Poisoning Ourselves Willingly: The Day I Flipped Out

Poisoning Ourselves Willingly: The Day I Flipped Out

"It sounds like a bunch of bull, meant to make people spend more money on fancy crap." Despite being raised by a wise herb lady, I actually said these words when I watched a deluge of TV commercials advertising the newest trends in body care products years ago. I'm sure you will remember the flawless faces filling the screens for the latest wrinkle cream or long manes of hair whipping around or ladies grinning near hysteria while lathering brightly colored body washes. "Paraben free!" all the beautiful people exclaimed. It is just soap folks, why on earth should we care about this? I was annoyed by the whole thing; sure it was just another fad word advertisers had jumped upon to make more money.

Several years later, I found myself in our festival booth, and folks would stop in to inquire about natural lotions and hand creams that were light and soft instead of our heavier salves that can leave a shiny look on skin. I pulled out the recipe I’d been making for family and friends for decades, but to try and meet the consistency requested of my recipe, I needed to make some adjustments. Besides, I liked the sound of that too and it sounded like a wonderful wintertime project.

I started by reading the recipes and wisdom of dear bookshelf friends like Rosemary Gladstar and Jeanne Rose. I pulled out my old tried and true healing lotion recipe. We all love it because it works well, despite the fact it doesn't have a trendy fragrance and it makes your skin feel slick and shiny. I made a batch, and another, and another adjusting ingredients and trying to reach the requested consistency. My kitchen was a wreck, and I looked like a wild grease ball, but my skin was super moisturized and happy! To make a lotion from scratch you must combine oil and water with wax. I emulsified batch after batch with will power, a good whisking arm, and several really filthy words not fit to share. Sometimes the mixtures worked and sometimes I was left with a bowl of something that looked curdled. At this point in the trials, the first batch I made started looking funny. Changing colors and separating and smelling kind of weird. It had turned after only 1 month on my countertop! In no time the pretty bottles of trial lotions all turned dark or yellowish or green and fuzzy.

I had ruined a small fortune worth of oils and rich beeswax, and I knew what i had to do. With a dramatic groan, I fired up the google. I asked it, “How to make a natural lotion that will not mold? Herbal ingredients to stop bacteria growth?”

The evil search bot responded, “Parabens. Chemical preservatives.” Of course. “Parabens inhibit the growth of bacteria in products containing water.”

Still determined, I found a few natural suggestions and promptly tried batches containing rosemary oil and grapefruit seed extract, started using purchased distilled water, and treated every bottle, bowl, and utensil with 91% isopropyl alcohol.

Still the lotions turned. I was disheartened, and I couldn't understand what I was missing or doing wrong. Plenty of booths at festivals advertised all natural body lotions and shelves at the pharmacies and super stores overflowed with paraben free options.

At my wits end, I dragged my greasy self to the superstore and began reading ingredient lists. Realizing I didn't recognize most of the ingredients listed, I plopped down and looked up words while sitting cross legged in the aisle. It was good I was alone, because my exclamations of, "AH HA!!!" and "NO FREAKING WAY!!!" would have embarrassed my family for sure! Instead of listing parabens in the ingredients, I found other deceiving words like methylparaben (essentially the same as paraben and just as dangerous). Quaternium 15, urea, dmdm hydantoin, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, 1,4-dioxane, triclosan…

The list of unpronounceable names seemed familiar from years of mindlessly reading the back of bottles. In all the years of reading them, I never once looked them up, which I assume is exactly what these companies hope will happen. Those impossible words hide the true nature of the actual ingredients like formaldehyde, pesticides, petroleum based fragrances, man-made engineered scents that can contain any combination of over 3,000 stock chemical ingredients. The nightmare list of chemicals can cause neurotoxicity, disrupted hormones, hair loss, cancer, allergies, developmental issues, and organ failure. And the list goes on, as many are known to cause infertility, harm pregnant people, change thyroid hormone concentrations, disrupt the endocrine system, and irritate lungs, eyes, and skin. That's just the risks of the few I've mentioned, and there are so many more. Surrounded by piles of "natural" products on the floor around me, my herbal lessons pounded in my head.

Skin is the largest organ of assimilation and elimination. We absorb all we touch; all we use on ourselves. It may not be as dramatic as swallowing something, but we are absorbing everything we come in contact with. It's the reason topical salves and liniments work, the reason an epsom salt bath makes us feel so good. We are essentially slowly poisoning ourselves with chemicals added to soaps, body washes, shampoos, conditioners, hair styling products, deodorants, lotions, body sprays, perfumes, toothpastes, sunblocks, nail polishes, laundry soaps and softeners, cosmetics, makeup removers, hygiene products and more. Some anti-aging and skin lightening creams contain mercury, hair dye has chemicals linked to breast and uterine cancer, and all commercial lotions contain highly processed emulsifiers and preservatives. All of them.

We are just as likely to encounter dangerous chemicals in processed foods, bottles and cans of beverages of all types, home furnishings and even prescriptions. They are all "low and safe doses" but even small doses of harmful chemicals every day all the time can add up and cause terrible damage!

I drove home from the store in tears, overwhelmed with anger and fear. The choice I needed to make was an easy decision for me. I wanted to make people happy with a silky thin lotion that absorbed immediately and lasted on the shelf indefinitely, but the reality is that I can't do that without the use of chemicals. When something is made with water, bacteria is inevitably introduced from your hands, the air, the container or the water. It is a natural process and is wonderful for many things, just not lotion. I cannot be a healer and knowingly harm a person for the sake of making a popular body cream. I can't make my own wonderful old recipe for healing lotion in gigantic batches to share now that I understand it's shelf life. No one wants a product that only lasts 30 days, and could go haywire in shipping if exposed to high heat or freezing temps. My mad scientist lotion making winter was at an end, and I was so sad at the result.

I wasted so many resources coming to this conclusion. Gallons of rich olive, avocado, almond, jojoba, and grapeseed oils, fistfuls of precious flowers, leaves, roots and seeds from my garden, many drops of essential oils, bottles and jars and tubs...all destined for the trash can. In an effort to assuage my guilt for being wasteful, I want to share the lessons learned from this experience. I also wish to share some advice to help navigate this mess we humans have created for ourselves.

Read past words like natural, organic, herbal, and essence on the bright and shiny labels on bottles in the stores. Look for the other words, unpronounceable nonsense words hidden in the ingredient lists and look them up. Learn the ridiculous words. Now, if you find the impossible wording is simply a botanical name in Latin, then yell "Horray!" and buy it. Our own labels are full of wild Latin names, which identify that exact species of plant.

Once you are thoroughly freaked out, take steps to make better choices. Every town and city in America has an amazing soap maker, slicing beautiful bars of soap in their kitchens and workshops that are made with real botanicals, clays, and essential oils, not fragrance oils and harmful bright colorants. Find them, and support their hard work. Learn about castile soap and its many uses, tooth cleaning powders, recipes for cornstarch based antiperspirant, and read about how coconut oil penetrates into the shaft of your hair making it softer than any commercial conditioner. Instead of pearly commercial lotions, consider using a salve, which contains no water but a more concentrated treatment for dry skin.

I carry hope for a revolution concerning the modern beauty ideals. If enough people become appalled with the practice of poisoning ourselves and those we love in the name of beauty, I have faith that options and understanding must evolve and improve. I hope more people will learn to love their reflection in a mirror just as it is, instead of feeding the American product obsession. I like to joke that after Lyme disease left me looking thin and a little haggard...every time I try to look in the mirror a skinny pale orphan from a Charles Dickens novel jumps in front of me so I can't see myself! I am working hard to look at this body that has endured so many trials and find the beauty in the strength there and be grateful. This body has carried me through terrible and incredible moments, and I am lucky. This body is a sacred thing and deserves to be cared for, not poisoned. I work to enjoy spotting every line and crease that appears from laughing too much, because every line has been earned. I try to love my reflection instead of pulling at my face and exclaiming, "where the hell did that come from?!" My attitude is a work in progress.

The compliments I find difficult to give myself are much easier to gift to others. Everyone needs to hear they are beautiful just as they are, and I am quick to tell them all. I try to be specific, honest and heartfelt. It is good medicine for everyone to hear.

I ended my experiment exactly where I began, shiny skinned with recipes from Rosemary and Jeanne in my kitchen again. I will continue making little batches of cream that must be used quickly, and since I am unable to send you all a bottle, I will share my hard-earned recipe with a glad and loving heart. I hope you try it and then make it your own. Be well, and know I think you are all beautiful just as you are.

Have you already taken steps to live a chemical free life? Please share your ideas for alternatives to modern cleansers and beauty products, so we can adjust our attitudes together! With knowledge, we can live a longer, more vibrant life…a happier life.


Jenni's Healing Lotion

In a double boiler over med-low heat, melt together 3 tbsp local beeswax chopped small and 1/3 cup good lanolin. Once melted, slowly add 1 1/2 cup oil of your choice. I use a combination of extra virgin olive oil, almond, and jojoba.

Pull from heat and add 1 tsp local raw honey, 1 tsp vitamin E oil, and any essential oils you wish to add. I use 10 drops of lavender and 10 drops of tea tree.

Slowly drizzle 1/4 cup cold water in oil mixture, while beating with a whisk until combined and emulsification begins. You'll know you are done when there is no separation of ingredients and it begins to get thick. You can stir over a bowl of ice to hasten the change. Stir until your arm is tired and the lotion is cool and creamy. Pour in clean jars or containers and label with a date. Will last up to 1 month, and longer if stored in the fridge.

This is my own recipe, made from years of making a mess and trying new things. I hope you will take it and try it, then destroy your own kitchen trying your own ideas and combinations. Research what each oil does for your skin, and choose what works for you. Try infusing herbs in the oil before making the lotion (to infuse herbs into oil, either add herbs to oil in jar and leave in windowsill for 6 weeks, shaking daily, then filter with cheesecloth; or you can speed up the process by heating in a double boiler for two hours, then filter once cool to touch), or maybe use rose water, witch hazel, or an herbal tea instead of plain water. Don't like lanolin? Try mango or avocado butter instead. Essential oil options are endless, and your lotion can transform into a super healing treatment for a specific skin issue, or simply scented with something you love for joy. I hope you will share your own versions with us as you experiment!

Jennifer Parsons

Jennifer Parsons

Jenni is a life long herbalist who is a book obsessed, nature lover, who follows the old ways, and who lives and loves by wit, wisdom, and community.


I absolutely love,love,love your products! I truly appreciate the sharing of your wisdom & I will definitely make this lotion. Thank you so much for everything that you do. I appreciate you. <3

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