Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Bentonite Clay Safety: FDA, Lead and Alikay Naturals

**Updated to add Alikay Naturals response**

I was alerted to this FDA release courtesy of a blog I follow - A Bountiful Thing. The press release from the FDA is warning consumers not to use Alikay Naturals Bentonite Me Baby Clay. The product is sold as 100% bentonite clay but FDA testing found that it contained high levels of lead.

This is quite serious as lead can poison most tissues of the human body including nerves, kidneys and the reproductive system. The effect on children is much worse with possible effects on brain development.

Ladies (and the odd gent who may be reading this), please be careful about the products you are purchasing. There is a trend of purchasing natural products as they are deemed to be safer or less toxic but please do your homework..........this may not be the only contaminated brand, it just happens to be the first one identified by the FDA.

For your safety when purchasing bentonite clay, consider buying a certified clay which will come with a breakdown of the trace elements in the clay or a food grade clay. None of these measures can guarantee a lead free product but are good measures to take.

Alikay Naturals have issued their own press release (link in the sources below) stating in brief that they consider the product safe but it should not be ingested without medical advice or used on children. They have also committed to doing their own independent tests.

FDA - http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm483838.htm
Lead Poisoning - http://www.southend.nhs.uk/pathology-handbook/test-directory/test-directory-l-index/lead/
Alikay Naturals response - http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-clear-reality-of-alikay-naturals-bentonite-me-baby-300212400.html

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Pregnancy, miscarriage and women's health

So, I am back on the blogging scene again. You may have seen this post - here - about my little sleep thief who I love with all my heart! I do want to, however, talk about my journey and all the many highs, lows, worries and joys.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will let you in on my story and crucially the lessons I have learned along the way, so that you become an advocate for your own health or strengthen your advocacy.

I have miscarried at 13 weeks and then again at 5weeks though the 13 week one was much more real to me. It is at the third time of asking that I now have my little girl (she's a girl for those who asked!). I have a lot to say including how I thought I was dying while complications were happening and for some reason thought I should look at the time lol.........I still don't know why the time mattered.

Anyway, if you are interested, this will be an additional topic to the blog and further but it will not be all doom and gloom. As the happy and incurable optimist that I am expect a good dose of fun as well as of course tons of science.

Friday, 20 November 2015

DIY Dandruff Treatment: Glycerin/Glycerol

Dandruff is a huge issue for many naturals and I am always looking out for new science articles on it. This DIY recipe is based on a study done in Thailand and published quite recently (Skin Med, pp 155-161, 2014).

The Recipe

DIY 10% Glycerin  Scalp Leave On Lotion

10 ml Glycerin/Glycerine
90 ml base* of your choice

*Base can be water or a leave in conditioner of your choice. For a water base add 1 drop of sunflower oil to the final mix. For a leave in conditoner base, avoid high oil containing leave ins especially if it is a natural oil - this is why


1. Shampoo your hair and condition it as you would normally.
2. Apply the DIY 10% Glycerin Scalp Leave On Lotion to the scalp, ensuring that you shake the bottle with your lotion to mix the base and glycerin well.
3. For best results, carefully part hair and focus the application directly on the scalp and not the hair.
4. Reapply the lotion to the scalp daily or at least 3 times a week

Expected Results

You should see an improvement in scaling (dry skin) on the scalp any time from the first use to within 2 weeks of applying at least 3 times per week.

The Science of the DIY 10% Glycerin Scalp Leave On Lotion

The study in Thailand was based on 274 people both male and female. The scientists chose not to go down the antifungal route that is commonly used to treat dandruff (i.e the commercial dandruff shampoos). Instead they chose to tackle the loss of scalp hydration that is seen with dandruff with a humectant (a product that draws water to itself).

You may therefore wonder if this is a permanent solution since they are treating the symptoms rather than the cause. This is a valid concern and to address this, the paper did say that after 8 weeks of following the regime, the study subjects were asked to stop and the dandruff flaking did not return in the following week (with no lotion used in that week).

For clarity, please note that the recipe above is not the exact one used in the study, there were other ingredients in the product including fatty acids and sunflower oil which were proposed as additional moisturising ingredients. If you wish, you can read the full study online - starting from pg 115!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Is Lanolin a natural moisturiser for natural hair? A castor oil alternative?

Lanolin is essentially sheep sebum. Traditionally, sheared wool is simply boiled in water for a few hours and the lanolin rises to the top ready for scooping up.

Lanolin is actually not really a fat despite looking like one. It is technically considered a wax. It is quite different from the vegetable and fruit derived oils and butters such as coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil or shea butter. These oils and butters are true fats consisting mainly of fatty acids. Lanolin however is made mainly of esters of fatty acids and even has some alcohols and cholesterol.

Q:  Ah so much jargon! Why should I care if lanolin is a wax and coconut oil is not? What really is the difference between a fatty acid and an ester of a fatty acid?

The difference is that the ester version found in lanolin can actually hold water very well. Let me be clear, this does not mean that lanolin can dissolve in water well - it does not! It does mean that when you mix it with water, the water is attracted to it and can be trapped within it.

Q: Aha, so is the trapping of water by lanolin what makes it moisturising?

Yes, this is part of what makes it moisturising. A second part is that at least with skin, it is known to be able to penetrate into skin cells and combine with water within those cells, once more preventing water loss. It is indeed possible that it may do the same with hair since both hair and skin (and wool!) have keratin as a key protein.


1. Melting Lanolin: Pure lanolin is a thick wax and it really does not melt as easily as a fat e.g coconut oil or shea butter. Pure lanolin does melt and become spreadable but you need to use a very small amount and really rub it between your fingers for a good solid ACTUAL minute. Slathering it on while it is still sticky and not spreading easily is NOT the business. If you are struggling, you can purchase liquid lanolin too but be aware that in order to stay liquid, some parts of the pure lanolin are extracted.

2. Apply to either freshly washed or freshly misted hair: If you are looking for a moisturising effect, make sure that there is water on your hair for the lanolin to use.

3. Lanolin generally plays well with other oils or butters: You can use lanolin in addition to another oil e.g if you normally use coconut oil to 'seal' your moisturiser, you can still apply this first and then top up with lanolin.

4.  Lanolin is an alternative to castor oil: I have found that castor oil can be difficult to use for some naturals as it is too thick and sticky. If you are looking for something like castor oil but a little easier, then a thin layer of lanolin may just be what you need.

J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 181-195, 1993
J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 11-22, 1954
J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 219-227, 1992
J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 279-288, 1993

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

QFQ: How to stop hair gel from flaking

This article is a quick fire question from blog reader Bella who asks, 'Can you tell me why my hair gel flakes, sometimes I get actual gloopy balls and other times I get small flakes but somehow I cannot figure what I am doing wrong. Can you tell me how I can stop it from doing this?'

Q1: Why does gel flake?

There is one main reason that hair gel will flake and this is that  the hair gel does not combine well with a previous product applied to your hair (e.g a hair conditioner or water based leave in).

Q2: Isn't it a good thing to apply a hair conditioner or leave in before applying gel?

It absolutely is a good step to apply a hair conditioner or leave in before applying a gel. The purpose of a gel is to get hair strands to 'gel' together and this process can be drying which is why a water based product applied previously is useful. The general process for using a hair gel is

1. Wet hair
2. Apply a small amount of a water based conditioner or leave in to the wet hair.
3. Apply hair gel

Q3: So why does the hair gel not react well with the hair conditioner previously applied?

Let me be clear, most hair gels will have a certain range of conditioners that they will work well with. However, the ingredients in some conditioners do react with ingredients in some hair gels to form these gloopy balls or flakes. It is not the fault of the hair conditioner or the hair gel solely, it is more a case that the particular combination of the gel and conditioner does not work

Q4: How can I get the gel to work with the hair conditioner?

This is the wrong question. If the gel flakes up then it is likely that it always will with that conditioner. In some instances minimising the amount of product used can work but in general, once you start to see those balls, the combination does not work. You can solve the problem by changing the hair conditioner or the gel.

Q5: But I really like my conditioner and my gel?

Well, you are going to have to like them separately.

Q6: Can I test whether the conditioner and gel combination works before putting the products in my hair?

Yes, just wash and rinse your hands, then place a small dollop of the conditioner in your hand followed by a small dollop of the gel and rub your hands together to mix. I even found a video where the vlogger has done exactly that!

Image Credit

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Hair Science: How well do mild cleansers really clean hair?

This is a bit of a compilation piece. I have done some of these before and some for BGLH but finally I am putting all of them together right here!

The Experiment

I used my own shed hair (natural, African , 4c if you are into hair typing) and imaged it:
-on its own without any washing
- washed with shampoo only (2 minute water rinse, 2 minute shampoo wash, 2 minute water rinse and air dried for 4 hours)
-washed with cleanser only ( 2 minute water rinse, 2 minute cleanser), 2 minute water rinse and air dried for 4 hours)
-cleansers with extra time 10 minutes instead of 2 minutes - ACV, baking soda shikakai

Quick Cleansing Results

Ability of Hair Cleansers to Remove Oil  from Hair

Best Cleansers (Complete visible oil removal) Good Cleansers (vast majority of oil removed) Worst Cleansers (little to no oil removal)
Shampoo Hair Conditioner Baking soda
Oat water Castile soap (diluted) Shikakai
Natural soap/shampoo bar Bentonite Clay Apple Cider Vinegar

Rhassoul Clay

The Results

1. The Controls - Oily Hair (Dirty/Oily Reference) and Shampooed Hair (Clean Reference)

The controls let you have a baseline of what the hair looks like prior to washing and what it looks like with a proper wash. You can therefore judge the clay washes in context of dirty and clean hair.

Oily natural hair

Clean shampooed natural hair

2. Hair conditioner only - Result: Mostly Clean Hair

Co washing or washing hair with hair conditioner only does remove the vast majority of surface oil. Some small oil deposits are visible after a 2 minute cleanse as circled in white.

3. Oat water- Result: Clean Hair

I recently theorised that oat water may be able to cleanse hair due to saponins released when they are boiled. This experiment showed that indeed the cleansing with oat water does work (Process - 1 tablespoon of oats to half cup of hot water. Oats boiled for approximately 2 minutes in water, allowed to cool and then oats sifted from water. Water is then used to cleanse hair.)

4. Castile soap - Result Mostly Clean Hair

In this experiment castile soap was diluted 1:5 with water. It resulted in mostly clean hair with some oil deposits left (circled in red). Using undiluted or less diluted castile soap may result in complete oil layer removal.

5. Natural soap - shampoo bar - Result: Clean Hair

I used traditional soap (olive oil mixed with sodium hydroxide to make soap) and the result was clean hair comparable to shampoo. I would, however, just mention that soap may not be a mild cleanser as some people are more sensitive to its alkaline (high) pH. The same applies for castile soap above.

6. Baking soda - Result: Hair still oily

Many naturals tout baking soda as a natural cleanser but in my experiment, it really did not cleanse at all. The hair was extremely oily even after a 10 minute soak and rub.

7. Bentonite clay - Result: Mostly Clean Hair

Bentonite clay produced a similar result to conditioner washed hair. Hair was mostly clean with a few oil deposits (circled in white) left behind. The clay was applied to hair as a mask (water and bentonite clay mixed to a paste).

8. Rhassoul clay - Result: Mostly Clean Hair

 Rhassoul clay equally produced a similar result to bentonite clay. Hair was mostly clean with some few deposits of oil

9. Shikakai- Result: Hair still oily

Shikakai is promoted as an ayurvedic cleanser. It is made from crushed acacia pods which contain saponins which are natural cleansers. In this experiment though, the shikakai paste did not cleanse hair well. Large deposits of oil were still present on hair.

10. Apple cider vinegar- Result: Hair still oily

Some naturals do promote apple cider vinegar as a natural cleanser. It did however produce the worst result of all the cleansers. The hair actually looked oilier than when it started despite prolonging the cleansing time. It did not cleanse the hair at all in this experiment.

Additional Notes
Hair conditioner - L'oreal Eversleek Smoothing Conditioner, Shampoo - Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo, Oats - Quaker Oats, Baking Soda - Sainsbury's, Shikakai - Hesh, Apple Cider Vinegar - Sainsbury's, Bentonite and Rhassoul Clay - Sheabutter Cottage, Castile soap - Dr. Bronners, Natural Soap - Mother in Law made it.

Please do note that under the microscope we can see oil layers but we do not see small deposits on hair e.g hair conditioner deposits (well you actually could see them with specialised instruments but not with my microscope!). Strictly speaking this experiment will answer the question, how well will washing method X remove oil from hair.