Better hair this September – the healthy hair series from Krya

Krya Hair Wash
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

Good hair appears to be in alarmingly short supply today. We seem to have an epidemic of products available in a store to satisfy our every hair wish, but this appears to be the time when we are collectively most upset about the state of our hair.

I put out an appeal on our social media page asking for great hair stories from people. I get an interesting response from Preethi Raghav who is a 24 year old entrepreneur with her hair story. She tells me about her teenage tryst with the whole bag of hair tricks: shampoos, conditioners, serums, gels the works. And then in 2012, she decided to literally clean up her act and drop the synthetics.

The result?

“My hair has thickened to almost twice to what it was!,” says Preethi. “Plus, Shampoos and conditioners would leave my hair dry and frizzy no matter what I did! I used to have headaches almost every time after a shampoo. It never occurred to me that the chemicals could be the reason! My hair feels so earthy and nice now”.

Most of us aren’t this kind to our hair. Our five year journey at Krya has given us data points spread over thousands of consumers across different parts of India – and our conclusion is expected. Only a very tiny percent of consumers, no matter what their age , or lifestage is, are happy with their hair’s health. Everyone seems to experiment a lot with hair – we colour it, highlight it, straighten it, perm it, and shampoo it frequently. And all of this has an impact on how healthy or unhealthy our hair is.

 

The structure of our hair

Human hair, actually every single part of the human body is a marvel of bio engineering. The evolution of mammalian hair can be traced back to our common ancestors, the synapsids, which existed about 300 million years ago.
The 2 aspects of hair that we are most concerned about, gloss and strength are attributed to the 2 parts of hair: the cortex and the cuticle.

An intact, smoothly layered cuticle gives us hair that is naturally glossy and shiny. And its strength to withstand tugs, combing, brushing and the stresses of daily life comes from a cortex that has integrity.

 The overlapping scales

hair strand

The picture shows you how hair looks under 200X magnification and what is visible is the outer cuticle layer of the hair. ( The cuticle itself is made up of 6 – 8 layers of cells). Each cuticular cell is made up of proteins , lipids and polysaccharides – they are colourless and arranged in an overlapping roof-tile or fish scale like pattern.

This arrangement ensures 2 important aspects of how your hair is designed to protect itself:
1. the overlapping scale like pattern helps dirt and scales to be removed easily by lifting up the cuticular cells.
2. This overlapping pattern ( which ensures that each cuticular cell overlaps the next exposing only 1/6th of its surface) ensures that the cuticle regulates entry of water, and chemicals forming an effective barrier to protect the inner cortex of the hair.

Important parts of your hair:

  1. Epicuticle – the water barrier – prevents water from entering and being absorbed by hair. Hair which is structurally weak absorbs water and swells changing its shape
  2. A layer – high in cysteine which helps form disulfide bonds to give high structural strength and rigidity to the cuticle. This layer provides the strong structural matrix to hair. Damage to this layer makes your hair structurally weak.
  3. Cortex: Lies below the cuticle and forms the the major component of hair. The keratin protein in the hair is bound by disulfide bonds formed by cysteine residues within the cortex. These bonds are responsible for the natural shape of your hair strands.

 

Hair fall and damage – reasons

Your hair’s life depends on a number of factors like the medication you take, stress, your diet, and also the products you use on it.

The more you style or alter your hair’s characteristics (like colour, texture), the more you change the natural constitution of your hair. While the amount of styling products and treatments each kind of hair can accept is different , less is always more for hair health.

So here are 5 beauty treatments that can permanently damage your hair :

1. Excessive shampooing with SLS / SLES based shampoos
Shampoos exist to cleanse your scalp and remove excessive oil from your hair. But as we’ve discussed before, SLS and SLES are strong detergent like substances that literally bubble the oil out of your hair and scalp. With the sebum layer stripped from your hair, your hair starts to lose its sheen and becomes extremely dry.

shampooing blog image 1 (1)

In younger hair, excessive washing can also lead to aggressive sebum secretion from the sebaceous glands – which leads to more washing. This vicious cycle gives you extremely greasy hair that slowly starts to get dry as you grow older and your sebaceous glands start to secrete less oil.

2. Heat (hot air blower or hot water washes)

The constant use of hot water to wash your hair or repeated use of a blow dryer, can damage the overlapping pattern of the cuticle resulting in bumps on the cuticle surface where some of the cuticular cells have been damaged. Your hair therefore appears dull and loses its natural shine and gloss. Further, this cuticular cell loss exposes the inner layers of hair to the entry of excessive water and chemicals which can then damage the inner layers.

heat blog image 2 (1)

3. Hair texture altering treatments (straightening, perming, relaxing)

Several chemical treatments that are designed to alter hair’s shape or colour (straightening, perming , relaxing) work at the level of the cortex. Any change in hair texture or shape requires that the disulfide bonds within the cortex need to be dissolved. This damages the hair’s basic structural integrity at its core.

perming blog image 3 (1)

4. Highlights and colourants

Permanent hair colourants use an oxidation reaction that requires a compbination of para dyes (para-phenylenediamine, para-toluenediamine, and para-aminophenol ) with hydrogen peroxide. The hair colouration process takes place inside the cortex of the hair and the entry of these molecules into the hair cortex is facilated by the ammonia in hair dyes and some colours. In the newly advertised “ammonia free” dyes, this entry of the colour molecules is facilitated instead by sodium carbonate or ethylamine – so while your hair colour may be ammonia free, it is still a very dangerous process and is quietly damaging the core of your hair as it uses chemicals to slip past the hair’s natural barriers.

hair colour blog image 4 (1)

5. Chemically treated henna

Henna is also being contaminated by the addition of PPD dyes, and kali mehendi or “black henna” is a mixture of henna with PPD derivatives and hydrogen peroxide. Apart from cortex damage, hair dyes also strip the hair of 18-methyleicosanoic acid or 18-MEA. This is an important lipid component of the cuticle. When this is removed from hair, hair becomes coarse and dull.

 

A prescription for happy, healthy hair :

Here’s the first thing: our hair’s structural design ensures that our hair is supposed to look beautiful and feel healthy. All that we want from great hair: shiny, glossy, strong, long, etc, is achieved through the cells, polysaccharides and disulfide bonds and everything else in hair’s natural design.

But here’s the second thing: Unfortunately, we all seem to be rather proud of subjecting our hair to the equivalent of a harsh concentration camp: by using products that are designed to seek and destroy the fine structure of our hair.

So is there a prescription to healthy happy hair?

Yes there is. And we are going to spend more time on this in the Krya blog. But our prescription in short is this:

Oil your hair regularly, wash it when it feels dirty (not too often) with the gentlest possible natural shampoo. Don’t heat it in any way. Eat well and leave it alone.

prescription for healthy hair

  • Oiling, as you might have guessed, helps work the arrector muscles, stimulates the papilla and lends a helping hand to your sebaceous glands as you get older.
  • Washing it less frequently, keeps your cell structure intact – which is important if your hair is already damaged and cannot handle too much washing.
  • Not heating hair too much just makes sense – hair is made of protein, so heating it is basically cooking it – think of frying tofu or an egg – you create an irreversible chemical reaction when you “cook” hair with hot air or water.
  • Eating well is a good prescription for healthy anything – hair, skin, everything else. Our bodies are designed to be supported with dense, nutrient rich fruits and vegetables, high quality grains and micronutrients. Good eating repairs your whole body and gets your hair back to good health.

Lastly, your hair deserves a gentle, completely natural product that does not stress it out. Look for sulphate free, paraben free, all natural shampoos – your shampoo should gently work with you to lift out dirt and additional grease form your hair and scalp. It should not remove so much oil that your hair “squeaks” afterwards. A shampoo that uses natural, plant based surfactants like soapberry, shikakai, is gentle and effective on hair and skin.

So there you have it – a simple, do-able prescription to start with. Does it work? Yes it does. It did for me and a whole lot of other people you are going to be read about this month.

A happy hair month to you!

This article is a part of Krya’s series on healthy and happy hair, which we are writing all this September. Through the Krya healthy hair series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to restore your hair to its natural state of great health. Synthetic shampoos and hair products contain a huge host of suspect industrial chemicals that are not just toxic for us to use, but are polluting and toxic to the planet as well. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for your hair, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

Consumers love our all natural, synthetic free, gentle hair washes- explore more here.

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

  1. What’s the deal with SLS and SLES – and why it shouldn’t come anywhere near you or your hair
  2. What is your hair supposed to be? A trial? A challenge? Or simply, your best friend – http://krya.in/blogk/2015/07/my-hair-feels-like-itself/
  3. Is beauty external? We think not – http://krya.in/blogk/2015/02/the-tree-of-life-the-holistic-approach-to-beauty-health/
  4. What should you be looking for on that product label?  

 

 

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My hair feels like itself

Krya Hair Wash
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Reading Time: 5 minutes

My hair feels like itself:

I have been spending the last few days writing to everyone who has bought the new launched Krya hair wash, asking for feedback. I am happy to have received a lot of vibrant, enthusiastic and positive feedback, and much food for thought for product improvements.

This is an important part of my role at Krya. R&D, new product formulations and production is a part of my individual responsibility at Krya.  Every single formulation has a journey to make before it reaches the hands of a consumer who pays for it (and then of course it makes another journey).

It starts on paper and then becomes reality:

Every formulation starts on paper, after we have thought through what it should do for a consumer. When we start, our formulation sheet is long messy and wild – sometimes it carries upto 30 ingredients at the start. We extensively go through all available literature on the herbs in question. We supplement this research with information from the classical texts to understand if this ingredient has been used in similar formulations. In some cases, where the ingredients are new to us, we try out samples of the individual herbs ourselves to see how they work. So a cassia flower for instance would be made into a single ingredient hair mask to check for hair conditioning properties.

 

We then sample each formulation: we make test batches of about 2 – 3 Kg each and test it extensively among ourselves. If it works for us, we then send it to a sample set of consumers who have either expressed interest in the product (in the case of products we haven’t launched at all), or are long term users of the product (when we are reformulating existing products like our dishwash).

Each formulation now undergoes iterations based on user feedback. Every formulation goes through a minimum of atleast 5 iterations. Our skin and hair care products go through even more iterations as variations in responses are much more in these categories.

A supply availability check then follows:

We then do a supplier check to check for availability of these ingredients. This takes a while because some ingredients may be out of season, in which case the formulation needs to be reworked.

A part of our supply check is to ensure sustainability and fair trade. We avoid using ingredients that could be misused and cause the death of a plant – tree bark is an example. We also prefer to work with the farmer or collector as much as possible to ensure fair trade.

We then go into manufacturing:

We then do a pilot batch check. This is the stage when we really understand what it takes to process each ingredient at a large scale. Some ingredients are removed here, usually because they are too difficult to process well.

If the ingredients are dropped, the of course, the formulation goes through a further round of iteration when we look for possible substitutes to the ingredients that have been dropped.

But none of this really matters:

I describe this formulation creation process to reiterate that NONE of this matters. What really matters is how a product performs once a consumer has decided to swipe their credit card on our website and try it out in their home. The in house “test” if you will, is the feedback we depend a lot upon.

No product formulation should be static, and ours certainly isn’t. Our detergent has gone through atleast 6 post launch changes based on consumer feedback. The Krya dishwash is going through its 2.0 iteration as I type this and we expect to launch our improved version in a few days.

The Krya hair wash and some user feedback:

The Krya hair wash we launched in June, went through a lot of iteration before we launched our initial pilot batch last September. Since then, based on user feedback we tweaked the formulation and production process and launched 2 variants of the product: a classic variant for normal hair and an extra conditioning variant for dry hair.

But as I have said above, what really matters to us is user feedback now, so I have been writing emails in the hundreds over the last few days, requesting consumers who’ve bought the Krya hair wash, any variant, to please give us feedback – the good, the bad, and even the ugly if it exists.

The most consistent theme I am noticing from the emails that have started coming in response to my question is this: everyone feels that their hair feels like “their hair”.

Most of us remember a time when we used to have great hair. This was probably in our teens – the time when we spent close to no money on grooming, did not follow any careful hair management protocol, ate pretty much what we pleased (and  a lot of unhealthy stuff), and still, magically had great hair and skin.

According to the feedback I’ve been receiving, this seems to be the last time anyone got to see “their” hair. Once they got into their twenties, the world of synthetic shampoos and conditioners beckoned and everyone began to experiment.

The result of this experiment has been varied: some wrote in talking about how their hair started becoming this well of oil. About how the oil crisis could be solved by drilling into their scalps. About how shampooing every day became a necessity.

Others wrote in to speak about the difference they experienced with the Krya hair wash. And I quote:  I absolutely loved using Krya, my hair felt like nothing it’s felt like before. Sure, commercial shampoos and conditioners leave your hair feeling  smooth and shiny, but Krya made my hair feel clean, healthy and natural. It is a great product. “

But we still have a long way to go:

The fact that we sell a powder hair wash does cause several inconveniences. One of our consumers wrote in telling us: “This is more a personal thing – Was travelling last week  and  I realised it just gets a bit messy as the bathroom floor will have dark brownish-green granules. As a guest I would not want to leave it that way esp with if the tiles are all white.”

Yes this is a problem. Because we use unbleached whole herbs, they come in their own colour. And because we use the whole herb and not an extract, they can sit, fibre and all on your bathroom floor in unsightly clumps.

We can reduce the particle size slightly, but not to a huge extent without affecting the aroma and nutrient properties.

We also offer a low foam product – the product does not foam at all if there is oil on your hair. Once the oil is removed, it foams to a certain degree, but this is not comparable to using a synthetic surfactant laden hair wash. Low foam products are kinder on water systems and use less water, but I can understand the sudden shock between using a high foaming shampoo and the Krya hair wash powder.

Gratitude:

My final emotion as I process this feedback and figure out how to further improve our hair wash is that of gratitude. And I try conveying this to every consumer who has been kind enough to take the time to respond to me and give me such detailed feedback.

Thank you for sticking with us and supporting our work despite many inconveniences. You’ve had to give up on so many of your existing expectations from your hair wash product. You’ve also had to live through live iterations as we take in what you have to say and refine our product further.

We are in gratitude always: for your unstinting support and commitment to the larger cause of being environmentally sustainable and supporting natural, non toxic brands like ours.

Thank you for giving us the chance to serve your needs. We will keep working and improving our products.

Check out the new Krya hair wash which is now available in 2 variants, classic & extra conditioning.

 

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Urban Survival 102 – reading cosmetic labels

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This is the second part of our article on the science of reading product labels, in which we will decode cosmetic product labels. In the earlier part we dived into the different elements that make up a food label in the Indian context. Krya does not make food products. We work only in household and skin care products. However we are also aware that good nutrition and health are fundamental to great skin and hair, which is why the earlier article examined food labels.

 The amazing human skin

The skin is the primary recipient of personal care products and to a lesser extent the scalp and hair. It is also our first line of defense and very integral to good health. Therefore I am constantly appalled by how poorly we treat our skin by applying products on it without due diligence.

Consider these skin facts :

  • The skin is the largest organ in the body.
  • The skin renews itself every 28 days ( it is a living growing organ !)
  • The adult human skin can weigh around 3 -4 kg and covers approximately 20 square feet in area.
  • The skin can absorb up to 60% of any product applied on it. (It is not a inert physical barrier like a raincoat)
  • A baby’s skin can be three times thinner than an adult’s skin (& therefore is more vulnerable)

The cosmetic products industry is beset with two main problems today which makes label reading a vital survival skill.

  1. Lenient regulatory standards

A good friend who is the marketing director for a global brand of powder fruit juice concentrate revealed that in India, their formulation contains 96% white sugar, 2.5% preservatives and just 1.5% fruit juice extracts. Even at just 1.5 % levels, they can legally show lush pictures of fruit orchards and claim all the benefits of eating the fresh fruit from the tree. So if you went to the store with just the image carried over from TV advertising and purchased the product without reading the label, you will be sugar high and nutrient low.

8. Oranges_and_orange_juice

What is actually in your “straight from the orchard” orange juice? Mostly sugar?

 2. Creative re-interpretation

Creative re-interpretation is the other side of the same coin that also has lenient regulatory standards. Benefit claims made by brands today are stretched to the point be being farcial or even false. A common example is the use of the word “goodness” in many food and cosmetic products. It is legally possible to add 1% olive oil to 99% liquid paraffin’ to create a massage oil and then claim the benefits of pure olive oil. Here the trick is to use the word “goodness” of olive oil in the claim.

In this backdrop we would like to provide you with 4 filters to scan any cosmetic label to help you make a technical decision, and hopefully a better decision.

The 4 things to think through when reading a cosmetic or household product label

  1. Does it add up to 100 %?

This is the first point to check on a cosmetic label and ask yourself whether it all adds up.

The norm is to provide a full list of ingredients. This is not followed by many products. Then there are cases where complete declaration rule is relaxed, which we will talk about shortly. If the ingredient list says “key ingredients” mentioned with their percentages, you should quickly add the numbers. They will not add up to 100% and often the list of ingredients will account for only 30%-40% leaving you in the dark about the remaining 60% -70%. This is cause for concern.

Example 1: The label of a leading herbal hair wash powder calls itself completely natural and goes on to claim it is a proprietary Siddha formulation. The label declared many wonderful natural ingredients like Soapberry (which we use across our Krya cleaning and hair care formulations), Shikakkai and Amla (which goes into our body wash products). However, the ingredients declared were only key ingredients adding up to just 27% of the product.

6. Acacia concinna

Acacia concinna: a wonderful natural herb used throughout India for hair care. A common ingredient misrepresented in “herbal” products

But what about the remaining 73% of the product,  which is really the major part of what is being applied on your hair. I found the composition of the remaining 73% on the label of the export variant of the same product. The balance 73% contained the following

  • sulphates (a cheap foaming agent)
  • hydroxy propyl tiammonium chloride
  • Hydrated aluminium silicate
  • Preciptated silica
  • Dimethicone
  • Glycerol

None of the above ingredients are good for hair. Let us leave aside the debate of whether they are toxic to hair and environment. At the very least I can aver that the composition of the 73% not declared on the pack is nothing to be proud of and the claim of “herbal hair-wash” is certainly misleading.

  1. Excipients , QS

Many formulations contain active, potent ingredients which need a carrier medium or a buffer or a diluting agent known as excipient, which can safely deliver the active ingredient. These excipients can be natural or synthetic and are usually cost effective, inert, bulking agents. The excipient concept has its origins in medicines. For example bitter medicines for children were given with honey as an excipient to mask the taste. The excipient concept and the format for declaring it has now been borrowed by processed food and cosmetics industries as well.

It is common on labels now for brands to declare their ingredients by weight per 5 gm of the product with the excipient listed at the very end with the suffix “q.s”. Now q.s. from the latin ”quantum satis” is an instruction to add “quantity sufficient “of the excipient to make the formulation. It is also assumed that formulator has an understanding of the safe limits in which the excipient can be used. This is a tricky situation for someone interested in decoding the label. The manufacturer need not disclose what the name of the excipient used neither is there any clear guideline on what chemicals or ingredients that can be called excipients.

Example 2: For example I used an Ayurvedic toothpowder and found it to be rather sweet. The label had listed several herbs well known for oral care which added up to nearly 40% by weight of the product and the balance 60% under excipients. Now I assumed that the excipient would be salt which is rather common. However after tasting the toothpowder and finding it to be really sweet, I discovered that the excipient was mostly sugar, which is not a good idea at all in a toothpowder.

2. toothpaste on brush

Sugar: a common excipient used to make the taste of toothpaste more appealing

Then there are cases where the excipient appears to outright misleading. After our earlier post on sunscreens, a mother messaged us requesting an audit of the Ayurvedic sun screen lotion that she used on her kids. Now the product’s ingredient list read as follows:

  • Key ingredients like aloe , zinc oxide , oil etc at 11%
  • Bees wax at 7.5 %
  • Purified water Q.S.

It appears that water is the excipient forming 91.5% of the lotion. Here is the problem which the lay person would not be aware of.

It is just not possible to form a stable water based lotion with just beeswax as the emulsifier. In the lotion industry a number of other chemicals like cetyl alchohol, stearic acid, polysorbate, carbomer are used as emulsifiers to product a stable lotion in all conditions.

Further with 91.5% water and a long shelf life, some preservatives are required. The industry depends on chemicals like parabens and benzoates for preservative action, which are also not listed in the ingredient list.

This raises many questions: how did this brand of Ayurvedic sun screen lotion achieve a stable product with just beeswax? Is any ingredient deliberately left out to protect the intellectual property? Is it just plain omission?

The only option here is to directly write to your brand and ask them for a complete disclosure of all ingredients including excipients.

  1. Claims & Mis-directions  

Product claims are stretched to the absolute limit today. What started off as creative interpretation of the law can now be stretched to the point where it is no longer true.

Example 3: An example that immediately comes to mind is the line used by an Ayurvedic preparation which claims that their product helps you “stay slim and smart”. I have always wondered about the use of the word “stay” for this therapeutic product. If I am already slim and smart, why do I need this product? The visual communication gives us the impression that it is a problem solver, so if you do not notice the fine print you could easily conclude that this product will “make” you slim and smart. Sadly I know that many consumers have purchased this product in the hope of losing weight. I am not sure whether it worked for them or not.

The other disturbing trend in Indian cosmetic industry is use of the “Ayurvedic” tag to claim the halo of this sacred branch of our tradition. It is possible with some legal jugglery to add a few ingredients that have mention in Ayurvedic texts to an otherwise basic chemical formulation and pronounce the product as “Ayurvedic medicine”. Apart from the obvious benefit of piggy backing on Ayurveda, there are some licensing and tax benefits which motivate brands to borrow the Ayurvedic cloak.

In his book, India Unbound, Gurcharan Das recounts the story of how Vicks Vaporub became “Ayurvedic” when faced with the twin problems of very poor profits and a boycott by the Pharmacies in India. He recounts in the book that in this dire situation someone came up with the idea of re-classifying Vicks as an Ayurvedic formulation. Coincidentally some of the key ingredients are also mentioned in Ayurveda as remedies for common cold and the government approved their reclassification. They then were allowed to distribute the product widely in all stores and not just pharmacies. They also claimed tax benefits allowed to Ayurvedic medicines and scripted a spectacular financial rescue.

Is this really Ayurveda? Is this really presenting a true picture to the consumer who reads the label and trusts that Vicks is a genuine Ayurvedic formulation originally created by a qualified Ayurvedic doctor?

Ayurveda is a very exact and exacting science that has great reverence for the patients well being as well as for the plants, animals and minerals that provide the raw materials to create Ayurvedic medicines. For herb collection Ayurveda specifies place of origin, method of cultivation, time , season of methods of collection and storage.  I very much doubt if Gurcharan Das and the rest of the team at Procter & Gamble regularly invoked the blessings of Lord Dhanvantari at the factory manufacturing Vicks Vaporub as prescribed by Ayurvedic tradition.

This was most likely the first incident in India of a brand exploiting the Ayurvedic classification loop-hole. Since them this is a route abused by so many brands that is has also corrupted many hoary Indian Ayurvedic companies. Many Ayurvedic brands in India have now incorporated “bad habits” from cosmetic companies. For example, I know of an Ayurvedic company that manufactured only tooth powder for over 80 years. The current generations of owners have suddenly started manufacturing a tooth paste with the known cosmetic villains like SLS, sugar, artificial colours and flavors and still continue to call it an “Ayurvedic formulation”.

Charaka, one of the father’s of Ayurveda has said that medicine is that which restores health and brings longevity. He also avers that a pure medicine is one which when eliminating disease should not give rise to even the slightest cause for another disease.

4. Is this product free from known Chemical Villains?

In this blog, we have written several articles putting forth our point of view on several industrial chemicals in cosmetic products that are toxic to some or all humans. These chemicals are skin irritants, endocrine disruptors and even carcinogenic. This is not the place to present a case for or against these chemicals. So we will go straight into our recommendation. Given the bewildering array of what could go wrong with chemicals in cosmetic products it is far easier to look for what is NOT present in a product that read the ingredient list. In our opinion the following claims on a product label should help you make a better choice. So look for

  • Sulphate ( or SLS ) free
  • Paraben free
  • Petrolatum free
  • Fragrance free
  • Aluminum free
  • Lead free
  • Cruelty free
  • Phthalate free
  • DEA / TEA free

We hope that this article and its companion on reading food labels will give you the basic skills to survive shopping in a supermarket aisle filled with thousands of potentially harmful ingredients. Hopefully, you will walk out carrying products that genuinely fulfill the promise they made to you in their communication of being safe and natural for you and your family.

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.

 

 

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Green Bazaar update and conversations on sustainable fabric & menstruation

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If it is too good to be true, then it probably is. Krya was conducting a workshop and showcasing skin care products at the Alternative’s Green Bazaar yesterday. We commissioned a commercial artist to hand paint a cloth banner for us for our stall. We wanted to avoid the regular plastic flex banners with digital prints. We e-mailed our artwork to the artist, who assured us a perfect reproduction of the design by his own hand, using cloth and paint.

We were getting the banner printed in a rush , just the day before the bazaar. The night before the event we hopped into the artist’s studio to check out the progress on our banner. We arrived in time to discover that he digitally printed our design on a piece of flex and was using that as a stencil to create a “hand-painted” sign.

So after all the fuss, we printed a plastic banner in order to create a sustainable, hand-painted cloth banner. Had we known this, we could stopped our artist right at the plastic stage.

So we took our resource heavy cloth banner to the Green Bazaar on Sunday morning, along with the Krya detergent and Dishwash and the preview packs of the soon to be launched Krya hair wash and Krya face wash.

6.Krya at the green bazaar

Conversations on Sustainable Menstruation

We were thrilled to meet the team from Eco Femme, which is doing great work in sustainable menstruation. Kathy of Eco-Femme introduced me to Vijay and his work in menstrual activism. Vijay’s work is in a very specific field in menstruation: the right to sun-dry your undergarments and menstrual cloth. Before you think that this is a little too specific, Vijay shared a study by the Adyar cancer Institute which found that one of the causes of cervical cancer was the lack of sun drying of undergarments and menstrual cloth. The subsequent dampness, moisture and folding away of these garments were somehow able to create favourable conditions for the entry and spread of the Human Papilloma virus, which is associated with several medical conditions including cervical cancer.

I was struck how some people don’t have the basic to right to dry their clothes in the sun and some-how ended up with terrible consequences. This was an eye-opener.

5. eco femme

Later in the day, I was happy to share my experiences with Menstruation and how I made the switch to Eco Femme’s earth friendly cloth pads at Eco Femme’s Sustainable menstruation workshop. Kathy Walking then showed us a very powerful video that they had made at Auroville to demonstrate both current menstrual practices and the environmental effect of continuing to use disposable products. This video showed that women across India tried to dry their undergarments and menstrual cloth in cupboards, under beds, in the bathrooms, under sinks and similarly damp, possibly unhygienic places which had no air or light. This arose from a superstition that menstrual cloth was unlucky and should not be seen by Men. The point that Vijay was making resonated strongly with me as I saw this.

The second piece of research estimated the size of landfill if every single woman in India used disposable menstrual napkins every year–58 billion pads thrown away each year would occupy the land equivalent to 173 football fields every single year!

So yes, it is important to be open about Menstruation, and claim both our right to sun dry and our right to make better choices for our planet.

The Sustainable Fabric workshop

Krya and Chakra design studio jointly hosted a workshop on handlooms and naturally dyed fabric. A conversation with Ananthoo of Tula, reveals an interesting economic fact – a kilo of chemical dye costs as low as Rs 20, and a kilo of vegetable dye could cost anywhere between Rs 400 – Rs 1000 !

7. the Krya Chakra workshop on fabric

So obviously on the face of it, it makes no economic sense to even attempt to use natural dye on your fabric. Plus the colour palette of natural dyes is extremely limited. You will not obtain the “exciting” computer colours that are not abundantly present in nature like lime green or fuchsia or a bright purple.

2. natural dye colour palette

 

The Krya Chakra workshop was an introduction to handlooms and natural dyes, and listening to Bindu, I was struck by other limitations of the craft. The natural dyeing process is temperamental – you are never sure of the exact shade of colour you will get at the end of the process, because the same tree across different harvest years will yield slightly different shades.

The natural dyeing process needs to be done very carefully and meticulously. For example, to ensure the cloth holds the dye, dyers use different pre-treatment methods like soaking the plain fabric in buffalo milk and Terminalia chebulia or Myrobalan before applying the mordant. And this varies from region to region and the natural resources that are available to each dyeing community.

Natural dyeing is also a very water intensive process, compared to chemical dyeing. Chemical dyes come in easy to use forms which can then be straight away applied to the cloth, and have been designed to be colour fast.

But applying natural colours follows a linear process: each colour has to be applied, fixed, the excess washed off and sun dried before the next colour can make its way into the fabric. The process is therefore very time-consuming compared to using chemical dyes.

With so many apparent disadvantages in using natural dyes, why then are we supporting this craft?

While the water consumed by natural dyeing is large, it is important to remember that all of this water can be happily used for agriculture or other purposes. Bindu shares that in her dyeing village, the craftsmen swim in the irrigation canal, and stand of either side of it allowing the flowing water to wash away any excess dye. The farmers who use this water are happy to share it as they believe this water is good for the crops and does not harm in any way.

We must remember that before our centralised factory based models came into being, our lives were more intertwined and symbiotic. Treatises on the fabric traditions of India reveal a system of barter used to exist: cotton farmers would exchange their cotton with spinners for finished yarn which they could then hand weave themselves. Spinners would also barter yarn with weavers for finished fabric.

Chemical dyeing today has its roots in natural plant based dyeing, and the craftsmen are drawn from the communities of vegetable dyers. And they carry along with them practices of vegetable dyeing. So while chemical dyeing does not require the extensive rinsing and drying and liner processing that vegetable dyeing entails, it still requires water as a last rinse. And both small chemical dyers and large dyeing factories dip their textiles into running water and rivers to rinse off the excess dye.

The aftermath of chemical dyeing

We already shared the story of the Noyyal River in Tiruppur. Historically, the Noyyal River was called the “Kanchinadi” and considered a sacred river. The river itself is said to contain minerals which are health giving and considered “antibiotic” in nature.

The Chalukya Chola Kings built an interconnected tank and canal system to this river which helped drain away the excess water from the river into an intricate system of tanks preventing flooding along the banks. And the tanks themselves helped replenish groundwater by percolating the sub soil (in this we must understand that these tanks were not the impermeable cement graves that we dig today in the name of water storage, but tanks where the bottom was mud allowing water to percolate the sub soil).

Today, the Noyyal River has been kindly described as a sewer. The Tamilnadu Pollution control board estimates conservatively that 883,000 tonnes of toxic waste is dumped into the Noyyal River every year by the textile mills around Tiruppur.

2.noyyal runs black

Farmers have abandoned cultivation as digging below 6 feet releases a black, toxic sludge. Any produce grown absorbs chemical content and changes colour – coconuts for instance were found to have red insides as against their regular white insides.

8. Bindu and I at the workshop final

Chemical dyeing related illnesses

A video from Craft mark which documents the process of hand dyeing using chemical dyes, reveals a horrific basket of chemicals which the dyers dip their hands into every month – to set the dyes, the dyers have to dip their hands and the fabric into caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, sodium nitrate and soda ash, and acetic acid. The dye stains their skin almost indelibly and they find eating difficult as the dye colours and odorises the food they eat. They explain that they need to take a 2 day holiday to recover for every 10 day chemical dyeing work they do.

As we shared this with the audience at the Sustainable fabric workshop, we saw several people look at their shirts and garments with undisguised horror – imagine the effect these very same chemicals will have as they sit malignantly close to your skin and continue to be slowly absorbed by your skin every day.

Krya Talk

Of course, apart from the conversations with different people and the workshops at the Bazaar, it is a very edifying experience to stand in your own stall and greet visitors with information about what you do. I found a lot of interest around the Krya hair wash, and our small batch at the Bazaar was sold out. Apparently even my threats of greenish residue left behind in the hair was not enough to deter people who wanted to try out a safer product on themselves. The question I was asked most about was whether the Hair wash would reverse hair fall.

9. How does this work final

I am particularly wary about marketing claims, coming as I do from a background in Consumer Product Marketing. Most research and statistics can be interpreted in any way to obtain favourable results for the product you are marketing.

I particularly dislike product claims – it is my belief that is almost impossible to isolate external, environmental and internal causes from the workings of a product. So if I told you the Krya hair wash would reduce hair fall, and when you bought the product, you also decided to detox your life and started eating organic food that was wholegrain and maybe vegan, with a lot of greens in your diet, it would stand to reason that your health indices would dramatically improve. This meant that your hair fall, if you had any would also slow down. Now should I attribute it to the Krya hairwash you were using at the time? Knowing what goes into the product and how it works, I could say yes. But I would be incorrect if I discounted the dramatic effect of eating clean healthy food on your system.

So to the questions on hair loss, I simply said that the hair wash would do what it was supposed to do really well – it would clean your scalp and hair without loading your system with toxins, and leave your scalp to function in a regular healthy manner without irritating it or stripping it of serum.

I was pleased to find that my underplayed response resonated with my audience. And we quickly sold out. To add to this, 2 of my consumers who had bought the hair wash two weeks back when we launched, came to the stall to tell me how well the product was working for them. And this feedback, as you know, makes my heart sing. If you too would like to try our limited range of skin and hair care goodies please click here.

The Green Bazaar also showcased some interesting food stalls, including a food stall by SHARAN which showcased vegan food and also showcased the vegan creations of a young Mum who is a wholegrain baker. I noticed several participants carrying SHARAN’s leaflets, and was thrilled at people’s interest and curiosity around this very pertinent subject.

3.team sharan

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. lavender at bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you missed it, the Alternative’s Green Bazaar is a bi-monthly event – so do ensure you are there the next time around.
If you too would like to know about Menstruation and why it is not environmentally sustainable at the moment and explore your options, start here.

In the meantime, our series on sustainable fabric continues. Our series on sustainable fabric has the following posts: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
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From Arikamedu to Abercrombie – the sustainable fabric series

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m not sure if my fascination with fabric is more or less than my fascination for washing fabric. But I have always loved Indian fabric and traditional textile crafts.

In school, I learned about the spice trade of India and how it helped many regions within India grow rich as they traded flavourful and hard to find nutmeg, pepper and cardamom which then found their way to kitchens across the world. Romila Thapar’s book on Early India, details this fascinating trade. Muziri located near Kodanganallur Village near Kochi was linked to the pepper, spices and beryl trade. A second century Ad Greek papyrus documents a contract between an Alexandrian merchant importer and a cargo financier of pepper and spices from Muziri, giving us an idea of the large volume of this trade.

6. Arikamedu

Excavations at Arikamedu tell us about a large settlement that used to be in trade contact with ships and merchants from the eastern Mediterranean. Apart from shipping locally available goods, Arikamedu has also been a place where certain kinds of textiles were manufactured locally to roman specifications and then shipped there.

5. Shakuntala

The Roman historian Pliny complained that trade with the East caused a serious drain on Roman income of which atleast 110 million sesterces went to India’s luxury goods. Roman records indicate that the Roman Senate actually banned the import of Indian Muslin for some time to stop the roman gold drain.

Apart from Rome, Indian textiles found their way to Egypt – scraps of Indigo dyed cotton Ikat textiles were found in a Pharaoh’s tomb. Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro unearthed scraps of Rose madder cloth along with spindles.Herodotus, the ancient greek historian, described India’s cotton as “a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep”

Nothing symbolises the freedom and Swadeshi movement as much as the charkha does, and as does Khadi, the quintessentially Indian fabric.Khadi is not just a piece of fabric – it represents an ideology and the beginning of a movement that was founded on self reliance. This said that India could spin her own fabric and clothe herself, thus helping her own economy grow forward.

2. Gandhi spinning the Charkha

Khadi was promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as a fabric that would help promote rural self employment and self reliance, and made it an integral part of the freedom movement. But the Swadeshi movement then did not come cheap. Khadi was much more expensive compared to British made fabric. So when people started to complain to Gandhi about the cost of Khadi, he stopped wearing an upper garment and started wearing only a Khadi dhoti as a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle message: that it was better to wear as much or as little Khadi as possible instead of clothing yourself with something that was not made in India by an Indian.

 

Our choices today are multifold. We are a much more global economy, and we have free movement of products, and fabrics from different parts of the world into our country. Globalisation comes with its own unique sets of opportunities. And perhaps we have come back full circle to our days of yore, when enterprising merchants and financiers helped ensure the spread of Indian textiles.

 

With one key difference. The merchants of Arikamedu in ancient times, continued to grow, spin and wear their own cloth, and continued to hold onto their cultural and craft traditions. In fact they grew better and better at it until they had so much to offer, that they could not just make products for themselves but for everyone else as well. The textile crafts and traditions of India are fast disappearing today. They have morphed fast, have taken on several unwholesome aspects and are no longer bountiful or available in plenty.

3.sambalpuri ikat weaving loom
There are many reasons for this. And many hidden reasons when you start examining this. There are also several unhealthy consequences to this.

 

In this month when we celebrate the 67th year of our Independence, won by an extremely unique civil disobedience and non violent movement, we will focus on the equally unique Fabrics of India. This month, on the Krya blog, We will examine in great depth the history of Indian textiles while focussing on certain textile crafts. We will examine their environmental sustainability, explore how well they work for us in our tropical weather & speak to practitioners of the craft and designers who work with traditional fabrics.

1. Girl in pochampally

We will also explore Khadi in depth and study in detail the current issues we grapple with in textiles namely the spread of Bt cotton, the cotton farmer suicides, the environmental issues presented by the textile dyeing industry and the nascent but growing organic cotton industry. All along we will interview and present to you the works of young entrepreneurs and designers who have firmly waded into the fabric tradition of India and are working hard to provide us access again to our famed textile past rooted in the principle of being indigenous, local and environmentally sustainable.

 

Our previous series on reusable menstrual products was an eye opener to us and provided us with a lot of perspective and inspiration. We have no doubt this series on the fabrics of India will be even better. We look forward to bringing you lots of depth, fresh perspective and inspiring reasons to choose a more sustainable and earth friendly wardrobe. Keep reading this blog.

 

 

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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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Jaws 4: Swish, brush, massage and rinse (for great teeth)

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

A graphic photo of animal testing by an oral care brand prompted an impassioned plea on my part to my network. I have given up commercial toothpastes and toothbrushes for over a year now and make my own toothpowder. I find animal testing for toothpastes incomprehensible, yet it continues to exist as a standard practice for toothpaste manufacturers.

Srini and I have been primarily using a toothpowder that I formulated and which can be made at home. We have also experimented with two traditional Ayurvedic brands of toothpowders for oral care. In this experimental year we have found that our teeth feel stronger, we have no tooth aches and our breath feels distinctly fresher.

I got a staggering response to my impassioned plea– so many messages asking me to share my toothpowder formulation that I felt that it required a detailed blog post to provide the scientific context to the formulation.

Viva Voce

Until 5 years ago I was a fanatical brusher – I brushed atleast twice a day, used mouth wash and had even started flossing on the advice of my dentist. All this attention did no good to my teeth – my gums bled every time I flossed, I started developing cavities in my molar, and my dentist told me that the enamel of my teeth had actually begun to wear out. I had also started developing sensitivity in my teeth and was asked to switch to special toothpaste.

During this era of enthusiastic brushing, Srini and I were also part of an advanced martial arts class in our quest for better fitness. One of our classmates was Dr B, a senior dental surgeon from Nair Hospital, Mumbai. A chat with him after yet another visit to the dentist proved rather insightful.

After venting my dental frustration to Dr.B, he told me , rather casually, if I had considered that my teeth were getting worse because of and not inspite of all my brushing, rinsing, flossing ? He said that the combination of the strong toothpastes, frequent brushing and hard toothbrush bristles were probably wearing down my enamel, exposing the nerves of my teeth and making them more sensitive and prone to more cavities.

That day I asked myself ,”what is exactly the problem with brushing twice a day with regular toothpaste?” and 5 years later I am still unravelling the puzzle. I have relentlessly researched literature on all manner of natural dental care regimes. I have bought and brushed with Babool twigs (which were purportedly from Arabia), I have made my own mouthwashes and rinses, and have experimented with toothpastes that were fluoride-free, for sensitive teeth and toothpowders to arrive at a sound oral care framework to protect  my teeth and gums.

In the beginning there was plaque.

People who can summon the courage to visit their dentist regularly would have discussed plaque. The rest of us who rely on television to fill the gaps in our education have seen advertising calling it that “unsightly yellowish cement like substance” that forms on teeth. Toothpastes have graduated from merely promising fresh breath to a determined war to end plaque. They now have added the promise of sparkling white teeth with whitening and micro polishing variants.

Dentists disagree – they believe a quarterly cleanup is the only way to eliminate plaque. I have endured several bouts of rather painful plaque cleaning wishing I was elsewhere.

Plaque is also touted as the cause of tooth decay and alarming images of teeth crumbling add to people and dentists hating it even more.

But whether you use an anti-plaque toothpaste or meet your dentist religiously , plaque always returns. Why? Do we even need to eliminate plaque ?

What is plaque?

Plaque is a bio-film formed by communities of oral bacteria that try to attach themselves to the smooth surface i.e. enamel of teeth.

Oral microbiologists like Philip D Marsh, have hypothesised on the little known nature of dental plaque. Dental plaque is a bio-film, an aggregate of micro-organisms where the cells adhere to each other and any living or non-living surface like teeth (in the case of plaque), and other natural, industrial or hospital settings. These cells are embedded on a self-produced bio medium composed of DNA, polysaccharides and proteins.

This bio film is a matrix of polymers which are partly contributed by the host (the human being) and partly by the bacterial community.

This dental bio-film contributes to the normal development of the host’s defence mechanism and physiology.

To summarize, plaque by itself is a natural formation and not harmful. It is our response to plaque and other factors like what we eat ( explained below) that wrongly frames plaque as the villain of piece.

The “Whiteness” Epidemic

Plaque, in western or allopathic dentistry is seen as a contaminating substance and un-aesthetic, so cosmetic dentistry procedures like teeth bleaching and “whitening” exist to remove this “unsightly cement like growth” from the teeth.

Popular advertising furthers this notion encouraging people to find “white” teeth attractive – the modern toothpaste has also been designed on this principle. Half the contents of the modern toothpaste are abrasive particles used to dislodge plaque from the teeth and “micro polish” the enamel. Frequent brushing with this can itself lead to enamel wear and tear, causing increased sensitivity in teeth.

Watch what you eat

In a normal, healthy oral cavity, plaque forms in a stable and orderly fashion comprising of a diverse microbial composition – upto 25,000 different species of bacteria, which remains stable over time. When dental caries ( dentist speak for cavities) arise, it is found that the balanced bacterial community has shifted in favour of the acidogenic and acid tolerating bacterial species like mutans streptococci and lactobacilli.

This increase of acidogenic and acid tolerating bacteria in the oral cavity is linked to 2 eating habits:

1. Food that is hurriedly swallowed without chewing.

When food is eaten quickly without enough chewing, there is not enough saliva produced in the mouth. The composition of human saliva is a biochemical marvel that contains besides water, enzymes that are essential in starting the process of digestion of starches and fat. These enzymes, also more pertinently to this post, help break down food particles trapped within the crevices of the teeth, helping prevent tooth decay.

2. Increased eating of sweet, fatty, acidic and processed food

Increase in sweet, acidic and fatty food (read processed food, Maida, cola, biscuits, and mostly anything that you’ve bought in a supermarket) creates a highly acidic environment in the mouth, promoting the growth of only acid tolerating bacteria in the plaque film. Simply put, eating the wrong food makes the mouth toxic for all the “good bacteria” to survive and makes it a place where only acidic species survive.

Therefore the law of tooth decay can be summarized as:

Hurried eating + No Chewing + Wrong food = tooth decay

After a visit to the dentist, everyone usually comes back with a recommendation of the brand of toothpaste to use. Supermarket shelves are full of sparkly packaging with different flavours each promising different benefits. A closer look at the ingredients however, makes for some disturbing reading.

What’s in my synthetic toothpaste and why I need to look for a better option

Toothpastes are made up of abrasives (up to 50%), fluoride, surfactants or detergents and water (20 – 40%).

The abrasive elements in toothpaste are mostly mini particles of Aluminium hydroxide, calcium carbonate or silicas, zeolites  to help remove dental plaque.

The best description of caring for your teeth I have ever read advised that teeth should be gently and finely cleaned like cleaning a fine piece of muslin, and not scrubbed like dirty vessels.

So teeth should be cleaned using a fine paste or powder and should not contain the the high amount of abrasives as in most modern toothpastes. These abrasives remove the enamel layer of the teeth very quickly exposing the sensitive nerves underneath.

Apart from abrasives, surfactants or detergents are the next big part of toothpaste.

One of the most common ingredients that you will find in toothpaste is SLS – sodium Lauryl sulphate, or its cousin SLES (Sodium Laureth sulphate). Both of these are surfactants that are derived from coconut and palm oil, and are used across a variety of products like shampoos, face washes and toothpastes.

SLS is a cheap surfactant that foams and acts as a degreasing agent which is used in garages to remove grease from car engines. In the same way, it removes oil from skin leaving it dry. It also denatures skin protein thinning down the skin barrier, making way for the possible entry of other contaminants into the deeper layers of the skin.

SLS is especially worrying in toothpastes. The oral mucosa layer is much thinner than skin on your face or head – and has a rich network of blood vessels immediately behind the layer of mucosa. This is why sub lingual tablets are so effective – because of the thinness of the skin, and the dense blood vessels behind the skin, medicines get absorbed extremely quickly into the blood stream.

Therefore, using toothpaste that contains SLS, a known skin protein denaturer, and dryer is extremely worrying. Tests show a statistically significant correlation between mouth ulcers / canker sores when using a toothpaste containing SLS.

To make things worse, SLS, once it enters the bloodstream is an estrogen mimicker – which has many other health implications.

Brush aside the toothbrush

Apart from the worrying properties of toothpastes, the act of using them with a toothbrush is the last straw for those troubled with cavity prone or sensitive teeth.

The bristles of the toothbrush are not sensitive in themselves and depend upon the user to control the pressure of the bristles on the teeth and gums. Brushing the teeth is usually a mechanical action, when the brusher is barely awake and is mostly done in a hurry.

In this scenario, it is possible to brush fast and hard, treating the teeth like dirty vessels instead of a piece of fine muslin cloth.

Dentists are aware of this too – they usually recommend using a toothbrush with soft bristles to reduce enamel wear and tear. But even this is not enough to arrest this wear and tear. A thinner enamel makes it easier for cavities to develop as well.

Toothbrushes are also an ecological nightmare to manufacture and dispose. The nylon bristles are almost impossible to re-use / recycle given their size and consumers are advised to replace their toothbrushes every 3 months leading to a huge pile of toothbrushes our landfills.

What does native medicine and Ayurveda advice?

The mouth and tongue are considered a gateway to diagnosis in Ayurveda. Ayurvedic Vaidyars say that the state of the mouth reflects the state of the body and advise eating the right food in moderation along with taking good care of the mouth, teeth, gums. This is very close to the idea behind our law of tooth decay discussed earlier

The first change I made was to use my finger for brushing my teeth (as it was traditionally done) instead of a toothbrush. The benefits of this are many: The finger is softer on the teeth compared to a brush. The finger is also more mobile and sensitive and can navigate the whole mouth including difficult to reach places like the back of the molars.

Gums also need a massage as they hold the teeth together, and the finger is ideally suited to give the gums a massage as well.

After this, I added to the start of my oral care routine the practise of swishing with a tablespoon of cold-pressed, organic, sesame oil.  This routine has been prescribed in the Ayurvedic texts as not just helpful for removing the toxins accumulated in the body, but to also strengthen the vocal chords. Singers and Orators have been especially advised to gargle with sesame oil.

While it does add a step to oral care, swishing with sesame oil as soon as one wakes up does not feel as weird as it sounds. You would need just a heaped table spoon of oil to do this. Try and swirl the oil vigorously around your entire mouth, concentrating on areas that feel sore or tender . Continue to swish until you can feel the oil becoming less viscous and watery in your mouth and then spit it out . If you have swished properly and for the right time, the colour and texture of the oil changes after being in the mouth – it turns yellow, soapy and watery.

After this, I then proceed to “brush” my teeth with my index finger with a natural / Ayurvedic toothpowder. I pay attention to my gums and teeth, and after the whole exercise is done, I spend another 2 minutes massaging my gums with my thumb and index finger and finish up by rinsing in plain water after cleaning my tongue with a tongue scraper.

Scraping the tongue is again a very important part of oral care according to Ayurveda. The amount of deposition on the tongue gives you an idea of the toxins the body was able to trap – when you eat clean, whole food, you will have little to no deposition on the tongue. So the act of tongue scraping every morning is like a mini check – up / diagnosis.

You can make your own natural toothpowder with ingredients available in your kitchen with a little care and patience (a recipe is given below in a downloadable guide).

Do think about all of what I’ve written and try switching a little at a time to a more natural way of caring for your teeth and gums – I would love to hear from you about the positive impact this has had.

And Finally a better oral care substitute: An update

When this post was first published many years ago, I had included a toothpowder recipe which was made then with the bets of my knowledge. Since then, I have made many revisions to my original formulation based on my uopdated knowledge. I have also removed a few ingredients from the original recipe, as I believe they are not suitable for oral care.

We will be back with another post in teh enar future with an updated toothpowder recipe.

 

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Ant Attacks!

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

A few days back in the evening, I opened my laptop and saw a long line of fierce red ants doing a merry QWERTY dance. It was nothing short of a campaign of shock and awe by these formicidae. At first I thought it was a new low for these ants to colonize my laptop but then I recalled that ever since we switched to organic food at home, it has been Ant Fest 2011. Sometime back they managed to make a living from organic turmeric so I guess my laptop really wasn’t a big deal.

But the question still remained; what would attract the ants to a laptop?

Ants are always on the search for a cool spot on a hot afternoon and innards of the laptop are a conceivable sanctuary. A few minutes after plugging the laptop charger into the mains, the circuits warmed up and the ants rudely woken up started pouring out onto the keyboard and out of the ports.

The only other reason an ant might wander into a laptop is the possibility of food. We have been scrupulous about not eating anywhere near the laptop so I was quite confident that I was not at fault here.

However even an hour of charging the laptop did not quite lick the ant problem. Moreover I was concerned about the possibility of several ants trapped inside causing inadvertent damage to themselves and the motherboard. I can’t blame the R&D boys at HP for not anticipating this problem. In any case my computer was two years old and I decided to combine the search for red ants with a general cleanup.

At the laptop service centre, I had to firmly put down accusations by the engineer that I had spilled food on the laptop. We then discussed a wild theory about a solvent or glue used in the computer manufacturing process being ant food grade. I got my laptop a day later after a thorough cleanup.

The next day when I took out the laptop from the bag, there was a new line of ants running through the keyboard. So all I had now was a clean laptop with brand new ants making merry.

Use nature to train nature

We have been researching natural ingredients for a wide variety of household applications using a very important principle of repelling insects and not killing them. This principle used with natural ingredients has created a win-win on four levels:

  1. Household insects cannot develop immunity to natural ingredients. They however can get around chemicals as demonstrated by mosquitoes around the world that have developed resistance to DDT. Once hailed as the wonder compound to fight malaria causing mosquitoes, DDT started losing its effectiveness in just five years of use.
  2. At a fundamental level, the so called household pests have an equal right to hang around our homes and gardens. When we use common chemical insecticides to kill cockroaches we are no better than the school bully. Not to mention that the pyrethroids and other hydrocarbons used in these insecticides are dangerous to human health as well.
  3. Natural pest controllers repel insects and do not kill them and create a pleasant fragrant space for us.
  4. Once these insects have been repelled from our home, they pass on the information about the natural repellents to fellow insects, reducing future attacks. However, using an insecticide to kill them also kills the information flow. To explain how this information flow might work we borrow the idea of Morphic Resonance by Rupert Sheldrake. His hypothesis says that every system in nature has a collective or pooled memory called “Morphic field”. So organisms not only share genetic material with others of their species, but are also shaped by a “field” specific to that species. So  an ant repelled by Thyme oil today is a strong indicator that succeeding generations of ants will also be repelled by Thyme oil.

 

The fragrant laptop

So we came up with the solution of using an essential oil mix to repel the red ants. We sprayed a piece of cloth with essential oils of Thyme, Tea tree & Rosemary and placed the laptop overnight on it. The next morning there was no trace of the red ants.

To be doubly sure I now have this essential oil infused cloth in my laptop bag to make it ant-proof.

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On the importance of being hypoallergenic

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The prefix “hypo” means low, below or less of. So when the prefix hypo is applied to allergens, we get hypoallergenic, a substance that is less allergic than normal. In other words a hypoallergenic substance is supposed to cause lesser allergies. Hypoallergenic is a useful term for anything that comes in contact with the skin, like personal care products or clothes.

The question is: lesser allergies than what?

An industry standard with no definition

Cosmetic companies started the usage of the term “hypoallergenic “in the 1950’s and it is now a commonly used term to describe household products, textiles and apparently pets.

Most commonly used standards in the industry, have systems for validation and certification. (For eg: Organic produce is widely regulated with many certification systems)

But there is no apparent definition or well regulated standard for hypoallergenic. This is all the more surprising since hypoallergenic sounds like a formal medical term (which it isn’t, because the medical fraternity does not recognize it). For example the Harvard medical dictionary chapter on allergies does not define hypoallergenic.

So when a product says it is ‘hypoallergenic’ what does it really mean?

  1. It does not contain allergic additives – A number of chemical additives are well documented as allergens and excluding them is an indication of hypoallergenicity. Examples of allergic additives are fragrances, bleaching agents, colour dyes
  2. It had no allergic reactions when a group of humans / animals tested it – A “patch” test is conducted on volunteers / test animals to check for allergies.  The product is applied on the volunteers’ skin and abnormal reactions like itching, irritation or redness are monitored for 12-24 hours. If no significant numbers of abnormal reactions are reported, then a hypoallergenic claim is made. Of course, the volunteer sample must be statistically valid in numbers, and in the case of human volunteers there should be a representation of different skin types to get a robust claim.

Note: We do not test on animals nor do we use animal derived ingredients at Krya.

Krya hypoallergenic standard

The Krya detergent is hypoallergenic. It is an important benefit in a detergent because clothes come into intimate, extensive contact with the skin. We have used several methods to arrive at the claim

  1. Extensive product use research for over a year
  2. It is the only detergent We use
  3. It is made from a gentle , organic fruit
  4. The fruit has been widely used as a skin and hair cleanser with use documented for hundreds of years
  5. Absolutely no dyes, bleaching agents or fragrances added. (We have added just 1 ingredient, Calcium Carbonate as a desiccant, which is a natural, edible , widely used, and well-researched ingredient )

And this is our contribution to the Hypoallergenic Hall of Fame.

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Sapindus Trifoliatus: or how the fruit became a detergent

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

We unveiled our first sustainable gooThe fruit that's a detergentdie yesterday, the fruit that’s a detergent.

The fruit has a name. Trifoliatus. Sapindus trifoliatus.

A year ago I had no idea of the existence of such an awesome fruit. Through an incredible concatenation of events, Preethi & I found ourselves with a bag of Sapindus shells. We were thoroughly intrigued by the possibilities. What started off as an innocent laundry experiment a year ago has snowballed into our first business venture.

However I digress.

The Sapindus

The Sapindus is a group of around 10 species of trees whose fruits can be used as surfactants. The name Sapindus is derived from the Latin words Saponis, meaning soap and Indicus, meaning from India. They are commonly known as soapnuts or soapberries. Soapnuts, though isn’t technically right – as they are fruits and not nuts. For the botany snob hidden in you, we can go a step further and call them “pericarps”

India is home to several species of Sapindus. The two most well known of these are the South Indian Sapindus trifoliatus & the Himalayan Sapindus Mukorossi. All species of Sapindus are useful detergents in their own way.

The secret ingredient

The secret ingredient in the fruit is the Saponin which makes it a useful surfactant (or detergent).

Ergo, the fruit that’s a detergent.

How Surfactants clean

Plain water does not usually remove oily particles or tough dirt stains from clothes. The addition of surfactants helps to clean clothes in a two step process.

1. Reduce surface tension

    The surfactant molecules have a water-loving head that attaches to water molecules and a water-hating tail that attaches to the dirt molecules. This creates a force that detaches the dirt from the clothes & suspends the dirt in the water. The agitation of the washing machine or scrubbing by hand further helps detach the dirt from the clothes. As a result of the dirt getting detached the water now starts looking murky.

    2. Emulsification

    Now that the dirt has been removed, it is critical that they don’t re-deposit on the clothes. This is the done by the second action of the surfactant i.e emulsification. Emulsification is the process by which the dirt and the water form a mixture. This keeps the dirt suspended in the water till it is washed down the drain

    But the Sapindus is so much more

    The fruit that’s a detergent is a great surfactant which explains why it cleans so well. However it is so much more than just a surfactant.

    1. It is a certified organic product fruit. So it is absolutely bio-degradable and once used for washing leaves no trace of its existence.
    2. It is powdered to make a great detergent, so it consumes very little energy to manufacture.
    3. It is hypoallergenic, so it is gentle on hands, leaves no chemical residue on clothes, that can be harmful to skin.

    Food for thought

    In the first month of our experiments with the Sapindus we completely eliminated regular chemical detergents. However I am constantly amazed by how well the innocuous, light brown fruit cleans.

    But think about it, regular chemical detergents have been around for the last hundred years or so. However humans and dirty clothes have been around for thousands of years. More often than not it has been the fruit that’s a detergent that saved  the day.

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