December 2, 2014

Eliminating Methylparaben, Other Parabens and the Return of the Dragon

The drawing illustrated above is a cultural overlay of ancient and modern design. The bottles are drawn from Byzantine glass perfume vessels. The background consists of over a hundred repeated tracings from a tube of ointment. What they represent are my present search for paraben free products. My drawing, however, with its background of nine columns each of thirteen tubes (if you count the implied tubes hidden behind the glass bottles) came to signify something else after I completed it. So I will address the subliminal, almost mystical aspect of the drawing first, then proceed to the paraben issue.

Before attending to my blog post about my attempts to eradicate parabens from my life and after I finished the drawing I had an interesting experience with my history in China. I was cleaning out my basement, also to downsize and remove allergens, when I came across a crate that my mother had sent to me nearly two decades ago. The crate contained my letters from China. She had kept every one. I had not the heart to open the crate because although China in the 1980's and 1990's was a meaningful experience, life there was very painful in many ways as well. Yet as I was doing yard work later that day, I thought about the memoir I had started to write a few years ago before I became too ill to work on it. Should I recover enough to work on this memoir again, I thought, looking over the letters would be helpful as time clouds memory.

Later that day, I received a package from a friend that I had kept up with off and on since high school. She had been cleaning out her house this past week as well, she told me in a letter, and thought I could use the contents of the package she sent. The package contained three boxes of letters from China that I had written to her over a four year period. She had kept every one!

After this day of synchronicity, I looked began to look at other things for clues or signs that there was something mystical in the works. Was there something subliminal or cosmic about my choice of nine columns of thirteen tubes in the background of my drawing? Nine times thirteen equals one hundred and seventeen. Out of curiosity I looked up nine, thirteen and one hundred and seventeen in Chinese numerology. To my surprise I found that nine is the symbol of the dragon and that the Chinese dragon has one hundred and seventeen scales because nine times thirteen is one hundred and seventeen. Amazing! It could be coincidence or perhaps the China years are so ingrained in my subconscious that I subliminally use significant numbers.

Does this relate to the preservative methylparaben and can I extend the metaphor of dragons, numbers and China to a chemical compound? Probably not. I suppose I could grab at an obscure reference to methylparaben having an odd number (3) of oxygen atoms in its chemical structure but that would be a stretch. Once again, my writing about an illustration will be in two completely unrelated parts.

The preservative Methyl Paraben as well as other parabens, has been receiving scrutiny in recent years as a commonly used preservative in numerous over the counter as well as prescription medical products. There is some research implicating parabens as not quite healthy for human consumption in general and as a result there are a growing number of "Green" , "Eco-friendly," and "Hypo-Allergenic" industries that claim to leave this preservative out of their products. See the Washingnton Post article: www.washingtonpostcom/...parabens

For those who are suspicious of this product and wish to eliminate it from their daily use, I have provided links to various companies that produce paraben free products. For those who are allergic to it, elimination will be essential.

I first became aware of the preservative methylparaben when I found out that this product was on my long list of chemicals that I am allergic to. Finding products without methylparaben in them has proved to be challenging. The first product to eliminate was local anesthetics, cortisone injections, or other ingested drugs with this product in them. This first line of attack against the parabens was essential because ingesting or injecting the paraben would cause the most severe reaction, i.e. low blood pressure, tachycardia and loss of consciousness. Not being able to use local anesthetics for minor procedures was becoming increasingly difficult. Although I did get through a forty-five minute tooth extraction with no anesthetics I would not recommend it.

Fortunately there is an epinephrine free lidocaine without the methylparaben in it. I did get chills and some tremors after using this, probably from hypersensitivity, but the severe reaction was eliminated. A heads up though, about local anesthetics for people allergic to methylparaben. Local anesthetics fall into two categories; amides and esters. The ester local anesthetics are broken down by the body into para-aminobenzoic acid, or PABA, which is a metabolite of methylparaben. This could provoke an allergic reaction.

With the local anestheic problem tentatively addressed, I turned to eliminating methylparaben in the numerous over the counter and prescription medications as well as in soaps, shampoos, and cremes. I was amazed at how ubiquitous the chemical is. I found it in sunscreen. It was in my lotion. The metabolite of methylparaben, PABA, was in the multivitamin I was taking every day. It was in metalworking oils and fluids. It was in the food I was eating.

In addition to its predominance in so many products, another problem in eliminating methylparaben and paraben mix compounds from these products is that it goes by so many different names. It can even be masked under "other fragrances." The alternate names for methylparaben are: Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid methyl ester, methyl parahydroxybenzoate, p-methoxycarbonylphenol, ethyl p-hydroxybenzoatek ethylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid ethyl ester, ethyl p-oxybenzoate, p-carbethoxyphenol, propyl p-hydroxybenzoate, propylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid propyl ester, butyl p-hydroxybenzoate, butylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid butyl ester, benzyl p-hydroxybenzoate, benzylparaben, phenylmethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate, p-hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl ester. Like spell check on my computer, most health care professionals do not recognize the names of these chemicals.

Considering the hard to remember multi syllabic chemical names and the fact that companies may not even list the names, or may mask it under a vague name, the best course of action I found, was to use products that specifically state that they are paraben free.

The paraben free product that I was initially most interested in obtaining was hydrocortisone creme. It seems counter productive, but just about every over the counter hydrocortisone creme on the market contains both methylparaben and paraben mixes. One wonders at why an anti-itch anti-rash creme would contain a common allergen known to elicit contact dermatitis - unless the object is to create more rashes so that the hapless victim keeps using more hydrocortisone creme. There is one company worth mentioning here. Exederm, based in New Jersey, offers a paraben free hydrocortisone creme: 908 542-9300. They may be the only company that manufactures paraben free hydrocortisone creme. They are worth checking out, as they are committed to purity in their products and produce other items that are paraben free, such as shampoos and conditioners.

For paraben free toothpaste and lip balm (yes chapstick brand chapstick has methylparaben in it) I used Tom’s of Maine: The Allergy Asthma Center has a good line of paraben free soaps, shampoos, detergents and skin lotions. They also have a shower attachment that removes chemicals such as chlorine from the shower water. The latter has proved to be quite rewarding: www.allergyasthmatechcom or call 1-800 621-5545. Hope this helps chemical allergy sufferers!

November 25, 2014

Bop Goes the Beetle

Toys can come back to haunt you. When I was a child I was given an action game that included a large green plastic frog like creature, two orange bats and an orange and a blue pod that loosely resembled beetles. The game was called Bop the Beetle, and came out around 1962. The object of the game was to open the jaws of the frog and balance the hinged panels on the inside to keep the jaws propped open. Then you would use the orange bat to hit the beetles so that they would fly into the open frog mouth. Upon hitting the panel inside the frog mouth, the mouth would snap decisively shut.

Bop the Beetle terrified me on some level. Perhaps this is because I would sometimes accidentally step on it and it would snap shut on my leg. Or if the panels inside the mouth were touched too heavily it would snap shut on my arm. Bop the Beetle doesn’t look too intimidating today but I do recall that it was large enough to swallow up half a leg or a whole arm of a toddler. Such was the state of ideal toys for kids in the 1960's. Nevertheless, bopping or throwing the plastic beetles into the frog’s mouth was fun.

It is now time to say goodbye to Bop the Beetle, if that is even possible. He has been dutifully cleaned, photographed and posted on e-bay. But since I have not yet accomplished the fine art of bringing attention to my listings no one appears to be looking at Bop the Beetle. Just in case the frog and other childhood toys do leave the household - and I sincerely hope that they do - I have been propping them up and using them in paintings and drawings. Good to get one last bit of use out of them. The painting above is a fanciful interpretation of Bop the Beetle as an icon. The photo to the right is the actual plastic frog with his orange and blue beetles. I never did find out what happened to the orange plastic bats that were used to pop the beetles into the frog’s mouth. The painting of toys before relinquishing them has occasionally paid off, with my selling a painting for more than the object itself would have earned.

In a tangential way, unloading these toys and various other items does indeed dovetail with my present goal of reducing environmental allergens. At this point I am looking at objects as things that increase the dust collecting, mold growing surface areas of the immediate environment. Many of these objects have been cleaned and packaged so as not to have them out and about, obliging me to keep them dusted.

One thing I have found is that getting rid of objects is much harder than one would expect. There is the initial requirement to put sentiment aside, which isn’t difficult when there are too many objects to maintain. The next step is to relinquish the idea that these things are valuable. Most vintage items have value if they have been unused or barely used. Even for those things that do have value, finding a buyer willing to invest in them can be problematic. For antiques, finding someone to evaluate them professionally can cost up to $100.00 an hour. Too bad if the evaluation turns up a $10.00 item! So the next barrier to letting such things go is to resign oneself to the fact that they will be sold (ala flea market style) most likely for less than was originally paid for such things. Truly, the taste for acquiring stuff subsides when all of the above is taken in to account!

So bopped out of the house go the frog and the beetles.

November 24, 2014

Mechanical Cats Do all the Chores...I Wish.

I have been writing blog posts about my search for allergy free products, beginning with shoes and socks and ending with watches. There are many products yet to come, and more richly illustrated articles to attend them. In recent days I have turned my attention to jettisoning more allergens from my environment and found this to be so time consuming that sitting down to write about them and illustrate the process was squeezed out of the day. During the cleaning up phase I did make notes, however, and the allergic artist blog posts will return shortly.

In the mean time, a second project that I have been working on has moved to the front burner of artistic pursuits.

The revised illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats left only four more to do and while it is good to clean up one’s environment, it is also nice to finish projects. Inspired perhaps by cleaning and restructuring, I turned to my revisions of the illustration for the rhyme about Mechanical Cats. "Mechanical Cats do all the chores, they roast the chickens and mop the floors.." the rhyme begins. Would that I had mechanical cats to be doing these things for me. In my revised illustration I included a picture of "Culinary Cat" from a previous illustration. The last few revised illustrations have been paying homage to previously illlustrated cats. An art work within the art work. Another new detail is the long cat on the back wall. This was taken from a photograph of my friend’s cat standing on its hind legs to play with a suspended toy. I simply turned the cat on his side to fill a horizontal space.

November 13, 2014

The Search for the Hypoallergenic Shoe with Socks

I made a sketch of a man seated near a table that was set for a dance party. The sketch had a long expanse of blank floor at the bottom. This was an awkward, empty space so I did not complete the sketch or resolve to paint the scene.

Now that I am using my past sketches to make new drawings, sketches with blank spaces are welcome. The blank areas in sketches serve as stages for the dramas being played out in my daily life. The sketch delineated above served as an illustration for my continued search for the hypoallergenic shoe with socks. In what was formerly a blank area in the sketch I drew in shoes and socks. For these I had an array of my husband’s shoes to sketch from as well as my Crocs slides. I dropped a pair of socks into the mix, letting them fall into position naturally.

In the midst of my continued wrangling about shoes and socks, my microbarrier booties and dermasilk socks arrived from Alpretec ( ) These were neatly packaged in sturdy hypoallergenic plastic containers. The company must take the business of allergies seriously, I noted from the careful packaging as well as the detailed instruction contained within about the proper care for their product. There was a picture on the package of someone pulling regular socks over the booties so I followed suit.

After a day walking around in my new paraphernalia I was pleased to find that there was no rash on my feet by late afternoon. The barrier booties soon came due for their first washing. Instructions called for hand washing in tepid water with a small amount of hypoallergenic shampoo. I used Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. The next day I wore my booties underneath my socks again. This time results were decidedly different, with two red feet by day’s end. Could it have been the washing in the Baby Shampoo? I checked the ingredients and there was a long chemical list, including fragrances that I was supposed to be avoiding. I killed them, I thought with utter despair. I killed my beautiful Italian booties with an American industrial product! Johnson’s Baby Shampoo may be gentle enough for babies but not for this baby.

So I washed the booties again with hypoallergenic soap and gave them several rinses. Next time I wore them I also added the dermasilk undersocks for good measure. I went about my day with my undersocks and refreshed booties. By the end of the day I checked my feet and found that they were free of rashes but had some small spots of redness which I attributed to pressure. So I live and learn and try to remain as itch free as possible.

November 10, 2014

The Search for the Hypoallergenic Watch

A new pencil drawing is born. A man sits in a café at a table in front of a window. A potted plant forms an intricate halo around his head. There is a drink on his table, and a basket full of unidentifiable breads or snacks. On a white napkin on the table is a tiny detail which encapsulates what has taken up a large portion of my present search for allergy free products. The watch sits unworn on the table, an object for reflection rather than use.

My search for the allergy free watch has yielded fascinating results.

After wondering what to do about my allergy laden watch, my sister initially gave me the bright idea of not wearing a wrist watch for the time being. This alone had some unforeseen benefits. For one, I had noticed that my autoimmune illness tended to peak at certain times of day and it was helpful not to look at a clock and increase awareness of my impending "witching hours." Illness rolled in anyway of its own accord but at least I did not anticipate it as much.

Clock watching in general has been a carry over from my teaching days when I had to adhere to a strict schedule. Taking the watch off my wrist was an acknowledgment, finally, that those days were over. Nevertheless, having a wrist watch would still be useful for keeping track of appointments for both self and spouse. Besides, opening and closing a cell phone to obtain the time has proved somewhat problematic for someone whose hands are often wet with clay or some other substance.

While my wrist was taking a vacation from watches, I looked for allergy free substitutes. I found two companies with intriguing solutions. Sprout watches, for instance, produces eco-friendly watches made out of an array of natural materials. I was most fascinated by a watch that has a face made of bamboo, a cotton strap, a corn resin casing as well as corn resin buckles and a mercury free battery. I never did find out what kind of glue was used in the cotton strap - problem being that I am allergic to glues used in both leather and upholstery. But for people allergic to everything but glue they may be a viable product: Their products are very economically priced and a purchase may not only be healthier for the body but for the environment as well.

My immediate solution to the watch problem came from a combination of my take home instructions from my allergist as well as from the Global Watchband company. I carefully coated the back and side of my metal watch with polyurethane and ordered a watch band made of lorica from the Florida based Global Watchband company. The customer service at Global Watchband was excellent. I spoke with Amy by phone, who charmed me instantly by offering to go to the warehouse and look for allergy-free prospects in watch bands. Anyone who offers to leave their desk and hunt for things on my behalf wins my allegiance. Amy knew quite a bit about hypoallergenic watch bands and will be added to my rapidly growing resource notebook.

The Global Watchband company had a striking array of watch bands made out of metals, synthetics and natural animal skins - even python! This last substance piqued my curiosity because I knew that pythons are invasive species in Florida with no natural predators. I suppose the purchase of a python skin watch band could be said to be an action in support of Florida Everglades preservation.

The newly coated watch with the allergy free watch band works well. I’ve been wearing it for a few days now without a rash.

For those wishing to replace their watch bands with allergy-free alternatives here are a few links to the Global Watchband company:



November 4, 2014

Purple Clay from the Wilds

For the last several blog posts I have been writing about the slow expulsion of allergens from my environment and the hunt for replacement items. This has been temporarity interrupted by my coming in to about one hundred pounds of locally mined South Carolina Clay. Processing this has taken up a significant portion of my time this week but the work has yielded exciting results. The raw clay, mined from the Congaree area, was found in striations of unusual colors; white, orange, buff, pink and purple. I had heard about the purple clay and begged an archaeologist friend for a sample from an excavation. I received a number of samples to experiment with. The orange and white clay was fairly pure and strained rather easily, if not always expeditiously. The purple and pink clay was another matter. Those colors were quite sandy and took a while to force through a colander. But, oh what remarkable colors the pinks and purples were! I took a picture of the purple clay drying on a plaster bat with purple pansies as a backdrop for color comparison (photo at right). The purple clay reminds me of the color used in some of the yixing ware produced in China, which makes me eager to see how this fires. The completely processed wild clay, in all of the color permutations, is shown above.

Should anyone reading this wish to try their hands at processing "found" clay I’ve outlined a few steps here:

1. Test the clay for plasticity by rolling a coil and bending it. If it cracks in many places it is too "short" to use.

2. If desired, sort the clay into component colors if it is mixed. (I did this with most of my found clay until I got tired of sorting and threw the remainder into a mixed bin and homogenized it).

3. Wild clay can be made stronger by the addition of volcanic ash. To make it more plastic add ball clay.

4. The wild clay should be divided into smaller pieces (preferably while still moist so as not to created dust) and soaked under water for a few days to a week.

5. The soaked clay should be made into a thin slurry by kneading with hands under water or by using a drill fitted with a paint mixer. If a small amount of clay is being processed, then it can be run through a blender.

6. The clay slurry should then be forced through a fine mesh colander (if there is a small supply) to remove debris, rocks, and coarse sand. If processing a large supply then it might be better to use a sheet of wire mesh screen fixed onto a wooden frame.

7. Strain into a plastic bucket or bin underneath the wire mesh. I sometimes use a stiff paint brush to force the clay through the mesh.

8. The slurry should then be allowed to settle in the bucket for a few days to allow the water to rise to the surface, where it can be siphoned off. I find a turkey baster very useful for this.

9. The thickened slurry should then be spread out on a plaster bat to dry.

10. Roll up the clay when sufficiently dry and wedge.

November 2, 2014

The Hypoallergenic Purse

Sometimes there are gifts that truly brighten a day. Yesterday I received a package from my sister. The contents were hand sewn fabric purses and wallets. Instead of metallic snaps, buttons or zippers, the purses and wallets closed with velcro. With no metals, leathers, or adhesives with allergens in them, these were truly hypoallergenic purses. Even the plastic button was sewn over with fabric. Finally, an object I can use on a daily basis without having to wear protective clothing or immediately wash my hands after touching!

The actual purses are shown above. In keeping with my art/allergen/restoration projects I incorporated the design into a drawing of two women looking at pictures in a museum. The pencil sketch was initially made from life as I observed two women looking at an expressionistic painting of two women. They were both standing in a similar way - holding purses behind their backs. I just tweaked these a bit to match the fabric purse gifted to me.

This drawing was completed with water soluble ink color pencils that I had received earlier as a gift from my sister. It seemed fitting at this time to complete a small art work of two women holding fabric purses. One more brick in my wall against multiple allergens has been placed - the replacement of the leather purse with a fabric one.

October 29, 2014

Max Ernst, Birds and Barrier Socks

The last few days of art making has been a synthesis of the observed present, the remembered past and the anticipation of future events. In reviewing my sketch books of former years, I came across a sketch I had made of an odd rock formation. It looked almost like two long necked birds facing away from each other. I recall at the time I made this drawing that the bird like shapes reminded me of the surrealist painter, Max Ernst. Abstract birds were a predominant feature of his drawings and paintings, hearkening back to his own memories of a pet parrot from his childhood. I was inspired to complete this drawing in charcoals and pastels shortly after reviewing a biographical film of Max Ernst. His drawings now fresh in my mind, I was able to add textural details to my work similar to the Ernst rubbings and fastidious collages.
After completing the birds underneath the arch in this drawing, there remained the problem of a vertical blank area on the right side. Enter contemporary experience. I am still in the slow process of replacing allergens in my home and on my person with allergy free materials. The next solution to the allergy problem will be a few pairs of barrier socks from Alpretec. Realizing that a truly allergy free support shoe most likely does not exist, I decided to go with barriers. With that purchase, one more brick will be set in my wall against myriad allergies. The white booties that I ordered had an interesting shape to them. So I drew in five impressions of white barrier socks on the right side of my abstract bird drawing. In the drawing the socks take on an almost fossil like appearance - very much in keeping with the original stone fossil that inspired this work.
For those who have been searching in vain for solutions to shoe and sock allergies and are considering a barrier solution, the web address for Alpretec is: The company was founded in 1997, specializing in the design and production of medical textiles, obtaining a patent for DermaSilk therapeutic clothing in 2001. Their customer service is excellent and they do ship to the United States. They do not yet have a distributor in the United States but perhaps that will change. I will write again on this subject after their product is on my feet for a while instead of just in my drawings. By that time I should know a little more about Barrier Socks and DermaSilk. For now this exists as potential mana from heaven for the relief of shoe and sock allergies.
The solution in general to multiple environmental and chemical allergies seems to be elimination when possible, avoidance when a choice is in the offing, and sealing off with barriers when the first two aren’t options.

October 25, 2014

Fair Returns

The season of the state and county fairs has concluded. This year, health issues so preoccupied my time that I was unable to attend either the state or the local county fair. But I was able to send work to both these venues. The state fair yielded no honors or awards. I have no problem with that because in years past I won a Best of Show Award, First Place Award, Second Place Award and numerous merit and purchase awards. I suppose I had my fair share of prizes.

I did win first place in miniature art at the Orangeburg County Fair. There were only two entries in that category so at least second place was a sure bet.

The larger painting that I submitted to the County Fair came out without accolades or prizes but it was a nice painting to have worked on and I am glad I completed it. This painting, reproduced above, was a remake of an earlier painting of a scene at the Tarn Gorges in the South of France. The previous painting was made with an overlay of thin washes so that it looked more like a watercolor than an oil painting. In my remake, I made the paint more opaque for a thicker, more substantial surface. The end result was something that looks a bit too impressionistic for my taste but is still an improvement over my earlier attempt at the scene. I do like the shadow of the gate at the base of the painting and the large expanse of subtle shades of green in the middle. The haphazard network of tree limbs satisfies me as well. For now, the painting hangs in my sunroom overtop a marble table set with a large pot au confit jar. This large ceramic piece was something I had painstakingly carted in a large sack ( in lieu of a carry on) through several airports to get it back home from France. It looks at home now with a this painting hovering above.

October 23, 2014

Socks and Crocs

The hunt for allergy-free footware has been ongoing. This search is now melding with my concomitant project of revising/restoring sketches and drawings from my travel notebook. My most recent intriguing finding was a pencil and pen sketch of an actor in a play that I made some years ago while watching a live performance at the Trustus Theater in Columbia, South Carolina. The actor was dressed in a woman’s shoes and tights. He donned a gold blouse, I recall and a wig of long dreadlocks. During his performance, he histrionically snapped his fingers. I caught him on paper with his right hand raised about to make a snap. In completing this drawing, I added lace details to the shoes and drew a long sock dangling from his right hand. I gave him a long sock to celebrate my finding hypoallergenic socks made of bamboo and cotton. There was most likely some spandex in these, however, for my characteristic rash appeared at the top when I wore them, but the rest of my leg and foot were fine and comfortable. All cotton socks with no elastic in them whatsoever are on my horizon. For these I envision two wads of material clustering around my ankles. No rash, no cling.

Another source of comfort were my second pair of crocs. The woman’s flat didn’t work out too well and were sent back. But the Baya slides were fine, allergy free and comfortable. As sandals, they are not supportive enough for problem feet to walk, run, or exercise outdoors but they make for an allergy free sojourn around the house. Good enough for now.

Should fellow allergy sufferers wish to try Crocs, I have found, as have many others, that sizes run large and that one would do well to order a full size down. My slides were a half size down and still a bit large.