The question of what is lurking in your yoga mat may not have come across your mind recently. After all, yogis are into their practice, and give only a passing thought to what they are sitting on. As a woman who tends to perspire profusely during and after a workout, I tend to want to keep my mat (and other equipment) as clean as possible without adding to my body’s burden of chemicals. And a recent article published in Environmental Health Perspectives demonstrating a link between the use of flame retardants in plastic yoga mats and fertility outcomes raised some concerns. Another study found pathogenic bacteria in large quantities on yoga mats that were not regularly cleaned. Considering how many times my face and hands touch my mat, this gave me pause. So what’s a practitioner to do? Let’s begin by looking at the types of mats out there.
Types of Yoga Mats
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) – PVC mats often had plasticizers added, which increased the number of chemicals (namely lead, dioxin, and phthalates) employed in their manufacture. All of these chemicals are of known toxicity. These mats are not earth-friendly or biodegradable. Some mats may also contain latex, which some are allergic to.
- Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE), which is a more environmental and health friendly alternative. TPE is a combination of rubber and plastic and is said to be biodegradable and recyclable.
- Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA), thinner than PVC and TPE, considered less toxic than PVC. Its manufacture does not require the use of a plasticizer like PVC, and is BPA-free. It is acceptable for use in baby products like teethers and in shoe soles.
- Natural Latex Rubber – A naturally derived product extracted from rubber trees. It tends to be thicker and heavier than the other materials, and can take longer to dry when washed. It also contains latex, so those who are allergic to this material should avoid it. It is a more biodegradable and chemical-free alternative to synthetic materials. Just remember that it can degrade in sunlight or with the use of certain essential oils.
- Nitrile Butadiene Rubber (NBR) – A synthetic rubber-like compound (what nitrile gloves are made of).
- Natural Cork – While sustainably sourced, they may not be as “sticky” when dry, necessitating spraying before use. They look beautiful and are a little more expensive.
- Organic cotton/jute – The most natural and earth-friendly alternative. They can be a little scratchy, but provide sufficient friction. Some can be put in the wash. These can also be more expensive.
Given all of the alternatives out there, it behooves us to ask the right questions and find out how companies manufacture their mats if you want to avoid harmful out-gassing of chemicals from your yoga mat.
Cleaning your Yoga Mat
Specific yoga mat cleaners are available, but it’s really easy to make one yourself from 3 parts water and 1 part vinegar to which a few drops of essential oil are added. (This is less drying than rubbing alcohol.) Tea Tree, Lavender and Eucalyptus are favorites. Let dry in a well-ventilated area.
Let’s find out what’s lurking in our yoga mats and take steps to stay healthy and buy earth-friendly products. Namaste!
Article in Gymgearinfo.com about PVC and TPE mats
Article in TypeAYoga.com re: what you need to know
From the beginning, WEBA Natural Products has taken a firm stand with regard to the use of animal ingredients in our products. While many personal care, clothing and food manufacturers may think differently on this topic, it is an ethical and aesthetic choice that makes sense for us.
Many consumers have argued that some ingredients don’t involve hurting animals, but we feel that this is a slippery slope. After all, how do they know? Are they expecting the cow or goat or bumble bee to scream “Don’t take that!”? We’d be surprised if they did. Let’s explore this practice and we’ll tell you why we feel the way we do.
A History of Using Animal Ingredients
Animal products have a long history in the personal care industry. The first soaps were made as far back as 2800 B.C. almost by accident. The basic recipe called for using wood ash and tallow, which consists of rendered animal fat (usually beef or pork). Many commercial “beauty” bars still use tallow (often labeled sodium tallowate), as it is an inexpensive by-product of factory farming. The same goes for gelatin, which is rendered by boiling animal cartilage and bone.
At first, these ingredients would be used in order to avoid waste and to save money. Before factory farming, local farmers made use of whatever was on hand, and they no doubt sold these products for a profit. Back “in the day” there were very few options for cleaning and bathing. Once these ingredient properties were found to be beneficial, they became more popular in many products, from soaps and skincare to cosmetics.
Can We Avoid Using Animal Ingredients?
Absolutely! Today, technology has made it possible for us to utilize plant-based and synthetic alternatives for many of the animal products that have been used in the past. As more and more consumers embrace a cruelty-free lifestyle, they want to be sure that the businesses that they support don’t use animal ingredients to create their skincare and cosmetic products. Below is a list of common animal ingredients alternatives that you will find in the marketplace.
- Tallow – many plant-based oils, including palm oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter, can substitute for this ingredient. We’ll explain at a later time why we don’t use palm oil.
- Gelatin – Agar is a suitable plant-based alternative to this animal ingredient.
- Lanonin – Derived from the wool of sheep mostly. Again, cocoa butter would make a good substitute, and it smells great!< .li>
- Squalene – Extracted from shark livers – yuk! Luckily, olive squalene is perfectly fine.
- Collagen – Derived from animal tissue. While very popular as an anti-aging ingredient right now, its effectiveness in building up collagen is questioned; it is a large molecule. Oils like olive and amla are suitable.
- Allantoin – Found in uric acid secreted from animals (usually horses). Fortunately, there are plant-based sources of allantoin.
- Alpha-Hydroxy acids – There are both animal and plant sources. It’s important to read the label or contact the company to know what source they use.
- Royal Jelly – Derived from the throat glands of honeybees. Its value is questionable. A good alternative is aloe vera gel.
- Retinol and Retinoids – This only comes from animals. It’s used in many anti-aging creams, however, and it can cause irritation and sensitivity. As an alternative, try rosehip oil or Vitamin C, and eat more beta-carotene.
The list can go on, of course, so please check the References below. We hope that you’ll consider using products (like ours) that are free of animal ingredients and rich in plant-based oils and extracts.
One Green Planet post on common cosmetic ingredients
Crueltyfree.org post on animal ingredients
Article on Alternatives to Retinol
What Are Essential Oils?
Before we can get into the benefits of Pre essential oils, let’s duscuss what essential oils are. They are highly-concentrated essences derived from different parts of aromatic plants, including bark, leaves and flowers. Essential oils have been in use for thousands of years, dating as far back as Egyptian times where they were used in mummification. Frankincense and Myrrh are but a few examples.
A number of methods are used to concentrate the plant’s potent compounds into an essential oil. There is the cold-process method, which invlives applying high amounts of pressure to the plant material and collecting it (much like cold pressing olives). Other methods include steam distillation, CO2 extraction, solvent extraction, and others. The first two involve the least amount of manipulation and do not involve the addition of solvents.
Benefits of Using Essential Oils
Today, essential oils are used in the beauty, spa and perfume industries for their aromatherapeutic properties and to impart natural scents to products. They have been found useful and effective as insect repellents and are included in everything from pain relief ointments to cleaning agents to toothpaste. Many herbalists and holistic practitioners find essential oils useful to their clients. Properties of specific essential oils are listed below.
Precautions with Using Essential Oils
While truly natural, pure essential oils are very potent, concentrated oils with hundreds of bio-active compounds. As such, they should never be applied directly to skin in their undiluted form. They are usually combined with a carrier oil before being sold for personal use. It is also important to do a patch test to determine whether or not one is allergic to a particular essential oils. Many oils can cause sun-sensitivity, or are inappropriate to use if one is pregnant or nursing. Finally, check the labels to see what the standardized concentrations are and what carrier oil is used, in order to avoid allergic reactions. If any oil causes redness or irritation, it should be discontinued. Essential oils are also expensive due to the work required to gather huge amounts of plant material for distillation. As a result, synthetic oils have been developed that do not contain the many active ingredients found in pure essential oils. Moreover, pure essential oil composition can vary depending on many factors, so standardized and synthetic versions are created to maintain consistency.
Phytoestrogens vs Xenoestrogens
There’s been some talk about the “estrogenic” activity of plants vs that of synthetic compounds. Many roots, seeds and grains contain what’s known as “phytoestrogenic” compounds – plant-based compounds that serve to reduce the amount of estrogen in the bloodstream. This can result in a reduction in menopausal symptoms in women, for example. “Xenoestrogens”, on the other hand, are synthetic compounds (like BPA) which can increase the body’s store of estrogen, with deleterious effects. If you have any doubts about using an essential oil, consult an herbal practitioner, particularly if you wish to use essential oils on young children.
Favorite Essential Oils
- Eucalyptus Oil – A native of Australia, it contains the compound eucalyptol, a menthol found in rubs, inhalers, liniments, rash creams and mouthwashes.
- Lavender Oil – There are a few varieties, with Lavendula Angustifolia being the most often used in aromatherapy. Its sweet, floral and herbaceous scent has been found to relax, sooth and refresh. It is very highly regarded in the beauty and perfume industries. It is also a wonderful culinary herb that likes sunchine and well-drained soil. It is the main essential oil in our best-selling “Relax” Botanical Handmade Bar Soap with Lavender and Rosemary Oils.
- Lemongrass Oil – Cymbopogon Flexuosus has a light, fresh citrus aroma with earthy undertones. Rejuvenating, stimulating and balancing, it has been shown to improve mental clarity. It is also a popular culinary herb in Thai cuisine. It is the main essential oil in our “Purify” Botanical Bar Soap with Lemongrass Oil.
- Sweet Orange Oil – Citrus Sinensis is naturally cold-pressed from fresh orange peels. It has a rich citrus scent that can be uplifting. It is high in the powerful antioxidant d-limonene and other antioxidants. It is the main essential oil in our “Indulge” Botanical Bar Soap with Orange Oil and Cocoa Powder and our “Awaken” Body Smoother Sugar Scrub.
- Peppermint Oil – Mentha Piperita has a strong, clean, fresh minty aroma. Renowned for soothing digestion, it is popular in toothpaste and breath mints. It is one of the essential oils in our All Purpose Body Balm with Eucalyptus and Peppermint Oils. Avoid using on infants and young children.
- Tea Tree Oil – Melaleuca Alternifolia is indigenous to Australia. It has been shown to contain compounds that can help soothe bites and other irritations, and has a wide range of uses. No medicine cabinet should be without it! It is one of the essential oils in our All Purpose Body Balm with Lavender and Tea Tree Oils and in our popular “Heal” Botanical Bar Soap with Tea Tree and Oatmeal.
Organic Facts website
Essential Oils in the Ancient World, Part 1
Planta Medica paper on essential oils and estrogenic activity
Disclaimer: Statements made here are not intended to diagnose or treat diseases or medical conditions. Please consult a medical practitioner for assistance with these issues.