Every day there are headlines highlighting the dangers of chemicals that can be found in our food supply. Consumers are more aware than ever about the dangers of chemicals in processed food or pesticides that are used to grow our fruits and vegetables. People are reading nutrition labels and choosing to buy organic. Yay!
Not only is there an increase in awareness about what we put IN our body but also what we put ON our body. Double Yay!
Our skin is the largest organ of the body. Think of your skin as your flexible shield. "On guard!"
This thin shield at only a few millimeters thick, has the prime job of protecting blood vessels, muscles, bones and tendons. It shields your body from bacteria and UV radiation. Your skin allows you to feel the sensation of touch, heat, cold, pressure, itching and pain. Skin also functions as a large storeroom for the body: The deepest layer of skin can store water, fat and metabolic products. And it produces hormones that are important for the whole body. Your flexible shield also regulates body temperature, water loss and some nutrient levels.
As you can see, our skin is extremely important and almost magical since it can actually repair itself. Imagine if our bodies still displayed every scrape, cut, or bruise that we ever received. Ewww. David.
Well, if our skin is so magical doesn't it protect us from absorbing chemicals that may be in skin care products? Sorry, unfortunately this is where our flexible shield can fail us. Darn.
Or benefit us as in pain medication via a transdermal patch, or the topical application of magnesium, or other nutrients. Oh nice.
Our bodies are capable of absorbing all kinds of chemicals or nutrients through the skin. This is called dermal absorption. It is the transport of an ingredient from the outer surface of the skin into the body. Chemicals commonly used in skin care products could potentially result in systemic toxicity or bioaccumulation. As these chemicals enter the blood stream they can cause a myriad of health problems if they are not flushed away by the body.
In an eye opening study conducted by the CDC, researchers sampled the blood of 10,000 subjects in an effort to determine 'chemical body burden'. They found that all samples contained hundreds of various synthetic chemicals. Huh? Yep, our bodies are contaminated with synthetic chemicals that linger in our bodies and can take decades to break down, if ever.
What?! That's right. You most likely have at least 700 different synthetic chemicals in your body that shouldn't be there. What's maybe even more alarming is that these chemicals mix with each other to create a "cocktail effect". One single chemical may have no effect on its own. Yet, it may have damaging effects when combined with other chemicals in a so-called ‘cocktail’. Now I'm thirsty.
What sources contribute to this cocktail that none of us want?
This information may make it feel like it is impossible to avoid toxic substances and we wish we could say that isn't true but our mama's taught us not to lie. Even people living in remote areas that grow their own food have been shown to have many toxins floating around in their bloodstreams. So cancel your moving plans and lets talk about what we can do to stay as healthy and chemical free as possible. I'm listening.
Bioaccumulation occurs when an organism (that's you) absorbs a toxic substance at a rate greater than that at which the substance is eliminated.
Your body has some remarkable filters; liver, kidneys, spleen, and the lymphatic system. These organs are like buckets. They work hard around the clock to filter out things that your body doesn't need. They would be the opposite of a hoarder. You may even hear them whisper "nope, nope, don't need that - let's throw it out". But over time some items settle to the bottom of the bucket - much like a junk drawer that is in desperate need of reorganizing. The more toxins you throw at your body's filters; the harder they have to work.
Now I have a mental image of the oil change employee holding up my car's filthy air filter and shaking his head at the long overdue oil/filter change. If only it were that easy to just drive up and get a new liver when ours becomes filthy. Ha. Funny.
Overtime with repeated toxin exposure our buckets may begin to overflow.
Who put all this stuff in the junk drawer anyway?
The result is a body that doesn't function properly. And as unique as our fingerprints, our bodies react and behave to this overload differently. It may appear in the form of hair loss, acne, brain fog, weight gain, rashes, fatigue, indigestion and even dementia. Many doctors believe that this toxin overload is the beginning of disease and cancer formation.
Here is our list of the big No No's. Read your labels and if you see any of these ingredients - Run. Or at least put it back on the shelf.
A great resource is EWG's Skin Deep. You can type in any ingredient and learn about the risks associated with it. It's a resource that our team uses before we work with any new ingredient.
It certainly can feel overwhelming as chemicals are all around us and we can't control everything. The good news is that if we can reduce exposures -even just a little bit- it does make a difference.
UC Berkeley researchers led a study where they had teenage girls take a three day break from personal care products containing parabens, phthalates, and other chemicals of concern. After just three days, the levels of all these chemicals dropped in the girls' urine samples by 27-45 %. See just a small change can have an immediate positive impact! Good to know.
By choosing to avoid parabens (Mr. Hormone Disrupters), or turning your nose up at "fragrance" (AKA endocrine disrupting phthalates) P.U., you're making a worthwhile difference in the toxic load on your body. Look for natural ingredients as opposed to synthetic. Synthetic ingredients are created and processed in a lab, and have no ties to nature or the natural world at all. These ingredients are derived from petrochemicals and often created to mimic what nature provides. Many (most) skin care manufacturers prefer synthetic because these ingredients are cheaper and more readily available.
And since we cannot drive to Jiffy Lube and get a new filter for our bodies, make sure you help those filters by:
Don't rely on the government or a company to tell you that something is safe. Do your research and read labels. Just because the front of a lotion bottle has the word "natural" or "organic" doesn't mean that on the ingredient list you won't find a cocktail of toxins. How sneaky!
Now run off and enjoy life. Don't stress the small stuff. Read your labels. Eat more cranberries. And clean out your junk drawer.
It's our 3rd birthday and we couldn't be more excited. We survived another year even during a pandemic. WHEW! Not too bad considering 30% of all small businesses fail in their first 2 years.
Fingers crossed we can keep pushing forward.
Birthdays are a time for reflection. And I've been thinking a lot lately about all the things we've learned in our 3 years as a small family business.
Here are my top 8 business reflections:
1. We all start somewhere.
We had the vision. We had the idea. We bought some equipment. But now what?
After months of trial and error, my husband figured out how to cold press a tiny little seed and extract the most nourishing oil on the market. He always said it's "the best oil that no one knows about". We worked hard on building connections, making cold calls, and talking about our oil to anyone that cared to listen. It was a rough start. Nothing was easy. Nothing fell into our laps (well except for some splashed oil I suppose).
Then along came the idea to begin formulating products with our cranberry seed oil. What started out as 2 products handcrafted in our kitchen has grown to over 50 SKU's produced (still by hand) in our very own food grade facility.
We had so much to learn in the beginning and we STILL have so much to learn. But that's good, right? Keeps life exciting.
"If you are always waiting for the perfect time, you'll never get started."
2. You're only as good as the last product you've made.
Thankfully, we have had a pretty good track record. It's probably because I tend to be a perfectionist (maybe even a bit of a control freak). In over 3 years of selling products, we can count the number of complaints on 1 hand. Seriously. But for me, an unhappy customer makes me feel like a failure. It will honestly keep me awake at night. Every product that heads out our door has to be perfect. We work hard at being consistent and making sure everyone on the Queen B Team values their part in the process.
"Mistakes are proof that you are trying."
3. Working with your family is a gift not to be taken for granted.
When we started Queen B, it was just my husband and I. Along the way, we have hired on both of our children. Our son Chase, is instrumental on the cranberry marsh but also extremely talented when it comes to fabricating and problem solving equipment malfunctions in our plant. Our daughter Kyla, joined Queen B almost 2 years ago. She left her corporate finance job in downtown Minneapolis to run our office and make sure we are making wise financial decisions. I love how both of our children can not only work with each other (and get along) but also with my husband and I. Whether our business has hit a speed bump or is soaring high, it's nice to know that we have each other for this crazy ride.
"Behind every successful small business is a family."
4. A disruption in the supply chain can wreck havoc on a small business quickly.
Holy schnikes! Dang Covid has had us searching the world over for ingredients, labels and containers. It seems every time I try to place an order; the product is backordered. Some of our "go to" suppliers have gone completely out of business. Some have temporarily closed their doors. While others are also left scratching their heads looking for supplies. We've learned to have a back up plan, watch inventory closely and stock up when given the chance.
"Keep Calm. It's the new normal."
5. Support from friends and family is priceless.
We cannot explain in words what it means when a friend or family member supports our venture. Whether it is by liking posts on social media, giving a product review, sharing our business with others, or buying Queen B products, those acts do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. We have been amazed over and over again at the outpouring of love and support from friends near and far. We certainly wouldn't be celebrating 3 years without that kind of support. It has taught us the importance of supporting small businesses and shopping local.
"Behind every successful woman is a tribe of women who have her back."
6. As a small family business you have to be willing to do everything.
Sometimes I wonder as I am sweeping the plant floor, if Jeff Bezos would be willing to pick up a broom or a toilet brush.
As a small business, we just don't have the luxury of saying no. We have to be willing to handle all aspects of the
job-even the dirty ones. Fortunately, we have been able to hire several employees and it is wonderful to have the extra help. No matter how much our business grows I hope that we are never too proud to pick up a mop.
"Humble yourself. Or life will do it for you."
7. You find excitement in purchasing odd things - like a new shipping scale.
Seriously. Every time we can improve our productivity and organization, it's like Christmas morning in this place. I also find myself looking at online equipment auctions. My favorite is Wisconsin Surplus Online Auction. I spend spare time searching and thinking 'hey we could really use a kick butt Hobart mixer' or (more likely) 'hmm I wonder what that thing is used for?'
I just recently added to my wish list a new bottle filler. We have a bottle filler but she is on her last leg or at least on our employees last nerve. We need one that is easy to use and fills quickly and precisely. Hey, a girl can dream.
"Work hard so you can shop harder."
8. You never stop thinking about your business.
All day. Every day.
From new product development, social media posts, responding to emails, or wondering why the last batch of lotion didn't turn out right. I just wish sometimes there was an off button. But...
"Success doesn't come from what you do on occasion, it comes from what you do consistently."
So to all of our customers - past, present and future - we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Your support gives fuel to our passion of creating a brand that offers quality skin care that does more good than harm.
No one will argue the fact that we are facing challenging times in 2020. It has been a year full of doubts, fear, anger and hostility. We are constantly drifting through a sea of medical terms, statistics, and images that are disturbing. We want to hear the truth but we no longer know who is telling the truth.
We are finding ourselves isolated and uncertain what the future holds. This pandemic has robbed us of our freedom to experience milestones in our families; weddings, graduations, proms and birthday parties.
We are not only struggling within our families, but businesses, education and healthcare are finding themselves dazed and confused. In the scope of just 4 months we have witnessed drastic changes.
All of us are wondering...
Will things ever return to normal?
While no one knows exactly what the future holds there are steps we can take to make sure we keep our minds healthy.
We cannot control the wind, but we can adjust the sails.
So what should we do?
1. Practice positive thinking
It's a lot easier to think about all the things that are going wrong than to remember the things that are going right. You can control that natural tendency by finding positive things to focus on. Before going to bed each night, say out loud five things you are thankful for. It may be the same five things every night. This shift in thinking will help you to live a life of gratitude. If you find yourself struggling to get through a day - stop- and quickly say five positive things in your life.
2. Spend time outside
Take a walk in a park. Float down the river. Tend to a garden. It's hard to ignore the benefits of some fresh air and sunshine.
3. Focus on your basic needs
Make sure you are eating healthy and getting enough rest. Keep being social. Reach out to family and friends even if its just a text or phone call.
4. Keep social media and news in balance
Schedule a time during the day where you can catch up on news and connect on social media. It is better to set aside a small amount of time each day to do this than to allow information to continually invade your piece of mind. Sort through the information and then move on with your day. If daily sessions are too much, consider having an entire day or even a week that is completely free of information. Your mind and body will thank you.
5. Invest in yourself
Follow your dreams, learn a new skill and never feel guilty or ashamed for taking care of you.
Self-care is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.
Have you become familiar with this term yet? Green Washing is when a company uses advertising and/or packaging to make a product seem more of a clean healthy product than what it really is. The product is perhaps free of one particular toxin but is actually host to a variety of known toxic ingredients.
It can be daunting standing in the personal care isle at your local store trying to navigate through countless products.
Who has time to read the tiny print on the back? We often quickly read the front, notice a few eye catching words and throw it in our cart. For example, recently I was in need of more shampoo. Unfortunately, shampoo is one product that Queen B does not carry. I stood in the aisle looking over the myriad of choices that stood before me. I was in a hurry. My eyes focused on a lovely green bottle (plant colored). On the front I see that it has natural oils and essential oils like Tea Tree.
Hmmm. It looks like it has to be healthier than many others that I see on the shelf.
I flip the bottle over and see in large print that this shampoo is also free of SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate). Huh! Must be good. Right?
I throw it in my cart and get on with my shopping chore.
Now let's do a little research on the list of ingredients for my newly purchased hydrating TeaTree Mint Shampoo.
Cetrimonium Chloride (a preservative): Contributes to allergies and immunotoxicity (has adverse effects on our local and systemic immune system)
Diazolidinyl Urea (is an antimicrobial preservative that works by forming formaldehyde in cosmetic products): Also a known allergen and causes immunotoxicity
Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate (a water-based preservative agent that comes from the carbamate chemical family. It has been used for years as a preservative in water-based paints, metal-working fluids and as a wood preservative): Toxicant or allergen
Yellow 5 (synthetic food dye tartrazine): Causes organ system toxicity
Fragrance: ( Ingredient not fully labeled - identity unknown) This is the scariest. Manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals in a product if they use the word 'fragrance'. Many chemicals disguised as fragrance irritate our respiratory system, are bad for the environment, and causes human immune system toxicity or allergies.
You can see how difficult it is to figure out what is safe without a degree in chemistry. I thought I grabbed something fairly healthy and it turns out to be a slurry of disgusting chemicals.
1938 The last time any cosmetic legislation was passed in the US
Check out a recently released documentary (on Amazon & Apple TV) called "Toxic Beauty". It is an eye opener about what we apply to our bodies on a daily basis. What I walked away learning is that it isn't just one product but actually the accumulation of a number of products that we need to be concerned about. We need to reduce the chemical burden on our bodies and that of our children.
Toxic Beauty Documentary Trailer
Vogue: The New Toxic Beauty Documentary Asks: Are Skin-Care Products the New Cigarettes?
Here at Queen B we do our best to vet every single ingredient that we use. We check EWG's site to learn about possible toxicity. We never use fragrances and we are forever searching for the highest quality ingredients from trusted vendors. It's a huge feat and expensive. We know it would be easier to use the cheap synthetic chemicals that most companies use. We also know that it would be easier to use chemical stabilizers and harsh preservatives. But that is not what we are about. We strive to bring our customers pure, clean, good for you products.
Even if you make the switch with just one of your daily product applications to a healthier version , think about the long term effects. Think about how you can lessen the burden on your body to flush out unnecessary toxins that you slather on.
Be a smarter consumer and don't be fooled by companies that Green Wash.
B wiser. B more diligent. B more beautiful!
Did you know that magnesium is involved in more than 300 reactions in your body? In fact, every cell in your body contains it and needs it to function. Here are just a few examples of how magnesium works in your body:
We all need magnesium every day. And most (some estimates are 80%) of us aren't getting enough through our diets. Our modern diet and lifestyles have made magnesium a drastically less abundant mineral in our bodies.
What are some symptoms of low magnesium?
Our Pain B Gone uses pure magnesium chloride harvested from the ancient Zechstein seabed in the Netherlands. This naturally occuring mineral contains over 90+ trace minerals. Magnesium chloride is transdermal which means that it can be absorbed through the skin. Today, we know that many substances we apply to the skin are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
Who can benefit from transdermal magnesium?
Everyone! Not only does topical magnesium treat sore muscles but it can help with chronic body pain and restless legs. It has been shown to promote better sleep, relieve stress and tension, and ease hormonal issues. We have heard from numerous customers that our Pain B Gone helped alleviate pain and stiffness of arthritis.
Why not just take a magnesium supplement?
Many people suffer GI upset when taking magnesium orally. What's more, much of the mineral is excreted out of our body as it tends to act as a laxative when taken orally. Studies show that topical magnesium is a fast, effective way to increase magnesium levels. Transdermal magnesium has - through a growing number of trials and studies - proven to be more effective than oral supplements in delivering magnesium to the body.
How about using the magnesium spray?
The trouble with using magnesium spray is that most people are sensitive to it when applied in this fashion. Many say that it irritates and stings their skin. Our Pain B Gone actually soothes and nourishes your skin all the while delivering magnesium to your body.
Doesn't epsom salts do the same thing?
Epsom salts are magnesium sulphate not magnesium chloride. Epsom salts are beneficial but are less concentrated than magnesium chloride.
How fast can I expect results?
Our proprietary blend utilizes the power of cranberry seed oil. Cranberry seed oil is balanced in Omega 3, 6, & 9. This balance allows better absorption into deeper layers of the skin. According to some reports, magnesium chloride is absorbed transdermally in just 90 seconds. The only way you could absorb it faster is with an IV. Some people have noticed instant relief while others report finding success after applying it every day for a week or more. Everyone is different and everyone's body reacts differently.
How should I use Pain B Gone?
Massage the lotion into affected areas as needed. We use only natural oils and butters. No preservatives, chemicals or artifical fragrances. You can expect the lotion to melt on contact with your warm skin. Continue massaging it into the skin. If you suffer from migraines or headaches, some people have noted relief by applying to the neck and/or skull. If you suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome, apply to lower legs just before bed. We've noted the best results are from applying it daily.
How much should I use?
We don't think you should worry too much about the amount you use. If you are getting good results then you know it's working. It's hard to have too much since each day magnesium is depleted in the body. Each teaspoon of our Pain B Gone contains approximately 600mg of magnesium. That said, the exact amount that is absorbed isn't perfectly known. So finding the right dose can be a matter of trial and error and see what makes you feel best.
When should I apply Pain B Gone?
Magnesium is essential for energy production at the cellular level but it also promotes relaxation. You can apply it at any time of the day! If you are getting enough magnesium, it will help you feel energized but it will also allow you to relax and sleep better. So, you can apply it at any time of the day. You may want to try applying it after a strenuous workout, or when you are feeling tense, or just before you slip into bed.
Our Pain B Gone is fast becoming a customer favorite with fans all around the United States. Grab yourself a jar today and see what it can do for you!
**Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials. **
The overwhelming question we hear at Queen B is "What does cranberry seed oil do?".
The answer should be "What doesn't it do!"
Everyone knows (if our cranberry marketing committee is doing it's job) that cranberries are considered the Super Fruit. Here's why...
Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) contain:
As if that's not enough, cranberries also have strong bioactive plant compounds and antioxidants - of particular interest is flavonol polyphenols.
So now imagine taking all of that healthy goodness and condensing it into tiny little seeds. Seeds house the embryo and all the information necessary for a plant to grow and thrive. The seed is chocked full of the same protein, vitamins and minerals that are in the berry. When those precious little seeds are carefully handled and cold -pressed; you get a rich, vibrant, healthy oil. Our cold- pressed oil has better nutritive properties than those that have undergone the refining process. This is because the cold-pressing procedure does not involve heat or chemical treatments, which may alter their composition and therapeutic effects.
Another benefit of cranberry seed oil is it's unique molecular make up. The perfect ratio of Omega 3, 6 and 9 means that the nutrients in the oil are able to pass through the skin barrier. Additionally, the free fatty acids found in cranberry seed oil can act as permeability enhancers for other products applied with the oil.
You'll like how the oil almost instantly is absorbed into your skin. You'll love how hydrated and soft your skin becomes.
Fresh squeezed cranberry seeds from Wisconsin = beautiful healthy skin!
Sometimes I feel like I should wrap myself in bubble wrap to protect against the onslaught of chemicals that my body is bombarded with each day. But then I think about the BPA and other things that are infused into bubble wrap and I come to my senses. Since we started on this journey of creating natural skin care products, I've stumbled across some facts that are truly frightening. I've become so much more aware of what I am putting on and in my body all the while trying to maintain a sensible approach to living in this chemical filled world where big company profits endanger us all.
Did you know that it's perfectly legal for a company to use ingredients that are linked to cancer, reproductive harm and endocrine disruption in personal care products? That's because the industry is largely unregulated. Furthermore, companies can use terms like 'fragrance', which is considered a trade secret so that they don't have to list the multitude of chemicals that are present. We are not talking about trace amounts either. Many body care products contain substantial amounts of complex chemical compounds that are proven to be harmful.
Not alarmed yet?
These chemicals can bio accumulate. That means with repeated exposure they will build up in tissue. Take for example glyphosate, the main component of Round Up weed killer. In a recent study it shows that we have become essentially carriers for glyphosate in our bodies.
You probably pee glyphosate!
In fact, the study showed that there is a 1200% increase of this chemical inside of us. All the while the government is telling you that it is safe (remember money talks).
1200 Percent Increase of Weed Killer In Your Body
You really need to read labels and not just grab something off the shelf that is labeled Organic or Natural. These terms have little meaning in the largely unregulated personal care industry. Natural means "existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind" so in theory that could be lead, aluminum, talcum powder, petrochemicals, and mineral oil. All of which have been linked to cause anything from irritation to cancer. Plus companies rely on a self made marker that as long as x% of ingredients are natural they will call their product Natural.
This article Toxic Ingredients to Avoid In So-Called Natural Personal Care Products will show you how you are being taken advantage of by some companies. I know of one company in particular that claims it has Organic Cranberry Seed Oil when in fact it does not have any organic certification. Companies can get away with calling something organic because they can say their product is derived from living matter. Be careful. Investigate. Don't be bamboozled.
As consumers, we can be more proactive by reading labels and looking up ingredients. Two great places to search for ingredients in skin care products are:
Campain for Safe Cosmetics
EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database
To make my anxiety even greater and looking for the bubble wrap, I have been reading Feeding You Lies by Vani Hari.
Amazing what the food industry will do to make a dollar. Did you know that large companies have people on their payroll or will create "Advisory Committees" that will fight real scientists and activists that are trying to show a particular ingredient is harmful?
It seems that we have to be our own best advocates. Be skeptical of claims. Do more research. Don't believe everything you read. And know that if we as consumers start demanding quality products that do us more good than harm, companies will have to meet those demands if they want to sell us products.
I'm not a scientist, nutritionist or a doctor but I can research and try to make the best choices in what I choose to put on and in my body. All of which benefits our product line at Queen B. I don't pretend to know all the facts.
This journey has opened my eyes and I realize that we don't need harmful chemicals to be clean, healthy or beautiful.
So for now, I'll leave the bubble wrap on the shelf... Besides I just googled Bubble Wrap and saw headlines that the bubbles contain a toxic gas.
Here in Wisconsin there have been a few signs that our season is about to change. Crickets magically appear in the basement. A few leaves have decided that they've had enough of chlorophyll. Kids are back in school. Football has started. The nights are cooler which means I've been digging in my closet looking for forgotten sweatshirts. And sitting around the fire pit with an Oktoberfest beer in hand is the highlight at the end of a long week.
We've had an unusually hot and humid summer. I've lived in Wisconsin my entire life and I don't ever remember a summer that could cause you to sweat just by breathing. I love summer and gave it all I could to not complain about that gosh darn humidity. But it was oppressive at times. It was a challenge to dry our cranberry seeds with so much humidity in the air. It felt as though we were working in a sweat shop. We do have labor laws about that right?
I'm not sure I'd be happy living in a state that doesn't experience the 4 seasons. There is something so refreshing, so renewing, about the change. Each season brings it's own to do list and a menu of activities to choose from. We also get a host of chores that must be done before the next season appears. We are hardy as Wisconsinites and we know that we have to be prepared. I spent today putting away a few pieces of outdoor furniture, painting the front door, washing windows and hauling firewood. I also had the urge to make chicken noodle soup. Strange things happen when the thermometer barely reaches 70 degrees.
Things are happening quickly on our marsh as we prepare for harvest in just a few weeks. We've been interviewing for harvest help, taking water and berry samples to be tested, checking on harvest equipment, talking with brokers, and preparing for our food safety audit.
Sunshine and cooler weather help the berries turn from green to red. But this also means that someone has to stand guard and make sure that the berries don't freeze. Once it gets to about 35 degrees we fire up the irrigation to protect the crop from frost. Luckily, I've never been burdened with that job. A wise woman once said "never learn to drive the tractor". In this case, I never learned how to turn on the irrigation. Probably similar to how my husband doesn't know how to run the dishwasher...
So now we sit and wait on those little berries. They will let us know when they are ready by turning bright red. I guess it's when they have had enough of this season and are ready to take a long winters nap.