Cracked ‘n’ dry: Battle of the winter skin balms

If your skin is naturally dewy, supple and radiant all over, sorry, this guide's not for you. The other 99 per cent, read on.


These cute green tins will try to smooth-talk you with their camomile marketing. But beware: both contain estrogenic parabens banned from kids’ products in Denmark. While Glysomed uses junky petrochemical fillers, Herbacin contains ecologically dubious palm oil (and both use fossil-fuel-derived propylene glycol). Trust the green? I don’t think so. Herbacin $5/2.5 oz., Glysomed $7/5 oz.

Score: N



Beloved by those with extremely rough, itchy, scaly, split skin, this Florida-made formula contains soothing colloidal oatmeal, comfrey, goldenseal and chickweed. We’re docking a point, however, since the soybean oil isn’t organic (soybeans are often genetically modified), the African shea butter isn’t fair trade and almond oil is allergenic. Egyptian Magic is a comparable product with less contentious ingredients – unless you avoid bee products. $18.50/4 oz.

Score: NNN



Toronto’s Ella’s Botanicals makes this balm by infusing olive oil with a skin-calming blend of calendula flowers, comfrey leaf, plantain and chickweed, then adding Ontario beeswax and fair trade, organic shea butter. A little oily going on, as most balms are, but absorbs nicely to nourish dry, cracked skin, minor cuts and scrapes. Clementine and lavender options (no unscented). $15/2 oz.

Score: NNNN



Priya’s divine “Lavanilla” body butter is my fave for all-over body moisture, and Penny Lane Organics Rough Skin Balm with hemp seed oil banished my winter eczema. Priya (formerly made in T.O., now in Baltimore) uses all organic cold-pressed sunflower oil, EVOO, mango butter and beeswax. Ontario’s Penny Lane now uses organic EVOO/North American hemp oil steeped with homegrown calendula, organic fair trade shea and eczema-busting zinc. Penny Lane is vegan, creamier, less oily than other balms it’s also not quite as pure. Priya $10/1 oz., Penny Lane $15/5 oz.

Score: NNNN



Bonus point for being the only balm I know about that’s concocted with entirely Canadian-grown ingredients. Infuses Ontario-grown certified organic sunflower/hemp oil with healing comfrey, yarrow and herbal plantain grown in Sigrid’s own garden as well as Ottawa Valley beeswax. Being a true oil-based balm, it’s a little greasy at first but works wonders on chapped skin, rashes and minor wounds. Can’t get any greener than this. $18/60 ml.

Score: NNNNN



Soothing coconut ointment

As the laziest DIYer in town, I love one-ingredient recipes. Case in point: get yourself a jar of cold-pressed organic, fair trade coconut oil and rub it, well, all over your body. Works on eczema, dry skin, diaper rash, etc. I even kicked my lip balm addiction with this stuff. Not everyone finds straight coconut oil moisturizing enough, though. If that’s the case, up your ointment by grating 1/3 cup beeswax and gently melting it in a double boiler (or glass bowl/jar inside pan of simmering water) with 1/2 cup coconut oil and 1/2 cup olive oil – or better yet, locally grown organic sunflower oil. Boost skin-soothing powers with 2 or more tablespoons fair trade shea butter/cocoa butter. Pour into a low, wide mouth Mason jar, let cool, and your DIY dream cream is ready.


Rash Reaction

Nasty preservatives in wipes and lotions are triggering outbreaks

Dry gusts of forced air, wool sweaters and adverse reactions to mayoral politics aren’t the only thing driving up winter itching.

New research published in the journal Pediatrics has tied a chemical used in baby wipes to some cases of acute contact dermatitis in kids, but the problem runs a lot deeper than headlines let on.

The case report by the University of Connecticut School of Medicine raised a lot of eyebrows by documenting extreme rashes from wipe exposure. However, the UK’s St John’s Institute of Dermatology links a widespread increase in skin problems in adults and children alike to a preservative known as MI (or methylisothiazolinone).

You’ll find MI in thousands of lotions, shampoos, shower gels, makeup and, yes, wipes often used on kids like Wet Ones, as well as wipes marketed to adults as a replacement for plain toilet paper, like Cottonelle Fresh Care.

It’s grown increasingly common as brands shift away from controversial parabens. You’ll even spot it in some products labelled “natural” and “organic.”

Interestingly enough, the study in Pediatrics noted that allergic reactions to MI are frequently misdiagnosed as eczema, impetigo or psoriasis. Yes, that’s how bad the rash can get.

Reactions are even worse when MI is combined with MCI (methylchloroisothiazolinone). Health Canada knows they’re both major irritants, which is why they’re on HC’s Hotlist of restricted substances.

But St John’s Institute insists the permitted levels of MI (.001 per cent or 100ppm) are way too high.

After news broke on MI in the UK last summer, four major brands (Vaseline, Huggies, Nivea and Brylcreem) announced they’d be ditching the ingredient.

Unilever UK says it has been phasing out MI from leave-on products like lotion, though the bottle of St. Ives cream I spotted on shelves last week still contained the stuff. So far, Unilever’s keeping MI in rinse-off products like Dove shampoo and Axe shower gel bodywash.

But MI isn’t the only chemical in your beauty routine that could be bugging you.

The sudsy sodium lauryl sulfate in shampoo, toothpaste and dish soap can certainly touch off irritation. Think you’re safe with natural brands? Seventh Generation dish soap and Method hand wash, for example, contain both SLS and MI.

Fragrance in body care as well as laundry products is another super-common skin irritant that also happens to be laced with hormone disruptors, including scent-elongating phthalates, synthetic musks and more. Keep in mind that even natural essential oils can cause rashes and reaction in some. Safest bet: reach for unscented.

If you react adversely to a product, don’t be shy, let Health Canada know. You can report product side effects at, reminding the agency to get a grip on its chemical Hotlist by lowering permissible levels or banning troublesome chems altogether before the Hotlist is rendered as useful as Rob Ford at a council meeting. | @ecoholicnation

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