Scents and sensibility

Posted by Teresa Foo seet Wei on

Babies start to develop sense of smell at around 10 weeks old in the mother's womb and that is quite an amazing development. As babies grow from toddler to teens, teenager to adulthood, the development of smell can be quite profound.

We learnt that some scents smell better than others and sometimes just by looking at the object, we can visualise how it will smell. Have you also noticed that our body scent changes with our mood? We can even detect if someone smells angry or dangerous (source). 

So how does scents affect us in our daily lives?

We know what to expect when a festive holiday is about to begin as our brains have grown to accustom scents during the season and make associations with it. We will expect to smell lots of mandarin oranges, pineapple tarts, Nian gao (glutinous rice cakes), Ang bao (smell of money!) and not forgetting new sets of clothes and accessories. We can also smell rain before it happens (chemical compounds of smell travel fast). 

We feel happy when we smell something that is familiar like our mother's cooking, our favourite cup of coffee or tea, our favourite flowers, perfume and even people we love. Why we avoid smells or odours that turn us off may be due to a few reasons. It could be the scent/odour is naturally awful or it could be the scent/odour was present in the event of an incident or situation that has caused us unhappiness and our brain has registered it permanently in the hardware. 

What is the difference between natural and synthetic scents?

Natural scents are derived from plants or animals (such as musks). The chemical compounds found in natural scents are complex and never the same. Take a batch of Lavender flowers grown two years ago and the current year, and both will smell somewhat the same (with regular noses) but well-trained noses will be able to detect the slight nuances in the scent of the flowers. A lab analysis will also display that the chemical compounds found in the two batches will differ. This is because the health of the Lavender flowers, conditions of water, soil, air, etc all have an effect on the growth of the plants.

Synthetic scents on the other hand are chemically created (mostly from petroleum) or may have started from naturals but have been chemically modified in a lab to recreate a natural scent such as musks, food and even human body odour. Some synthetic scents or fragrances contain phthalates such as Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate that is listed as a "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" by the National Toxicology Program (source). Phthalates can be found in the wall papers, flooring, household cleaning agents and even children's chewing toys. Ongoing tests are being carried out to determine how toxic phthalates can have on our lives. 

Can you be addicted to scents?

There may not be a conclusive study to show how we are addicted to scents but everyone does like to smell good scents. Do you feel uneasy or out of sorts if you have forgotten to spray your favourite perfume before you leave your home? Does that make you self-conscious that you may smell awful? Most often, it can be our mind playing tricks. Indeed some people may have particularly stronger body odour than others and that can be resolved with proper hygiene and also healthier food choices. The food that we consume does affect how our body emits odour (source). 

Sometimes getting to work in the morning can be quite stressful to me as I am constantly bombarded with bodies heavily scented in perfumes which can give me headaches. Have you felt that way too?

I have been on a 'scent detox' every now and then where I do not wear any perfume or use unscented body products. I do not diffuse essential oils, burn candles at home, at the studio or in the car. When I free my nose from all the onslaughts of smells whether the source is synthetic or natural, I feel that my nose is able to work better. I can smell better and able to detect what is natural or synthetic. Maybe you should give it a try and go body, home, office and car-scent free. I would love to hear about your experiences. 

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Up to 100% of cosmetic ingredients will be absorbed into your skin, for real?

Posted by Teresa Foo seet Wei on

I am sure you will be shocked when you read any articles or blogs on how cosmetic ingredients can get absorbed into your skin. Up to 100% of cosmetic ingredients or to add fuel to fire, many will use the word "Chemicals", will get absorbed into your skin. The scientific chemical name for the most common chemicals that we come in contact everyday are as follows:

• Water - Dihydrogen monoxide
• Air we breathe comprises of Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen, etc.
• Salt - Sodium chloride
• Sugar - Sucrose
And so many more and I'm sure you get the idea. So a little less fear mongering about chemicals and more about facts.

How ingredients permeate into the skin really depends on many factors. Our skin is a barrier and that itself already has an impact how ingredients 'travel' into the skin. Let's take a look at how the skin looks like.

The skin, your skin, my skin, is made up of three layers. Epidermis being the top most where you can see and come in contact with skincare products, bacteria, allergens, etc. This layer is made up of sebaceous lipids and epidermal lipids that contain triglycerides, wax esters, squalene, mixture of ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol. The epidermis acts as a barrier to protect our body from getting viral or bacteria infection. It regularly sheds dead skin cells called Keratinocytes and reveal new cells. It contains melanin that protect the skin from UV damage. 

The dermis is the middle portion where you can find all the blood and lymph vessels, nerves, hair follicles and sweat glands. 

The last layer is called the Subcutaneous tissue or Hypodermis which compromises mostly of fats (decreases as age goes up) and acts as an insulation and cushioning to prevent injuries to our muscles.

Most cosmetics or skincare are meant to beautify or improve the skin barrier and hence the ingredients usually stays on top of the skin, I repeat usually. The top most layer i.e. Epidermis looks like cement blocks or bricks that are stacked together. Imagine a product that has been applied to the skin and the ingredients will have to make it's way in to perform it's function to moisturise, hydrate, soothe, calm, reduce inflammation, etc. How much of these ingredients get absorbed into the skin is what most of us are interested in and are based on these few factors:

• molecular size of the ingredients
• integrity of the skin
• location of the skin where ingredients come in contact
• age of the skin
• contact time of ingredients on the skin
I understand most people, even myself are not equipped with a scientific background but I will use my graphic visualisation skills to explain it as much as I can in layman terms .

The bigger the molecular size of the ingredients, the harder it is for them to get penetrated into the deeper layers of the skin. It has to 'fight' through the 'brick layers' and may get stopped there as it's too big to travel further. So if you smear pizza on your skin, do you think it will get absorbed? I'm sure you know the answer. The top layer, Epidermis, has an affinity with oils since it is made up of lipids. Have you also noticed that when you wash yourself, your skin repels water instead of absorbing it? Can you imagine what will happen to us if our skin absorbs 100% of what is put on top of it when we take our daily twice or thrice daily showers?!

Most ingredients such as oils, butters, Hyaluronic acid, humectants get absorbed into the epidermis layer but not penetrated further because of the big molecular sizes. Waxes do not get absorbed at all and stays on top of the skin acting as an occlusive barrier to prevent water loss.

There are ingredients that do penetrate deep into the layers of the skin and to the blood stream, and they usually have smaller molecular sizes. They are able to 'wriggle' their way pass the 'brick walls' of the epidermis and into the dermis where eventually it can end up in the blood stream. Essential oils are such ingredients that have smaller molecular sizes and are very potent too. Hence they are to be used with safety in mind (safety dermal limits according to Cosmetic Products Safety Assessor and International Fragrance Association, IFRA).

Younger skin such as babies, children, young people will react well to topical applications from skincare far better than adults and older people (age factor). The skin on our buttocks and feet are much thicker as compared to our face. Therefore the skin on our face and body is able to absorb cosmetic ingredients better than our buttocks and feet (location of the skin). Someone who has sensitive skin or problematic skin usually have compromised skin barrier (skin is not functioning normally). That can lead them to experience greater sensation when products are applied onto their skin. It is also the reason why sensitive skin reacts easily to cosmetics or skincare (integrity of the skin).

The duration of contact from cosmetic ingredients can also determine how much it gets absorbed into the skin (contact time). Let's say you mist your face with spring water, the water will not be absorbed into the epidermis (remember the epidermis is a barrier and repels water). Water evaporates. What you are essentially doing is to freshen your skin with the spring water, that's all. When you apply a facial moisturiser or a facial oil, the product will include some type of oils, butters, waxes, humectants that will stay on your skin for a certain amount of time. During this duration, some of the ingredients will get absorbed into the epidermis and some into the blood stream (those with smaller molecular sizes). 

I hope I have made it a bit easier for you to understand better that how ingredients are absorbed into the skin and it all depends on the factors that I have listed above. 

For more readings on Anatomy and Physiology of the skin:
• https://opentextbc.ca/anatomyandphysiology/chapter/5-1-layers-of-the-skin/
• https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835894/

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What does natural, organic skincare means to me?

Posted by Teresa Foo seet Wei on

I have many customers asking me what does natural organic means to them and why they should buy these products over conventional skincare with synthetic ingredients. I will do my best to help you understand this niche and growing market better.

I am sure many of you are still very confused about what makes a natural and/or organic skincare. It's no wonder consumers are confused about natural organic skincare when there is so much Greenwashing in Asia. Or even worse, you can't even see any list of ingredients on their labels and have no way to find out what ingredients are in the products except the common "No parabens, No SLS, No EDTA, etc". (It's against the cosmetics regulations not to list ingredients on product labels according to ASEAN Cosmetics Directives).

According to Greenwashing index: "It’s greenwashing when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimise environmental impact." (source)

You may find personal care products that are labelled as natural, naturel, au naturel, naturals, organic, organics, etc under the brand name. Technically speaking, it does not mean much especially if it is used mainly for marketing and sales purposes. Most often, you will find there are only a few natural or organic ingredients on the label and the entire product or brand will claim that it is a natural organic brand.

Natural can mean using ingredients that are obtained from nature or naturally derived (such as an emulsifier that is derived from Olive oil, Sugar, Coconut oil, Palm oil, Rapeseed oil, etc). Organic includes those raw cosmetic ingredients that are certified organic by various organic certifying bodies such as ACO (Australian Certified Organic), USDA Organic (United States Department of Agriculture), Soil Association (UK), ECOCERT (EU), COSMOS (EU), etc or the brand has obtained organic certifications. To add to the confusion, these organic certifying bodies have their own sets of accepted raw cosmetic ingredients.

A personal care brand can claim to be certified organic only when they have obtained certification by these various certifying bodies (listed above). Otherwise using certified ingredients in the products do not make the brand a certified organic brand. (At Balm Kitchen, we use certified organic ingredients but we do not claim we are a certified organic brand as we did not pay for those licenses). Also if businesses claiming they are an organic brand without license can get themselves into deep trouble with the relevant certifying organic bodies or cosmetic regulatory bodies.

Why choose natural organic skincare over a conventional skincare with predominantly synthetic ingredients? Let's look at the Argan hair oil treatment as an example.

You can see from the chart that the natural organic Argan hair oil treatment only comprises of botanical oils, vitamin and essential oils while the conventional product contains synthetic ingredients with three at the top of the list. Those three ingredients are synthetic silicones and silicon based polymer. They coat the hair shaft and make the hair feels smooth. You will also find these synthetic ingredients in many shampoos. That is why when you use hair products loaded with synthetic silicones or polymers, you will have 'perfect hair' that falls flat and feels smooth and silky to the touch.

The difference between natural organic ingredients such as using just botanical oils in a hair oil treatment is that the ingredients not only provide moisturisation and hair smoothing properties to the hair shafts, the oils contain vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fatty acids. These properties will not be found in synthetic ingredients such as silicones, polymers or mineral oils. 

[ How to read a product label: The percentage of ingredients are written on product labels with the highest at the top to the lowest at the bottom. ]

Most often, you will also find brands stating their products are natural or even organic but the products contain ingredients that are not accepted in organic skincare (some ingredients are accepted in natural skincare).

Take a body shower gel for example, the word natural, organic is displayed prominently on the label and it caught your attention and you picked up the item. When you turned the product around to look at the list of ingredients and you see: "Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Glycol Distearate, Propylene glycol, PEG-7, Phenoxyethanol, Ceteareth-20, methylchloroisothiazolinone, PEG-40 Hydrogenated castor oil, Polysorbates 20/80, etc, these ingredients certainly are not natural nor organic. These ingredients are not accepted in organic skincare formulations by the organic certifying bodies because these synthetics are derived from petroleum (Propylene glycols), toxic method of manufacturing is used to process the raw ingredient (PEGs, Polysorbates), and can cause allergic reactions (methylchloroisothiazolinone - banned in Europe). However some of these ingredients can be found in natural skincare and that is due to the fact that natural have 50 shades of gray. Some brands claim that Polysorbates are derived from natural ingredients but the process of manufacturing does not make it all that natural (PEGs are byproducts of the ethoxylation process, "1,4-Dioxane" which is a known carcinogen. They are usually filtered out of the final product during the ethoxylation process).

Do take a closer look at the list of ingredients the next time you pick up a personal care product and you may try to identify if the above ingredients are in them which can tell what type of product it is. 

The decision to switch to Clean and Green personal care products is a conscious choice in wanting to be part of a movement to be environmentally responsible, using true natural and/or organic ingredients to beautify our skin, and harnessing the power of botanical ingredients for our skincare solutions.

We do hope that more natural organic skincare brands would declare the list of ingredients on the product labels (not only necessary for the consumers but also a legal requirement) and also not use fear mongering tactics such as 'No chemicals in our products' when everything is a chemical whether it is made synthetically or from nature ( do read our earlier blog post on Chemophobia). Do join us in our journey to help spread Clean and Green beauty to everyone and share the benefits of using natural organic skincare to maintain healthy skin barrier.

Have you made your switch to Clean and Green Beauty yet? We would love to hear your experiences. 


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Do you exercise with your makeup on?

Posted by Teresa Foo seet Wei on

I am a big fan of exercise and have been working out regularly. I work out at least twice a week with a minimum of 30 minutes each session. Regular Exercise not only keeps my body physically healthy (makes me look younger too!), it also makes my heart stronger. Exercise releases good endorphins that can help us to destress. Exercise have shown potential that "changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills" according to Harvard Health Blog (source). 

Regular exercise also keeps our skin looking healthy. During a workout, our heart starts to pump faster (cardiovascular exercise going on there) and carries oxygenated blood throughout our body. Hence we will get a flushed look during and after we have exercised. In other words, our skin 'glows' with regular exercise. We also perspire a lot in the process. Here are some fun facts about our sweats (source). 

There is a rising trend in wearing makeup during workout which the products are called Athleisure makeup. These makeup are formulated to stay on your skin no matter how much you perspire. Sounds great? Probably not. I spoke to Alexia Buttigieg, an experienced Esthetician, on her views about wearing makeup when you exercise.

Alexia, can you share with us does makeup gets absorbed into the skin?

"Before I answer the question of makeup absorbing into the skin, we must understand that not all cosmetic ingredients are absorbed by the skin. Cosmetics only penetrate the first layer of dead or dying cells. Cosmetics do not go beyond that otherwise they would be classified as drugs or Pharmaceutical products! We do not want cosmetics to go beyond the first few layers of the skin i.e. deep into the dermal layer, as it would affect cell metabolism.

Makeup falls under cosmetics and it does penetrate into the first few layers of keratinised cells but not absorbed into the dermal layer which leads to the blood stream (which is good news). Makeup can get trapped in the horny layers with bacteria and sebum (the natural oil that our skin produces)."

What are the reasons why we should not wear makeup when we work out?

"Athleisure makeup may sound trendy but it is not a good idea to wear makeup during a workout as it can clog pores and disrupt the skin barrier. The foundation, loose powders and blushers are made of colouring agents and other substances (occlusive ingredients) which are meant to stay on the surface of the skin. They may penetrate into the epidermis during a workout. Our body produces heat (burn calories) when we exercise. As a result, skin metabolism rate increases. Pores become dilated (enlarged), and bacteria can get trapped in them. With a cocktail of sweat, bacteria, dirt and makeup, skin cell inflammation can occur and leads to irritation, redness, acne flare-ups and clogged pores.

Cleansing the skin before a workout is ideal, and highly recommended. As mentioned earlier, skin is highly active during a workout and may absorb whatever is on the surface. Even if you do not wear any makeup before starting your workout, your skin should be cleansed prior to any high-intensity activity. You should cleanse your skin with a gentle cleanser and apply a light and fast penetrating facial serum. If the workout is performed outdoor, a sunscreen with non-nano zinc oxide should be worn so it will stay on the surface and not have the possibility to get absorbed into the bloodstream (nano-sized zinc particles do get absorbed into the bloodstream).

Our skin should be cleansed thoroughly again after a work out to remove excess sweat (and a cocktail of dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells too!) and whatever the skin would have expelled. Gently pat your skin dry with clean tissue instead of wiping with the wet towel to reduce irritation.

TIP: Makeup should be applied at least 30 minutes after the workout (onto freshly cleansed skin) so that the body has enough time to cool down. Our skin will still be in the 'active' state after shower and cleansing. The heart will require some time to slow down the blood pumping action. Your skin should be cool to the touch before applying any makeup especially foundation. 

Most often, girls and women wear makeup during their workout because they want to look good in their selfies or probably due to lack of self-confidence. Would you like to offer a few words of encouragement to all our female readers on embracing their natural beauty sans makeup during exercise?

"You will notice that exercise makes the skin flush which gives an impression of making you look younger and healthier. We should not be uncomfortable in our own skin. Almost no one has the perfect complexion so I believe we should all go bare-faced during a workout and let the skin do it’s own 'workout' too."

Photo courtesy of Alexia and friends sans makeup after their Zumba workout session.

Thank you Alexia for sharing with us. Let us embrace our natural beauty and exercise to your hearts' content sans makeup! Wear your natural flushed look with confidence! 

"Do not let beauty define you. You define beauty.

[ Alexia Buttigieg is a Holistic Therapist who is passionate about everything that can help people feel better in a more natural approach, from massage to self-therapy to essential oils and reflexology. She believes that stress cannot be avoided but nature has given us all we need to reduce it, and live a more balanced existence. She started her career as a Beauty therapist and has achieved diplomas in Esthetician and Physiatrics, where she was able to understand the anatomy and physiology of the human body. She furthered her studies by achieving diplomas in Reflexology (including palliative care) and Aromatherapy. Other certificate courses include tui na, facial analysis and Ayurvedic stone massage. In these past years she has ventured into natural cosmetics and read for a diploma and an advanced diploma in organic skincare formulation, which harmonises her passions for Aromatherapy and organic skincare treatments. Alexia still feels like her first role is being a mother to her daughter and prioritises family and their well-being. She may be contacted at naturannis@gmail.com ]

We have just the right product to help you gently remove your makeup before your weekly workout session. Our Floral Cleansing Water works effectively to remove all traces of makeup and sunscreen including waterproof eyeliners too. There is no need for additional cleansing as the Floral Cleansing Water also conditions your skin. We are offering a 10% discount on our Floral Cleansing Water. Offer ends 9 April 2017, Sunday.

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How should I cleanse my skin?

Posted by Teresa Foo seet Wei on

Most of us if not all wash our face with some kind of facial cleanser at least once or twice a day. I am picking up a three times a day! That is way too much washing in one day even in our humid climate. There are some of us who only wash your face with water. Is that enough? What facial cleansers should I be using? There are literally hundreds of facial cleansers in the market to choose from and any consumers will have a hard time making a decision.

Let's start with how many times you should be washing your face.

When you wake up in the morning, you should wash your face with a gentle cleanser. You need to do so because your facial skin is coated with a cocktail of dead skin cells, sebum from your facial pores and scalp, mold, mildew, fungus, dust mites and mites’ feces. Ewwwwww…You get the gist. All of them are found on your pillow. (Pssst, you need to change the pillow covers at least once a week.) 

No fret. Washing your face with water only cannot remove these cocktail of microorganisms. With the help of gentle facial cleansing products in the morning after you wake up, your skin is clean and you can continue with your usual skincare regime of toning, moisturising, sun protection and maybe makeup.

You go about your day commuting to work, school, volunteer work, shopping, doctor’s visits, etc. During the day, your skin starts to get coated with a layer of dust, pollen, air pollutants, smoke and sebum. At the end of the day, you will remove your makeup/sunscreen and follow through with a thorough cleansing.

Twice a day of facial cleansing, one in the morning and one when we get home/before bedtime are sufficient for daily cleansing. Washing your skin more than twice a day can put a lot of stress on the skin barrier as it is stripping away too much of the skin’s natural moisture i.e. disrupting the skin's acid mantle.

What type of cleansers is suitable for me? Let’s take a look at the common facial cleansers available to you. There are gel and foaming cleansers, cream cleansers, oil-based cleansers, clay, oleogel cleansers and also facial soap bars.

This is a general guideline on selecting facial cleansers for the common types of skin:

  1. Normal resistant skin
    You are one of the lucky ones on this planet! You can use just about any type of facial cleansers that you like, as your skin is neither dry nor oily, and do not react to any cosmetic ingredients.
  1. Normal to dry/mature/aged/dehydrated and also sensitive skin
    Cream cleansers, oil-based cleansers and oleogel cleansers will not leave your skin feeling like it has been stripped of it’s natural moisture. Since these type of cleansers usually include botanical oils, they have refatting properties that will leave your skin feeling moisturised after cleansing.
  1. Normal to oily/acne skin
    Gel, foaming, clay cleansers and even oleogels (self-emulsifying oil cleansers) will be suitable for this skin type. Your skin is usually oily around the T-zone. These types of cleansers leave a refreshing sensation on your skin without feeling like it has been coated with a layer of oils. Make sure to look for gentle, pH balanced skin as you do not want to wash away too much of your skin’s natural moisture. 

Natural facial soap bars are usually made with botanical oils, extracts and essential oils. The pH of the soap (pH 7-9) is usually higher than the skin’s natural pH (between 4-6). After cleansing your skin with a facial soap, it can leave your skin feeling tight. Using a moisturiser after cleansing will remove the tight skin feel. We do not recommend facial soaps for dry/mature/aged/dehydrated or even sensitive skin.

Now you know the importance of facial cleansing and how to select facial cleansers for your skin type. 

Look out for our next post where we share our views about the latest trend of wearing makeup during exercise or Athleisure makeup.

We have gentle facial cleansers for your daily cleansing needs. Floral Cleansing Water is great for makeup and sunscreen removal. It is also suitable for dry/mature/aged skin as it is gentle and do not strip the skin of it’s natural moisture. Our Rejuvenate Cleansing Balm & Mask is a self-emulsifying oleogel that turns into milk when water comes in contact with it. It cleanses your skin effectively and is very gentle on the skin. There is no layer of oil left on the skin after rinsing off with water.

Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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