How Biotech Company Evolva’s SynBio Product Might Greatly Affect Thousands of Farmers in Iran.

Investors in the flavour and fragrance industry are always so excited about technological breakthroughs in synthetic biology. I mean why not? It translates to lower costs and better economics for them. But what’s going to happen to farmers and workers when we can now ‘grow’ food in vats?

Here’s a little Synthetic Biology 101: According to the SynbioWatch Organization “It’s the applied re-engineering of lifeforms to make stuff.” The easiest way to explain what synthetic biologists do is that they try to look at living organisms as machines. The type of machines they can take apart and recreate in a way that they would  do something entirely new. It is basically the less regulated,  hi-tech, extreme younger sibling of GMO’s.

Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice is derived  form the stigma of the crocus flower. Iran is the  largest producer of saffron, accounting for  more than 90% of the world’s saffron export. It is also one of Iran’s most important non-petroleum export products, second only to pistachio. Mostly used as a food flavouring and colouring agent, saffron is particularly time-consuming and strenuous to produce. It takes approximately 50,000 crocus flowers and 40 hours of labour to manually extract enough stigmas to realize 1 kilogram (kg) of saffron. Annual worldwide sales of saffron is estimated to be well over half a billion dollars.

During the harvest season, saffron production provides jobs for thousands of Iranians every day. Things might not be so rosy a few years into the future. In 2010, Swiss-based synthetic biology company Evolva began working on a biosynthetic route to express saffron-derived genes in engineered microbes. Currently, “Evolva is able to make all of the key saffron ingredients by yeast fermentation. By making saffron in this way, Evolva can both significantly lower the cost of saffron and offer a robust and stable supply chain that is free of geopolitical and adulteration issue” The company says.

The scary part is that this not just speculation, Evolva expects its SynBio saffron to be commercially available this year, 2016.  Iran is not the only country at risk, Spain, India, Morocco, Greece, Turkey, Kashmir and Afghanistan are also minor producers of saffron that stand to be affected. Evolva’s SynBio saffron will impact the livelihoods of saffron growers and pickers everywhere.

The synthetic biology market is set to affect not just saffron farmers, other near term targets of this technology are; Coconut Oil (production of which is supporting livelihoods of over 25 million people in the Philippines) and Vetiver Oil (Over 60,000 people in Haiti alone depend on vetiver production). In fact, BCC Research  reveals in its 2014 report SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY: GLOBAL MARKETS, that the global synthetic biology market is expected to grow to nearly $11.9 billion in 2018. Synthetic biology-enabled products in the agricultural industries and pharmaceutical/diagnostics compose the bulk of this market segment.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the first and only intergovernmental body that is trying to address the potential effect of synthetic biology on the livelihoods of those who depend on these agricultural export produces.

It is necessary for individuals, agencies and governmental bodies to band together, discuss the potential impact of synthetic biology on the natural farming industry, and propose ways to minimize said effects. The world does not have to wait till these problems are dangerously imminent to do something about it.

“They are going after pockets of tropical farmers around the world,”. These words by Jim Thomas, a researcher at the ETC group, a Canadian technology watchdog perfectly mirror my thoughts on the entire SynBio technology industry.

The only slightly reassuring news in all of this is that right now, synthetic biology companies cannot completely do without farmers. The vats of engineered yeast or algae used in SynBio operations require vast quantities of sugar sourced from corn/sugar-cane plantations. This is why the largest SynBio companies have all located their manufacturing plants in Brazil.  Safety, health and regulation issues regarding synthetic biology, especially in relation to products that we actually eat, need to be answered satisfactorily before the industry should even be allowed to grow further than it already has.

10 Organic Skin Care Brands That Give Back To Society And The Environment.

As consumers, we’re concerned about whether the brands we purchase from are actually making a positive impact on society. We want to be sure that they’re enriching the lives of people and are taking excellent care of our environment while they’re at it.

These natural and organic skin care brands are not just creating products that are great and safe for our bodies, they’re also making the world a better place!

1. Caudalie: This brand was founded by Mathilde Thomas and her husband Betrand in Bordeaux, France. Their products are all based on vines and grapes. They give back to the environment by donating 1% of their annual world-wide sales to the 1% for the Planet charity movement. Caudalie has committed to working with “Coeur de Forêt” to protect the region of the Alto Huayabamba river, planting a total of 150,000 trees as at the end of 2012 and hundreds of thousands more since then. Partnering with the Nordesta Organization, they also plan to reintroduce endemic bees into the Gilbues region in Brazil.

2. Green People: It started out as a mother searching for an answer to her daughters skin issues and is now a company with a complete range of certified organic products. Apart from using fair traded ingredients, 10% of its net profit is donated to charitable purposes. Green people has worked with charities such as Penny Brohn Cancer Care which helps people live with the impact of cancer and the Chestnut Tree House which provides special palliative care for children and adolescents with life limiting conditions.

3. Fushi: World renowned for their organic, cold pressed and unrefined oils, Fushi is an ethical beauty company whose products are a 100% percent natural, ethical and even suitable for vegetarians. As a recipient of the Ethical Award by the ECO for their commitment to protecting the people, animals and environment, Fushi does not shy away from doing its part in making a better world. Through their support of Tree Aid (a charity dedicated to helping villagers in the drylands of Africa to reduce poverty), women in Africa are being trained to set up small businesses using trees. The women are also taught how to harvest and process Shea nuts, giving them a sustainable source of independent income.

4. Honest: Honest is more than just an organic skin care company, they also have a range of baby care, cleaning and feminine care products. This company does not have a shortage of goodness it has contributed to society. Honest has worked with an large number of organization in their quest to make thee world a safer and better place. Some of them are: Mount Sinai Hospital – creating the Honest Company Ultra Clean Room dedicated to research aimed at reversing the rise of childhood chronic illness and developmental disability, Max Love Project- helping children faced with childhood cancer; Safe Kids Coalition, Girls Who Code and Food Corps.

5. MyChelle Dermaceuticals: MyChelle is a cruelty free, vegetarian company that approaches natural skin care from a very science advanced perspective. It has a “MyGiving Initiative” focused on promoting women’s empowerment. It has, over the past 15 years supported various organizations such as the Woman’s Bean Project, Harmony Foundation and The Young Survival Coalition that help women realize their potential with access to educational and health services.

6. Nourish Organic: In 2003, Nourish, the world’s first USDA certified organic skin care was launched. Steadfast in creating vegan and gluten free skin care products, Nourish Organic also has a very driven statement on giving back that’s inspiring.
“As citizens of the world, we believe it’s important to give back when and where we can, especially to our community and to what we believe to be some of the world’s most important causes”.
The Women’s Center, Association for the Blind, City Rescue Mission, Meals on Wheels, World Vision and the Salvation Army are some of the organizations they contribute to and work closely with.

7. Kahina Giving Beauty: It is a niche beauty brand with a minimalist aesthetic that has all of it’s products centred on Argan oil from Morocco. Kahina Giving Beauty donates 25% of the profits from their products to the Berber women of Morocco who extract the oil. In conjunction with Education For All (EFA) and The High Atlas foundation education, literacy and job creation is furthered for these women. Their products are also fastidiously produced aiming toward cultural and environmental sustainability, using ethically and sustainably sourced raw materials.

8. Dr Bronner: Popularly known for it’s castille soap, Dr Bronner has an excellent array of face and body care products available. According to Dr Bronner, “We have always and will continue to dedicate our profits to supporting positive development projects that improve and enrich people’s quality of life”, and it also definitely done so! The company has built schools and orphanages in Mexico, china and Haiti. It has donated over a thousand two hundred acres of land to the San Diego County Boys and Girls club. It is also involved in activism for fair trade, increased living wage, organic integrity and other worthy causes.


9. Boerlind: This brand is a family enterprise whose products are based on plant extracts. Vegan, Boerlind also uses its own Black Forest deep spring water which is free from chlorine and other chemicals. Annemarie Boerlind goes beyond fair trade in its social responsibilities. It supports families in Siokoro, Mali by providing financial subsidies to the Shea butter plant situated there. In 2014, it planted a tree in Mali for every body butter sold. It even donated money to build a boy’s hostel in Bangladesh for children to whom transportation to school posed a huge problem.

10. Organic Surge: This brand sells a very affordable variety of natural body and hair care products. It’s ethos revolves around individual products, natural formulas and charitable links. Organic surge has made numerous donations geared at creating educational scholarships in Kenyan schools. Organic Surge has also been a huge sponsor of the Baby Care Unit in Kenya Children’s Home, Nairobi since 2009. It also recently started sponsorship of Mercy Ships, a hospital ship NGO that provides free state of the art medical care to places in Africa with little or no access to healthcare.

What You Need To Know About Natural Skin Care Tools

What you need to know about Natural Skin Care Tools

Great skin is gotten from a combination of the right products and tools. Incorporating the use of organic skin care tools into your routine can have wonderful effects on your skin. From konjac sponges to muslin cloths, here are the things you need to know about these tools before you purchase them:

  1. Konjac Sponges: Taken from the root of the konyaku potato plant, the Japanese have been using it for over a century in skin care and medicine. Working as an exfoliant, the Konjac sponge should be used while cleansing (face or body) either with a bit of your cleanser, or on its own. It’s gentle enough for babies and even the most sensitive of skin.

Benefits: Konjac sponges are reputed to help with acne, eczema, skin rashes and ingrown hair.. According to the Konjac Sponge Company The unique net like structure of the vegetable fibres helps to stimulate blood flow and promote skin cell renewal.”

You can buy them infused with different ingredients that work for different skin issues. The green coloured ones are usually infused with green clay to draw out impurities and control oil, while black ones are usually infused with charcoal to help deep cleanse pores and target acne. They are super affordable but need to be replaced roughly every 3 months.

The Konjac plant is highly sustainable, so you shouldn’t be worried about the impact it’s harvest has on our environment. The sponges are also 100% bio degradable,, which means that you can toss the old one in your garden when you replace it.

Try out the pink clay sponge from The Konjac Sponge Company and Julep’s Konjac cleansing sponge.

  1. Body Brushes: They’ve been around for a long time but just really started gaining mainstream popularity in the last decade.

Benefits: Skin brushes help to soften and improve the appearance of your skin. Their benefits go deeper than the skin’s surface though, They also help to increase muscle tone, detoxify skin and better distribute fat deposits. An added plus is that dry skin brushing is relaxing and can relieve stress.

Body brushes with plant bristles are the best choice for dry exfoliation, unlike synthetic bristles which may damage your skin. They also last longer. When choosing a natural body brush, you should get one with a long (detachable) handle for over all easy reach of your back and feet. Body brushes come in different bristle strengths, like hard, medium and soft, so you should use brushes whose strengths you’re comfortable with.

Dry brushing isn’t the only way to use body brushes though, they can also be used wet while you’re taking a bath. You should get a brush with boar bristles for this as they’re water resistant.

Note: Avoid brushing areas with open wounds, sun burns or varicose veins. You also shouldn’t use body brushes on genitals or freshly shaven skin.

Try Elemis’ Home Detox Skin Brush and Hydrea London’s Olive Wood Bath Brush

  1. Organic Muslin Cloths: These are cloths made from 100% natural and unbleached cotton. They are generally used to remove cleansers and exfoliate the skin. Organic muslin cloths are very environmental friendly for two reasons. Firstly, they’re grown without toxic chemical inputs. Secondly, they’re reusable.

Benefits: A muslin cloth is great for brightening the complexion because it removes dead skin cells and unclogs your pores. It helps you save money and time as it converts your regular face wash/cleanser into an exfoliating one. Meaning you can rinse and scrub at once and you don’t have to waste money on synthetic exfoliating scrubs. It can also be used for facial steaming and to remove make-up and face masks.

Muslin cloths’ open weave allows it to dry quickly and prevent bacteria growth, making it better than a regular face cloth.

Try Dr Hauschka’s Organic Muslin Compress and Pai’s Organic Muslin Face Cloth

4 Reasons Why Homemade Vitamin C Serum Is A No-No.

Vitamin C in serums (creams and toners too) can be very good for your skin, from sun protection to fading dark spots to anti-ageing. It can even help boost collagen production. So it’s a given that most women would want to have a skin care product that contains vitamin C. The minor problem with this is that most vitamin C serums on the market are a bit pricey. Scratch that, they can be VERY pricey. Looking for alternative means to still get that ‘Vit C-goodness’ might lead you to discover guidelines for DIY or home-made Vitamin C serums online. The instructions and ingredients needed for them are so simple and easy to find that you wonder why you ever considered shelling out a lot of hard-earned cash for the ones in store.
What you need to know is that Vitamin C is a very tricky ingredient to work with and if you aren’t a cosmetic chemist, you have no business working with it. Here are the major reasons why home made vitamin c serums can be potentially irritating or just plain ineffective
1. Wrong Carrier: Most home-made vitamin c serums instruct you to put the l-ascorbic acid powder or vitamin c tablets in water. They ask you to stir or wait till its dissolved completely. Bad news: that’s almost completely pointless. Once you apply that solution to your skin, the vitamin c will crystallize back and will therefore be unable to penetrate your skin. Which means you won’t be getting any of its benefits. More detailed recipes might tell you to mix it in alcohol or glycerin which will make it water soluble, but it still won’t be able to pass through your skin barriers very well. It still won’t deliver the amount of benefits that a professionally formulated serum would.

2. Oxidation: Yes, vitamin C can ‘go bad’. Once it starts to turn yellow or brown-ish it means it’s oxidizing and is rapidly losing its effectiveness. Sunlight., air, heat and water can all destabilize vitamin c . There are different types of Vitamin C actives: l-ascorbic acid, ester C (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate), ascorbyl palmitate, and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. L-ascorbic acid is the most effective form of vitamin c. It is also the most unstable one. To have a fully effective and safe DIY vitamin c serum made with l-ascorbic acid, you would have to make new batches of it every day or even more frequently. Properly formulated serums add anti-oxidants such as ferulic acid that have stabilizing effects or they cover the vitamin c in protective coating (microencapsulation). Also, improper storage of vitamin c affects its stability. You can’t just put it in any container you find in your house. It should be stored in dark glass bottles (and preferably in the fridge).

3. Not enough ingredients: While Vitamin C can be very effective and beneficial to the skin. It is not a miracle ingredient. Most home-made vitamin c serum recipes just contain 2 or 3 ingredients: water l-ascorbic acid and/or gylcerin. Professionally crafted vitamin c serums incorporate many other beneficial ingredients into their serums. For example, in combination with vitamin c: ferulic acid increases photoprotection, vitamin E enhances UVB protection. They also add great ingredients like oils and plant extracts.

4. The wrong PH: Our skin’s natural Ph is around 5.5. Because it is acidic, L-ascorbic acid must be formulated at pH levels less than 3.5 to enter the skin properly. Most home-made vitamin c serums will not be formulated at the right pH. When it is mixed with water at about a 5% concentration,the pH of L-ascorbic acid is somewhere around 2.2 to 2.5, which is way too low and could irritate the skin and/or sensitize it to the sun. Most commercially available serums are formulated at a ph between 2.9 – 3.4. That’s the perfect range for effective penetration.

A lot could go wrong if you try to make your own vitamin C serum in your kitchen. It’s safer for you to buy a professionally made one. There are a lot of effective serums on the market. Word of mouth and reading reviews of people with similar skin types to yours should help you choose the right vitamin c serum. This is because they vary in the vitamin c concentrations they contain and also in the other ingredients added to them.

Note: Vitamin C products do not work well for everyone. Even if formulated by the best cosmetic chemists in the world, it may still cause redness, stinging, irritation or allergic reactions for those with extremely sensitive skin.

2 Super Useful Things You Didn’t Know Shea Butter Could be Used For

Shea butter, a type of fat extracted from the nut of the Shea Karite tree, is only found in the tropics of Africa. As we all know, Shea Butter is really great for skin care. In fact, according to a 1999 study (M. Pobeda and I. Sousellier “Shea Butter: The Revival of an African Wonder”), in populations using Shea Butter, the occurrence of skin disease was rare and their skins were exceptionally supple and smooth. But there are a few things you didn’t know that your bar of shea butter could be used for:

  1. Nasal Decongestion: Got a stuffed nose or a more severe type of nasal congestion? Science says that Shea Butter might prove better for you than conventional nasal drops. According to a study (A. TELLA, Department of Pharmacology, College of Medicine of the University of Lagos, Nigeria “Preliminary Studies on Nasal Decongestant Activity from the Seed of the Shea Butter Tree, Butyrospermum Parkii”), the participants who used Shea butter had more satisfactory relief than the other groups in the test. Also there’s the added benefit that there are no side effects whatsoever with using Shea butter for nasal decongestion. Unlike Privine and Otrivin which are drugs that actually do give relief, but aren’t without undesirable effects like irritating the nostrils and possibly later causing a rebound or reactionary congestion.

  2. Chocolate: When most people think chocolate making, they think cocoa butter. What if I told you that big brands like Hershey, Mars and Nestle all use Shea butter to replace (partially or fully) cocoa butter in their production. It is in fact about 30% cheaper than using cocoa butter, and is said to be more sustainable, increase shelf life, and even give a better texture!

Extra Tidbit: Using Shea butter in confectioneries helps to empower women! How? Processing of Shea butter is dominated by women (estimated at 16 million women), while the cocoa industry is dominated by men and has even been known to exclude women. Because of the global cocoa deficit, the demand for Shea butter as a cocoa butter equivalent is steadily increasing and thereby providing additional income for these women.

Natural Skin Care 101

Natural Skin Care 101

There are two major facts you should have at the back of your mind before starting your natural skin care journey. The first is that natural skin care can be super frustrating. The second is that not everything “natural” is safe for your skin.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me give a little personal history. I had never had good facial skin (pimples and I had been best buds since my 8th year of school). About two years ago, I decided to try something new: Natural Skin Care Products. I was tired of spending sizeable chunks of my monthly allowance on trying different drug store brands on my face. I had tried everything from face washes, to scrubs to face masks to moisturisers, but none of them had any noticeable positive effects. Some even worsened the look of my skin!

Lesson 1: Try out different soaps, oils, scrubs and masks for yourself. And if you can’t risk that (or don’t have the time), read a lot of reviews on the product you plan to use, paying close attention to reviews given by people with your skin type. For example, while almost every natural skin care blog will tout Shea Butter as the holy grail of moisturisers, they are not completely right. The first step I took was to replace my body lotions with Shea Butter. You see, I had really dry skin on my body and extremely oily facial skin. I made the mistake of trying to use Shea butter on my face and I broke out horribly. It works great on the body (my skin is no longer dry and it got rid of some stretch marks) but it’s really a bad idea to put it on your face if you have oily facial skin with open pores. Trust me on this!

Lesson 2: Be patient. As with all things skin care (natural or not), results rarely ever show in a day. It takes weeks, most times months before any visible positive effects start to show up. Don’t over-analyse your skin every hour of the day. If you do this, even when it starts to get better, you won’t really notice. Also don’t switch products too fast, give them time to work. As long as you aren’t having break outs or some other negative thing, give each product a 2-3 month trial period. I made this mistake several times into my journey. I would stop using a type of soap or oil after a week once I felt like it wasn’t making much of a difference. Now I know better.

Lesson 3: Natural skin care can be expensive too. I’ve noticed that once most people hear “natural” they immediately think “cheap”. Just because you’ve decided to stop buying drug-store or designer skin care brands doesn’t mean your $$$ gets a breather. Great quality soaps and pure oils can be quite costly because sometimes the companies marketing them to you spend a lot on procuring them in the first place. Extra Virgin Olive Oil doesn’t just start dripping from a tree at the back of your house. It takes some steps to get it to that state.

Lastly, skin care goes beyond what you put on your skin. Eat healthy, drink lots of water and exercise!

The Health, Skin And Hair Benefits Of Almond Oil

You see it in the food section of almost any grocery store,  but you’re not aware of just how amazing almond oil is. It’s gotten from either sweet or bitter almonds, and has a slight odour and a nutty taste. Due to the cyanide found in bitter almonds, only sweet almond oils are considered safe for human consumption.

Here are the numerous benefits almond oil has for our skin, hair and health.

Skin Benefits

Because almond oil is not greasy and does not have a strong fragrance, it is suitable for use by those with extra sensitive skin.

Almond oil acts as a natural moisturizer: Wary of putting chemically laden drug-store moisturizers on your skin? Almond oil is a great substitute. Without clogging the pores, almond oil is quickly absorbed into the skin and it helps in making the skin smoother and softer. As it also contains zinc properties, it heals dry skin too!

It protects the health of your skin: When applied topically, almond oil will help protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays (such as certain types of skin cancer). A study of this published in the ‘Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology” in 2007, concluded that applying it to your skin can prevent structural damage caused by UV rays. And not to worry, Almond oils contain a lot of Vitamin E and thus will not result in you tanning.

Warning: While allergic reactions to this oil are rare. You should perform a patch test before applying it all over your body!

Hair Benefits

Almond oil has many important nutrients such as poly saturated and mono fatty acids, vitamins A, E, D , B1, B2 and B6. All these are extremely helpful in growing healthy strands of hair. It also contains a high amount of magnesium, lack of which cosmeticians cite as the main reason for hair loss.

Removal of Dandruff: Almond oil helps the scalp by removing dead cells from it. A simple method of getting this done is by massaging the oil into your scalp for 15-20 minutes, letting it sit for at least 45 minutes and then rinsing it away with your regular shampoo.

Hair growth: Almond oil, when combined with other hair favourable oils like castor oil, will help you get the long, soft and luscious hair you have dreamed of. Mix three tablespoons each of almond oil and castor oil together. Warm up the mixture slightly by using indirect heat. Apply and massage into your hair and scalp. Wrap your hair up in a towel for about an hour and afterwards wash off with your shampoo. Repeat this twice a month and in a couple of months you will start to see great changes to the look and health of your hair.

Health benefits

Almond oil has tons of benefits for our health when ingested (by using it to cook or simply taking a tablespoon a day). Almond oil is one of the few complete sources of energy and nutrients. Its high potassium content and low sodium content helps in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and regulating blood pressure. It’s also rich in folic acids and protein which are great for your cardiac health.

Here are a couple of easy ways you can incorporate almond oil in your dishes!

– Baking: You can use sweet almond oil (refined) in baking cakes. Simply substitute it in place of any other oil or butter called for in your cake recipe. Measure the same amount of almond oil as the oil or melted butter called for in the recipe. It works particularly well in cakes that contain chocolate, toffee or caramel.

-Almond oil can be used in place of olive oil in making salad, fish or vegetable dishes.

-Sweet Almond oil is also a great and tasty substitute for vegetable oil in Indian duck and curry dishes.