

HOW DO THEY WORK?

“Our sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any other of our senses, and recognition of smell is immediate. Other senses like touch and taste must travel through the body via neurons and the spinal cord before reaching the brain, whereas the olfactory response is immediate, extending directly to the brain.

“This is the only place where our central nervous system is directly exposed to the environment” (von Have, Serene Aromatherapy).

Our sense of smell can evoke powerful memories and emotions. When we smell something, signals are sent to the olfactory bulbs, and then on to the olfactory cortex of the brain. This is a part of the limbic system, which is involved in the forming of emotional responses (especially fear responses) and memories, organising and storing memories, and regulating emotional responses.

In very simple terms this is why two people may have such wildly different reaction to, for example, lavender. For you just a hint of lavender might evoke pure happiness as it takes you back to making cookies in your beloved grandma’s kitchen after a long walk through lavender fields. For others it may evoke memories of a nasty, grumpy old lady who lived next door & was always moaning at the neighbourhood kids (& had lavender in her garden)! The wonderful thing about essential oils is that many scents are interchangeable, as the qualities overlap from one oil to another. This means you can first see which oils might offer you the ‘remedy’ you are seeking, & then choose from amongst them which scent you prefer.

 

 

There are endless possibilities: if you research further into aromatherapy you will see that you can quite feasibly create a complete medicine cabinet of essential oils to use as remedies for a myriad of health conditions. A full discussion of these would take a month’s worth of blogging, and – if I’m honest – would probably lead to information overload & the sort of overwhelm I’m trying to help you to prevent!! So I am focusing instead on just one area: the use of oils to enhance your mood.

 

HOW CAN WE USE THEM?

There are many ways in which we can utilise essential oils:

  1. Inhalation (on a tissue, with steam inhalation, through a bath, through compresses, through a diffuser)
  2. Absorption into the skin (through massage oils, in ointments, balms & creams, through a bath or shower)

The simplest way to lift your mood with essential oils is through ‘tissue inhalation’: simply popping a few drops of your chosen oil on a tissue & then inhaling deeply. This is great as you can take the tissue ‘out & about’ and have a little mood enhancer in your pocket! At night you can use the same principle by sprinkling a few drops of your chosen relaxing oil on to your pillow (or by using a commercial ‘pillow mist’ containing essential oils, but please do always read the label to ensure all other ingredients are also natural). Using bath or shower products containing essential oils is another great option: the combination of the warm water, the steam & the oils can be incredibly powerful. You might like a citrusy smell to wake you up in your morning shower, or lavender or rose to relax you in the bath at night.

 

 

My own chosen preference is using a diffuser. I simply love the way that a diffuser can utterly transform the feeling in a room within moments of switching it on. Again, you can choose the mood you are after…

 

  • A zingy “wake up call” to get you going in the morning
  • Focus to help you work or to help the kids study
  • A relaxing atmosphere to settle everyone when the kids come in from school

 

If you get out there & start trying out some oils I defy you not to get hooked! [I do appreciate that it can seem overwhelming at first, so if you‘d like a little help getting started, do check out my brief FREE guide to Essential Oils & Moods here]. Regardless of whether you actually believe in the benefits of aromatherapy, the very fact that the diffuser is ‘there’ and is gently emitting its vapours in to your space means that you will start to breathe more deeply as you become aware of the aromas. As you notice the fragrance you will breathe more deeply; as you breathe more deeply you will become more aware of your breath…hence you are breathing mindfully without even trying.

So, the long & short of it is that essential oils are one of the most natural (& also one of the safest) ways to enhance both physical & mental well-being. So what are you waiting for (& what have you got to lose)? Go on, give them a go…

 

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy essential oils, & that’s pretty much the same thing!

 

 

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