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Meet Professor Alastair Iles Scientist & Aburatorigami Fan

Meet Professor Alastair Iles Scientist & Aburatorigami Fan

Tatcha’s customers are at the front of a developing movement for healthy body care. Recently, reading the environmental health news I receive daily, I was perturbed by a British study on the exposure of women to chemicals. A natural deodorant company, Bionsen, supported a research survey of 2000 British women to understand their use of personal care products. Although the study was funded by a company, the data is plausible.

The most startling discovery was that the “average” British woman wears 515 chemicals on her body daily. Moreover, some of these chemicals, like sodium laureth sulfate, propylene glycol, and parabens are suspected of posing risks to people’s health. Even if the ingredients in individual products are at very low levels, they could combine to generate adverse health effects. Emerging toxicology science also suggests that hormone-disrupting chemicals can have an effect on your body at very low doses.

Unfortunately, the study revealed that only nine percent of women knew most of the ingredients in the products they were using. Over seventy percent claimed that they didn’t care about what they were being exposed to, illustrating the great paucity of knowledge that consumers have about toxic risks. American women are likely to have a similar, if not greater, population of chemicals on their bodies. It’s not only women who may unknowingly wear large numbers of chemicals. Many men increasingly apply a variety of personal care products to their bodies. I have male friends who enjoy putting creams on their faces to look fresher and younger.

Tatcha gives you a choice. You can use a very simple product made from natural materials like abaca leaf using a sustainable, traditional method, instead of a complicated product made from oil-based chemicals through industrial processing. Using aburatorigami can help eliminate your need to use products with ingredients that could harm your health, or your children’s growth, in the longer term.

One reason why I favor products such as aburatorigami is that they are examples of low-impact products. Aburatorigami is made from abaca leaf by artisans hammering away on gold leaf and using the abaca leaf to protect the gold. As such, it’s a by-product from a traditional craft process that’s deeply rooted in Japanese culture, thus using material that might otherwise be thrown away. After aburatorigami is used, it can be composted and degraded naturally back into the earth. No oil-based chemicals are used; the energy comes from humans, not from fossil fuels. As a result, aburatorigami has relatively low environmental impacts.

I also think it’s important to retain a connection with our time-tested traditions because they embody much wisdom from our forebears. There are many traditional food, cosmetics, and craft production methods across Asia that could provide us with modern alternatives to the personal care products that we now use. Interestingly, Bionsen’s deodorant is made from Japanese bath minerals, suggesting that more and more companies are paying attention to Asia’s rich heritage. That’s why Tatcha aims to uncover more products by studying what Asian cultures have long known.

Alastair Iles is an assistant professor of science, technology & environment at the University of California at Berkeley. He works on green chemistry, environmental health, and environmental justice. He also helped found Good Guide. In his free time, he likes to learn more about ceramic sculpture techniques, including raku firing (a traditional Japanese method).

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Victoria Tsai
Chief Treasure Hunter

Published December 15, 2009
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