Earth Day every day: why every ecotourist needs natural soap

Do you ever feel like you’re just one of the crowd?

A crowd of 7.8 billion people?

I do.

In fact:

In 2015 I was just one of the 58.5 million people who visited New York City. 

In 2016 I was just one of the 20.4 million people who visited Orlando’s Magic Kingdom.

But…

In 2018 I was one of just 275,817 people who visited The Galapagos Islands.

And that’s where I learned the truth.

Like many of you, I first encountered the Galapagos Islands in my seventh grade biology class. The few glossy pictures available in our giant textbooks focused mostly on the finches (who, much like the dinosaurs, have attained an almost mythological status in the minds of lay biologists). Cloaked in mystery by their isolation, the fauna and flora of the islands are mainly known for their legendary encounter with Charles Darwin, but to the people who live on the islands today they mean so much more.

The animals inhabiting the Galapagos are so protected that they aren’t afraid of humans. This adorable sea lion was having a peaceful snooze amidst the crowd of people on the dock.

I visited the Galapagos as a student enrolled in Bethel University’s 2018 Ecology in the Tropics interim trip. My time spent in Ecuador and the Galapagos was a rare chance to explore one of the world’s most preserved natural histories, but more importantly, a chance to live as an ecotourist.

What is ecotourism?

Oxford’s Lexico defines ecotourism as “tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.”

What does ecotourism look like?

Your impact on the environment

How you travel impacts the earth. When you travel mindfully by conserving energy and limiting waste you protect the environment. We’ve crafted our products to help you with your mission.

Eco-lodges

Photo by Victoria Borodinova on Pexels.com

You gotta love hearing the sound of the lock click when you slide your room key into the security slot of your hotel room door for the first time after check-in. Tell me if this is relatable or not, but I have the tradition of checking the bathroom out first thing to gauge the cuteness of the tiny complimentary toiletries (you can imagine how obsessed I am with Apple Valley Natural Soap’s Sample Bars). 

Besides the soap, the first thing that usually catches my eye is the printed card that entreats me to reuse my towels to cut down on water waste.

Does this mean that the hotel is an eco-hotel?

Not exactly.

While it’s fantastic that chain hotels are cultivating practices that preserve the earth, when you stay at a true eco-hotel you find more than a place to stay; you find an immersion experience.

What does staying at an authentic ecolodge look like?

(According to my personal experience staying at the Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve and Mandari Panga.)

Built around community, surrounded by nature

In the cloud forest I’d wake up to clear skies and by evening the lodge would be completely engulfed in a giant cloud.

Whether sleeping up in the clouds or literally right above the amazon river, from morning to dusk, our tour guides helped us learn everything about the environments we were submerged in, allowing us to establish a greater connection with the land.

Ecolodges aren’t only set up for tourists. The places we stayed were created not only to provide jobs for locals, but also as an opportunity to educate locals about the importance of their environment. 

Ecolodges don’t stop with tourists and locals, they also encourage the merging of these two communities. We ate locally sourced and prepared food. Played soccer with the staff and near-by neighborhoods, and were also encouraged to join in the singing and dancing.

Re-aligning your lifestyle with nature

While using a compost toilet and brushing my teeth in the dark were certainly challenges, there was something sacred about learning to live by the rules of a force greater than myself. 

Nazca Booby

Because there was no electricity, lights went out when it got dark…and although we were provided with candles, I preferred falling asleep with the sun (plus the tents that did opt for candlelight became the hotspot for every insect in a one mile radius..haha, dodged that moth).

Showering and laundry with natural soap

I grew accustomed to cold-rainwater showers (it was so humid in the rainforest that temperature wasn’t a big deal). Yes, the space was small and a little spidery, but the views were worth it and I got the benefit of soft water. 

Photo by Kai-Chieh Chan on Pexels.com

Yes! Before rain-water sinks into the ground it is usually soft!

Traveling with one of our shampoo bars makes you a model ecotourist. Because they’re solid, our shampoo bars make it possible for you to save space and avoid checked luggage. 

Of course, you’ve also avoided the problem of slippery soap by bringing along one of our Natural Cotton Soap Bags. This bag not only stores your soap, it also acts as a washcloth that can be brought right into the shower with you. It’s made of natural cotton, so it is eco-friendly and easy to grip! 

Psst. If you’re dealing with hard water you can always bring a little baking soda with you…

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Sometimes finding the resources to keep your clothes clean while on an epic expedition can be even more challenging than keeping yourself clean.

I was forced to do a lot of sink laundry during my three months in Europe last fall and I always felt guilty wondering what kinds of chemicals I was releasing down the drain.

AVNS bars are extremely versatile, you can even use them to wash your clothes! Marianne recommends using our coconut bars because they have one main ingredient, coconut. But in a pinch any of our shampoo bars and many of our Body bars can also be used to effectively hand wash clothes. You can run hot water over the soap to create a basin of soapy water for dipping clothes into. For extra suds power you can also wet the clothing and then apply the bar directly. Once the area is coated with soap you can massage it in and rinse. Because our soap is biodegradable, you choose a much better option for the environment than harsh detergents.

Photo by João Jesus on Pexels.com

The truth is…

You may feel like one of the crowd, and many times you will be. 

But you’re the one who makes a change and that makes you one in a million.

I bet you were wondering why I’d talk about travel during a time when travel has been restricted.

It doesn’t matter where you are, because you can be an ecotourist anywhere you go.

Even if you’re stuck at home.

Turning off the water while you brush your teeth saves up to four gallons of water.

Growing a garden reduces your carbon footprint.

Utilizing natural light conserves electricity.

Using our natural soap keeps you, and the earth healthier.

It doesn’t matter if you are one of one million or the only person in the house. When you make earth day every day, you make a difference.


Beauty and Health Benefits of Salt for Your Skin

I challenge you to a friendly contest.

Get a pencil and set your timer for thirty seconds.

Now, on the countdown of three start your timer and write down all the uses of salt that you can think of!

Okay?

Three.

Two.

One.

Go!

Time’s up!

Hopefully you were able to think of a few things. I’ll share my list at the bottom and you can see how yours compares to mine. However, before you scroll down there to competitively evaluate who came up with more answers…I think both of us deserve a freebie (like the Free Space in BINGO) for all of our hard work.

Free Space: Salt Soap Bars

Why put salt in soap?

I know you’re probably wondering if salt is used to flavor soap like it’s used to flavor food (and let me tell you, some of the AVNS soaps do look good enough to eat!). However, that’s not the reason salt bars exist.

The salt in salt bars simultaneously serves as an exfoliant and a natural antibacterial agent. When the larger grains come into contact with your skin they remove the dead skin cells that have accumulated and allow clogged pores to breathe. 

While the AVNS Lime Spa Salt Bar is a great way to prepare for a flawless shave, our Pink Himalayan Salt Bar provides the perfect grit for combating calloused hands and feet. When new skin is exposed, the salt also cleanses it from bacteria (and if you’re ready to relive your high school biology days hang in there and I’ll explain how).

Salt as a natural antibacterial agent

The salt creates a hypertonic solution (meaning it will attract water through osmosis). Because bacteria is mostly composed of water — just like the human body — when it comes into contact with salt, the salt will leech water from the bacteria, leaving it to shrivel and die. 

I took this photo off the quaint coast of the Cinque Terre in Italy during my study abroad trip to Europe this past fall, where are your favorite oceanside travel destinations?

Keeping harmful bacteria off of your skin is important, but many artificial chemicals used in antibacterial soaps have been banned because they were not shown to have any health benefits and in some cases there has been evidence suggesting some chemicals may have dangerous effects

Antibacterial hand sanitizers often contain alcohol that strips the skin of bacteria, but because it is such a harsh substance it makes your skin dry. Salt bars are a natural solution that will fight bacteria, but will also replenish your skin and body with much needed minerals. The European Spa Salt used by Apple Valley Natural Soap is solar evaporated and comes from the pristine waters of the Mediterranean sea.

Apple Valley Natural Soap’s stunning salt bars

AVNS has a striking lineup of beautiful salt bars, I’m actually going to leave a link right here so you can just go look at all of them side by side because the gentle color palate and rich texture of the salt is soooooo aesthetically pleasing. It’s like looking at artisanal blocks of artist’s chalk…except instead of drawing on the sidewalk you get to lather your body! The dove grey Orange Anise Salt Bar is hands(washing)down the most gorgeous bar of soap I’ve ever seen and Marianne recommends pairing it with a white or black soap placemat as a modern finishing touch (just beware that this stylish touch could make people mistake your bathroom for a high-end art gallery!). The best part is — these bars aren’t just for looks! You won’t even need to scratch your head in wonder when I tell you that the glowing white Lavender Rosemary Salt Bar doesn’t just look great on a placemat, it also acts as a Shampoo Bar that relieves itchy scalps.

I guess I ended up with more than one freebie because we’ve now covered salt as: an antibacterial, an exfoliant, and a source of skin-nourishing minerals…but hey, one salt bar will cover all those things, so I guess it’s three freebies in one!

Without further ado: Nora’s 30 second Salt List

  1. Melts snow on roads and sidewalks
  2. Himalayan Salt Rock Lamp
  3. Salt Blocks for horses
  4. Flavors food
  5. Repels leeches
  6. Helps your hair curl?

Everything You Need to Know About Castile Soap

How is my love for acting related to Castile soap?

When I play a character in a show, I not only get to fill their shoes, I also trace their footsteps. 

Here I am with my fellow actor Dah in our production of I Hate Hamlet. I absolutely loved my costumes for this show…I felt like a princess!

Because of this, I’ve travelled through a number of character paths that have taken me around the world: I’ve stolen a Commedia dell’arte romp through the winding canals of Venice, floated through the dreamscape of Charles Dickens’s London, explored the historical and haunted flats that make up the New York City skyline, and washed a peasant’s laundry in (and I think you’ll see where I’m going here) Castile, Spain.

Castile? Wait, isn’t that a type of soap?

You guessed it!

The history of soap

Early soaps were made from combining animal fats and plant oils with salt or ash. This primitive soap was used for cleaning cooking utensils and medicinal purposes rather than for beauty and personal hygiene. As soap making became more refined it also became more expensive because it required both technique and coveted family recipes. Prices only dropped after production became more mainstream when chemicals were introduced to simplify the process.

What is Castile Soap?

Castile soap has been around for quite some time, but unlike the first soaps ever made it does not contain animal fat or ashes. However, a traditional Castile soap is also free from modern chemicals used in most mass-produced soaps.

So if it doesn’t have chemicals or animal byproduct, what exactly is it made of?

Olive oil.

And I’m sure you already guessed where those olives were grown.

Spain exports the world’s majority of olive oil and the production of olive oil in Spain can be traced back about 3,000 years. Although Castile soap got its name from a specific region in Spain, Castile soap can be made with olive oil from anywhere…which has its disadvantages.

The benefits of olive oil in Castile soap

Because Castile soap is generally defined as soap made with olive oil, many companies can get away with using small quantities of low grade olive oil while still labeling the soap as “Castile Soap” This soap will not have the same benefits as a soap composed of high quality olive oil.

Now, the advantage of using olive oil from outside of Castile is that it allows us to pick from the best. In keeping with the origins of the first Castile soaps, our organic virgin olive oil is sourced mainly from the Mediterranean region. Our true Castile soaps provide a gentle cleanse and act as a nourishing moisturizer. Our virgin olive oil is chemical free and retains its vitamin content, the reason behind olive oil’s health benefits (especially vitamin E). Vitamin E protects skin from the damage of free radicals and can help alleviate symptoms of eczema.

We choose to go organic with our virgin olive oil and many of our other products to promote the protection of the earth and water from harmful pesticides and we want our Castile soap to do the same for your skin. Our Calendula Castile Bar is the perfect soothing solution for sensitive skin (babies would highly recommend it…if they could talk). Our Lavender Castile Bar will create a calming, creamy lather…perfect for shaving! I know I’ve got the Lavender Orange Castile Bar on my wish-list and I’ve got an audition for Antigone tomorrow so I’m ready to get into character (Greece likes its olive oil too!)

Wish me Luck!

Nora


How to Achieve the Perfect Shave in Under Ten Minutes

We’ve all been there

It’s a frigid Tuesday, the most unassuming day of the week. Sweater weather is in full swing — even though it’s February — and snow swirls in gusts outside your window. You’ve just lit one of your favorite candles and are curled up on the couch pretending to read a good book while you secretly binge-watch “Grey’s Anatomy” (Season three) for the seventeenth time. Nothing like the perfect night off.

Then it hits.

The unexpected need to shave

Your husband comes home determined to whisk you off on a spur-of-the-moment romantic date. The girls call, you haven’t seen them for ages and they’re getting together tonight for pedicures. You’ve been promising your kids you’ll take them to the community center pool and tonight they’re not taking no for an answer. You spring into action, but as you’re pulling out the cute black dress, pedicure appropriate khakis, or kid-proof swimsuit — the thought hits you: when was the last time I shaved my legs?

Next thing you know, you’ve stripped off your fluffy pajama pants and staring up at you are your two, hairy Chewbacca legs. You’ve literally been caught with your pants down and you only have ten minutes to achieve the perfect shave.

There are those of you who do not shave, I applaud you. Smooth legs are a preference and they may not be yours and that is okay because your legs are beautiful with or without hair and you know it. While I would someday like to grow my leg hair out long enough to knit around myself, I cannot resist the feeling of freshly shaved legs against smooth sheets. For those of you who feel the same way — let’s figure out how to get you and your smoothest legs out the door in the next ten minutes.

How to get smooth legs quickly

Step One: Let ‘em Soak

As tempting as it is to give your legs a one-second splash before you get razor crazy, you’ll actually benefit from a longer soak. According to Dr. Christy Rainey, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, the warm water will open your skin follicles, leaving your hair shaft better exposed for a closer shave.

Step Two: Exfoliate First

Exfoliating is the best way to prep your skin for a smooth shave. After you’ve soaked for a minute or two your top layer of skin will be soft. When you exfoliate, you gently remove all the grime and dead skin that has accumulated on the surface of your skin, clogging your pores. Removing the build-up will let the razor glide over your skin and the circular motion of your exfoliation will help position your hairs upright so that the razor can cut them. The Sweet Rosehips Body Polish is a gentle scrub that will leave your skin smelling sweet and feeling soft.

Step Three: Lather Up!

Once your bristles are ready it’s time to get the soap out. I used to rely on shaving cream and let me tell you, more times than not I’d end up reaching for an empty aluminum can of disappointment. Left with no choices, I’d resort to whatever cheap body wash someone else had abandoned and often times it left me with dry, scaly legs. Thankfully, you can eliminate waste and double up by simply using an AVNS body bar. The Rosemary Lavender Coconut Bar or Wildflowers Coconut Bar can be worked up into an incredibly thick and luscious lather, will last longer, give you a natural cleanse and provide additional moisture.

Step Four: The Razor Race

At this point, it’s up to you. You know your legs and you know how to shave them. Long, even razor strokes and frequent razor rinses will keep you from getting burns and cuts.

Step Five: Moisturize. Moisturize. Moisturize.

The body scrub I mentioned above is fantastic because it often a provides a two-in-one exfoliant and moisturizer. But if you’re heading out into the frozen tundra and are prone to dry, winter skin, you’ll need to lock in all the moisture possible. Using one of our Lavender Lotion Bars or Lavender Vanilla Baby Butter will not only give you baby-soft skin, the organic lavender essential oil we use may also help heal and protect any micro cuts left by your razor. 

Step Six: Stock Up

You never know when the unexpected may strike. Having products ready will prevent you from having to undergo the dreaded dry-shave. But guess what? As thrilling as the unexpected is, you never need a reason to pamper yourself other than the fact that you deserve it!

Much Love,

Nora


I’ve Got a Golden Ticket (To Apple Valley Natural Soap): how we make our natural soap

Chocolate factory…or Natural Soap factory?

If at first glance you mistook the photo above for a thick block of delicious chocolate fudge, don’t worry, I did too. Believe it or not, that’s actually the Salted Chocolate Sink Bar…so even if you can’t sink your teeth into it, you can still give your hands a good lather. The Salted Chocolate isn’t the only AVNS soap bar that looks good enough to eat, in fact, just browsing the AVNS website makes me feel like a kid in a candy store, and let me tell you, meeting Marianne for the first time felt a little like shaking hands with Willy Wonka himself.

I love chocolate, so it’s no surprise that I adore Rohld Dahl’s classic tale, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’ve always envied Charlie Bucket, the young hero who visits the mysterious and alluring chocolate factory and is swept into a whimsical adventure as he becomes privy to the secrets and inner workings of the fantastic factory.

While Charlie’s journey allows readers to peer into the fantastic world of Wonka’s factory, today I’ll be giving you the inside scoop on the process behind making our scrumptious soap!

Soap needs to be clean in order to clean!

You can have a giant factory with a bazillion hallways and rooms and a giant chocolate-churning fountain…or just a simple kitchen, but no matter where you set up, both Wonka and Marianne will agree that an important step in the creative process is cleanliness. When Augustus Gloop falls into Wonka’s chocolate river, Wonka is more distraught by the thought of contamination than he is about Gloop’s safety. The spaces where AVNS soap is made undergo scrutinous sterilization to ensure that the purity of each product remains intact.

Combining and balancing ingredients

The next step in soap making is to create a recipe. Great soap calls for a great recipe. The base ingredients lye and water are combined. The oils and butters are also combined as they gently melt at the correct temperature. Any delicate, heat-sensitive oils are added secondarily. When both the lye and oils are at the correct temperature, they are blended together until light trace (soap talk for the absence of oil streaks in the mixture). Finally, any essential oils and herbs are added and the soap is poured into molds.

As any chocolatier or “soaplatier” will tell you, attaining the correct balance of ingredients is essential. After Augustus Gloop gets sucked up the chocolate pipe and carried away to the fudge room, Mrs. Gloop panics at the thought of her son being turned into fudge. However, Mr. Wonka (knowing that Gloop would unbalance his recipe) reassures her he will not allow this to happen, “’Because the taste would be terrible..Just imagine it! Augustus-flavoured chocolate-coated Gloop! No one would buy it” (Dahl).

Can you imagine? Salted Chocolate Gloop Sink Bar? No, thank you.

The setting and curing process

One of my favorite parts in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is when Violet Beauregarde steals a stick of gum from Wonka’s Great Gum Machine and starts chewing. Wonka tries to warn the greedy girl that his recipe is premature, but Violet does not heed his warning and before she knows it, she begins to swell like a blueberry while consequently turning a violent shade of violet. Using our soap will never turn you into a blueberry because like Willy Wonka, we know that timing is everything. After the soap is poured into molds it sets for 12-36 hours and then cures for another 2-6 months.

What matters most

Willy Wonka prides himself on the inventive and exotic origins of his candy creations, but what is most important to him — and what Charlie learns during his visit — is that at the end of the day, what really matters most is the chocolate.

AVNS has an impressive selection of unique soaps, all different and all hand made…but when stripped down to the core, there is a greater mission at hand. All of AVNS soaps are biodegradable, meaning that every ingredient used in an AVNS bar of soap can be broken down by microorganisms. This natural form of decomposition is eco-friendly, making our soaps like the Organic Coconut BarsOrganic Castile Soap Bars and the seasonal Camping Bar great (and packable) for your camping expeditions!

Although the Salted Chocolate Sink Bar is inedible, it does have a little Wonka-esque trick up its sleeve: it doesn’t contain added scent. The minimal ingredient list allows the natural scent of delicious organic cocoa butter to smell for itself! This isn’t the only unscented soap bar, many of our natural and organic soaps use minimal ingredients to cater to both the environment and sensitive skin. Our Calendula Castile Bar is only composed of saponified organic extra virgin olive oil and organic calendula petals, that’s a peace-sign amount of ingredients!

By using minimal, natural ingredients to make our soap, AVNS aims to promote peace: both inner and with the earth. I’d pick that kind of peace over a piece of chocolate any day.

P.S. Although our soap looks good enough to eat (and is Gloop-free) please do not nibble!


The Natural Benefits of Mint You Never Knew About

Mint is everywhere

Buying toothpaste is probably one of the most mundane errands in existence. You can stand in the dairy section of a store and spend half an hour picking out which flavor of ice cream you want, but visit the toothpaste shelf, or even the entire dental hygiene aisle and you’ll be overwhelmed by one flavor: mint. Considering this minty domination, it’s no surprise I’ve always taken mint for granted…until I started college.

How mint saved me from spiders

I lived in a triple room on an all-girl floor my Freshman year of college and we had a communal bathroom with shower stalls (they were the size of telephone booths, I kid you not). One day halfway through first semester I was on my way to shower when I noticed a funny bit of grey fluff on my comforter at the base of my bottom-bunk. As my hand fluttered down to flick it off, eight thick legs unfolded from around the fluff and the fluff itself began to scuttle. My hand shot back and I kicked up my legs as I gave a loud, surprised shriek as I realized that the grey fluff was actually a big, grey spider. Not one of those wimpy, spindly things, but an armored tank of a spider who had claimed my bed as its own and was willing to go into battle if I refused to surrender. Even now I feel slightly chilled thinking about it.

Once I knew my bed was not spider resistant, my small, cozy room became a scary, spidery place. In my imagination, spiders lurked everywhere. In my pockets, under my bed, and in my shoes. I was living in terror, so I did what any smart, terrified girl would do…I called my parents.

For the rest of the week I dreamed of all the heavy duty traps and snares my mom would bring me to defeat the spiders. I pictured mini spider cages with steel bars so strong no amount of extra legs could bend them and web weakener serum that would discourage the spiders from building webs anywhere near me. I was a little disappointed when my mom showed up armed with only two sticky traps and a little bottle of…what?…peppermint essential oil?

“Peppermint repels spiders,” my mom said.

Huh, sure it does

Despite being skeptical, I took my mom’s advice and for the rest of the year I crawled under my bed once a week and dispensed a few drops of peppermint oil along the baseboard of the wall. My roommates thought I was crazy, but I never saw another spider in my room.

Now, as to whether the spiders fled in response to the peppermint oil or just sensed a hostile vibe in the room and decided to skedaddle will forever be a question that keeps me up at night, but rest assured that there are some things I do know about mint.

What is Peppermint?

While we all know and love peppermint for its instant aroma of winter cheer, what you maybe didn’t know is that peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint and water-mint…that makes it like the golden-doodle of plants, right? Containing organic, Fair Trade peppermint essential oil from India and spearmint essential oil from Indonesia, both the Juniper Mint Castile Soap and the Matcha Mint Soap provide a big scrubba-dub-dub of rejuvenation. Did I mention that the Matcha Mint Bar also includes a refreshing measurement of matcha magic?…a matcha made in heaven!

How mint works to benefit skin

The rejuvenating quality of mint comes from the compound menthol. According to U.S National Library of Medicine, menthol triggers a specific receptor in our skin and the reaction is a cool-sensation. This creates a soothing feeling, which is especially great if you’re looking for the perfect exfoliation!

Toothpaste may be boring, but AVNS makes mint fun. You can choose from an amazing selection of minty combinations (including Rosemary Mint and Grapefruit Mint) and if you use a body or shampoo bar containing peppermint –like the Peppermint Tea Tree Shampoo Bar — who knows? You might even repel spiders! Only one way to find out!