Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Keep Calm and Carry On Coronavirus Tips

Photo: Alexandra Koch from Pixabay

As a wellness and beauty writer, I was waiting to see how many press releases would come through my email inbox — especially on the beauty side — crafted around the coronavirus. Sometimes the products being promoted can be a bit of a stretch. Thankfully the pitches haven't been too absurd. Online is a different story. At times like this, companies and individuals often start hawking unproven cures and giving bad advice. 

Speaking of emails, some of the hoopla and the rush to hoard surgical masks, zinc lozenges and hand sanitizer might have been caused, in part, by an email that has gone viral (no pun intended). The email, written by virologist and pathologist James Robb, MD FCAP, was not a hoax, according to Snopes. Dr. Robb recommended some precautionary measures to take regarding COVID-19. One had to do with the use of surgical masks, but to keep people from touching their mouths and noses. Some medical professionals have said that if you aren’t sick, it’s unnecessary (and not very useful) for protection from COVID-19. Since originally writing this post, I have seen conflicting information about this. While I still believe that we shouldn't hoard the actual medical masks used and much needed right now by medical professionals, I have changed my mind about the use of masks by the general public. After reading this commentary in the Washington Post, even a simple DIY mask can help flatten the curve, especially since so many people are not heeding the advice to stay home and stay a safe distance from others. Also take the time to watch this You Tube video How to Significantly Slow Coronavirus?

Continue to take precautions, but don't let panic inspire you to make poor decisions and do needless and costly things, that not only negatively affect you, but others. 

Should you make your own hand sanitizer?

Photo: Adriano Gadini from Pixabay

The mad dash to purchase hand sanitizers, which have been flying off the shelves in some stores, has sparked unscrupulous online sellers to jackup the price. 

Do an online search for hand sanitizers, and you'll notice several articles on making homemade versions. If you decide to make your own hand sanitizer, Dr. Ahmed Abdullah, a board-certified plastic surgeon and the founder of Lexli International, a line of aloe vera skin care, suggests mixing one part aloe vera gel and two parts isopropyl alcohol.

You’ve probably also seen articles warning against making your own hand sanitizer. This concern has to do with adding the correct ratio of alcohol, which should be 60% alcohol to be effective. This high percentage of alcohol could be harmful and drying to the skin, leading to cracks and making hands more susceptible to germs. This recipe from Popular Science has simplified a version by the World Health Organization. Just note that hand sanitizer is only for when soap and water is not available. Hopefully you won't need much of it.

After washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, be sure to use moisturizer. One of my favorite moisturizing ingredients is shea butter, found in Juara Coconut Illipe Hand & Nail Balm and Nubian Heritage Raw Shea Butter Hand Cream.  

And what about those zinc lozenges?

The aforementioned email advised people to stock up on zinc lozenges. “Zinc will inhibit the replication of many viruses, including coronaviruses,” Dr. Robb told Snopes. “I expect COVID-19 [the disease caused by the novel coronavirus] will be inhibited similarly, but I have no direct experimental support for this claim. I must add, however, that using zinc lozenges as directed by the manufacturer is no guarantee against being infected by the virus, even if it inhibits the viral replication in the nasopharynx.”

The mineral zinc does help keep the immune system strong. Zinc lozenges have been recommended to combat the common cold because viruses can thrive and multiply in the nasal passage and throat. Zinc may stop viruses from settling inside the mucous membranes of the nose and throat, and keep the virus from multiplying.  

You’re supposed to take zinc lozenges within 24 hours of the symptoms of a cold. This seems to reduce the duration of a cold. It doesn’t prevent it.

But zinc lozenges should be a short-term solution. You don’t want to overdo it with zinc. Too much of it can actually suppress the immune system. For some people the use of zinc, even zinc lozenges, causes side effects from a bad taste in the mouth that might linger for a few days, nausea, loss of appetite, upset stomach, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and headaches. It may also interfere with certain medications that are taken by mouth. Long term use can also lower good HDL cholesterol and cause a copper deficiency. 

If you are considering zinc supplements, don’t use them without being under the supervision of a doctor and zinc nasal sprays are not advised since they have been linked to the loss of smell, possibly permanent. 

Zinc is found in red meat, poultry and oysters, fortified cereals, whole grains, beans and nuts. So you can get zinc and other vitamins and nutrients from a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables to help keep your immune system strong.

Should you burn sage?  

Believe it or not, I spotted an article that suggested burning sage (called smudging) would help purify and remove bacteria in the home, and that this would be beneficial for ridding the home of the coronavirus as well. That sparked my interest since I plan on smudging as part of my spring cleaning. Sage has been used for centuries to purify the air and to release negative energy. Unfortunately, even its ability to remove bacteria has not been scientifically proven. Some sites had inaccurately reported that burning sage could reduce airborne bacteria. The scientific evidence to which these sites referred was a 2007 study, that actually found that traditional Hindu medicine called havan samagri—not sage— could rid a room of airborne bacteria by 94% within one hour and kept it bacteria-free for 24 hours.

Havan samagri is used in sacred fire rituals such as Yagna and Homa as a spiritual offering or to to cleanse and energize the space. But before running off to purchase havan samagri, which uses specific dried herbs, roots and leaves, it is not known what the effect the smoke can have on humans. What I’ve noticed from images, is that these ceremonies tend to be done in outdoor spaces. Smoke can be an irritant and have a negative effect on health, notably in those with asthma and other upper respiratory issues. 

I’ve got nothing against the burning of sage. Many of my yoga and meditation teachers use it to smudge the room before class, but it’s not going to prevent you from getting the coronavirus if you happen to get exposed. Unlike bacteria, viruses need a living host (people, animals, plants) to multiply.

But here’s what you can do to help protect yourself from the coronavirus, the flu and colds:

Photo: Purple Shorts from Pixabay

Wash your hands. Right now, this is the most important thing you can do. Wet hands with warm water. Apply soap, work into a lather and rub hands together for at least 20 seconds, cleaning the palms, wrists, back of hands, between fingers and under the fingernails. Before preparing food, be sure to scrub under the nails with a nail brush. Rinse hands throughly. 

After using public restrooms, wash hands thoroughly and then dry hands with a clean paper towel. Turn off the faucet with a paper towel. When on the go, I usually have a couple of paper towel sheets with me, since some bathrooms only have air dryers, and I like to use tissue or paper towels to open the bathroom door.

Wash hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing (or use hand sanitizer if no soap and water is available.) Also wash hands after using the bathroom, before preparing and cooking food, and before eating a meal.

Clean frequently touched surfaces such as tables, backs of chairs, countertops, light switches and  doorknobs — and don’t forget the smartphone, laptop and remote control. (This is especially important for families with kids and the elderly.) Visit the CDC site for more tips on getting your household ready for COVID-19 and home cleaning.

Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. If you don’t have tissue, sneeze into the crook of your elbow (covering your mouth and nose), but do not cover your mouth with your hands. After you sneeze, if you are near a sink wash your hands, if not, use hand sanitizer. 

Don’t put handbags and backpacks on the floor while out and about.

Remove shoes worn outdoors before entering your apartment or house. (This, and the above tip, has more to do with nasty germs in general than the coronavirus.)

Use your knuckles to press elevator buttons, flip on light-switches, etc. Some doors can be opened with a push from your elbow or the side of your body, but if you can only access it from a doorknob or handle, see tip below. You can also use disposable gloves.

Try not to touch eyes, nose and mouth, especially after touching door knobs, elevator buttons, light-switches, and gym equipment. 

Avoid shaking hands. By now people, even in a business setting, should be aware of why one would be loathed to shake hands. People are suggesting everything from fist bumps to bumping elbows. (Wouldn’t a nod and a smile or a "hello" be a better greeting?)

Stay home when you’re sick (except to get medical care, if needed.)

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

If possible, avoid crowded areas particularly if you have a weakened immune system or underlying medical condition that puts you more at risk for catching the virus. If you are  in good health but are concerned about exposure, try to avoid packed trains and buses. If possible, walk or ride a bike to work. Avoid large gatherings, especially those in enclosed spaces. This is not always possible, so when you have to be around a lot of people, follow the tips above. 

To stay healthy, don’t smoke (this is a good time to try to stop the habit), eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of fluids, drink alcohol in moderation, manage stress and get adequate sleep.

Try not to get overwhelmed by the news. Too much anxiety, stress and worry can trigger fight-or-flight hormones and chemicals that can suppress the effectiveness of your immune system.

For more information about COVID-19, tips and updates, visit

This article is for educational and entertainment purposes only. For medical advice, consult a medical professional.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

5 Quick Tips to Banish the Winter Blues

Photo: wokandapix from Pixabay

My moods change according to the weather. Sunny. Dreary. Or weepy like rain. My garden apartment gets very little natural light in the winter months, so I have to work at keeping emotional storms at bay.  

Here are some ways I keep my insides bright even on cloudy days. 

1. Meditate. Gray, gloomy days can make you feel blue and sometimes this spirals into negative thoughts and self-talk. You start feeling bad about yourself. Everything that you don’t like about your life, and memories that you’d rather forget, can arise during these moments. Meditation can help, but you need the right kind of meditation.

Loving-kindness meditation or metta (a Pali word with several meanings, including benevolence, affection, and kindness) is a self-healing meditation in which you express positive affirmations first towards yourself, and then to others. Studies have found that this type of meditation can help regulate functions of the limbic system in the brain, an area that among other things, processes emotions and empathy. Loving-kindness meditation can help cultivate feelings of happiness, satisfaction, gratitude, self-acceptance and contentment —and spark your inner joy. During the meditation you repeat statements such as may I be well, may I be happy, may I be healthy, first to yourself and then to others, to help you quiet that moody, inner critic. 

You can find samples of loving-kindness meditation scripts at Greater Good in Action and There are also guided loving-kindness meditations on YouTube or mindfulness apps like Liberate (with meditation created especially for people of color) and Insight Timer.

Photo: Irina L from Pixabay

2. Get moving. It's well-known that exercise helps boost overall moods by secreting feel good chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Try to exercise early in the morning within two hours of waking up (running, jogging or a brisk walk) to absorb natural sunlight. It’s harder to do in cold weather, I know, but nothing snaps you awake like cool temps. If you’re walking to your neighborhood Y or gym for an exercise class, even better.

3. Get your vitamin D.  Vitamin D helps regulate mood and boost the immune system. If you’re in a region with reduced sunlight or if you are a person of color with skin rich in melanin, you probably don’t get enough sunlight and therefore less vitamin D is produced by your body. You can take a supplement and increase your intake of foods with vitamin D. A favorite of mine is salmon. In addition to vitamin D, salmon has omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, also great for boosting mood and decreasing mild depression.

Photo: flyupmike from Pixabay

4. Stay hydrated. While I don’t like to admit it sometimes, a glass of water can perk you up better than that extra cup of coffee. Water intake (which you can also get from food, especially fruits and vegetables, and drinks like herbal tea) can help balance moods. Studies have shown that depression is linked to dehydration (since 85% of brain tissue is water). Dehydration can also cause tiredness and slow down brain function.

5. See the light. Invest in a LED light therapy lamp like the Verilux HappyLight Lumi ($49.95).  The lamp brings full spectrum, UV-free light into your home, office, dorm room or apartment to help lift your spirits and improve your body’s energy levels, so you’ll be more alert and productive. The HappyLight Lumi has three light brightness levels so you can gradually increase light intensity, and special technology to ensure that the light is comfortable for your eyes. It is wall-mountable and also has a detachable stand. The HappyLight Lumi’s compact size makes it easy to carry in your purse, backpack, or suitcase, to take to the office or on a trip. For information, visit

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) goes deeper than winter blues, so if you find that these tips don’t work or you feel depressed for several days and it’s having a negative impact on your life, making you unable to function, do seek professional help. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Help for Dry, Winter Skin: Nubian Heritage Raw Shea Butter

Cold air, brisk winds, dry indoor heatwinter can sometimes sap you of energy and vitality. Imagine what it’s doing to your skin. 

Shea butter is one of my favorite skincare ingredients, since my skin can get super dry.  Shea (pronounced shee) is from the karite nut tree and has many skin benefits including reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and soothing irritating skin conditions such as eczema.

Nubian Heritage (also one of my favorites)’s Raw Shea Butter Collection is a must for my moisture-deprived skin, especially since I’ve been spending time at the indoor pool at the Y—all that chlorinated water is just adding to the problem. 

The products contain age-defying ingredients. Along with shea butter,soy milk and Frankincense and myrrh extracts nourish and protect the skin:

EXFOLIATE. To help keep skin hydrated you need to remove dead skin cells, clearing the way for ingredients to penetrate the skin to provide smoothing, soothing and healing. The Raw Shea Butter Hand & Body Scrub (SRP $12.99), is a moisturizing sugar scrub with frankincense and myrrh to gently remove dull, flaky cells to reveal healthier looking and smoother skin.

CLEANSE.  During the winter you need to switch to ultra-moisturizing cleansers.  Nubian Heritages’s Raw Shea Butter Body Wash (SRP $10.99) and Body Bar (SRP $4.99) do the trick. The Body Wash contains shea butter, vitamin E, soy milk with coconut oil cleaners. The Body Bar has softening ingredients that are great for those of use who tend to wash their hands frequently during the winter months, to keep hands and body from getting stripped of natural oils.

MOISTURIZE. Raw Shea Butter Body Lotion (SRP $10.99) contains unrefined African Shea butter, vitamin E and nourishing soy milk to revitalize lifeless-looking skin.  

HANDS-ON HYDRATION.  My fingertips tend to get cracked, especially the thumbs, which can be painful. Raw Shea Butter Hand Cream (SRP $9.99) is nutrient rich to keep hands hydrated and free from cracked, peeling skin.

For information visit

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Smart Birdy Gives You Wings

Cue the fireworks, my absolute favorite find from 2019 was…


Carry-On Couture for the Runway.  Though my favorite things of 2019 list wasn’t in any particular order, I must admit I’ve been thrilled with my Smart Birdy Wings Jetsetter Case, so it is my number one favorite find of last year and I hope to take it to fabulous new destinations in 2020. 

I have it in gorgeous Rose Gold and I always get comments about how “precious” and “adorable” it is. In fact, a flight attendant stopped in the middle of her boarding announcement to compliment my luggage as I boarded the plane.

Abby (“AList”) Listo, founder and designer of Smart Birdy, used to travel with a favorite hatbox that she used in place of a suitcase. It worked well enough (in fact, receiving compliments) that she reconstructed the hatbox into an actual suitcase eventually using the design to create this chic and fashionable case.

Described as “carry-on couture,” this small hatbox-shaped suitcase can hold up to 50-plus outfits/items (depending on your packing expertise). The Smart Birdy comes with a phone battery charger and the removable power bank is TSA approved. It also has 360-degree Rose Gold wheels, bottom support handle, an exterior computer sleeve that can hold a 15-inch laptop, making it easy for removal at the security check, a clip-on shoulder strap, key cord pocket and USB cord. 

One thing I really love is that it is compact enough to fit into even those irritatingly small overhead bins on certain planes (and I certainly don’t want to check it!) In the event that you are forced to check it, there is a tote bag to keep your suitcase secure and hopefully clean and undamaged. Other accessories include an expandable shoe console, which keeps shoes separate from your clothing, a hot tool holder, an organizational jewelry case, wristlet clutch, Bluetooth speaker, laundry bag and silk pouch.

Smart Birdy is available in vegan leather or real leather trim and in a wide range of colors. The price depends on the style and features, starting from $699 (sale price) and up.

For more information visit

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My Security Blanket: Huggaroo Weighted Blanket

Linus (from Peanuts) was on to something... 


Heavy Makes You Happy. You’ve probably been hearing a lot about weighted blankets. It’s believed that weighted blankets help reduce anxiety and stress and can improve one’s sleep. Though there still needs to be more scientific studies, these blankets may also be useful for relieving chronic pain and depression, and help those with autism and ADHD. In fact, these therapeutic blankets have been used for several years to help patients with mental and physical trauma and have actually been used during certain surgeries, to lower stress in patients.

Weighted blankets are said to have calming and relaxing effects by providing pressure that activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Called “deep pressure stimulation” or "deep pressure touch," it is similar to the benefits of massage. Users have described their experiences with using weighted blankets as being nestled in a cocoon or being swaddled. Some even liken it to being hugged.

A weighted blanket should weigh between 7 - 12 percent of your body weight. It shouldn’t be so heavy that it restricts movement.

I tested the 15-pound Huggaroo Weighted Blanket ($129.99). It has a soft, removable, machine-washable duvet cover. The duvet is secured to the inner weighted quilt with fourteen double ties and loops to prevent shifting or settling of the food-grade polypropylene pellets inside that give the blanket its weight. 

The first time I used it, it felt a little heavy, like a luxurious X-ray apron, and I had to take it off. Subsequently I got used to it and fell asleep pretty easily. My issue is more with tossing and turning, and getting an overactive mind to shut off. I noticed that I am less likely to toss and turn, because of the weight. It's not always as great at helping me stay asleep, however. Sometimes when using the blanket, I'll get too warm, and it’s not easily tossed off. I have to make an effort to roll it off of me. Fortunately, at those times I was able to quickly get back to sleep (something that I often have trouble doing).

People with certain conditions should talk to a doctor before using a weighted blanket. It might not be good for those with sleep apnea, asthma or other breathing issues, since it might put too much pressure on the chest and could disrupt breathing, or for those who have claustrophobia (I suspect the snugness could actually feel too tight, giving them the feeling of being confined.)

I also avoid using the blanket when I have neck and shoulder pain because (in my case) it makes it worse.

All that being said, I love the feel of the ultra-plush Minky duvet cover, which is machine washable. I love snuggling up in the blanket on the bed to watch television (yes, I know, bad habit), although with this blanket, the TV ends up watching me. On cool days during the spring and summer, I will probably use it without the weighted quilt. 

For information, visit

Monday, December 30, 2019

Eye SEE You: Sexy Specs from SEE Eyewear

Oh, say can you SEE…


Photo: Gerrie Summers

A Must: SEE. My favorite thing to wear in 2019 (which started in 2017) was bold eyewear — following the lead of Oprah, Gayle King and Al Roker — matching fashionable eye glasses to clothing (only they can afford it!) It’s a funny thing actually, considering the fact that I hated them so much when I was in grade school. Of course eyewear has changed a lot since then. 

I decided to start wearing statement eye glasses as a treat for myself after losing my dreadlocks to chemotherapy. [You can read more about it in my personal essay, Changing the Frame, in the Sisters from AARP newsletter.]  

I needed a new look and a boost in mood and confidence. One day I spotted blue octagon-shaped sunglasses in the window of SEE Eyewear in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn and I was hooked.

Favorite eye glasses with my favorite activity (spa-ing)
Photo: Brandon Harrington/Courtesy of Wellness Month

Then SEE Eyewear opened a store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and I was treated to a brand new pair to review in my New York Lifestyles Magazine Style section. SEE stands for Selective Eyewear Elements and features eyewear selections that are the closest one can get to custom eyeglasses. The company produces a limited number of each frame, only two per color, per city or store, or limited edition frames. It’s addicting.

Photo: Gerrie Summers

SEE has over 45 stores nationwide. For more information, visit

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Smart Scents

I like this because I love aromatherapy … and I’m lazy…


Alexa turn on aromatherapy, please. I have a couple of aromatherapy diffusers. They don’t get used that much. When I think about using them, I’m usually stressed out or tired and frankly too lazy to mix the oils and blend them with water. Then I was sent information on a diffuser with bluetooth capability. Does that mean I can turn it on and off and schedule fragrance to fill the room right when I need it, from my smartphone or even by voice control? Yes.

The Aera Smart Aromatherapy Diffuser can be operated via the Aerodome mobile app (available in the Apple Store and Google Play). You can set times and intensity levels and have the Aera “play” automatically at certain times throughout the day. The Smart Diffuser ($200) is controlled via WiFi using the app or through Amazon Alexa. You just plug it in and pop in a fragrance capsule. The fragrance capsules are $55 per blend, to which I thought “Ouch!” but the aromatherapy capsules don’t require mixing and there’s no residue from flame, smoke or oils. Plus you get 500 hours of diffusing. 

The Aera fragrances and essential oils are sustainably sourced and are hypoallergenic, making them safe for children and pets. Aera also has a partnership with Aromatherapy Associates London for a wellness line collection of essential oil blends. I’m currently using De-Stress Mind, a focusing and calming blend of frankincense, petitgrain and wild chamomile that is perfect for work or during yoga and meditation. 

So how does it work? Microdroplet technology converts liquid fragrance compounds into tiny droplets, which burst into billions of fragrance molecules to blend with ambient air. Fragrance ingredients are released so that the scent is experienced in its entirely—i.e. base, middle and top notes all at once. You experience a scent free of alcohol, propellants and other harmful VOCs. Fragrance strength is adjustable and you can also control the Smart Diffuser manually. If you don’t want to use WiFi at all, you can save money by buying the Touch Diffuser ($150). 

Aera For Home currently has a special collection available featuring Snowfall, Sugar & Spice and Hot Toddy scents for the holidays. 

For further information visit