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Toxic Tuesday: Spotlight on Formaldehyde

29 Oct

You probably know this one. Think back to grade ten biology class. That poor frog floating in a jar filled with. . . that’s right, formaldehyde. It is often used to keep frogs and other slimy things in jars because it is an excellent preservative. It is also commonly found in nail polish and hair straightening products. Most recently the US federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the use of formaldehyde in these poplar hair products.


Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen; irritant to the skin and eyes, as well as lungs, kidney, stomach, and liver. It is also extremely toxic to the environment. . . I am sure our little amphibian friends can attest to that!

When formaldehyde-containing products are applied onto the skin and nails it can cause damage through absorption, however a more severe concern is the off-gassing that can occur particularly when the product is heated (e.g. hair straightening). According to the David Suzuki Foundation, most of the cancer research focuses on the risk caused by formaldehyde inhalation.

Warning: If you check product ingredient lists and do not see the presence of formaldehyde, you may also want to look for these other formaldehyde-releaseing preservatives:

Methylene glycol, Formalin, Methylene oxide, Paraform, Formic aldehyde, Methanal, Oxomethane, Oxymethylene, Timonacic acid, Thiazolidinecarboxylic acid

And for those of you who still love the look of pretty polished digits, but want to avoid being a science experiment, check out these formaldehyde-free nail polish alternatives.
– Seanna
How are you staying toxic free? I want to know! Share your comments below.

Toxic Tuesdays: Spotlight on BHA and BHT

24 Sep

Over the next little while, we will be posting “spotlights” on David Suzuki’s Dirty Dozen; 12 of the most prominent and harmful industrial chemicals found in commercial personal care products. In each post, examples will be provided of products that may contain these chemicals so that the next time you shop for that hot lipstick shade or ‘must- have’ anti-wrinkle cream you can be more aware of what you are buying.

With that said, let’s get started.

BHA & BHTButylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) are used as a cosmetic preservatives and are commonly found in lipsticks and moisturizers/ creams (oh, and don’t forget about sunscreens). These chemicals are extremely popular with cosmetic producers because they are very potent (synthetic) antioxidants — and as one can assume from the word, ‘anti-oxidant’, these preservatives prevent oxidation, which is the main cause of rancidity in fats/oils. 

Many researchers will argue for the use of BHA and BHT because they are believed to be harmless to humans in small doses, however vitamin E can be used as a perfectly (safe and natural) alternative to these chemicals.

BHA & BHT are known allergens, can cause hormone disruption, and are possible carcinogens when used long term (talk about a dirty mouth!). When BHT was tested long term on mice and rats 😦 , it caused kidney, liver, thyroid, and lung problems, as well as enhanced the chance of tumour growth.

Aside from our own precious bodies, BHA and BHT are toxic to the environent! These chemicals can have possible toxicity to aquatic life (ie. Nemo and Free Willy) and can bioaccumulate in the environment , which means organisms absorb a toxic substance at a rate greater than it is lost.

Lesson to be learned: Avoid BHT and BHA! Who needs them? There are so many fantastic lipsticks available (I can’t get enough of Ilia and Bite ) and moisturizers that are free of these toxic chemicals. . . and actually perform better!

Practice makes perfect: Try reading this label. Can you spot the culprit?


P.S While you are in the habit of checking labels, check the ingredients in your food! Live Science poses a great question: What food additive does the Food and Drug Administration deem “generally recognized as safe,” while the National Institutes of Health, says it’s “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen?”

Spotlight: Rose Water

23 Feb

RuthstdenisYou may be familiar with rose water, whether you use it in skincare or cuisine, but I wanted to spend some time breaking down this delectable product since it has so many uses and has been favoured for thousands of years.

Cleopatra is said to have ordered the sails of her ship soaked in rose water so that Mark Antony could catch the scent of his lover before she reached the shores. Ancient ayurvedic physicians adopted the cooling properties of rose water to soothe wounds and inflamed skin. Sappho, the poet of love, deemed the rose as the “Queen of all Flowers”. Today, Persian and other middle eastern cuisines use rose water in food and drink, the French produce luxury bottles of perfumes and cosmetics, and even here in Toronto you can commonly find rose water toners and hydrosols in spas and on cosmetic counters.

What is it about this floral water that has captivated the entire globe for centuries? Well let me break it down for you :

Profile: The first record of rose petal distillation comes around the 10th century by a famous Persian alchemist. The steaming process used to isolate the rose’s essential oil creates a byproduct, which is rose water.

Rose petals are extremely high in anthocyanins which gives them the rich colour and is known to help repair and regenerate skin cells and tissues. Rose water aids in skin redness due to its anti-inflammatory and astringent quality. Rose water is not as potent as pure rose oil, but it is far more versatile.


  • Toner- I buy rose water in bulk and transfer it into a small glass spray bottle (easily found at any health food store). After cleansing, I use it to tone and hydrate, or at any time I feel like a refreshing spritz (this proves extremely useful in the summer months for cooling and reducing redness).
  • After shower/ bath body spray- the fragrant water is perfect for leaving a light scent after the shower or a bath. It is refreshing and also moisturizing.
  • Bath- add a cup or two to a bath as aromatherapy. Rose fragrance in aromatherapy is used as a relaxing scent to sooth feelings of depression and nervous tension.

My experience: There are a lot of expensive rose water products on the market, many of which are over priced. I have found that it is best to buy food-grade rose water which is commonly found at middle eastern food markets (the brand I love is from Lebanon). Just ensure that the ingredients say “distilled rose” with no additives, and if you can find it, organic is obviously the best.

If you are feeling experimental, try making your own.

Let me leave you with a lovely lotion recipe that has been getting rave reviews from my friends and family.



Rose Lotion

  • 10g beeswax
  • 1 1/4 cup of rose water
  • 1 tsp vegetable glycerin
  • 3/4 cup sweet almond oil (I mix half coconut oil with half sweet almond oil)
  • 2 capsules of pure vitamin E
  • 10 drops of rose or lavender essential oil






  • Sanitize all equipment and jars before you begin (I boil everything).
  • Using a double boiler (I place a glass measuring cup into a small pot of water), melt beeswax and oils together.
  • Once melted, take off of heat, set aside and let cool until a light crust starts to form on top (approx. 5 minutes).
  • In a blender, mix rose water and glycerin (just a few seconds until combined). After, keep the blender’s lid on but remove the centre circle and fit a small funnel.
  • Next (to create an emulsion with the oil and water), turn blender on low and slowly pour a steady stream of oil/beeswax mixture through the funnel. When the blender motor begins to bog down, turn it up to the next speed. Continue this until you reach the highest speed and all oil is poured into the mixture.
  • While the blender is still running, remove the lid and use a spatula to incorporate any water in the corners (be aware of the blender blade!)
  • Once the water is absorbed, or the lotion becomes too thick to absorb any more water, turn off the blender. If any water remains unincorporated, pour off or blot with a tissue.
  • Using the spatula, stir in the essential oil and vitamin E.
  • Scoop into sterile jars
  • Note: since this lotion has no preservatives and uses water- even though it is distilled- it has a greater chance of introducing bacteria,  which shortens the shelf life. To help prevent this, do not stick fingers into jar, always wipe the rim before closing, and keep in a cool dark spot.

Enjoy the endless uses of rose water!

– Seanna

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