Category Archives: HMN Reports

Product investigations

Sunscreen and Such Things

It’s the time of year when the Environmental Working Group (love those people) publishes their annual sunscreen report, rating the toxicity and efficacy of sunscreens. And I have some good news this year! I’ve made a few important discoveries.

First, here are a few products that I like (gawd, it would be awesome if someone was paying me for this placement but they aren’t).

For daily moisturizer and sunscreen I use this Cetaphil.

I’ve even found a sunscreen that EWG tolerates and that I like. It’s not all gooey and sticky. It’s the Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sun block Lotion SPF 30. Be careful to make sure you get the right Neutrogena product because when you get above SPF 30 the ratings start turning red.

Now, this is the really big news… I’ve found a kids sun block that I like. It doesn’t even turn them blue and ghostly. It’s All Terrain KidSport Phineas and Ferb Sunscreen Spray, SPF 30.

Skin Deep beyond the sunscreen: there are now a bajillion +/- products in the database and it can be challenging to find and choose a new product. But, I’ve discovered that I can go to a category, like toothpaste, and start at the green end of the list and keep looking in the low toxicity scores until I find a brand name that I know I can get in my local store. Ta-da! Then I have what I need.

Do you all have any lotion or sunscreen products you really love? What are they and how do they rate?

SNL’s Version of Downton Abbey and Four Other Things I Love


  1. African American women with natural hair.
  2. Campbell’s Soup’s promise to make their cans BPA free.
  3. Christina Rosalie’s A Field Guide to Now is available for pre-order. Yes, please!
  4. Pam Houston’s ability to articulate the difference and similarity between fiction and non-fiction in writing “So rather than say my intent is to blur the lines, I would say that those lines are not useful to me as an artist. They don’t help me to get the story written.”
  5. Fancy Entourage – What’s better than Downton Abbey? The Saturday Night Live version of Downton Abbey. I can only find the video there. I can’t embed it but you can scroll down to the second image to watch. It’s worth it. TRUST ME!

What five things do you love right now?

A Different Vaccination Question

This isn’t a post about vaccinating babies; I’ve already covered that. And it isn’t a post about vaccinating teenage girls against the HPV virus to prevent cervical cancer. Speaking of… Have you seen this Saturday Night Live skit, Lil’ Poundcake, the doll that administers HPV injections.

Ah, good times.

This post is about vaccinating me.

For many years (12?), the University of Washington Tumor Vaccine Group has been working on a vaccination to prevent Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2-positive (HER2+) Breast Cancer. My cancer was HER2+. I am at risk for recurrence, and a candidate for the trial.

Now, here comes my terribly un-technical understanding of the trial. HER2+ cancer cells have more receptor sites that enable them to grow and divide faster. The folks at UW have isolated the bits of the HER2+ part of the cancer cell and are mixing them with an agent in an effort to get the immune system to recognize and kill these cells.

The purpose of this trial is to find out how much of the agent makes it most effective. Everyone enrolled will get three injections of the vaccination and varying amounts of the agent, 28 days apart.

My oncologist suggested I look into the trial, but participation is up to me. I’ve had the paperwork on my desk for 6 weeks and I can’t decide. Here are the issues I’m thinking about:

  • At 6.5 years past my diagnosis, I am fairly low risk for a recurrence. Do I really need the vaccine?
  • Will I cause myself harm? Will long-term side effects appear later?
  • When I was on Herceptin, a miracle drug for patients with HER 2+ cancer my heart showed a rapid and alarming drop in ejection fraction, pumping capacity, which caused my oncologist to discontinue the drug immediately. My heart recovered but no one knows if we did any long-term damage.
  • If I don’t get the vaccine and have a recurrence then it’s too late. No second chances.

What would you do?

The Peanut Puzzle Part II

To continue where I left off the last post, this is all summarized from “The Peanut Puzzle: Could the Conventional Wisdom on Children and Allergies Be Wrong?”

Since the conventional wisdom about when to introduce solid foods to babies was overturned in 2008, Doctors Sampson and Sicherer have continued to study food allergies. They have been experimenting with giving children low doses of the food they are allergic to, sometimes in a different molecular structure, to reeducate the immune system that the food is acceptable.

They observed, “…for example, that baking caused milk proteins to change shape in a way that could be less provocative to the immune system. The allergic person might be able to eat the altered proteins and become tolerant of them in all their forms.”

The article also follows Maya, a little girl with an anaphylactic reaction to milk. In spite of her parents’ vigilance she’d had some frightening reactions. On a family outing she struggled to breathe and lost consciousness after eating something labeled “vegetarian cheese.” Another time she was rushed to the hospital after eating a hot dog that contained milk protein.

Under the instruction of Sampson and Sicherer, and in the presence of a nurse, Maya was given a muffin that contained a small amount of milk. She took one bite and had no reaction. Then she ate the rest of the muffin and after a few minutes the vomiting started and hives appeared. They gave her an injection.

When the reaction stopped, they sent Maya home. Her parents received specific instructions to feed her baked goods containing milk every day. Maya came back six months later and they inserted an IV and had epinephrine at the ready. They gave her a slice of pizza. She ate the entire thing without a reaction.

“It was nothing less than miraculous,” her mother said.

Maya returned the next day and drank a glass of milk. As soon as she finished drinking she began vomiting but they were able to control her reaction with Benadryl. A few months later, Maya was able to eat macaroni and cheese but still unable to tolerate a full glass of milk.

“Even if she never progresses past this,” Maya’s mom said.  “I have no regrets about being in the study, because now she can go to a birthday party and have a slice of pizza. It’s huge.”

It is miraculous. So miraculous that I was considering doing some baking. Then I remembered Josie’s food allergies – egg, whitefish, soy and tree nuts. Codfish pecan muffins, anyone?

Sunscreen Report 2011

Oh my god, the sun is out, where is my sunscreen post?! Imagine me digging around in the piles on my desk. Oh, that’s right, I haven’t written it yet. Save the kittens!

First off, you can get caught up with last year’s sunscreen news here.

The big news for this year is concerns nano zinc and titanium particles. These particles, when inhaled, have been shown to cause cancer in lab rats. More studies are needed before we know if they have a similar effect when absorbed through the skin, but for now, they’re easy enough to avoid.

Same as 2010, we’re trying to stay away from oxybenzone (endocrine disruptor). Vitamin A (retinl palmitate) is still controversial but also easy to avoid.

Kathy and Statia over at Safe Mama have already posted an awesome sunscreen report. They have a short list of what you should buy, with many reviews and feedback about texture, consistence, scent and efficacy.

The Environmental Working Group also just released their list of the best sunscreens. There are some great mineral and non-mineral options.

As for me, I’m still looking for the holy grail of sunscreen – the natural lotion that won’t make Josie bright blue. This year I think I’m going to try these

All Terrain Kidsport Sunscreen Spray SPF 30.

And the Aubrey Organics Saving Face SPF 15 Sunscreen for me. I love their conditioner and I could get this one at PCC.

How about you? Do you have a natural sunscreen you love?

The Peanut Puzzle Part I

After my last post, I know you’re all relieved to know that we finally settled in around the one pool in the greater Las Vegas area that did not have loud music. It was a plain rectangle that was in the shade of the high rises until 1:00 every afternoon but we made do.

The highlight of my reading was this: “The Peanut Puzzle: Could the Conventional Wisdom on Children and Allergies Be Wrong?” Sorry, they won’t let you read the article.

Um… YES.

Since 2000 the “conventional wisdom,” endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, has said that parents should wait until a child is 6 months old before introducing solid foods. Then parents should start with the foods that are least likely to cause allergic reactions. This late introduction was thought to make children less likely to develop food allergies.

In the past decade peanut allergies have doubled. Clearly there’s something wrong with our “conventional wisdom.”

I hated giving Josie formula. Spooning powder from a can seemed like the antithesis of nourishment – it was the ultimate processed food. I was anxious to start her on solid foods, but I followed the conventional wisdom and waited until she was 6 months old to give her a bite of cooked sweet potato. In spite of my efforts, or maybe because of them, she’s currently allergic to eggs, soy, white fish and tree nuts.

Doctors Hugh Sampson and Scott Sicherer at Mount Sinai Medical center have found that food allergens are unavoidable and babies come into contact with protein molecules though particles in the air and on skin and in other food and that by giving them such small doses we are actually making their systems more sensitive and more likely to develop allergic responses.

“You can’t avoid food proteins,” Sampson, said. “So when we put out these recommendations we allowed the infants to get intermittent and low-dose exposure, especially on the skin, which actually may have made them even more sensitive.”

Based on a report submitted by Sampson and Sicherer, The American Academy of Pediatrics overturned this practice in January of 2008, stating – “Current evidence does not support a major role for maternal dietary restrictions during pregnancy or lactation… There is also little evidence that delaying the timing of the introduction of complementary foods beyond four to six months of age prevents the occurrence of [allergies].”

Now what? The retraction of the previous recommendation leaves a hole where the current advice should be placed, but there’s nothing there. At this point, all we know is that we don’t know what we thought we knew and I guess that’s a great first step.

When did you introduce solids? How did that work out? Does your child have allergies?

To be continued…


A friend and I were recently engaged in a riveting email exchange about the merits of various natural cleaners and detergents when I realized our conversation was a blog post looking for a place to happen.

Just so you know I DO totally feel like the happy homemaker right now. Does your soap give you dishpan hands? But I’m going to carry on because this is useful information.

Please add to the conversation by sharing your favorite, or least favorite, products in the comments section.

Here we go.

We like Seventh Generation for the bathroom. I can’t say that I have done any research as to its claims of naturalness but I can say that they sell it at PCC, my local co-op, and they are usually pretty good about vetting products.

We like CitraSolv for the rest of the house. I love orang-ey smells!

I know there are a lot of you out there who use water and vinegar mixtures. How does that work? Do you use them exclusively for every application or do you occasionally slip a product in here and there? What ratio of water to vinegar works best?

For dishwasher soap, we use CitraDish. I used to have this terrible dishwasher that couldn’t clean a thing. I tried several brands until I finally found this one. It made my terrible dishwasher look good.

Now, for laundry… I was reading a post on one of my favorite blogs recently where she asked her readers what they used for laundry detergent. A ton of people recommended Charlie’s Soap. I’d never heard of it. I ordered some and it is awesome, non-toxic, and it makes my clothes and towels really soft. I cannot believe I just said that. Do you have dishpan hands?

Please, don’t make me suffer up here alone. Tell me what you like and don’t like. xoxo

PS – dispan hands?

Progesterone Did It

When I first clicked thru to read this story, “Estrogen Lowers Breast Cancer and Heart Attack Risk in Some.” I assumed it was another example of completely contradictory information, upholding the theory that almost anything can be proven to be good or bad for you if the right test is done in the right way. Hormones are GOOD for alleviating symptoms of menopause. No, they’re BAD, they cause cancer. Vaccines are GOOD for your children. No, BAD, they cause autism. No, GOOD, they don’t cause autism. Beets are GOOD for you. No, BAD… OK, that last one is just wishful thinking on my part. I hate beets. Don’t even try to tell me I haven’t had them fresh enough or prepared the right way. I’ve tried to love them, really I have.

But enough about me… Apparently when a woman is given estrogen she is also given a form of progesterone to protect her uterus. If the woman has had a hysterectomy she can take estrogen alone. The study followed these women, who didn’t need to take progesterone, for 11 years and found they were 23% less likely to develop breast cancer than the women who had hysterectomies but did not take estrogen.

Everyone seems to agree that more investigation is needed before any big changes are made, but who knows, maybe there’s a hysterectomy and estrogen therapy in my future. I do hope someone weighs in on this soon because it’s been, like, three whole years since my last surgery. I hardly know what to do with all my free time and extra body parts.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Oh, hey, hi there. How’s everyone doing?

It’s February, that dreaded, dark, gray, rainy month where not a whole lot good happens in Seattle. The light is starting to come back, we’re past the winter solstice but it’s still really dismal. Are you taking your vitamins? Are your kids taking their vitamins? There’s a lot of chatter out there in the world about how much Vitamin D we all should be taking. This new chart came out in late November and I think it’s a great guide. You can read the whole article that went with it here.

The Tablet Controversy

She asked him to bring her a cookie for Christmas. I hope he knows it needs to be lactose free.

On October 23rd, the FDA issued a warning to stop using Hyland’s Teething Tablets. The tablets contain belladonna which, when dissolved in a baby’s mouth, is thought to ease teething pain.

The FDA cited these problems with the tablets in their report:

  1. They’ve received reports of belladonna toxicity – symptoms include: seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, sleepiness, weakness, skin flushing, constipation, agitation.
  2. They’ve identified manufacturing inconsistencies that result in varying degrees of the substance in the tablets.
  3. They point out that the tablets have not been proven to work.
  4. They’ve received reports of babies consuming too many tablets because there is no child proof cap.

Seattle Mama Doc recommends not using any tablets or gels of any kind because they’re not proven to work.  She recommends baby Tylenol (if anything) for teething pain, but I’m not sure that is the right solution either after their recent recall debacle. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Johnson & Johnson the same.

On the other side of the debate is Gaia Health who claims that the amount of belladonna is so low that a baby would have to consume thousands of the tablets to show any signs of toxicity and that the FDA’s actions are the result of pressure by big pharmaceuticals. Now, I’m all for a good conspiracy theory, especially one that involves the FDA, but the question I just can’t answer is this: why would big pharma want Hyland’s to be off the market? Are they competing with Hylands or is it just because Hylands is unregulated? Also, if it takes thousands of tablets to show signs of toxicity, is there really enough belladonna in each table to relieve pain?

We used the tablets when Josie was teething with mixed results. Sometimes it seemed like it helped, sometimes not. Josie was kind of a fussy baby and I think many times we incorrectly assumed her fussiness was a result of teething pain. Now we know that was likely lactose intolerance. Hello, bad mommy feeding her cow’s milk formula! Sheesh, the guilt… Anyhoo, it’s a tough call but I think the risks outweigh the benefits.

Have you used them? Did they work? What do you think of all this?