Natural Beauty Review: Burt’s Bees Shampoo, More Moisture

I have been trying different shampoos with different levels of chemicals for a while, all with the goal of balancing affordability and eliminating unnecessary chemical exposure.  I started with basic family size brands with lower sulfite compositions, such as Tresemme naturals and Fructis Pure.  These are easily accessible and though more expensive, they were still a reasonable price compared to salon brands.  But after lots of shower gifts from fellow moms that had different Burt’s Bees products – from belly butter (awesome!) to body wash to diaper cream – I thought to try out the shampoo and conditioner as soon as I had the chance. 

Having curly hair, I purchased the “more moisture” shampoo and conditioner.  The shampoo doesn’t foam very much so at first I wasn’t sure it was even working.  But that’s what happens when you take out the chemicals.  A little shampoo went a long way, it turns out, and when my bottle ran out last week I was really bummed at the difficult time I had finding the replacement!

First, the pros: A little goes a long way.  My hair felt more moisturized with the Burt’s Bees than with any other shampoo and conditioner I have used.  Despite it not having the same chemicals as your average drugstore brand, I felt I didn’t sacrifice anything switching to a natural brand.  My hair always felt clean and well cared for.  There isn’t much of a scent but what scent there is is mild and non-abrasive.

The cons: It took my scalp a few days to get used to the new products.  I think years of using drying chemicals daily did a number on my scalp’s need to replenish itself often, and it had to learn to take a break with the new shampoo.  Burt’s Bees in general is a little more expensive than other brands, though still much more affordable than salon brands.  But I can only find the shampoo at Target, which isn’t a convenient store for me.  I haven’t gotten to the point of ordering it online but that’s not a bad choice, if needed.  Now that I think of it, I haven’t checked my local grocery stores, but I know my Walmart, Walgreens, and Rite Aids don’t carry the shampoo (though they carry other Burt’s products).

Overall, I loved the shampoo and conditioner enough to buy other products and give them a shot – a new facial scrub (and you know how critical and picky I am about those!) and body lotion, for instance.  All of my experiences with those products have been above and beyond expectations.  All in all, those of you looking to eliminate chemicals from the hair care part of your routine – don’t wait and don’t waste your money on half-natural hybrids.  It is worth the effort to switch now to Burt’s Bees.

Natural Living Review: Seventh Generation Window and Surface Cleaner

A big thumbs up for this product!  Armed with a coupon from a vendor stand at a local festival, I purchased my first bottle of Seventh Generation natural cleaning products, starting with this spray.  Every Memorial Day weekend I give all the windows in the house a thorough cleaning – it’s usually about the time when I start opening up the windows to let in the fresh, warm air and seeing all the dirt and grime buildup from the winter storms and spring rains.

Lorax approved.

I use newspaper as my “towel” to clean windows (it doesn’t leave streaks or lint) – at least I know that won’t disintegrate with the blue cleaners I had used before.  I didn’t know what to expect with a new “natural” product – would it leave ink all over the window?  I sprayed the first window – squirt, squirt, squirt – and started wiping.

The first thing you notice with the Seventh Generation product is the smell – or rather, the lack of it.  Short of unscrewing the top and sticking my nose in the bottle, there was no noticeable smell.  This took a little getting used to; perhaps I enjoyed cleaning windows so much before because the pleasant (yet noxious) smell of “general cleaning solution” made me feel good and that I had refreshed something.  With “natural” home products you’d expect a smell like vinegar, lemon, or lavender; not having a smell at all was a little unnerving.

The second bit that took getting used to was that I needed less of it to clean the windows than the other sprays.  Or rather, I used less of it because it took longer to dry – probably because it lacks alcohols.  I didn’t want to spend all my day wiping and wiping.  And not that anyone should complain about using less of a product, either!

So now here I am using a colorless, odorless product, and using far less of it than the blue stuff.  It worked just as good – if not better – than any other window cleaner I’ve used before.  It was amazing.  My husband commented on how good the windows looked without knowing I had switched products.  Because it didn’t smell and had so few ingredients on the label I thought maybe they had pulled one over all of us and bottled water!  Can’t get more natural than that.

Musings from the treadmill

Since the miscarriage and the end of multiple cycles of clomiphene citrate, I’ve dedicated myself to getting back into shape and trying to identify as more of an athlete.  One of the things I was always curious about using was a heart rate monitor, which in so many fitness magazines and websites seems to be a better way to estimate calories burned and exertion than a random website’s guess.  And, when I had a little visitor for a few days, I began to worry how I could possibly continue running to stay in shape – they say it is so critically important for your health, controlling weight gain during, and returning to your regular body after pregnancy to keep active –  without putting myself in danger. A few websites suggested using a heart rate monitor to make sure that you weren’t working too hard. After weeks of researching different body monitors (like BodyMedia’s, the one used on the Biggest Loser) and heart rate monitors, I decided on a heart rate monitor.

I purchased the Polar FT60 monitor in pink from Amazon – I’ve enjoyed it and I recommend it for any beginner. It had great reviews, it wasn’t too expensive, and I figured if this made me more motivated to run, train, and exercise, I could splurge on this and not a gym membership. I’ve only had it for three weeks but I have learned a lot about myself in those three weeks. Although I was training steadily to be able to run a 3.5mile race comfortably, I wore the watch at every chance I got – during a weeknight walk with my dog, a pick-up volleyball game during lunch at work – and was shocked at what I learned pretty quickly.  I can’t wait to wear it with a Jillian Michaels video. It turns out that most of the time I’ve been working too hard – in the maximum heart rate zone, far longer than I should be especially if my goal is to lose weight and improve fitness. No wonder I was always exhausted from running – I was going far too hard. One thing you don’t ever factor in into your race performance is the boost you get of adrenaline that protects your body from the stress you put on it in the maximum heart rate zone. You simply don’t have that adrenaline when it’s just you out on the road, or worse, on a treadmill.

I ran for an hour for the first time in my life. I was just at the border of my maximum heart rate, trying desperately to run slow enough to keep my heart in the “aerobic” zone but fast enough to still feel like I was getting somewhere. On a treadmill I did 4 miles in about 55 minutes. As I never really put any analysis into training/running before, this felt like a huge defeat for me. But, after doing this twice in a week and having nothing else to do in that hour but think, I thought about every little adaptation I could make to my exercise and see how it would impact my heart rate.

I tried breathing deeply, as deep as I could as quickly as I could (about the length of two paces), and exhaling.  My heart rate slowed a beat or two.

I took great big strides and my heart rate shot up. Short, tiny ones and it slowed.

When someone got on the treadmill next to me, my heart rate picked up though my technical pace didn’t. A little competition, maybe?

Some songs on my iPod made me lose my concentration faster than others.

And when my heart rate got up higher than I really wanted it to be, especially if it was early in the exercise – I was going to hit 4 miles no matter what – I had to make peace with the fact that I had to go slower, not faster. I had to tell myself that it was okay. I still felt like I was cheating.

What was the end result of all of this mundane knowledge? For the first time ever I was able to run the full length of the 3.5 mile race without stopping, walking, or side stitches. I hit a personal PR (for this particular race). And I wasn’t exhausted.

I was happy and all it took was a little forgiveness… maybe even a little loving kindness to accept myself and all the amazing things my body can do, even when there is one thing it can’t.

The perks of going caffeine-free

Since this is National Women’s Health Week, I thought I’d take the time to convince you to give up that cup of joe everyday.

Sure, for every report or research out there that says coffee or caffeine is good for you, there is another one that pops up saying why they are so bad.  I’m not going to go point-counterpoint on this topic; that is a zero-sum game.  Instead, here’s what to expect if you do decide to give up caffeine (and coffee) entirely – based on my own 18 months of abstinence.

I’ve long been soda-free, for the better of 8 years since I gave it up to lose weight.  Coffee was a harder vice to abandon.  Getting to caffeine free was a gradual process – one which my husband carefully orchestrated every morning mixing regular coffee grinds with decaf until I was weaned off of it.  And once I was fully decaf, I gave coffee up entirely.  It felt pointless drinking it and I found just as much satisfaction in changing up my morning breakfast to include water, milk, or decaf hot tea.

First, the switch to decaf coffee is a pretty atrocious one.  If you’re a true coffee connoisseur, I highly recommend only drinking high-end decaf coffee, as in Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.  I spent many mornings forcing myself to drink Folgers decaf and trying to get the taste of ashtray out of my mouth.  Yuk!  Save yourself the torture and go gourmet.

Second, be prepared to have more lasting energy without caffeine than with it.  A little after I became de-caffinated myself, I noticed that I would come home from work with energy – raring to go.  I wasn’t exhausted every day.  I wasn’t losing steam at 3pm.  I wasn’t falling asleep after eating my lunch.  What was this strange new feeling?  Nothing else in my routine had changed – not my exercise, not my stress level, not my diet – except for caffeine.  Score!  You wouldn’t think that giving up caffeine – the same one you turn to for that 3pm slump – would prevent the fatigue that you treat with caffeine…  But it does.  I promise.

Third, you’ll have to find another use for all that over-the-counter pain medication you have, because you won’t be taking them for headaches.  I used to get headaches fairly frequently – enough to keep a stash of ibuprofen in my work bag, my purse, and my car.  I can’t tell you the last time I had to refill any one of those little containers.  There are only two conditions that give me a headache anymore: dehydration and getting Aunt Flo.  No more random headaches in the middle of the day.  I can’t control Aunt Flo, so if I get a headache it’s my own damn fault for not drinking enough water, which brings me to my final bonus for going au natural

Get ready to have a little extra spending cash from not getting that coffee, latte, diet soda, or energy drink “just to get you through” whatever you have to do.  Water is free.  Even if you get a water purifier, the cost is significantly less than the $1.50 they’ll hit you up at the vending machine or the $2.50 in a restaurant.  Your body is made of 60% water; your nervous system relies on the conductivity of water for all its little messages to get where they need to go quickly (including the brain, which is 70% water).  Coffee and soda are both diuretics, depleting your body of the water it needs to function at its peak with every swig.  Do what’s best and go get a nice cold glass of H2O.

Natural Beauty Review: Ole Henriksen Walnut Complexion Scrub

I had lots of clogged pores and uneven skin texture on my face for a while – and by “a while” I mean a few years.  I exfoliated with an old drugstore apricot scrub maybe once a week if I remembered, thinking that would solve the trick though it never did.  Then I sampled a facial treatment at a spa night at a local spa and the specialist told me I should be exfoliating at least twice a week while in the shower to let the steam help open out the pores. She then recommended that I purchase the $70 exfoliating scrub available in the gift shop. No thanks! But my skin did feel and look amazing…

I scoured my endless supply of scrub samples, the kind you get with your Sephora purchases, and used them all up, comparing them in both outcome and ingredients.  The ones I liked the most (Kate Somerville’s Exfoli-Kate) had a lot of chemical ingredients in them; a bummer since I was trying to avoid those if at all possible.  After I had exhausted my samples, I headed to Sephora – online and in store – to find a good option.  I tend to have sensitive skin and wanted samples of the scrubs so that I would know if I would have a bad reaction or not.

Online I identified a few brands and scrubs I was willing to buy, based on ingredients and user reviews: Korres, Ole Henriksen, and Boscia.  While standing in that particular corner of the Sephora store I was approached by a beauty specialist and told her exactly my problem: “I’m looking for a natural exfoliator or scrub.  I tend to have sensitive skin and redness so I do want to try them before I buy.”  She immediately picked up the Ole Henriksen Walnut Complexion Scrub and began rattling off reasons why she loves it.  “I love it, it smells great, it makes your skin so soft, you don’t need a lot of it, a little goes a long way…” and then she said, “And it’s safe to use during pregnancy.”

Little jar but big results

Not sure what vibe I was giving off that made her mention that particular factoid (clomid weight gain, perhaps?) but I did appreciate it nonetheless.  It also made me think, “So that means other products aren’t save to use during pregnancy?”  I guess I never had it spelled out for me before. Anyway, back to the story: I tried the sample – which lasted over two weeks for me – and then purchased the product online.  (I don’t buy products from the Sephora stores because of the heat lamp issue I previously mentioned).

I use it every three days and I would say I am moderately satisfied with it.  It has helped with clogged pores and it has lessened oil production.  I don’t get the same kind of glow on my skin as I had from other products (like Exfoli-Kate).  My skin is very soft – usually just on the same day that I exfoliate, and it doesn’t last much longer than that.  I don’t get dry patches from using it and I have had a huge decrease in the amount of clogged pores on my face.  The scrub can be a little rough on your skin so be gentle when you’re rubbing it around, but I can’t see how anyone would cut their face open using it as some of the Sephora reviews had said.  The smell is unique – nutty – and a little dab on your finger will take care of your entire face.  Overall – probably 4 out of 5 stars; it gets the job done for a decent price, but I would like more enzyme-action or more to be done with oil production (though that may not be realistic from a natural product).

Click here to purchase this product at Sephora, currently selling for $24.

Exercising while TTC: A monthly plan

While I was in the middle of my clomiphene citrate treatment, resulting in some unsightly and unwanted weight gain, I decided to finally get back into a regular exercise routine – partially to help prevent more weight gain, partially to help me get my sanity back.  Exercise has long helped me alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as help cure the occasional bout of insomnia.  During treatment, I would spend the two weeks after ovulation petrified of doing any exercise, thinking I might “shake things loose” or that I might rupture an over-stimulating ovary (as a result of the clomiphene).  After all, experts like Dr. Alice Domar suggest taking a whole three months off of exercise just to rule it out as a factor in your infertility.  Unless you’re training for a marathon I really don’t think that’s practical advice; did she ever bloat up to the point that even your “fat” pants become uncomfortable?  Right.

That’s where I started to put together my own plan that I thought might help kill two birds with one stone: integrate more body-mind awareness practices as well as take some time to fight flab.  This included making more of an effort to relax through meditation, both using podcasts at night and making the time at work to join in a weekly 20-minute meditation group.  I mixed this with a monthly exercise plan broken into two parts, and it seemed to satisfy both my need for vigorous exercise and my desire to keep my activity light during the critical days.

I should note that I am not an expert in health and fitness, and I have no training in this area whatsoever.  If you are TTC and want to put together an exercise plan, you should probably discuss your own limitations with your doctor.  And always do what’s right for you, so tweak it as needed.

My plan was extremely simple: 2 weeks of vigorous exercise, starting day 1 of my cycle (first day of menstruation) and lasting through about the time for ovulation; at that point, I would switch to yoga for two weeks, until the start of my next cycle.  With this routine I didn’t feel guilty for not exercising and I didn’t feel guilty for exercising.

I really like challenging workouts, so during my 2-week vigorous time I would do circuit training like with Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred (or, really, any of her other videos), or jogging.  For the 2-week restful-exercise time, I would do power yoga or pilates.  I like JM’s Yoga Meltdown video, as well as the MTV Pilates, Pilates Mix, and Power Yoga videos.  I exercised about every other day, or however my schedule allowed for it.  I was doing yoga so much more than I had ever done that I would get excited for sun salutations, waiting to slide into upward dog – a pose I never had much respect for until I became strong and flexible enough to do it correctly and feel an awesome stretch in both my back and my core.  It’s as comforting to me as chocolate…  but I’ll save the “yogasm” talk for another post.  😉

Natural Beauty Review: Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush

Sephora is a wonderful place.  Sure it’s overpriced; sure everyone there wears way too much makeup; sure the makeup you buy in the physical store is usually pretty gross given the hot lamps it sits under all day, every day.  But what girl isn’t happy when she walks into the black and white and pink candy store?

The last time I was at a Sephora I was on the hunt for some natural and gentle exfoliators.  The woman helping me seemed pretty normal and actually very helpful, allowing me to try a few samples and recommending the exfoliator I had already researched heavily online and was at the top of my list of purchases.  When she had handed me a few little tubs full of exfoliators to try, I asked her about a natural blush she might recommend.  Again, I had already had a few brands in mind, and again she picked the one at the top of my to-try list: Tarte’s long-lasting Amazonian clay blushes.  She walked me over and although she didn’t do any makeup application for me, she recommended their color “Blissful,” which she explained was Tarte’s version of Nars’ “Orgasm” blush.  Any woman who reads beauty or lifestyle magazines in the last five years has noted the popularity of Nars’ universally flattering pink-peach shade.  All natural and exactly like the raved about blush?  I’m game!

I ordered the makeup online, as I usually do given the aforementioned atrocious living conditions of the in-store makeup, and I’ve worn the blush every day since.  It’s been three months.  Sure, I have some Cargo and Bare Minerals blushes… but none of them hold up throughout the day and I’m about ready to throw them out.  They also tend to clog the pores in my cheeks.  Not the Tarte makeup.  The store saleswoman was right: the color was very perky for me, a little peachy, a little pink.  It doesn’t look quite right on the apples of my cheeks (it makes me look flushed) so I usually use it right on my cheekbones and slightly beneath them to give contour to my face.  It also helps to suck up a little oil but does not dry out your skin.  And it doesn’t rub off easily, at least onto your fingertips or clothing as other blushes seem to do.

The online reviews on Sephora mentioned a few other colors that seem to be universally flattering and given my experience with the longevity and natural-looking finish of the Tarte clay I would not hesitate to buy another color. 

TTC made me hypervigilant about what I put in and on my body, and makeup being something I wear every day is no exception.  It’s too expensive to switch over wholesale so I’ve been replacing my makeup piece by piece.  Got a great, safe makeup product you love that you’d like me to review?  Suggest it in the comments below.

Happy beautying!