A Healthy Alternative to China Gel

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The most popular muscle remedy at many New York City gyms and yoga studios is probably the least healthy thing in the place.

Sore Muscle Balm
Sore Muscle Balm and my very busy running shoes

After a cardio-sculpt class involving repeated lunges with hand-weights or when I've had one asana too many, the last thing I want to slather on my aching body is China Gel.

I realize that sounds kind of sacrilege, since China Gel's considered the muscle remedy of choice at many New York City gyms and yoga studios. I can see why it's popular: The topical pain reliever has a handful of ingredients that make sense—like menthol and ginseng. But it has way too many ingredients that don't, like Triethanolamine (a skin, immune system, and respiratory toxin), DMDM Hydantoin (a formaldehyde releaser), and dyes like Blue 1 (CI 42090) and Yellow 5.

Compare that to the organic juices, bamboo yoga pants, and vegan cookbooks sold alongside this product at your yoga studio, and China Gel starts to look like a holdover from the cigarettes-aren't-that-bad-for-you era.

That's why it's a relief to find natural beauty brands creating healthy remedies. Take She Essential Beauty Sore Muscle Balm. It's formulated by two New York City acupuncturists, and it hearkens the healing agents of Eastern medicine, like frankincense and myrrh. "These ingredients were used by Chinese doctors of ancient dynasties to treat injuries," says She co-founder Beth Hooper, "because they have blood invigorating properties." You want to move chi when you have an injury.

I like that it carries the key anti-inflammatory European herb, arnica, and healing St. John’s wort, too. The key scent is ginger-lemongrass from essential oils, so you'll smell aromatherapeutic, not prematurely geriatric. And instead of a gel, it's a lovely balm that warms in the hands of whomever you can conscript to massage it into your achy muscles. —Melisse Gelula

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