The Mindful Merchant

Shop – Eat – Live – Mindfully

Sunscreen Surprises June 17, 2010

Filed under: Canada,children,health warning,heath and safety,non-toxic,safety,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 9:13 pm



sun The first official day of summer is days away. In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice officially begins on June 21st at 7:28 am EDT. As the weather warms and we shed our clothes, many of us are starting to think about sunscreen. Before you reach for your favourite brand, the Environmental Working Group published its 4th annual Sunscreen Guide. If you have time to read this year’s report, it is full of interesting and concerning cautions. If you do not, here is my “Cliff Notes” version.


The EWG tested approximately 1400 products with SPF – beach and sun lotions, lip balms, moisturizers, sprays and creams. 1361 of those products received poor marks. Only 39 earned the highest green rating. That means they recommend only 8% from the 1400 tested.  Kind of scary isn’t it?


So why did the majority of beach and sport sunscreens rate so poorly?  The EWG’s explanation, “A surge in exaggerated SPF claims above 50 and new disclosures about potentially hazardous ingredients, in particular recently developed government data linking the common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A to accelerated development of skin tumours and lesions.”


The EWG recommends we avoid two chemicals – oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (vitamin A). The research regarding vitamin A/accelerated cancer connection is not conclusive.  They suggest we avoid retinyl palmitate as long as there is doubt about its safety. Oxybenzone is a hormone-disrupting compound that penetrates skin and enters the bloodstream.


Another interesting read is Sunscreen Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths. Here are a few points.

– The EWG reports there is “no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer”.  (?)

– There is some evidence that some sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest forms of skin cancer in some people”.   (what?!)

– There are more and more 50+ SPF products and higher on the market…”but no proof they’re better”.


If you hauled out your old sunscreen from last summer, do not throw it away just yet. It is easy to find its score on the website. Just type in the name and chances are the results will be there – hundreds and hundreds of products were tested.  Hopefully the brand you currently use is one of the safer products and does not appear in the Hall of Shame report.  If you are shopping for a new SPF products check out the top EWG recommended beach and sport sunscreens, lip balm, moisturizers and makeup.


mimesI have not found a safe sunscreen that my family likes.  We tried a few of the low hazard products on the EWG list with disappointing results. Last summer was particularly frustrating. I wasted money on a popular, highly recommended sunscreen at the health food store. It was thick, sticky and did not absorb or blend into our skin. We looked like a travelling mime troop at the park. 


So…this summer I have started my sunscreen search again. I am also looking into sun protective clothing.  (My husband and children are groaning and rolling their eyes!)  The EWG suggests the best protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays is clothing, hats and shade. Sunscreen is a secondary means of protection.


If you have a favourite sunscreen or any sun safe strategies, I would love to hear them.  





The Flake Debate April 6, 2010

Filed under: biodegradable,environmentally friendly,health,health warning,shopping — MindfulMerchant @ 3:10 pm

Once a month my husband and I end up in a giant grocery store…together…buying the heavy big bulk items we cannot carry on our usual walk to the shops. We have different shopping styles. Without kids, I take my time, compare prices and read labels. He likes to peruse the roasted chicken counter and the discounted clothing bin. (He loves finding odd coloured t-shirts that have been marked down multiple times until they are $2.00)




This past weekend we found ourselves implementing our ‘see you in the kitty litter isle in 10 minutes’ plan.  When we met up he put a  bottle of dandruff – 2 in 1 shampoo in the cart.


“That stuff is awful,” I said. (Actually, I used a more colourful vocabulary) “You don’t have dandruff and never have!” I said taking it out of the cart.

“That’s why I don’t,” he said, “its preventative.” Back in the cart it went.

“Trust me, it’s horrible” I plucked it out again.

<ATTENTION customers…there’s a fight brewing in the kitty litter isle>

“O.k. why is it so horrible?” He asked putting it back.

“Well…harmful chemicals…I read scary things,” I vaguely replied as I removed the bottle.

“Be specific…I’m not convinced.” This time he wedged it between the groceries.

“Aggh…I can’t remember the specifics! I’ll have to do some research,” I grumbled.

“You do that,” he grumbled back pushing the cart containing dandruff shampoo to the checkout.



What I should have told him is that popular dandruff shampoos contain a toxic ingredient – coal tar. That is the black liquid distilled from coal and it has a long history linked to cancer (miners, chimney sweeps etc.) Lathering up with coal tar extract is not the only problem. The environmental impact from coal mining continues for years polluting ground water even after mines are closed.


The brand my husband bought contains zinc pyrithione. Zinc in this form is problematic even though it is supposed to degrade quickly in water. An interesting study conducted by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation in 2004 found that 3 millilitres of dandruff shampoo containing 0.08% zinc pyrithione killed half the fish added 24 hours later to a 1000 litre tank (within four days). 1% of the added zinc was still detected in the water – 80 days later.


The Environmental Working Group website gives the shampoo we purchased a hazard of 6 and reports its ingredients are linked to cancer, allergies/immunotoxicity as well as other concerns.


Another ingredient to watch out for is selenium disulphide. It has long-term environmental effects and considered very toxic to aquatic life.


If you are looking for healthier alternatives look for tea tree oil shampoos found in health food stores. Another option is to add a few drops of tea tree oil to a capful of your regular shampoo. If you want to use ingredients from your kitchen, vinegar or apple cider vinegar mixed with warm water can soak into your scalp before shampooing as another natural suggestion.


I have not tried any of the homemade treatments but I am looking for a tea tree shampoo to replace the shampoo my husband liked.  He is willing to stop buying the 2 in 1 stuff but he informed me there is no way he will smell like fish and chips…even for “preventative” measures.






a New Takeout Twist January 21, 2010

Filed under: environment,environmentally friendly,health,health warning,save money — MindfulMerchant @ 8:54 am


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There is an exciting new campaign beginning. It is called TakeOut WithOut – an initiative to reduce restaurant waste. It is simple and smart. All you have to do is say no to unnecessary packaging when you take out. 


K.B, Lee, founder of Ever Bamboo created this non-profit campaign because of the dangers of polystyrene (Styrofoam) and excess packaging especially when it comes to take-out. He collaborated with Lisa Borden of Borden Communications and TakeOut WithOut launched to inspire and help people fill their stomachs…not the landfill.

In addition to manufacturing and environmental concerns, there are serious hidden health risks associated with common takeout containers.  Most foam cups and takeout containers are made with polystyrene. The main chemical component, styrene has the potential to leach into your food, then you, then the landfill. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that styrene is a possibile carcinogen to humans.  Plastic containers can be recycled, but they contain resins, which also pose serious health risks. They are also made from petroleum, a resource in short supply.   These are good reasons to try and avoid these hazards.

160 x 160 So what is involved?  It is easy to do.  TakeOut WithOut (TOWO) is asking consumers and restaurants to…

Refuse unnecessary stuff. When taking out say no to unnecessary packaging like napkins, plastic cutlery and the plastic bag. Take only what you need.

Retake your own reusables. Bring your own coffee mugs, containers, bags, cutlery and bottles. (Carry extras in your purse, briefcase, backpack or car so you will always have on hand.)

Reconsider your habits.  It might take a while to break an old habit, but even small changes have a big impact.

This initiative is healthy, saves money, and the environment. You can click here to check out the Takeout Without website and join the campaign.  If you feel inspired, please forward the website to friends, co-workers and your favourite restaurants.  Let’s keep the campaign growing! 

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Something Stinks – the Natural Deodorant Experiment January 18, 2010

Filed under: all natural,greenwashing,health,health warning,non-toxic,shopping — MindfulMerchant @ 3:53 pm


Jakes 001 What is a gal gotta do to find an all-natural, healthy, effective deodorant? Seven years I have been experimenting and still no luck. (Isn’t that ridiculous?) Friends and family have suggested brands that they like but I have not had the same results. I think it is a body chemistry thing, what works for one person does not mean it will work for another. Either that or I am a freakish sweaty mess.

Yes, I have reframed my expectations. I expect using natural deodorant means I will continue to sweat (and that is healthy) but it should keep me adequately fresh throughout the day.  I do not expect it to work after a long hike or a game of hockey.  Am I asking too much?

My husband isn’t happy with the experiment because (a) I complain a lot (b) I try to pawn the rejects off on him and (c) he does not say it…but sometimes I stink with the “pits”.  The more I research the product the crustier I become. It is more than just the expense involved. I naively thought companies that market as organic, environmentally friendly and natural would make products that are low hazards for our health. This is where I first learned about greenwashing.

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database reports, two of the deodorants I used (one during pregnancy with my daughter) and the other for the last year both received higher health hazard scores (6/10) and (4/10) than the popular generic brand (3/10) I was eager to replace.   What’s up with that?!

I wrote both companies to inquire about their troubling hazard scores. Both responded and both questioned techniques the Environmental Working Group used to analyze fragrance in products. One company said that if the EWG really investigated, they would likely change the hazardous rating to a lower score. (?) I was pleased they took the time to write me but their answers did not satisfy.

This forced a closer look at the ingredients. When shopping for deodorants, here are the deal breakers for me. I want to avoid products with formaldehyde a volatile organic compound (VOC). According to The Green Guide, it might pose the greatest health risk in roll on deodorants. Health Canada is not concerned about aluminum (and/or zirconian) but I am. The jury is out on studies that suggest this mineral contributes to Alzheimer’s. I figure, if we coat our cooking pans to protect our food from coming in contact with aluminum, I am not going to slap it under my armpits. I also want to avoid any ingredients ending in paraben (possible hormone disrupters) and fragrances other than essential oils.

So…the experiment continues. In the meantime, I alternate a few natural deodorants switching and combining trying to outwit bacteria. I realize now I have to do some homework before I shop for any green, organic or environmentally friendly products.

My next step is to try making my own deodorant from a recipe I recently found during my “investigation”. That takes cooking in my kitchen to a completely new level.  Wish me luck.

Have you had success with natural deodorants?  Do tell…

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Step Aside Nancy Drew January 15, 2010



nancy drew My next few posts will be focusing on some interesting tidbits of green information I discovered. The more I read about environmentally friendly, all-natural, organic products, the more I realize the importance of research. I consider myself a ‘green’ greenie and part-time sleuth these days.


Greenwashing.  “The practice of companies disingenuously spinning products and policies as environmentally friendly. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing. The term green sheen similarly been used to describe organizations that attempt to show that they are adopting practices beneficial to the environment” ~ Wikipedia



I was shocked to discover the following terms are almost meaningless.  Hypoallergenic, Allergy-Tested, Dermatologist-Tested and Fragrance-Free. These scientific words imply safety and natural purity but the reality is they mean almost nothing since they are unregulated by the government.   According the FDA there is no such thing as a non-allergenic cosmetic since everything can cause a reaction to someone.


Here is another marketing ploy. Against Animal Testing. Cruelty Free, or Not Tested on Animals. Often these labels do not mean what they imply. In some cases companies mean they do not test animals in their buildings…they outsource it to other labs. Sometimes it means that a product has not tested on animals in the last five years but the research is current.


Isn’t that interesting? I say interesting with the intonation a TV detective uses after discovering a clue <while raising one eyebrow>.   Surprising?  Not really…I guess.


flashplacement2 So what can consumers do about this?   Even though labelling is unregulated, there is still a chance what the manufacturer says is true.  The best way to tell is to look for this Leaping Bunny logo from The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC).  This is a great website for listing Canadian, U.S. and International companies that support cruelty free practices. They provide a free pocket sized shopping guide too.  Be careful to check for the real Leaping Bunny logo and not an imitation.  Yup, there are fake cute bunnies slapped onto labels out there.  Another trustworthy source is PETA  (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).  Click HERE to search for cruelty free companies and products.


You can also investigate your favourite beauty and personal care products to find out just how “natural” or “organic” they really are at the Environmental Working Group Safety Cosmetic’s Database (EWG).   Warning, do not attempt this if you are having a grumpy day…it will only make things worse.


There is Right to Know movement happening. The hope is that manufacturers will have to list all ingredients and disclose if a product is hormone disrupting etc. so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. For more information about this, have a look at Toxic Free Canada website.


I feel duped and mad at myself for being so trusting.  That is in the past now and naiveté is sooo 2008.  I hope these little nuggets of green information help you with your future purchases.



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are organics fuelling my lottery addiction? December 20, 2009



I have started buying lottery tickets. Not for a dream vacation or fancy car…just so I can buy organic food. (I kid, I kid…sort of)

Lindsay, my sister-in-law and I often discuss our escalating grocery bills. She has a frugal gene too. We are both interested in buying organic food but wonder who can afford to pay the prices? There is no getting around it, organic food is expensive. Lindsay has asked me to put my frugal skills to the test and research how we can lower our monthly grocery bills, yet eat as healthy as we like.

Many argue that organic is not worth the money. My husband is one of those “anti-organic – it’s all a marketing ploy” thinkers. When he spies the price of organic grapes (after I have put them in the cart) the vein at the side of his head pulses. We debate, we share interesting articles and he does not shop with me anymore.

Since money does not grow on organic trees, I have to start prioritizing where I spend our money in the grocery stores. I have discovered I can save money buying fresh produce. Why do I bother buying organic fruit and vegetables? After researching the topic, it is much more than being pesticide-free. Organic means that farmers cannot use sewage sludge to fertilize crops. Yes folks, that’s right human feces is a popular fertilizer in Canadian municipalities. Yum! Organic also means free of hormones, free of processing aids and nothing genetically modified. Other reasons include higher nutrient/vitamin content, earth friendly farming practices and supporting local family farmers when possible.

Forget my reasons. Check out some websites and come up with your own. This is an interesting one  The Environmental Defence’s website has a Toxic Nation Reports section full of many different studies.  You can view the toxic chemical profiles of Canadian Adults and Canadian families tested.  You can also head over to their Metallic Lunch Report to see which foods contain the most lead (frozen dinners) nickel (cookies) and other unhealthy metals. What a fun way to spend an evening!

Another website is The Environmental Working Group. They used results from 87,000 tests collected by the U.S. Food and Drug administration and ranked pesticide levels of 46 fruits and vegetables. According to the E.W.G. people who eat the 12 most contaminated produce consume an average of 10 pesticides per day. Rinsing reduces pesticides but does not eliminate them. Peeling helps but unfortunately we lose the good nutrients in the skin.

 Here is a list of items you might want to consider buying organic, and which ones matter less.  Click here for a printable pocket guide.

The Worst Offenders

1.   Peach

2.   Apple

3.   Bell Pepper

4.   Celery

5.   Nectarine

6.   Strawberries

7.   Cherries

8.   Kale

9.   Lettuce

10. Grapes (Imported)

11. Carrot

12. Pear

This is not all doom and gloom though. Good news! Turns out there are many non-organic fruits and vegetables tested that had minimal pesticide residues.  Here are the top results.

The Clean 15

1.   Onion

2.   Avocado

3.   Sweet Corn

4.   Pineapple

5.   Mango

6.   Asparagus

7.   Sweet Peas

8.   Kiwi

9.   Cabbage

10. Eggplant

11. Papaya

12. Watermelon

13. Broccoli

14. Tomato

15. Sweet Potato

The shopping lists will likely change as I continue to research this topic. In the meantime, I will be less concerned about shopping organic when it comes to items on the Clean 15 list.  I have noticed a small reduction in our grocery bills while still trying to eat and cook healthier meals.  Every little bit helps.

I think the lotto is 20 million this week…come on lucky quick pick!



Smells good – but isn’t September 30, 2009

Filed under: health warning,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 12:01 pm
Tags: ,



I am a fool for marketing.  I bought into the implied promise of a clean, fresh smelling and healthy home in a little sleek device that smelled like vanilla and magnolias. I used to buy air fresheners and put one right beside the kitty litter box and the hockey equipment in the basement. The problem is that all it really did was make the room smell like kitty litter, hockey change room and flowery vanilla beans. What an odd and nasty combination!

In 2007 the Natural Resources Defence Council investigated 14 popular brand name air fresheners and found phthalates in 12 of those products.  Some of the air fresheners advertise as “All-Natural” or “Unscented.  There are health concerns with phthalates, which link to fertility, hormone disruption and developmental problems in rats.    Manufacturers use them in shower curtains, nail polishes, children’s toys, cleaners and perfumes as well as many other household items.   Phthalates increase a products durability, flexibility and longevity.

In Sept 2008 the CBC conducted their own tests on air fresheners and found that 1/3rd tested positive for one or two types of phthalates. Currently, air fresheners in Canada do not need to list ingredients on their labels.  Why is that Health Canada?  Sears, Wal-mart and Toys R Us no longer carry toys containing phthalates.  These are chemicals we all need to avoid.

If you use air fresheners or know someone that does, let them know about the potential hidden dangers. After discussing this issue with my Mom she offered this blunt but good advice. “If your house smells Laura, clean it.”   She is right. There is no need for air fresheners that can be harmful to our health and home.  Let’s open up a window instead!