Reboot, Remake, Rethink, Rebirth

As I work to edit my Etsy shop to comply with their new policies regarding herbal products, I’ve been going through a lot of feelings. At first, I was devastated. I thought this would destroy my business. Then I went through varying feelings of elation (from all the support I’ve been getting from all of you) and wild frustration.

It’s been exhausting editing my listings – and I have had to edit some of them three or four different times. And I’ll be going back and doing ANOTHER edit this week. There’s just so much conflicting information out there – many of us are not sure quite what to do and how to change things without losing the heart of our businesses.

There have been some real jaw-droppers, too, as I’ve learned more about this policy – things that have disheartened me a lot, including the fact that we are no longer allowed to share the feedback our customers have given us if that feedback contains medical words. I have a TON of feedback from people who have said that my products have helped them with acne issues or eczema or other such things and I am so proud of those comments. I used to feature them on my product pages, but this is now forbidden, considered a second-hand medical claim.

We are also not allowed to talk about the properties of herbs, even if those properties are factual. For instance, I sell carminative seeds as a natural breath freshener. I can no longer say that they also soothe gassy stomachs, even though carminatives are a class of herbs that…soothe gassy stomachs! We are no longer allowed to say that lavender is calming to the nervous system even though it is classified as a nervine! Not to make too big a deal out of this, but it does feel a little like a witch hunt. Heaven forbid we allow citizens of the US the option to explore alternative healing (which wasn’t so “alternative” once upon a time ago).

However, I’m determined to stay positive, keep Five Seed alive, and find every nugget of goodness that can possibly come out of this. Here are just a couple of those positives:

1. Community. After a year of doing business in a somewhat isolated mode (as is easy to do when you’re an online business and have another day job outside the home), I’ve been reconnecting with my teammates over at EcoEtsy and participating in some fascinating discussions with other herbal sellers all over Etsy. The support I have found through them has been a huge relief and it helps me remember something at the cornerstone of herbalism – community. That is where the strength of herbal healing lies – sharing with and supporting everyone and anyone interested in the Old Wisdom.

I’m sorry to say that I think this aspect of herbalism has gotten lost in our capitalistic system. I never realized this until recently, but there’s a respectful and slightly suspicious distance that some of us keep from one another. In fact, of all the business owners I have connected with, almost none of them have been bath and body sellers. There is this subtle sense of competition – it’s like we’re so protective of our niche (and it’s hard to find any niche in b&b that hasn’t already been filled) that we don’t want to connect with others and potentially get lost in the massive sea of herbal businesses.

And unfortunately, there are some herbal sellers who aren’t very ethical, who search through our shops looking for information on products to create. I’ve seen many herbal sellers struggle with copycats. And finally, there are those who consider themselves the “watchdogs” and who search through shops and blogs to see what people are doing and who drop in with nasty comments and threats.

Now I’m seeing the value of pushing past all that capitalistic-, ego-driven, fear-based crap. None of this information is new. None of our products are new. There’s not much we can do to prevent ourselves from being targeted by copycats or watchdogs. So why cut ourselves off from the chance of connecting and sharing information? I think if we want to consider ourselves true keepers of plant wisdom (in whatever form we come), then we need to keep community at the top of our priority lists.

2. Integrity. It is always, always necessary to keep checking ourselves. After we’ve been in business for a while and have built a customer base, we tend to get into a rut about how we present our products. We assume we know who we’re talking to and that they know us, because, hey, we’ve been around for a couple of years. But this is a trap of sneaky complacency – sneaky in that we don’t often realize it is even happening.

This change in policy has got me thinking a lot about how I present my products. Obviously, I believe in integrity above all else as a business – integrity toward the environment and integrity with my customers. I was proud as I went through my product pages, because I felt I had been fair in how I presented them – very clear that these products are potentially helpful in the healing of certain health issues. I’m also always very clear about the fact that I created almost everything in the line for myself and used it with success – and that my successes made me want to share with others who might be dealing with the same health issues.

One of the products I’m trying to rewrite to be super clear about what it is.

However…there were a handful of new products (my skincare line) that were written in a way that might have been too easily misinterpreted by others. First of all, I was super excited about these products – as I said, I’ve been using them for a while now with great success, and if you read my upcoming e-book on skincare, you’ll know why I feel so elated about finally finding a solution for my crazy skin! This elation definitely played a part – and pride. I was so very proud of myself for finding a system that worked for me and could not wait to share it with others.

But I realized that a person’s tone is hard to identify on the internet. How are new customers supposed to know who I am or what I stand for or even what I mean by certain words if they are visiting for the first time via a product page (as opposed to my About page or storefront). Suddenly, I realized that my words in some of these listings could be easily taken out of context. Long story short (or long story long), I realized I need to remember to see myself from the perspective of that first-time customer dropping in on a product page, having no idea who I am. I need to be very clear and careful with the words I use. I thought I was doing that, of course – but this was a great way to open my eyes to the holes in my system.

I have more to say about this, but alas, I’m too busy editing my shop to write for the blog! Actually, I have some other fun projects in store, too, from my upcoming e-book to a new line of truly unique lip balms. There is lots to do, so I’d best be on my way for now.

Once more, thank you all for your support – it has truly kept me afloat through this challenging time!

Grassroots Revolution

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.

Halloween makeup: Is it safe for your kids?

Halloween is a fun time full of chills and thrills. But do you know what’s really scary? Many brands of Halloween makeup on the market today (including those sold specifically for use on children) contain lead, nickel, cobalt, and chromium. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics did a study on 10 popular brands (click here to see the full report, which lists the ten brands) in 2009. Here’s a sample of what they found:

::All 10 products contained lead, ranging from .054 parts per million (ppm) to .65 ppm.

::The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many other experts agree that lead exposure is not safe at any level, and exposure to lead adds up in the body. Lead primarily enters the body through ingestion or inhalation. There is limited evidence that lead can be absorbed through the skin, though this is less understood than other routes of exposure.

::Lead exposures during prenatal development, infancy and childhood can cause attention deficits, hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, IQ deficits, reduced school performance, aggression and delinquent behavior.

::Lead is banned from cosmetics in Canada and Europe. It is legal for cosmetics sold in the U.S. to contain lead in any amount.

And yet, recent studies have found lead in popular brands of women’s lipsticks. As unbelievable as it sounds, lead in cosmetics is still a danger. Label reading will not help, either. These products do not list the heavy metals in them, and many say “safe,” hypoallergenic,” and/or “FDA compliant.” None of these claims means you are safe from lead or other toxins.

Luckily, there are lots of options for concerned parents. Try making your own Halloween makeup. If you choose to buy Halloween makeup, check out Skin Deep for a “toxin rating” of different makeup brands. Also, stay away from those awful aerosol hair dyes! They are FULL of toxins both for you and the environment.

Here are a few more tips from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:

While all the products tested for this report contain lead, it does not mean that all face paints on the market contain lead. On the flip side, just because the products we analyzed did not test positive for mercury or arsenic does not mean we know for certain that face paints never contain mercury or arsenic, which were both found in a Canadian study. Unfortunately, this leaves parents in a difficult place when deciding how to help children dress up for Halloween. …Using costumes that do not include face paint may be the best option... Parents should urge their elected officials to ban harmful ingredients and contaminants from face paints and other cosmetics and enact comprehensive federal “safe cosmetics” legislation that gives the FDA the authority and resources it needs to regulate the cosmetics industry and ensure cosmetic safety.

Be safe this year and avoid those toxic makeups, both for yourself and your children.

This post was published on my other blog in 2009. This is the updated version.

Sex…and Armpits

Most people wouldn’t naturally associate sex with armpits. But the advertising industry keeps the two topics closely entwined, making sure that our subconscious mind keeps pushing us toward that one, perfect deodorant, so we remain attractive to potential lovers.

For you men out there, there’s the overtly sexual Axe ads which promise the attention (read that: inappropriate sexual gestures) of scantily-clad women. Just so you know, in real life, most of us are put off by those overpowering scents!

Image credit: Procter & Gamble

Last summer, Old Spice put itself into the ring with their Ever Clear ads. Their stance: Residual deodorant under the arms is not only gross, but makes you a loser who will  never get laid. Check out the picture of the “stupid weirdo” who obviously doesn’t use Ever Clear (left). From the New York Times (bold print added):

…Men probably have not been lying awake at night worrying about whether their underarms were pristine… “Our challenge was how do we bring that problem of having antiperspirant clumps in your pits more to life and have it be more unacceptable?” Mr. Bagley said. “And that’s what led us to the residue is evil campaign.”

With a target market of males 12 to 34, Old Spice has — like the competing deodorant and body spray brand Axe — relied heavily on over-the-top humor and promises of having an aphrodisiacal effect on women. (P.& G. said the product’s name being similar to Everclear, a brand of grain alcohol that might appeal to hard-partying young men because of its high alcohol content — up to 190 proof and illegal in some states — was strictly coincidental.)

Image credit: Procter & Gamble

Ladies get the “because you’re hot” visual from Secret Clinical Antiperspirant (right).

And what about this “clinical antiperspirant” flood? According to the NY Times:

Secret, the brand for women that is owned by Procter & Gamble, started the trend early in 2007 when it introduced Secret Clinical Strength, which has the same active ingredient as the original Secret — aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex — in a concentration that is 25 percent higher (20 percent concentration versus 16 percent).

But the increase in the active ingredient is nothing compared with the increase in Secret Clinical Strength’s retail price, which averages about $8.50, more than double the original formula’s price, about $3, according to Information Resources.

Click here for more information on how this product works, creating “plugs” in your sweat glands, preventing them from expelling sweat from the body. Is that really wise?

The media has taught us to associate sweat with negative images and judgments. According to the article above, a person sweating is assumed to be anxious, overweight, and/or unfit, thanks to the influence of the ad industry. But we don’t buy that. Maybe it’s time to think again about a natural bodily function, and spend less time trying to correct or prevent it.

If you have been thinking about trying natural deodorant, then stay tuned. It is super easy to make and extremely affordable. No, it won’t prevent you from sweating, but you can count on it to keep you smelling fresh all day. Further, it won’t prevent your body from doing what it naturally needs to do. And best of all, you won’t be caking chemicals and heavy metals in your pores and sweat glands.

Think it over and be sure to check back tomorrow…

In the meantime, here’s some deodorizing ridiculousness for your entertainment from Axe:

Essential Info on Essential Oils

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Essential oils are serious natural mojo packed into a tiny bottle. These plant essences are potent, powerful, and volatile.

Like any good natural beauty business, we love essential oils and use them in many products. What does that mean to you?

As a consumer, it is important for you to know a few things:

::Know your allergies! Some people have allergic reactions to essential oils, and this can largely be prevented by simply avoiding certain essential oils when you know your body finds them to be allergens. If you aren’t sure and decide to take a chance, make sure to use the product only on a small patch of skin at first, and slowly build up from there over the course of a few days.

::Most importantly, if you are pregnant, talk to your physician before using any products that contain essential oils. This is a warning found on every bottle of essential oil, and the safest route is to simply clear it with your doctor, first.

Most natural beauty product lines (from large companies to small businesses) use essential oils in their products, and the warnings are the same for all of them. Be wary if you buy products from someone who tells you that all essential oils are perfectly safe for pregnant women, or that they never cause allergic reactions. Essential oils are, for the most part, safe, and have been used for decades in beauty products, aromatherapy, and other natural healing/wellness venues. But it is important to be fully aware of what you are putting on your body.

When in doubt, ask your health care provider.