WINTER SKIN BLUES?

even though the snow hasn’t yet settled in New England, it’s still officially winter folks, & I know all too well how awful this season can be for skin—especially if you’re prone eczema, allergies, dryness, sensitivities & immunity issues…like me. stale air, cold air, heat of all kinds, lack of sunshine (for those of us who get that the sun is actually a healing force rather than a force of evil J)…I hate the feeling of dry, rough hands on my favorite silk shirt, or looking in my magnifying mirror at a flaky face (which in turn promotes blemishing…it’s all a crazy cycle)! &, don’t get me starting on that tight feeling when you stretch your lips into too big a smile & it actually causes a tear in the flesh! worst of all? thinking you’d solved your eczema problem, when bam! it returns as if to the scene of the crime…like it was waiting under the surface all along…for you to get comfy…

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& then, of course, there’s the great shower lie. the hot water & steam feels great while you’re in it, but the minute you dry off, you’re actually more dehydrated than before. huh?

it’s not all gloom & doom & darkness by 4:30 though—if you add a few simple steps to your daily & weekly routine, you really can have smooth & hydrated skin all year long. so without further ado, here are my top 10 tried & true maintenance points for winter skincare:

1. apply a pure body oil right out of the shower, while your skin is still damp (in fact, all moisturizers are best applied while damp from bathing, washing, wetting the skin – water / toner brings moisture into the skin)

2. use a thick, dense, synthetic-free body balm on top of that for sublimely smooth, dryness-free, eczema-free (if you are good & use your body scrub…skin! yes, on top of your oil—sounds decadent, but it’s not overkill, I promise, when you use a completely absorbable oil that matches your skin chemistry & really forms that base of moisture you need.

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3. use your hand lotion & lip balm all day long—keep a bottle & tube on your desk at work & another on your bedside table.

4. don’t think a facial cream applied once a day is gonna cut it. in winter especially, a reapplication is key to great looking, feeling & BEING skin. a touch of toner or even mineral water spray helps it absorb without the need to massage in & smear your makeup.

5. use an exfoliate on your lips once a week, then follow up with lip butter to kiss cracked, peeling lips goodbye. (a dry toothbrush can work too, but I’d use both for best results).

6. speaking of which: exfoliate. exfoliate. & exfoliate some more! slough those dead cells to make room for the fresh new flesh, then moisturize it like crazy to a baby soft smooth texture.

7. take a steam or sauna now & then. it’s great for detoxifying the body, your overall circulation & boosting your immune system. adding essential oils gives added glow to your skin & mood. lavender is great here as both stimulant & relaxant!

8. it’s a fallacy that you have to wash your face day & night. once daily (end of the day is most important for this reason…) with a moisturizing cleanser is fine, unless your work or hobbies expose you to lots of grit & grime. in winter, you want to do all you can to retain that moisture layer.

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9. don’t use super-hot water in the shower—it’ll seriously dry out your skin, & substitute a body oil every other day for soap. oils are wonderful cleansers that lift the dirt from your body without removing essential oils. you don’t have to have a squeaky rinse to be clean, I swear.

10. look for body products that contain coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter & other truly natural ingredients. stay away from synthetics like parabens & sodium lauryl sulfate because they are impostors! they only ACT like they are thick & moisturizing, but in reality strip your skin rather than nourishing it.

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I can honestly report that since adopting this regimen (especially scrub & moisturize), my skin stays well-hydrated & so soft all year. I may occasionally have a touch of tight feeling hands (‘cause I never wear gloves!), but I never have rough skin, chapped lips, scaling, bumps, or blemishes throughout whatever harsh winter weather my hometown of Chicago & my adopted home state of Massachusetts throw at me… & you can too.

so let it snow! please?

xo

—Suki

BADASS WOMEN: GWENDOLYN BROOKS

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Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (1917 –2000) was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950 for Annie Allen, the tale of an African American girl’s transition from child to woman as she faces racism, war, death & ultimately falling in love.

Brooks was, like me, a Chicago native. she always wanted to be a poet & didn’t bother going to college because she thought it was unnecessary—to be a writer, she believed (& proved) all you have to do is write. she was already published at thirteen & as a young woman, she created poetry workshops for African American woman in Chicago’s South Side. Brooks helped lead a whole generation of black woman (& white male poets & reviewers) to realize that great poetry is universal & not restricted to any race, gender, age or class.

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“we are each other’s harvest” reminds me, this holiday season, to be grateful for more than any material possessions I’ve accumulated—it’s the loved ones in my life who are my greatest wealth & bounty.

xo

—Suki

LAST MINUTE “eco” LUXURY!

last week, I posted on fair trade/sustainable/organic gifts for all ages. today, I’m featuring some items with heart, soul & responsibility that are actually cool too (!) & will make this a memorable holiday (they don’t have to know it was last minute! 🙂 & I’m thinking new years is a time of these sorts of luxury items…but today, grab your overnight gift & be a hero!

  1. Brilliant Earth Jewelry

this brand of gemstone jewelry is “beyond conflict free”, meaning it’s responsibly-sourced to help fuel economic change & growth in developing countries, often mined for their resources with only a tiny fraction of profits going to local individuals & businesses. diamonds, colored gemstones & vintage jewelry (oh my!) to cater to every style, like this elegant sapphire pendant & unique art deco ring. since the ethics of Brilliant Earth shine as bright as their jewels, you can feel good as well as gorgeous while wearing them! get on it men & women 🙂

artdecoring   sapphirependant

  1. Breville espresso maker

a trip to the coffee shop can be a comforting part of the daily routine…but sometimes, a day in the home office doesn’t have to be interrupted by the hassle & paper waste…not to mention the questionable ethics & sourcing of Starbucks & other chains (& hey, your daily routine could use a change up too!). with this espresso maker, you can make café-quality java in your own home using your own fair trade organic beans…& what better way to maximize on the antioxidant health benefits of pure, unsweetened coffee?

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  1. Vitality sauna system

the toasty warmth of a sauna is the ultimate winter treat (& toxin releaser!) when living in a cold climate like New England, like I do (blah)! with its low emf emissions, reasonable water / electricity usage (less than the average shower can you believe) & wood sourcing from sustainable forests, this home sauna offers luxury without wastefulness. plus, regular sauna use has health benefits similar to exercise (this woke me up immediately…not that we should skip the gym & bask like a lizard all day, oh noooooo! but boosting the impact of our workouts with a 20 minute session sounds good – or hey, they OCCASSIONAL okay…sauna instead of the daily pounding J might be ok every once in a while! :)—or…slip inside for a few minutes to warm up your muscles for a yoga class, or your workout itself!

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  1. Eco Spa Vacation

what better way to unwind from holiday stress than a week at a full service resort? this list features green spas from around the world. some locations are no surprise, like the Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley, California and La Clairière Bio Hotel in Alsace, France, but there’s green gorgeous luxury to be had in less expected climates, too, from Alaska’s Chena Hot Springs Resort (run on geothermal energy, featuring the stunning Aurora Ice Museum) to the Lied Lodge (conservation land & Arbor Day education center plus a full-scale luxury spa) in Nebraska. they’re all Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, so the hardest part is choosing which gorgeous locale to check out first! I’m just trying to figure out what year I might be able to get away….hmmmmm…..

  1. Tesla model S

let’s face it, there’s nothing cooler than a new car. This is luxury at its finest…the ultimate dream gift & the Tesla’s a dream for the planet, too—way ahead of the curve, the first totally electric sports car, & can travel on one battery like, 2-3 hours, which means zero fossil fuel emissions…& did I mention it can do the ol’ zero to sixty in about seconds?! I’m waiting for the convertible, but yea, Tesla is way cool! (& they do have a totally plexi roof model).

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I’ve gotta say, though, if I had to choose just one thing from this list…that vacation is looking pretty good (hey, it’s only been a few years since I took one! 🙂 I’m going to go fantasize with that list now).

so, hurry hurry! oh, &…what’s on your wish list to Santa this year?

xo

—Suki

SHOWDOWN: LOCAL VS. ORGANIC

imagine this: you’re at your local co-op & you see a package of organic celery from California on sale—but wait, right next to it there’s a pile of leafy, elastic-bound bunches from a local farm, but they’re not organic. which do you choose?

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for many of us who are trying hard to make healthy & ethical purchases, it’s a common dilemma. for those of you still shopping at Whole Foods, it’s a massive one since they are still not labeling their GMO foods! yikes!

it’s only heightened this time of year, when many of us have the pressure of cooking for a big holiday meal, & when buying locally, we aren’t getting the cornucopia of foods we do in summer (ahhhh summer, I should really live in California, you know!). should we pre-order our turkey from that farm on the other side of town, grab an organic one from the Co-op, or just use that coupon for the conventional Butterball the local grocery chain sent out? does it really make a difference? oh yes, it does! if only the sake of the animals’ well-being, & I for one think if you’re gonna eat it, you owe it to the animals to visit both a commercial & a real down home slaughterhouse to see the difference in the treatment of animals. trust me, it will effect what you buy forever, unless you don’t have feelings of course 😉

but seriously, as far as meat goes, “organic, free range, etc.” these terms are totally meaningless on the shelves of your grocery store. there is actually no legal definition for free range eggs in the U.S.! the chickens must have “some” access to the outdoors, but this could mean time on a screened porch for as little as an hour a day! how is that “free” in any way? small, local farms with animals you can see grazing in front of you…that is the way to go for anything animal & that’s a fact.

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in this PBS article & video on local vs. organic, the experts weigh in on the side of local. in one way, it’s all about carbon. when you buy local, you are cutting down on carbon emissions. same with organic, but maybe less so if your produce has crossed more U.S. states than your last road trip.

on the other hand, it’s just possible your neighbor selling tomatoes from his front porch is spraying them with heavy-duty pesticides. knowledge is always the best policy. most farmers or small producers are happy to tell you about their methods—in fact, they are probably proud of the effort they put into their products & will tell you more about homemade compost or crop rotation than you ever wanted to know!

even so, the benefits of organic over conventional are huge. if all tillable acreage in the United States began to be farmed using organic methods, this would be the same as taking 216 million automobiles off the road, which amounts to 25% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions!

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so, according to this, the answer is simple: should you buy local or buy organic? yes!

both options usually cost more than the conventional produce you find in the aisles of a big chain grocery—but not always. farmers might cut you a deal for buying in bulk, & those organic sweet potatoes might go on sale just in time for you to whip up a batch of your signature holiday casserole. in choosing organic, you also avoid the hidden costs to your health & planet.

did you know that studies have found that organic produce contains up to 69% more antioxidants than conventional & is 4x less likely to contain toxic pesticide residues that have been linked to cancer & neurodevelopmental problems? yikes! that’s got to be worth the extra $2 for a carton of organic blackberries!

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if the product you need isn’t grown in your region (you’re not gonna find any Massachusetts oranges, for example!) go organic. given the choice between certified organic & a reputable local farmer who hasn’t sought that label, support your community & buy right from the farmer’s market or the farm itself. also look into CSA shares in your area—you might be able to bring your very own sweet peas & strawberries from farm to table. many CSA farms also have winter shares, which are great for cooking big, sustainable holiday meals.

xo

—Suki

ECO-FRIENDLY GIFTS FOR ALL AGES

‘tis the season for stressing out about finding the perfect presents for people I know. but this year I’ve decided that rather than trying to keep up with the latest fashion trends or gadget craze—that slicing & dicing thing you saw on the home shopping network & bought for EVERYONE you know last year…how’s that working out for people? ;)—I’m going look for unique items that help out the environment or give back to great causes.

so in the spirit of a green Christmas (but I still hope it snows!), here’s a fun gift idea or two for every generation …

for babies:

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this sweet gift tote has an assortment of organic animal plushies & wooden toys in a cotton canvas bag. I kind of want that owl for myself, though…

for preschoolers:

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kids will love playing farmer’s market with this adorable toy fruit & veggie cart. one pound of bananas, please—do you accept Monopoly money?

for older kids:

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do you know a child who is begging for a pony that’s not quite in the budget? indulge a young animal-lover on a smaller scale with this self-cleaning fish tank that also grows edible plants like wheatgrass & basil.

for teens:

help your fave adolescent peace out & protect what’s no doubt their prized possession with this bamboo cellphone case.

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for college students:

anyone would become a campus style icon sporting this elephant laptop case, made from 100% recycled cement bags.

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decomposition books made from recycled paper are a great way to motivate note-taking & they’ve got cover options ranging from whimsical to lovely.

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for adults:

beautiful bamboo coasters with a whale design support Seafood Watch, an organization dedicated to sustainable fishing.

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what’s a prettier winter sight than a flock of twittering cardinals & chickadees in the snow? let your feathered friends dine in style with this natural cedar pagoda bird feeder.

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if you’re looking for a quick host/hostess gift, Endangered Species Chocolate donates 10% of its profits to conservation causes, & they’ve got a variety of yummy fruit/nut blends.

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…& don’t forget the pets in your life!

most cats are pretty well entertained by wrapping paper alone, but these sushi roll catnip toys by Whimsily Ever After are too cute to pass up.

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or if you’ve got a tail-wagger in the house, an organic Betty Woof hemp tug-of-war toy.

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what are your most inspired green gift ideas this holiday season?

xo

—Suki

FRAGRANCE FACT & FICTION

perfume1scents surround us every day, from that less-than-refreshing lemony bleach smell of a public restroom to a coworker’s unfortunate obsession with Axe body spray. there’s even a trend toward scented jewelry!

we can’t avoid scent in public spaces (short of wearing a gas mask to the office or the mall in protest!) but what about the products we bring into our own home? learn the surprising truth (& industry lies) about your favorite berry-scented lip balm or “summer breeze” in a spray bottle…

FACT: perfumery is as old as civilization

“…the Graces bathed [Aphrodite] with heavenly oil such as blooms upon the bodies of the eternal gods—oil divinely sweet, which she had by her, filled with fragrance.”

Homeric hymn, 7th century BCE. 

aromatic substances like rose oil, labdanum, myrrh & ambergris were symbols of status & wealth from ancient China to Rome. many also had sacred uses. back then, all the raw materials came from plant or animal sources. today, 90% of fragrances are synthetic, created in laboratories to mimic natural aromatics at lower cost.

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(perfume making in ancient Egypt)

FICTION: fragrance is regulated for safety & quality.

there is no governing agency that regulates scent in commercial products, & little monitoring of the few standards that exist. companies don’t have to disclose specific ingredients in these formulas, hence the generic term “fragrance” you see on many ingredient lists. allergy testing before marketing is not required, & when testing occurs, it’s often on animals who are doused with toxic levels of the fragrance in question. (check out this list of companies that—still, in 2015!—test on animals.)

FACT: fragrance can have powerful physical & psychological effects.

fragrant botanicals contain active ingredients that can alter mood, memory, appetite & arousal. also, some fragrances are allergens, irritants, carcinogens & hormone disruptors (often synthetics, but some natural essential oils, too!). strong fragrance can also make some people feel ill—hence those signs in gyms, yoga studios, etc. requesting a “fragrance free zone”.

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FICTION: natural fragrance = safe.

whether a product is natural or synthetic is not itself an indication of safety. natural essential oils have longer histories of use, but processing methods can vary widely. for example, essential oils are often extracted with toxic hexane gas. there’s also no legal definition of “natural”, so perfume marketers (like many other industries) often use this term misleadingly.

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pure essential oils have a 2,000+ year history of helping people with conditions from anxiety to hormonal imbalances, so there’s no need to totally fear fragrance—I use a natural, gentle citrus aroma in many of my skincare products. look for organically sourced oils & consult a trained aromatherapist or do your own research. respect your allergies & follow usage instructions carefully, especially when oils are used topically rather than diffused.

so what scents inspire you & which make you want to rush for the nearest window?

xo

—Suki