My Natural Personal Hygiene and Preventative Health Care

Robin Greenfield bathing in the river.
A Fresh PerspectiveConsciousnessDownsizingEnvironmentFood and DietForagingForget Money / Demonetize LifeFreedomHealthy, Happy LivingIntentional LivingMinimalismPersonalResource ConservationSelf AppreciationSimple LivingSustainable LivingUncategorizedZero Waste

What We Do to Our Bodies, We Do to Earth

What we do to our bodies, we do to Earth and to the communities of life on Earth.
This belief is central to my choice to practice a very natural personal hygiene. 

My life is an experiment with truth and integrity. This experiment carries over into every facet of my life. With everything I think, everything I say, everything I do, I seek truth and integrity. What I put on my body and how I treat my body is no different. 

The dominator culture has a dominator relationship with our bodies. as if they are something to overcome. Something to live in fear over. Something to be ashamed of. I have chosen to transcend the dominator relationship I once had with my body and to instead choose harmony. I choose instead to embrace millions of years of evolution. I embrace millions of years of co-evolution, co-existing with the many plants, animals, fungi and bacteria that permeate nature. 

I Believe in the Human Body

To put it simply, I believe in the human body. I believe in my body. This is central to my choice to practice natural hygiene. 

I once thought I needed it all. I had an entire cabinet full of products to put on my body. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, lotion, cologne, face wash, mouthwash and chapstick, just to name a few. Society told me I needed all these products. The advertisements told me I needed all of these products.  I believed what I was told. In 2011, I learned that mainstream society didn’t have it all figured out. (Watch: The Story of Cosmetics). I learned that most of these corporations’ primary objective was not my health, but their personal profit. Often profit was prioritized at my own health and the health of Earth, humanity and our plant and animal relatives.
I document my awakening to the body care industry and my transition into natural personal hygiene here. 

My personal hygiene is just that – personal. There’s a lot of us who don’t talk about our hygiene. Through societal programming, there is substantial shame and embarrassment around discussing the depth of our hygiene. This inability to talk about our own bodies does not serve us as a humanity and only furthers corporations’ ability to prey upon our insecurities and our lack of connection and understanding of our own bodies. Thus, with great joy, I speak about my personal hygiene in resistance to the dominator culture and systems of oppression and exploitation, in resistance to corporate control and mainstream societal norms. As a service to those who are looking to break free. 

It is also a service to myself, in my own personal liberation. 

I Am Connected to My Body

I am connected to my body. And in being truly connected to my body, I know that my body is connected to Earth and to a deeply complex community of life. In fact, we now know that each of us humans is actually composed of more bacterial cells than we are human cells. There is bacteria on every surface of our skin and almost everywhere inside of us. We now know that without this bacteria we would cease to exist. We would die. These thousands of species of bacteria help us to carry out many of our daily tasks, including digesting our food and assimilating nutrients into our body. These bacteria affect our thoughts and our mood. They can even influence us to eat what they want to eat! Our skin is our largest organ, yes, but without the bacteria on our skin, it would cease to function and we’d be plagued with many problems. Instead of practicing a “war on germs”, I embrace these bacteria as part of my own bio-culture. 

Not only do I choose to embrace these bacteria, I love them. I love them because they make me who I am. They help make my life more wonderful. I am alive not in spite of them, but because of them. 

I love myself, too. Yes, I deeply, deeply love myself. I believe that I am whole. I believe that I am complete. Because of this, I simply do not need most of what these corporations are trying to sell me.  

Now that I’ve shared some of my foundational philosophy on my personal hygiene, I’d like to share what I do. 

I have been practicing a very simple and natural personal hygiene since 2012, which is now over a decade ago. There are very few products that I use. For the most part I simply let my body do the work, as it would have done prior to the invention of these products and as it turns out, it still knows how to do just fine. 

What I DO for my Natural Hygiene

Because everything is connected, I have gone into fairly substantial depth. Even though I use very few products, I do a lot to care for my body. I am dependent on my body to live this life and it is the only body I have for this lifetime. It is of the utmost priority for me to take care of it. Also, because I see my body as an extension of Earth and interconnected with other life, much of my hygiene does not focus solely on my own body. (Theoretically, I could summarize my thoughts in short bullet points, but that would not provide the service that I would like to provide to you.) 

The products that I generally always have are: biodegradable soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, a metal toothpick, coconut oil, a few essential oils (lavender, peppermint, tea tree), sunscreen, nail clippers, hair trimmer, earplugs and laundry detergent.

Soap – I use soap quite sparingly. Primarily, I use soap on my hands only and only when it is needed. I generally do not use soap anywhere else on my body except for in the circumstances where I get something on my body that I need help removing such as grease from my bicycle gears or if I step in poop with my bare feet. In an average year, I likely only use soap on my body (besides my hands) a handful of times. On many days, I wash my hands with soap numerous times, but there are also many days where I don’t use soap on my hands at all. 

The soap that I generally use is Dr. Bronner’s (peppermint or lavender), which is available across the United States. I also sometimes use locally made soaps. When traveling, I carry a small bottle of soap with me and I never use antimicrobial or antibacterial soaps. Only under very rare circumstances will I use soaps that have petroleum derivatives, toxic fragrances or basically any ingredient that I couldn’t put in my mouth. The occasions that I do (generally when doing the dishes at a house I am a guest in) I always feel regret as I smell the toxins on my body for an extended period of time and often get a headache. 

Most food co-ops have bulk refill for Dr. Bronner’s or a different biodegradable soap and almost always I bring my glass bottle to a food co-op to refill. 

The soap I use for my dishes is the same exact soap I use for my hands. 

The soap I use is biodegradable and thus my washing water can be returned to the land or used to water garden with no harm to the plants. This is called greywater and actually provides nutrients to the plants! 

Oral Care—toothbrush, toothpaste and floss – I am fairly particular about my oral hygiene. I probably brush more than is needed for basic health. I have experimented with miswak sticks, neem twigs, chewsticks and other twigs that have been used by cultures for thousands of years, but I have still found the toothbrush to be what accomplishes the task most effectively for me. I generally brush my teeth every morning and every night. On occasion, I do not. I use either a bamboo toothbrush or a recycled plastic brand. Although I would like to exclusively use bamboo, the recycled plastic brand has consistently provided results most effectively. 

I use store-bought toothpaste. It is one of the items that I consistently use that comes in disposable plastic. Since 2011, I have almost exclusively used Jason Powersmile but I also use Auromere Ayurvedic toothpaste as a second choice if my primary choice is not available. I love the way my mouth feels with twice daily brushing with this toothpaste. 

I use a biodegradable floss that I return to the Earth, generally made of a waxed silk. I generally floss 3-5 times per week, but at different stages of my life, I will go weeks without flossing. 

I purchase all of these items at a food co-op except the floss, which I generally get from Life Without Plastic, which is an excellent online resource to get many zero-waste and plastic-free items. 

I also use a nut pick (the little metal tool used for getting meat out of nuts) to give my teeth a deeper cleaning. 

I often use twigs to clean between my teeth. If for some reason I don’t have my toothbrush, I will brush my teeth with a cloth, such as a shirt, and that works quite effectively. 

I also swish with coconut oil, often a few times per week, but often going many months without. 

People often ask about how I keep my teeth white. The above is my practice. However, there are other variables. I do not smoke cigarettes and never have. I do not drink coffee, except on rare occasion to stimulate sluggish digestion. I do not drink red wine or black tea. These can all stain teeth.  I drink a lot of herbal teas. However, I do eat a lot of very dark foods from Earth – chokecherries for example – that can stain teeth. I aim to eat primarily whole foods with minimal processed foods and minimal processed sugar. I am generally successful with this, but there have certainly been plenty of times when I gave into temptation when this type of food was in front of me. 

Showering – Whenever possible, I avoid water that is chlorinated. Chlorine is there to kill bacteria – to destroy life. I want the bacterial culture on my skin to thrive. I have found that my skin is not as healthy and that I even have an increased odor from my armpits when I use chlorinated water on my body over a stretch of multiple days or multiple weeks. I rarely get into a chlorinated shower or swimming pool. 

I bathe consistently, generally every day, but often do go days without. I swim in whatever natural bodies of water I have access to in both warm climates and cold climates. I’ll swim in warm oceans or break through ice to get into the water. I also often bathe in rainwater. You can see my outdoor rainwater shower here. When the source of a shower is water straight from the earth and the water returns to the earth, I will happily use a shower, especially if it is outside. I never use soap in the shower, with very rare exception, and I never use soap, even biodegradable soap, in natural bodies of water. 

I once went 1,000 days without showering. Read about that experience here. 

Coconut oil – I often use coconut oil as a natural moisturizer for my skin and as a massage oil. I often massage my own body and coconut oil is almost always what I use, or no oil at all. At times, I put coconut oil on my body 3-5 times per week but often I go months without using it at all. My skin functions very well with or without coconut oil and I have seen no real difference between when I am using it or not. For dry skin, coconut oil has been all I’ve needed. I do also sometimes use body balms, body butters or salves that can include different oils, fats and herbs. I purchase my coconut oil at a food co-op, always organic and unrefined. 

Essential oils – I generally have two to four bottles of essential oils which can include lavender, peppermint, tea tree and a relaxing blend. (This is often sweet orange, lavender, patchouli, peppermint, sweet basil and chamomile.) Lavender I use as a natural scent, instead of cologne, and as a way to help reduce anxiety and foster relaxation. I use tea tree oil as a natural antiseptic, if cleaning a minor wound or for situations that call for a little extra cleaning power. I use peppermint as a pick-me-up and to clear my sinuses by inhaling it in deep breaths. I  purchase my essential oil at a food co-op and use the brands they have available there. 

There are quite a few people who are against using essential oils because of the substantial plant matter that it takes to make it. I am an advocate for the wise usage of essential oils. It takes a substantial amount of plants to make because essential oils are extremely concentrated and a small bottle can last for many years. Also, the plants can be grown in not only a sustainable manner, but a regenerative manner, and the process can be done sustainably as well. Most essential oils are not done in this manner, but it certainly can be done in this way. 

Sunscreen – I wear sunscreen minimally, instead opting to cover my body with clothes or to stay out of the sun. A sun hat and long sleeve shirt are my two primary forms of sunscreen. I primarily put sunscreen on my nose and in more extreme conditions on my cheeks and possibly forehead. I also put it on my shoulders and upper back and my lower thighs above my knees. The sunscreen I use is zinc oxide based and the ingredients are generally zinc oxide, coconut oil, beeswax, calendula, jojoba and tocopherol. I have used sunscreens that I buy at a food co-op (here is one brand) as well as locally-made sunscreens from small businesses. 

Nail clippers – I clip my finger nails about once per week and my toe nails about every other week. I return my clippings to the earth. 

Hair trimmer – For five years, I used a manual hand-powered hair trimmer. See The Off the Grid Zero Waste Haircut. As of 2021, I now own an electric hair trimmer. I choose to keep my head hair and beard short for numerous reasons. It is easy for me to maintain and care for when I have very little hair on my head. My head dries very quickly after swimming. I feel more free and flowing with short hair. I generally trim my beard once per week and my hair once or twice per month. I do not shave down to the skin, I simply trim it. In the past, I found that shaving resulted in damaged skin and irritation. 

I trim my armpit hair because I have found that I tend to have less body odor with shorter armpit hair and also because I like how it looks. I trim around my butt and genitals because I find that makes it easier to maintain my hygiene. 

Exfoliation – I exfoliate my skin often using sand directly from Earth. This is quite easy at the beach when my skin is wet. I simply pick up wet sand and rub it onto my skin. I often exfoliate my whole body from head to toe in this way. I like to do an exfoliation every week, especially of my feet and ankles. I do sometimes go months without exfoliating and I feel just fine, but I have learned the benefits of exfoliating the skin. I will often do dry exfoliation as well, which can be done with dry sand or with a rough cloth, such as hemp. When beach sand is not available, I still can often find sand in many other natural settings and take the opportunity to exfoliate when I have easy access. 

Ear care – I have had some minor ear issues over the last decade. The primary reason for this is because I generally wear earplugs at night to aid in getting a quality rest. I also wear them sometimes to prevent overstimulation from loud sounds, as I am quite sensitive to loud noises. There have been multiple times where I had earwax that was causing discomfort in my ear, most likely from wearing earplugs that do not allow for the natural movement of the earwax outward. I also have had an ear infection multiple times, from swimming in water with bacteria that managed to infect my ear. For these instances, I have used earwax removal kits and natural remedies that I found at a health food co-op. I do not use q-tips. I use a cloth to clean my ears. 

Laundry detergent – I generally use a laundry powder, rather than a liquid detergent. The detergent I use generally  has only a few ingredients and is either unscented or scented with essential oils. Most of my clothes I wear numerous times before washing. I have a very small wardrobe that can fit in its entirety in one load of a washing machine, although I often wash my clothes by hand. I generally do my laundry once per week or two to three times per month. Learn about my homemade, natural fiber, naturally dyed clothing here. 

The laundry detergent I use is biodegradable and thus my washing water can be returned to the land or used to water a garden with no harm to the plants. 

Plants and herbal remedies – I discuss this in more detail in the section below. 

Cleaning products – Because of the interconnectedness of our bodies and the environment that we live in, I am including a note on cleaning products. My primary cleaning product is the soap that I referred to above. I use this soap for almost all my cleaning. I also use vinegar, generally apple cider vinegar, because I usually have it with me. Along with this biodegradable soap, vinegar and sometimes essential oils, I rarely use any other cleaning products in my home. Whatever cleaning products I use can be safely returned to Earth through grey water without causing harm. 

So, I have extensively shared what I do and what items I use for my personal hygiene. There are likely some rare occasions when I would use something else,  but nothing of importance that I can think of. I am diligent about not being dependent on any one-time use or disposable items, with the few exceptions I shared above. 

What I DON’T Do for My Natural Hygiene

What I don’t use for my hygiene, is everything that is not listed above. However, there are a few items I’d like to mention and a few notes I’d like to share here. 

My general guideline is that whatever I put on my body, I can also put into my body. I can comfortably swallow my toothpaste. 

There is rarely an ingredient in any products that I use that can’t be easily harvested from the Earth or homemade. I can pronounce the ingredients. I generally know what they are (although there is more to know, of course). 

Antibacterial and antimicrobial soap and hand sanitizers – There are almost no instances or circumstances where I put this on my skin and I avoid coming into contact with it. It’s not that I think I would be harmed by occasional contact, but I very strongly believe in nurturing the bacterial culture on my body. Antibacterial and antimicrobial soaps and sanitizers are part of a substantial threat to humanity as a whole. This “war on germs” is a war on ourselves. “Super bacteria” is developing that is resistant to these anti-life technologies. It is believed by much of science and Western health care that one of our greatest threats for massive plagues, with millions of humans dying, is bacteria that develop because of our overuse of these anti-life soaps and sanitizers. These bacteria would be resistant to everything we have developed and our own immune systems would not be able to fight them off. 

Further, I avoid all of these products in order to keep my immune system functioning, which includes the introduction of pathogens that the immune system needs to fight. Our immune systems are already compromised due to our lack of exposure to pathogens. 

Hand sanitizer – I do not use hand sanitizer. Instead I use my basic soap. In rare circumstances that I do use hand sanitizer, it is alcohol based and has no industrial or toxic ingredients. 

Deodorant – I have not used deodorant since 2011 and have no need for it. I have very minimal odor from my armpits and I embrace what I do have. I am not under the delusion that I am separate from all other animals. I’m fine with them having a scent and I’m fine with me having a scent. In fact, I am attracted to women via their scent. We emit pheromones that, if we are in tune with our bodies and ourselves, can actually help us in selecting a partner who is a healthy match. There are women who have told me that they were attracted to me in part by my smell. I know for many people this sounds really unusual. That’s the dominator society in action, telling us that it is unnatural simply to EXIST. I have largely broken free from that mindset and am here to help you as well, if you’d like to break free. 

My greatest deodorizer is sunshine and fresh air on my armpits. This truly reduces my scent. 

Cologne – I haven’t used this since 2011 and have no need for it. I use essential oils and embrace that I am a human animal. 

Lotion – I haven’t used this since 2011 and have no need for it. I’m happy with simple coconut oil. Industrial lotions can be detrimental to the skin microbiome. They often contain “fragrance” which can be one or more of 200 different chemicals, which companies do not have to disclose. Fragrances have been associated with a range of side effects, including headaches and allergic reactions. 

Chapstick – For the first two decades of my life, I did often use Chapstick. I looked into this stuff. It has petroleum derivatives in it. Why would I want petroleum, derived from the same stuff that makes our gasoline, on my lips? Petrolatum has been linked to breast cancer. Menthol, camphor and phenol create a cooling, soothing sensation on lips, but it turns out they actually dry lips in the long run. Some research shows Chapstick does not treat the issue of dry lips at all but actually dries the lips out more. 

Shampoo and conditioner – I haven’t used this since 2011 and have no need for it. 

Body wash – I haven’t used this since 2011 and have no need for it. 

Face wash – I haven’t used this since 2011 and have no need for it. 

Mouthwash – I haven’t used this since 2011 and have no need for it. 

Pharmaceuticals – I avoid pharmaceuticals through the practice of preventative healthcare and natural medicine. I have written more extensively on this below. This includes the use of steroids.   

“Air fresheners” – Until my mid-twenties, I loved air fresheners. I also loved to smell like “fresh laundry”. The term “air freshener” is absurd when I really think about it. These smells are not making the air more fresh. 

Today, these scents reduce my quality of life and often result in headaches. Quite simply, these scents are a concoction of chemicals that are toxic to the body. There are natural methods of adding a lovely scent to the air that I do use, such as cooking a healthy meal, burning cedar or sage, opening the windows, having a bundle of freshly-picked flowers in the house, or a bundle of eucalyptus leaves, or in some some homes I have lived in, an essential oil diffuser. 

My Food is My Medicine

What I put in my body is just as important to me as what I put on my body. The dominator society tends to separate things out. It creates ideas of independence when interdependence is the reality. It embraces individualism rather than collaboration. The natural world – which includes our bodies – does not operate on the notions of the dominator society. My body is an intricate and diverse life form, coexisting with thousands of other lifeforms. I believe this with all my heart, just as I believe that my food cannot be broken down into individual vitamins and nutrients in a lab and then be expected to assimilate in my body the same way it would if it was eaten in a manner that honored millions of years of co-existing relationship. 

I believe that my food, in its’ whole form from Earth, is not only my sustenance and my source of comfort and joy,  but also my medicine. And as my food is my medicine, it creates a healing environment within my body that no longer needs many of these products that mainstream society believes we need. Many of these products exist because we have become disconnected from ourselves, the land, the water, our food and our communities. I believe that the food I eat affects my body odor, my skin conditions, my health as a whole and every other facet of my life that corporations and society have monetized. 

So, to put it simply, at the heart of my natural hygiene is the food I eat. In 2019, I spent a year growing and foraging 100% of my food and medicine. This a huge embrace of this philosophy for me. At the end of the year, I was in the most ideal health of my entire adult life. In 2022, I spent one month solely foraging 100% of my food – no food from domesticated gardens at all. I have been on a substantial journey of embracing my food as my medicine and will be embracing this philosophy for as long as I live. At the center of this is the belief that my food can heal me or it can harm me with each bite. I choose to heal through each bite. 

On that note, I also do not drink alcohol, instead choosing herbal teas and healing beverages. Read: Why I Quit Drinking Alcohol. Alcohol is one of the leading contributors to the body not functioning at its highest ability. Alcohol is a toxin to the body and affects our entire functioning. Many of my friends have told me that their body odor is much stronger when they drink a lot of alcohol. Sleep is also one of the most important contributors to resilience and impeccable hygiene and alcohol throws off our sleep patterns. As you see, my natural personal hygiene – and my health care – is approached holistically. I look at everything I do and how it effects my body. 

Do I Ever Get Sick?

Yes, I do occasionally get sick, however the sicknesses I have had have been minor. 

I believe that getting sick on occasion, colds, flu, etc., is a natural part of life, to be expected. Getting sick is not a sign of poor health. 

I do not currently suffer from any major health issues due in part to my dedication to preventative health care, my good fortune and my relatively young age. Since embracing this way of life, I have had no major illnesses. I’m interested to see what will happen in the decades ahead and how I’ll manage to live in integrity in more difficult times. 

Read: On Health Insurance, Age and Death

Preventative Health Care

The concept of preventative health care is quite basic. I put in the effort, the dedication and the practice of taking care of my body, to prevent illnesses from arising in the first place. I practice prevention in a very wholistic manner through the food I eat, the water I drink, physical movement, sleep and rest, my relationships, my words, my thoughts and so much more. I learn about how my body functions and I make changes as necessary to keep my body functioning at a peak level. I do all of this before the use of any pills, pharmaceuticals or industrial health care and by doing this, my need for pills, pharmaceuticals or industrial health care is much less. 

This takes real diligence and dedication, which I do struggle with. I am not the beacon of perfect health, nor do I desire to be. I believe perfect health is a concept only recently accepted by our long-lived humanity. Instead, I accept that I may experience substantial suffering in life, and that suffering IS life. There are certainly times in which I will embrace industrial health care, but those times will be the rare exception. I am also not striving for perfection in my philosophy or my ethics. I will avoid bending my ethics wherever possible, but quite likely at times in my life, I will use interventions of industrial medicine and I will be okay with that. If that is what we chose as a humanity, we’d be living in a vastly different world, and in my belief, a world of far more equity, justice and integrity for all of humanity. 

Natural Medicine versus Pharmaceuticals

By practicing preventative health care and natural medicine, I aim for liberation. This is liberation from the pharmaceutical industry, one of the most exploitative and corrupt industries on Earth. They profit billions of dollars at the expense of our own health, happiness and well-being. Taking care of my body and creating relationships with the plants that are medicine and the many medicines freely available to me is taking a stand for the health of humanity and our plant and animal relatives.

I have up to this point lived with substantial good health and with very minor health issues. I’d like to stress that part of that is due to good fortune and being young. Part of that is due to my life practices. But equally so, it is due to my mentality. Many of us turn to pharmaceuticals and doctors when there is no problem at all, often due to coercion from the for-profit medical industry, while at the same time, the industry is suppressing herbal knowledge. It wasn’t that long ago that women were being burned for being “witches”. In reality, much of what they were doing was simply holding a close relationship to Earth and plants while the modern society was for numerous reasons, threatened by their practice. Today, most of us turn to medical technology when there is a plant growing right in our own community – and a human who knows how to work with it – that can provide us with the relief or comfort we need.

I am grateful to be a part of a community with millions of herbalists. Whether in the most industrialized of nations or in still intact Indigenous cultures, and every society in between, there are many humans who cultivate relationships with plants. These people are often referred to as herbalists and some are knowledgeable on hundreds of plants both locally and globally, while others are knowledgeable on a handful of plants that their mother taught them about, wisdom passed down through generations. Herbalists can be women, men and people who have their own identification independent of this construct. I personally know many herbalists and many are close friends. Some have many years of official schooling and hold official degrees and titles and some learned everything through books, the internet, and people and plants before them.

Meet my colleagues Amanda David and Linda Black Elk who are kindred souls:

For every ill, there is a plant that can cure that ill. For every ill, there is a plant that can help to prevent it. Most, if not all, pharmaceuticals are derived from plants! I am an absolute advocate for working with plants for medicine, both in terms of prevention and dealing with issues.

There are dozens of plant medicines that I currently work with. Most of the herbs I work with are more helpful for immune system support and general well-being and although powerful, they are very easy to work with and don’t require much knowledge of dosage or protocol. Some of my favorite herbs that I forage and work with include mint, bee balm, goldenrod, mullein, echinacea, mugwort, plantago, dandelion, chicory, burdock, dock, stinging nettle, raspberry and all bramble berry, St. John’s wort, catnip, elderberry, pineapple weed, yarrow, cedar, spicebush and wintergreen and mushrooms including maitake, reishi, chaga, turkey tail, lion’s mane and birch bark polypore. I encourage you to learn about the plants that are growing freely and abundantly all around you. I’ve written this guide to assist you.

For more insight on my relationships with plant medicines, including marijuana, read: My Relationship to Plant Medicines, “Drugs” and Drugs.

Plants are just one of our many allies in preventative health care. There are hundreds of healing modalities to explore and to embrace. Acupuncture and massage were two of my earliest (yet ancient) natural practices, both of which made significant impacts in my life. I’m confident there will be many new re-discoveries and discoveries in our lifetime, but I already have all I need through a relationship with Earth, our plant and animal relatives, my community and my own body.

What we do to our bodies, we do to Earth.
What we do to our bodies, we do the communities of life we share this Earth with.
I believe in the human body.
I believe in millions of years of evolution.
I believe in our interconnectedness.
I love myself and yes, I LOVE bacteria.
I love you, too, and wish for you to become whole and complete, by taking back your body.

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