Skin deep: Toxic beauty products and cancer

Posted On October 31, 2014 In Daily,Features

For the past several weeks, I have been seeing pink fabric wrapped around the trees on Camp Street. The project apparently is a campaign of the Avon Foundation and is intended to raise awareness of breast cancer in particular in Guyana. According to some data (from 2011) from the Ministry of Health, cancer is the third leading cause of death in Guyana with prostate, breast, lung, and cervical cancer being the main types. October has been designated breast cancer awareness month, with a church service, awareness walk, fundraising to provide free/low cost mammograms to women, and various other activities being carried out. This is all commendable but I would like to raise a few other points.

First and most problematic to me is the fact that the organisation doing this awareness raising is an arm of Avon Products – the largest direct seller of beauty products to women around the world. Their breast cancer awareness activities simultaneously double as free advertising for their brand and products. Now, almost everybody wants to look beautiful, right? And some go to great lengths to attain that, spending a lot of attention, time, and money on items they think will make them more attractive. This focus on outward appearance fuels countless businesses around the world; Avon is just one of many corporations profiting from it. However, many cosmetic and beauty products that we all use daily contain toxic chemicals that, over time, cause serious health problems – including cancer.

Cancer is a complex illness, with no single cause. However, experts and the research agree that lifestyle and environmental influences, along with genetic factors, play a major role in the disease. Unfortunately, much of the focus remains on early detection and treatment, instead of prevention. While early detection is indeed important and can be life-saving, it is essential, in my opinion, that equal-if not more attention-be paid to preventive measures as well. Too many people still believe that they can do nothing to prevent cancer; that it is somehow a fluke of nature, or their destiny if they get it. More awareness is slowly being raised about the danger of overconsumption of red meat, alcohol, and high-fat foods, with the American Cancer Society recommending a diet high in fruits and vegetables, along with moderate daily physical activity as key to cancer prevention. However, awareness about the environmental influences on cancer remains lacking.

One of our most common exposures to cancer-causing chemicals comes from items we use every day as part of our health and beauty regime. Many common and popular brands of shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, soaps, toothpastes, lotions, body washes, and detergents, as well as some food and pharmaceutical items contain toxic chemicals such as parabens, phthlates, triclosan, and sodium laurate sulfate, just to name a few. These chemicals are easily absorbed from the skin and have been found in breast milk, fatty tissue, and urine, as well as in the biopsy samples of many cancer patients.

Along with being carcinogenic, these chemicals have also been found to disrupt or mimic hormones like estrogen and testosterone. With regular use, they build up in the body over time, causing birth defects, fertility problems, neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, and the early-onset of puberty in children. As we bathe, wash, and clean with these chemicals, they also end up in our waterways, negatively affecting fish and other species in the environment.

Now, you might think that because these products are being sold in the stores and markets, that they must be safe but that’s not true. The fact is that the vast majority of industrial chemicals currently in use in the world today do not have to be tested before they are marketed. Of the thousands of chemicals in products that we use every day, only a small percentage have ever been tested for their safety in humans. The attitude in years past was one where chemicals were thought to be ‘safe until proven dangerous.’ In the cosmetic industry specifically, chemical testing is voluntary and left up to the manufacturers, many of whom, to reduce costs, simply do not do any testing at all. Some do not even list all the ingredients in their products on their labels.

One report on Safe Cosmetics done by the American consumer organisation the Environmental Working Group and cited by Breast Cancer Action found that 89% of ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by any publicly accountable institution of America. Adding to the problem here in Guyana is the fact that products from India, China, and the Middle East are also widely available, with labelling often not in English and therefore with even less information about possibly toxic chemical ingredients.

People (especially pregnant women and children) need to start being more aware about the things they put on, as well as into their bodies, as they all impact our health and wellness. It is important to educate ourselves and pay attention to product labels. As with food, choose products with the fewest ingredients possible, and with names that you recognise as real/natural items, not artificial chemicals. Avoid those that contain the dangerous chemicals mentioned above. (For more information, see, and

Also, there are natural alternatives to many of these products which our ancestors may once have used; we should re-learn these and not just blindly purchase the newest, brightest packaged, sweetest smelling item. Many personal care items can be made at home with easily available items such as baking soda and coconut oil (which by the way is far better for skincare than any fancy lotion). Something to strive for should also be to reduce the amount and number of times that these products are used in general. After all, as we all know, beauty comes from within, and is best demonstrated by how we treat each other, not by how sweet we smell, or how much makeup we wear.

Sherlina can be contacted at

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Recipes for homemade toothpaste and deodorant here:

Homemade Toothpaste



  • Mix together baking soda, optional salt, and peppermint. Add a little water at a time, stirring after each addition, until paste reaches desired consistency.

Homemade Toothpaste with Coconut Oil

  • 6 tbsp coconut oil
  • 6 tbsp baking soda
  • 25 drops essential oil (whatever you prefer— I’ve used eucalyptus and grapefruit)


  • Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Pour into a mason jar and seal it up until ready to use.

Homemade Deodorant


  • 6- 8Tbsp Coconut oil (solid state)
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch (arrowroot is preferred)


  • Combine equal portions of baking soda & arrowroot powder/cornstarch.
  • Slowly add coconut oil and work it in with a spoon or hand blender until it maintains a firm but pliable texture. It should be about the same texture as commercial deodorant, solid but able to be applied easily. If it is too wet, add further arrowroot powder/cornstarch to thicken.
  • You can either scoop this recipe into your old deodorant dispensers or place in a small container with lid and apply with fingers with each use.

Makes about 1 cup. This recipe lasts about 3 months for two people with regular daily use.

Deodorant Recipe



  • Mix baking soda and arrowroot together in a medium sized bowl.
  • Mash in coconut oil with a fork until well mixed.
  • Add essential oils if desired.
  • Store in small glass jar or old deodorant container for easy use.

Orange Essential Oil


·         Orange peels (as many as you have available) with as little of the white pith as possible
·         Glass jar with a tight fitting lid
·         Vodka or undenatured ethyl alcohol (I haven’t tried this, so it best to follow the instructions in this post) but not rubbing alcohol
·         Coffee filter or cheese cloth/muslin
·         Paper towel or cheese cloth/muslin


– Dry the orange peels on a paper towel somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight until they are hard.        
– Cut the dried orange peels into smaller pieces with a sharp knife. Pop the diced peels into a glass jar.    
– Warm the alcohol, by placing the bottle of vodka into a bowl filled with hot tap water.                    
– Pour the vodka into the jar until it covers the orange peel. Screw on the lid and shake the jar.          
– Shake it vigorously for a couple of minutes. Do this a few times a day for three or more days. The more you shake it and the longer you leave the peels in the vodka, the more oil will be extracted.                      
– Strain the peels into a bowl using a coffee filter or cheese cloth. Squeeze all the liquid into the bowl.    
– Cover the dish with a kitchen paper towel or cheese cloth. Be careful not to let the towel fall into the liquid.      
– Let it sit for a few days and when the alcohol has evaporated, what remains will be orange oil.


Prison Concert- Guyana 2014

i does pass by the jail on camp st regularly. i neva hear any singing coming from behind the fence. but i remember the first time i got locked up- we sang and did yoga (typical antiwar hippie stuff) before they let us out. so i got excited when i passed by the national cultural center and saw a sign advertising a prison concert. i like live music and it’s always nice to see a different side of prison and prisoners. i spent a year and a half teaching at san quentin- california’s “oldest and best known” (their website description) prison, complete with death row and gas chamber- and had some experiences that i will never forget; the lessons i learned about power, control, and the human psyche will stay with me forever. i ended up getting kicked out of there and banned from returning (imagine that. little ole me. stuuuuuu). but that is another story.

i can’t remember the last time i went to the cultural center. just a couple days ago, some british theatre company had come to guyana (as part of their round-the-world tour) and put on hamlet at the national cultural center. according to freddie, all “the remnants of the civilized class in Guyana were there”; in fact, he was so moved apparently that the title of his column was “Civilization is still alive in Guyana!” (exclamation point my addition lol). i didn’t see him say anything about the dress code tho. yes, like so many other ‘official’ places in guyana, the cultural center has a dress code that does fret me. is a challenge sometimes tho (u kno, when you don’t have enough challenges in your life) to see what u cud get away with, to introduce logic and critical, rational thinking to people who might otherwise never come into contact with such things, and to practice/build some zen buddhism techniques (i died with laff the other day when someone said, with seemingly sincerity, that we must be compassionate with ignoramuses for it is love they are seeking. i’m obviously not zen enough, so the more opportunities to practice, the better heh. good thing i live in guyana HA). my friend vidya recently proclaimed a one-man boycott of the cultural center until they get rid of the dress code but i don’t think that’s going to work. first- i don’t think anybody has told them about it. better/more effective, i think, might be to go inside then strip off. or to do a nekkid picket or something by the entrance, get lots of tv cameras there etc. but, as i entered, in my black jeans and sandals, i relaxed. we guyanese cannot be kept down, let me tell you, and in their own special way, does make things change. the amount of back, belly, bamzee and boobs on display was truly spectacular, as was the stunning variety of outfits. vidya- don’t worry- you might not be able to wear short pants, but just put on a minidress and you good! just tell me when u going and i’ll be there (with my camera)

even tho i was looking forward to the event, i wasn’t sure how it would be. i didn’t get front seat tickets in case you know, for some reason, a swift exit was necessary (yes, is so i does think). was a prison concert after all, so maybe all the doors wouldn’t be open.. i wanted to be close-ish to the ones i knew would. i was glad, when the show finally started, that i hadn’t spent the xtra money because as soon as the lights went out people just swarmed forward claiming unoccupied seats. aha- we brilliant guyanese again! i made a note to myself for next time.

saw some friends who i know have friends inside. the goat man also showed up. is an upside down world we live in for truth boy when the biggest criminals walk free and the small timers (like the pregnant mother of one who just got a 3 yr sentence for marijuana possession) get punished. one thing that has been proven inevitable tho is that everything has an end; it’s just a matter of time.

speaking of time, we got started only about 50 minutes late, which is good by guyana standards. of course that meant intermission came at 11pm, with another 16 items left on the program. for some bizarre reason, there were all these other things going on- like skits, spoken word poetry, dancing etc. all the signs i’d seen had said “concert” which in my understanding of english means singing, so i was pretty confused. the singing was really the best part imo tho there were far too many songs about jesus for my taste. i mean, i get that religion is huge in guyana and especially maybe if you’re locked up, but gawd, there are oh, only about a billion more things you could sing about! anyway, somebody who stayed til the end tell me what i missed (yea, dis ole girl left at halftime and went to her bed). until next year heh!


rapping about LIFE
rapping about LIFE
passionate rendition of maya angelou's "still i rise"
passionate rendition of maya angelou’s “still i rise”
matron dedicating this song to her husband "wherever he is"
matron dedicating this song to her husband “wherever he is”
yea, i'd lift weights if i were in jail too..
yea, i’d lift weights if i were in jail too..
blurry pic bcuz i was dying w laff. dude ripped off his vest in slo mo LOL
blurry pic bcuz i was dying w laff. dude ripped off his vest in slo mo LOL

Tarantula and Other Creatures Of The Backdam

nobody ever told me there were tarantulas in the backdam. one ended up on my back today. spider! spider! the little boy shouted and pointed, bug eyed in fear. huh? what? i swiped around my back with a hand, ineffectually for several moments. wait, S said, coming towards me. i felt the metal of the cutlass on my body. huh? what..? with a swift move, he dislodged the spider from me and flicked it onto the ground. whoa! what was that?! tarantula, he said unemotionally. what?! tarantula?! yea, they’re around here, he said laconically. i stooped and saw it in the grass underfoot. it was surprisingly beautiful and tame-ish in behavior; we were able to pick it up, move it around, take photos, etc. i can understand why people would want them as pets- they’re beautiful to look at; i could for hours. we saw some other stuff 2

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[Video] Groundation Makes Heads Spin at National Consultation on Constitution Reform

big up Groundation Grenada! keep speaking truth. nuff love

Groundation Grenada

On Wed. 15th October 2014 Groundation Grenada Co-founders &  Co-Directors, Richie Maitland & Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe, presented at the National Consultation on Constitutional Reform in collaboration with GrenCHAP. We proposed an expansion of the bill of rights of Grenada to include protections for vulnerable populations including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People. The forum was held in the National Trade Center, open to the public and broadcast live. Due to time constraints we were unable to complete the full presentation but we will be recording and adding the full audio to the Prezi (aka next generation powerpoint) that we used in the days to come. Below you can find a list of our previous articles/campaigns related to the issue of LGBT rights and a video of Wednesday’s presentation. We would love to hear your thoughts on whether the anti-discrimination section of Grenada’s constitution should be expanded and if so, who…

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How to survive Ebola. First, don’t get it.

How to survive Ebola. First, don’t get it.
Posted By Staff Writer On October 17, 2014 In Daily,Features

I would like to start this column by stating that Ebola is not the biggest problem the world currently faces. The fact is that there are other diseases that are more contagious, as well as with a higher death rate than Ebola. However, media reports about the current outbreak have many people very worried and it is important that proper and accurate information be available so that panic can be reduced and people know what they can do to protect themselves and their loved ones. Like any other disease, prevention is key. As such, it is crucial that we are aware about how Ebola is transmitted.

Ebola is NOT airborne. It cannot be gotten simply by breathing the same air or being in the same room, bus, plane etc as an infected person. Transmission of the Ebola virus requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals. (Note: The bodies of people who have died from Ebola are still infectious.)

Bodily fluids include blood, faeces, urine, saliva, semen, vaginal secretions, sweat, tears, and saliva.
For infection to happen, the healthy person must have a cut or break in their skin, or infected fluid must come into contact with the mucous membranes of the eye, mouth, nose, vagina, or anus.

Infection can also occur if broken skin or mucous membranes of a healthy person come into contact with environments that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles.

However, while the virus can survive for about a day outside of the body, it can be killed by bleach, soap, detergent, and direct sunlight.

Another important fact is that Ebola is survivable; getting Ebola is NOT a death sentence. In fact, over half the people who get Ebola generally recover and survive. Healthcare workers and those who prepare bodies for burial are at highest risk because they have more and closer contact with the virus, but they can be protected by following and maintaining proper infection control precautions at all times. Simple things like consistent hand washing by all can also help reduce infection.

Also notable is that one does not have to be a doctor/nurse or have super fancy, specialized equipment in order to successfully deal with Ebola. Persons in Liberia – one of the most affected countries – have been caring for family members at home, with one young woman in particular, Fatu Kekela, saving 3 out of the 4 family members she nursed without getting sick herself, by using common, easily available items like garbage bags, raincoat, gloves, rubber boots etc (Read more about Fatu here- health/ebola-fatu-family/).

Ebola, like many other diseases, spreads more widely in areas where hospitals and communities have insufficient infection control and limited access to resources such as running water. This is something that we, in Guyana – with our already poor sanitation situation and with health centres and clinics in some areas (Charity, for example, as I personally observed earlier this year) not having running water – should indeed be concerned about. Making sure that all health centres have proper water and sanitation facilities, as well as being properly and regularly stocked with basic supplies such as gloves and garbage bags (also something that has not been happening in all regions of Guyana) are the first steps that should be taken to not only fight Ebola, but to provide quality healthcare to Guyanese at all times.

Ebola is just one of many things that any healthcare system has to deal with; if healthcare workers are well trained, disciplined, and committed to providing the best possible care to all, each and every day, and if a supportive public health infrastructure is in place, then Ebola, and all other diseases can be contained. This should be our focus today as we face Ebola, as well as every day as we deal with all the other familiar foes like malaria, chikungunya, dengue, HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality, etc.

The initial symptoms of Ebola after all – fever, headache, weakness, muscle pain, sore throat – are very common and mimic symptoms of many other illnesses. (Ebola however, progresses to severe vomiting, diarrhoea, internal and external bleeding, etc). As such, when we improve our response to the familiar illnesses like malaria, dengue, and chikungunya, we improve our changes of more successfully responding to Ebola.

However, as mentioned before – prevention is key. Securing our borders and aggressively and accurately surveying and tracking all individuals who enter Guyana is the first step in Ebola control (and would assist in numerous other areas as well). The point I’m trying to make is that Ebola should be seen as an opportunity for all those working in our health and security sectors to prove and improve themselves. As we prepare for Ebola, we will gain in better health and security overall.

One other thing that it is important to know is that the Ebola virus remains in the semen and breast milk of survivors for up to 3 months. As such, men who have been infected with Ebola should refrain from sexual intercourse for at least 3 months after they have recovered, or should use condoms every time they have any kind of sexual intercourse to prevent further spread of the virus. Women survivors should not breastfeed else they infect their children this way.

In conclusion, remaining calm is essential. It is easy to become scared and hysterical. However, panic doesn’t help any situation and it is far better to focus on becoming informed and then doing all you can to protect yourself and your loved ones. Remember that Ebola is preventable and Ebola is survivable. Simple things like proper sanitation, a well-trained and disciplined cadre of health care workers, and accurate surveillance of travelers can contain this virus. Let us use this time to improve our systems so that we can enjoy better health, wellness, and quality of life each and every day.

Sherlina can be contacted at
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Ode to Aunty Dora

The house was long abandoned, even though the gate swung open and bright pink jump and kiss flowers filled a tire by the fence. He had drank too much and beat her and slept around. Still, she had done her duty and borne his children and not left him and minded him on his deathbed even. She belched loudly and unabashedly when she drank her tea, grew monster squash in the backyard in Queens where she now lived, and was one of my few aunts who did not harass me about getting married and settling down. You live your life how you want, she told me; don’t bother with people. The house- long abandoned now; he buried in the back yard. She has no good memories of that place; aint want nothing to do with it. It’s children property but all the children are parents and grandparents now, living overseas, who rarely even visit. I walk in through the open gate, past the pink jump and kiss flowers, up the rickety stairs, to peer in the windows. Marabuntas have taken over; large nests fill the house and yard. The grass is tall in the back. But the sapodilla tree at the side of the house is loaded with lovely big brown globes of fruit, three times bigger than the miniature ones the Bourda market vendors try to palm off on unsuspecting town folk. As a child in Guyana, place where everybody has a nickname, usually based on some physical feature, mine was brownie, because I was darker than my siblings and because I loved sapodilla. Brown skin and sweetness. I kicked off my slippers and started climbing, careful not to disturb the marabuntas.


Getting It Wrong On Rape Or No Sperm, No Rape, Or Why a Two-Year-Old Girl Does Not Need to be Taught Modesty

the evidence is clear.. there is little accountability in these systems and the rights of women are overlooked daily.

Feminist Conversations on Caribbean Life



After an Indigenous Guyanese woman reported that she was drugged and gang-raped at the hotel where she worked and police had no intention of investigating the rape, women took to the streets in protest and solidarity.

One local newspaper alleges that police are not investigating the rape because the woman admitted to “drinking Red Bull and Hennessey”. It also quoted a police offical as saying, “The woman never said she was raped; she said she had sex with some boyfriend or something like that, and that when he left the room another man come in and he like assault her, bite she up on her body.”

In another case, the family of a partially paralysed woman who was raped in her home have indicated that even though she was taken to the hospital she was neither examined nor treated for sexual assault:

The relatives added that when they checked with…

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The Systematic Dismantling of Paradise: A Preliminary Checklist

tip of the iceberg..

Petchary's Blog

I get emotional about certain things. One of them is the destruction of the few relatively untouched areas of our planet, in the name of unsustainable “development.” Despite the recent warnings that the damage we human beings have already done is beyond repair, in terms of climate change, some among us relentlessly move onwards in pursuit of profit and perhaps economic domination. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a leaked draft report, noted a few days ago: “Without additional mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally.”  But hey, they are probably exaggerating, say our “investors,” sweeping all before them. Let’s build another coal plant.


Here’s a little list I started – beginning with what is closest to our home, and one would hope, dearest to our hearts…

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Diary of a mothering worker. September 30, 2014

thinking about Plaisance, Timehri, the Rupununi, and all the other places in Guyana where land is being stolen and environments and communities disrupted in the name of ‘development’ and profit. But sadly, there is no Wayne Kublalsingh in Guyana…


Post 163. (Written to print on Thursday 2 October 2014)

Like many over the last years, I have read about the women of the Highway Re-route movement, been appalled by Roodal Moonilal’s dismissal of them as ‘bags of aloo’, and thought Persad-Bissessar should explain to the population why she first marched with these women when out of power, then ignored them once in.

I saw press photos of their sit-ins outside the PM’s office, their camp being illegally demolished by Jack Warner and their brave blocking of tractors.  Knowing that, amidst looking after sick family, managing traffic stress and earning a living, no citizen anywhere petitions and protests time after time without valid reason, I wanted to learn more about why this movement had not given up.

By the time of Wayne Kublalsingh’s first hunger strike, I came to understand that there were billion dollar non-tendered contracts at stake, unnecessary…

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