Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Jamaican Black Castor Oil for Hair Loss

Photo: Courtesy of Tropic Isle Living

This month I am writing about some helpful products that I used while undergoing breast cancer treatment. Six months into my chemotherapy treatment, I suffered complete hair loss. As I discussed wigs with a neighbor, she mentioned that as my hair grew back in, my scalp would probably be itchy and tender. She learned about this from a friend who had also gone through chemotherapy and was using black castor oil to relieve the discomfort she was experiencing. I have written about black castor oil in the past, but never got around to actually trying it. It’s typically used as a hot oil treatment for hair and can be found as an ingredient in shampoos and hair treatments to treat dandruff and as a stimulus for hair growth. It has higher alkaline pH levels than regular castor oil, so it has more clarifying properties. It exfoliates the scalp and unclogs hair follicles and can treat certain scalp conditions.

I was in a beauty supply shop looking at wigs and asked about the black castor oil. The clerk handed me a bottle of Tropic Isle Living Jamaican Black Castor Oil and told me that it was a popular brand with the customers, so I bought it. I started using it and it did ease the sensitivity and itchiness in my scalp.

Photo: Klaber/

A few days after purchasing the black castor oil, I heard from a representative for Tropic Isle Living about the company. It was launched in 1992 by founders/husband and wife team Michael Hines and Lois Reid-Hines. The company sells natural hair, skin and body products made from oils, herbs and berries from Jamaica, the Caribbean and Africa. In addition to Jamaican black castor oil, the company also has products like red pimento oil and coconut oil. (I’ll write about these products in the future). 

The Jamaican Black Castor Oil is hand processed from pure wild crafted and organic Jamaican castor seeds. Black Castor oil is popular for use on the hair and scalp because it

  • stimulates hair growth
  • cleanses the scalp of toxins and other substances that can damage hair and slow growth 
  • repairs dry, damaged hair and helps reduce breakage
  • provides a protective covering that seals in moisture

I would massage the oil into my scalp at night and cover it with a satin scarf or bonnet. Black castor oil can stain, so you have to be sure to cover the hair if it’s going to be in contact with fabrics. I’m not crazy about the scent of castor oil, but the chemo drugs probably made my scalp super-sensitive, uncomfortable and at times, even painful to the touch. The Jamaican black castor oil soothed my scalp. The medical staff was also surprised at how fast my hair grew back in. 

You can find out about Jamaican Black Castor Oil and other Tropic Isle Living products by visiting

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Calendula for Skin Care During Radiation Treatment


Radiation is often part of the treatment regimen for breast cancer. Some of the side effects for skin can be irritation, itchiness, tenderness and darkening or reddening in the radiated area. While undergoing treatment, there will be recommendations to ease any discomfort, such as using a cool compress. Fortunately I didn’t experience much of that, not even the typical darkening or redness of the skin. However, I did experience dryness. I was given home care instructions for use during breast radiation and following treatment.

Tips that can help you avoid discomfort and skin irritation:

  • Avoid wearing tight clothing or irritating fabric (such as wool), or tight bras—I stuck with comfortable cotton sports bras.
  • Keep the area covered and protected from sunlight when going out.  
  • Take showers instead of baths. Make sure the water is not too hot and doesn’t directly fall on the breast. 
  • If you do take baths, avoid soaking the area while in the tub.
  • Avoid harsh soaps. Make sure they are mild and preferably fragrance-free.

I was given Boiron's Calendula Lotion to use twice daily, starting with the first day of radiation treatment. I’d take the bottle along with me and apply it right after the radiation treatment to minimize reaction, and then again later in the evening.

Calendula Skin Benefits

Calendula (calendula officinalis) also called marigold, is native to Asia and Southern and Central Europe and is now cultivated throughout North America. Calendula has been used for centuries to treat cuts, bruises and minor burns because it speeds up the healing of skin irritations and wounds. Calendula’s healing anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties are due to the presence of plant chemical compounds such as saponins and flavonoids.

The Calendula Lotion is water-based, making it good for use on large areas. It’s soothing to skin irritations, insect bites, rashes and sunburn. (Some women have likened the effects of radiation to getting sunburn.) There are other ointments that can be used during radiation and natural remedies such as aloe vera gel (from the actual leaf)—which I found too sticky. The Calendula Lotion quickly absorbed my skin and didn’t get on my clothing at night (some ointments will stain clothing). 

Always ask your radiologist about what you should use on the skin. You can find more information at  which has other tips for taking care of the skin during radiation treatment. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Should You Switch to Natural Deodorants?

When I learned that I had breast cancer, my thoughts went to the cause. Genetics? Possibly. Due to the tumor's location, I wondered, Was it the spray deodorant I tried? After all, it caused a mild asthma attack, so what else could it do? Through the years I’ve read negative reports about aluminum in antiperspirants, but that didn’t stop me from using them. I would wonder about all the chemicals in my personal care products. I would be scared for a few days and then go back to them. 

This time it was different. I read up on deodorants and antiperspirants again and noticed there were concerns with conditions that could increase body exposure to estrogen. Excess estrogen has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Aluminum-Based Concerns

Antiperspirants contain aluminum-based compounds such as aluminum chlorohydrate or aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly, which are used to block sweat glands to keep sweat from getting to the skin’s surface. Some researchers believe that it can be absorbed by the skin and cause changes in estrogen receptors of breast cells and therefore may be a risk factor in the development of breast cancer. Others say that only a tiny fraction of aluminum is absorbed. Researchers haven’t found a definite link between breast cancer and antiperspirant use and there’s little scientific evidence to support this claim.

The Paraben Problem

Then there is the issue of parabens. Parabens, which are used as preservatives in several products, can be absorbed into the skin. Studies have shown that parabens have weak estrogen-like properties. This hormone is known to cause breast cells (normal and cancerous) to grow and divide. However, the CDC reports that parabens that enter the body are quickly excreted. It’s also believed that natural estrogens made in the body or those taken as hormone replacements are more likely to play a role in breast cancer.

So what should you believe?

After being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer last year, I figured, why not at least pare down products that have ingredients that might be unhealthy for my body. I started using Crystal Essence, which I remembered from a BCA event years ago. My cancer treatment began last year in October, just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it just so happened that I was contacted to test out some of the Crystal Essence roll-ons for possible review. 

My problem with deodorants are that they usually just mask odor and don’t keep you dry. With the Crystal Essence scents there was no odor when sweating (due to a chemical-free odor-killing barrier that blocks the formation of bacteria that causes odor). The roll-ons, available in Lavender & White Tea, Vanilla Jasmine, Chamomile & Green Tea, Pomegranate versions, are lightly scented and infused with essential oils and extracts. And fortunately, I noticed that my t-shirts and tops aren’t permeated with a strong fragrance after yoga or working out, which has happened with other scented deodorants.

I also tested the Crystal Body Deodorant stone, which I took with me while traveling and it worked well, even in hot temperatures — and didn’t stain my clothing.

Is Alum Safe?

Please note that the Crystal Essence roll-ons and the Crystal Body Deodorant stone are not completely aluminum-free. Crystal Essence contains potassium alum and the Crystal stone contains ammonium alum. These are a different kind of aluminum made from mineral salts that, as I mentioned before, form a protective layer on the skin to inhibit the growth of odor-causing bacteria.The molecules are considered to be too large to be absorbed by the skin. These type of deodorants are often recommended by cancer treatment centers and organizations because they are safer than the aluminum in antiperspirants. Some individuals don't even trust alum-based natural deodorants. To reduce exposure, I only use the deodorant when I'm going out, working out or doing something that will cause me to sweat. 

The Crystal Essence Roll-on is $4.75 and the Crystal Body Deodorant Rock is $6.99 online at