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Carina Organics Natural shampoo and skin care products

Gollner is president of Carina Organics, a mom, pop and son enterprise (Anthony is the son) that makes and sells natural hair, skin and pet products using plant materials gathered in B.C.'s own backyard.

The Gollners are part of a growing industry producing cosmetics from, if not fully organic, at least all-natural products, hoping to cash in on a growing population looking for alternatives to synthetic cosmetics.

Getting spore bombed is the cost of doing business, he says. Luckily, he's not allergic.

Pine, douglas fir, cedar and hemlock saps can do wonders for people suffering from eczema, psoriasis, cradle cap or dry skin, he says. First nations people knew this, he adds, long before his father Helmut discovered it while developing a tonic to ease the itchy scalps of his clients.

Helmut learned to make his own hair tonics while apprenticing to become a barber in Germany. But his real inspiration came from an old bar of pine-tar soap he found in a cupboard of his Vancouver barber shop while cleaning up. Now the Gollners have a whole line called Botanical Theraputics that use the essence of the tree saps in place of synthetic, chemical-based ingredients.

The saps also act as effective preservatives and anti-microbial, anti-fungal agents. That means Gollner's products also don't need the chemical preservatives used in most cosmetics -- chemicals such as parabens that can cause severe allergic reactions and are tentatively linked to cancer. An English study found high dosages of parabens in 18 out of 20 breast tumours studied.

Consumers are switching to organic or botanical cosmetics for a variety of reasons including the protection of the environment, but also to protect their bodies from the cumulative effects of toxic interactions, says Dr. Leslie Baumann, a Miami-based cosmetic and author of The Skin Type Solution.

While a lack of research showing their effectiveness prevents her from wholeheartedly endorsing botanicals, she does advise avoiding ingredients like parabens and toluene, a chemical found in many brands of nail polish that has been shown to have detrimental effects on males in utero. Toluene can also cause a skin rash, characteristically on the eyelids, in people who use nail polish containing toluene.

Still, Baumann says some synthetics, such as retin-A for wrinkles or acne, are far superior to any botanical alternative. Moreover, neither natural or organic products are necessarily the best for the skin.

"For instance, many natural and organic brands contain certain fragrances and essential oils, which can cause dermatitis," she writes in an article on her website about organic products. "Oil of bergamot and balsam of Peru are both highly allergenic, so even an organic product containing them could irritate sensitive individuals."

Similarly, peppermint or rosemary may irritate or inflame skin if it is sensitive, and even chamomile can cause allergic reactions in people who are also allergic to wheat.

But for Baumann, the bottom line is whether or not the product works for your skin. Soy is a good example, she says. It has some properties that help treat and prevent dark patches or melasma on skin, but organic soy has estrogenic properties that can make melasma worse.

Aveeno and Neutrogena removed the estrogenic properties in some of their soy products. It can't be called organic, (it's called active soy), but it's actually better for the skin, she says.

"Basically, in this case, non-organic soy is better. The same can be said of another Aveeno ingredient, feverfew," she says, noting feverfew can cause blisters if it hasn't been distilled.

On the other hand, green tea is an excellent antioxidant that slows aging, and if you can get that in an organic form, so much the better. Baumann says consumers who prefer organics but still want effective products may have to seek out products that are mostly organic but have added synthetic ingredients to make them work.

Sylvie Punguntzky, the body care manager at Finlandia Pharmacy, says certified organic cosmetics are rare, partly because the market has yet to provide enough demand and partly because many products, such as the anti-aging ingredient hyaluronic acid, are either synthetic or animal-based.

"It can't come from a plant, which makes it very difficult to be certified organic," she says.

As well, emulsifiers -- even plant-based ones like palm oil -- just aren't available organically or they cost way too much, she says.

It's better to seek out products that do not use harmful chemicals, she says.

For example, most mainstream shampoos use a form of sodium lauryl sulfate as the surfactant or soap. It has a nice foamy quality to it, but it can cause skin irritations, rashes, hair loss, dandruff and allergic reactions.

Gollner uses a blend of vegetable oils and corn sugar, which when heated becomes glycerine, as his surfactant.

For shiny hair, many products use silicone, says Gollner. But he uses, among other things, the gelatin derived from horsetail ferns. He collects wild sword fern from the local forests for its astringent qualities.

He also used to collect wild chamomile, nettles, echinacea and clover to infuse into their products, but now he buys those from an organic farmer. Most of his tree sap comes from the Okanagan now.

Punguntzky, who procures all of Finlandia's cosmetic products, has a few general rules she tries to follow. For the most part, she believes in the principle that natural is better than synthetic, but that's not always the case. Vegans may prefer a synthetic to an animal ingredient, she says, and while petroleum is a natural product, it's not a good one for skin. "Petroleum products prevent perspiration," she says, which is essential to cool the body.

Punguntzky also avoids synthetic fragrances and opts for products that use essential oils or are fragrance-free. Mineral-based skin-care lines are good for people with allergies, she says. But some minerals, like aluminum, should be avoided because research shows they can cause skin irritations and sensitization and may increase the risk of breast cancer.

German products are generally excellent, she says because the industry is strongly regulated there. She likes products made by Laverna, Dr. Hauschka and Weleda. Another local producer of natural products is Vitamoor.

Without your own private researcher it will be difficult to know until November what is in a product, because until then, Canadian cosmetic labels do not have to say what is in them. Those who want to steer clear of potential skin problems should seek out natural product lines that say they don't contain harmful chemicals, says Punguntzky. There is also a great book called A Consumer's Guide to Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter (Three Rivers Press, $25) that Punguntzky says is her bible.

"You really have to do the research," she says. Look at the company's reputation, products, ingredients and philosophy, she suggests. Gollner recommends using the National Institutes of Health website -- -- where you can search an ingredient and get a toxicology report on it, but not all ingredients been tested. Baumann recommends an online safety guide (based on ingredient research data as well as data gaps) at Or go to her website,, for non-biased informative discussion.