Before I write anything here, let me be clear that I am not a doctor or medical professional of any kind. I am also not a certified herbalist, and even if I was, it wouldn’t matter, because the US government does not recognize any such certification. The only certification I have that is recognized by the government is my teaching license. My knowledge of herbs and alternative healing was acquired through reading, research and experimentation.
The above information is not a disclaimer – it’s just the truth about me. I believe in full disclosure and corporate transparency and have always tried to uphold those values within Five Seed. The only reason I mention any of this is to let you know exactly who I am and what expertise (or lack thereof) I have as you read this. So here goes:
As those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter know, I recently received an email from Etsy threatening to shut down my shop unless I immediately remove any claims about my products, any mention of medical conditions and any information about herbal healing or folklore. The FDA is cracking down on this sort of thing, thanks to the tightening of laws pertaining to personal care products – laws that I supported 100%. I can remember signing petitions to get these laws into place – laws banning the use of heavy metals, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors in personal care products and laws demanding full disclosure of all ingredients (no more terms like “fragrance” or “parfum,” and no more proprietary blends) – and vaguely wondering what would happen to small businesses if it passed. Yes, I absolutely supported the ban of these harmful chemicals in commercial products and full disclosure of ingredients, but I wondered: Will little shops like mine be shut down because our products are not FDA-tested or -approved?
The consequences of these laws started to become apparent to me when I heard that Etsy had closed four subcategories: anti-aging, diaper rash, anti-itch and acne. (Yes, acne, a month after I launched my anti-acne skincare line and a month before I debut my book about how I healed my acne-prone skin.) I had a feeling more was to come, and sure enough, I soon after received the email I mentioned above, specifically targeting my shop.
This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but if you know my shop, you know it is filled with items that I created in order to help me treat health issues from which I have suffered: skin problems, menstrual cramps, muscle pain, etc. I feel that I’m very careful about how I market things. Yes, I use words like “for acne” and “great for relieving muscle pain.” Borderline? Semantics? Maybe. But I don’t think I’m being dishonest or misleading. I never say, “This will cure acne!” I’m very personal about my products. I explain why I created them and how they helped me – and that they might work for others. In most of my listings, I try to remind customers to consult with their doctor and/or do their own research and make their own decisions on whether or not a product is right for them. I hope that I come off as very clear that I am not an expert and that my products are my way of reaching out to others who may be suffering from similar health issues.
That act of reaching out has now been fenced in by some intense boundaries and honestly, I’m frustrated. How do I tell people what my products DO? Will my shop become a wasteland of 25 balms indistinguishable from one another except for their scent? What exactly can I say about them? “This is a tin of wax and oil that makes no claim to have any benefits whatsoever?” How far-reaching is this? Are we allowed to say “moisturizing,” or “soothing?”* The terms were “no medical drug claims,” no historical medical/herbal information and no mention of diseases or medical conditions. So what exactly is considered a medical “condition?” Doesn’t dry skin qualify under that one?
As frustrated as I am about this, I can’t disagree with the importance of integrity in business. I certainly don’t think we should be able to say, “Hey, this product will cure everyone of acne, no matter what!” However, I do not agree that anything lacking FDA approval should be banned from discussion.
To me, healing is an endless journey with endless possibilities. We are all as unique as snowflakes and no treatment (allopathic or otherwise) will fit everyone. I believe in the philosophy of “integrative medicine” as described by Dr. Andrew Weil (who is an actual medical doctor and not, contrary to internet rumors, an alternative healer). Dr. Weil believes, as I do, in the validity of Eastern and Western medicine and everything in between. The mindset is not “one or the other,” but rather, “get the patient better.”
I am open to all paths of healing, myself, and have had various successes with both allopathic and naturopathic treatments. For instance, I just completed a course of very strong prescription medication that I felt I needed in order to treat a serious health issue. However, I also struggled to heal from acne and menstrual cramps for two decades and nothing – including prescription drugs and surgical procedures – cured me. I found my own way to healing through herbal infused oils, herbal teas, vitamins, yoga and other such “alternative” treatments.
This is where things get fuzzy for me. Isn’t it our right to explore alternative treatments? Isn’t it our right to support small, grassroots healers, amateur or otherwise, with the full understanding that what we choose to do on the path of healing is our own responsibility and not anyone else’s? Isn’t it our right to create a small, sustainable business with the intention of sharing the healing traditions of our ancestors? Isn’t it our right to believe in the efficacy of herbal (or other “alternative” treatments) remedies without being labeled a snake oil salesman (as the producer) or a dumb, woo-woo, New Age hippie (as the buyer)?
But the discussion of rights can get tricky. What rights should the buyer have? What rights should the seller have? And that brings us to one of those classic conundrums of democracy: How much power should the government have?
I understand many people may say, “This is a good thing, not bad! The FDA should be protecting consumers!” Yes, they should. But if that was their intention, then:
-Why are there FDA-approved lipsticks on the market that contain lead? Why does the FDA believe that this does not pose a danger to the public? From the FDA’s website: “Lipstick, as a product intended for topical use with limited absorption, is ingested only in very small quantities. We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern.” Seems like an odd thing to say considering lipstick is worn on the highly porous skin and not only that, but on the mouth. I came across this humorous but disturbing video a year or two ago that states that the average woman consumes up to 7 pounds of lipstick in her lifetime. Seven pounds of lipstick that may or may not have lead in it and that’s not a public safety concern?
-Why is there BPA in the lining of our canned foods? Why did it take the FDA until 2010 to admit concern over this issue (having previously stated that it was safe for all uses)? Why does their 2012 update state the following: “With respect to uses of BPA in packaging of food intended for other populations [adults, teenagers and children], FDA will support changes in food can linings and manufacturing to replace BPA or minimize BPA levels where the changes can be accomplished while still protecting food safety and quality… Reliable can lining materials are a critical factor in ensuring the quality of heat processed foods. Therefore, FDA will work to encourage and facilitate changes that minimize exposure to BPA and avoid other adverse impacts on food safety or quality.” Maybe the FDA forgot the fact that there are several food companies that have been safely producing canned food with no BPA for years now. So minimizing BPA or dragging out the process of banning BPA from food packaging in order to ensure food safety suddenly doesn”t seem like a legitimate concern anymore. It obviously *can* (pun intended) be done, so why not make a sweeping change right now – no more cans lined with BPA!
-Why are GMO foods not required to be labeled? Where’s the full disclosure there? The New York Times states, “The F.D.A. has said that labeling is generally not necessary because the genetic modification does not materially change the food.” Two years ago, nine out of ten people surveyed believed that all GMO products should be labeled. This year, over a million signatures were submitted to the FDA from Just Label It, an activist organization fighting for full disclosure from GMO producers. The FDA’s response? Those million+ signatures were counted as ONE because they were all attached to the same document. The final word: the FDA said it would make a statement when a decision about GMOs had been reached. (And just in case you’re wondering, I could find absolutely no current information regarding GMO foods on the FDA’s website, except for a long Q&A page in support of genetically modified animals bred for the production of pharmaceutical material.)
These are just three *small* reasons that I feel I should be allowed to state that an all-natural product containing USDA-certified organic ingredients, using traditional herbal ingredients has the potential to heal skin problems including acne and eczema. Not cure – I would never, ever presume to use that word (although, admittedly, I did name two of my products Panacea – though I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek on that one).
As time and laws pass, I am often left wondering what is happening to the communal and agricultural traditions of our past? What will happen to our land as we replace small, diversified farms with thousands of acres of GMO monocrops? What will happen to the knowledge of our ancestral farmers who knew what moon phases would yield the best crops and how to practice companion planting in order to naturally ward off insects and increase crop growth? And what will happen to our traditions of natural healing, our knowledge of plant medicine? Our sharing of that knowledge? The boundaries are closing in a little bit each year and the combine is roaring along. What will we lose to McMonoculture in the 21st century?
Herbalist Kiva Rose, one of my heroes – a guardian of plant-based healing traditions.
I guess this post is a little bit rant and a little bit request. I’m not asking for the right to say whatever I want about my products, or to make sweeping claims about their ability to cure medical conditions. I’m only asking that I, and other folks of the herbal tribe, retain the right to use the words “eczema” and “chamomile” in the same sentence without breaking FDA regulations. I’m asking for the right to share information about healing from one layman to another. I’m asking for the long-standing traditions of herbalism to be given just a little respect as a potential source of healing. And I’m asking for people to help keep these traditions alive.
I’m not entirely sure what we can do to accomplish this except to keep supporting small bath and body businesses, especially those, like mine, that began producing natural products because of the fact that the FDA regulations allow the inclusion of ingredients that shouldn’t be in our personal care products. (How ironic, right?) If you already use herbal remedies, make sure you let your favorite businesses know that you still support their products, no matter how little they may be able to say about them. Keep buying those tinctures at the farmer’s market, even if you have to do so under the table.
In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted as I sort through the shop, line by line, photo by photo, label by label. It’s going to take me a while to sort through this, especially not quite grasping the full extent of these new regulations. Check out my Twitter feed if you want to toss me some suggestions!
Thanks to you all for your support throughout this process. I’ve been so touched by the messages I have received from so many people. It definitely made me feel like our “old school” traditions have a whole lot of protectors, which is a wonderful thought!
*Soon after I wrote this, I received an email from Etsy saying that we can potentially use the words “moisturizing” or “moisturizer,” so long as it is not in a context that violates Etsy’s new policies about medical claims. I have absolutely no idea what context would be within their policies, or how using those words might violate their policies. I have the feeling that no one is going to be changing titles, tags or descriptions that use either of these words – and I admit, I probably won’t, either.