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Green Air Fresheners
Q Is it true that plants can clean the air in my house?
A “Plants can indeed improve your air quality,” says Bill Wolverton, a retired NASA researcher who has done extensive experiments with plants in closed environments. In fact, he adds, “In the grand scheme of things, they could survive without us, but we certainly couldn’t survive without them.”
If your home is typical, it contains trace levels of pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloro- ethylene, which can waft into the air from cleaning products, dry-cleaned clothes, and other sources. Certain plants, happily enough, like to siphon such chemicals out of the air. As their leaves release moisture, they also absorb the pollutants, which then get broken down inside the plants. In one of Wolverton’s studies, plants removed 99 percent of the formaldehyde in a room in just four hours.
The best pollution-busters include Boston fern, date palm, bamboo palm, Janet Craig, English ivy, weeping fig, peace lily, areca palm, corn plant, and the lady palm, as well as spider plants and philodendron. Wolverton recommends about two to three plants per 100 square feet. Try placing them where air circulates. It’s best to avoid plants with flowers, since the pollen may trigger allergies. And since damp dirt can breed mold and mildew, sprinkling some aquarium gravel onto the soil will keep the air even cleaner.
Q Every sunscreen I see contains synthetic chemicals. Are there any natural versions?
A Yes, but you may not like them: The only truly natural sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, the thick white mineral-based substances that lifeguards rub onto their noses.
“If you don’t mind having your entire face white like a Kabuki actor’s, they work perfectly,” says Dennis Sepp, a chemist who is president and formulator of ShiKai skin care products in Santa Rosa, California. It’s possible to find sunscreens with lower—and less visible—concentrations of these minerals. But you might as well stick with standard sunscreens; there’s little evidence that the chemicals in them are hazardous to your health.
Some people do suffer allergic reactions from products containing para-aminobenzoic acid, or PABA. But the workhorse of many sunscreens these days is a chemical called Parsol 1789, which hasn’t been shown to cause problems, says Jon Starr, an assistant professor of dermatology at Stanford University.
Your best bet is to choose a product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. And be sure to rub on a lot of it—the biggest mistake most of us make is using too little.
Q I’ve heard that inflammation of the arteries can raise my risk of heart problems. Can I reduce inflammation naturally?
A Yes, you can—and most of the things that lower inflammation are good for you in all sorts of other ways, too. (In fact, if we didn’t know better, we’d think the whole inflammation story was cooked up by resear...
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