Wednesday 22 November 2023

Clean Beauty

Healing from chronic disease requires a multi-faceted approach and this must involve awareness of ingredients in the ‘beauty’ products we use daily; products which claim to make us look better, smell better, and even feel better, but which actually contain harmful chemicals that place a burden on the liver and its ability to detoxify. 

How do these compounds enter the body? The skin is the second largest organ after the fascia, and acts as a barrier and a carrier. That is to say that whatever we put on the skin will be absorbed and ultimately taken to the liver to be processed before being eliminated.

We can support the liver by mindfully reducing the burden we place upon it. A good practice is to count the products you use daily: soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, deodorant, makeup, toothpaste, perfume etc. Then ask yourself how can you reduce usage, swap to cleaner, non-toxic brands, or make your own. There are suggestions below, but first, let’s look at the most problematic ingredients.

BPA. Found in plastic packaging, the linings of cans and vacu-packs, BPA is a potent endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors not only potently mimic hormones in the body but can also cause dysregulation of detoxification routes. This is particularly problematic with oestrogen, re-routing it down potentially damaging pathways which can have long term implications.  

Fluoride. Diet is a better way to protect the enamel of your teeth than ingesting fluoride, a potent neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor which can also negatively impact the thyroid gland. Be sure to eat a diet rich in vitamins A, D3, K2 as well as phosphorous and magnesium.

Formaldehyde. This carcinogen is more prevalent than you might think, making an appearance in nail polish, hair straightening treatments and shampoo. It is particularly problematic in the lungs since it is a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), a colourless gas which is inhaled. 

Metals. Aluminium is prevalent in anti-perspirants, blocking the pores and sabotaging the body’s natural ability to eliminate toxins via sweat. This is particularly problematic when you consider the proximity of the armpits to the fatty tissue of the breast; fat cells are a convenient place for the body to store toxins and chemicals if they cannot be excreted.

Parabens are preservatives found in almost every product which contains water (to prevent the growth of bacteria and mould). These known endocrine disruptors strongly mimic oestrogen, binding to cell receptors and altering the delicate balance of detoxification metabolites. Parabens can also alter immune system function and negatively impact the nervous system. Sodium Benzoate is a preservative in the same class as parabens and is prevalent in the cosmetics industry making it hard to avoid. Look out for it in shampoos and conditioners. 

Perfumes. Fragrance in almost all cosmetic and beauty products is of chemical/synthetic origin. ‘Scents’ enter the body both via the skin and the respiratory system and as such are considered potentially damaging to the liver and the lungs. Avoid scented candles and air fresheners for the same reason.

Petroleum jelly. This is a cheap by-product of the petrochemical industry. It is found in baby oil, lip balms, make-up and body washes. It impedes the skin from breathing and detoxifying efficiently.

Phthalates. These ‘plasticizers’ are common ingredients in nail polish and hairsprays. They are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to lung and liver damage. 

Surfactants: sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS and SLES) are foaming agents often found in shampoo, soap, bubble bath and toothpaste. Largely derived from the petroleum industry they are easily absorbed through the skin and residual levels are found to remain in the heart, liver, lungs and brain. 

Talc is a cheap bulking ingredient (sometimes ‘naturally’ contaminated with asbestos) which has detrimental effects on the lungs. 

This is not an exhaustive list, and manufacturers are adept at altering names to avoid customer sanctions. It can be challenging to find genuinely clean products, and as such my advice is to reduce exposure to toxic ingredients where possible, whilst supporting detoxification routes in the body, specifically the colon, liver and kidneys. To begin with this can be as simple eating a diet rich in fibre, consuming bitter foods and brassica vegetables (arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cavolo nero, chard, and kale) whilst staying hydrated by drinking 1.5 litres of filtered water daily.

I have compiled a directory of tried and tested products which are as clean as possible. Companies who are mindful to avoid cheap, synthetic, toxic ingredients are generally more expensive, and so I have included some suggestions to ‘make your own’ where possible. 

Odylique for shampoo and conditioner made without synthetic colours, fragrances or preservatives. 
Balmonds Natural shampoo which can also be used as a body wash.

Dr Bronner’s All-one magic soap for body and hand wash and even cleaning your home. 

I recommend relaxing magnesium baths over perfumed, toxic bubble baths. Add 2-10 cups of magnesium chloride or sulphate to a warm bath, starting slowly and building up gradually. Buy 15 or 25 kilo bags on eBay. You can also add Celtic salt, warming essential oils like ginger and orange, and even dried or fresh petals for an at-home spa experience.

Get Fussy Bare All 
Odylique Prebiotic Natural Unscented Deodorant

Or: make your own using bicarbonate of soda, coconut oil, shea butter, arrowroot and essential oils. 

Jurlique. Biodynamic. Organic. 
360 Botanics. Organic. Vegan. Cruelty free.
Neal’s Yard Botanicals. Cruelty free. 
Pai. Organic. Cruelty free.
Weleda. Organic. Cruelty free.

Or: make your own bespoke moisturisers using combinations of shea butter, castor oil, coconut oil, vitamin E oil, almond oil and cacao butter. 
Coconut oil and a hot flannel is the best way to remove make-up.. 
Witch hazel or rose water are good toners, or you can even use chamomile tea. 
Bentonite clay masks are great for oily skin. Use avocado and honey masks for dry skin. Coffee grounds blended into coconut oil makes a wonderful face and body scrub.

Green People Fluoride free fennel and propolis.
Dentalcidin Biocidin. Expensive, but wonderful for removing biofilms in the mouth which can lead to tooth decay.
Laila Remineralising tooth powder.

Or: make your own toothpaste using baking soda, coconut oil, spearmint essential oil and charcoal powder if desired. 3% food grade hydrogen peroxide is the best mouthwash, or try coconut oil pulling.

I recommend getting in touch with Imelda at Content Beauty and Wellbeing for sound information on the best non-toxic make-up brands. Some tried and tested favourites:
Dr Hauschka. Cruelty free. Largely organic.
Jane Iredale. Cruelty free. Vegan. Great non-toxic mascara.
Juice Beauty. Cruelty free. Not entirely vegan.
Inika. Cruelty free, vegan, organic.

Baldwins sells wonderful ingredients to make your own products, and they also sell the exquisite book ‘The handmade Apothecary’ by Vicky Chow and Kim Walker, which contains beautiful recipes to make your own beauty and self-care products.  

For more information and recipes for home-made calendula oil and coffee scrub, you can download my free ‘Skin’ booklet here

I would love to hear of your favourite clean brands. 

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Survival Mode

Last weekend a question from my children about fear and the body provoked some thoughts about survival mode. 

For the first time in my life, I clearly saw five 'life-shocks' (in the words of the late, great Sophie Sabbage) each of which altered my world view, and have kept me largely in a state of survival for the past 24 years.

The first: 1999. An unprovoked attack on a London street, 3 minutes from my home in broad daylight. A broken cheekbone from the first punch, a chipped tooth from the second. I urinated in fear as the third punch threw me into the road on my back. Until this moment, with three brothers, I had always believed I could fight or talk my way out of an aggression. But this was not play-fighting. Naturally, it left me feeling scared and impotent. It changed the way I lived in the world for a very long time, unable to make eye contact with strangers, unable to trust that I was safe. I sensed that someone could exert power over me at any moment and not only would I be unable to defend myself, but that no-one would come to my rescue or protect me. I mistakenly learned to release an expectation of safety.

The second life altering event was learning that my husband and I would not be able to conceive naturally. By the time we discovered his infertility, we had been trying to get pregnant for over a year and I was crazed and myopic. Our choices were to use a sperm donor, adopt or stop. My body was screaming to carry a baby, and so we chose a donor. A donor who was the same height and skin colour as my husband. Who also had Irish heritage, brown hair and blue eyes, a love of music. But who was not my husband. The grief at not being able to carry the biological baby of the man I loved was immense. I learned to let go of the expectations that I had subconsciously carried since I was a child: that parenthood was somehow a right.

The third event was my own cancer diagnosis, which I have written about many times. I learned about the uncertainty of life and to release the expectation of health. I learned to understand mortality which is the biggest gift a life-altering event can bestow. It teaches us to live, to really live. It sparked a joy for reconnecting with nature, a move to the country and home education of my children. The lesson was clear: don't wait, don't endure. Grasp life with all of the colour it offers and live it daily.

The fourth event came nine months later. My 7 year old son, a week into September, fresh from the summer but his lungs full of grief about my own health, told me he had "little room to breathe". Doctors dismissed him, but within days he was on a life support machine, having been bluelighted across London connected to makeshift breathing apparatus. His recovery was slow, even after extubation and I would not wish the horror of those few weeks on any parent. I barely functioned during that period. Noises came from my body that were animalistic at best. The pain was indescribable and the fear was consuming. I learned not even to take breathing for granted.

The final event: two and half years ago, my husband, my best friend of 27 years, told me he no longer loved me and left. It was sudden, unexpected and triggered feelings of abandonment. The voyage of self-discovery over the past 29 months has been nothing less than epic. I have transitioned to yet another new identity, no longer someone's lover, wife or partner. Although I thought I had done this work, I am still learning to lean in to loving myself, wholly, without apology. I have learned to let go of the expectations of relying on another, instead understanding that I am whole. 

Each of these five events was a shock. These shocks send the body into sympathetic nervous system dominance: fight or flight mode. In this mode we do not need to digest food. We do not need to have a well functioning immune system. We do not need balanced hormones. Because the body is programmed to survive above all else, and from this place we need nothing more than cortisol, adrenaline and elevated blood sugar. 

In my practice I see many people who are stuck in this place of survival. It leads to leaky gut, autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia, blood sugar dysregulation, irritable bowel syndrome, flatlining cortisol. And the root cause is stress. Chronic, prolonged stress which feeds back to the body that we are not safe. 

What is the takeaway from this blog post? Life happens. We will inevitably experience pain, loss, ill-health, fear or rejection. The question is, how can we care for ourselves and promote health at times of great change? How can we reassure the physical body when we experience intense stress? 

I firmly believe that love is the antidote. Not love from another, but love for self. Self-love involves reassuring the body, mind and soul that we are safe. This calms the central nervous system and supports the switch from sympathetic dominant to para-sympathetic dominant, i.e. moving from fight or flight to rest and digest. The fastest way to do this is conscious breathing. The body senses that it cannot be under fire if we are breathing deeply. Drop your shoulders. Breathe in deeply and slowly through the nose deep down into the abdomen for the count of 7. Hold that breath with ease, and then breathe out through pursed lips for the count of 9. Take a short pause between breaths and repeat at least 10 times. Observe your body throughout the day. Are shoulders raised? Are you taking short, shallow breaths which signal fear and unsafety to the body? If so, take a moment and realign with meaningful breath.

It is also helpful to practice the mantra of safety: simply repeat to yourself, "I am safe". Meditation and gentle massage are also beneficial here.

Sit down to eat. Chew slowly. Take your time. There is time. You are safe. 

Energy work can help to realign the body very quickly back to rest and digest: reiki, acupuncture and cranio-sacral therapies can support astounding shifts.

Lastly, awareness is everything. Become aware of thoughts and words which shape the way you live in the world. What is your inner narrative? Process stress as it comes, allowing it to move through the body in a healthy way. Shaking the body can be very helpful in shifting the biochemistry of stress.

Thursday 19 January 2023

The basics

Someone recently asked me if there is one thing that I recommend to all of my clients to support good health. This is an interesting question because if we consider that there are 8 billion people, with trillions of possible genetic variations, in a wide variety of environments, making each of us unique then it is clear that there cannot be a 'one size fits all' answer. However, there are some common recommendations that I make for wellness, and these are in essence the basis of my workshops.

All bodies have evolved to survive. To thrive. To heal. Our internal systems work tirelessly to anabolise and catabolise: simple biological processes which synthesise and break down molecules in an effort to create cellular energy. The molecules that we breathe, eat, drink and put on our skin are processed, metabolised and detoxified in an elegant cycle. Certain things slow the efficiency of these processes. I would largely break these down into: 

  • Poor diet (low nutrient status)
  • Lack of exercise (low oxygen status)
  • Inability to manage stress (including lack of purpose, passion and joy)
  • Environmental toxins (including pharmaceutical and recreational drugs)

So, going back to the original question, how can we broadly support health? 


Good health is undeniably reliant on a strong and diverse microbiome - an internal ecosystem made up of trillions of microbes. Each area of the body has its own subset of beneficial bacteria which work for us, digesting food, balancing cholesterol, regulating irons levels, synthesising vitamins, moderating tissue pH, manufacturing hormones and more. These microbes respond to the body's internal terrain. When we feed them, they thrive, therefore we thrive. They love fibre, so eating an unprocessed diet rich in seasonal vegetables and local fruit, plus nuts, seeds and pulses is beneficial. 

Beyond the microbiome, a rainbow coloured diet provides us with a multitude of vitamins, minerals and nutraceuticals - compounds which support all body functions. This is unsurprising when you consider that we have evolved alongside our food sources. For example berries are rich in polyphenols which can modulate the intestinal microbiota, support heart health, improve hormonal detoxification and more. Apply this nature-magic to a broad spectrum of wholefoods and you have a natural medicine cabinet on your plate, but without negative side effects. 

Hydration is crucial for good health since our cells require water to communicate, transport nutrients and detoxify. In the west particularly, we have been intoxicated by energy drinks, sugary smoothies, tea and coffee: anything but pure water. Consistent hydration brings clarity and energy, but for this to occur many of us need to relearn the thirst response. An easy tip is to set an hourly alarm throughout the day, drinking 8oz of clean water each time it goes off. Observe how you feel after a week - are headaches diminished? Do you feel less bloated? Are you sleeping better? I recommend getting a good filter to avoid common toxins; fluoride, chlorine, hormones, pharmaceuticals and microbes. I love my Aquasana whole house water filter, but Berkey countertop filters are also great for purifying drinking water. Adding a pinch of sea salt, the juice of half a lemon and 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar to the first glass of water on waking delivers electrolytes, expediting cellular hydration.


An oxygenated body is a healthy body. A daily exercise practice which increases heart rate and leaves you out of breath for 25 minutes will oxygenate the cells, move blood and lymph and improve heart health. Ideally some resistance training is strengthening for bones, particularly as we age. I recommend exercising in nature, since sunshine supports the production of endorphins, those happy hormones which help us to cope with stress. We have evolved within the natural biome - it feeds us in invisible ways from beneficial negative ions to commensal (helpful) bacteria. 


When supporting clients with cancer or other chronic illnesses, I often start by asking if there is joy and purpose. Why do you want to live? This simple question is fundamental to healing, particularly from diseases which have the potential to highlight our mortality. When we sink into joy, laugh freely, allow love and follow passions, the body heals. If we examine this from a chemical perspective we see that joy is the antidote to stress. Happiness hormones lower inflammation and counter the production of those stress hormones which would seek to keep us alive short term, but in doing so impair digestion, immune response and hormone balance.  Become aware of your stress triggers and the language you use around them. Managing stress can be as simple as starting a daily mindful breathing practice; concentrating on inhaling deeply through the nose into the diaphragm and slowly exhaling through the mouth.


When it comes to environmental toxins the best thing we can do is reduce burden. Read labels and avoid known toxins in beauty products: phthalates, parabens and BPA to name a few. Choose natural products without aluminium or microplastics. Think about your exposure to chemicals in the home and garden; paint fumes, cleaning and gardening products. Choose paints with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) like Little Greene's water based products. 

With regards to pharmaceuticals I certainly never recommend stopping cold turkey, but it IS important to look at root cause: why have you been prescribed long-term medication and how could this be impacting your overall health? PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) for example lower hydrochloric acid in the gut which can have far-reaching negative downstream effects. Addressing ill-health by looking at root cause often means that we can reduce or even stop taking pharmaceuticals.

Directly supporting the liver, our main organ of detoxification, is wise. Reducing sugar is one of the first things I regularly recommend since refined sugar consumption over time leads to fatty liver, diminishing this vital organ's ability to detoxify the body from chemicals, hormones, heavy metals, histamine, alcohol and drugs. 

Beyond these things, I believe that the fastest route to health is to become reacquainted with your own body. As children we learn to respond to a full bladder or bowel; we understand when we are hungry or need to sleep. As adults we have not learned to interpret more subtle cues which indicate a physical need. We often seek the dopamine hit of caffeine or sugar rather than honestly acknowledging the body's requests for nutrients or rest.

Re-learning the language of the body is a beautiful thing, and all you need to do is tune in and trust yourself: how do you feel when you eat gluten, dairy, or sugar? How about after alcohol or stimulants? Do you have cravings? What is your body asking for, and why? Do you notice changes in the way your body odour? Do you know how to rest and stop? Reconnecting with the body brings an ability to support the physical alongside the mental and emotional aspects of living. 

If this information feels overwhelming, naturopaths, nutritional therapists or functional doctors can guide you in this re-learning and responding to the signs and symptoms from your unique body.