Nov 13

Your Skin: Absorption

Epidermis-LargeYou have probably heard that your skin is the largest organ in your body and that it is a semi permeable membrane. But that doesn’t mean that anything you put on your skin goes right through it.  It is actually pretty hard for most substances to be absorbed through your skin. Pharmaceutical companies spend lots of money on research to try to make transdermal patches to deliver medicine, but there are very few on the market. Absorption through the skin is influenced by the size of the molecules of the substance, the concentration applied, how long it stays on your skin, other ingredients that can be added to aid absorption, the region of the body where it is applied, the condition of the skin, age, gender and race.

Your skin is made up of four layers and is about 0.05 inches thick or should I say thin?  The deepest layer (Basale layer) is where skin cells are made and they gradual migrate to the outermost layer called the Stratum Corneum). In between are the Stratum Granlosum and Stratum Spinosum. The Stratum Corneum is what you see when you look at your skin. What you actually see is tough, hard, dead skin cells (called corneocytes), which form a protective barrier, something like a brick wall. This protective layer is not only responsible for protecting against pathogens it also helps regulate temperature, maintains hydration and prevents water loss. These cells are surrounded by a natural oil layer called lipids, sort of like the mortar in the brick wall.  The corneocytes cells don’t have a blood supply and are held together by proteins. These proteins disintegrate over time and release the dead skin cells, exposing and replaced by the cells underneath. When these cells fall off irregularly it can create something like mountains and valleys, leaving your skin feeling rough and patchy. You can help to alleviate this feeling by applying creams or butters that fill in the gaps left between the intact cells.

This shedding of dead skin cells happens naturally but can become a problem when the natural skin oils are depleted through the use of harsh skin care products, too much exfoliation, ultraviolet radiation, climate changes, dehydration and hormonal levels. Disruption in this layer can make it more permeable to pathogens, allergens and dehydration and cause a variety of skin problems.

Nov 13


buddyHi friends, today I’m introducing P. Buddy.  He is a collaborative brainstorm that was sparked by our grand daughter, Number One. It all started several years ago with having a Christmas open house at our soap shop. I decided I should do a little decorating for it. Among other items, I bought a cute snowman that stands about two and a half feet tall. Later when our son joined Alabu he thought we looked too homespun and folksy. He thought Alabu needed a more professional image to match the precision of our formulations and the quality standards of our products. He said the snowman had to go. So I happily brought him home.

The first time our grand daughter, Number One saw him it was love at first sight! She carried him around our house even though he was taller than she was. That was when we started calling him Buddy. She put him down for naps on the couch and covered him with a blanket. She made him stand in the chair for time out.  She even brought him into the bathroom when she thought it was time for him to be potty trained. Number One really liked to come to Grammy’s house to play with her Buddy. She would often say to her mom “Grammy’s house- lunch- play Buddy!” But Buddy had one big drawback. His body and legs are sticks and he doesn’t bend. All the hugging, carrying and dragging were taking its toll on him. He was getting very sad looking and I finally took him apart and nailed and glued him back together.

That little exercise got me thinking. I could make one that was soft bodied that could sit and be more huggable. I had made my kids dolls were they were little, so I was confident I could do it. Then it occurred to me that this new Buddy would be even better if he had a wire skeleton so he could be posable.  I recruited Dean to create a skeleton out of coat hangers. He made one fairly easily. Unfortunately I had not thought about how I would make it after that first step. It was going to be much harder to make the shell of the body and stick the wire inside and have it completely covered with stuffing. I tried a few different ideas and I wasn’t happy with the results so I took him apart and started over with the wire skeleton. I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this project and I wanted to give up. Finally on my third try I decided he was done (or actually I was done  :o)  I wasn’t entirely happy,  but Number One and Number Two think he is wonderful. We decided to name him P. Buddy. P as in posable.  We have even recruited his help at Alabu.

Now both girls are asking to come to Grammy’s to play with P.Buddy and Buddy and Mr. Moose! Yeah, well he is another story for another day.

Nov 13

Essential Oil: Ahh Peppermint

Ahh peppermint essential oil, so cool and refreshing!

Essential Oil: peppermint

My mom always had a patch of peppermint in the garden that we used for tea. I have one too but mint is a rather invasive species, so I try keep in contained in it’s own area. This ancient herb has long been valued for its use in flavoring from sweets to tooth paste. It has also been widely used as a medicine and as it’s dried leaves as an aromatic. It is a small perennial native to the Mediterranean, but cultivated in many parts of the world. Peppermint has a much stronger scent than other mints such as spearmint and is one of the most popular herbs used for perfuming. It was used in many different cultures to bring a refreshing scent to the air and welcome guests into homes. It’s familiar characteristic smell and taste is hard to describe being cooling and hot at the same time.

Peppermint essential oil’s major constituent, menthol, is it’s main active ingredient. It is reported to have many therapeutic properties. It is widely used for relief of digestive problems, muscle spasms, infections, inflammation, arthritis, asthma and sinus problems.

I have heard it can be used for an insect repellent and I do add it to my concoction to keep the bugs off the horses in the summer (but really, I think bugs are winning and are taking over the world).  The last few years  I have been using cotton balls soaked in peppermint essential oil to keep mice from taking up residence in the closet in our garage and it really works (I won that one at least :o)

In the summer try a cool refreshing glass of peppermint ice tea or just add some peppermint to your regular ice tea. In the winter I like a cozy warm cup of hot peppermint tea with a little honey, especially when I’m feeling a bit under the weather. And if you like a real morning pick me up, try our peppermint soap in your morning shower.

Nov 13

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar: Forecasting the weather

woolly BearI grew up hearing folks tell me about forecasting the winter weather by looking at the Woolly Bear Caterpillar. If you know what a Woolly Bear caterpillar looks like you can thank Dr. Howard Curran, his study of them made them famous. The Woolly Bear Caterpillar is really the larva of the Tiger moth. They are a common sight in the fall looking for places where they can curl up and hide for the winter. It is about one and a half inches long with black and brown bristly stripes.
I was always getting conflicting theories on what the colored stripes meant for the coming winter weather. We have seen more of these caterpillars than usual this fall, so I had to look up what they were trying to tell me.

Legend has it that Dr. Howard Curran, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC decided that he was going to study the woolly caterpillar and see if the folklore was true. It may have been just a fun excuse to get out of NYC and be leaf peepers (city folks who travel to the mountains to see the fall foliage) traveling to Bear Mountain with his wife and friends. They actually called themselves The Original Society of the Friends of the Woolly Bear. Anyway he did actually conduct a study for several years and it turned out the tiny caterpillar did predict with some accuracy whether the winter would be severe or mild. Although he did think his study was too small to say for sure. He said if the brown middle strip was over one third larger than the black stripes at the ends then it would be a mild winter. If the black stripes were wider it would be a severe winter. Most scientists don’t think his theory holds true. But entomologist Mike Peters of the University of Massachusetts explains, “There’s evidence that the number of brown hairs has to do with the age of the caterpillar—in other words, how late it got going in the spring. It does say something about a heavy winter or an early spring. The only thing is . . . it’s telling you about the previous year.”

So you could say that the woolly bear caterpillar does tell you about the winter, but only if you want to know how bad last year’s winter was.  But still, I think the caterpillars guess is that far off than the weatherman’s forecast.

Nov 13

Essential Oils: Exhilarating Eucalyptus

Essential Oils: Exhilarating EucalyptusAahh, Essential Oils and Exhilarating Eucalyptus.

It is a stream-distilled oil from the leaves of trees native to Australia. They are among the tallest trees in the world growing as high as 300 feet. There are hundreds of species of these trees but only a few have medicinal uses. The most commonly used for eucalyptus essential oil is Eucalyptus Globulus. It has a fresh penetrating scent much like camphor.

Eucalyptus essential oil is probably familiar to you from cough drops and the vaporizer that your mom used when you were congested with a cold.

Eucalyptus essential oil has many more uses than cough drops. The Aboriginal people of Australia have been using it for thousands of years. They used the dried leaves for healing sores, burns, snakebites, coughs, fevers and muscle aches and pains. There are not a lot of documented studies on it, but many people and even doctors will tell you it will help with cough and loosen respiratory congestion. I know an aroma therapist that uses it as a room spray to kill bacteria and viruses in the air when someone in her family is sick. It is known as an effective antiseptic and expectorant.

Eucalyptus essential oil is an anti-inflammatory and has a cooling effect on the skin. Some people use it for relief from sore throat, headaches, sinusitis, and sore muscles. It can be also used for herpes, skin infections, as an insect repellent as well as relief from insect bites. It may be helpful in improving the immune system.

For congestion you can put a few drops in a bowl of steaming hot water and gently inhale the steam from over the bowl. You can also use it in your bath but be sure to dilute it in another oil like olive or sweet almond before putting it your bath water.  and inhalation is said to promote a feeling of balance and well-being.

Most essential oil should be diluted before used on the skin or in a bath.

If you would like to try Alabu Eucalyptus Soap go ahead. I promise it is not like taking a bath with a cough drop! It is refreshing and I think you will like it.