Recognizing When a Product Has Gone Bad

You’ve received your Flower Balm in the mail and you love it! Maybe you keep it in your medicine cabinet and use it twice a day, or maybe you are savoring every delicious scoop and are cautiously storing it in drawer in your cool, dry, dark closet. You’ve followed all the tips to keep it fresh for as long as possible. But how do you tell when it’s gone bad?

I hear many people say that it’s easy, because you’ll notice mold on the product. Wrong-o! I have heard people who make homemade balms complain about mold, but something is wrong if that has happened. There should be no mold in an oil-based balm, unless they were made with water (not recommended). If you find mold in an oil-based balm that you bought from someone else, be aware that you have likely contaminated it with water (usually by dipping in with wet hands).

Can you guess which one is starting to go rancid?

Can you guess which one is starting to go rancid?

The truth is, oil rancidity is incredibly common and usually goes unnoticed by consumers. The good news is that most oils take a year or two to become fully rancid. The bad news is that by the time it gets into your hands, it’s already a couple months old – at least. When it comes to rancidity, oils from grocery stores are the worst offenders. I’ve read that olive oils in grocery stores are typically 1-2 years old already. (And think of all the light and heat they have been exposed to while on the shelves.) Thankfully, my supplier of oils is top-notch and sells incredibly fresh oils. However, all bath and body sellers have to gently heat their oils in order to create our amazing products, which oxidizes the oils a bit more, and once a bunch of oils and butters and waxes are mixed together, the aging process has sped up just a tad.

So how do you know when a product has gone rancid? I did some experiments with Flower Balm and Knitter’s Balm. I exposed them both to heat and direct sunlight, day after day. The Knitter’s Balm started looking and smelling a little rancid within eight months. The Flower Balm went down faster, going totally rancid in less than six months. The reason for this is that I experimented with Flower Balm in a jar, not a tin – the packaging lets in more light than a tin, obviously, and therefore, did not last as long! Meanwhile, the two (one of each product) that I kept in the dry, dark, cool closet were still in fabulous shape after 9 months. Most natural balms and oils have a shelf-life of 9-12 months if they are kept well.

Look at the difference in these two products! It is obvious that the one on the left has gone totally rancid. (The flecks are not mold - just bits of SJW.)

Look at the difference in these two products! It is obvious that the one on the left has gone totally rancid. (The flecks are not mold – just bits of SJW.)

There are two telltale signs of rancidity. First of all, the color of the product will have faded significantly. The balm will usually be a white-yellow, instead of a deeper yellow or gold. (Though, admittedly, it is much harder to notice the color change in a liquid body oil.) Secondly, the balm or oil will smell different. Rancid oil smells very bland – some say it has a metallic scent, while others say it smells a bit nutty (though not in an appetizing way). I’ve heard some compare it to the smell of crayons, which is exactly what it smells like to me!

If your products are exhibiting these two symptoms, it is O-V-E-R. They’re gone. There is some debate out there about whether or not it’s safe it use rancid oils, but being as rancid oils contain free radicals, I say it’s just safer to dump the products and replace them!

That said, when using natural products, you shouldn’t worry about rancidity. As long as you keep your products well and use them up in a reasonable amount of time, you will have no problems. But hopefully, these tips will help you recognize rancidity in products that have been forgotten in the back of your medicine cabinets when it’s time to spring clean!

Preserving the Freshness of Your Natural Products

If you love natural, preservative-free products as much as I do, then you’re doing your skin, your body and the environment a huge favor. However, I often hear concern from people who are worried about keeping their natural products as fresh as possible, and who feel unsure about identifying when a product has gone bad. So get ready to be schooled!

Preserving a natural product is pretty simple. First, realize that no matter what, time will affect the product. An egg will go rotten eventually, even if you refrigerate it. Milk will curdle. Apples will rot. This is a normal part of the natural world. It’s what doesn’t go bad that you should be worried about!

Keep it fresh, baby!

Keep it fresh, baby!

In order to keep your products in prime condition, keep them someplace cool, dry and dark, as much as possible. By doing this, you are slowing down the process of oxidation. Everything submits to oxidation – even humans. The cooler and dryer you can keep your products, the better. And protect them from the light as much as possible. (That’s why we use amber or frosted glass jars instead of clear glass.)

This can be a challenge, I realize, especially if you live in, say, Miami! I happen to be lucky – I live in a cold, dry part of the country. But if you don’t, there are a few tricks you can try!

First of all, only buy what you will use in a 3-6 month period. If you use your products within 3 months, like I do, you can generally keep them in your bathroom’s medicine cabinet without worry. (Yes, even with the humidity and temperature changes a bathroom experiences.)

If you live in an especially hot, humid climate, try keeping your products in the fridge, if you don’t use them up quickly. It’s a bit moist in there, but cold, dark humidity is better than hot, bright humidity!

If you don’t want to use your fridge, try a closet or rarely-used drawer in a cool area of your house. This works like a charm for me. I keep the products that I don’t use up quickly in a closet, with the door shut at all times. This keeps the temperature consistent, blocks out the light and it’s dry as a bone, thanks to our high desert climate.

It is also very important to avoid contaminating your product with water. Any product that uses water is harder to preserve and if you buy products with water in them, you need to make sure they include a preservative, or be VERY careful in how you store them. (Keep it in the fridge and use it up fast.) I do not sell anything that contains water because products like that, sans preservatives, have a very short shelf-life. Balms, oils and soaps, however, do not need preservatives (so long as they are used in a reasonable amount of time) because bacteria don’t (yes, it’s “don’t” – bacteria is plural) find these products very hospitable. So don’t go and introduce bacteria into your products by dipping into your Flower Balm with wet hands! Keep your hands dry when you dip in and this will help keep your product fresh and safe.

Now the big question: How do you know when a product has gone bad? And what does that even mean? Stay tuned, next Friday, and I’ll answer your question!

The right moisturizer for the job

Last week, we talked about how showers tend to dry out the skin, especially at this time of year. It is recommended that you slather on some moisturizer within three minutes of your shower to prevent the loss of your own natural oils and to protect the skin throughout the day. But what to use? You might be surprised.

There are generally four categories of moisturizers: balms/ointments, oils, creams and lotions. Lotions are the most popular of all the moisturizers. The reason is that they contain alcohol, which keeps them from being too greasy. They absorb easily into the skin and generally leave little to no residue. These lotions are not the best solution for dry skin, however – the alcohol (the ingredient that makes it so popular) counteracts the moisturizing ingredients! Further, many popular lotions today are rated a 5 or above at the EWG’s Skin Deep Database.

Take a hugely popular product, Lubriderm’s Daily Moisture Lotion. Check out this list of ingredients:


Are there enough petroleum-based ingredients and parabens in here for ya? LOL! According to the EWG, this product is rated a whopping 7 (out of 10). They list the following as high level concerns: Endocrine disruption, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Contamination concerns.

Lubriderm is not alone in this. Go check out the Skin Deep Database and see where you lotion rates. You might be unpleasantly surprised!

The second most popular moisturizer is the cream. These are very much like lotions in that they absorb very easily and don’t leave a lot of residue. Why? You guessed it – most of these have some form of alcohol in them! These seem to have a lower rating on Skin Deep (lower is good!), but if you look at the ingredients in these products (Eucerin Cream, Neutrogena Hand Cream, etc.), they are, like lotions, made from petroleum-based products and are full of parabens. Not good!

The next category is oils. This is a great way to moisturize, but as you can imagine, many people don’t like to use oils because of the residue. However, this is a far more natural way to moisturize – assuming you are using a pure oil, that is! (Stay away from mineral oil and anything containing it!) My recommendation would be to use sweet almond oil, grape seed oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, etc. You don’t need a lot – a little goes a long way. Rub it into still-damp skin right after your shower.

Copyright: Five Seed

And if you really need some help for super dry skin, the BEST thing you can use is an oil- and wax-based balm. I think many people cringe when they hear this because we’ve been taught that waxes and oils clog our pores. But these are natural products and they know how to interact with our skin – and vice versa. Oils enhance our skin’s natural moisture and wax seals that moisture in, protecting us for hours after application. In my personal line, I use Coconut Vanilla Bean Balm (or the Tonka Balm) as a body moisturizer and for my face, I use Flower Balm in the morning and Flower Elixir at night (to give my skin some “breathing room” while I sleep). I’ve been doing this for two years now and I believe it has truly healed my skin from years of treating it with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

If you want to make your own, I highly recommend using organic oils and combine them with a semi-solid butter – cocoa butter and shea butter are my favorites. I also recommend beeswax for the skin, though candelilla wax is another favorite of mine and is plant-based for all you vegans out there. If you prefer to buy them, make sure to look for a list of all-natural ingredients. Balms do not need preservatives or petroleum-based products or parabens or any other such nonsense! :)

Yes, oils and balms leave more of a residue, it’s true. This is why they are the least popular moisturizers despite their efficacy. There is a simple remedy for this, however. First of all, only apply a little at a time. You will find that you do not need nearly as much of these products as you would need of lotions or creams. Secondly, you can use a dry washcloth to blot off the excess. Make sure you give your skin a few minutes to truly absorb the oils/balms before you blot – this will help a lot, as well.

What kinds of moisturizers have you found to work the best on your skin?

My Face on Honey

I’m so happy to have a guest post today by one of my favorite bloggers, EcoYogini! Here, she talks about using honey as a facial cleanser – something I have done many times in the past and find very effective! Enjoy!

I have always been a face product junkie. From those acne wipe circle thingys to using face wash, exfoliant, toner and moisturizer. I’ve never really had much face issues, until my twenties. All of a sudden my face hated me, so I spent a ridiculous amount of money on Aveda face products and more recently Eminence. I now have acne and very sensitive skin that flames bright red after even the most ‘sensitive skin’ proclaiming products.

Copyright: EcoYogini. (Photo used with permission.)

About six weeks ago my Eminence face wash ran out. Serendipitously, I had just read Yancy’s blog post about alternative face washes where she mentioned honey. I thought, what the eff, why not? I have local honey- if my face explodes I’ll stop using it. Six weeks later and it now has replaced almost exclusively my face washing routine. I thought I might be a little crazy, I mean how is this actually cleaning my face?

Copyright: EcoYogini (Photo used with permission.)

Then I read Crunchy Betty’s ‘Honey Face Wash’ challenge series. Hah!! I KNEW it!

Why would you want to wash your face with honey:

1. It’s CHEAP. No seriously, this was a deciding factor for me. I’m so tired of spending a jabillion dollars on my face wash that is usually filled with chemicals.

2. Honey is naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial. Lots of people use it as a preserving agent. This means that it naturally cleans out those acne creating nasties!

3. According to Crunchy Betty, it’s *slightly* drying so it will get rid of extra oil on your face. I have found differently- see my observations below.

4. It’s beautifully moisturizing, not too much and not too little.

5. Honey has beneficial enzymes, especially raw honey.

6. According to Crunchy Betty, Honey is good for all skin types!

7. Honey has healing properties which is great for acne or scarring.

8. It’s completely natural, no icky chemicals soaking in your skin!

Copyright: EcoYogini (Photo used with permission.)

You can find fabulous tips, advice and step by steps on Crunchy Betty’s Honey Challenge series- I highly suggest you take a little peak. I found her posts helpful, but I’ve kept it pretty darn simple. Here’s what I discovered as being the best routine for my face.

Feeling a bit like a huge crunchy granola, I cleaned out one of my small glass jars that used to contain locally made moisturizing lotion and poured in a whole bunch of local honey. Unfortunately, I’ve had some difficulty finding raw honey locally, although I will admit that I haven’t searched that hard.

I stuck the jar in the shower, since that’s where I wash my face. Every morning I unscrew the jar cap, and pour about a tablespoon of honey in my palm. I rub both hands together to spread the honey and in circular motions I massage the honey into my cheeks, nose, temple- just as I would my regular face wash. With the face cloth I wipe away the honey gently and… voila! That’s it!

What I was pleasantly surprised to notice:

1. My acne actually didn’t get worse. I haven’t noticed a magical improvement, I still get acne, but it definitely has not gotten worse and I may even go as far to say that it’s improving slightly.

2. My skin feels SO much better after using honey than when I periodically use my John Master’s Organics face wash that I purchased on a whim in Montréal. I use this face wash about once a week, just so it won’t go to waste, after which my face feels tight, dry and looks red. Honey NEVER does this. My skin on honey is soft, clean and not inflamed. It’s magical.

I’ll admit, I don’t just use honey in my face washing routine. I still use moisturizer, although I use much less and about once a week I use a fabulous gentle face scrub made from oatmeal and lavender. As soon as it runs out I’m going to try to make my own- the oatmeal is amazing for softening my skin. I would have never guessed.

As someone who has *never* in a million years used makeup remover, I used to just rub away with the face cloth (yes I know, so harsh on that delicate skin!), I wondered what to do about that pesky mascara and concealer on my eyes. About a week ago I found some jojoba oil I had lying around. Just to see, I put one drop on a Q-tip (you could use a felted square ), and it worked perfectly! Why in the world would anyone buy chemical laden makeup remover when jojoba oil works so well? Added bonus? Jojoba oil is gentle and light enough to moisturize that delicate skin around your eye.

I am so happy with my honey face wash, I can’t believe I didn’t know about it before. That said, I can’t speak for your skin. All I can say is that for this makeup wearing, combination and sensitive skin Yogini, honey has been THE solution. :)

Green Lathering in the Shower

We’ve gone through our shampoos and conditioners here on our green beauty journey. But what about the body? Traditional bar soaps aren’t that green, and body washes are an even bigger chemical nightmare! Luckily, there are lots of alternatives.

Make your own body wash. This is easier than it sounds. Just mix a 1:4 ratio of liquid castile soap to filtered water and put it in an old water bottle, or other container. You can add anything you want to this mixture to customize it – aloe vera gel, lavender essential oil, jojoba oil. Just squeeze it onto a washcloth, and viola, you have your own body wash. Admittedly, it is very thin, but it works! Best of all, you can use this for shaving, as well. The castile soap gives the skin a nice, slick surface for your razor. You can even make your own body wash with soap ends. Check out this great tutorial at EcoYogini.

If you prefer soap bars (as I do), I highly recommend Dr. Bronner’s. They are a little pricey at about $4 a bar, but they are one of the safest bar soaps I have found. (You can even find them at Target these days.) I would also recommend looking on Etsy, where you will find many great sellers who make beautiful, affordable, natural bar soaps, like Mirasol Farm.

And here’s a great recipe for DIY shampoo bar if you want to try something other than no-poo or making your own liquid shampoo.

Conditioned to Condition

Regular visitors to 5 Seed know that we don’t believe that you need to use conditioners in your hair care routine. If you like them, by all means, use them. But remember there are some potential hazards to consider, and besides – a vinegar rinse is all you need.

If your scalp is feeling dry, however, and your hair is lacking its luster, there are plenty of natural items you can use to moisturize.

First, try organic oils. The best are jojoba, coconut, and olive. There are three ways you can do this. The first two are for light moisturizing. Massage into the scalp and down the hair shaft (1) after washing, when the hair is still wet, or (2) when it’s dry, at night, before your morning shower.

Mountain Rose Herb's organic, unrefined, virgin coconut oil

There are a few things to note here. First of all, use very sparingly, as you don’t want to weigh your hair down. Second, is your hair light-colored? If so, then remember the oil may cause your hair to look dirty and greasy – the opposite of what you want. This is why I suggest moisturizing at night for light-haired people, and washing the oil out during your morning shampoo.

If your hair is dark, you likely won’t have as much of a problem with this, and can work some oil into your hair after your shower. Dark-haired Lindsay Edmonds at Passionate Homemaking claims coconut oil also makes a fabulous natural gel that keeps her curls bouncy.

If you want to give your hair a (3) super moisturizing treatment, lube up your entire head with warm olive oil, pin up to keep it off your shoulders/clothing, and let it sit for one hour. Then shampoo out. You may have to lather up 2 or 3 times to get this out, but it’s a great treatment. Just be sure you don’t over-wash your hair afterward, or you’ll be defeating the purpose.

Other moisturizing treats for the hair include “hair masks” (just like facial masks) made out of mashed avocado, organic egg yolks, organic mayonnaise, or aloe vera gel. You can even combine some of these ingredients and experiment with different mixtures. And for shine? Try that vinegar rinse…or a mashed banana!

The best way to keep your scalp and hair well-hydrated? Wash your hair less often.

DIY Shampoo, Version 2 (and a hair update)

I have been further experimenting with my haircare routine over the past two weeks, and wanted to share a few things.

First, if you have already experimented with washing your hair every other day, for a long period of time, as I have, then it is quite easy to extend that one more day without the hair becoming too scary! I am now successfully washing every third day, and it feels great. I probably will go back to every other day in the summer, but in the winter, it’s not usually necessary. (If you feel a little too oily, try the dry shampoo.)

Second, I have experimented with the DIY shampoo recipe. When you mix vinegar and castile soap, the results can be a bit sticky or tacky, depending on the user. I noticed a very slight tackiness to my hair when I first started using this recipe, but it never bothered me, so I didn’t think much about it. Several readers who have tried this recipe recently, however, have told me that they definitely don’t like that aspect of the shampoo. So I omitted the vinegar and reduced the castile soap considerably.

Five Seed’s Favorite Shampoo
aka: DIY Shampoo, Version 2

2 cups filtered water
1/2 cup liquid castile soap
10 drops lavender essential oil

So far, I have found this shampoo to be even better than the previous recipe and can’t believe I didn’t try it before. There is no tacky/gummy residue, and it washes cleanly. Here is my hair the day I first used this recipe.

I have not yet tried a vinegar rinse after using this, but will do so in the coming weeks. Give this one a try – I like it even better than the previous recipe!!

UPDATE: August 11, 2011

I am currently using a 1:1 ratio of castile soap to water. I often change this this, however, just to see how my hair responds. It seems to thrive when I change the routine every few months. I would recommend never using more castile soap than water, however, as it tends to weigh the hair down.

Dry Shampoo

I still have a few more hair posts coming up next week, but if you are in the process of trying no-poo or the DIY shampoo, or are just experimenting with less hair washing this weekend, I thought I would offer you a little back-up plan: dry shampoo.

Image: Mountain Rose Herbs

Dry shampoo is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not really shampoo, at all. It’s a mixture of oil-absorbing substances that you rub into the hair and then brush out. In other words, if you only shampoo every second or third day, as I do, and if you are getting a little oily, but not enough to wash, then this is the perfect product for you.

Simply mix about 3/4 cup of cornstarch or arrowroot powder, and 1 tsp. of kaolin clay (also known as white cosmetic clay). Mix them together and put it into a powder container for easy application. I find cornstarch works slightly better, however, I almost always use arrowroot because cornstarch is typically made from genetically modified corn. I’m sure there are enough GMOs that I’m unwittingly ingesting and/or applying, so the fewer, the better!

You can also add a few drops of essential oils during mixing. (Just a few!) Rosemary is great for oily hair, and has such a beautiful, strong aroma. I would also recommend lavender.

Now you don’t NEED dry shampoo. I try not to use it too often because I don’t want it to absorb so much oil that my hair starts over-producing again! So if you really feel you need it, go for it, but use it sparingly. Start by sprinkling a bit into your hands, rubbing your hands together, then brushing them through your hair. Add more as needed. It’s like seasoning a soup – you can always add MORE spices, but you can’t take them out once added. You don’t want to end up with powdery, white hair, so add it slowly.

You can find these items at most health food stores, or at Mountain Rose Herbs (of which 5 Seed is an affiliate), or other online health food and beauty suppliers.

Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c

DIY Shampoo

Forget this stuff! (Image: Procter & Gamble)

If you weren’t too keen on the whole no-poo idea, then try this homemade shampoo. I found the original recipe here, on Passionate Homemaking, and have altered it to fit my hair’s needs. The beauty of this shampoo is that you can change any part of it to make it work for your hair. Use different measurements, different essential oils – the possibilities are endless.

1 cup organic liquid castile soap (You can get this from Dr. Bronner’s or from Mountain Rose Herbs*.)
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 ¼ cup water
10-20 drops of your favorite essential oils (lavender is my current favorite)

I use a spray bottle (as suggested by Passionate Homemaking blogger, Lindsay Edmonds) to apply this shampoo. It works really well. The only drawback is that it is plastic, which I try to avoid. Many people have dozens of plastic water bottles lying around the house (so often given away as promotional material at summer street fairs, so they tend to pile up) – you can easily use one of these, as well. The nozzle would make a great applicator.

Make sure to shake this mixture before using it. The castile soap makes a great lather, for those of you who need some lather in your shampoo! :) I like to use a low castile soap to water ratio, whereas the original recipe calls for the opposite. Castile soap has a very different feeling than traditional shampoos, as it is made from oils. Your hair will feel thicker and it will probably take some time to get used to. But your hair WILL be clean.

This is the shampoo I have used for a year and a half. I absolutely love it. This is a great shampoo to use as a transition to no-poo, if you are interested in taking that route. Or as a substitute for traditional shampoo. As I mentioned before, I use baking soda every fourth or fifth shampoo to get my hair super clean, then return to this shampoo.

There is one drawback to this (and some other) homemade shampoos: static electricity. There are chemicals in commercial shampoos and conditioners that bind to the hair for a number of reasons, including the prevention of static electricity. However, I’ve never found this to be a huge problem – just a minor annoyance.

So…if you aren’t sold on this shampoo’s ability to get the job done, or its eco-friendly ingredients, then just imagine how much money you will save by using this, rather than buying shampoo and conditioner every few months!

*5 Seed is an affiliate of Mountain Rose Herbs. We fully stand behind their ethical and eco-friendly business practices.

Conditioner vs. Vinegar Rinse

Despite the fact that we have been taught that oils in our hair are bad (unsightly, gross, unclean, etc.) and that we should wash them out on a daily basis, the oils in our hair are, in fact, a good thing. Our bodies know how to take care of themselves without chemical intervention. The oils in our hair protect and condition. You may be surprised to hear this, but you don’t need to use conditioner on your hair to keep it healthy.

Conditioners contain a plethora of unpleasant ingredients – they make the hair look great but at what price? Fragrance and (usually synthetic) preservatives can be found in almost all conditioners. Then you have polymers, silicones, and surfactants, all of which bind to the surface of your hair for the purposes of repelling moisture, smoothing the hair follicle, detangling, and creating shine. Did you catch the phrase “BIND to the surface of your hair”? In other words – they don’t rinse out. So you are walking around with a head full of chemicals all day long.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing is more effective than a good, old-fashioned vinegar rinse. According to Rosemary Gladstar:

Vinegar is especially suited for oily hair, though it can be used effectively for dry hair as well. Apple cider vinegar is usually the best vinegar for the hair, but wine vinegar is milder and more appropriate for dry hair. Vinegar rinses are also good for itchy scalp, dandruff, and dull hair, and they help restore the natural acid of the scalp.

For the rinse, you will mix apple cider vinegar with water – a 1:4 part ratio for oily hair, and a 1:6 part ratio for dry hair. You can do this in a cup, or simply pre-mix the two ingredients in a large spray bottle or squeeze bottles. I prefer to either mix it in the shower with the warm water, or use a spray bottle, as pouring the rinse over the head all at once can be surprisingly cold – even in the summer.

Soak the hair with this mix after shampooing (or no-pooing) and rinsing out the sham/no-poo. In other words, this isn’t meant to rinse out your shampoo – and definitely NOT to rinse out your baking soda wash! (Vinegar and baking soda mixed in the hair would not be good.) Work it into the scalp, then rinse out. If you can stand to alternate hot and cold water, this is supposed to give the hair a nice shine.

Vinegar rinses make the hair so smooth and soft – you will be surprised if you’ve never tried it before.

Now, if you are worried that you will smell like a salad after using this – try it, first. For the majority of people, the vinegar smell disappears as soon as the hair is dry. You have to be willing to experiment. You may want to try diluting the vinegar with more water if you find the smell too strong. I typically use 2-4 tablespoons in three cups of water, but sometimes I use the regular 1:4 dilution ratio. If you have any problems, contact me ( or Google vinegar rinses – there are millions of tips on the internet.

You can also add a few drops of essential oils to your rinse. I use rosemary, which is great for oily hair, or lavender, which helps with itchy scalps. Basil and peppermint are said to promote hair growth, patchouli and ylang ylang can help counter dandruff, and chamomile and lemon are great for enhancing the golden highlights in blond hair.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with this one – vinegar rinses are so good for the hair. Give it a try.