Posts Tagged ‘safety’


Every summer there’s a bevy of news articles about sunscreens, and how some of them may even be harming you and your kids.  Most articles link to the Environmental Working Group’s Annual Sunscreen Guide – which reviews and rates hundreds of sunscreens in mind-numbing detail.  Too much detail, actually.   When researching sunscreens last year, I took one look at this list, got really frustrated and threw my hands up in the air.

I did my own research, and here’s my cheat-sheet of what to look for:

  • *  Ingredients to avoid:  oxybenzone and Vitamin A.  Oxybenzone is a hormone-disrupting chemical that penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream.  Vitamin A has been shown in some studies to accelerate skin tumors and lesions (the very cancers sunscreens are supposed to protect against – how ironic).
  • * You should have 1 of these ingredients:  zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (the active ingredients in many “natural sunscreens”).
  • * Choose one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays
  • * Use at least SPF 30

HOWEVER, there is another important factor to consider:  whether the suscreen protects against the 2 types of UVA rays: short and long.  Most sunscreens protect against short UVA rays, but not long UVA rays.  Long UVA rays are the ones that cause photo-aging and the more aggressive types of skin cancers, such as melanoma.  Interestingly, the FDA for several yearshas been considering a 4-star UVA-ranking system that would make its way onto sunscreen labels, but sadly, there seems to be no movement on this issue.

So what do we use in our house?  A little-know one called SunSmart by Applied Therapeutics.  It contains a patented Z-Cote (basically, a transparent zinc-oxide).  It’s an inorganic/non-chemical sunblock – meaning it sits on top of the skin and doesn’t get absorbed.  It goes on smoothly, withough any oily or white-filmy residue (a MUST for brown skin) – we actually use it instead of lotion.  And it contains yummy stuff like rose extract and jasmine and patchouli oils.

Most importantly, it protects against those long UVA-rays.


If you have to hold your nose or wear gloves when using something, it really shouldn’t be in your house.  We’re talking about cleaning products here.  We use a lot of cleaning products in our daily routines – all of which could contain harmful chemicals and toxins which our kids are exposed to.

But before the advent of modern chemical cleaning products, our ancestors in India used completely natural preparations to cleanse and purify.  Such as:

Brushing Teeth:  Instead of synthetic toothbrushes and toothpaste, our ancestors used twigs from the neem tree, which they chewed until the ends became frayed.

Soap and Shampoo:  Also called reetha and kunkudukai, the berries from the soapnut plan contain natural saponins.  When boiled and squeezed, they work up a rich lather when rubbed onto the skin or hair.  Interestingly, “soap nuts” are being resurrected by organic and sustainable living shops as a natural laundry detergent.

Dish Soap:    This may come as a shocker (unless you’re an avid camper), but wood ash – when combined with the fats and oils in used pots and dishes – makes lye and crude soap.  So the fuel used for the fire to cook the food was then recycled when cleaning the dishes!

Air Fresheners:  A simple solution, really – a cupful of baking soda or talcum powder placed in a room will absorb the bad odors (it probably took a little longer than modern sprays though).

Antibacterials:  Pluck a lemon off a tree and there you have it!  Lemons have powerful antibacterial qualities as well as a fresh and invigorating smell.  They can also be used as mild bleaching agents.

Here’s a simple DIY all-purpose cleaner you can make with a few simple ingredients – safe enough for your kids to go to town with (and a great Montessori Practical Life exercise):

In a squirt bottle, combine 2 cups water, 1 cup vinegar, and a few drops of essential oil for fragrance (we used 100% pure therapeutic grade Pink Grapefruit).  For really messy areas, pretreat by sprinkling some baking soda and wiping off with water (but avoid baking soda on easily-scratched surfaces).

Clean and natural!

Kajal :: Baby Makeup
Author: Gnaana

You may be scratching your head at this if you’re a true-blooded Westerner – but back in the day, most families in India (and across the Middle East) applied kajal (or kohl), to their baby’s eyes.  Kajal was thought to have a cooling effect upon the eyes – protecting them from the harsh rays of the sun. Superstition also dictated that applying kajal to an infant’s eye (or elsewhere on the face) would ward off the evil eye.

Kajal has been used since ancient times by Egyptian queens (think Cleopatra).  It was originally made at home by combining the soot from oil lamps with ghee or castor oil.  However, commercially prepared kohls have been found to contain alarmingly high percentages of lead.  Needless to say, pediatricians now recommend that baby’s eyes be kept free from any application of kajal – as it can lead to elevated lead levels in the blood stream, as well as allergies and infections.

In short, if you didn’t make it yourself, don’t use kajal on babies or children.  And read the ingredients: don’t buy anything unlabeled.  To be safe, stick with naturally derived kohls and eyeliners – for yourself and for your daughters.  Two to try:  100% Pure’s Black Tea Pigmented Gel Eye Liner and Physicians Formula Organic wear 100% Natural Origin Eyeliner.


Exercise Excercising During Pregnancy

Should you or shouldn’t you?  I remember when I was pregnant while my husband and I were living in Bangalore.  I came across a series of articles about the alarming rate of miscarriages suffered by women who traveled along Bannerghatta Road – a major thoroughfare with enough potholes to make even the moon jealous.  Imagine driving along this road in a dinky 3-wheel auto-rikshaw!

The articles connected the miscarriages with the severe jarring and bumping that the women were subjected to.  But I would travel down Bannerghatta Road – in both a car and in an auto-rikshaw – and, yes, I found myself bracing my womb (and the seat in front of me) during the worst bumps.  I concluded though, that the sensation really wasn’t much different than what my baby would feel during a hard 4-mile run.

Which was another issue altogether.  I continued to run my daily 4-6 miles throughout the first half of my pregnancy, albeit at a slower pace. Now, you don’t see very many pregnant runners in the U.S., so just imagine how my Bangalore neighbors reacted to my exercise habits!  I’m surprised they didn’t turn me in for fetus-abuse!

If I hadn’t read Dr. James Clapp’s Exercising Through Your Pregnancy (and consulted my doctor, of course), I probably would have succumbed to social pressures and demoted myself to the proverbial “brisk walk.”  Based on Dr. Clapp’s extensive research and first-hand experience, the book dispells many of the myths and “old wives tales” surrounding exercise and pregnancy – concluding that women with healthy preganacies who engage in moderate – and even strenuous – exercise have more energy, experience less complicated labour, recover more quickly, and deliver healthier babies. 

And, really, if pregnant women weren’t able to run – or drive down a bumpy road – the human species would have been extinct a long time ago…

Baby bangles
Author: Gnaana

Baby Bangles

I finally got around to buying my little girl some playful baby bangles (the plastic/resin type – not the you-can-never-wear-these-because-you-will-lose-them-22k gold bangles).  She loves them!  They jingle oh-so-cutely when she shakes her arm.  I have no idea whether they are compliant with the new US safety regulations for childrens’ products, (the CPSIA of 2008), but, hey, I’m pretty sure I wore these when I was a baby in India – and I turned out fine.  Makes me think:  the original baby wrist rattle toy!


Green Earth Cleaning

The holidays are a comin’, and you’re prepping your wardrobe.  You can’t bear to put your daughter’s darling silk lehnga (or that Burberry dress that you just had to buy for her) in the wash – so you are off to your local dry cleaners.  But wait – all dry cleaners are not the same.  Read on.

As an attorney who practiced in environmental law for 6 years, I know enough about dry cleaning to be wary.  Most dry cleaners (even some “organic” dry cleaners) use the solvent perchloroethylene – or “perc” for short – to clean garments.  Perc is regulated by EPA as a Toxic Air Contaminant and is also classified as a possible carcinogen.  If perc is not properly disposed of, it can contaminate soil and groundwater.  Many Superfund sites are contaminated with perc.  In short, it’s bad stuff.

So why do most dry cleaners (85% according to recent data) still use it?  Because they can get away with it.  Some states (MA, NJ, NY, TX) are trying to ban perc, and California passed a ban in 2003 (which really won’t take effect until 2020).

Now with all that’s documented about perc, I wouldn’t want it used on my clothes – let alone  on my kids’ clothes.  But there are alternatives.  One of them is Green Earth Cleaning – a company which manufactures a liquid silicon solution, a (reportedly) safe substance.  There are about 1500 dry cleaners across the US that use Green Earth.  You can see if there’s one in your area (and learn more about dry cleaning) by going to the company’s website:

I even trusted my prized white Cologne & Cotton duvet to my local Green Earth cleaner – with fantastic results.

Drum roll please
Author: Gnaana


It started as a midnight mommy musing:  how can I get my children to appreciate the richness of my Indian heritage?  My husband and I were both so busy – working late during the weekdays and running errands on the weekends.  In the meantime, our children, like super-sponges, were absorbing everything around them. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t have many obje[c]ts d’culture around our house that they could relate to.  A flimsy Rama cartoon book? No, 3-year-olds just don’t get the dharma-thing.  A Hanuman cartoon?  Way too violent for his age.  Maybe a visit to a temple?  Yeah, telling a toddler he can’t keep ringing the temple ghanta (bell) gets really old after the 30th time.

Enter gnaana – a fresh new way of connecting kids with culture. 

Inspired by Montessori teachings, our products are designed to help busy families incorporate elements of South Asian languages, traditions and histories into their everyday lives.  And these are not your nani’s “toys” –  our products are made of eco-friendly recyclable materials like wood and tin and meet international ASTM and European safety standards.

This blog will be an extension of our mission – a place to share and reflect upon the joys and challenges of raising multi-cultural children.  Whatever your background, we hope you will join the conversation and laugh with us.  And pipe up if you’d like to be a writer  –  we’d love to have you share your stories with the Gnaana community.  Just email us at Happy reading!


Aruna Hatti