Krya Baby Skin 101 series : 5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby’s skin

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin and improve immunity
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Reading Time: 8 minutes

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Caring for baby’s skin the right way is a challenge. Every single day, media reports tell us yet another company is making unsafe products. For confused parents looking for holistic, completely safe and natural baby products, Ayurveda provides many answers.  In this post, we will discuss 5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby’s skin. These 5 skin care practices also help boost baby’s immunity and overall health.

Pregnancy: a time to take stock and re-evaluate choices

Most of our consumers tend to discover Krya when there is a particular problem they have not been able to find answers to like persistent hairfall, or when there is a new and wonderful change in their life (pregnancy or the birth of a child).

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : pregnancy is a time to re-evaluate our existing product choices

Most of us adults tend to bludgeon through life, and are willing to experiment quite widely with our health, skin and hair. Nothing else can explain how, despite all the evidence to the contrary, we continue to eat pesticide ridden foods and hormone and antibiotic filled dairy. However, when we see the fragility and delicate nature of an infant, we are forced to re-examine our choices and we make much better and more informed choices.

Why is it critical to treat baby’s skin and hair with care and reverence?

Human skin is the largest sense organ in our body. It is considered the seat of the Indriyas / sense organs and is literally the seat of sight, sense, touch, feeling and hearing. It is our first barrier layer and helps protect our internal organs from damage and bacteria. It is a marvel of bio engineering and hosts a massive colony of micro organisms which work along with us to ensure a constant pH of 5.5, with an acidic mantle that keeps harmful organisms away from us.

The skin and hair structure in children is one of the last major systems to be formed. The sweat glands which help regulate temperature, eliminate toxins from our body and help maintain the skin’s natural acid mantle takes upto 3 years to form. This means that babies stay sweet smelling longer, but this also means that their body does not have the mechanism to readily eliminate toxins like adults do.

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : baby's skin is extremely under developed and therefore vulnerable

This means that they can handle far smaller toxic loads than adults – so it makes NO sense to keep on massaging them and washing them with toxin filled synthetic oils, lotions, creams and soaps. Even if the label says that it is “gentle” and will not make your baby cry.

How should we be protecting and caring for baby’s skin instead? Read on below for 5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby’s skin.

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby’s skin

1. Follow the 3 step ayurvedic fabric washing routine for baby’s linen and clothing

Baby’s skin is under-developed and fragile. It lacks the ability to resist attacks by micro-organisms, fungal organisms and small insects and bugs. Therefore Ayurveda recommends that baby’s skin is to be cleansed with suitable herbs.

Step 1: Wash with a natural detergent

Ayurveda also recommends that all fabric coming into contact with baby’s skin is cleansed thoroughly in natural, non irritating, anti bacterial, “Rakshoghna” herbs like Shikakai, soapberry, Triphala, Vacha, Neem, etc.

To prevent rashes, contact dermatitis, we recommend double rinsing baby’s linen, cloth diapers and clothing using only a gentle natural detergent.

When we use the words “gentle, natural detergent” we mean a completely plant based herbal detergent. Any other detergent which uses either castille soap or SLS is too harsh for baby’s skin. If using a synthetic detergent, consider switching to a completely natural detergent.

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : always wash baby's clothing in a pure, plant based detergent

Step 2: Line dry in hot sun

After washing baby’s clothing in a completely natural detergent, line dry it in the hot sun (forenoon sun is recommended).

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : line dry baby's clothing for natural anti bacterial effect

Step 3: Fumigate with natural herbs

Additional fumigation of dried clothing is recommended in very young or delicate infants or in humid and wet weather. Fumigation can be done in pure sambrani (benzoin resin) or Guggulu resin.5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : additional natural fumigation is excellent for premature or very young babies

Why is a 3 step washing routine a part of a post that is titled “5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby’s skin”?  In our experience at Krya, synthetic detergents are the culprit for a huge host of skin related issues for baby.

Many parents who are told that their baby has contact dermatitis and are pained to see baby suffering with a constant itchy skin rash find that it vanishes when the detergent is changed. Switching to a good ayurvedic fabric washing routine can do wonders for baby’s skin health.

2. Massage baby everyday before bath with a nourishing botanical oil

As baby’s skin is still under-developed, the sebaceous glands are not fully formed. Therefore there is a decreased production of natural oils to coat the skin. In adult skin, the natural sebum also forms the skin’s barrier function. So in the absence of this, the baby’s skin has to be assisted through daily massage using a mildly acidic, herb infused botanical oils.

Oil application of the skin has a twofold effect: the herb infused vegetable oil is able to penetrate the skin easily and nourish it, ensuring baby’s skin does not go dry.

It also has the ability to work with the skin to boost its barrier function. This increases the baby’s immune response and improves the body’s ability to protect itself from harmful micro organisms.5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : daily oil massage with a good botanical oil supports baby's skin health

Krya recommends daily oil massage of the baby 15 minutes before the bath to boost the skin’s natural oils and improve skin’s barrier function. This everyday oil massage with a good botanical oil is a critical part of the 5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby’s skin. This oil massage ensures that baby’s skin is well hydrated, and well supported and the right synergistic bacteria are encouraged to colonize.

3. Cleanse baby’s skin with right products

As baby’s skin is still under-developed, the sweating mechanism is not present. Therefore it is important to assist the skin in its thermoregulatory function.

For thermoregulation, the srotas (minor channels of the skin) need to be massaged, detoxified and cleaned well every day. The massage of the skin every day helps deep cleanse the srotas.

Snana (bath) that follows should be done using a mixture of grains, lentils and Ayurvedic herbs. This mixture has the capacity to gently massage the srotas, and remove toxins along with excess oil. When the srotas are active and clean, they can do the job of thermo regulation properly.

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : Baby should be bathed with the right herbal ubtan

As per Ayurveda (unless you live in a very cold climate), the srotas should not be masked or covered after a bath with any moisturising substance. This brings down their activity. This is why Taila abhyanga (oil massage) is done in Ayurveda before the Snana.

Many parents write to us asking for the best moisturizing lotion that can be used on babies. They are surprised when we ask them to do a pre-bath oil massage and use a Krya baby ubtan instead. When we cleanse skin correctly, there is NO NEED to apply any post bath moisturisation. Also this application blocks the skin and impairs its functioning. This is why correct cleansing is an important part of our post on 5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby’s skin.

4. Keep baby warm

Because of the unformed nature of baby’s skin, infants are very sensitive to temperature and changes in humidity. Because of their growing nature and diet which is high in liquids, they are prone to kapha dosha imbalances. Hence Ayurveda suggests the following:

Keep infants well covered and slightly warmer than you would keep yourself. Protect all vata based organs like skin, feet and ears, especially when taking baby out in the open.

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : Always protect baby's core temperature

Babies must be bathed in warm, and not hot water. Check the temperature before bathing baby.

Baby’s nursery should be kept slightly warm, and draughts of wind must not be allowed inside. Fumigation with rakshoghna herbs atleast once a day, especially in late evenings is advised to keep infection at bay.

5. Bathe baby with a special herb infused water

To boost baby’s immunity, support skin and keep micro organisms and diseases causing germs at bay, Ayurveda recommends adding s special herb mixture to baby’s bath. A simple herbal decoction can be made at home using either Neem or Tulsi leaf. Neem leaves is used when the weather is hot and Tulsi leaves when the weather is cold. The leaves can be added in the following manner:

How to make a bath steep for baby’s bath:

Mild decoction: Boil 4 – 5 Neem / tulsi leaves in 1 glass of clean water. Boil until the water reduces in half. Strain and add to baby’s bath water. Ensure the temperature of the water is suitable for baby’s skin before bathing her.

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : It is a good idea to add ayurvedic herbs everyday to baby's bath water

The same decoction can also be done with dried Neem leaf or Dried Tulsi leaf powder. In this case, boil the decoction until it reaches ¾ the original volume, strain and use.

To sum up:

Baby’s skin is fragile and vulnerable. As the skin system is under developed, the products we apply on baby’s skin must protect and support its healthy growth.

Ayurveda offers worried parents many wonderful solutions to holistically nurture and care for baby’s skin. These solutions are specific and range from how baby’s linen must be washed to how baby must be bathed.

We hope you found these 5 simple Ayurvedic tips to care for baby’s skin useful and easy to follow. Please do try them out yourself or forward the same to a friend in need.

If you have any questions or queries on the same, please write to us.

Krya products recommended for baby:

  • Krya baby massage oils – made using authentic ayurvedic herbs, and organic cold pressed vegetable oils processed through a rigorous ayurvedic manufacturing process. Can be used from the time a baby is 1 week old
    • Krya traditional baby massage oil with Bala & ashwagandha – traditional formula that aids baby’s muscle development . Can be used from the time a baby is 1-2 days old. Not recommended for babies with sensitive skin, dermatitis, eczema or psoriasis. For these conditions, see below.

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin - Use the Krya traditional baby massage oil everyday

5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : Use Krya baby ubtans to gently yet thoroughly cleanse baby's skin. does not irritate sensitive skin.

  • Krya detergent – completely natural, plant based herbal detergents to cleanse baby’s linen without irritating baby’s skin
    • Krya Classic Detergent – made from forest collected soapberries. Recommended for premature babies and infants with skin conditions5 simple ayurvedic tips to care for baby's skin : Use the Krya natural plant detergent to wash baby's clothing and linen
    • Krya Lemon detergent – Made from forest collected soapberries, lemongrass and lemon – for all other infants

 

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2 non toxic cleaner recipes and a Krya factory update

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

When we started Krya, the life we left behind was hurried, quite thoughtless, filled with consumption and was full of products. I went from a seven step skin care routine and a 4 step hair care routine to a completely natural, simplified life. Having left a life immersed in the opposite of what we wanted to do at Krya, it seemed natural to wonder if we were starting something that was years ahead of its time. If we were in fact, pockets of a parallel universe living in our world.

As time goes by today, I am happy to note that our Parallel Universe is growing. And that our mission to replace harmful, synthetic, often petrochemical derived products that people use in their homes and themselves, is being aided by a growing concern and awareness around the world.

I was struck by this this week as we met different sets of people to buy equipment for the upcoming Krya factory. The manufacturer of our solar drying equipment broke off our technical discussion of the sun’s path and drying angles to tell us to “stick to our noble path”. He told us that while our going might seem slow, and sometimes difficult, what we were doing was right and needed and that we had to keep on working to help cleanse people’s bodies and lives.

He spoke from the bitter experience of watching his Mother suffer through 2 rounds of surgery for intestinal cancer, and how choosing conventional allopathic medicine did not give them the panacea they were promised.

The connection between the diseases we succumb to, the small illnesses we see in our children, and the food we eat or the products that we apply on ourselves, can seem elusive. We certainly do not equate eating a sugary caramel popcorn at our favourite movie hall with fatigue, irritability or our inability to wake up on time the next morning. Neither is the connection between a 2 am visit to the Pediatric hospital with a breathless child and the detergent used in the home, evident.

But the connections are real. And it is our Life’s work at Krya to  educate and inspire people about these connections and create, safe, completely natural alternatives to care for you as a support structure.

The factory we are working on at Siruseri is in support of our Life’s work. We have been working for more than a year on putting together a clean, thoughtfully designed manufacturing location that creates high quality products with great reverence and joy.

Our factory is located within the Sipcot IT Park, in an oasis of calm and greenery called the Golden Jubilee Biotech Park for Women. This is a special Park that has been designed to promote Women Entrepreneurship in Life sciences. Our layout and machines have been thought through to create gently processed products that retain their natural characteristics and aroma. Wherever possible we have used machines that are much slower (and therefore take more time) than their regular commercial counterparts. By reducing the speed of each batch, we are able to retain the unique natural characteristics of our herbs, leaves and fruits that become such wonderful cleaning , skin and hair care aids in the hands of our consumers.

Designing our factory and creating our manufacturing space has come at a cost: I have been unable to write more frequently in the Blog. My intention when we started this series was to provide a lot of useful and impactful information on leading a toxin free life. I apologise for this long gap in writing on this subject.

I spoke earlier about our Parallel Universe growing. In early december, Arathi, the editor of the Week’s “Smart Life” supplement wrote to us asking us to write an article for the Week’s January Issue with information on the toxicity of household cleaning products. “Give our readers some easy to use, inspiring suggestions on replacing these easily at home”, suggested Ararthi.

George Watt, a medical graduate of the University of Glasgow came to Indian in 1873 and published an authoritative 6 volume dictionary of the economic products of India. 10 years later, inspired by his monumental effort, the British Government asked George Watts to organise in 1885, an exhibition of the economically useful plants of India in calcutta. George Watts did not look back and went on to devote the next 25 years of his life in cataloguing India’s natural biodiversity and wealth.

Our true wealth in India lies in our rich, biodiverse flora and fauna. And in the context of creating non toxic cleaners for our home, our trees and plants provide us with a staggering array of formulation options to easily and efficiently clean and care for ourselves.

Here are 2 recipes that you can start with. We wrote this for our article for the Week. They are easy to make, and work extremely well. They are water based, liquid recipes, which we don’t make commercially at Krya, but are easy to make and environmentally sustainable when made by you for your home.

Multi-Purpose Surface Cleaneruse this to mop your floors, counters, bathrooms and to even scrub your toilet

1. Soapberry powder – 100 grams (Cleansing and anti-bacterial agent) (Use the Krya detergent if you have some)

2. Neem Oil – 25 ml (Anti bacterial agent, insect repellant)

3. Citronella Oil – 50 ml (Insect repellant, freshness)

4. Citric Acid – 25 grams (Preservative, mild bleaching agent)

5. Arrowroot powder – 20 grams (Thickening agent, optional)

6. Water -1.2 litres

Instructions

Mix the citric acid crystals in a small cup of warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve completely. Mix the soapberry powder in 1.2 litres of water and bring it to a boil in a thick bottomed vessel. As the liquid begins to boil, add the arrowroot powder and stir until the liquid thickens to the consistency of a watery shampoo. Once the liquid has thickened, take it off the flame and add the dissolved citric acid liquid. Let the soapberry liquid cool before filtering out the soapberry residue.

Now stir in the neem and citronella oil into the filtered soapberry liquid and mix well. Bottle the liquid cleaner and store in a cool, dry place or in the fridge (after labeling it properly!).

This recipe should give you approximately 1 litre of liquid multi purpose cleaner.

This multi-purpose surface cleaner can be used to clean floors, tiles, kitchen tops or even glass surfaces. This is a concentrate and a few spoons of this can be added to a mug of water which can then be used to clean surfaces. As mentioned before always do a patch test on a small portion of the area to be cleaned before proceeding further. If there are pets at home, you can exclude citronella oil from the recipe.

The Natural no-napthalene linen freshener:

sweet basil

A non toxic fragrant alternative to stinky napthalene balls
A handful each of the following dry herbs:
Neem leaves
Thiruneetrupachai (siva tulasi) leaves
Tulasi leaves
Lemongrass stalks
2 balls of pure camphor or edible camphor (pachai kalpuram)
4 sticks of Sweet flag (called vasambu in Tamil)Place all these ingredients in a pillow case, and coarsely crush them together. Shake well so that the ingredients are mixed well together.  Now divide this mixture into equal quantities (about a tablespoon each) and fill into muslin / cotton bags. Use this in your linen cupboard instead of naphthalene balls to keep insects and moths away.
Replace your natural pot pourri pouches every 2 – 3 months or as the fragrance fades. The old herb mixture can be composted.

 

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
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Urban Survival 101 : the science of reading food labels

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Reading Time: 13 minutes

We speak about label reading in this article in response to many queries we received after our last posts on toxics in cosmetic products, especially those sold for children. One mother went as far as to describe her children’s complete skin care regimen with brands used and asked me for a thorough audit to eliminate toxins. And the brands she mentioned were premium, with claims of safe, natural ingredients.

We usually do not write about food on the Krya blog, as we work on household and personal care products. However food choices play a fundamental role in many skin or hair related conditions that affect people. Apart from food taken internally, the external environment and personal care products used also affect health and well being. Therefore this post has 2 parts to it: the first part We post today, talks about reading food labels and the second part We will post on Monday, will talk about label reading in cosmetic products.

A vital skill in our world today is the science of reading product labels and interpreting them to suit your requirement. A local supermarket would contain more than 5000 products ( in stock keeping units) and your family would use most of the categories over the years. So reading food labels is a survival skill.

What a product chooses to declare or not declare gives you a fundamental insight about what the company is really about : both about the kind of products it would like to create and how transparent or ethical it would like to be to its consumers.

The Rapid food label reading program – (especially for parents of young children)

As soon as my daughter returns from school, she runs to the dining table to open her casserole for her welcome back home snack. She takes great pleasure in opening the casserole herself to examine the contents and looks forward to the treats inside. The snacks vary from idlies, to fruit filled whole wheat appams, and sometimes on a busy day a quick set of sourdough bread toasties with generous dollops of homemade peanut butter.

Most of the food she eats is homemade, fresh and using whole organic ingredients. The peanut butter she ate yesterday was made from four ingredients: organic heritage peanuts, whole unprocessed dark jaggery, organic cacao powder and cold pressed organic coconut oil.

14. Aztecs storing maize also invented peanut butter

The Aztecs are credited for giving the world peanut butter

The texture of the peanut butter I made was very very different from the processed peanut butter I have eaten in my youth. The store bought peanut butter was very smooth, even, creamy , extremely sweet and with a very long shelf life. In contrast, my home made peanut butter is not as creamy or even as store bought, as it has limited amounts of oil. Even with what I think are generous amounts of jaggery, homemade peanut butter is nowhere as close to how sweet a store bought peanut butter is. And its shelf life is notoriously short –even a slight amount of moisture in the jar can cause mould formation.

What makes this vital difference between store bought and home made products? Why is one so unhealthy vs. the other? What should we be reading / looking for in our food labels?

The basics of a food label:

Green, brown & red

The green dot tightly framed inside a square, displayed on product labels prominently and proudly conveying vegetarian, is a recent phenomenon that has gone viral. It now appears in curious places like toothpaste and soaps. By contrast, products containing egg and meat are represented by the brown dot. There is a common misconception that a red dot on the label indicates the presence of meat, although there is no standard set by the government involving a red dot.

These dots have been formally mandated under the Food Safety and Standard Regulations 2011, regulated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. ( www.FSSAI.gov.in) .These regulations specify strict and clear guidelines on the information that any food manufacturer is bound to declare on the product label. However, little progress has been made in helping consumers decode the vast tracts of information on the product labels, since the dawn of the dots.

Beyond the vegetarian mark, any food product label would have five categories of information that need decoding. These five categories are

  1. Allergy warning information
  2. Ingredient listing
  3. Food additives : colours , flavors, preservatives, stabilisers.
  4. Nutritional and calorific information
  5. Organic certification
  6. Product Claims

1. Allergy Warning Information

In recent years, certain common foods are thought of as  allergens. These are nuts, soy, gluten (a protein commonly found in Wheat) and milk. The food label should have a separate box with the information that “this product contains nuts, soy, wheat and milk”. What is rather interesting is the fine print on products that do not contain these allergens, which can be written in two ways. One is the rather vague warning “May contain traces of nuts, soy, wheat, milk”. This does not help a person with a known food allergy make a decision. The other variation of this is “made in a factory that also processes nut, soy, wheat and milk”. This means that despite the best efforts, allergens could be present in the product, usually because of common containers and machines used.

Example 1: If the muffin you are looking at contains a brown dot, it is usually made with egg. If a cake you are eyeing at your neighborhood bakery has a red dot, it probably contains gelatin (an ingredient made from the skin, bones and connective tissue of several domesticated animals like cows, chicken, pigs and fish).

2. Ingredient Listing

The law mandates that an ingredient list in food products should be in descending order of contents by weight or volume. This is really useful in decoding product claims. The regulation also stipulates that if a claim is made about an ingredient, for example, whole wheat, then the food label should also provide the actual percentage of whole wheat inside. So with these two pieces of information the consumer can decide for themselves how brown their bread really is.

Example 2: You buy a loaf of whole wheat bread which is all the rage today. The front label says “whole wheat bread. But you turn to the back and see that the ingredient list is as follows

  1. Flour
  2. Water
  3. Whole meal / whole wheat flour
  4. Oil
  5. Salt
  6. Preservatives, stabilizers etc

Whole wheat is only ingredient # 3 ,  means that flour ( or Maida) is the major ingredient.

5. a neighbourhood italian bread selling bread circa 15th century

A depiction of a 15th century neighborhood Italian bakery – breads made fresh with long rise and whole grains

The Maida madness
Maida today has rightfully connotation of junk food and is hidden on food labels behind names like “Flour”, “White flour” or “Refined Flour”. So in this case, your whole wheat bread is simply a regular Maida bread masquerading as the healthier version, with some amount of whole wheat thrown in. Maida finds its way into many “treat foods” we eat: Parathas, Pizzas, Puris, and the ubiquitous Kuthu Parotta or the Malabar Parotta we find in South India.

12. Maida parotta

The South Indian Parotta – made with super refined white flour / Maida

Commercial Maida is made from starchy white endosperm after removing the bran. It is finely milled. Originally yellow in colour, it is then bleached with azo di carbonamide, chlorine , benzoyl peroxide or other bleaches. Benzoyl peroxide is now banned in China & EU for food uses. Maida also contains trace amounts of alloxan, which is the by-product of the chemical process of making it soft and white. In lab tests on rats, large amounts of alloxan were found to destroy beta cells in the pancreas causing diabetes mellitus.

  1. Food additives: Colours , flavors, Preservatives, Stabilizers etc.

The next part of Label reading is usually found towards the end of the ingredient list where words such as “ stabilizer “ , “nature – identical  food color” “ acidity-regulator” with an E-number such as “E-621” in brackets make their appearance.  These are chemicals that are permitted for use in food products and form a shockingly large range. The E-number specifically is an international labeling system that originated in Europe (hence E) which makes it easy to identify these chemical additives by anyone in the world. For example E-621 stands for the flavor enhancer Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).

The range of legally permitted chemicals is bewildering and their number quite shocking. It raises the question, am I eating real food or debris from a lab explosion? These chemicals with the E-numbers have come under serious scrutiny in recent times as potentially harmful for health. The debate, though not yet conclusive, serves as a reminder not to gloss over the E-numbers on any food label.

6. Caramel colouring - found in fake whole wheta bread and colas

Caramel colouring: found in cola drinks. Also used to colour white refined bread and pass it off as the healthier “Whole wheat” version

How much lemon is really there in Citric Acid?

Commercial citric acid is a very common preservative used in food. Citric acid, originally derived from the citrus family of fruits has a healthy connotation. Citric acid from fresh lemon juice is a natural preservative.  We think we are eating a substance extracted from lemons or oranges, which doesn’t sound too unhealthy.

However commercial citric acid is made by feeding cheap sugar solutions to cultures of Aspergillus Niger fungus. After the mould is filtered out, it is precipitated with calcium hydroxide to get calcium citrate. This is then treated with Sulphuric acid to finally recreate citric acid.

So a simple ingredient like citric acid on a food label could have a long chain of unwholesome events behind it. If you are really interested in eating wholesome food, it is worth your effort to know these ingredients for what they really are.

Example 3: I recently bought a brand of soy sauce to be used sparingly on Asian stir fries. I found 3 brands of soy sauce available on the shelf. The sauce which I finally picked up had this written on the label.

Water, wheat, soy bean paste, salt, sugar and sodium benzoate. No artificial colours. Permitted food flavors added. While sodium benzoate was clearly listed as a preservative, the added flavors used were not identified.

I must add that this label listing was only for the premium version of this product. The non premium version had acidity regulators, MSG, and a smaller percentage of soy bean extract in the sauce.

While I picked up what my label reading told me was the least offensive soy sauce, this still does not compare to the real thing. Commercial soy sauce is made using a quick fermentation process. The artisanal, home fermented version of Soy sauce made in traditional homes across Asian countries can take upto a year to ferment and mature fully before it is used. This fermentation is done in special wooden casks and these are left sealed to ferment slowly in the sun.

 

4. traditional korean sauce fermenting in earthen jars

Traditional Korean soy sauce fermented in earthen jars

Prepared this way, the soy sauce is no longer an additive or a taste enhancer – it is real food.

  1. Nutritional and Calorific Information

Every food product label must specify nutritional information per 100 gm or 100 ml serving equivalent. The chart must cover

a)      Energy value in Calories

b)      Amounts of protein, carbohydrates (specific quantity of sugar) and fat in grams or ml

c)       The amount of any other nutrient for which a health claim is made

The WHO reference guideline of approximately 2000 Calories per day for an adult gives real perspective to the amount of Calories present in any processed food item. The guideline number of 2000 is a very narrow definition that does not talk about the source of the Calories. It is now possible to get 2000 Calories per day just from a few colas and a bag of chips, which leads to the whole debate on “empty Calories”.

Example 4:  I looked at this food label which is a health drink served to children. While the drink is marketed as a vitamin fortified balanced drink for children, a quick scan of the nutritional information reveals that 100 g of this health drink contains 47.6 grams of sugars. The sugar here acts like a  preservative and also makes the drink irresistible to children

The first ingredient listed in this products label is skimmed cow’s milk. Other ingredients are maltodextrin, oil and sucrose. You might think this product is not too bad for your kids.  Only a close reading of the nutritional information gives you the complete picture.

Even though skimmed milk has been listed (presumably to give you a sense of how healthy and fat free the product is), the combination of sucrose and lactose sugar from the milk adds up to nearly 50% of the product. Just the from the point of view of sugars , this product appears to be a highly sweetened beverage. Here we are not even getting into the perils of the other ingredients like maltodextrin on the list.

  1. Organic Certification

Unless otherwise mentioned, every food product contains ingredients that were grown with the help of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The standards for organic production in India are governed by the APEDA (www.apeda.gov.in).  When a product carries this label, it means that at least 95% of the products by weight are of certifiable organic origin.

However everything organic is not necessarily good (although you may be excused for believing it is). The same permitted food colours, and preservatives can be used in processed organic food products. You can also have super refined organic food products.

 Example 5: Several popular organic brands organic maida – which is super refined, stripped of nutrition white flour. While the source of the wheat is organic, this food is certainly not wholesome or nutritious. Also available today are junk foods like chips made from organic potatoes. So while organic is great, organic junk food is not.

 6. Product Claims

This last category of food label information is also the toughest one to decode. The food safety standards issue only broad ethical guidelines that a nutritional or health claim of a product should not be false or misleading. Therefore food manufacturers are free to advertise any claim for the product that they are confident of defending under the law.

Example 6: Any regular brand of orange juice from the supermarket would contain the following claims prominently on the label, “No preservatives, No added sugar, No added colors”, all on a lush background of images of beautiful oranges. Now, all the above claims are true but do not represent the true picture.

Elsewhere on the label, away from all the action, you would find two phrases that need deeper investigation. Firstly, all these juices are actually not fresh but “reconstituted orange juice”.

What is reconstituted fruit juice?

To preserve seasonal easy to spoil food products like fruit juice, especially when the harvest is extremely bountiful, a common method followed by large food companies is to separate the constituents of natural fruit juice.

This is also done because as farmers would attest, fruits do not ripen all at once – different fruits even on the same tree ripen at different times. However picking, sorting and grading is done all at once, to save time and effort. In this scenario, you will get a variety of both ripe and unripe fruits which cannot be juiced and sold together.

So here, each fruit is juiced and separated into its individual components. The pulp is separated from the juice and processed into even sized and shaped gummy, particles which have the texture of cooked tapioca pearls. The liquid is spray dried to get a powder. In this process, the volatile vitamins like Vitamin C are lost and of course the natural taste and flavor of the fruit.

When the juice is “manufactured”, the pulp and the spray dried powder are blended together with added sugar, added “nature identical” colour, “nature identical flavor”, acidity regulators to keep the pH at a certain level to ensure long shelf life and preservatives.

Reconstitution is the method to ensure orange juice availability throughout the year, anywhere in the world. This reconstituted juice can at best be described as a watery, over sweet imitation of natural fruit juice.

1. Mexico_City_merchant_with_his_freshly_squeezed_orange_juice_March_2010

Freshly squeezed orange juice sold by a Mexican vendor – no funny business or added pulp!

Why is my quick delivery pizza giving me a headache?

Food flavoring is a multi-billion dollar industry and enters our bodies in many hidden ways. The toppings used by most pizza companies, owe their taste to food flavors. Central processing of vegetables means that the tomato you eat on your topping could have been cut more than a week ago and would have been frozen until you dialed in and ordered your pizza. In this time, the delicate aroma and natural flavor of the tomato would have been lost. So a nature identical flavor is added back to the tomato before it is baked. This usually explains why a home-made pizza does not have the weirdly intensive flavors and tastes a store bought pizza does. And why you usually have no adverse reactions (headaches, bloating) to the home made pizza.

Conclusion

An observant reader may conclude that through this article we are making a case to avoid mass produced, processed ready to eat foods as much as possible.

In our food culture, ready to eat products do exist. Traditionally we have utilized the bounty of nature and pickled, jellied, or dehydrated fruits and vegetables when in season. A recent update on facebook group had a gentleman describing the brining technique to be used to preserve Indian gooseberries or amla which are now in season. The stability of Vitamin C in the Indian gooseberry is well known. Unlike other sources of vitamin C like other citrus fruits, a dried or pickled Indian gooseberry retains a large amount of its Vitamin C which is heat resistant.

So a home made Amla pickle displays stellar good sense. Similarly our food preservation techniques are also driven by a need to store and use fruits and vegetables  for lean seasons like Winter when a large selection of fresh produce is not readily available.

Pickling is a part of food cultures across the world. Pickling across different countries utilises abundant fresh produce, preserves vital nutrients and introduces good probiotics into the body.

10. Traditional korean kimchi

Kimchi – Korean fermented and pickled vegetables

In our home, our preservation and shelf life extension techniques are limited to the use of oil, salt, vinegar and sugar, a gentle heating or cooking process, and a culture that reveres the purity or sanctity of these preserved foods. Traditional homes were always built with an ante room with restricted entry to keep these preserved foods from spoiling.

7. traditional pickled lemons

Traditional pickled lemons

These were the only ready to eat foods in a traditional home. Homes across India added to this repertoire “ready to fry” food that consisted of salted and lentil / cereal cooked vegetables that were used to make papads, vadams and salted vegetables like vathals. These were fried and added back to dals or sambhars to enhance taste and to introduce a vegetable which was not seasonally available.

These foods constituted a small portion of our plate. They were used as seasoners or taste enhancers and no one would dream of eating a lunch solely comprising of pickles or vathals.

Yet this very same sensible, thrifty food culture has now given way to a time when a lot of what we eat has been made with short cut techniques, using high amounts of salts and sugar, and with the addition of several suspect chemically derived ingredients. In a broad sense, many of us are eating a plate of pickles every day for lunch or dinner!

We hope that a course in basic label reading, which we have outlined, will help you make better eating choices for you and your family.

But we fall back to the words of Michael Pollan as we conclude this article on food products and their labeling.

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.  Don’t eat anything that is incapable of rotting”.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what We’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
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6 myths & 3 facts : why toxics continually enter your home

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

In my earlier life, I worked in one of India’s leading biscuit and confectionary companies. My office was near the production facility, so 4 pm would have the odours of baking biscuits and vanilla essence wafting into my room. In the short 6 months that I was there, I came to heartily hate the smell of industrial baking. The stocks of hydrogenated vegetable oil, refined wheat flour and white sugar that went into the facility every single day firmly quashed any notions I had of eating something reasonably healthy every time I opened a freely available pack of biscuits.

Sugar is one of the largest volume ingredients in any food product. Whenever a food product is formulated, especially for children, sugar is the Hail Mary pass – when in doubt, you simply increase the sugar to make sure your consumers love the product.

A recent conversation with a friend who works in another food company had us discussing a popular children’s beverage that is marketed on the promise of giving children a “healthy fruit drink” in the evening. My friend, who is a father himself, spoke to me with some horror about his discussion with his R&D team about the contents of this drink. “They told me it contained 96% sugar, Preethi”, he said with dismay.

And this brings home one of the myths of the food industry. It isn’t “tasty” or going to “appeal to our consumers” unless we super load it with sugar or fat. Most food industry marketers do not have the confidence to launch a product that is not over loaded with sugar or fat. They believe that they cannot achieve a profitable product with mass appeals with less sugar and less oil. Contrary to overwhelming public belief that excess sugar and fat is unnecessary and in fact dangerous, the industry believes that we indiscriminately want high sugar and high fat laden treats.

Similar myths and facts abound in household chemicals. This is why, despite them being researched and found to be dangerous, they continue to be used blithely to create products that you & I use every day.

6 myths and 3 facts in the consumer product industry

 Myth 1: There is a safe permissible limit for toxic chemicals (below which they are harmless)

The general rule followed in establishing safety standards in industrial chemicals is that a higher percentage means more harm. Therefore the assumption is that it is possible to find a level below which even a toxic chemical can be used safely.

Truth 1: There is no safe level for a toxic chemical

This logic has repeatedly failed us in several industrial chemicals. For example, petrochemical derived benzene is considered toxic even in the parts per trillion range. Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide was found to exhibit estrogenecity (the ability to mimic estrogens within the body and replace it) even in the very very low parts per trillion concentration range.

Certain endocrine disrupters like Bisphenol A, found in plastics, and parabens found in several cosmetic products paradoxically have a greater hormone mimicking action as their concentrations decrease.

4. no safe dose of parabens

Nano technology: growing concern

A growing trend which is of concern to us as consumers and parents is the use of Nano technology in industrial chemicals. Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring oxide and is widely used as a whitening pigment in plastics, and ceramics. Because of its high refractive index it is commonly used in sunscreens to enhance the SPF factor. Titanium dioxide is now being used as nano particles in several applications including food and cosmetic products.

We are also constantly eating nano titanium dioxide as it is now finding its way into making milk whiter, dazzling white toothpastes and in several food products that are marketed to children including cup cakes, hard candy and mints and those meant for adults like coffee creamers and even oatmeal. Researchers at Birmingham and Cornell University report that an average consumer could be ingesting 100 trillion nanoparticles of Titanium dioxide every single day.

3. Titanium dioxide in hh products

Previous cell research has already established that Titanium dioxide is cytotoxic – this means that it damages cells. A new study now reports that Titanium dioxide not only damages cells but is capable of inducing tumour like changes in exposed human cells with an increased rate of cell proliferation and a decrease in programmed cell death (both of which are traits of precancerous or cancerous cells).

Because nanotechnology is relatively new, the existing bio safety norms do not cover the effects of using Nano particles of what were considered generally safe ingredients. A Nano particle is sized between 1 – 100 billionth of a meter in diameter – at this size, their absorption rate into the skin significantly increases and they have extremely potent effects on our body as compared to the larger, non Nano particle size of the same ingredient.

Non traditional dose response dynamics

The Endocrine society states that one of the most worrying properties of Endocrine disrupter chemicals is their ability to cause reproductive abnormalities at “even infinitesimally low levels of exposure, indeed any level of exposure” particularly if this exposure occurs at a critical developmental phase. They have also stated that low doses often exert more potent damage compared to high doses.

Myth 2: You can get poisoned only if you swallow a product. Your risk of exposure is very little apply it on your skin

Truth 2: The skin is a living organ. It can absorb a wide variety of substances and pass it on to teh bloodstream inside.

We continue to believe that the skin is a non porous physical barrier. Nothing else explains why we continue to carelessly apply extremely toxic substances directly on our skin.

Nicotine patches and contraceptive patches are marketed and have been used by millions of consumers. The route here of absorption is direct dermal absorption, i.e. the skin.

The dermal route of chemical absorption is often faster and more deadly compared to the oral route where you swallow the ingredient in question. The body’s digestive system with its strong acid barrier can help filter out many deadly toxins. However the skin application route has no digestive system to filter out potential toxins. When we use nano particles to further reduce the size of our toxic ingredients, they are able to penetrate faster into the body through the skin, and directly enter the blood and lymphatic systems and our fat reserves where they can bio accumulate and persist.

 Myth 3: If something has been advertised on television, and is available in supermarkets, it is probably safe and has been tested

The U.S FDA lists that household and personal care products use over 100,000 industrial chemicals.  In its entire functioning history, the US EPA has managed to ban or restrict only 5 substances and that too only in specific applications.

Industrial chemical do not need to be tested before combined with other chemicals and launched as products into the market. If a new chemical is used, companies are rarely required by law to disclose safety data, and voluntary disclosure is almost never practised. In the U.S the burden of safety testing is put on the FDA. If the understaffed and stretched FDA does not block a new chemical within 90 days or ask for safety data, then the chemical is cleared by default.

Truth 3: Product testing by companies or the government is not fool proof. It is rarely able to simulate the effect of chemicals over a long period.

Pharmaceutical history is rife with instances of companies learning after launch that the products they marketed were actually toxic and dangerous.

The tragic history of DES – how a drug marketed to protect pregnancies caused vaginal cancer

Diethylstilbestrol (DES), was routinely given to pregnant women between 1940 – 1971 (for more than 30 years!), to help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and losses. Originally considered safe for both pregnant women and their foetuses, DES was aggressively marketed and routinely prescribed.

In 1971, DES was found to cause a rare form of vaginal tumour among girls and women who had been exposed to the drug in their mother’s womb. It is to be noted that this research was first reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and action was taken by the FDA. The companies involved in marketing the drug neither funded nor did this research or took the effort to withdraw the drug.

Subsequently the US FDA withdrew DES for use on pregnant women. The drug itself was only very slowly taken off the market. It continued to be prescribed for different medical conditions some of which were later found to be not approved at all by the FDA. During the 1960s, it was even used as a growth hormone in the beef and poultry industry until it was phased out in the late 1970s after its carcinogenic properties came to light. The last remaining manufacturer and marketer of DES in the U.S, Eli Lilly, finally stopped making it in 1997; a full 26 years after the FDA banned its use on pregnant women.

Estimates suggest that more than 2 million people may have been exposed to DES across the United States, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands in the period between 1940 – 1971. DES is one of the first transplacental carcinogens discovered in human beings, a toxin that could actually cross the placenta and harm the foetus. Besides vaginal cancer, daughters exposed in utero were also found to have “an increased risk of moderate to severe cervical squamous cell dysplasia and an increased risk of breast cancer”.

The most recent published research in 2011, lists the cumulative risks of women exposed to DES as follows:  33.3% infertility rates compared to 1% in the general population, spontaneous abortion 50.3% vs. 38.6%, preterm delivery, 53.3% vs. 17.8%; loss of second-trimester pregnancy, 16.4% vs. 1.7%; ectopic pregnancy, 14.6% vs. 2.9%; preeclampsia, 26.4% vs. 13.7%; stillbirth, 8.9% vs. 2.6%; early menopause, 5.1% vs. 1.7%; grade 2 or higher cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, 6.9% vs. 3.4%; and breast cancer at 40 years of age or older, 3.9% vs. 2.2%.

The study also states that Daughters with prenatal exposure to DES may also have an increased risk of uterine fibroids, and incompetent cervix in adulthood. In the 1970s and early 1980s, studies published on prenatally DES-exposed males investigated increased risk of testicular cancer, infertility and urogenital abnormalities in development, such as cryptorchidism and hypospadias.

By studying the history and tragic consequences of just one drug, we are able to see how ill informed and unprepared governments and the companies are. This extends to both understanding the consequences of the chemicals they use and their efforts to make amends once they understand these consequences.

If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we will be condemned to repeat it.

Myth 4: It is impossible to formulate without manmade chemicals

Although the cosmetics industry is more than 4500 years old, today, we entirely depend upon industrial chemicals synthesized in the last 100 years for all our daily products.

Methyl, ethyl and propyl paraben, are common preservatives used in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. They are found in shampoos, moisturizing products, shaving gels, toothpaste and make-up.

However, the ester bearing form of parabens have been found in breast cancer tumours indicating that they have migrated from a product that has been applied on the skin (deodorants, creams) into the body.

Most cosmetic and personal care products available today use paraben preservatives. Even products marketed under the guise of being natural or sometimes even organic use these deadly chemicals.

Truth 4: Natural alternatives are available & have always been used

Natural alternatives have always existed. It is the responsibility of companies to use them and protect the health of their consumers. Some of the exciting options include grapefruit seed extract, vitamin e and extracts of plants with powerful anti-bacterial and fungicidal properties like neem, turmeric, thyme and rosemary.

Formulation path followed at Krya

The more water a product contains, the shorter its shelf life becomes, necessitating the use of cheap and dangerous preservatives like the paraben family. A powder or a solid formulation is more stable and depending on the ingredients used does not need synthetic preservatives.

When we formulate our skin and hair care line at Krya, we eliminate water. Our consumers add water when using our products. Therefore, we are able to create formulations without synthetic preservatives. We also use plant ingredients that offer powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungicidal properties – for example, rosemary goes into the Krya Kids body wash, and thyme and peppermint go into the Krya hair wash.

5. krya natural formulation pathway

Myth 5: There are no long term ill effects in the products I use everyday

Truth 5: There are many long term ill effects caused by everyday products

Gene disruption, bio accumulation , transplacental migration & latency of exposure are some of the ways products as innocuous as a sunscreen can affect you in the long term.

Epigenetic disruption

As we saw in the case of DES, the exposure of the first generation affected not just the second generation but also continued to have effect on the third generation or the grand children of those who had been exposed to DES. This makes chemicals like DES epigenetic disrupters- where they modify gene copies ensuring that these modified / mutant genes get passed down from generation to generation with the same tragic consequences.

Bioaccumulation

Persistent endocrine disrupters have a high lipid solubility, therefore they bio accumulate in fat tissue. No endocrine system is immune to this class of chemicals so every one of us is likely to have this class of chemicals in our body.

Latency of exposure

The  Endocrine Society refers to Chemical endocrine disrupters as having “latency” of exposure”.  This means that there is a lag between the time someone has been exposed to the chemical to the manifestation of a disorder.

So we would not be able to observe the effects of this exposure immediately. It may manifest as we become adults or as we age.

Myth 6: I have been using these products for years; I cannot see any ill effects, so I must be safe.

Endocrine disrupter chemicals (EDCs) have extremely diverse and complex mechanisms of acting out in the body. A single EDC could be both estrogenic and androgenic.  Some could break down or metabolise to generate sub products with different properties. Sex steroids target many organ systems in the body including the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal system, the breast, uterus, cervix, vagina and other non reproductive tissues like the bone, muscle, and skin.

Truth 6: You could have several ill effects later that could never be traced back to the detergent or face wash you once used.

The many organs targeted and the long gestation may lead to a diverse set of symptoms that could never get traced back to the toxic chemicals we have been exposed to.

 We looked at some myths. Now here are some facts.

Fact 1: There is too much money at stake

We discussed the effect of several human carcinogens which are implicated in breast cancer in our last post. In 2004, a tally of all the research done on BPA showed that of the 104 independent studies done, 94 found adverse effects and 10 found no effects. However, of the 11 studies conducted or funded by the manufacturers of BPA, none showed BPA to have any adverse effects.

Let’s understand the economics behind this.

In 2002, U.S companies produce 2.8 million tons of Bisphenol A.  The value of BPA sales in 2002 in the US was 5.3 billion dollars, a single year.

Simply put, the stakes are too high. These high stakes are applicable to all industrial chemicals.

Fact 2: Depending on how the tests were conducted, the results can vary

Why is it that independent studies and industry funded studies always differ?

3 straight explanations exist for this:

  • Lab animal diet – If the rates / mice in question have been fed on a diet of soy, which can itself be mildly estrogenic, the results are skewed in endocrine disrupter studies. For example in a study testing the effect of paraben on cancer, the lab rats should not be fed soy.
  • Housing rats in plastic cages or stainless steel cages can again skew results as plastics disrupt endocrine levels but metals do not. So a study on Bisphenol A should house a rat only in metal cages and not the cheaper plastic cages.
  • What breed of rat was used?

o    Independent researchers have found that industry funded research almost always uses the Sprague Dawley rat supplied by one particular company. Apart from being chosen for its calmness and ease of handling, this breed of rat is so tough that its response to estrogenic compounds is extremely muted. This practice obviously severely tones down the results of endocrine disrupter studies resulting in claims that these chemicals are extremely safe.

2. Sprague dawley rat

Fact 3: Industrial chemicals need to be studied as a system and not in isolation

In 2005, Kevin Croft an EPA researcher published a chilling finding. Kevin Croft gave rats different doses of mixtures of 3 classes of common industrial chemicals – dioxins, PCBs and dibenzofurans at different concentrations, from those commonly found in human exposure to 100 times higher. At the time of his research, even the highest dose was considered safe when studied in isolation.

These chemicals were chosen as they are common industrial contaminants found in human foods from fish to breast milk.

At the lower doses, the researchers found that the effect of the mixture was additive and it significantly reduced the animal’s thyroxine levels, which is the most common thyroid hormone. At higher doses, the thyroxine reduction had a stronger multiplicative effect – the sum of their effect was greater than simple addition.

This means that any study that singly examines an industrial chemical is not sufficient. Neither is a ban or elimination of one type of chemical enough to guarantee our safety. We have to look a radical new products that completely eliminate the use of ALL harmful chemicals.

A new paradigm

There is grudging and reluctant response from the industry to consumer protests on safety. It is appalling to read the official statements given by companies when they commit to removing toxins like parabens. They give themselves atleast a 2 – 3 year window to “phase out” something that is toxic.

It is not practical to depend on governments to look after what goes into our detergents or moisturizers. Our government is still working on basic sustenance issues like food, water and sanitation and do not have the resources or the bandwidth to get into the complications caused by industrial chemicals. Investigative reports suggest that cosmetics and skin care products sold in India are still fighting basic norms like heavy metal contamination. We have not begun to go into the effects of leachates and feedstock industrial chemicals like parabens, phthalates, etc.

Our education today should not end with subjects like Mathematics, Physics and Geography. We have to expand our mind and begin exploring the connections our health has to food, and the products we use around ourselves.

We end this piece with a quote by Masanobu Fukuoka.

1. Fukuoka quote.

 This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what We’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
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Try this instead – the new series on toxic free living

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

One of my most memorable trips was a visit to Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of the  Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence. Listed as one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, this apothecary & pharmacy was founded in 1221 A.D. by the Dominican Friars who started making herbal remedies and potions for use in the monastery. With a growing reputation that crossed borders, the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy finally opened its doors to the general public in 1612, sponsored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

When I visited the Pharmacy in 2009, I was in awe of the nearly 400 year old heritage of creating creams, lotions, soaps and scents. This acute sense of history was heightened as we had just visited the church next door where we took in works by Botticelli, Vasari & Brunelleschi among others. The products continued to be plant based, many of their best sellers were recipes crafted hundreds of years ago by the Dominican Friars, and they continued to be made in small batches, by hand using locally available plant based ingredients.

4. SMN apothecary jars

In the medieval time Western homes, beauty and household care products were the realm of the Women of the home. A “still room” was an essential part of a home’s building plans, and it would be carefully constructed in a cold, dry part of the home, often in the basement, to store the medicines, potions, remedies and special food that were concocted in the home.

The cleaning products for the home like the concoction used to clean the silver, the special shaving soap used by the gentlemen of the home, the healing tisanes and teas, and the many many remedies for taking care of both large and small aches, pains and diseases were created in the “Still Room”. The recipes were carefully handed down the generations and were often a closely guarded, secret.

2. Still room at Harewood House

The Indian tradition was somewhat different from the western tradition especially in the plains. Because of the large bounty of plants across seasons with specific properties tailored for the seasons, our basket of remedies was very wide and varied. Given the hot and humid climate in our plains, our method of preparing our remedies and mixtures was also different from the western herbalism – we preferred tinctures or decoctions to tisanes. Apart from standardised products and medicines for hair and skin care and to cure ailments that were used from the Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani texts, we also had an Indian system of herbalism that was used for treating small ailments and personal care routines. This system of herbalism differed by geography and depended upon the local flora peculiar to the region.

So someone living in the South of India may have made hibiscus flower hair oil to prevent hair fall and other problems. Whereas, someone living in Chattisgarh, might have used the locally available dried Safflower in coconut oil to prevent hair fall and related problems.

As I continue to research India’s intricate connection with plants and nature and how we depended on the banquet offered by nature to clean, care for and maintain our homes and ourselves, I also realise that this connection is now becoming very tenuous.

Surveys done among several tribal groups across India reveal that the younger generation prefer to buy OTC or prescription capsules or pills to treat their ailments. And far from taking the trouble to pick a safflower and boil it in oil, they prefer to resort to an advertised cure for hair fall or a hair treatment product.

The columns in popular magazines and newspapers on beauty reveal our fascination with natural remedies – despite the onslaught of advertising and claims of superiority, we continue to faintly remember our tradition of the power of plants to take care of our hair, skin and bodies. But when it comes to taking care of our homes or treating our ailments, we have nearly forgotten the wealth of plants that we have around us.

As we like to say at Krya, Man (and Woman) has thrived for thousands of years before the arrival synthetic, industrially manufactured products. The chemical consumer product industry is about 150 years old and really started coming into its own during the First World War with shortages in basic commodities forcing inventions.

The first archaeological proof of the existence of soap in the Western world was in ancient Babylon, 4800 years ago. A ancient soap vat was found with inscriptions detailing how animal fat was to be boiled with ash to produce soap. The Ebers Medical Papyrus dated from 1500 BCE in ancient Egypt describes creating soap like material by mixing animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts like, Natron, a naturally occurring mixture of different sodium salts.

Natron was a panacea in Ancient Egypt. It was harvested from dried lake beds, typically in Wadi El Natrun, a valley in the Beheira govern ate in Egypt, and was used for thousands of years in ancient Egypt to clean both the home and the body. Blended with oil, it formed an early form of soap which softens water and helps remove oil and grease. Undiluted it helped clean teeth and was made into a simple mouthwash. It was used variously in the home from an antiseptic for minor cuts and wounds, to helping preserve and dry fish and meat. Natron was also used in Egyptian mummification procedures to absorb water and ensure dry conditions.

5. Natural natron

Since India was blessed with an abundance of plant life, different parts of India developed combinations of plants, with some minerals and ashes as cosmetic aids and to maintain clean homes.

The Soapberry tree has long been revered in Indian tradition and in Ayurveda as being an excellent cleanser for skin and hair. Sapindus trifoliatus, the south Indian soapberry, which we use extensively in our formulations at Krya, has been noted as a healing cleansing ingredient and has been recommended in Ayurveda to cure specific skin conditions like psoriasis.

Different species of Acacia form the soap pod or the Shikakai bush. It continues to be grown as a hedge plant in remote villages where its extensive set of thorns protects homes from the entry of wild animals like wild pigs. The soap pod is again extensively documented in both Ayurveda and Siddha. With its mild cleansing action and a varied set of saponins, Shikakai is used in hair and skin cleaning formulations, as a wound healer and bactericidal agent in infusions for oral care.

3. Acacia concinna flowers

Our research at Krya aims to create new and interesting formulations to help you care safely and sustainably, have thrown up many more natural soap substitutes. These include different kinds of wild tubers, other fruits, and sometimes even ashes of particular plants that have long been used inventively by the communities that have access to them. And all of these plant soaps are used to variously wash woollens, as a safe shampoo, to clean dishes, and to bathe the delicate skin of babies.

We are facing a crisis of great proportion today. And this crisis has to do with the choices we have made collectively as a race. By voting to put our faith and money behind products that have been manufactured inside a chemical facility without a long-term understanding of their safety, we have given away control of our life, our health and our planet. This lack of control has led to several alarming consequences for us and the planet.

Researchers from the U.S studied a small sample of 6 cleaning products used in a typical home and found that this group emitted 133 Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each of the 6 cleaning products tested emitted between 1 to 8 chemicals that are classified as toxic or hazardous under US Federal Laws.

Ammonia

Ammonia is a common substance found in homes, emitted from synthetics like toilet cleaners, drain cleaners, window cleaners and specialised oven & stainless steel cleaners. These vapours may irritate the skin, throat, eyes, and lungs and can irritate people with asthma.

Coal tar dyes, are commonly found in almost all cleaning products giving them the bright, shiny, metallic colours that we seem to like. Your bright green dishwash or shampoo derives its colour from petrochemicals which can be contaminated with traces of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and cadmium. There is a concern that these synthetic dyes may be carcinogenic and the heavy metal contamination in them can harm the nervous system. These dyes can be absorbed through your skin or even worse, ingested as residue when your dishes or plates are not rinsed thoroughly. Worse still, from the point of view of the effectiveness, these dyes are completely unnecessary and have no relevance to how well a product cleans.

1. allura red in cosmetics

2-Butoxyethanol (or 2-BE, also known as Butyl Cellosolve)

This is a skin and eye irritant that is associated with blood disorders and has caused reproductive problems in lab animal experiments. This chemical is listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection act as it is harmful to human health. The main way it enters our system is by inhaling the air inside our homes (which are contaminated by the use of the products that contain this chemical) and by direct skin contact with the leaning products we use. In Canada, 2-BE concentration is limited to 6%, but certain products like laundry stain digesters and stain removers can carry this chemical upto 22%.

Consumer product industry in India – still poorly regulated

The consumer product Industry in India continues to be under regulated. While the manufacturing of certain household products like detergents are classified by the ministry of Environments and Forests as a polluting industry with the symbol “Red” (highly polluting), there is still a lot of work to be done before we can reach the safety and human health standards set by countries like Canada.

Cleaning and consumer products do not require any ingredient listing. Safety standards have not taken into account the continuing research and environmental implications of using the multitude of chemicals that go into the products we use today. Companies are penalised only when they fail to follow basic hygiene standards, such as a bacterial count that exceeds permissible limits or the presence of a foreign object inside the product to be used.

Environmental activists continue to wage a war to get companies to follow decent standards of formulation that are followed as a matter of course all over the world. For example, phosphates which have been banned in many developed countries as their excessive use in cleaning products leads to water pollution and eutrophication are used in excess in India. Regulations in U.S and Canada limit the use of phosphates in foaming cleaning products like detergents and dishwash products to fewer than 2.5%. In India the phosphate levels in these products routinely exceeds 40% – Phosphate is used as a cheap builder and water softener to productive large amounts of lather in a cleaning product. Of course, as with the example of coal tar dyes, this lather is unnecessary and does not signify better cleaning.

The Krya “Try this instead” series has 3 aims: Information, Hope & Inspiration

1. To inform you about the dicey and nasty chemicals used many of the products that enter our homes today. We believe that this information will empower you to make better choices. So we aim to arm you with information, facts and research to help you navigate your way through the Chemical wasteland of products when you next navigate your supermarket.

2. To give hope (and safe alternatives) – Sometimes when confronted with information like the above, we tend to fall into an abyss of despair. Are we to no more have fun and use shiny fragrant products we ask ourselves? Will I never have a sweet, gel-based toothpaste again? How are we supposed to now clean ourselves and our homes?  This series hopes to give you good workable alternatives: in the form of ingredients, hacks or products that you can use in multiple ways across your home. For example, we use the Krya detergent like a swiss army knife in various combinations to clean our clothes, dishes, floor, bathrooms, hair and teeth by adding simple herbs for each of these functions. We will be writing about simple ideas and recipes such as the above.

3. Most importantly, to inspire you. The true Wealth of India, its plants, herbs and trees, have been variously catalogued by the British in their time and several ethno botanists and anthropologists today as its rich biodiversity of plants and the rich native knowledge of how these herbs can be used to lead a healthy, happy and clean life. In our quest to create Krya and lead a more natural and clean life, we have been amazed and inspired by this true Wealth of India – we celebrate this wealth every day, and hope to inspire you with this series to do the same.

We hope you will enjoy and appreciate this new series as you have with our past writings. Please do write to us and let us know if there are any particular areas you would like us to cover within the scope of the subject and we will be happy to do so. A happy, organic, natural, safe and clean day to you too.

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The One Person Satyagraha

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

2001

In 2001, in the first month of my first job, after wading through knee-deep rain water and slush, I boarded a rather random, crowded bus to Motihari, in the Champaran district of Bihar and famously, the birthplace of George Orwell. As weird as that was, I found it even more surreal that the purpose of this trip was to learn the art of selling a wide variety of consumer goods for an American company. It was not that I found my situation particularly repellant or devoid of glamour compared to say my friends working in a bank in Wall Street. What bothered me was the fact that in a million years I could not have imagined myself doing this at the culmination of 21 years of formal education.

Motihari is a very small town and in my very first visit I learnt that George Orwell was born here in 1903 , courtesy of a bust and plaque in a prominent part of the local geography.

George_Orwell_press_photo

 

 

George Orwell’s Press photo above

In fact there is rather proprietary air in which the local people refer to Orwell & you could be forgiven for thinking that he wrote 1984 sitting in a tea shop in Meena Bazaar. In actual fact Orwell left Motihari as a one year old baby in 1904 and that was about it.

 

It was only in my third or fourth visit to Motihari that the very real and very important connection to Mahatma Gandhi dawned on me. While I could vaguely sense the spirit of Gandhi in street names and the memorial pillar in the town center, it was only when a distributor reminded me of the Indigo movement that I realized that this was the the Karmabhoomi of Gandhiji. In a sense after South Africa, the indigo movement and the related Satyagraha was a seminal event in Gandhi’s life helping him on the way to becoming the Mahatma. I was happy to be making monthly trips to that sacred land.

 

The First Indian Satyagraha

In 1916, Gandhi inspired the very first Indian Satyagraha, in Champaran. The local farmers were forced to grow the Indigo plant, a natural blue dye, for the British textile industry instead of food crops of their choice.

The development of a cheaper chemical substitute, lead to a crash in the prices of the natural Indigo dye. The production of natural Indigo worldwide fell from 19,000 tons in 1897 to 1,000 tons by 1914. The British planters started paying ridiculously low prices for the Indigo leading to a very desperate situation for the farmers. They also tried to recoup their losses in many ways through farmers who had leased their land from them. They increased the lease rents, seized their cattle, looted their homes and imposed several new illegal “taxes” on various aspects of life. The planters beat the peasants and put those who resisted in prison.

One of the Indigo cultivators called Rajkumar Shukla, persuaded Gandhi to travel to Motihari, to study the situation first hand and to provide a solution. On his arrival at Motihari, the local district magistrate ordered Gandhi to leave immediately. Gandhi politely refused this order and proceeded to make Champaran his home for the Satyagraha. Since the farmers had no legal recourse, Gandhi assembled a team of lawyers including Jawaharlal Nehru & Rajendra Prasad, who worked with him to build the case.

3. Champaran satyagraha

The team under Gandhi surveyed 2841 villages and recorded the statements of 8000 indigo farmers to understand the problem in depth. They also realized that apart from the economic struggles due to forced indigo cultivation, there was a deeper problem of education and health. They helped set up Schools and improved local sanitation. Gandhi and team published a detailed report to government which favored the farmers unanimously. The government was forced to accept this report and lead to the formation of the Champaran Agrarian Bill which provided the relief to the Indigo farmers.

The Champaran Satyagraha was the very first of its kind and was the first major milestone in what eventually became the grand Indian Independence movement.

Remains of the day

Natural indigo cultivation is on the decline today and is replaced in large part by synthetic Indigo. It is continues to be used in small amounts in natural textile and tie and dye art like Shibori. However , the largest use of Indigo dye is now synthetic Indigo dye, as is used in your favorite pair of mass market jeans.

5. indigo dyed shibori

Perhaps there is not much Indigo cultivation happening in Champaran despite the major historic associations. However to me what remains from that period , the philosophy of Satyagraha, is of vital importance.

Gandhi coined this term from Satya (Truth ) & Agraha ( holding firmly to) and over his life perfected the philosophy of Satyagraha as a powerful , non-violent opposition by the oppressed in any situation.

I believe that anyone finding themselves in an uncomfortable life situation can start a Satyagraha. Even if it is a one person Satyagraha.

 

So, If you are bored by globalization of fashion and find yourself and every third person wearing cookie –cutter clothes , find yourself a local handloom to suit your needs.

India is one of the largest producers of cotton worldwide. The rampant spread of genetically (GM) modified cotton, which now accounts for 93% of cotton in India, is a cause for concern. The correlation between the growth of GM cotton and farmer suicides is a debate which cannot be ignored any longer. We will write in depth about this later this month. However you can start your one person satyagraha today by choosing organic cotton.

If you are constantly bothered by reports of the Ganga turning black due to the effluents from chemical dyes meant for textile mills polluting it, you can look for textile which is naturally dyed like Malkha , or Tula or other designers like Bindu of Chakra Design.

2. effluent discharge

If you are hot and sweaty in a size 40, blue colour ,button down office shirt, go a to nearby Khadi Bhavan outlet and experience the joys of breathable fabric , that keeps cool even in an Indian summer.

Looking back at my monthly trips to Motihari in 2001, I wish I had taken the train instead of the Bus. The railway station is appropriately named “Bapudham Motihari” and rightly reminds all visitors about the man and his very important Satyagraha. George Orwell does merit a footnote in the history of the town but should not be the first thing that hits you.

So if you find yourself worrying about a 1984 like situation, don’t wait, Start your One person Satyagraha today.

 

 

 

 

 

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And one wash to care for them all – a guide to maintaining your cloth napkins

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

And we come to the end of our series on sustainable menstruation. And as promised, we end this series with a helpful eBook on how to wash and care for your cloth napkins.

Eco femme’s beautifully designed cloth napkins come with a 75 wash guarantee, so their pads will last you atleast 6 years or more. Kathy Walking tells me that she still has cloth napkins which are about 10 years old in her stash, which are soldiering on. So the bottomline, as we promised was that cloth napkins will last you for a long time. Which means that your EQ (environmental quotient) is large and strong everytime you choose a sustainable menstrual product.
Which brings me to the part that we get the most queries about. The washing. And the underlying fear of handling a lot of blood.

Menstrual blood as our high school biology texts taught us are the blood and endometrial lining of an unfertilised egg. So the menstrual blood you handle was created to sustain and nourish another living being. It is not waste. And it is not gross. And is a deep part of our sacred feminine. Many of the users who we spoke to for our switch pieces, echo this as they tell us that using a reusable product helps them connect back to their body and really see their menstrual flow.

But you might still feel suspicious about the work involved around caring for your napkins. As someone who has made the switch successfully and has used only cloth napkins for more than 2 years, I can testify that the hardest part about caring for your napkins is the mindset that it is unpleasant and difficult.

 

I estimate I spend anywhere between 5 – 10 minutes extra everyday I have my period to manage my napkins. But this extra time seems like a very small investment towards keeping tree gobbling and gas guzzling disposables out of our landfills, away from innocent animals and away from ragpickers who are otherwise forced to sort through it. Click here for a neat infographic explaining this.

And this extra 10 minutes means that I get to wear soft, fragrance free napkins that work just as well as my disposables, feel much more comfortable and are healthier for me.

In my book ,this makes these 10 minutes completely worth it.

Click here to download our guide to caring for your cloth napkins with the Krya detergent. And click here to buy the aforementioned Krya detergent.

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

 

More green period information:

To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:

  1.  Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
  8. Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
  9. Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads
  10. Here is Preethi Raghav chronicling her switch to reusable menstrual cups.
  11. Here is Sruti Hari of Goli Soda chronicling her switch to reusable cloth pads and sharing why she decided to start selling reusable menstrual products at her store, Goli Soda.
  12. Here is an interview of Tracy Puhl, the young, inspiring business owner behind GladRags reusable cloth pads.

 

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The Holiday Eco Spring Cleaning series – Part 2 : The 3P Purge

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Part 1 of the holiday spring cleaning series outlined the travails of the urban environmentalist as she or he navigates through the toxic nasties present around the home. Besides seriously affecting human health, our air and water, these synthetics also place a heavy burden on the environment. Read more here.

This post is going to focus on the 3 Nasty Ps that are insidiously present in our homes entering innocuously through the food or products we buy.

1.     PTFE ( most common brand name is Teflon)

Polytetrafluroethylene (PTFE) is a synthetic polymer used in many applications including non-stick coatings applied on kitchenware. This was developed by DuPont and patented in 1941. Used initially to coat valves and seals in pipes that held very reactive chemicals like uranium hexafluoride, Teflon (as PTFE was commonly called), soon graduated into kitchenware and a French cookware company introduced its first non stick pan in 1954.

Using PTFE (Teflon) coated cookware comes with some serious health hazards:

Pyrolysis at temperatures at or above 200 deg C :

Teflon which is stable at low temperatures starts to degrade at temperatures around 250 deg C and decomposes at 350 deg C. The by-products that emanate during this degradation can give you flu-like polymer fume fever – . This makes frying of certain food groups like meat (usually between 200 – 260 deg C) extremely hazardous in non-stick cookware.

Certain oils like safflower oil and olive oil have a high smoke point, which means that if these oils are used for frying / cooking in a non stick dish, you would unknowingly be exposing yourself to a much greater health risk.

Rapid thermal degradation  at lower temperatures :

Tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimate a Teflon coated pan can exceed the safe temperature in just 2 – 5 minutes on a conventional stove top. A Teflon pan reaches 383 deg C in just over 3 minutes on a stove top. Studies from DuPont, the maker of Teflon show that Teflon releases toxic particulate gases at 240 deg C. At 360 deg C, Teflon coated pans release atleast 6 toxic gases including 2 carcinogens, 2 global pollutants and MFA (a compound lethal to human beings even in low doses).

At 538 deg C, a temperature DuPont scientists admit are reached on conventional stove tops, non stick coatings break down to a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB and an analogue of Phosgene, used in WW2 as nerve gas.

Thermal degradation of Teflon across temperatures

 

This is an incomplete list of the toxic gases and particulate matter generated during the thermal degradation of Teflon:

 

1. TFE (Tetraflouroethylene)
2. HFP (Hexa Flouropropene)
3. OFCB – Octaflourocyclobutane
4. PFIB – Perflouroisobutane – a chemical agent 10 times more toxic than Phosgene
5. Carbonyl Fluoride – The fluorine analogue of Phosgene
6. TFA – Triflouroacetic acid
7. Triflouroacetic acid fluoride
8. Perflouro butane
9. SiF4 (Silicon tetra fluoride)
10. HF Hydrofluoric acid – a very corrosive gas
11. Monoflouro acetic Acid – MFA – can kill human beings at low doses

Human beings exposed to these Teflon origin fumes develop what is called “Polymer Fume fever” – a flu like illness especially in poorly ventilated areas. Typical symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, headaches, muscle and joint pain and fatigue.

Health fallouts of using or working in factories that manufacture Teflon coated products:

Six studies point to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes on exposure to the Teflon chemical. A study also showed that workers exposed to Teflon showed a higher risk of elevated cholesterol.

In more than one study, Teflon has been linked to multiple cancers in male and female mice with statistical significance and relevance for human beings.

Mammary tumours were found to have a significant increase in animal studies where the group given a high dose of Teflon had more than double of these rates.

Testicular and pancreatic cancers also showed a statistically significant, elevated risk from exposure to Teflon.

A series of studies show that Teflon tends to suppress the immune system response – in this, there is NO KNOWN SAFE DOSE of Teflon.

Environmental degradation

These by-products of Thermal degradation of teflon are extremely persistent in the environment and some of these have no known degradation methods.

Who makes PTFE (brand name Teflon) and where can I find it around my home?

The DuPont company owns the registered trademark , Teflon, and has co-branded products across industries that use Teflon. Besides DuPont, a huge list of manufacturers exist that produce PTFE right in India and across the world. PTFE is found in a wide and bewildering array of products including:

1. Non stick cookware
2. Nail polish – to achieve a smooth surface that does not crack
3. Hair styling equipment – hair straighteners and curling irons
4. Windshield wiper blades – to help the surface stay smooth enough to glide across the windshield
5. Fabric and carpet protection that is labelled as stain / spill resistant
6. Chemical and steel industries – used to coat machine parts that commonly come in contact with highly corrosive materials

 

2. PFOA

Perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used as a surfactant in the polymerisation of many polymers including the above mentioned PTFE (Teflon) and Gore-Tex.

PFOA is a super villain even for those resigned to the Lex Luthor that is PTFE. Besides persisting indefinitely in the environment, and being both toxic and carcinogenic to animals, it has been universally found in extremely low trace amounts in the blood of atleast 98% of the US population and in 100% of the US newborn population.

Exposure to PFOA has been associated with increased cholesterol and uric acid levels and there has been a correlation between elevated PFOA levels in the blood and increased risk of chronic kidney disease.

Because of its widespread applications, PFOA has been used in many applications which need water or oil repellent properties – for example in wax coated paper that is used to wrap French fries , pizza boxes, sweets , sandwiches or coated paper used in microwave popcorn bags. Besides this it is used in dental floss, apparel or fabric that are sold on a “stain guard” claim, floor wax and wax removers, sealants used for stone, tile or wood, and non stick cookware.

There are currently no labelling requirements that manufacturers need to follow to declare the presence of PFOA in their packaging.

PFOA is part of a broad stream of chemicals called PFCs or Perflourocarbons – When PFCs are heated, they break down into compounds which are assimilated into the bloodstream through the food we eat.

Health hazards of PFOA

PFOA is a suspect carcinogen, liver, immune system and developmental toxin, and also alters hormones in our body like the thyroid hormone.

The developmental toxicity effects seen in animal studies include low birth weight, developmental delays, endocrine disruption and neo natal mortality.

Blood serum levels of PFOA were associated with an increased risk of infertility in human beings. It is also associated with ADHD in a study among US children aged between 12 – 15.

Attempted Ban on carcinogenic food packaging

An attempt was made in 2008 in California to regulate PFOA in food packaging. If approved, this would have banned PFOA, PFOD, and seven or more related fluorinated suspect carcinogenic compounds form food packing from 2010.

Unfortunately, severe lobbying from the industry led to this bill being shelved.

Phase out of PFOA

In 2006, eight companies including DuPont, agreed to eliminate PFOA from the Teflon manufacturing process. The voluntary pact, drafted by EPA, asked companies to reduce manufacturing emissions of PFOA by 95% by 2010, and to reduce the amounts present in consumer products by atleast 95% by 2015.

However, several environmental groups including EWG feel this voluntary pact is insufficient. This pact does not apply to Chinese companies, for example, which are among the leading manufacturers of food packaging.

Also, despite agreeing to phase out PFOA, several of the companies who have signed the pact, like DuPont, continue to maintain that PFOA is safe and does not pose any health risk to the general public.

As a part of their move to replace PFOA, the industry is lobbying to use C6 or Perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHA). This contains 6 carbon atoms to PFOA’s 8 carbon atoms.

Unfortunately, C6 also has several health and environmental concerns:

Like its predecessor PFOA, C6 is a very persistent chemical in the environment. It is potentially much more toxic to marine organisms than PFOA, and like PFOA, crosses the placenta to contaminate children before birth, according to an EWG study of umbilical cord blood.

The limited number of studies on C6 is in itself a cause for concern – PFOA because of its long history of use, has had a lot of independent and industry funded studies. But C6 in comparison is a newbie – very little scientific data exists on its safety and whatever exists points to potential alarm bells.

Who makes PFOA and where can I find it around my home?

Worldwide, DuPont, Clariant, Asahi and Daikin are the big manufacturers of PFOA.

In your home, PFOA can be found as an enabler to create non stick cookware. Apart from this, it could also be found in the following products:

1. Microwave popcorn bags
2. Frozen pizza boxes
3. Gore-tex clothing
4. Packaging for French fries in popular fast food chains
5. Any other food packaging with a coating that repeals oil and water 

  1.  

3.   PFOS – Per flouro octanesulfonic acid

Per flourooctanesulfonic acid was produced by 3M in 1949. It was a key ingredient in Scotchgard a patented stain repellent produced by 3M and other stain repellent products.

PFOS, its salts and its precursors were used historically to repeal water, oil, soil, and grease for carpets, fabrics and upholster. Additionally they have also been used in food packaging and as surfactants in specialised applications like fire fighting foam, aviation hydraulic fluids and fume suppressants for metal plating.

Apart from this, derivatives of PFOA and PFOS are also used as inert substances in pesticides – inerts can sometime form upto 99% of a pesticide product! As per US EPA guidelines, inerts are not required to be public information on the pesticide package, so most consumers would be unaware that their already toxic pesticide contains even more lethal substances.

PFOS is characterised by very widespread prolific use, and is little understood in terms of its pathways into sentient beings.

PFOS threat to human health and wild life

PFOS is now widely seen across wildlife, being resistant to environmental breakdown, and is found right from polar bears in the arctic to dolphins in Florida, and seals and otters in Canada. Traditional scans did not detect PFOS earlier, because unlike other POPs (persistent organic pollutants); PFOS binds to protein in the body and not to fat.

PFOS is a persistent, bio accumulative global pollutant that is toxic to mammalian species. In addition to its industrial production, PFOS can also accumulate from the degradation of its chemical precursors in the environment.

There are species related differences in how long PFOS persists in animal and human bodies – its half life in rats is 100 days, whereas its estimated half life in human beings is 4 years. Repeated exposure results in hepatoxicity and mortality across animals especially in infants and children within the womb.

PFOS is persistent in the environment and has been known to bio-accumulate in fish. It is acutely toxic to honey bees.

PFOS levels in pregnant women have been associated with preeclampsia. It has also been associated with altered thyroid hormone values, an increased risk of high cholesterol and an increased risk of ADHs among early teens.

Regulatory status of PFOS

The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POP) in 2009 included PFOS in Annex B which is a schedule that asks for restricted use on the chemical. It is worth noting that PFOS joins DDT in this list suggesting restricted use!

Who manufactures PFOS and where can I find it in India

Used as the key ingredient in Scotchgard, created by 3M, PFOS has been around for 40 years or more. In 2000, 3M announced they would eliminate their line of PFOS based products in 2002 citing precautionary concerns due to the chemicals widespread absorption by human and animal life and its bio accumulative properties. 3M however disclaimed any health threats form the chemical citing over 700 studies that established the chemical’s safety.

But, with any such confident claim, lurks the spectre of unshared information, as did here as well. The U.S. EPA’s assessment of 3M ‘s own documents shared a different story.

PFOS was found to cause postnatal deaths in the offspring of a 3M run study PFOS on rats in the second generation. Monkeys exposed to PFOS were found to exhibit loss of appetite, excessive salivation, laboured breathing, depressed activity levels, among other symptoms.

After the Stockholm convention PFOS was labelled as a restricted use POP and put into annex B with 2 types of uses – acceptable uses for which no phasing out was necessary, and restricted uses which were supposed to be phased out in 5 years or less.

Among its acceptable uses, PFOS has been agreed to be used indefinitely in photo imaging, coatings for semi conductors, aviation hydraulic fluids, metal plating, medical devices and fire fighting foam.

Among its permitted restricted use, In India, PFOS has been allowed either directly or as an intermediate in the production of chemicals for the following uses:

1. Carpets
2. Leather and apparel
3. Textiles and upholstery
4. Paper and packaging
5. Coatings and coating additives
6. Rubber and Plastics

In short, in India, PFOS will be present either directly or as an intermediary in every single one of its applications so consumers of these products are directly at risk.

The first step towards a healthy home – the home audit

Please start by doing a home audit to identify products in your home that contain PTFE, PFOA, and PFOS, and make a list. 

A home audit is especially useful when you want to make a dramatic behaviour change : I’ve used it quite successfully to purge my kitchen of plastics, and to start my recycling bin.

The home audit almost always points out behavioral excesses: too much take away food leading to loads of un-recyclable plastic containers, for example, or an excessive dependence on non-stick dishes leading to a dangerous level of PTFE at home.

Keep this list in hand and wait for part 3 of the series, where I will discuss alternatives to the nasty Ps and how you can create the ideal healthy, eco kitchen.

Until next time, watch out for the nasty Ps and happy auditing and purging!

 

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The Holiday Eco Spring cleaning series – Part 1

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

This blog is dedicated to helping everyone lead a more environmentally sustainable life, no matter where they are. We choose to in this blog, focus on the unique travails of the environmental enthusiast who lives in a crowded urban city. Perhaps we sympathise more with the urban environmentalists given that we are part of this group as well!

BeFunky_Crowded urban space - Chennai resized.jpg

 

Urban dwellers face many challenges on the road to environmental sustainability: they are severely time poor, live in overcrowded spaces, and have to compete fiercely for what I term the most basic of resources like clean water, clean air and good quality food and pleasant, natural urban spaces.

For the past few months I have been writing a fortnightly column in The Hindu’s habitat supplement on environmental issues that affect the urban home. This writing work has further driven home for us the task at hand for the Krya blog. The hundreds of queries we have now answered from readers of my column, Krya consumers and everyone else who wants to lead a cleaner life points to the escalating concern of the urban citizen on the state of their lives.

I do not believe the answer is to abandon these urban spaces we have created, Frankensteinian monsters though they may seem to be. The answer is to stand our ground, take a good hard look at our lives and begin to reclaim our life. The many urban oases we continue to seek for inspiration like a neighbourhood park or the beach tell us that a better life is possible. With some focus and determination.

On this note, I would like to begin the holiday spring cleaning series. The months between mid October to early March is pleasant all over India not just for the change in weather and the pleasant rains, but also for the many opportunities given to us to re-connect with our culture and our roots. And the festival season is a perfect time to throw out old ingrained practices and usher in some new, safe natural and eco friendly practices around your home.

Why is this critical?

David Suzuki, a Canadian scientist is one of prominent leaders of the worldwide movement fighting climate change and environmental hazards. His foundation has published an important study of the dangerous chemicals found in everyday cosmetics and cleaning products. The study, evocatively called the “dirty dozen” lists twelve chemicals and sheds light on the harmful effects of the “dirty dozen” to the environment and human health. A disturbing statistic of that study conducted in Canada tells us that more than 80% of the commonly used cosmetics contained the “dirty dozen” in various combinations.

What is the relevance of this study for Indian citizens? The entire “dirty dozen” group of chemicals are also commonly found in products sold in India. This is a direct result of globalization where companies use the same chemicals in their operations across the world. Indians however are at a distinct disadvantage due to the lack of strict government regulations on the composition of cosmetic products which is not the case in Europe or North America. For example a category of frequently used preservatives called “parabens “are limited in Europe to a maximum of 0.8% of the product. There is also a debate towards a complete ban on parabens in cosmetics sold in Europe. No such public debate is happening in India and the same companies that cannot use parabens in Europe are free to do so in India.

The Toxic Three

Monitoring a list of 12 ingredients every time you visit the supermarket is utterly impractical. Therefore, I have created a quick check –list of chemicals to be wary of, called the “toxic three” for easy reference. These are commonly found across many products used daily and there is steadily growing body of research that is unearthing the potential harm caused by them. The “toxic three” for our discussion are

1)    Triclosan 2) Sodium Lauryl Sulphate 3) Parabens

Triclosan is an anti-bacterial agent and will find its way into your home in a surprising number of products. Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and is also being linked to cancer. A new concern is also looming. Due to the uncontrolled use of Triclosan, several strains of bacteria are developing resistance to it causing new “super-bugs”.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate commonly called SLS is an extremely common surfactant used in cosmetics and cleaning products to remove stains and create lather. A closely related compound is Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLeS). Several studies have linked SLS to eye and skin irritation, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption and even cancer.

Final in the “toxic three” are Parabens. They are a group of compounds like ethyl parabens, methyl parabens, used for anti-bacterial and anti-fungal actions. They have a property of mimicking the female sex hormone oestrogen thereby interfering with hormone function. In an English study between 2005 and 2008 on 40 breast cancer tumour samples, 99% of them contained at least one type of paraben.

Where are the toxic three lurking in my home?

Triclosan is likely to be found in a product claiming anti-bacterial properties and is found in over 140 products like mattresses, toilet seat cover, toothpaste, soap, moisturizers, rain-coats etc. Many personal care products now advertise an anti bacterial active, so our list expands to include many products that you use on a daily basis like soaps, toothpastes, cosmetics, hand washes, detergents and dish-washes.

SLS or its variant can be found in any synthetic product that foams in your home. This includes personal care products like shampoos, face wash, shower gels, toothpastes and any liquid cleaning product like liquid detergent, liquid dishwash, hand wash, etc.

Parabens are typically used as preservatives in synthetic products and so can be found in a whole host of products from shampoos, to moisturizers, shaving creams and gels, toothpastes, and even makeup.

The toxic three are not just potentially harmful to you and your family, they also create dangerous consequences for our water bodies as they travel downstream.

What happens to your cleaning water as it travels downstream?

Triclosan resistant bacteria and cyanobacteria

Triclosan which was invented in the 1960s for surgeons slows down the growth of bacteria, fungi and mildew. As it is now commonly used in consumer products, it enters streams, and other water bodies through domestic waste water, sewer lines (which in India are rarely treated separately), with Triclosan residues commonly being found in water bodies in the U.S.

A new study published in the Environmental science and Technology journal, says that this constant flow of Triclosan into our water bodies is triggering the development of Triclosan resistant bacteria in water bodies – this alters the natural diversity of existing bacteria in the water bodies, introducing a relatively unknown and drug resistant species, increasing the composition of cyanobacteria by nearly 6 times, besides killing off the algae.

The increase in cyanobacteria which is a side effect of Triclosan entering our water bodies is extremely worrying – some cyanobacteria produce toxins called cyanotoxins which are toxic and dangerous to human, animal and marine life.

We have seen how the products we use around our home not only threaten our health and safety, but multiply their effect as they are released downstream to create dangerous, previously unthought-of of consequences.

What are my options?

At Krya, we tirelessly advocate the cause of using natural ingredients, close to their natural state and processed in a minimal manner.

In our experiments in our home, and the thousands of consumer emails and phone calls we have received show us how holistically effective substituting simple natural ingredients around the home can be.

A simple ingredient like the Soapberry, which finds its way into all our cleaning products can be safely used in formulations for a natural toothpowder, as a safe cleansing agent for hair which does not strip the hair of its acid mantle or its natural oils, to effectively clean clothes while continuing to maintain their colour and texture and even de-grease and clean your dirty dishes.

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Natural ingredients are not just safe, they can also be extremely powerful in their actions – tea tree essential oil, for instance is nearly 100 times more effective as an antibacterial agent than carbolic acid

In the next few parts of the Holiday spring cleaning series, we will explore in greater depth several easily available natural alternatives for the home and also look at simple recipes that can be created to substitute synthetic products at home.

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Mosquito Monogatari.

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

I live in mosquito land.

Every monsoon evening, clouds of DDT swirl around the air sprayed diligently by the corporation workers to stem the mosquito population. Every store I go to has a new product being launched that guarantees a reduction in mosquitoes. Electric bats are used by the security folks in every apartment complex, to nuke the mosquitoes which bite them in their lonely sojourn at night.

It does not surprise me that one of the most popular queries received at Krya is a fervent demand for a natural mosquito repellent product. I get this from both consumers and retailers who are alarmed and appalled by the toxic load around their homes, especially of an insecticide nature.

And alarmed we should be.

DDT and DEET are the 2 primary chemical weapons of choice in our war against mosquitoes. DDT is used by city corporations in India, especially in Chennai as a mass fumigant to spray over large dense urban settlements and on stagnant urban water bodies with a hope to kill mosquitoes. It is not used inside homes or applied on the skin.

DEET is used inside homes in synthetic mosquito repellent products like coils and mats.

1.      DDT ( Dangerous, Don’t Touch)

DDT is an insecticide, first synthesized in 1874 was used to control malaria and typhus during the Second World War, after its insecticidal properties were discovered by Pauly Mueller, the Swiss chemist who received a Nobel Prize for this work.

After the world war ended companies that manufactured DDT were forced to find a use for it in peacetime. DDT was re-purposed as an broad spectrum insecticide with two main applications

1) Agriculture and

2) Mosquito control.

DDT usage skyrocketed. Shortly however, scientists in the U.S started expressing concerns about the possible problems associated with the use of DDT.

In 1962, Rachael Carson’s seminal environmental book, “the Silent Spring”, which documented evidence against the indiscriminate use of pesticides, especially DDT, sounded the death knell for DDT

The overwhelming public reaction to the “Silent spring”, led to the beginning of the environmental movement and a widespread outcry which finally led to the U.S government banning the use of DDT in 1972. However, by this time the U.S had already used close to 1.3 million pounds of DDT.

Why are we talking about DDT today, if it was banned in the U.S in 1972?

Continue reading “Mosquito Monogatari.”

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