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Expert Interview Series: Jessica Burman of Coccoon Apothecary On Natural Skin Care

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Not a lot was known about pesticides 20 years ago when Jessica Burman's journey towards natural skin care began. Her perception of the world changed when she learned that both her mother and the family dog had the same form of skin cancer: non-Hodgkins lymphona. She realized the environmental agencies were not looking out for our best interests, and began digging deeper and learning more.

Jessica noticed her mother had a healthy glow about her in 2002 - what she calls a "carotene glow" - and was shocked to discover her mother had been using a natural skin creme. She set out to find the best natural skin care products from around the world, like a modern day apothecary would. After compiling the world's best skin care products and receiving training in aromatherapy, Jessica began producing high quality skin care products of her own. Since its inception in 2003, the Cocoon Apothecary has grown to encompass a 2300 square foot facility in Kitchener, Ontario.

We talked to Jessica Burman about natural skin care, what she recommends, what to look out for, and some other skin care tips.

When some people think of skin care, they think of caustic skin peels and harsh chemical products. Are organic skincare products strong enough to take care of common skin problems?

The conventional skin care industry is extremely harsh, and this is evidenced by the amount of distressed, inflamed and prematurely aging skin that I see. Organic skin care is about nurturing and nourishing skin into health, because healthy skin is beautiful skin. We must take the same approach to caring for skin as we do to care for our bodies: the more whole ingredients, the better.

The skin is our bodies' largest organ, and it absorbs everything in the environment around us. What are the dangers of absorbing toxic chemicals through your skin?

The danger is that skin can be a direct route to our bloodstreams - unlike eating where substances gets processed and filtered through the digestive system. Certain chemicals get absorbed and can accumulate in our bodies or expose our systems to hormone-disrupting or carcinogenic substances. This is adding to the toxic burden our bodies are already dealing with from modern living. At some point, the body will say "no more;" and this manifests in allergies, autoimmune diseases, development disorders and cancers.

Chemicals called phthalates, which can be found in traditional skin care products, have been linked to birth defects, sperm damage, and infertility. Do you know of any other common chemicals that can cause harm?

The ingredients that I am most concerned about are the hormone-disruptors such as triclosan (an anti-bacterial agent), oxybenzone (in sunscreen) and parabens (a preservative). I am also worried about the exposure to carcinogens in synthetic musks such as galaxolide and tonalide, as well as formaldehyde-releasers such as imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea.

What are some excellent organic skin care products that you'd recommend?

Of course, I'm biased and love my own products by Cocoon Apothecary; but I also love many clean, organic brands out there such as One Love Organics and Tata Harper.

What are some particularly good organic skin care ingredients to keep an eye out for - perhaps for dry skin or bags under the eyes?

If you're worried in any way about aging, rose hip oil needs to be part of your routine. It is the best beauty ingredient in the world because of its retinoid content. I'm also a big fan of rose absolute, argan oil and sea buckthorn for their high antioxidant contents.

If you had to give five quick tips for someone just starting with organic skin care, what would they be?

1. Avoid greenwashing by using an online tool or app such as Skin Deep Cosmetic Database or Think Dirty.

2. Try to keep it simple at first. Look for products that have the least amounts of ingredients so you don't inundate your skin with too many unfamiliar substances.

3. If you want assurance about ingredient integrity, look for organic certification such as USDA or Ecocert.

4. Give your skin some time to adjust. If you've been using harsh detergents on your face, your skin is used to overproducing oil to compensate so it may feel more oily than usual.

5. If you experience a break out or inflammation (redness), it is the wrong product for you.

For more updates from Jessica Burman and Cocoon Apothecary, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Google+, and connect with them on LinkedIn.

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