How our Face Cleansing Powder can Save Your Skin

 

We receive a lot of lovely feedback from customers about our products, but some of the most enthusiastic comments are for our Face Cleansing Powder, which has a particularly devoted following. For example,

“This is the best cleanser I have every used – everything else, even the organic ones, makes my skin red and itchy. My skin has never looked better.”

And:

“It is the best cleanser that I have ever used, and the only one that has been able to remove the tiny blackheads on and around my nose. It also leaves my skin very receptive to hydration”.

Why is our Face Cleansing Powder is so effective?

We believe the wonderful results that come from using our Face Cleansing Powder are down to two main differences from traditional water-based cleansers.

Firstly, because water is added to the powder just before it is used, the ingredients become fully active on your skin. The enzymes, vitamins, anti-oxidants and other phytonutrients lie dormant until they are activated with water, and do their work whilst in contact with your skin. In contrast, water-based cleansers rely on synthetic detergents to clean the skin, and any additional bio-active ingredients begin degrading as soon as they are bottled. By the time they reach your skin, much of their bioactivity has been lost.

Secondly, each ingredient in our Face Cleansing Powder has been selected for its unique benefits to the skin. In contrast, water-based cleansers require a range of synthetic ingredients – preservatives, emulsifiers and thickeners – to keep them stable and give the product a shelf life. These ingredients are added solely to provide product stability, with no benefits to the skin.

Oatmeal and skin

Our Face Cleansing Powder contains a range of carefully selected ingredients, in quantities that are designed to deliver a potent supply of anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, vitamins, enzymes and other phytonutrients.  We’d like to talk a little more in-depth about oatmeal, a key ingredient in our Face Cleansing Powder.

It is now well known that oatmeal has considerable health benefits whether consumed or applied externally. Despite its relatively humble history in the west, it has been valued since ancient times for its medicinal properties, most notably in the treatment of skin conditions. Oatmeal baths, in particular, have been used for centuries as a remedy for inflamed, irritated skin. We now have a clearer understanding of why oatmeal has these healing properties. What the ancients may not have known is that in addition to its healing effects, oatmeal has significant skin rejuvenating properties.

The key active constituents that are considered responsible for oatmeal’s beneficial effects in the skin are:

  • The avenanthramides. These are potent polyphenolic antioxidants, which are the component within oatmeal thought to be responsible for relieving inflammation, redness and itching. In addition, they have been shown to protect the skin from the DNA-damaging effects of UV radiation. Interestingly the avenanthramides have been shown to achieve their effects even at very low concentrations.
  • Beta-glucan. A polysaccharide (long chain sugar) which both forms a protective film over the skin and penetrates into the epidermis where it promotes hydration. It has also been shown to stimulate fibroblast activity and collagen production, and in clinical studies has been shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, increase skin firmness and improve skin elasticity.
  • Oatmeal also has significant levels of the enzyme superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant that protects against free radical damage and can reduce the signs of ageing.
  • Natural saponins give oatmeal a gentle cleansing activity – no need for those harsh synthetic detergents when using oatmeal!
  • Oatmeal acts as a buffering agent that can help skin maintain an optimal pH.

We love the fact that oatmeal soothes, hydrates, promotes collagen formation, cleanses naturally, protects the skin from UV and other oxidative damage, and helps maintain the correct pH of the skin. In our Face Cleansing Powder oatmeal also contributes to the gentle physical exfoliation achieved with this product, keeping the skin free of superficial debris and promoting normal cell turnover. No wonder people love what this product does for their skin!

The traditional oatmeal bath

Oatmeal baths have traditionally been used to help soothe the inflamed skin of eczema, allergies and even chicken pox. However, you don’t need to have inflamed skin to enjoy the benefits of an oatmeal bath – it’s a lovely way to treat yourself on these cool winter evenings!

Take 1 cup of rolled oats or oatmeal and blend to a fine powder. Place the oatmeal in a muslin bag or on a piece of muslin cloth and tie it closed. Run a hot bath and immerse the muslin-wrapped oatmeal in the water, swirling it to help release its goodness. Step into the bath when the water has cooled a little and soak for around 10-15 minutes. Towel dry and apply one of our nourishing moisturisers immediately after. Happy skin!

Oatmeal is just the beginning of the story about Face Cleansing Powder. Soon we’ll be writing about the other wonderful ingredients in this product, and how they work together to bring you beautiful skin.

The dry brushing/massage combination – a morning ritual to keep for life…

dry body brush shot small

We all know that the foundations of good health are regular exercise and a diet of fresh, wholesome food. However, in our often hectic lives, it is easy to neglect our inner world. Meditating, taking a solitary walk in nature, and practising yoga are methods we can use to connect with and nurture ourselves. Another is to perform daily abhyanga, or self-massage, a wonderful way to relieve stress and anxiety, promote mindfulness and clarity and simultaneously nourish and care for our skin (Read how to perform abhyanga here).

The benefits of abhyanga can be enhanced by first performing dry skin brushing on the body. This simple technique is carried out using a dry plant fibre brush on dry skin. It stimulates the circulation in the skin – white-skinned people will turn slightly pink – whilst gently exfoliating the dead skin cells, enhancing cell renewal in the epidermis, and helping the sebaceous and sweat glands to carry out their excretory functions more efficiently. For some people, dry body brushing is a meditation in itself, others find they feel energised, like they have just had a workout. One of the obvious benefits is that it allows improved penetration of your moisturiser through freshly exfoliated skin.

Most people perform dry skin brushing in the morning – a convenient place is in the bathroom just before showering. You should use firm but non-painful strokes, adjusting the amount of pressure according to the sensitivity of the skin on different parts of your body. If in doubt, brush gently until you are more practised at it. Avoid dry brushing the face, breasts and genitals, any area the skin that is damaged or inflamed, and over varicose veins.

Start with the soles of the feet and work up the legs, then move on to the hands and up the arms. Next brush the back, a long-handled brush comes in handy here, then the stomach in a clockwise direction, and finally the chest, always massaging towards the heart. This takes around 5 minutes. Follow with a shower to wash away dead skin cells, then towel dry and perform abhyanga using an organic massage oil (see our beautiful body oils here and here). The full abhyanga takes around 20 minutes, but a condensed version can be carried out by massaging in the same sequence as the body brushing, starting with the feet, and once again massaging towards the heart, taking no longer than a few minutes.

In the ideal world, full body abhyanga would be performed daily, but for many people this is not practical.  Carrying it out once a week, mindfully and without haste, brings many benefits, and is a self-affirming treatment that you will grow to love. In between times, you can ‘supercharge’ the value of your moisturising oil or cream by performing dry body brushing, showering, then applying your moisturising oil or cream using the condensed abhyanga. This little morning ritual is like a mini meditation and mini massage which, if done mindfully, will repay the extra few minutes many times over in a more positive, expansive state of mind, together with the pleasure of living with healthy, resilient, glowing skin.

Mother Nature You Are Spectacular!

If we were able to transport a person living in the year 1916 to our homes and walk them through our daily lives, it would be interesting to discover what they would make of our lifestyle. The changes over the last 100 years resulting from the massive expansion of knowledge in all areas of science are staggering – from how we spend our leisure and work time, what we eat and who makes our clothes, to how far and how easily we travel.

Delightful in some respects, our time traveller may think, and not so wonderful in others. But whatever their opinion of our lifestyle, we might be less than proud to admit that it is, in a word, unsustainable. The incredible advantages that science has brought to our world have come at a considerable cost – uncontrolled warming of the planet, pollution of our oceans and rivers on an alarming scale, loss of massive tracts of native forests and species extinctions at a record rate. The price of our lifestyle is, incredibly, the health of our planet.

As we consider the enormity of what needs to be done, and the reluctance of our decision-makers to take drastic action, it’s pretty clear that in the absence of radical new technologies, it will be up to us as consumers to change the way we do things. The tiny house movement, increased support for organic agriculture and a growing awareness of the health and environmental disadvantages of processed food are symptoms of radical changes in our thinking – changes that might bring us closer to the lifestyle experienced by our time traveller from 1916.

When it comes to skin care, our 1916 counterpart was at the dawn of the chemical revolution that gave rise to the mass production of skin creams – the so called ‘cold creams’ being the new ‘must have’ for the modern woman. Cold creams were so named because they were a water-oil emulsion which, when applied to the skin, left the skin feeling cool because of evaporation of the water component.

To make a cold cream, an emulsifier was required to permit the blending of water and oil. In the early days the emulsifier was traditionally borax, spermaceti (from whales) and sometimes beeswax. The oil component, which did the work of improving the skin’s barrier by reducing dryness and smoothing its appearance, was almond oil or similar which, because it tended to go rancid quickly, was later replaced with petroleum-derived petrolatum. The invention of preservatives such as parabens gave a long shelf-life to these creams, allowing mass production and its necessary counterpart -advertising. As the years passed, more sophisticated emulsifiers, thickeners, and other intangible ingredients were created to improve the ‘feel’ of the product on the skin. This is where we find ourselves today: a small amount of oil (plant or petroleum-derived) mixed with water and a range of synthetic ingredients.

To our minds, the error in thinking about modern skin care began around 100 years ago when it was deemed necessary to mix oil with water. The active part of a skin care formulation is the oil – the water dilutes it, making it easier to spread, but serves no other function. Our ancient ancestors understood and embraced the benefits of using pure oils on their skin. In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian tradition, the value of massaging the skin with sesame oil has been known for millennia, where it was used to slow ageing as well as to treat numerous skin and systemic conditions. Coconut oil was used by Polynesians for thousands of years to soften and protect their skin, and as a treatment for arthritis and joint pain. In western Africa, shea butter was treasured for its ability to treat burns and wounds, inflammatory skin conditions and keep the skin supple in an unforgiving climate. In all these cultures, the oils were valued as food and medicine, in addition to their role in skin health. These people knew that what we apply to our skin should not be considered differently to what we eat. We now know that our skin is an organ that is nourished from the inside, and also readily absorbs a wide range of molecules that are placed on its outside, nutrients and toxins alike, depending on their chemical structure.

As we are slowly discovering, it is difficult to improve on nature when it comes to food – adding synthetic preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilisers, sugars and colourings to pure plant foods tends to reduce their nutritional value. Eating pure unadulterated fresh foods is our best bet for a healthy life, whether they be ‘superfoods’ or the humble but super-nutritious parsley or oatmeal. When it comes to skin care, it makes no sense to tamper with these wonderful ingredients by diluting, emulsifying and preserving them when their nutrients are just as available to our skin in their pure form.

This is the principle on which Mokosh skin care is based. We have decided not to be part of last century’s industrial revolution that has brought us to today’s synthetic-laden offerings. Simple is best – the safest, smartest and most effective approach for our skin and body health.  Best also for the health of our planet, removing the need to manufacture a swathe of synthetic substances. Embracing the perfection that is Mother Nature is one of many small steps we need to take in the right direction.

How to care for your hard-working feet.

In Ayurveda, regular oil massage is one of the keys to good health, helping restore balance, stimulate the body’s healing systems, and open the mind to inner awareness. We have previously written about how to perform Abhyanga , or full body self-massage here, which takes around 30 minutes to perform. When time is limited and for a wonderful uplifting effect, a foot massage can be the perfect start to the day, helping to soothe and ground mind and body. When combined with a scalp massage, you have a mini-abhyanga, since the marma points on the scalp mirror those on the feet, and help balance the body’s subtle energies.

What oil to use:

Classically, the oil of choice will depend on your body type, or dosha, which will generally be a predominance of vata, pitta or kapha. A brief description of the 3 doshas is given here.

Vata and kapha body types should massage with a warming sesame-based oil, like our Sesame & Frankincense Body Oil while pitta body types should use a cooling coconut-based oil, like our Coconut and Sandalwood Body Oil.

How to perform Ayurvedic foot massage:

Using the thumb, massage the point in the middle of the arch on the underside of the foot, with a circular, clockwise motion.

Using the thumb, massage the middle of the fleshy part of the underside of the big toe.

Massage the underside of the first joint of each toe, then pull from the base to the tip of each toe.

Massage the top of the foot in the groove between the big and second toes, using both thumbs, working from the base of the toes towards the ankle

Using both hands, massage from toes to ankle, top and bottom of foot.

Using both hands, massage the ankle joint clockwise, on the front, back and sides of the ankle.

You may wish to dab your feet with a towel to remove excess oil before getting on with your day.

The after-effects:

Regular foot massage helps restore energy to mind and body, and brings an awareness and gratitude for the work your feet do for you every day. Treat yourself to the full abhyanga treatment when you can manage it, and feel marvellous all over. The time spent carrying out this restorative treatment will be well rewarded.

How regular exposure of your skin to sunlight could make you live longer.

There’s nothing quite like the feel of sunlight on your skin to make you feel glad to be alive. Yet in Australia we tend to avoid direct sunlight and use sunscreen liberally to avoid both premature skin ageing and skin cancers which are known to be caused by overexposure to ultraviolet light. It seems that Australians have been a little too diligent at keeping in the shade, since we are now a nation where 1 in 3 people are known to be vitamin D deficient, a condition caused by inadequate exposure to sunlight (1).

It has been known for over 100 years that adequate levels of vitamin D are required for optimum bone health. More recently, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of some cancers and autoimmune diseases (2). Now it has been shown that regular sun exposure extends our lives by means other than through the effects of vitamin D (3). This newest finding has implications for those looking at oral vitamin D supplementation as a substitute for the health benefits of sunlight.

Why is a low level of vitamin D a health problem?

Bone density – Vitamin D promotes absorption of calcium from the intestine, and is important in regulating both calcium and phosphorus levels in the body. In children, vitamin D deficiency may result in failure to reach their genetically programmed height or, in severe deficiencies, rickets. In adults, vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures (2).

Cancer and other chronic diseases – As long ago as 1941, it was noted that people living at higher latitudes, i.e. further away from the equator, had a higher risk of dying of cancer. This association has since been found to occur for a range of cancers, including colon, prostate and breast cancers. Similarly, living at higher latitudes is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis and possibly other autoimmune diseases. Since many people living at higher latitudes are vitamin D deficient, it has been considered that vitamin D deficiency may be a causal factor in at least some of these cases. This link has been reinforced by the fact that the vitamin D receptor is present in most cells in the body, including activated T and B lymphocytes, and the involvement of vitamin D regulation of cell growth (2).

Exposure to sunlight reduces blood pressure

In 2014, a study demonstrated a significant reduction in blood pressure following exposure to UV A light, mediated by the production of nitric oxide in the skin. Nitric oxide is released from the skin into the blood stream where it dilates blood vessels, reducing blood pressure (3). This is the suggested mechanism for the observed higher blood pressure and greater incidence of cardiovascular disease in those living at higher latitudes. Therefore, some of the health benefits of exposure to sunlight seem to be due to mechanisms other than vitamin D (4).

What about the increased risk of skin cancer?

The most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, is known to be sun-induced, although a good proportion of melanomas occur in non sun-exposed parts of the body, indicating that some melanomas arise from DNA mutations that are not induced by sunlight. The biggest risk factors for melanoma are considered to be a higher number of sunburn incidents, having more moles, and having red hair. There is a lower incidence of melanomas in outdoor workers than indoor, and in the untanned than the tanned, suggesting that low regular levels of exposure to the sun may be protective against melanoma, at least in the population at lowest risk (2, 4).

For non-melanoma skin cancer, basal cell tumours and squamous cell carcinomas, the major risk factors are chronic sun exposure and a higher incidence of sunburn incidents. However, these forms of skin cancer are rarely fatal, compared to melanoma which has a 10-20% risk of fatality. In fact in one study of over-40 year olds in Denmark, those with non-melanoma skin cancer were less likely to die than healthy controls, and were less likely to have a heart attack (2,4).

How do we ensure we have adequate exposure to sunshine?

It is not yet clear how much sunlight exposure is required to achieve healthy levels of nitric oxide production in the skin for reduction of blood pressure. For vitamin D, UV B rays from the sun convert a vitamin D precursor in skin cell membranes to vitamin D3, which is released into the circulation and transformed in the liver and then the kidney to the active form of vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D3 that is formed in the skin upon exposure to sunlight varies with three factors:

  • The intensity of sunlight – less time is required to produce the same amount of vitamin D during summer and at lower latitudes, ie closer to the equator.
  • The amount of vitamin D precursor present in the skin – we produce less vitamin D precursor as we age, so that after the age of 70, there is around 25% less vitamin D precursor in the skin than in a young adult. This means that older people require longer sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D.
  • The amount of UV B that reaches the skin melanin is a highly efficient sunscreen and blocks UVB light, which is required for vitamin D conversion. The darker the skin, the longer the sunlight exposure required to convert the same amount of vitamin D precursor. Likewise, sunscreens block most UVB light and therefore prevent the conversion of vitamin D precursor.

The Cancer Council has put out guidelines for recommended skin exposure times in different parts of Australia to achieve adequate levels of vitamin D whilst minimising sunburn risk (5). For the southern Australian cities, a fair-skinned person would need only a few minutes per day of sunshine without UV protection during summer, and as much as 2-3 hours per week during winter.

Too little sun is bad for your health

Although dermatologists are understandably reluctant to change recommendations about the dangers of sun exposure, the evidence is mounting that too little sun can kill you. In one study of 30,000 Swedish women, those who did the most sunbathing were half as likely to be dead 20 years later than those who avoided the sun altogether. And a Scandinavian study of 40,000 women found that those who went on the most sunbathing holidays were least likely to have died 15 years later (4). Some researchers say that there are potentially more undiscovered health benefits of direct sunshine on the skin. To my mind, a regular sensible dose of the real thing has to be better than the ‘sunshine substitute’ of a vitamin D supplement. And it feels better too!

  • (2) Holick, M.F. ( 2005) Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80(suppl):1678S– 88S
  • (3) Liu, D, et al (2014) Journal of Investigative Dermatology 134: 1839–1846. ‘UVA irradiation of human skin vasodilates arterial vasculature and lowers blood pressure independently of nitric oxide synthase.’
  • (4) Weller, R. (2015) The prodigal sun. New Scientist 3025, 13 June 2015, 26-27.

What is your moisturiser doing for your skin?

What is your moisturiser doing for your skin?

Skin moisturisers range in price from $200+ for a 20ml bottle, to the cheap and not-so-cheerful petroleum-based creams sold for as little as $5 per litre. To work out whether your moisturiser is really giving you value for money, it might be worth considering what a moisturiser can really do for your skin, and whether claims made in marketing campaigns can be believed.

How do moisturisers work?

The name ‘moisturiser’ conjures up the idea of adding water to the skin. However, most people are surprised when they realise that the water component of water-based moisturisers evaporates within around 15 minutes of application (1). Despite this, the aim of applying a moisturiser is to increase hydration and improve barrier function in the skin – specifically the outermost cell-free layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum (see image below).

Skin section

Microscopic cross section through skin. The dark dots are nuclei – note that  in the stratum corneum cells are dead and no nuclei are visible.

What does a healthy stratum corneum do?

The role of the stratum corneum is to form a barrier against the environment. This barrier has two main functions – it slows down water loss through the skin and protects the body from contact with substances that could cause harm. The stratum corneum is formed as cells in the epidermis divide and move from the innermost layer of the epidermis outwards to the surface of the skin. As cells mature they produce lipids, keratin and a mixture of compounds collectively known as Natural Moisturising Factor, or NMF. At the level of the stratum corneum, the keratin and lipid components form a physical and water-repellent barrier, while NMF attracts water to itself, thereby locking water in the stratum corneum. Adequate hydration of the stratum corneum is essential for proper barrier function, and permits important metabolic reactions to take place, such as those which allow the normal shedding of the outer layer of the stratum corneum.

What happens when the stratum corneum is not formed properly?

Dry looking skin, characterised by flakes, scales, sometimes accompanied by redness and irritation, is a result of a poorly functioning barrier in the stratum corneum. This can happen when there is an abnormal maturation of cells in the epidermis resulting in an improper formation of the lipid, keratin or NMF components; or uneven or poor shedding of the superficial layers of the stratum corneum. It can be caused by internal or external factors, but irrespective of the cause, a breakdown in the skin barrier results in increased exposure to potential irritants, which may result in a progression to chronic skin conditions such as dermatitis and eczema.

How do moisturisers affect the skin barrier in stratum corneum?

There are 3 main ways that moisturisers help to maintain the skin barrier:

  • Occlusive agents – these form a film on the surface of the skin, thereby reducing water loss and increasing the level of hydration in the stratum corneum. They include most of the petrolatum and mineral oil, methicones, waxes and the plant butters. The most efficient of these are the petroleum-based oils which form a plastic-like film on the skin. For some, the occlusive efficiency of petroleum based creams is problematic, as they may trap bacteria and dirt under the skin resulting in skin infections. In a study of premature infants, petroleum cream-treated babies had a higher incidence of systemic candidiasis, a life-threatening fungal infection , than those who did not receive any moisturiser. It was considered that the occlusive petroleum-based cream provided an environment that allowed proliferation of these organisms. In a separate study of premature infants, babies treated with sunflower seed oil were 41% less likely to develop infections than those treated with petroleum creams (2). Because the fatty acids of plant oils form a less complete barrier, allowing the sebaceous and sweat glands to secrete more freely, some consider that they permit more physiological functioning of the skin whilst slowing down water loss (3).
  • Emollients – essentially this means creating a smooth appearance to the skin by filling in the spaces between the shedding stratum corneum, and improving the skin’s softness and pliability. In the medical literature, ‘emollient’ is interchangeable with the term ‘moisturiser’. A number of ingredients have both occlusive and emollient properties. Common emollients include plant and animal oils (triglycerides), as well as synthetic substances such as decyl oleate, isopropyl palmitate and cetyl alcohol. Note that plant-derived fatty acids have been shown to improve barrier function in the skin (4), probably because they penetrate through the stratum corneum and into the cellular layers of the epidermis, (5) helping to replenish lipids and contributing to the formation of a more effective lipid component of the barrier (4). In contrast, petroleum-based moisturisers remain on the skin surface (2). Interestingly, not all plant oils are beneficial – studies have shown that pure olive oil, soy bean oil and mustard oils damage the barrier, whilst sunflower oil may improve it. In olive oil, this effect was attributed to its high oleic acid content, whilst the beneficial effects of sunflower oil are considered to be due to its high linoleic acid content (6, 7).
  • Humectants – these are molecules which attract water to themselves, acting as water binders. When included in a moisturiser, they theoretically help boost the level of NMF in the stratum corneum, helping to maintain hydration and therefore barrier function. Commonly used humectants are glycerin, urea and propylene glycol. Humectants are water-soluble and so may be included in a moisturiser that has a water phase, but not in pure oil moisturisers. Some humectants are considered to have a counter-productive effect, drawing water out of the stratum corneum and epidermis and thereby having the opposite effect to what is intended (8). Therefore, in practice, not all humectants improve hydration of the stratum corneum, and require careful formulation to ensure they are achieving the desired effect.

What else is included in moisturisers?

Emulsifiers are present in all water-containing creams, since they are needed to allow the oil and water phases of the moisturiser to combine. It has been shown that some surfactants may weaken the skin barrier, increasing trans-epidermal water loss. In one study, (9), 5 out of 9 emulsifiers tested damaged the barrier in this way. When one considers that emulsifier molecules contain a hydrophilic (water attracting) and lipophilic (lipid attracting) component, a similar structure to detergents, it is conceivable that some of them may interfere with the all-important lipid component of the skin barrier.

Preservatives are included in all water-based creams, since water-containing products would otherwise permit the growth of bacteria and fungi. For some, preservatives are a source of skin irritation, and may result in skin reactions. There are also concerns about hormonal disrupting effects of some commonly used preservatives (10) as well as their potential effects on the balance of the microbial population of the skin.

Bioactives are molecules added to moisturisers with supposed beneficial effects on cells in the skin, usually with the promise of preventing or reversing ageing. Despite common claims on some internet sites, healthy skin is not efficient at allowing molecules to pass through it, and will not ‘absorb 90% of what is put on it’, since a healthy stratum corneum forms an efficient barrier to most molecules. In order to have an effect on the living cells in the skin, a bioactive must pass through the stratum corneum into the cellular layer of the epidermis or, with greater difficulty, travel through the epidermis and into the dermis, where the common targets of bioactives, collagen and elastin, are located. Simply adding a vitamin, anti-oxidant or other growth enhancing molecule to a cream does not mean it will reach a destination where it can have a cellular effect.

The Mokosh approach to moisturisers

Shea butter imageOur philosophy is to work with the body’s own healing and regenerative capacity. This means using no synthetic ingredients, drawing instead on a variety of biocompatible plant oils and butters for their occlusive and emollient effects, thereby delivering a rich and varied array of organic and unrefined plant triglycerides, fatty acids and other essential nutrients to the skin. Because our moisturisers contain biocompatible fatty acids, they are able to replenish the lipid component of the skin barrier, and simultaneously slow down water loss from the skin without occluding important glands, permitting them to function normally. This approach helps to fortify the skin, nurturing the processes that build a strong and fully functioning barrier.

Because our moisturisers contain no water, they contain neither emulsifiers, some of which are known to damage the skin barrier, nor preservatives, some of which may have adverse long term health effects, and may also alter the skin microbiome.

Finally, because our ingredients are grown and processed under certified organic conditions, they are not contaminated with potentially toxic solvents, and are naturally rich in a variety of anti-oxidants as well as vitamins A and E, some of which may penetrate into the cellular layer of the epidermis. These are the form of bioactives we prefer to use – those found naturally in plants grown and processed organically and with minimal refinement. In the same way that plants grown this way are more nutritious to eat and less damaging to the environment, so too they are the ideal food for our skin.

(1) Blichmann, CW, Serup, J and Winther, A. (1989) Effects of single application of a moisturiser: evaporation of emulsion water, skin surface temperature, electrical conductance, electrical apacitance, and skin surface (emulsion) lips. Acta Derm Venereol 69: 327-330 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2568053

(2) Campbell, JR, Zaccaria, E, Baker, CJ (2000) Systemic candidiasis in extremely low birth weight infants receiving topical petrolatum ointment in skin care: a case-control study. Pediatrics 105: 1041-1045 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/105/5/1041.short

(3) Darmstadt GL et al (2005) Effect of topical treatment with skin barrier-enhancing emollients on nosocomial infections in preterm infants in Bangladesh: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 365:1039-45 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15781099

(4) Mao-Qiang et al (1993) Fatty acids are required for epidermal permeability barrier function. J Clin Invest 92:791-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8102380

(5) Mao-Qiang et al (1995) Exogenous nonphysiologic vs physiologic lipids. Divergent mechanisms for correction of permeability barrier dysfunction. Arch Dermatol 131:809-16http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7611797

(6) Boelsma et al (1996) Assessment of the potential irritancy of oleic acid on human skin: evaltuation in vitro and in vivo. Toxicol in Vitro 10: 729-42 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20650257

(7) Darmstadt et al (2002) Impact of topical oils on the skin barrier: possible implications for neonatal health in developing countries. Acta Paediatr. 91: 546-54 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12113324

(8) Kraft JN and Lynde CW (2005) Skin Therapy Letter Moisturisers: What they are and a practical approach to product selection. 10:1-8 http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/505759_6

(9) Barany et al (2000) Unexpected skin barrier influence from nonionic emulsifiers Int J Pharm 195:189-95 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10675696

(10) https://mokoshskincare.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/take-care-with-paraben-preservatives/

Should you become an anti-plastic extremist?

It is difficult to imagine our lives without plastics – they are an indispensible part of the mass production and storage of our food, our smartphone and computer-dependent living, and have helped revolutionise medicine with the development of plastic replacement body parts, syringes and intravenous fluid bags. Once mass production of plastics began during the 1940s and 1950s, it was possible to manufacture consumer goods on an affordable and grand scale, resulting in the rise of the single use plastic bag and drink bottle with little provision for appropriate disposal or recycling. It is now clear that this plastic-fuelled revolution has come at a price, with toxins from plastic entering our oceans, rivers and groundwater, poisoning our already fragile food chain, and threatening the health and lives of humans and animals across the globe.

What toxins are in plastic?

We have summarised what goes into the 7 most commonly used plastic types at the end of this article, each of which may be identified by the recycling symbol and #1-7 numbering system.

Most plastics are made from hydrocarbon molecules obtained from refining petroleum or natural gas, where carbon-based monomers are extracted, forming the building blocks of plastics. Monomers are processed to form polymers or copolymers – chains of monomers of the same or different types joined together. These are mixed with various additives, including antioxidants, plasticisers and flame retardants, to provide additional properties. By combining different monomers and additives, it is possible to obtain an enormous range of plastics with varied properties.

Plastics were once considered inert, non-reactive substances, but it is now understood that this is not the case. The process of polymerisation which creates plastic is rarely complete, meaning that unbound monomers, many of which are toxic in their free state, are free to leach from the plastic. Additives, too, are not always strongly bound to the polymer, and may leach from the plastic into food and drink (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2150379/).

Different plastic types leach different chemicals. Most well known are those with oestrogenic activity, including the phthalates found in PVC (#3) and bisphenol A found in polycarbonates (#7). However, a recent study showed that virtually all plastics used in food and drink storage leach substances with oestrogenic activity, even those which are free of phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222987/#r2).

It is now understood that leaching of toxic monomers can be accelerated by exposure to UV radiation (sunlight), microwaves, moist heat, scratching and possibly by freezing. Polymers, too, may undergo a change in their chemical structure under these ‘stressed’ conditions and gain oestrogenic activity (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222987/#r2). This is something few people consider when using plastic containers to store food and drink, heating food in the microwave, or exposing containers to sunlight.

Chemicals of concern that leach from plastic include the following:

  • oestrogenic molecules, sometimes termed xenoestrogens, are potentially present in all plastics (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222987/#r2) but of particular concern are phthalates in PVC, #3, bisphenol A in polycarbonates, #7, and the now banned PCBs which are present in some plastics made before 1979 (http://www.epa.gov/wastes/hazard/tsd/pcbs/about.htm). Xenoestrogens are known to have effects including abnormal development of reproductive organs, reduced fertility due to sperm and egg abnormalities, increased incidence of gonadal intersex, and altered sex ratios (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenoestrogen). The steadily increasing incidence of breast cancer in women in western cultures and industrialised countries has been linked to prolonged exposure to oestrogen via an early menarche and late menopause. There is concern that this could be at least in part due to increased exposure to xenoestrogens. Of particular concern was the demonstration that bisphenol A was able to induce neoplastic changes (transformation into cancer) in breast epithelial cells in tissue culture studies (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907875/). Bisphenol A is commonly used to manufacture baby bottles, coats thermal paper receipts and lines most tinned foods. Bisphenol A is found in the urine of most people today – in a study carried out in 2004, BPA was found in the urine of 93% of children and adults studied (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisphenol_A).

In one study it was shown that use of a hand sanitiser before handling a thermal receipt and eating food enhanced absorption of BPA into the bloodstream (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0110509 ).

  • the vinyl chloride monomer from polyvinyl choride, PVC, #3, is both highly toxic and carcinogenic. It is responsible for the ‘new car smell’, and is widely used in construction, clothing and furniture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinyl_chloride);
  • the monomer styrene, which may be present at up to 1% in polystyrene, PS, #6, which is commonly used in takeaway hot food and hot drink containers, is toxic, mutagenic (damages DNA) and possibly carcinogenic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polystyrene);
  • bisphenol S, which has to some extent replaced bisphenol A in some polycarbonate #7 plastics because of safety concerns, has been linked to abnormal neurological development in the hypothalamus (a region of the brain which regulates many body functions, including many endocrine functions) of fish at very low doses, resulting in hyperactivity (http://www.pnas.org/content/112/5/1475.abstract).
  • in addition to its oestrogenic effects, bisphenol A has been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver enzyme abnormalities (http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=182571), and possibly obesity in children (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/132/3/e637).
  • other potentially toxic additives include the toxic metal antimony in PET plastic, and lead, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals in PVC. The flame retardants such as the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) are known toxins with neurobehavioural and endocrine disrupting effects (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brominated_flame_retardant), and are used in a range of plastics.

Isn’t most plastic recycled?

Approximately 110 million tons of plastic are consumed worldwide each year (http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/01/31/what-happens-to-all-that-plastic/ ). Despite the fact that we have the ability to recycle much of our plastic, the world’s recycling rate is estimated to be a dismal 6.5%. Most of the remainder goes to landfill, where it may remain intact for hundreds of years, leaching toxins into groundwater, while a good proportion of it makes its way into rivers and oceans (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_recycling). Recent studies estimate that 8 million tons of plastic goes into our oceans each year (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768 ).

The effects of plastic waste on wildlife and the environment

It is estimated that around 100,000 animals die each year from becoming entangled in or ingesting plastic, where it lodges in their digestive tracts, causing starvation (http://worldcentric.org/about-compostables/traditional-plastic/pollution).

In the 70 years or so since plastic has been mass-produced, sufficient amounts have been washed into the ocean to form the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, North Atlantic Garbage Patch and the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch) – huge swathes of plastics trapped in the upper layers of the major ocean gyres, the great circular marine currents. Much of this plastic is eventually broken down to microplastics, ranging in size from microscopic to particles of 5mm in diameter, which are small enough to be ingested by all stages of the food chain, causing still unknown effects. A recent study on the Great Barrier Reef showed that corals take in pieces of microplastic which then lodge in their digestive tracts and cannot be expelled, further adding to the pressures on this already endangered ecosystem (http://www.coralcoe.org.au/news/great-barrier-reef-corals-eat-plastic).

Apart from the physical effects of indigestible plastics on the health of wildlife, oestrogenic compounds and other toxins present in the ingested plastics may cause systemic harm to the animals which ingest them, resulting in reduced fertility and increasing susceptibility to disease, adding to the risk of food chain collapse.

In addition to the toxins present in plastics, it is now becoming clear that plastics adsorb and concentrate organic pollutants, acting as toxic reservoirs of persistent organic pollutants like PCBs, dioxins and the toxic DDT derivative DDE, since these toxins adhere to plastics and become concentrated (http://www.caseinlet.org/uploads/Moore-Plastic_Resin_1_.pdf), making microplastics even more toxic, and further adding to the risk of harmful effects on wildlife. It has now been shown that fish that ingest plastics which have adsorbed toxins from the marine environment at similar concentrations to those found in the Great Pacific Garbage patch, suffer liver toxicity and other pathologies, partially attributable to the physical effect of the plastic on the digestive tract, and partially due to the toxins consumed. (http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/131121/srep03263/full/srep03263.html).

Clearly, plastic pollution jeopardises the health of our oceans, in addition to our own health, adding further severe strain to our already fragile ecosystems.

What happened to reduce, reuse, recycle?

Not much reduction

The worst offenders, single use plastic bags and single use water bottle containers, are the obvious first targets when aiming to reduce the overall load of plastic waste in the environment.

Plastic bags and water bottle containers have been banned in a small number of cities and countries throughout the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-out_of_lightweight_plastic_bags; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottled_water_ban). Despite this, it is estimated that 1 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded each year, and Australia is responsible for approximately 4 billion of these. In the USA only 30% of PET plastic (most commonly used for single use water bottles) was recycled in 2013, with much lower rates of recycling in most of the rest of the world.

Polystyrene containers are another clear target and have already been banned in some states of the USA because of the difficulty in disposing of polystyrene waste. Australians throw out over 40,000 tons of polystyrene each year, of which less than 7% is recycled (http://www.mwrrg.vic.gov.au/community/polystyrene-recycling). It is virtually non biodegradable, contains toxic styrene and is used to dispense hot foods which are likely to increase leaching into the food and drink consumed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foam_food_container).

Not much recycling

The poor rate of recycling worldwide (around 6.5% by some estimates) is considered to be partly due to the difficulty of sorting plastics into their different types, as different processes are required for different plastics, and due to the lack of recycling facilities. Further, it is not financially viable to recycle some plastics.

In some places, reverse vending machines give money back for plastic bottles and aluminium cans (http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/live/waste-and-recycling/clean-streets/envirobank-reverse-vending-machines), and in Australia, container deposit schemes operate in SA and the NT, which boasts a container return rate of almost 80%. http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/environmental_info/container_deposits

It’s clear that given the opportunity and/or a financial incentive, plastic can be recycled at a higher rate. Another strategy is to increase the price of plastic to reflect its true health and environmental cost. This would it more profitable to recycle plastic and make it less financially competitive when compared to paper, cloth, glass and metal packaging.

What you can do

If you want to help turn the tide towards reducing the negative impact of plastic, you may be interested in joining activists such as Ocean Crusaders http://oceancrusaders.org/; Upgyres http://upgyres.org/ and Plastic Free July http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/

For the sake of your own health, that of your family and the environment, cut down your own use of, and exposure to, plastic. There is plenty of information about how this can be done: see http://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/; http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/; http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/avoiding-toxins-in-plastic.

It doesn’t take long to see that the bulk of household plastic waste is generated by purchasing mass produced food and drink – when shopping in supermarkets we even put fresh produce into plastic bags. Buying in bulk, using paper or cloth bags for fresh produce, eliminating packaged and canned foods, shopping at farmers’ markets, growing some of your own produce, and wrapping wet waste in newspaper so you can get rid of your bin liner, are just some of the ways people have drastically reduced their plastic waste.

At Mokosh, most of our packaging is glass (skin care products), metal (shaving soap and body balm), or cardboard (bar soaps and lip balms). Our main plastic use is in the PET bottles we use for liquid soap – we have shied away from glass packaging for these because of safety issues with glass around bathroom sinks and showers, but have decided we need offer a glass option. We have also considered supplying bulk sizes of our skin care products, to reduce use of the plastic component in pumps used in some of our skin care oils. What do you think?

If you are already an anti-plastic activist, how have you reduced plastic use in your life, and have you managed to influence others to make the change?

How can we start to turn the plastic tide?

Getting to know the 7 plastics…

#1 – PET, PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)

PET is generally a transparent plastic, commonly used for water and soft drink bottles, and some foods. Because it has been considered relatively insert, it is considered safe by most authorities. However, a recent study showed that some PET containers, although BPA free, leach oestrogenic compounds (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222987/#r2). However, leaching of these compounds is inconsistent between PET manufacturers, most likely because of inconsistencies in the types of additives and different processes used to make PET. Of note is that when stressed by heat or UV radiation in the above study, all PET containers leached oestrogenic substances. Another concern with PET has been the potential leaching of antimony oxide, which is used as a catalyst in the manufacture of PET and incorporated in small amounts into the plastic. However, most would consider the amounts leaked to be well below what are deemed toxic levels (http://www.petresin.org/faq.asp).

#2 – HDPE (high density polyethylene)

HDPE is a flexible plastic that is usually opaque, and used to package a variety of food and cleaning products and to make outdoor furniture. It is another plastic that has traditionally been considered safe. However, as shown in the study already mentioned, oestrogenic compounds leach from some forms of this plastic, and stressors, particularly UV light, caused leaching of oestrogenic compounds from a sample that otherwise did not. Despite their generally low inherent toxicity, HDPE and LDPE as well as PP (polypropylene) are the plastics most efficient at adsorbing toxic pollutants in aqueous environments (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es303700s?journalCode=esthag).

#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride)

PVC comes in both rigid and flexible forms. The rigid form is used to make water and waste pipes, rigid bottles and credit cards. The flexible form of PVC contains plasticisers, typically the phthalates, and is used to make some forms of cling film, inflatable products, vinyl flooring and intravenous fluid bags. Some of the phthalates used as plasticisers are known to have oestrogenic activity, and some forms have been banned in Europe and the USA. In addition, heat stabilisers may be added to both forms of PVC, including lead, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals for which there are concerns about effects on human health. In some countries these are being phased out for health reasons, and substituted with non-heavy metal substitutes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvinyl_chloride)

PVC is made of monomers of vinyl chloride, which is toxic to a number of organ systems. As there is almost always some free vinyl chloride in PVC, small amounts leach into the air (the source of the new car smell from PVC car lining), and into food and drink containers.

Incineration of PVCs may result in the release of the potent carcinogen, dioxin, although this can be reduced by burning in optimal temperature and oxygen conditions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvinyl_chloride)

#4 LDPE (low density polyethylene)

Like HDPE, low density polyethylene is made from ethylene monomers, but its molecules are more branched, and therefore weaker and less dense than HDPE. It is used to make plastic bags, 6-pack rings, and to line cardboard cartons to make them waterproof. In the study previously mentioned, like HDPE, some LDPE products leached oestrogenic compounds, whereas others did so only after stressing with UV light http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222987/#r2. Note that HDPE and LDPE, together with PP, are the plastics most efficient at adsorbing toxic pollutants in aqueous environments (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es303700s?journalCode=esthag).

#5 PP (polypropylene)

Used widely including for product labels, textiles, carpets, drinking straws and product packaging. Generally considered a safe plastic, although oestrogenic activity was demonstrated in some PP products in the previously mentioned study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222987/#r2. Polypropylene, along with HDPE and LDPE, is one of the plastics most absorbent of organic pollutants (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es303700s?journalCode=esthag)

#6 PS (polystyrene)

Also known as Styrofoam, PS is used to make disposable coffee cups, plates and cutlery, take-away containers, meat trays, food packaging, CD containers and insulation. Polystyrene may be in solid or foamed form, and is made from ethylbenzene, which is obtained from benzene (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polystyrene). Athough polystyrene is relatively inert, it contains up to 1% of the monomer styrene, which leaches from the container on exposure to heat and following prolonged contact. (http://www.jesc.ac.cn/jesc_cn/ch/reader/create_pdf.aspx?file_no=2007190408). When ingested or inhaled, the monomer styrene is considered toxic, mutagenic and possibly carcinogenic. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polystyrene)

#7 – Other, including Polycarbonates

Polycarbonates are made from polymers containing carbonate groups, predominantly by the reaction between bisphenol A and phosgene. It is used to make baby bottles, large containers for water dispensers, spectacle lenses, to line food cans and to coat paper receipts. The major concern with polycarbonate plastics is the leaching into food and drink of free bisphenol A, which seems to be enhanced by heat. Bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor that is considered to be particularly dangerous to developing foetuses and babies, with links to cancer, obesity, anxiety and hyperactivity. So much so, that the FDA banned the use of bisphenol A in baby bottles and cups. A replacement, bisphenol-S, has to some extent replaced bisphenol A in products labelled BPA-free, but a recent study showed that both bisphenol A and bisphenol S have adverse effects on development of the nervous system in an experimental system (http://www.pnas.org/content/112/5/1475.abstract), with observable hyperactivity in zebrafish exposed to both compounds during gestation.

6 reasons you’ll be pleased to find unrefined shea butter in your skin care products

At Mokosh, one of our key ingredients is certified organic, unrefined shea butter, which is extracted from the fruit of a tree native to savannah Africa, Vitellaria paradoxa, formerly Butyrospermum parkii. We use it in all our Face and Body creams, our Pure Body Balm, 2 of our Lip Balms, and our 3 Shea and Cocoa Butter soaps.

Mokosh is one of a handful of brands using unrefined shea butter that is extracted using traditional, non-chemical methods. Refined shea butter is more popular in skin care because it is pure white and virtually odourless, allowing finer control over the colour and fragrance of the final product.

Unfortunately, although the refining process permits a pure white cream, it also removes varying amounts of the healing properties present in the unsaponifiable fraction of shea butter, like vitamin E (1), antioxidants (2), and possibly other medicinal fractions. What’s more, refining is frequently carried out using potentially harmful solvents such as hexane, a petroleum derivative. Hexane is a known human toxin (3), an air pollutant of concern in industrialised areas (4), and may also contaminate the product it was designed to refine.

Here is why we think our unrefined, nutrient-rich shea butter should be a regular part of your skin care routine:

1. Shea butter is a superb moisturiser, performing better than mineral oil at preventing water loss from the skin (5), and better than Vaseline at helping improve the symptoms of eczema (6).

2. A number of studies have shown that shea butter applied to the skin either alone or as a 15% mixture, has anti-aging activity (7), attributed to the non-saponifiable fraction, which is best retained in unrefined shea butter. The effect is considered to come from the anti-protease activity of triterpenes which may inhibit the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin.

3. Shea butter has well documented anti- inflammatory effects which are considered to be due to the effects of compounds in the non-saponifiable fraction (7). This means that shea butter will help calm itchy, irritated skin, reducing skin inflammation from almost any cause.

4. Allergies to shea butter are extremely rare, even though it is a nut butter. In fact its anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce allergic responses in the skin (7).

5. Shea trees take more than 40 years to mature, and live for around 200 years. Because of their slow life-cycle, there are no shea plantations, and no insecticides, herbicides or fertilisers are used in production of shea butter. By supporting the shea butter industry, these trees will be protected, provide a living for local populations, and help protect the delicate savannah ecosystem (8).

6. At Mokosh our shea butter is Fair Trade certified, and produced by a cooperative of predominantly female workers. Fair Trade certification means workers are paid a fair price, have good working conditions, use sustainable environmental practices, and are also paid a Fair Trade premium which is used to fund environmental and community projects.

pouring creams

  1. http://mak.ac.ug/documents/Makfiles/theses/Omujal_Francis.pdf),
  2. Maranz, S., Z. Wiesman and N. Garti. 2003. Phenolic constituents of shea (Vitellaria paradoxa) kernels. J Agric Food Chem 51: 6268-6273
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexane
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1917064
  5. Bird K (2009) Moisturising power of Shea butter highlighted by scientific Cosmetics. Formulation & Science
  6. Belibi SE, Stechschulte D, Olson N (2009) The Use of Shea Butter as an Emollient for Eczema. JJACI 123: S41
  7. http://omicsonline.org/open-access/effects-of-oral-and-topical-use-of-the-oil-from-the-nut-of-vitellaria-paradoxa-2155-9600.1000327.pdf
  8. http://www.sheanetworkghana.org/#!about-shea/c1nuf

Ayurvedic Baby Massage

Baby massage is an ancient custom in India, the home of Ayurveda, and is considered to provide many physical and emotional benefits to the growing child. These include reduced stress levels, improved bonding between parent and child, the development of healthy sleep patterns, and promotion of skin health. According to Ayurveda, baby massage may continue until the child is old enough to perform self-massage, or Abhyanga, which we have described here, which may become a life-long practise.

Some golden rules

  • Most practitioners would advocate starting massage after around 4 weeks of age, when the baby has gained strength, and after the navel has healed.
  • The palms, rather than the fingertips, should be used to ensure gentle pressure is applied, and the touch should be very light.
  • You can massage at any time of the day, but preferably not immediately after feeding or when the baby is hungry or distressed. Many people like to massage their baby in the evening just before bath time to promote a deep relaxing sleep.
  • It is important to stop the massage if the baby is not enjoying it.
  • Carry out massage in a warm, draught-free place, on the floor or a table, covered with a towel or blanket that can be washed easily. Traditionally, you would sit on the floor with legs straight out, and support the baby between your legs.
  • Turn off the tv and radio, and talk or sing to your baby while you perform the massage.
  • Use a certified organic vegetable oil for massage. The traditional massage oil in Ayurveda is sesame oil, which is warming and nourishing. Other good choices are almond, jojoba, coconut, camellia or macadamia oils. Avoid at all costs mineral-based oils which are petroleum-derived, may contain toxic contaminants, and do not nourish the skin. Many people like to carry out a patch test with the oil on the baby’s arm a day or so before applying to the whole body, to ensure there are no sensitivities. Essential oils and oils containing perfumes or synthetic ingredients should not be used on babies. Read about safety issues with essential oils  here. Our Essential Oil Free range is perfect for pregnancy and babies – our Pure Face & Body Oil works well for baby massage.
  • Warm the oil to body temperature by standing the container of massage oil in warm water – test the temperature on the inside of your wrist before applying it to your baby’s skin.

The massageBaby massage small

  1. Begin with the baby lying on her back, and apply the warmed massage oil to the limbs and the whole front of the body in long, sweeping strokes.
  2. Massage the crown of the head in long circular clockwise strokes.
  3. Massage around the ears and side of the head in large circular motions.
  4. Massage both shoulders in circular motions clockwise, and then up and down the arms, then the palm and back of the hands clockwise. Massage along the length of each finger.
  5. Massage the chest very gently.
  6. Massage the abdomen using a large circular motion around the navel in a clockwise direction
  7. Massage the hips in a circular, clockwise direction
  8. Massage up and down the legs, and then the feet, using a clockwise circular motion with the thumb over the soles of the feet.
  9. Turn the baby over onto her front, and massage the back of her head in a large circular motion.
  10. Massage the back very gently up and down in long gentle strokes.
  11. Massage the buttocks using a circular motion.
  12. Massage up and down the backs of the legs.
  13. Place your baby onto her back again and massage the face very gently. Use circular motions over the cheeks, use a finger to massage along the jawbone from the centre of the chin up to the ear, and then in long strokes across the forehead from one side to the other.

If you are already familiar with Abhyanga, you will notice that this massage is based on the full Abhyanga procedure designed for adults.

On completion of the massage be aware that your baby will be slippery with the oil – wipe away any excess oil and wrap her in a towel before bathing or dressing her. She will now be ready for a long, relaxed sleep! Make it part of your daily routine and enjoy the benefits for you and your baby.

As a parent, be sure to look after yourself – carrying out Abhyanga is a great way to give back to yourself during the physically demanding years of early parenthood.

We enjoyed watching this homemade video of a mother carrying out Ayurvedic massage on her baby – such a warm, nurturing thing to do! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7SkPyKySvA

Abhyanga, a rejuvenating massage treatment you can do daily

What is Abhyanga?

Abhyanga is an ancient Ayurvedic massage treatment that may be carried out by an Ayurvedic practitioner, or can be performed on oneself on a regular basis. Abhyanga has many benefits. When carried out regularly it is considered to delay the ageing process and prevent illness, promoting vitality and a calm, balanced mind. More specifically, it helps alleviate stress, improve immune function, and revitalise and rejuvenate the body. It involves massaging the ‘marma points’, which in Ayurveda are the body’s vital energy points. Many of the marmas are located over the joints and lymph nodes, and include the 7 ‘chakras’, which are the ‘great marmas’ which centre on the major endocrine organs of the body.

Specific benefits include:

  • improved muscle tone and vitality of the body tissues
  • helps joint mobility
  • improves circulation and aids drainage in the lymphatic system
  • assists in elimination of impurities
  • stimulates the internal body organs
  • increases stamina
  • calms the nervous system
  • improves the quality of sleep
  • softens and smoothes the skin

In Ayurveda, carrying out abhyanga is considered an essential part of living a healthy, balanced life, and may be performed daily, but for maintenance once a week is considered sufficient to remain fit and balanced. It generally takes around 25-30 minutes to carry out the full procedure. From personal experience performing abhyanga revitalises and nourishes the skin, and gives a feeling of calmness and grounded, abundant energy throughout the day. It also helps you accept and value your body, and appreciate it for the miracle it is.

How to massage

Generally, the touch should be light but firm. An important part of the massage includes massaging marma points, which in Ayurveda are important in balancing the ‘doshas’, which in Ayurveda are the 3 main energies that make up the constitution and, when out of balance, cause disease. On the marma points, including over joints, massage is performed clockwise. On the long bones stroke up and down, and on hands and feet, stroke upwards only. On the neck and face stroke upwards or sidewards. Generally, 7 or 8 strokes per area is about right. Warm the oil gently by standing the bottle in warm water. Sit on a towel in a draught-free place and for extra ambience you may wish to play music or burn incense.

What to use for massage

Mokosh massage oilsFor maximum benefit, it’s important to use massage oil that suits your dosha. If you’re not sure what your predominant dosha is, you can take a quiz here. For predominantly ‘pitta’ types the oil should be cooling, and based on coconut oil, for example Mokosh Coconut & Sandalwood Body Oil. For ‘vata’ types it should be based on sesame oil, which is warming, such as Mokosh Sesame & Frankincense Body Oil. ‘Kapha’ types should not use oil but should massage with a loofah or body brush. For the face, you should use a face oil rather than a body oil, for example Mokosh Natural Face Oil for your skin type. Whichever oil you use, make sure it’s certified organic so that you do not absorb toxins through your skin. Because most people have a combination of predominant doshas, and they tend to be aggravated, or imbalanced, at different times of year, you may need to alter the massage oil at different times. For example, a person who is vata-pitta combination may require a warming oil in winter and a cooling oil in summer – listen to your body and determine the most appropriate for you.

The best time for massage

The recommended time for massage is first thing in the morning before bathing, or at night before bed to promote a deep relaxing sleep. It is beneficial to allow the oil to sit on the skin for as long as possible after the massage, to allow it to penetrate the skin more fully. If time is short, a 3 minute scalp and foot massage is still beneficial (see steps 1 and 2 below). Many people avoid using oil on the scalp (see step 1) if they do not follow with a hair wash. Simply massage without the oil on the scalp on those days and save the oil massage for just before a hair wash, as the scalp and hair benefit considerably from massage with oil. You can also make the ‘Natural face lift’ massage part of your morning moisturising routine (read how to do this here).

When not to perform massage

Most Ayurvedic practitioners advise not to carry out abhyanga when menstruating, pregnant or if you have a medical condition, unless given specific advice byu an Ayurvedic practitioner.

How to perform Abhyanga massage (main marma points and chakras are numbered on the diagram)

Marma points diagram1. Three marma points on the scalp are massaged clockwise with a dab of oil using the middle finger. After massaging, firmly pull the hair over the point to stimulate.

– the point in the middle of the scalp where the skull bones fuse during infancy (1),  7th chakra

– further back, the crown, directly above the ears (2)

– the deep indentation at the back of the skull where it meets the neck, generally just above the hairline (3)

2. Massage the right foot and leg in total as follows, then repeat on the left.

– using the thumb, massage the sole of the foot in the middle of the arch (4)

– using the thumb, massage the middle of the fleshy part of the underside of the big toe

– massage the underside of the first joint of each toe, then pull from base to tip of each toe

– massage the top of the foot in the groove between the big and second toes, using both thumbs, working from the base of the toes towards the ankle (5)

– using both hands, massage from toes to ankle, top and bottom of foot.

– using both hands massage the ankle joint clockwise, front and back.

– massage up and down from ankle to knee on both sides

– massage front and back of knee joint in clockwise direction

– massage up and down thighs on all sides

– with the middle finger, massage clockwise the point mid way between hip and groin in line with the hip crease (6)

3. Upper limbs – massage the right hand and arm completely, then repeat on the left.

– massage the point in the middle of the palm (7)

– massage the base of each finger, starting with the thumb, then pull each finger from the base to the tip

– massage the top of the hand from fingers to wrist

– massage the front and back of the wrist clockwise

– massage the forearm up and down on all sides

– massage the front and back of the elbow clockwise

– massage up and down the upper arm on all sides

– massage all around the shoulder joint clockwise

– raise the arm and using the middle finger massage the centre of the underarm (8)

4. Massage as much of the back as possible without straining

– massage the buttocks clockwise

– with the palms, massage up and down the lower back and up the back as far as possible. Then massage shoulders and upper back as far down as possible.

5. The abdomen should not be massaged if pregnant, or when there are heart or intestinal problems

– massage the navel area clockwise with the fingers (9), 2nd chakra, then using the palm make gradually larger circles until the whole abdomen is covered. Then reverse the direction, making gradually smaller circles towards the navel

– massage the solar plexus area in a clockwise direction (10), 3rd chakra

– massage over the heart – directly between the nipples slightly to left of centre, massage very gently using the palm in a clockwise direction (11), 4th chakra

– massage the right and left upper chest area below the collarbone, using one hand on each side

– using the middle finger, massage the notch just above the sterum (12) 5th chakra

6. The neck and face should be massaged with a lighter face oil, rather than a body massage oil. A detailed description of the face massage with additional face lift can be found here.

– with both palms gently massage the neck upwards from base of neck to chin

– place the index finger on the top of the chin (13) and the middle finger below the chin, massaging the jawline from the midline to the ear. Repeat on both sides

– using the index fingers, massage the laugh lines from the chin to the base of the nose in an upward direction, then using the palm from the base of the nose across the cheeks to the temples

– using the ringfinger, massage under the eyebrow from the centre outwards, then under the lower lid inwards, and back to the nose

– using the middle finger, massage upwards from the base of the nose to the point in the centre of the forehead (14), 6th chakra

– use all four fingers of right hand on the left temple, and stroke across the forehead from left to right, and do the reverse with the left hand. Repeat 5 or 6 times.