The Mystery of Vitamin D

The Complicated Story of Vegans and Vitamin D
(and why you’re deficient despite your best efforts)

Vitamin D is no ordinary vitamin. It is actually a group of vitamins, the calciferols, and the one you need to know about is D3 (cholecalciferol). This is the one you can get from sunshine, but only if you meet certain conditions: You must have enough cholesterol in your body, because it doesn’t make Vitamin D3 from nothing – it converts cholesterol into D3, and sunshine is just a catalyst. If you have been vegan for long enough, and even if you’re dairy free and just have a high soy intake, you probably don’t have much, if any, cholesterol in your body. If this is the case, you can live out on a nudist beach but you still won’t get enough vitamin D. If this is you, you can either take a vitamin D supplement, or eat eggs or meat to get cholesterol that can be converted into vitamin D. Since cholesterol has been shown to be incredibly bad for you (although still not very well understood by scientists), the best option is probably a supplement. To confuse matters, all vegan supplements are vitamin D2, and this doesn’t convert to D3 at all or have the same benefits.

How Much Do I Need?

The daily value of vitamin D (also known as recommended daily allowance) is another complicated one. In the US, the DV is currently 15 micrograms, but they are in the process of changing the advice to make the DV 20 micrograms, because of the worldwide Vitamin D deficiency epidemic. In the UK, the RDA (DV) is currently 5 micrograms, possibly explaining why there are so many cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder since the UK gets a poor sunshine quantity anyway. In Australia and New Zealand, the Adequate Intake is 5 micrograms (age 0-50) and 10micrograms (age 51-70) and 15 micrograms (age 71 and above), and the Upper Intake is 25 micrograms (age up to 12 months) and 80 micrograms for everyone over one year of age. In the EU, although the recommended daily intake is 5 micrograms, the European Menopause and Andropause Society recommend 15 micrograms until age 70 and 20 micrograms over age 70. In Canada, they suggest that you get at least 10 micrograms until you are one year of age, then at least 15 micrograms to age 70, then at least 20 micrograms if you’re over 70, with upper limits at 25 micrograms until age 1, then the upper limit steadily increasing until 100 micrograms at age 9.
As you can see, it’s very difficult to know how much Vitamin D we need to get, when everyone seems to have different recommended amounts, with some places giving you a “between X and Y” answer and others giving you an absolute value, and some of those values being significantly lower than others.  On top of that, there’s no distinction between what type of vitamin D we need according to the Daily Values, despite the fact they do different jobs.

The benefits of Vitamin D:

These are also contentious – US labelling laws only allow Vitamin D supplements to say “may reduce the risk of osteoporosis” but EU laws state Vitamin D supplements can say that it helps “normal function of the immune system, normal inflammatory response, normal muscle function and reduced risk of falling.” Health Canada says supplements can claim “may help achieve strong bones in children and reduce the risk of osteoporosis in older adults.”
Vitamin D2 only helps bones.  The clinically observed benefits of Vitamin D3 are wider than this, though, and include: Promoting calcium absorption (for strong bones), improving white blood cell count (helping immune system), mineral absorption, and there are Vitamin D3 receptors in every major organ so it may have wider roles that we don’t know about. The direction of current Vitamin D research is firmly fixed on determining whether SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is caused by low Vitamin D3 levels, with early results indicating a link.

Vitamin D Deficiency:
Lack of Vitamin D3 can cause depression, low bone mineral density, hypocalcemia (not enough calcium absorption), osteomalacia (softening of the bones including bowing of the legs), chronic musculoskeletal pain (sometimes misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia or polymyalgia which are both descriptions of symptoms rather than diseases), cardiovascular problems and rickets. During pregnancy, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia are caused by inadequate Vitamin D intake. Deficiency can be diagnosed by a blood test.

Vitamin D Excess:

It’s difficult to overdose on vitamin D – you would have to take more than 1000 micrograms per day over several months to start getting signs of toxicity; if this happens to you, the symptoms are: firstly, increased urination and thirst, then anorexia (loss of appetite), nausea and vomiting, if you still have too much vitamin D, this will progress into weakness, nervousness, polyuria, polydispia, insomnia, and eventually renal failure.

Where can I get vitamin D from?
It depends on what you can and can’t eat. Apparently, animal skin and milk are good sources of Vitamin D. Certain fungi contain vitamin D2, including portabella (0.3 micrograms Vitamin D per 100g of raw portabella mushroom); shiitake (3.9 per 100g of dried; 0.4 per 100g raw); alfalfa plant contains Vitamin D (4.8 micrograms Vitamin D2 per 100g). Another vegan source of Vitamin D is lichen, a naturally occuring moss-type plant, which contains 0.67-2.04 micrograms per 100g of lichen, due to production variance (it’s not exactly farmed), although it wasn’t stated which D-vitamin they produce. Since vitamin D3 is the important one, that’s the one you need to be looking to get.  One egg provides 5 micrograms of vitamin D3, so if you’re dairy free vegetarian (rather than vegan), this is an easy option for your vitamin D3 intake.

Are Vitamin D supplements vegan?

There are two ways Vitamin D is produced for supplements: either from lanolin (an oil found in sheep’s wool) or from fish organs. Both these sources contain 7-dehydrocholesterol, which is then exposed to UV light to cause Vitamin D3 production.
Obviously, the fish organs are not vegan. The lanolin is contentious – it comes from an animal, but the animal doesn’t have to die to get the ingredient, in fact, sheep grown for wool live out a natural length of life (the discussion of how they exist and what a “natural” life for a sheep is, is of course a whole ‘nother kettle of worms), so if you’re a honey-eating, urea-containing-creams wearing vegan, this might be an acceptable option for you. If not, then no, there are no Vitamin D3 supplements that are 100% incontrovertibly vegan. Also not vegan (by the same definition of vegan): cars buses or bicycles (look up where oil comes from), so each to their own.

My attitude is that as long as we are all doing everything we reasonably can, given our individual circumstances, to minimize dependency on (and therefore suffering of) animals, there’s no reason to cause harm to yourself because then you aren’t really encouraging other people to live like you. Whilst researching this article, I was quite shocked that a lot of pro-raw websites were saying there was no Vitamin D3 deficiency (or any nutrition deficiency) risk to vegans! This is completely untrue – you need to eat consciously, for nutrition, to succeed at a raw vegan lifestyle. The risks are there, for vegetarians and vegans, and even meat eaters, and we need more information on how to manage them and eliminate them through sensible eating and planning without giving in and going over to the Meat Eating Side, rather than denial of the problem. Denying the potential pitfalls just makes them look like they will bend the truth to get more converts, and if they’ve lied about that, people won’t trust their other information, which might be sound.

Vitamin D in plants:
If you’re scientifically literate, there’s an excellent peer-reviewed academic meta-analysis here about the state of research into Vitamin D in plants: which is the most informative and interesting article I found on the topic. The authors’ first languages are not English and so sometimes they make simple grammar mistakes (find someone who doesn’t), but their science is rigorous and I particularly liked reading about the chemical transformations that take place during conversion. If you’re not scientifically literate, or if you can’t be bothered with reading it, I’ll summarize it here along with one or two conclusions I’ve drawn from their work:
1. Most plant sources of vitamin D were found to be D2 not D3, which is less good.
2. For conversion from 7-dehydrocholesterol into vitamin D3, you need sunlight at a wavelength of 290-315nm (less than 290 would work but is totally filtered out by the O-Zone layer).
3. Only areas between 35 degrees above and below the equator gets this wavelength of sunlight all year round. The UK, Australia and Canada don’t get this wavelength of sunlight in winter, which underpins the theory that Vitamin D is linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
4. Vitamin D is only successfully converted if you are out in the sun for long enough (for 7-hydrocholesterol to convert to pre-vitamin D to degrade to Vitamin D3).
5. Vitamin D fortification takes place in some orange juices – so if there’s no “suitable for vegetarians” logo/statement on the packaging, it may have come from the fish sources I mentioned earlier.
6. If you put your portobella mushrooms out in direct sunlight for a while, the vitamin D3 will increase, making them theoretically a useful source of some of your vitamin D.
7. The reason most plants don’t have any Vitamin D3, is because it mostly comes from cholesterol (or, specifically, 7-hydrocholesterol), and most plants don’t contain cholesterol. So you need to get a plant that contains cholesterol (or lanoesterol) and expose the cholesterol to the right wavelength of sunlight for the right length of time to stimulate Vitamin D3 production.
8. Lanolin and mushrooms convert lanoesterol (another sterol) into Vitamin D3.
9. Theoretically, the researchers believe they have found a way to incite Vitamin D synthesis in plants, using arabidosis thaliana (a flower) as a model, through lanoesterol.
10. The production of Vitamin D in a plant that hasn’t evolved to do it naturally might affect the concentration of other vitamins – and toxins.
11. The source of high Vitamin D3 levels in fish are unknown, and particularly confuse scientists, because of the low levels of UVB light (necessary for D3 production) in their natural habitats; the researchers think the Vitamin D3 in fish might be due to microalgae, the beginning of the fishes’ food chain, and they point to two studies (Takeuchi et al, 1991) and (Sunita Rao and Raghuramulu, 1997) that measured high levels of vitamin D3 and pro-vitamin D in algae. Takeuchi also observed that the microalgae caught in August had higher levels of Vitamin D3 than that caught in October-December, supporting the idea that the sun is causing the Vitamin D3 in this plant. To further confuse matters, there are so many different types of algae that some seem to have the right sterols for Vitamin D3 production whilst others definitely don’t. However, with further study this could become a vegan Vitamin D3 source.
12. Sometimes, sterols turn to ‘soaps’ (saponification) before Vitamin D3 synthesis can be measured.

The conclusion states that:
“Traditionally, only animal products have been considered a source of vitamin D3, but today we know that vitamin D3 and its metabolites are formed in certain plants. Accordingly, fruits and vegetables have the potential to serve as a source of vitamin D. Especially, the Solanaceae family contains high amounts of vitamin D3, which is of special interest considering the importance of this family in human nutrition. The Solanaceae family includes important vegetables such as potato, tomato and pepper all of which have been found to contain vitamin D3. Our current knowledge is limited to the content in leaves, but future investigation will elucidate if also the edible portions contain vitamin D3. It would be valuable to screen a variety of crops and vegetables for vitamin D, but to carry out a larger screening development of less time-consuming and preferably more sensitive analytical methods are needed. A further challenge is to improve methods to study and quantify vitamin D conjugates in details.
Planktonic microalgae, inhabiting the sea, are another large group of photosynthetic organisms that contain vitamin D. Microalgae are, as part of the aquatic food chain, identified as a source of vitamin D for fish. Currently, the world’s wild fish stocks are being overexploited and there has been a growth in the aqua-culture industry. The current trend is to replace fish meals or fish oil partly by vegetable feed substitutes when feeding cultured fish will reduce the content of vitamin D compared to wild fish (Bell and Waagbø, 2008). Microalgae with a high natural amount of vitamin D may be used as a natural vegetable form for the bio-fortification of aqua-cultured fish.
Basic knowledge about the biosynthesis of vitamin D3 in photosynthetic organisms is still lacking and any increase in our knowledge will help us to manipulate the content to produce plants with a higher natural amount of vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is only synthesized in minute amounts, which makes it challenging to study the pathways and enzymes involved. However, it also means that even small changes in vitamin D3 can have a significant impact on human health.”

“The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.”
(Japelt and Jakobsen, 2013, published in Frontiers, 13th May 2013: accessed 17/12/14).

I think the conclusion speaks for itself, and am looking forward to the results of the further study, in the hope that one day soon we can get all of our Vitamin D from tomatoes and potatoes, and algae. Wikipedia does state that algae is a vegan source of vitamin D but obviously if it’s not for sale in a supplement or in its original form, it doesn’t really count yet. When I looked on to find a supplement, there weren’t any vitamin D algae supplements. And if it’s not on, chances are it doesn’t exist.  Here’s a list of what they do have in the “vegan vitamin D” realm:
Vegan D3

“Vegan” vitamin D3 supplements:

There are some products (I’ve linked to one below) making very dubious health claims, and no proof that they really contain vitamin D3 (particularly when you consider “fatty acid esters” the ingredient that allegedly contains calcium and magnesium, but where you wouldn’t find them because they’re nothing to do with fatty acids, in the “vegan D3” probably contains the cholesterol needed for your body to convert into vitamin D3, rather than actual D3 itself, and that would account for the anecdotal evidence (from reviewers) that these supplements work.  See this article on fatty acids and notice it’s talking about cholesterol:
The volume of mushrooms needed to produce the amount of D3 allegedly in these products would be more expensive to produce than the products cost, so something odd is definitely going on here, I think they’re defining “vegan” differently to how most people define it due to it not being certified vegan by an independent body such as the Vegan Society (and how much they’re making of the fact it’s all “certified organic”): Questionable Vegan D3

Vitamin D and Dementia:

Another recent piece of research has shown a link between low vitamin D levels, and risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. In the study (which was epidemiological), those whose vitamin D was a little low (<50nmol/l), risk of Alzheimers was increased by 69% and risk of dementia was increased by 53%. In patients with severe vitamin D deficiency (levels 25-50 nmol/l), there was a 122% higher risk of Alzheimer’s and 125% increase in risk of getting dementia. Since the study was epidemiological, it isn’t conclusive proof that vitamin D can prevent dementia, however, it is positive evidence that vitamin D is a piece of a bigger puzzle that could show us how to avoid dementia in the future. Read more about this study here:

Risks of Sun Exposure:
No discussion of the complexities of vitamin D would be complete without considering the risks of sun exposure. Sunscreen has been shown to be a confounding factor in vitamin D conversion – sunscreen with an SPF as low as SPF 8 reduces vitamin D synthesis by 95%! The key is to get enough unprotected sun exposure to stimulate vitamin D production without being out long enough to get sunburn, although the study which presented these statistics observed that there was no “safe exposure time” established yet, where vitamin D production would be optimal but cancer risk minimal, presumably because the research needed to produce such a time would be thoroughly unethical, because you would basically have to get participants to go out in the sun, measure their vitamin D levels until the point where they got cancer in order for it to be a fair test, and nobody’s going to carry out a study like that (I hope not, anyway). Additionally, the same study found that people living above the Arctic Circle in Finland got higher amounts of vitamin D than those living at lower latitudes (still above 35 degrees). It was also found that people in countries closer to the equator, but who culturally practised covering most of the body and eating a restricted diet, were more likely to be vitamin D deficient, although the authors definitely did not advocate the public practice of declothing for these groups, as this would be insensitive, rather the authors of the study thought these groups needed to be more aware of their vitamin D intake. The study can be found here: with the discussion of SPF fairly low down the page (do a “find on page” for “use of sunscreen”). One thing no study seems to have considered, is the role of UVB reflection which takes place in snowy environments (think of someone who has returned from a skiing holiday – they can sometimes look more tanned/burnt than if they’d gone on a beach holiday, due to sunlight reflection from the snow increasing the UVA and UVB exposure) – this would certainly have been a confounding factor in the Finnish study and could be the reason why vitamin D levels were higher in people who lived in the Arctic Circle (apart from the fact that the atmosphere is thinner up there so UVB penetration will be higher to start with). It certainly means there’s probably a band of latitude where UVB is sub standard, but further work needs to be done to establish exactly how far this band extends.

Vitamin D2 vs Vitamin D3:
Lastly, there are a lot of “vegan” vitamin D2 supplements on the market that do come from plants, but the problem with them is that D2 isn’t the D-vitamin that everyone’s getting deficient in, and it’s the vitamin D3 that doesn’t come from a plant source, but D2 will give your blood a false positive and it is only good for bone health. On top of that, a lot of packaging doesn’t actually specify which vitamin D it’s got in it, so sometimes you just don’t know what you’re buying. Vitamin D2 is of course also necessary for health, but studies have shown it is far less beneficial than vitamin D3, and has no effect on Alzheimer’s prevention ( Getting vitamin D2 is better than getting no vitamin D at all, while we all wait for a properly vegan vitamin D3 supplement.  As you can see, has plenty of vegan D2 for sale.

References: accessed 17/12/14).

What do you think about vitamin D3?  Are you excited that there will be 100% vegan (by every definition) supplements on the market very soon?

[travel] Buying Petrol Abroad

Buying Petrol In Europe and European-language countries

I was actually photographing the misty mountain in the background
The 7am queue, Sunday morning at a petrol station in the Austrian alps. The majority of petrol stations we saw in Austria/Germany were Shell garages.

When we were approaching the ferry at Dover, England, I pulled into the petrol station and filled the tank. My OH’s mum had told us confidently that petrol was much cheaper in France. This should have meant waiting until France to fill up, surely?  Why, then, was I getting petrol now?

Actually, I was deeply worried by particular practicalities of our trip, not least of which, where to actually buy petrol. I didn’t know any of the brand names and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find these petrol stations. I’d looked online for a list of company names to look out for (Esso, Shell and even BP have stations abroad), but since no list existed I was limited by searching for the overseas locations of petrol stations I already knew the names of. I’d also searched online to find the names of fuels abroad.

I was still deeply worried about running very low on fuel and not being able to find a petrol station. This only happened in Italy, where there were so many different flavours of fuel and colours of hoses that it was rare to find somewhere that carried all of them. The only constant everywhere was diesel, which left me wishing many times that our vehicle was a diesel one. But you got what you got, all you can do is work with what you got.

I’m going to tell you what I learned about filling up abroad, and I’ve included a list of names of petrol types (and which engines they go in) for the countries I’ve been to so far.

Here’s my top hacks for buying petrol in Europe:

1. Service stations generally sell fuel at an almost-reasonable price, but it varies wildly. In Northern Italy on the Autostrade (plural of Autostrada, or freeway), they give you the next 3 prices for diesel and “benzina” from which you can work out the relative prices for your chosen fuel if it’s not either of those.

2. Always fill at two bars or quarter of a tank, and always round down when making the decision; every time we looked at the two bars (1/4 tank) and thought “it’s ok, we can shop around for a better price” something always happened that stopped us getting to a petrol station in good time, and we cut it far too close, far too often. We actually skipped quite a few stations on the way down because we didn’t understand which fuel to put into the car (because the Italians have so many) and they all had black, yellow or red pump handles, no green ones.  There was the time we suddenly ended up in a 4 hour gridlocked traffic jam around Firenze, in 45 degree heat, watching our petrol dwindle. There was the time we took an A-road (I think they’re “routes” or “interstates” in America – the one that’s the next size down from a freeway??) and our 50 mile route suddenly became 100 miles in the dark on continuous hairpin bends every 30 metres or less, so we constantly were doubling back on ourselves, and that hadn’t been marked on our map as such, cutting across from just below Ravenna to the E1. The scenery around there is apparently stunning, but at 1am, it was dark and we didn’t have enough fuel. Luckily the second half was 50 miles of the same, but downhill, so we just rolled it until we got to the E1, and there was a petrol station within 500m of getting onto the Autostrada.  The engine never stopped from lack of fuel, but it came very close a couple of times (making that dreadful hiccuping sound as it gasped for gas).

3. SP95-E10 is the name of a semi-synthetic fuel that is an EU-approved version of petrol. In some countries it’s cheaper than normal 95 octane petrol, in others, it’s more expensive. It’s good stuff though, at least, it was really good in our Citroen Picasso, and I was a little sad when we got back to the UK and couldn’t buy it anywhere. SP95-E10 gave us a vastly improved mileage and the car engine sounded healthier whilst it was using it. I would highly recommend it if you have a Picasso – it’s like they’re made for each other, which could be true, since it’s a French car and since SP95-E10 is prevalent in France. It’s often also called “Super E10.”

4. In Rome, most petrol stations are self-service, but there are men who will insist on filling your car for you (they will be on a mobile phone the entire time, and usually smoking as well, we saw many of these) and then harass you for a tip. Unless you’re sure of yourself physically or speak Italian louder than whoever is on the other end of the phone, you just have to give them some money. I consistently gave 2 Euros on a 20 Euro fill, and it did work out cheaper than the manned petrol stations on the ring road. I don’t think these men actually work for any petrol station company, but Rome is a city whose primary workforce are street hawkers, so you just get used to it.

5. In Austria and Germany, many stations have full service pumps and self-serve pumps, and these mean different things to elsewhere. With the full service pumps, you stop your car and tell the attendant how much fuel you want (like in the olden days of good service) and they’ll fill it for you. At the self-serve pumps, you put your own fuel into the car – but with either option, you still have to go inside to pay. They don’t have a pay at the pump option at these stations so either way you’ve got to waste the same amount of time. The full service pumps are usually about 15-20 cents more expensive per litre than the self-serve, which can seriously add up (that’s 1 euro extra every five litres of fuel. Your fuel tank is usually 25 to 30 litres, so service costs 5-6 Euros per complete tank fill).

6. Make sure you have a credit card as well as your money, some pay-at-the-pump self service machines only take cards, and they’re the ones you’ll get stuck with late at night.

7. To use the European pay-at-the-pump petrol stations, you actually don’t pay at the pump you’re using. In the centre of all the pumps, there will be a machine that you have to select options from and prepay for the amount of fuel you’re going to put in your tank. There are usually language options for at least French, German, Spanish, Italian and English, but once you’ve used 3 or 4 of these machines you’ll know the menu options well enough that you won’t need English (unless you really aren’t paying attention). Just follow the menu through to select fuel type and amount to buy, select payment method if it’s an option and give the machine the money. Eventually it’ll let you go back to your pump and fill up.

Some of them tell you the price in litres and get you to confirm you are happy with this price before letting you continue. Others just take your money. Once you’re filling up, it will automatically cut off at the amount specified. There isn’t an option with these machines to “fill ‘er up” so you need to guess how much fuel you want to put in. I usually went for 20 Euros because the price per litre was often quite high and I thought that if anything went wrong with the machine I’d only lost 20 Euros. If something does go wrong there isn’t really anything you can do about it because these stations are totally unmanned, so just write it off to experience.

8. Knowing your numbers 1-15 in foreign languages really helps with identifying which pump you’re trying to pay for petrol. In England, you walk into the shop and say “pump number 5” and you do the same thing in foreign countries. Just have the number ready before you go in and they can process your request faster. If you don’t know the numbers of the country you’re in, Europeans often can also do English although it might take them a minute to work out what language you’re speaking in, just like if someone started speaking to you in French at your place of work you’d need to think before responding.

9. Despite my worries, it’s actually really easy to spot petrol stations abroad – because they look like petrol stations. Big roof, booth for paying (usually), sign with prices, petrol pumps. Unless, y’know, you’re really unlucky and end up at a car wash or diner that used to be a petrol station and still has all the trimmings. I think my main worry was needing to look for them on my smartphone which always needed a brand name to search, but since it didn’t have any network at all from Dover onwards, that really wasn’t an issue for me because there were so many roadside petrol stations.

10. As a final hack, none of the petrol we bought in France was anything remotely resembling the prices OH’s mum had found before we left.  I hadn’t been holding my breath, but it’s worth bearing in mind that those price comparison tools are not always very up-to-date and it’s probably going to save you time to not bother looking them up, especially if you’re going to be gone drivin’ for more than a day or two.

Here’s the names of fuel in various countries, and what engines they go in:


Super E10 – unleaded engines

Super Carburant – leaded engines (old 4 star cars) don’t put in unleaded engines.

Gazole – Diesel engines

LPG – LPG/autogas engines
Sans Plomb 95 / Sans plomb 98 – Unleaded engines

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel but not aboard ferries.


Super – unleaded engines (95 octane)

Super Plus – unleaded engines (98 octane)

Super E10 – unleaded engines (synthetic SP95-E10)

Diesel – diesel engines

No lead replacement available.

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel with you, but not aboard ferries.


Benzina – generic term, sometimes used for “fuel,” still unsure if this would go in my car.

Benzina verde – unleaded engines.

Benzina super – unleaded engines (higher octane)

Gasolio – diesel engines (don’t ask for gasoline if you have a petrol engine, they’ll think it’s this)

GPL (gas di petrolio liquefatto) – LPG engines.

No lead replacement available, but you can buy a fuel additive to use with unleaded petrol.

Sometimes unleaded is called “senza plombo” but it’s not an official grade of petrol.

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel with you, but not aboard ferries.

Over 800 miles of driving in Italy, I only saw SP95-E10 once, and it was far more expensive than anything else they were selling.


Bencina – petrol, again nowhere was able to tell me if this was ok to put in an unleaded engine or whether it was a common term for something else.

Gasoleo “A” – Diesel engines

Gas-oil – Diesel engines


gasolina super – Leaded 4-star engines

gasolina sin plomo – Unleaded engines.

biogasol – another one that no-one could agree on the meaning of. Most likely biodiesel but might instead be something to fuel houses. Probably best to avoid.

SP95-E10 may or may not be available in Spain – it’s likely because it’s a European initiative, but then we don’t have it in the UK, so I will report back when I return from driving to Moroccco.

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel with you, but not aboard ferries.

Check out this AA motoring guide for other European countries and their specific driving rules, including what to carry when you go abroad:

Does anyone have any further experience on the names of unleaded/diesel in other countries? I’d love this to become a reference. Don’t just post website translations because I’m specifically collecting the words printed on the sides of petrol pumps. For example, some Italian dictionaries say “petrolio” means “petrol” but it’s actually never used in the sense that we would mean, because it means “petroleum” like “petroleum jelly” (Vaseline). If you asked for it at a petrol station you would get mocked. So, only contribute what you’ve seen at petrol stations please!

Happy driving!

Silver Shampoos Reviewed

This is the updated version of one of my most popular articles, I have had to re-write it due to Amazon Associates axing my account, and thought I’d add in the shampoos I’ve tried since I first wrote this article.

silver shampoos
A rounded up photo of all the silver shampoos from my original article. The pro-voke one isn’t pictured because it was so bad that I haven’t bought it since the last lot ran out.

A hairdresser who I know, who shall remain anonymous, believes that all silver shampoos are created equal. I have also seen conflicting advice on the internet about how, exactly, you’re supposed to use silver shampoo, with some people seeming to think it is used to tone the hair.  See this article on toning to find out about my toning routine.

For new and aspiring platinum and silver blondelets, here is a breakdown of how you get any light cool shade of blonde, basically you stop when you’re happy with the colour, although see my other articles to find out SPECIFICALLY what I mean:

1. You bleach your hair. I would use a powder bleach and developer combo, such as John Frieda B Blonde High Lift Powder Bleach (or L’Oreal Quick Blue in the US) and bottles of peroxide (see my other hair articles to learn more about bleaching and what products I’ve used, and why I use the ones that I do), although I have had success with box dyes in the past.

2. You wash all the bleach out.

3. You tone your hair with a toner. These work like either semi-permanent colours (directions silver toner or directions white toner, any of the toner mousses, Jerome Russell Platinum Blonde Toner, Manic Panic Virgin Snow) or permanent colours (Bleach London White Toner; Wella Color Charm T18 White Lady). Basically, if your toner requires a developer, it’s not semi permanent.

4. About a week after you toned your hair, start using silver shampoo and/or conditioner as a maintenance to prolong your toning. Use it once or twice a week, depending on how frequently you wash your hair.

5. If you wanted platinum blonde, and your hair is getting too silvery, use the silver shampoo less.

I have tried out four different silver shampoos so far this year. I will post pics and review them in order:
Superdrug Wash-In Wash-Out Conditioning Colour (this is a shampoo with a tint to it – someone on another review of this used it as a conditioner – please don’t do that, condition after with a nice repair mask or silver conditioner)
Balea Silber Glanz (that’s German for “Silver Shampoo”)
Pro-Voke A Touch Of Silver
Bleach London Silver Shampoo
L’Oreal Professional Silver
Tigi Catwalk Silver

In order, then:

Superdrug Effects Cool Blonde 8.1

superdrug colour effects 8.1 light ash
Superdrug Colour Effects 8.1 Silver Shampoo

The Superdrug one is a-maze. It only comes in a tiny travel size bottle so if you’re going on holiday, I think you could get it through carry-on security without any issues, although check before you go as I drive to my exotic holiday destinations because I loooove road trips. This Superdrug one came with me to Rome the first time I went, in 2006, and I am convinced it protected my hair from the sun. One of the things I love about **being a light blonde abroad** is that your hair reflects the sun’s heat and you get less hot. The Superdrug shampoo is the cheapest to buy but not the cheapest per-100ml, because the bottle is tiny. It says up to 3 applications but my hair is waist length and super thick, and I get 2 applications out at the very most, so I’d say if your hair is shoulder length you’ll get more than 3 applications out of this.

Pro’s: The colour is very grey, and covers a multitude of sins including uneven toning and bleaching, accidental use of argan oil, and smoking. When I was pure white in 2008, I used this shampoo to get rid of nicotine stains from my housemates’ 40 a day habit.

It’s good for airport carry on – the bottle is tiny.

It’s easy to use, and you can leave it on for up to 15 minutes for a stronger colour result (it doesn’t say that on the packaging any more but it still works).

Con’s: The colour is a very DULL grey, I don’t like the lack of sparkle to my hair after using this too frequently.
The colour builds up very quickly, meaning your hair colour keeps changing. I find this annoying.

The bottle is tiny, and at the price, it gets expensive if it’s your regular use one.

Conclusion: Take this one on holiday (in its own sandwich bag – if this leaks, you got a purple MESS), don’t use regularly at home, but can correct toning errors as long as you use another silver shampoo regularly.

Balea Silber Glanz:

The most gentle silver shampoo
The balea silber-glanz shampoo is sadly not for sale in the UK at the moment. Sometimes it appears on Amazon. 😦

I found this in Austria, where it was E1.65 for 200ml, I bought one for the rest of my journey. Then I found it in Germany, on the way home from Italy, where it was E1.45 for the exact same bottle, so I bought 6 to bring home for personal use. Recently, I found out Balea are selling to the UK on Amazon. I like this as a maintenance silver shampoo.

Pro’s: The UV filter protects your colour (no I don’t know how that works, but I tested in August in Rome; no colour shift at all and minimal drying to hair).
It comes in a very reasonable bottle size, unlike Pro:Voke or Superdrug.
It has a gentle effect so it never builds up.

Con’s: It has a gentle effect, so if you need something stronger you might want a different product.
You can only buy it cheaply in Germany, or slightly more expensively in the rest of mainland EU; the prices on Amazon Marketplace UK are shocking, I’ve seen Balea shampoo go for over £4 which I wouldn’t mind but it’s E1.45 in Germany! Stock is also limited on Amazon, to the point that it’s currently sold out.

Conclusion: I really love this shampoo, but it’s hard to get hold of and doesn’t deposit much colour, so I might be in a minority. You’ve got to hand it to the Germans; they really know how to take care of Ag and Pt hair for cheap. I’m looking forward to seeing if Sweden has similar exciting products if I ever get to go!

Pro:Voke A Touch of Silver Shampoo and Conditioner:

This is a really confusing one to review because they actually do two different shampoos and two different conditioners – they do tiny, more expensive bottles which are supposed to be the stronger stuff, known as Touch Of Silver Twice A Week Brightening Shampoo 150 ml for less regular use, and they do the cheaper, larger bottles called Touch Of Silver Daily Shampoo. I’ve finished an entire bottle of each of the four products – two shampoos, two conditioners – and am finally ready to comment.

Pro’s: They’re relatively cheap and readily available.
The tiny bottle of twice-weekly shampoo makes a bit of difference to your hair.

Con’s: The regular use shampoo and both conditioners are less than useless. I get a much better result from using a better silver shampoo and a decent non-blonde conditioner made for normal people’s hair. Both conditioners left my hair dull and dry, despite claiming to contain optical brighteners. The tiny weekly shampoo didn’t make that much difference to my hair, even after 20 minutes, and the result was always uneven, no matter how long or short I left it on for. Personally I am not going to buy this range again, and I suspect they’re only so popular because people don’t know what other silver shampoos are out there.

Conclusion: These are for sale everywhere and if I totally ran out of every other silver shampoo and this was the only thing for sale, I would buy the weekly use shampoo. If I had absolutely no other choice, I still wouldn’t buy the regular shampoo or either conditioner again they have done more harm than good and my hair looked less silver after using them.

Bleach London Silver Shampoo:

The absolute best silver shampoo and conditioner I've used.  Ever.
Bleach London’s silver shampoo and conditioner. These are so good they should be for sale in every shop. Even bakeries.

Where can you get it?
You can buy it here:
And here’s the conditioner:

As far as I know, this is a relatively new product. Since I first saw it’s empty shelf with a price tag in Boots, it’s been sold out every time I’ve been in, for a few months, but I finally ran out of the Pro:Voke last week so could buy this guilt-free and it was FINALLY in stock. I got the shampoo and conditioner, but I haven’t tried the conditioner yet, and here’s why: The shampoo is enough. Literally, it leaves my hair more silver, but doesn’t dull it or leave a nasty residue, the colour result is even and smooth, and I’ve washed it again with non-silver shampoo since I first used it, and this silver shampoo hasn’t faded at all.
Pro’s: See above. Plus you don’t seem to need as much product to cover your hair as any of the others I’ve tried.  Update June 2015: I have used a full bottle of the conditioner now, and feel it’s nowhere near as good as the shampoo, and it’s not very conditioning either.

Con’s: It’s the most expensive out of all the ones available in normal shops, at £5 a bottle (as of 2015), but it’s worth it, and I know that bottle will last because I don’t have to use it every time I wash my hair, or even every two times. I could finally wait ten days between silver applications! You do get product build up with this one though, which dulls the colour of your hair, and it’s quite harsh on the hair, and very drying.  I team it with Schwarzkopf Gliss Liquid Silk Gloss Conditioner to get more sparkle from my hair strands. The silver conditioner is definitely good for extra cool tones.

Conclusion: It’s good on the colour side if you want dark silver, it’s less good for white or platinum.  I would buy it again but only if I couldn’t afford either the L’Oreal Professional silver or Tigi Catwalk Violet shampoos.

L’Oreal Professional Silver Shampoo

Where can you get it?
I bought it from a professional hairdressing store, they generally sell to the general public these days; otherwise it’s available online at the well known shopping giant Amazon.  I found the lid was quite flimsy so I wouldn’t order it online unless my local professional stockists stop selling it.

Pro’s: I absolutely love this one.  It’s the most even coverage, gives the best silver result, doesn’t dull down the colour of your hair, and offers the least product build up.  It’s nowhere near as abrasive on the hair as the Bleach London one.  It’s about £7.50, making it the most expensive gram-for-gram, but it’s the best one there is, and of the six I’ve tried, this is the one I’ll be buying again, once my Tigi runs out.  It also has a more blue base than the others, so it brings the hair to a whiter silver than the Bleach London or the Superdrug ones.

Con’s: It’s lid is really flimsy which means that I wouldn’t trust a mail order company.  Also it’s hard to acquire if you don’t live in a city with a professional hairdressing store.

Conclusion: I love this shampoo and once I’ve finished the Tigi one, this is what I’m going to buy again.

Tigi Catwalk Silver Violet Shampoo

Where can you buy it?
Again, it’s available either from professional/specialist hair stores, or you can get it online.

Pro’s: It was £17.50 for about a litre and a half of this stuff.  So it’s the cheapest per gram of any of them.  It leaves your hair really soft and nourished, and is the least abrasive of any of the most pigmented ones.  It has a pump top so in the shower you can just press down on it to get the product out of the bottle.

Con’s: It’s in a really big bottle, so if you don’t like it, you’re stuck with it for ages.  Its coverage isn’t quite as even or as pigmented as the L’Oreal one, and it really works best on towel dried hair rather than wet hair in the shower.

Conclusion: I like this shampoo, and I’m about 2/3 of the way through the bottle now, but I don’t think it’s quite as good as the L’Oreal one, so I’ll be using the L’Oreal one once this bottle is finished.

So there you have it, my favourite is L’Oreal Professional’s Silver Shampoo. Obviously this is my subjective opinion based on results I have observed on my own hair, so I don’t want to urge you to rush out and buy it, but personally, I’m so glad I did.

Also, it’s not good for your hair to use a silver shampoo every time you wash. With the exception of the Balea one, none of the others actually clean your hair much, they just fix the colour. Only if I’ve used dry shampoo on my hair, I would shampoo with a non-silver before using a silver shampoo just to clean my hair so it’s ready to take on the colour. I do this because when I was a brunette last year, I had the brown dry shampoo, and two wet shampoos later, I’d still be getting brown residue of dry shampoo washing out of my hair. At the end of the day, dry shampoo is still a product and it still builds up in your hair, it’s not a real shampoo, it’s actually powder that absorbs grease, and it needs to be washed out before you use silver shampoo otherwise your colour result will be disappointing because it’ll stick to the dry shampoo residue and wash straight out.

28-03-15 For a review of what I’ve used between silver shampoos, I’ve written a separate article which is now published!

Here’s my silver and white hair Q and A

I’ll add my white hair tutorial once it’s uploaded on Youtube.

How to make toys for your rabbits

Toymaking for Rabbits:

So I’ve been reading some other rabbit sites recently, mostly trying to find out whether there’s a law in the US governing hutch size, which is the topic of a separate article. What I have noticed is there is a definite hole in the bunny-site market for a good quality, well thought out article on toymaking.

Some people will be thinking to themselves “why does a rabbit need a toy?” You, my friend, need to read this article. Other people are looking for inspiration, which you will find here in buckets.

Rabbits need toys for several reasons. Primarily, rabbits have higher intelligence than many people think they have. If you compare the skull size of the average rabbit with that of a cat, you’ll notice they’re a similar size. Rabbits, in fact, have bigger brains than most kittens. Would you put a kitten in a box full of sawdust with no toys? I sincerely hope not. Rabbits need just as many stimuli and growth opportunities as larger pets. They need puzzles to solve, projects to work on, variety of environment and shared experience. What does this look like to the average rabbit owner? Toys, and someone to play with (that’s you).

rabbit hay box
Cleo is in a hay box – basically, cut the top out of a box and fill it half to two thirds with hay. Rabbit will climb inside to eat tasty hay and nibble box. Sometimes they will sleep in them.

Puzzles to solve:

Bunnies like thinking with their teeth. This means puzzles, such as:

1. A box with a hole that’s not quite big enough for them to run through quickly (get a box, seal off the top and bottom with duct tape, cut a hole in the front and another in the back that’s just the same width as bunny in hop mode – that’s about 30% narrower than his sitting down width. Bunny will chew the hole bigger). They can then solve this puzzle with their teeth.

2. A box that doesn’t quite sit in the natural environment is a puzzle they can drag around the room until it’s solved (get some shapes and sizes of boxes and just randomly scatter them in a corner. Bunny will either fall upon them and start rearranging, or occasionally nibble them, it’s a bit hit and miss).

3. A treat on a high platform is a puzzle they can solve by exploration and discovery (make it visible, accessible, but make it require some thought to get to, e.g. put it on a table with a dining chair in front of it).

4. A slinky with the base attached to something solid is a puzzle they might never solve (but you get hours of fun watching them try).

5. A tunnel with only one entrance and exit is a puzzle they can solve by chewing extra holes in the side to add multiple escape routes (get a long thin cardboard box, cut a hole at either end to make a tunnel, put it against a wall or piece of solid furniture; it sometimes takes time but eventually bunny will probably chew the entire wall-facing side out of the tunnel. We’ve seen this three times with three different rabbits and tunnels).

Rabbits just love puzzles, once they get the idea that they can interact with them. Puzzles are often incorporated into other toys, as a secondary purpose, as you can see with many of the examples above.

rabbit cardboard castle
This “large” box is a cardboard castle, there’s a hole in the back as well so rabbits can get in and out through different holes. Cleo can get in through the top hole, Banacek can’t, giving the toy different ways of playing for different sized rabbits.

Projects to work on:

Bunnies like projects – these are things they can work on over a longer period, having a nibble, then doing something else, coming back to it later that day, week or month. Pragmatic rabbits love projects like these:

1. A hay box with an overhanging edge of cardboard (get a box, fill with hay, make an entrance for rabbit if the top is too high. Avon delivery boxes are really good; paper ream boxes are a little too small). Remember to empty the hay every once in a while because bunnies often poo in hay.

2. A box filled with smaller cardboard boxes. Rabbits seem to prefer three dimensional cardboard to chew, although occasionally they will chew flat card. Banacek loves chewing labels from new clothes, and has been known on several occasions to chew around them in such a way as to turn the words on the labels into cryptic messages, such as “happy” “magical u” (was magical unicorn) “cheer” (was cheerios) and “millionaire” (was Millionaire’s shortbread). I think it happens because he goes with patterns that he finds pleasing in terms of light/dark balance (words, to those who can’t read, are after all just shapes), and I think these are projects he likes to work on, for example, magical unicorn was “magical uni” for quite a while before he eventually finished it. He also once chewed us a perfect triangle out of a square. I measured 60 degrees at each corner with a protractor.  Rabbits are way clever.

3. A large chunk of wood; make sure it’s clean and not infested with slug eggs or something equally horrible, then place it near a rabbit. If it’s tasty wood, they’ll be all over it in seconds (this extends to pieces of furniture so watch out for that antique pine cabinet your grammy left you) and it will take weeks or months to devour. Check which woods are safe for bunnies, and be sure which species of tree the wood chunk came from, to ensure you don’t accidentally poison your bunny with something deadly such as yew sap.

Fifer loves chewing sticks
Fifer’s outdoor run includes a large stick which he likes to chew on to wear down his teeth, which are permanently growing.

4. A wicker basket. This is a project any bunny would love, especially if there’s bits of wicker ends sticking out visibly. Make sure it’s not treated with anything that makes it taste bad – we got one from a charity shop that’s the only wicker basket our rabbits have ever not pounced on – a year later it’s still virtually pristine, we can only conclude it’s not very tasty. Usually, though, rabbits plus wicker = om nom nom.

5. A dig box made of packing materials. You know the masses of brown paper that Amazon insists on sending you every time you order something small that arrives in a large box? Take out the something small, and the delivery note, then give the box and the brown paper to the rabbits. They also love tissue type paper that comes as gift wrap. Avoid metallic colours or anything glittery or plastic backed – a sick bunny is a sad bunny.

Variety of environment:

I would love every bunny to have all the environments described here, but I know most will get one or two. It’s still worth knowing what’s there, in case you get an opportunity to treat your bunny to a new place:

Sebastian and Neville ponder the mysteries of the garden.
Sebastian and Neville love the garden. That’s a block of chewable wood in front of Neville, and a plastic rain shelter for when they want to hide.

1. The garden: This is far and away the absolute best rabbit environment for indoor or outdoor bunnies. Once they’re satisfied that it won’t try to kill them, they all love the garden. There’s so much to do out there, and you can make the garden environment even more fun with a few quick hacks. Put rabbit runs in grassy areas, away from any plants that might be toxic. Add a paving slab or two for the discerning sunbathing rabbit, or in case it rains so they can avoid the mud if they want to. Don’t forget to buy a second water bottle to attach to the run (or bowl to put in there) in case they get thirsty. Add a couple of sticks for nibbles, and a small area that’s sheltered from hot sun or cold rain, and it’s a perfect, compact outdoor play space that’ll all fit inside a standard run. But why stop there? There’s so many other things you can do with a rabbit garden over time that I’ll discuss them in a separate article closer to spring.

2. Carpeted flooring: Bunnies interact completely differently on carpeted flooring to any other environment. They love to lie out on it and sleep. I think they find it more comfortable than solid surfaces, although come summer, they tend to sleep on the metal bit in the doorways or on the tiles around the (utterly disused) hearth, or wooden platforms in their hutch, I think they’re regulating temperature by doing this. Carpet is the indoor rabbit’s racetrack of choice, because it offers the best friction without being uncomfortable on little paws, and they love running fast around the carpeted parts of the house. Do be careful with transitioning a rabbit from living predominantly outdoors to indoors – some of them don’t understand the difference between carpet and grass, and will dig and chew the floor. Training them out of this is part of acclimatizing them to indoor living, along with letting them gently adjust to the temperature.

3. Tiles: Bunnies love tiles when it’s hot. The cool ambient temperature of ceramic tiles are their preferred sleeping spot on hot days. If you’ve got no tiled areas in your house or in their hutch, consider laying a two foot square of tiles on some plywood or cardboard for bunnies to cool down. They’re also easy clean.

4. Platforms: Bunnies love to climb. Give them things to safely climb on and make it worthwhile for them to reach the summit. No-one wants to climb Mount Coffeetable if it’s got nothing on it except a dangerously slidy surface. Mount Cardboard Box is good as long as the top is sturdy enough to take rabbit’s weight – over time, they can start to get a bit crushed from over-use. McFries boxes from McDonald’s make excellent bunny platforms to enable them to reach higher places. If you plan platforms that bunnies ARE allowed to play on, they’re less likely to make the effort to get onto high places where there’s nothing interesting, and where you don’t want them to go.

5. Laminate flooring: It’s not most rabbits’ idea of a good time, they struggle to get a friction coefficient so their paws slide all over the place. But it can provide a good exercise and also teach them that there are many different surfaces in the world so they know how to carefully navigate slippery surfaces – possibly a good idea before they break a rib slipping on an icy puddle in winter. I wouldn’t make this their usual environment, or at least put them some rugs or lino down so they can move comfortably, but it’s an educational environment for the inquisitive rabbit.

Shared Experience

Bunnies are social creatures. In one study, female rabbits chose companionship over food or territory. They need interaction with others. Here’s some thoughts on firing their imagination with friends:

1. You’re their best friend. As a bunny owner, you are the best friend and companion they will ever have. You talk to them, take them places, feed them when they’re hungry, stroke them when they’re not moving, play with them by holding boxes so they can give them a good chew, fill up the hay when it gets low (don’t leave it until empty, they rarely polish it off due to a natural urge known as preservation of resources), play chase with them when they want to practise their moves, and provide mountain rescue for them when they’ve got themselves stuck on top of a bookcase or shelf. Take time to play with bunny, give them all the input and attention (and healthy boundaries) you would lavish on a child, and they will reward you by being your most loyal supporter.

Banacek waits for Jason to come home with carrots.
Before Banacek had a rabbit girlfriend, he spent hours each day sitting on the arm of Jason’s chair waiting for Jason to come home. Jason was his human BFF. His favourite cuddly toy bunny is in his hutch in the background

2. Get them a girlfriend or boyfriend. This needs proper thought, don’t just bung two rabbits in a hutch and leave. Rabbits are picky, like humans are, and won’t just bond with any old rabbit. They need to be introduced carefully in a way that doesn’t threaten either rabbit or their status or territory. For this reason, a neutered male and female often make the best pairings. Take it slow. Read up on it, the Houserabbit Society of America has the absolute best articles on introducing rabbits, and I don’t want to try and explain something that’s already been discussed very well by other people, because reinventing the wheel is not working smarter (although I intend to discuss how I bonded my own rabbits in a separate article, but mine seem to have all been the exceptions). Check the Houserabbit Society out.

3. Get them a different animal companion: People have had success pairing rabbits with small cats, guinea pigs, tortoises and even dogs (give them separate living quarters in every case). There is a huge huge huge (I can’t convey how huge this is) welfare issue if you shove two different species who have never met into a hutch together and lock the door, never to think about either animal again. Aside from that, I can’t see how you would manage mealtimes if the animals were housed together. Keep your cat in a cat place, your dog in a dog place, your bunny in a bunny place and your guinea pig in a guinea pig place, and let them have contact during supervised, managed playtimes. This is apparently a good option if you’ve got a rabbit who doesn’t get along with other rabbits – cats and rabbits have had good pairings. The main point is to do your research, gradually introduce the animals, be ready to separate them at the slightest, and make sure they’ve got their own places to go. Never, ever leave a rabbit unsupervised with a non-rabbit – there have been plenty of stories of rabbits and guinea pigs being left in hutches together and it always ends with dead guinea pigs. I could forsee this happening with the rabbit ending up seriously hurt if you left it alone with a dog, and with the cat, it could go either way depending on the temperament of the cat and the rabbit. Rabbits don’t often have the ability to make very loud noises to alert you to distress, so need housing separately to other pets. Train the dog or cat, make sure they’re tolerant, and make sure if you’ve got a cat or dog in the house that the rabbit gets regular vaccinations/boosters because the cat/dog could bring home RHV or Myxomatosis by contact with wild rabbits whilst walking or roaming.

4. Cuddly toys: If you can only have one rabbit, and don’t have as much time as you’d like (24/7 please) to adore your bunny and spend time with him, put some soft toys in their living space and around their hangouts. Banacek was an only rabbit for 18 months before we could get him a friend, and during that time he’s been given about four different cuddly toys, which he still looks after now. Sometimes we’ll see him positioning Squeakytoy (a 50p soft bodied dog toy) at the water bowl to drink. Sometimes he’s washing White Rabbit’s ears so they stay clean. Other times, he’s gone to sleep snuggled up to Brown Bunny. A little tinkle alerts us to the times he’s grooming Cat Ball (a baby toy) or Baby Bunny (another baby toy – Mothercare wanted us to know they’d replace it if it became damaged, then retracted this when we informed them it was for a rabbit). Check soft toys for safety when you buy them (this is why baby toys are the gold standard as far as I’m concerned, plus they’re usually more stimulating in the ways which rabbits are able to interact with toys) – button eyes, bits of edible plastic, etc are dealbreakers – and check them regularly for damage and remove/repair accordingly so they don’t ingest stuffing.

There are plenty of other ways you can make a fun and stimulating environment for your rabbit, to help avoid Bunny Brain Death: You’ve seen those rabbits in hutches that just sit there, not moving, not doing anything? Sometimes they gently rock back and forth for hours. I call it Bunny Brain Death, and I firmly believe it’s one of the reasons “outdoor” rabbits have traditionally had shorter lifespans than houserabbits.

Sebastian and Neville, our 100% outdoor rabbits, are kept well stocked with toys and interesting environments both in their hutch, shed and run (all of which they have 24/7 access to), and they are curious, interested rabbits who never just sit there. To summarize, make life interesting for your rabbit, and your rabbit will be interesting. Make your rabbit bored, and they will be boring. Unlike certain other “small” pets (c’mon, some rabbits are dog sized), they’re not stupid enough to repeat futile activities endlessly to amuse you.

Sebastian wonders if he is really the king of the castle or if it's all a social construct.
Our outdoor rabbits’ hutch is kept well-stocked with toys so they are mentally stimulated. Outdoor toys are changed more regularly. These ones were a variation on the indoor “cardboard castle” because a huge box wouldn’t fit in this hutch. Some of these toys were made from a Cookie Crisp box, others were made from corrugated cardboard and brown paper to give a variety of chewing texture.

[beauty] In Memory of Some Fine Lipsticks

In Memory of Some Fine Lipsticks:

Sadly, I have had to throw away all of my regular use lipsticks today. It’s been a difficult decision, but one I ultimately had to stand by for my own lips.

The two lipsticks, lip balm and lipgloss I had to throw away this morning. Sad times.

Here is a list of the casualties:

Estee Lauder Pure Color Long Lasting Lipstick in 117 Rose Tea
Avon Anew Plumping Balm in Rose Tint
Collection 2000 Plumping Lipgloss in 3 Lilac Crush
Collection 2000 Volume Sensation Lipstick in 1 Forever Heather

They were my four favourite lipwears, I’m not sure you can actually buy any of them any more (I was in Tesco the other day and couldn’t even see the Volume Sensation Lipstick) so I’m right outside my comfort zone with no lipwear at the moment – all my non-regular use lippies are unusual colours whereas these were all wearable on a daily basis without people passing comment. At this rate, I might have to wear my Bobbi Brown Neon Pink lipstick just because it’s nearest. At least until I get to the shop to buy my next new nude.  I might need to rethink my eyeshadow colours for a while, swapping my earth tone browns for pale pinks so they match better.

Why did I have to throw these away? I hear you wondering. Well it started 6 months ago – see, I’ve always had exceedingly good immunity to coldsores, and even when I get them, they barely show and I never feel them. This bump appeared on the centre of my lip, then it kept going away. About 2 months ago, I realised it was appearing every time I used my Volume Sensation lipstick, but I thought it was a side effect of the lipstick’s active ingredient – Maxilip – which isn’t sold any more and I don’t know why. So I carried on regardless because it was my best colour and I liked the plumping effect. Unfortunately, earlier this week, the bump got a whole lot worse – like, now it’s two huge coldsores in both corners of my mouth, with the same bump still off-centre. I am currently bombarding it all with Zovirax, and it’s actually sore. Problem is, about a month ago, I stopped using Volume Sensation in favour of the Avon Anew lipbalm, and in between I’ve been using the gloss and the Estee Lauder lipstick, because they’re all in my regular rotation. So I’ve given coldsores to all my lipsticks, and now they’re giving them back to me!

I’ve never had a problem like this before, but the amount of times they just keep coming back says to me that I need to just bin the lot of them and start afresh with brand new unopened lipsticks. So it is with a heavy heart that I binned them all earlier this morning. I feel they deserve a eulogy, but I don’t know what to say. I hope they don’t end up in the possession of a bin diver, they will be disappointed when they get coldsores (but it will totes serve them right for not understanding that things get thrown away for a reason).

I have, of course, also cracked open the Zovirax (aciclovir 5%) coldsore cream to try and kill this triumvirate of terror that’s making my lips look awful during Christmas season, but throwing away my lipsticks should definitely prevent another re-occurrence.

Now I need to do research and read reviews about which lipsticks to replace them with. Unless anyone has any recommendations?  I prefer nudes and plumpers that work for longer than just while they’re on your lips.

[hair] Doctrine of Colours

Doctrine of Colours:  How to work out what colours will come out like when you add them to your hair.

In medieval times, when monks ran apothecaries, and medicine came from plants, and Brother Cadfael wasn’t a character played by Derek Jacobi (although he does a stunning job), there was something called the Doctrine of Signatures. This was basically the way new plants were given uses, in an absence of any other information about the plant. For example, liverwort is a plant that was used to heal the liver because it has liver-shaped bits (liver: a distinctive shape). Heartsease has heart shaped leaves, and this led people to believe it would help the heart. Culpeper, the famous herbalist, wrote about this in his book Culpeper’s Herbal (not light reading). More general shaped plants such as Common Plantain were seen as a cure all because they didn’t resemble any specific part of the body.

Taking this into the realm of haircare, I applied colour theory to come up with a doctrine of colours that can be used to decide whether to put a product on your hair. Products won’t automatically do these things if you use them, it’s more of a “if this product does anything at all to the colour of my hair, it will do this” kind of thing:

Purple: Will neutralize yellow, aka “brassy tones.” Many people try to use it to get rid of orange. It doesn’t work on orange.

Blue: Works on orange tones. Blue will neutralize orange so you can get a cool dark blonde shade. In order to do this, it might make your hair look browner, because that unnatural orange + blue will add up to light brown (also, this is how to get light brown hair – take it to orange then add the right amount of blue).

Green: Works on red tones. Green is unpopular as a hair product colourant but if it was more popular, you could use it to get rid of a bright red if you wanted to turn your hair brown again, or to get rid of a tomato stain, although it will keep the darkness of the red staining.

Yellow: Makes hair yellow. It’s a relatively large colour molecule so it stands out with minimal interference from outside products.

Orange: Makes hair orange. It’s also a large colour molecule compared to purple or blue. Will mostly wash out when added to light blonde hair, meaning you might need to repeat-colour it to make it stick better.

Red: Makes hair red. Use a permanent red or orange before trying to dye blonde hair back to brown it makes the brown stick for longer and the colour comes out better. Will mostly wash out when added to light blonde hair, leaving a reddish tinge, so repetition may be necessary.

White: Will not change hair tone.

Black: Avoid like the plague if you are blonde.

Grey: may add grey tones to your hair.

Are you wondering this: Why do half the colours just go the same colour and the other half go to a different colour?

It’s to do with the base colourings of hair. Inside the hair shaft, all the way up to pure white, there are colour molecules of red, orange and yellow, of varying proportions. The red orange and yellow molecules inside your hair are much larger, which is why it takes more effort to remove them than the blue, green and purple molecules. By the time you take your hair across to white or silver, there should really only be a bit of yellow left in any visible amount. You can’t get rid of every yellow molecule or your hair would be empty inside, like a drinking straw, which would be transparent and easily squashed (which it is to a fair extent at yellow, but it would be worse than already). At the point at which there are no colour molecules at all left inside the hair shaft, the hair turns to jelly and dissolves. You need to leave some slight amount of yellow tones in your hair.

Personally I prefer to take my longer layers of hair to a slightly brighter yellow than the internet recommends – I keep it at that day glo yellow, rather than leaving the dye on until very very pale yellow, then I rely on toning to do the rest. Toning yellow hair is the same no matter how much yellow is left – as long as the orange is all gone, it works fine. The colour result is just a shade of silver that’s slightly duller than it would have been if I left the bleach on for longer, but I feel confident that my hair is safer. I take the top (shorter layers) to palest yellow and it all blends together to give a natural result so I will continue to do this, because the top layers would naturally be brighter than the bottom layers as that’s where the sun would hit if I let my hair anywhere near it without a hat or scarf.

This is all super important because in order to get white or silver or platinum hair, you need to know what colours will do what to your hair, and what products to avoid (for example, never put red, yellow or orange coloured shampoos or products on hair that’s white, silver or platinum).

Silver hair - No I don't wear extensions!
My silver hair Dec 7th 2014; see how the longer layers are intentionally a darker silver than the shorter layers. 

What is “all natural,” and what are “chemicals?”

What is “all natural” and what are “chemicals?”

I am going to discuss what these two terms ought to mean, and what they really mean. Before anyone’s all like “how surprising,” this actually is surprising to a lot of people.  I have known about this issue for a very long time, because I was lucky enough to find out when I was a child, and have since grown my understanding, but some people aren’t afforded that luxury.  Don’t be sending me or other people hate for bringing this out into the open – it’s about time people stopped being too afraid of looking dumb to ask real questions about science, which means arrogant people have to stop looking down on those individuals who don’t have the same educational background, and create a learning environment.

I am very disillusioned with the ingredients industries (cosmetics, food and pharmaceutical industries) because a long time ago, they created two nonsensical phrases that they can put on more expensive products and get you to buy them, believing you’re doing the right thing for the environment, the animals, and of course, your body. Unfortunately, some very unethical companies have really cashed in on this, and are drowning out the genuine well-intentioned companies with products derived from plants they’ve grown and harvested themselves.

Those companies are real, I will say that from the beginning. I have nothing but love for products made from olive oil, coconut anything, and any of my favourite herbs.  Whether they’re “natural” or “chemical free” is neither here nor there.

Since the terms “all natural” and “no chemicals” are effectively undefinable, they are being put on the packaging for all sorts of crap you’d never want to own in a million years, let alone justify the price tag.

Lets start with chemicals.

A few years ago, a governor tried to bring a bill to the Senate in America to ban the use of dihydrogen monoxide. Her list of the dangers of this terrible chemical was huge – it was known to be deadly in small amounts, it was colourless and odourless, meaning you might not be able to detect its presence, it’s chemical basis, hydroxyl radical, had been shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters in humans and all other animals. This chemical is found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds. It’s used in shampoo, conditioner, hair colourant, it can also be found in biological and chemical weapons manufacture and it’s an industrial solvent.

Based on this information, 86% of Americans would support a ban on dihydrogen monoxide. Would you?

I haven’t given you any important information on what dihydrogen monoxide actually is, and when the facts are twisted this way, when a harmless compound is given its chemical nomenclature (the names by which everything in the universe is known to scientists), it sounds more dangerous.

Does this picture give you a clue as to what dihydrogen monoxide actually is?

dihydrogen monoxide aka DHMO

It’s water. If you were ready to sign a petition to ban water, can you see how easily ingredients companies twist the facts to their advantage to try and get you to avoid common ingredients, so you spend more money on things that don’t contain chemicals?

Everything in the universe is made from chemicals. You know about the Periodic Table, right? That everything that possibly exists is made of atoms, and that these atoms are all elements, which are the things with the symbols on the periodic table. I use the Periodic Table symbols for Platinum (Pt) and Silver (Ag) to make writing “platinum and silver blonde” quicker, by saying “Pt and Ag blonde” instead. That’s all those chemical names are. They’re just a way of calling an ingredient by its exact combination of elements in its molecules so that we can reproduce the same things again and again. Take salt water. It’s totally natural, but it’s chemical name could reasonably be sodium chloride dihydrogen monoxide. Doesn’t that sound horrible? But it’s totally precise (hardcore nomenclaturists are crying right now at my simplification).

This is important because of this: In science, lots of similar molecules are all called “salts” including sodium chloride – sea salt – but also sodium iodide, potassium fluoride, and potassium chloride, to name but a few. Some of them behave very differently to others.  In science, it pays to be exact about ingredients names. In fact, labelling law in some countries forbids the manufacturers from calling a lot of things by their normal names, to avoid confusion. For example, did you know that the plant known in England as plantain, hailed as one of the seven miracle herbs of the Celtic world, is not even remotely related to Caribbean plantain, which is a savoury banana. You can buy plantain chips in the Caribbean aisle of the English supermarket, but they’re made of Caribbean plantain, which could be confusing! To make it more confusing, rabbits can eat plantain (from England) but not plantain (from the Caribbean)! This is the exact reason that scientists have given everything in the world a chemical name. Every single thing.

So the only thing anyone could sell that would truly contain “no chemicals” would be a big jar of nothing! And even then, the jar is made of chemicals such as glass, stone or plastic. Manufacturers really cash in on this meaningless term because they can bend it to mean whatever they want it to mean. One minute, “no chemicals” means “nothing with a ‘y’ in it” another it means “no metals” (salt is 50% metal), they pick the meaning, don’t explain it to us customers, and charge us more money for the product because it’s supposed to be healthier.

As customers, we expect “no chemicals” to mean something we can’t quite define – nothing unhealthy or made in a lab, for starters. Something healthier, or that’s more natural. I would like the phrase “no chemicals” to be banned by labelling laws.

Everything’s Natural

Natural is another word that should be banned from all packaging. Everything we have on this planet is natural. People often think scientists go round attaching atoms to each other to make molecules with special properties, the so-called “secret formula” of outdated horror movies.

Scientists like these are as non-existent and unreal as the vampires, werewolves, golems and slime monsters they invent or destroy in those films. I promise you. I’m a fully qualified chemistry teacher and I have worked in a pharmacy, and I have never once seen scientists create nearly-magic stuff from nothing. I repeat, everything we have, everything we’ve made, it’s all come from our natural planet. But that doesn’t mean you’d want to eat it. What you’re expecting from “all natural” products seems obvious – plant derived, herbs, cleansing energy, ancient goodness, things you could make in your kitchen. Unfortunately, that’s not always what products contain when they’re labelled “all natural.”

Often, subversive companies use the “all natural” or “natural ingredients” type labelling to make you think something is more wholesome than it really is. For example, Walkers Sensations were claiming their crisps (potato chips) were “made with natural ingredients.” Let’s break this down and define it by what it isn’t:

Supernatural means anything that occurs which is physically unexplainable.
Unnatural means “not natural.”

Natural means anything that occurs which is physically possible and explainable by the triple discipline of biology-physics-chemistry (aka science) through empirical means (in other words, by testing it).

Therefore everything in the universe that can be explained by physics is natural.

I asked a physicist if crisps were explainable by biology chemistry and physics. He agreed. There may have been investigator bias because I am a chemist asking the question and I already knew the answer, but I don’t think it affected his answer because it’s a simple “natural or supernatural.”

When you look at labelling, this is the definition that is often used.

The other definition, and the one people expect “natural” to mean, is “occurs in nature.” Crisps don’t occur in nature, you don’t just find them lying around. The label did say natural ingredients, so I will point out bottles of vegetable oil (the second ingredient on the back) aren’t just sitting around in the jungle waiting to be picked up, a plant has to be processed to get it. Face creams, soaps, shower gels, miso soups, and tubs of beans don’t occur in nature. They have all been subjected to a process even if that process is simply mixing them together. If we were to say natural means “any ingredient that occurs in nature, that has been processed and combined with other ingredients” then anything in the universe could be classed as natural. The use of the word is completely binary, with no middle ground. Therefore, if a law were to regulate use of the word natural, you wouldn’t be able to put it on any natural products because you wouldn’t find them occuring in nature with “natural” labels on them. The only 100% natural way of life is to become fruitarian. Which as I discuss elsewhere is shockingly unhealthy and lacks amino acids in the quantities needed for brain, muscle and organ function in humans over the long term (but sounds very romantic). So no, that toothpaste isn’t natural, and yes, that orange is natural, and they’re both made of chemicals, because all things in nature are made 100% from chemicals (check out the “Periodic Table of Elements – also called “the periodic table of CHEMICAL elements”) and they’re all completely natural.


Natural and no-chemicals labelling has become a marketing ruse to get you to pay over the odds for a less effective product because then they don’t have to actually spend time and money on Research and Development to make a product that functionally competes with the brand leaders.

The ideals of the original companies that began labelling their products with these words have been subverted by large corporations and smaller swindling start-ups for financial gain, because you can’t prove that anything (even 2-hydroxypropanoic acid*) is not natural.

* 2-hydroxypropanoic acid is also called lactic acid and is made in the human body, it builds up in muscles after exercise causing that familiar stiff feeling.