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Fun in the Sun ~ Naturally

After months of bitter cold Summer has finally arrived, and with it comes the dry skin, sunburn, poison ivy and a whole host of other summertime complaints. Don’t get me wrong. Summer is my favorite season! Lazy days on the river bank, camping, float trips, music festivals…I love the summertime! I’m just not so crazy about the thought of coating my skin with commercial bug repellents and toxic sunscreens.


So, what’s a body to do?

If sitting inside in the air conditioning is your idea of summer fun, more power to you and this blog post probably won’t hold much for you. If you wanna get out there and soak up the sun, though, read on, my friend!

First of all, let me just say this…

With all the pollution, thinning of the ozone, global warming and the coming of the next ice age, our skin is facing grave danger every day. As someone with highly-sensitive, whiter-than-white, super dry skin, I know how important it is to keep it protected and moisturized.

I’m an avid swimmer and have been since I joined the swim-and-dive team at 6 years old. I swam before I walked. Literally. I even have pictures to prove it somewhere! I was at the pool bright and early from the day it opened until the night it closed for the season. Trust me when I say that chlorine, sunscreen and all your other summertime chemicals can really do a number on your skin and hair!

By the end of my 20’s, I had a whole host of skin and hair issues. I developed fabric sensitivities (nylon, rayon and a bunch of others), detergent sensitivities, hygiene product sensitivities (soap, shampoo, conditioner), psoriasis, eczema…I got them all. I was an itchy, flaky, acne-riddled mess with some fried-out hair to seal the deal.

Personal care products? I tried them all. Over-the-counter, behind-the-counter, under-the-counter, catty-corner-from-the-counter. Name brand, store brand, no brand. My bathroom had bottles and jars from every bath and beauty manufacturer known to man (well, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea, right?) Some of them would work for a few days…a week…maybe even a month. Never much longer than that, though.

It was about that time that I was beginning to study herbalism. Now, sometimes I’m not too quick. Even after all that I was learning about herbs and their ability to heal and protect the body, it took a while for the idea of herbal skin care to evolve for me. After all, the 90’s were not really about natural anything. We were a generation of quick, cheap and easy.

Finally, the idea dawned, though. It was an idea that changed my life. Simplified it, really. I wish I could say it was a quick fix and overnight my skin and hair magically changed. That wasn’t the case, though. I started small. Moved to a more natural soap (I thought), then ditched the soap all together. Yes, I still use soap for all those vital parts like between the toes, within the recesses of my inny-belly-button…places like that, but never on the parts that are most sensitive like the arms and legs or the belly or back. And never, ever, ever on my face. My face hasn’t felt soap on it for almost 5 years. Or acne. Or dry patches.

Then, we moved to the country. Now, I don’t know if you really know what I mean when I say country, but imagine this. It’s the Ozark Mountain Foothills. Rolling Mountains covered in dense, rich forests for as far as the eye can see. Even the power lines that connect us to the rest of the world are absorbed among the trees and mountains. To get home, we drove 3.7 miles down a dirt and gravel road before we reached our driveway, which was another quarter mile. Forget to grab milk on the way home? That’s too bad because it’s a 25 minute drive to the nearest gas station where they sell you a half-gallon of milk for $4.00. That’s the kind of ‘in the country’ I’m talking about.

My skin was so not happy. With country living comes mosquitos, ticks, chiggers, fleas and a whole host of other biting and stinging creatures that you just don’t see much of in the city or town. There is also the gardening to be done because that’s about the only way you are going to find fresh fruits and veggies in the middle of no where. And, there was tending to the animals…feed the horses, groom the horses, ride the horses, feed the chickens, feed the goats…a never ending stream of ‘to-do’s that had me out in the blistering Missouri sun through some of the hottest hours of the day.

At the end of one particularly miserable day in August I’d had enough. It was almost 110 degrees outside, I’d been stung twice by wasps, after which I stepped barefoot onto a patch of stinging nettle while getting the laundry off the line. My fair, sensitive skin was blistered because, like an idiot, I ran outside to do a quick chore without applying the usual layers of sunscreen and bug spray, and it turned into an hour long ordeal that ended with me covered in seed ticks and a severe sunburn. I was quite miserable and ready to peel my skin from my body.

So, I took a vinegar bath then coated my skin in aloe vera, sat down at the computer and embarked upon a journey that led me to where I am today…the owner of a bath and beauty business that is doing amazingly well and allowing me to help others who suffer from some of the many issues that had me a miserable mess.

I told you all that for a few reasons.

~ I feel like it is important for you to understand that I know whereof I speak. I’ve been there. I’ve felt that misery and pain, and that wishing that someone would just dip your body in a vat of acid because being skinless might hurt a lot less than dealing with all the skin problems.

~I’m not gonna bullshit you. Sure, I hope you’ll buy some of my fantastic products. Of course, I do. Would you believe me if I said otherwise? However, more than that, I just want you to know there are other options out there that really have worked for me. I’ll share my ingredients with you. I’ll share my knowledge with you. I got into this business to help people. Making a buck is secondary. If I ever lose that philosophy I’ll close the doors on my shop.

And, now that I’ve rambled on a spell, I’ll get to the point of this whole blog. How to handle summertime a little more naturally and a lot more comfortably.

Let’s talk SPF. If a product claims to have a certain SPF factor, you can be pretty certain that it contains one or more of the chemicals listed here. These are bad chemicals. Chemicals that will hurt you. Remember, the skin is the largest organ of the body and absorbs more chemicals and toxins faster than any other organ. These chemicals will seep into your skin. The debate arises with two questions. Do the benefits outweigh the risks, and are there any alternatives?

So, do the benefits outweigh the risks?

You have to answer this question yourself, but my answer is a resounding NO! I hate sunburns. There are few things in life more miserable and uncomfortable than that first sunburn of the year. In fact, the only think I can think of that is more miserable than that is the itchy, dry skin, mild nausea and possible cancer that comes with most sunscreens.

Are there alternatives?

Most definitely. However, because natural ingredients often vary from batch to batch, it is nearly impossible to set an SPF value on them. The process of testing the SPF is long and very expensive and would have to be done on each batch of product that is made. I would imagine, too, that as the natural ingredients age and lose potency the SPF value would change. This is why most natural sunscreens cannot list an SPF. That doesn’t mean they don’t have one or that they don’t work just as well. A point I set out to prove four summers ago with remarkable results.

I studied avidly. While the rest of my family slept, I spent hours poring over books and websites. I contacted scientist (I’m fortunate to live in a small college town with very friendly professors!) and reached out to other herbalists and B & B makers. Then, when I was sure my brain was going to explode from all the info, I saved up some money and invested in a whole mess of natural ingredients to experiment with.

I mixed and blended and screwed up and repeated. When I had a couple formulas that I thought might work, I recruited volunteers from among my friends and family (and even a couple of brave strangers). All summer long that first year they slathered my crazy concoctions over their bodies in place of their favorite sunscreen, though I suspect many of them kept a bottle handy just in case! The first year produced mixed results. There were a couple of sunburns and a couple of rashes, though none severe.

When the summer was over, I sorted through my notes and studied the results. I tweaked and twiddled the formulas, took out something here…added something there. By the next summer, I was sure I’d perfected it.

I was pretty close to right. At the end of the second summer we had no sunburns and only two rashes, one of which we later discovered was a reaction to the natural latex in shea butter. I worried about this, since shea butter is one of the most magnificent natural UV protectants known. Still, I created a small batch without the shea butter that worked wonderfully, but I kept the original formula for the rest of us.

Despite it being one of the hottest, driest summers on record for Missouri and long hours spent outdoors, I’m happy to tell you that we had a rash and sunburn free summer last year. As an added bonus, this formula left everyone’s skin super-soft and flake free and only had to be reapplied every 4-5 hours.

I bet you want a batch of this stuff, don’t you?

Sorry. It’s not for sale. Yet. And, even when it is, I won’t call it sunscreen. I can’t. That would be making a medical claim and I’m not a doctor.

Here’s a few of the ingredients that are in it that are known for their superior ability to block UV rays, as well as some that are great for restoring and protecting skin from damage, though. Maybe you can mix up your own experiment!

~Unrefined, unprocessed Shea butter ~

Recent clinical studies have found that shea butter protects skin against climate and UV aggressors, and is also capable of helping regenerate and heal damaged skin cells. It was shown to prevent wrinkles, and is a natural emollient. Shea butter forms a breathable, water-resistant film on the film that makes it a great ingredient to use in sunscreens that you don’t want to have to keep reapplying.

~Unrefined Mango butter~

Like shea butter, mango butter is known for its ability to moisturize and heal, as well as protect the skin from UV radiation. It fights wrinkles and leaves the skin soft and supple.

~Honey~

This natural antioxidant has been used in skin care for more than 5000 years. It is a natural moisturizer that contains antimicrobial properties (which means that micro-organisms cannot grow in it) and has been used to help protect the skin from damage by the sun’s rays.

~Grapeseed Oil~

An Ohio State University study found that, when applied topically, grape seed oil helped wounds heal faster with less scarring. It works by building epidermal and connective tissue. The tissue, amazingly enough, grew back denser. Bulkactives.com has a website that explains the findings of a recent study concerning grape seed oil and UV radiation. It’s pretty amazing stuff!

~Zinc Oxide~

Remember the white-nosed lifegaurd image? Yeah…that’s zinc oxide. It works primarily by reflecting and scattering UV light so it can’t be absorbed into the skin. You can find some great info on zinc oxide (and titanium oxide, which is also in the formula) at Pinkquartzminerals.com. While you’re there you really oughtta check out her mineral makeup, too. Its absolutely fabulous!

If you check out my posts on natural ingredients, you will find a wealth of information on many of these ingredients. If you would like more info on my little experiment, all you gotta do is drop me a line.

In the meantime, here are a couple of other fantastic sites to check out for more info on SPF and natural ingredients.

bite balm tube

Oh, and remember that August day that was so miserable for me? It also inspired me to create this fantastic Bite and Sting ointment that is available at Tamara’s Herbes. That’s a post for next time, though….

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