Sunday, December 23, 2012
It's practically Christmas Eve! I wish I had done this blog much earlier but, oh well. Better late than never, right? So, what do you do when you haven't got it together to blog something original? You re-blog other people's awesome food posts, of course.
I've had a bit of a Christmas cookie fixation lately. I love the smell of baking cookies. So cozy and cheery. I'll probably only end up making one kind this year, but if I was having a big gathering, all of these are cookies that I would want to bake.
So, here is my Christmas Cookie Roundup:
I love nutty cookies like pecan sandies and Mexican wedding cookies. Check out these low carb, grain-free pecan crescents from All Day I Dream About Food.
I haven't had sugar cookies in a really long time. They hold a special place in my heart, as my mom used to bake them at Christmas and Valentine's Day. She had all sorts of fun cookie cutters. I don't even own any (that has to change!) These almond flour sugar cookies from The Urban Poser look yummy!
Maybe you've never had pizzelles. If you like anise, then you'll probably love these delicate and pretty anise flavored cookies from Kate's Healthy Cupboard.
When I was little, my paternal grandmother always made raspberry coconut bars at Christmas. The closest grain-free recipe I've been able to find are these raspberry streusel bars from Elana's Pantry. I'd probably omit the walnuts in the topping to make them more like grandma's. And I'd use butter.
And last, but not least, are butter tarts. Butter tarts aren't well known in the U.S. but all my Canadian readers will know what I'm talking about! They're buttery, flaky little tarts filled with a gooey mix of raisins and/or currants, brown sugar, butter and often ground nuts. A little like pecan pie but more buttery and definitely less icky sweet. The same grandma who made the raspberry bars made butter tarts (that side of the family is from Ontario).
I like that this recipe from Special Diet Creations uses coconut palm sugar in place of brown sugar. Plus, she's Canadian, so she knows what a butter tart is and what it should taste like.
I hope you all have a yummy and merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Thanksgiving is possibly my favorite holiday because it revolves around food, and also because I have great people to spend it with. As most of my family live in other states, we always go over to some friends' house (my mom, who lives here in Nashville, goes there too) and we have a small crowd and amazing food. It's always relaxing and fun, for which I'm truly thankful.
I thought I'd give a quick rundown of my Thanksgiving feast plans. Some of the food is Primal/Paleo and some is just gluten free, as it's a cooperative effort with a number of us doing cooking duties.
My hubby is always in charge of the turkey and he always does a great job (seriously, the man can roast a bird!)
For the perfect turkey, we brine it and roast it upside-down so the juices flow into the breast. This really helps the white meat to be moist. We'll probably use Martha Stewart's turkey roasting recipe this year. We've used it before and it's simple and amazing.
While my mom is going to make traditional gluten-free stuffing, I'm also going to make this parsnip and mushroom grain-free roasted veggie stuffing (mine won't be low fat, though). I may add some wild rice cooked in chicken broth to jazz it up even more.
-The other sides:
I'm a cranberry sauce nut, so I get to make it every year. I follow the basic recipe of cranberries, water and sugar (using organic sugar) that's found on every bag of fresh cranberries, but I like to add chopped dried Turkish apricots, just a little squeeze of orange and a bit of cinnamon. The apricots nicely balance the acidity and add an unexpected touch. I've made low sugar cranberry sauce, but something about the lack of sugar seems to amplify the acidity and it ends up hurting my teeth, so sugar it is...
We're also having:
-roasted brussels sprouts that my mom will make
-blanched haricot verts with lemon zest and parmesan (so good- I need to get my friend's recipe!)
-mashed potatoes (I like the real deal on Thanksgiving. No mashed cauliflower!)
-sweet potato pecan casserole (my friend's recipe- no marshmallows or orange juice involved.)
My friend is making gluten-free pumpkin pie (if I was making it, I'd do a coconut flour crust).
I'm making my apple spice cake, which I'll serve with fresh whipped local grass-fed cream. So much better than regular heavy whipping cream!
I always make whipped cream with NuNaturals Stevia NoCarbs Blend and no one knows it's sugar-free. Seriously, that stuff is good and not icky. I also use it in the apple cake, so at least one of the desserts won't be high in sugar/carbs.
I hope you all have a wonderful and delicious Thanksgiving feast! Happy Thanksgiving!!
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Don't you just love autumn? I sure do- it's my favorite season! I'm so glad to be rid of the oppressive heat of summer (and the mosquitoes and chiggers!) and I love the way the light shifts, lending the sky a beautiful clarity.
Right now I'm seeing an explosion of pumpkin recipes across the internet, but let's take a moment to focus on another seasonal produce treat: apples. Growing up in Michigan, one of the top apple producing states, I always think "apples" when I think "autumn". Apple cider, apple spice donuts and the smell of fresh apples at roadside farm stands.
I don't really get to indulge my apple obsession here in the South and many of the varieties I love like Northern Spy, Winesap, Cortland and even decent MacIntoshes are harder to find or unavailable down here, so when I noticed a "free apples" sign on a neighbor's apple tree, I was so excited! Of course I picked a bunch and I knew I had to come up with some kind of apple cake recipe.
This is really just a variation on my original vanilla cake recipe, but the flavor is very different and even the crumb texture seems a bit different (maybe because of the spices?) It makes a lovely breakfast treat or, with the addition of some fresh whipped cream, a homey dessert. It would also be fantastic with pears or even a combo of apples and pears. I can see making this at Thanksgiving.
Apple Spice Cake
Preheat oven to 350º
2 medium apples, peeled and sliced (I prefer softer baking varieties)
4 large eggs
3/4 cup + 2 TB coconut milk (canned)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup palm sugar (or other sugar)
1/2 cup blanched almond flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon clove powder
Stevia (I like NuNaturals NoCarbs Blend) to further sweeten- judge by tasting the batter. I always make sure the batter is slightly sweeter than I want the final product to be. Some of the sweetness bakes out.
Note on sweetener amount: you can further reduce the sugar and use more stevia, but I recommend using at least a little of some type of real sugar, since sugar contributes to a good crumb texture.
1. Sauté sliced apples (preferably in butter) until softened and set aside. This step isn't vital, but sautéing the apples gives them a nice flavor and texture, so I don't recommend skipping it.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, coconut milk and vanilla extract.
3. In another bowl, combine almond flour, coconut flour, sugar, salt, spices and baking soda.
4. Mix dry ingredients into wet with a whisk or mixer and mix well. Add stevia to taste.
Pour batter into well greased 9 inch round pan or 8x8 square pan and arrange the apple slices on top and slightly press them into the batter to make sure the edges are flush with the batter. This prevents the apple slices from curling. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Bake for 28-30 minutes and enjoy the heavenly scent that fills your kitchen.
Allow to cool for an hour.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
If you've read my blog in the past, you may have seen me mention proper breathing as being integral to health and healing. How many of us even pay attention to how we breathe, let alone use specific types of breathing to further our healing?
My own history with breath work has been with traditional Qigong belly breathing. It was amazing how hard it was to take a proper deep belly breath when I first learned it. I had no idea how shallowly I was breathing before that.
Lately, I've added another type of breathing into the mix: alternate nostril breathing (or Nadi Sondhana), which is part of the yogic Pranayama tradition.
I'd vaguely heard of it in the past, but it never interested me until I read about the benefits of it in Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life by Dr. Claudia Welch. She comes from a Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda background. This is a seriously great book, as it gives real, practical context to things like yin, yang and energy flow and how they impact our health and hormones.
In the book, Dr. Welch discusses alternate nostril breathing as a powerful tool for brain balance and hormone balance, both of which I am striving to achieve right now. She even gives accounts of her patients having hot flashes and insomnia cease after implementing the practice.
Here are some of the alleged benefits:
-Improves brain function and brain balance. Deep breathing oxygenates the brain and alternating between each nostril activates both hemispheres. Favoring one nostril can also be used to activate the opposite hemisphere.
-A calmer mind. Who doesn't need that?
-Improves sleep. Breathing through the left nostril is said to especially activate a parasympathetic response and quiet the mind so your busy brain doesn't keep you awake and your body can relax.
-Regulates and balances hormone production through balancing the yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) energy in the body. For those who think that sounds wacky, consider that TCM medicine uses this as the premise for increasing fertility and balancing hormones and it has a great track record for getting the job done.
There are other benefits, too, but those are the big ones that appeal to me. Also, it's FREE, so how can I possible pass up trying it, right?
So far, I've only done a few short sessions, but it definitely has a profound effect on my mental clarity and it induces a nice, calm state. It also helps to clear my sinuses.
Here's a short video demonstrating the technique. She doesn't mention pausing between inhales and exhales, but it's really beneficial and quieting to the mind to pause between breaths. The usual pattern is to inhale for 4 counts, hold for 12 and exhale for 8. Long exhales really calm the mind and body and induce a powerful parasympathetic response.
Now, take a deep breath and enjoy!
Friday, August 17, 2012
Wow, it's been a long time, eh? Sorry to leave you guys hanging. I'm just sitting here enjoying a cool, autumn-like morning (I love this weather!) and a cup of tea and I thought it would be a good time to do an update on my last post.
So, last time I checked in I was in the throes of early waking insomnia. Not fun at all. I bit the bullet and went to see my old O.M.D. (Dr. of Oriental Medicine, which is more advanced than a regular acupuncture degree) to get an herbal prescription. She examined me and took my pulses and she knew exactly what was up: a big imbalance in my heart energy, a classic underlying cause of insomnia and dream disturbed sleep (check and check!) which makes sense, since summer is the fire element/heart season.
If you have an imbalance in a particular element/organ, it will tend to flare and be exacerbated during the corresponding season (more on that here.)
This imbalance is secondary to my long-standing issues with kidney (read: adrenal) energy and is just a downstream symptom of that problem.
So, she formulated a custom herbal powder for me to take. I went up to northern Michigan for my summer trip and continued to wake at 5:30 every morning, but I was usually able to fall back to sleep as long as I had taken Benedryl the night before. Benedryl is not ideal, however, since it tends to deplete acetylcholine and when you deplete your acetylcholine, your short term memory suffers (which mine definitely did!)
So, I continued on, taking my herbs and my Seriphos (to inhibit early cortisol release) and I continued being tired all the time. It can be frustrating waiting for a regimen to take effect, but there usually isn't a quick fix.
Then, in the last two weeks, I began to sleep through the night. I had discontinued the Benedryl at the beginning of August, so I knew that wasn't it. I was no longer waking at 5:30/6 and if I did wake a little earlier than I wanted (usually only about an hour early), I was able to roll over and fall back to sleep. It took about a month for the herbs to start working their magic. I did go through a week or so of intense, excessive dreaming, which leaves you feeling exhausted when you wake, but now that seems to be easing up, as I haven't had that happen in 4 nights now.
Anyway, I'm definitely sleeping so much more normally and my daytime energy has improved just in the last few days, which is a relief. I've a few had days here and there with intense fatigue, so this feels like the light at the end of the tunnel.
I could still do better as far as sleep hygiene and getting to bed a bit earlier, but you know me: ever the night owl... I'll have to keep working on that.
Friday, June 29, 2012
I've been meaning to post something new for awhile. I even have a couple of nearly completed posts that have been waiting for weeks to be finished. What is my lame excuse for not getting them done, you ask? Insomnia, I answer. Insomnia has been kicking my butt intermittently for about six weeks, and hardcore for the last two weeks. In fact, I've only had maybe two full night's sleep in the last two weeks and I don't function well like this.
Insomnia and I have an on-again, off-again history. Years ago, I went through a rough spell of waking every few hours or being awake for several hours in the middle of the night. Acupuncture/Chinese herbs took care of that. That combo has also made a difference in my tendency toward excessive REM cycling/lack of delta wave deep sleep (a lesser known sleep disorder), which can make you feel like you hardly slept due to the abundance of vivid, technicolor dreams that result. There are so many kinds of insomnia and some are easier to fix than others.
About a six weeks ago, a mixture of a couple of nights where I had a hard time falling asleep plus me being naughty and staying up late (being the lifelong night owl that I am) resulted in having a hard time falling asleep before 2 am. However, I had no problem sleeping in and getting enough sleep, so, other than being annoyed about waking up late at 10:30 every morning, it wasn't a big deal- more an issue of sleep hygiene than anything. I was able to get back to a more normal sleep schedule without much trouble.
But, then, a few weeks ago, something bad happened: Even though I was finally falling asleep fine, I woke up at 5:30 and couldn't fall back asleep. It happened the next day and the next. For some reason, I could only stay asleep for 5-7 hours (not good when I need 8.5-9 hours). I wasn't able to take a nap, either. The sleep just wasn't happening.
After a week, I was beginning to feel physically exhausted, with a constant headache, (all the while trying to avoid living on coffee) and by week two, my nervous system was beginning to get very out of whack and I began having a lot of anxiety about waking up early, which doesn't exactly help me to fall back to sleep... anyway, it's been hard to be productive, let alone have the brain power I need to finish those posts to my liking (they're a bit more involved than this one).
So, what happens when we don't get enough sleep? We start to build up a considerable sleep debt. Our brain keeps track of how many hours of sleep below our sleep need we're getting, according to Dr. William Dement PhD, the world's foremost sleep researcher and author of the fascinating book "The Promise of Sleep", which is my current bedtime reading. In order to have zero daytime drowsiness, we have to pay back all that sleep debt and sleeping in an extra hour here and there isn't going to cut it if you've built up a sleep debt of, say, 28 hours over the course of a few weeks (like I have).
So, at the moment, a lot of my energy has been taken up with trying to fix my sleep problem. I've decided to work on my sleep hygiene, since it's always been on the bad side, so I purchased The Effortless Sleep Method at the recommendation of a friend. It's a combo of book and brainwave enhancing MP3's, one of which is used during the day to enhance SMR brain waves, which insomniacs tend to not make enough of.
I also went to see my holistic doc and he suspects that my cortisol cycle is out of sync and that I'm releasing my morning cortisol several hours too early, so he had me start taking phosphorylated serine at bedtime, which inhibits cortisol release and normalizes the cortisol rhythm. It can take awhile to work- up to months for people with a long standing issue to normalize cortisol rhythm feedback, but hopefully I'll respond quickly since I've only had this issue for a couple of weeks.
As to why this suddenly started happening, I'm not really sure. The only other time this has happened was late last summer, after a period of intense adrenal stress, leading to adrenal fatigue. I haven't been in that situation recently.
One thing I suspect might be happening is progesterone deficiency, which is notorious for messing up sleep. I've always been deficient to some degree, but levels often start to drop off steeply around age 35 and I'll be 35 this year, so I may be at the tipping point, progesterone-wise.
I've added a small dose of sublingual bioidentical progesterone as a trial. I don't really recommend taking progesterone without saliva tests (which I plan on doing) but I know for a fact that I've never had anything less than somewhat low-to-low progesterone levels. The advantage of sublingual is that it doesn't build up in the body like the cream does, so if you take too much, it won't take months to clear it our of your body.
I've started to make some progress. The first day on progesterone, I was able to take a short nap in the late afternoon for the first time in weeks. It seemed to calm down my nervous system. I've also been taking l-theanine (my favorite chill pill) to help deal with my nervous system hyperarousal during the day. It's awful to be so tired and yet so wired and anxious and the theanine keeps me sane and even-keel.
The other night, between the progesterone and a dose of Nyquil (not something I like to take, but I was desperate!), I managed to stay asleep for 10.5 hours. What a difference that made! The following night of the same cocktail got me 8 hours, but I woke several times (I'm blaming the Nyquil for that). Last night I managed 7 hours without the Nyquil, so I'm rather tired, but at least I'm kind of getting somewhere.
I'll keep you posted about my progress. I know I'm not the only one out there not sleeping well. Wish me luck!
Monday, May 21, 2012
I've always wanted to go to the French Riviera; Nice, in particular. The beach, the wine, the food... it's my idea of heaven.
Mediterranean food holds a special place in my heart. I especially love food that involves fish, olives (and olive oil) and fresh vegetables. One of my very favorite dishes is Salade Niçoise, a fun, deconstructed salad involving tuna, crudites, olives, hard boiled eggs and vinaigrette. It's such a flexible dish- there are many versions. Some use canned tuna (high quality yellowfin in olive oil is nice) and some use grilled, some have lettuce, and others don't. Some have anchovies. No matter the construction, it's always easy, festive and I think, elegant.
My own version always involves grilled albacore, tomatoes, eggs, olives, green beans and capers. Those are my core ingredients.
For this Salade Niçoise I used:
-grilled albacore (I marinated it in a bit of coconut aminos, brown mustard and balsamic vinegar).
-hard boiled eggs (I boil them for 8 minutes so I don't overcook the yolks).
-grape (or cherry) tomatoes
-sliced fennel bulb (it has a nice crunch and a mild, anise flavor).
-blanched french green beans, a.k.a. haricot verts (regular will work, too).
-capers (just a sprinkling!)
I used a simple balsamic vinaigrette (similar to this one) to dress the salad.
Voila! Easy and pretty and certainly yummy.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Happy April! I feel so guilty for going so long between posts. So, I decided to just write something. I figure I'd catch up with you all before doing a "real" post on a "real" subject.
I don't know what the source of my post procrastination is, since I have a few things I'd love to write about. I want to write about how spring is the liver season in Traditional Chinese Medicine and how to work with that. I want to write about how awesome qigong is (and what it is, for the unfamiliar). I want to write about cold thermogenesis and my adventures with it. For now, I'll just catch you all up.
This spring has been unusually warm here in Nashville. My vegetables are starting to grow and, due to a very warm winter, some of them (kale, lettuce, chard and parsnips) never stopped growing. I added some cherry trees and raspberry bushes to the garden and some potted strawberries to the front porch, where they stand a chance against rabbits and birds (unlike last year). Now, to figure out how to keep the birds from eating all my blueberries...
We had a crazy hail storm awhile back and it turns out that my roof is totaled, so I'm getting a whole new roof, completely paid for by my insurance. I'm really excited to replace the old, lame roof shingles!
This is after the hail had melted a bit!
Lately, I've been developing natural perfumes and colognes I hope to eventually sell. It's been nice being in my perfume studio, working on a regular basis. I love working with scent. It's challenging and fascinating. I've also been developing and creating the aromatic component of a product that I can't yet disclose as it's still in development...
A community acupuncture clinic opened up nearby, so I've been taking advantage of inexpensive acupuncture (yay!) I always leave it feeling so good. It's become part of my regimen of hormone and endocrine balancing, along with the Leptin Rx and cold thermogeneis. My hormones are recalibrating and my inflammation is way down. I've also had some good body composition shifts. This is good stuff and I'll go into more details in a proper post.
I've decided that April is workout month for me. I hadn't been working out on a regular basis due to some adrenal fatigue, which was due to lingering viral/bacterial stuff from a nasty adenovirus last November. It's amazing how a pathogen can decimate your adrenals! Now that I'm ok again, it feels like the right time to hit the kettlebells and isometrics again. The cold thermogenesis is doing wonders for my muscle power and recovery, so that makes working out even more rewarding (not to mention less painful!) It seems like my muscle is developing faster, too.
So, good things are going on. Progress is being made. I'll write again soon!
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Today, I'm going to write about one of my favorite things: SKIN CARE (Men, don't be scared off by the somewhat girly nature of this post- you might find some useful products.)
I have to admit I'm a skin care junkie. My guilty pleasure is reading beauty forums and blogs and learning about the latest products and gadgets that people are using to keep themselves looking good. I have a "wandering eye" when it comes to new products (maybe I should've been a beauty blogger instead!)
Beauty junky tendencies aside, my somewhat frugal nature reigns me in and keeps me from blowing all my cash on skin care. I'll still spend money on a good product, but I like to balance it out with things that work and don't cost a lot. I also concoct some of my skin care myself. I like a "high/low" mix of skin care. Now that I've settled into a consistent product routine and am getting results that I like, I'm going to go ahead and share my favorites.
Preface: My skin has always had issues. When I was younger, it was oily and congested and I'd get cysts that left purple marks that took forever to fade. Now that I'm in my mid 30's, it's not as oily and I'm not getting cysts anymore (thank you, Primal diet!) but I've seen changes in texture and some fine lines are showing up, so my main issues now are the first signs of aging and dehydration and I still deal with congested skin.
I do occasionally get very minor breakouts, but they're so much easier to deal with and heal much faster. Overall, I'm way happier with my skin than I've ever been and I can get away with less makeup than ever.
I have pretty strict criteria as far as ingredients go. I don't like synthetic crap and I don't like artificial perfumes. So, here are my favorite natural and effective products:
Even though I have slightly combo skin that gets congested, it also gets very dehydrated, so I can't stand it getting dried out when I wash it. Red Flower Lymphatic Phytopower Sea Cleanser and Mask solved that problem! This stuff rocks when your skin is all dried out in the winter (or when you have over-chlorinated water like I do!) You can use it as a cleanser or a moisturizing mask. It's pricey, but it's also a huge bottle, so, per ounce, the price is actually reasonable for such a great product.
I used to despise bar soap for my face until I tried NCN Pro Rhassoul Cleansing Bar. It was getting rave reviews on my favorite forum. It's very gentle and leaves skin feeling soft and not dry, yet it also helps clear breakouts. I buy a couple and keep one in the shower to use for my whole body.
A few times a week, I like to do a deep cleanse using a variation on the Oil Cleansing Method. I first learned about the OCM from a friend who found that massaging her face with oil and then steaming it with a hot wash cloth cleared her skin up like nothing else could.
My variation, which is less drying and more skin softening, consists of a mix of raw honey (I like the solid, opaque kind) and castor oil (about a 1:4 ratio of honey to castor oil). It sounds odd, but it'll take makeup off (remove any eye makeup first, though) and pull gunk out of your pores. Massage the mix into your skin and use a tapping motion to help draw out impurities, then steam with a hot wash cloth and wipe clean.
I'm old fashioned when it comes to toner. I like Humphrey's Witch Hazel. It's very soothing and super cheap. I like Humphrey's much better than Thayer's (the other classic witch hazel brand), which has an odd foamy quality to it.
I like to add a little rosewater to it and if you have very dry skin, a few drops of glycerin can adjust the astringency. You can also add a few drops of essential oils if you like, especially if you don't care for the refreshing/medicinal smell of witch hazel (which I happen to like). Guys, this is great as an aftershave to soothe razor burn.
Teas like green tea or chamomile tea also make great toners for sensitive skin.
For my moisturizer, I like extra virgin avocado oil. There are lots of great oils and different oils work for different skin types but avocado really stands out for me. Once it sinks in, it's not greasy and it does a wonderful job of hydrating and plumping fine lines while preventing oiliness (so, it's good for dry, combo AND oily/acne prone skin), it calms redness and it's very rich in collagen promoting nutrients. It also has a certain degree of natural sunscreen properties. You can read about the unique and wonderful benefits of avocado oil HERE.
Olivado is my favorite brand by far (it has the finest texture). The key to using oils as facial moisturizers is to make an emulsion: put a few drops of oil in your palm and add a little water (or toner) and mix. Then, massage into damp skin. This makes all the difference in oil absorption and helps skin to retain moisture.
If you want a more luxurious face oil option, Red Flower Essential Omega Fresh Berry Oil is great. It smells divine and is loaded with antioxidants (it also contains my beloved avocado oil). A little goes a long way, so again, it's pricey but it's going to last you forever (I end up using it on my neck, arms and décolletage just to use it all up!)
Several nights a week, I use NCN Pro All Trans-Retinol (I use the 2%). This is the main anti-aging component of my skin care routine. Retinol, a Vitamin A derivative, is one of those great, proven ingredients that builds collagen over time and it can really help keep the skin clear, but it can also cause dryness and flaking and it realistically takes at least 6 months to start seeing major benefits.
It's not as potent as the stronger retinoid class of products like Retin-A/Tretinoin, but that's fine with me, since I get flaky enough with retinol. This formula, however, is magical. I don't get flaky, it seems to calm my skin and heal any little breakouts in record time (as well as the marks they leave behind) and it is gentle enough to use around my eyes. It has also faded an annoying patch of melasma on my forehead and my forehead lines are lessened. My skin has vastly improved since I added this product a few months ago.
For my eye cream, I like something to help with puffiness (my upper lids get puffy overnight) and I'm really liking Skin Apotheke's Rejuvenating Eye Creme. It's light and really does help prevent overnight puffiness. I only recently started using it, so it's too early to tell if it will do anything for the dark under eye circles I'm blessed with (one of the side effects of having fair, thin skin).
I try not to over exfoliate, since, for me, it leads to overly sensitive skin. I use my Clarisonic Mia about every other day when I'm cleansing at night. It really is a nifty gadget and worth asking for if you have a birthday coming up;)
Microfiber washcloths are also great for exfoliating. Just don't get too rough with them.
Once a week, I like to smear canned pumpkin on my face and let it sit about 10 minutes. Pumpkin enzyme are wonderful exfoliants and will leave your skin looking healthy and glowing. I think it helps if you keep the pumpkin moist as it's on your face. If you have very sensitive skin, start with only a few minutes to test it out.
Raw Honey makes a good healing/soothing mask or spot treatment if you have a blemish you've picked at (naughty!) or irritated area.
My favorite clay mask is a 50/50 mix of matcha (green tea powder) and illite (sea clay). It's actually the same recipe as a rather expensive organic skin care brand's clay mask, which I won't name. Mix with water and rinse it off once it's dry. It's anti-inflammatory, cleans the pores, heals blemishes and irritation, stimulates circulation and mildly exfoliates. It's much less drying than straight clay masks are. I promise you will love it!
For the occasional blemish (also razor bumps) I love Nelson Bach Pure And Clear Acne Gel. It's effective and non-drying and smells good (like tea tree oil but without the drying side effects).
I'm not afraid of the sun, but I also acknowledge that sun exposure accelerates skin aging and pigmentation and I want to keep my face as young and un-sun spotty as possible. Sunscreen is also required if you're using retinol/retinoids. I don't use it on my body unless I'm going to be outside for a long time- even though diet and Vitamin D supplementation has helped my skin to tolerate a LOT more sun, I'm still fair and can still burn.
It's taken me years to find a natural zinc sunscreen that didn't feel greasy on my face or break me out and wasn't ghostly white. I finally found some that I'm very happy with. I'm a big fan of Eco Logical sunscreens.
They make a facial formula that is light and totally not greasy (great for oily skin!) and even the more moisturizing body version doesn't break me out. If you have darker tone of skin, you might want to add a drop of foundation to these because they might be a just a little white on dark skin.
I'm also a fan of Pratima Neem Vetiver Sunscreen for my face, especially in the winter, when I want something moisturizing but light and not greasy. It smells lovely- like woodsy vetiver. Pratima makes a rose facial sunscreen, but it contains wheat germ oil (I'm gluten intolerant) and the neem vetiver is a much better price/ounce.
Again, avocado oil is my main staple here because of its great moisture retention properties (it makes skin very silky). But when I want to splurge, I like John Masters Blood Orange Vanilla Body Milk. It smells ridiculously yummy.
For hand cream, I like Weleda Pomegranate Hand Cream. It smells like sangria (people always ask me what that good smell is when I put it on) and it has the perfect texture that really stays on for awhile.
I'm very low maintenance (i.e. lazy) when it comes to my hair. I wash my medium/fine oily hair every other day and I usually don't use styling products. For shampoo, my two favorites are Biotene H-24 (it makes my hair super shiny and isn't drying) and Max Green Alchemy shampoo (great for scalp conditions and also makes my hair shiny).
I usually wash only my oily roots to avoid over drying my ends, but when I do condition, I love Max Green Alchemy conditioner. It's so helpful for winter dry scalp and it doesn't make my hair go flat.
About every other week, I like to do an apple cider vinegar rinse. I combine 1 part ACV to 3 parts water and use it after shapooing (I let it sit in my hair a few minutes before rinsing). Make sure to use raw, unfiltered vinegar. The regular grocery store kind is too harsh.
To keep my scalp less oily between washings, I use some pure silk powder on it after it first dries (I also use this as my face powder). It really works! I do have to rub it in well, since I have dark hair and the powder is white.
This is another one of those things that took me years to find a decent natural version. Trust me- I've tried them all (I worked in a health food store for a decade, after all;) The MOTHER of all natural deodorants is Dr. Mist. I shower every other day and I STILL smell good on day 2 with this stuff! [Edit: Seriously, this stuff works. Check out the testimonials- it's popular with the body odor support group crowd. If it works for them, I promise it'll work for you! It also heals skin issues.]
But, because I have to order Dr. Mist, I usually use my number 2 favorite: fresh lemon juice. Yes, you heard me right. It doesn't have quite the 2 day lasting power of Dr. Mist, but it lasts all day, even on hot days and through workouts. And it's cheap! So, if you've given up on natural deodorants, give these a try.
I use Trader Joe's fluoride-free fennel toothpaste, which is sodium laurel sulfate free (SLS can contribute to canker sores and mouth ulcers).
I also like food grade diatomaceous earth as a tooth powder. It gets your teeth super clean. You can find it at garden and animal feed stores (just make sure it's "food grade").
Once a week or so, to whiten my teeth (I drink a lot of tea, which stains), I use Eco-Dent Extra Bright tooth powder mixed with hydrogen peroxide. I brush and then leave it in my mouth for a few minutes to do its thing. Totally works.
My long-time staple lip balm is Weleda Everon. I love the rose vanilla scent. In the winter when my lips get chapped, I've found that Honey Gardens Propolis Salve is great. It has a very different texture than typical greasy salves. I also use it on my cuticles.
I've recently become a fan of Burt's Bees new(ish) tinted lip balms. Though they're not as moisturizing as I'd like, the colors are super pretty and low-key. I like Rose, which is a happy, sheer rosy pink, and Red Dahlia, which is a "your lips but better" sheer dark rose.
So, there you have it: my favorite products.
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I hope you enjoyed this information. Maybe you'll find some new favorites of your own:)