All of the lowdown on new products or technology being launched.

Chemicals – The Danger Of A Single Story

What comes into your mind when I say the word ‘chemical’?

The chances are that if you are a cosmetic enthusiast you might have thought of:






I studied chemistry at university for 3 years and then as a post grad for another year during which time I grew to see the world in a haze of chemical love (I never did and never have done drugs,  I am just a nerd).

I remember pouring over the labels of food, cosmetics and medicines ingesting the information in the hope of gaining insight into their secret formulations.

What makes that work?

How does that stay together?

Why does that product last so long?

How many other products use that ingredient?

The list was as long as my untiring enthusiasm.

My focus grew when I got my first job as a telephone sales girl in a chemical distribution company. It was my job to call the cosmetics companies and see if I could sell them some more chemicals.  I sold glycerine, ethanol, sorbitol, benzyl alcohol and vegetable oils.  After a little while I got to learn about more interesting ingredients – emulsifiers, surfactants, thickeners,  solubilisers.  I was in heaven.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think about the environment, natural ingredient, toxic chemicals or death in those young and carefree days. Of course I did.

Death and toxic chemicals:

My cushy desk job was in an office located on a tank farm – that’s what we called the area that stored your bulk hydrochloric acid, sodium metasilicate,  caustic soda solution and more.   We knew that the chemicals could be dangerous because we saw with our own eyes what they could do.  How things could explode when put next to the wrong chemical, how toxic gasses could overcome you, how a little spill […]

Beware of Facebook Scare Stories

Have you seen this picture yet?

It has been making its way around cyber space for quite some time but like most viral information it tends to re-appear in clumps as it gets passed from one person to another.  It would be interesting to map that………

Anyway, the theory goes that this code tells you something about the composition of the contents:
Green : Natural.
Blue : Natural + Medicine.
Red : Natural + Chemical composition.
Black : Pure Chemical.

Now following on from the viral marketing logic ‘chemical’ means bad, natural means good and medicine can mean whatever you want it to mean I suppose.  Maybe it means that the government is trying to control us by medicating our toothpaste with compliance drops or maybe it means that the toothpaste will medicate our teeth. I don’t know what we are ‘supposed’ to think but I’m sure it has something to do with making us feel like IT IS ALL A CONSPIRACY!!!!!!!!!!!

It is not.

The marks are called eye marks and are used to help the filling machine find the tubes.  There is a fab explanation here.

The fact that we fall for and share this kind of scam so readily is because the words ‘chemical’, ‘medical’ and ‘natural’ in relation to cosmetic products are emotionally loaded.  They have been bought out by people who have the agenda (either overtly or sub-consciously) to gain our trust, to be our ‘go to’ place for honest information when we are feeling vulnerable:

Don’t know if a product is safe or not,  ask me!

Worried that ‘they’ are tricking you by hiding information,  ask me!

Wondering if they are trying to force feed you chemicals?  Don’t worry, you can always TRUST me!

Only you can’t because most people sharing this […]

Smells good on you but like crapola on me. Why?

Have you ever wondered why an award-winning perfume or essential oil blend can smell absolutely rubbish on your skin but amazing on someone else?  Well according to Dr Craig Roberts of Stirling University, Scotland, it has to do with your body odour.

Craig is a senior lecturer in social psychology and has a passion for using his nose to sniff out the meaning behind social interactions – that sounds utterly fascinating and something that I’d LOVE to learn more about, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, speaking at the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) Fragrance forum in the UK recently Craig talked about how our body odour contains information which enables us to recognise other individuals.  That got me thinking about my children as babies and how amazingly powerful that fresh baby smell is in the bonding process. In the first few weeks even their poop smells good. Believe me…..

The key part of his talk was this realisation that a fragrance interacts with our body odour to become something else. This is something that many of us have witnessed but probably haven’t given that much thought to.   Chemically speaking fragrances have a tendency to interact with the pH of our skin, the oils (how much oil/ how old is it), bacteria, skin surface (rough or smooth) and more besides.  But breaking down and understanding this interaction chemically isn’t what Craig is talking about.  He is focused on what that means to and for us.

Maybe we choose fragrances based on this alchemic synergy?  We evolve our favourite perfumes, add the ‘missing link’, bring it to life.

I love this study as it shows the importance of application, something that I am passionate about – take the problem out of its applied […]

Brand Stories and Why your’s might benefit from one.

This working week has been fun with lots of interesting customers and projects flying in and out.  But the one that has really got me scratching my noggin and reaching out for help has been with regards to brand positioning.

Now you may wonder what a chemist is doing delving into the marketing arena and I can understand that but can also assure you that this is how we do it at RBHQ.  Every product tells a story (whether you know it or not) and our job is to bring the threads of that story together first through chemistry (so that we have an actual product to talk about) and then through the words that we use to describe that creation – on the label, website, social media, sales pitches, whatever.

Here is why that is so important to you, me and them.

Remember back to the day when you went to the store to buy a bar of soap and came back with a bar of soap?

The day when your choice of soap stretched maybe to three brands if you were lucky?

It wasn’t that only three companies in the world made soap, more that your average retailer couldn’t justify stocking more than three varieties as that was enough choice for anyone.

You could replicate that across many a consumer product either for the same reasons above or because other options didn’t exist (for the average person):

Ford cars – have any colour as long as it is black.

Mortgages – Hello friendly local bank manager

Milk – Bottled or milk-your-own.

But things have changed.

Now you can find whole retail outlets selling just cosmetics, cosmetics that come in from all over the world, in all shapes, sizes, smells and textures and that […]

Are there any scientists left to produce any more and do we even care?

Hello world,

This week I have mostly been thinking about the art of being productive. You know, making stuff, doing activities that change something we can see, feel, smell or hear.

I have been thinking about this because last week while driving back from the city I heard that there were to be heavy job losses in the CSIRO.  The CSIRO is Australia’s super science pod, the place where scientists go to do AWESOME stuff like invent Wifi (thank you),  Gene Shears (genetic material that acts like scissors, cutting rogue DNA away and thus stopping various diseases in their tracks),  Solar Hot Water (another invention I’m personally grateful for), Polymer banknotes (awesome for those of us that like swimming with our wallets),  Exelgram (counterfit detector) and even anti-flu medication.  But they don’t just invent stuff, these scientists and many more like them working out of private practice (that’s a tough gig!), Universities, NGO’s and Corporations are busy spending every working hour finding out stuff about stuff.

I fear that concept may be lost on some of us some of the time………..

The internet (which I love dearly)  is a great place to go for information.  Type in any particular question and you will get an answer or thousand (at least but it does depend on the question!)  This instant gratification can lead us into thinking that we are extremely well read and versed in all things from how to spot a brain tumour at fifty paces to how to change a lightbulb,  re-build the engine of your classic car,  create the perfect apple pie or to train your dog to unload the dishwasher.  I love the internet but I also love doing things – experimenting.  That is because […]

The evolution of cosmetic grade botanical extracts.

The cosmetics industry thrives on stories and nothing captures our imagination more than the thought that some intrepid explorer has scaled the highest mountain, dived down into the deepest sea or crawled through man-eating jungle to discover the magic, mystery and power that is the Elixir of eternal youth.

Recognise these:

The Swiss Apple that lives for one thousand years under a harsh climate of cold, wind, rain and intense UV.  Now if we can just put that in a bottle we would all be rich……
Edelweiss – another lofty mountain dweller with anti-inflammatory powers again brought about by the plants need to withstand extremes in UV radiation and temperature.
Australia’s much-loved Kakadu Plumb and its super high vitamin C levels that are guaranteed to keep you looking young and sprightly well into retirement.
The classic Sandalwood with its soft, soothing and elegant base note aroma paired with its powerful healing qualities.

All of the above tell a story and live up (to one degree or another) to their lofty promises but at what environmental cost? Each of the four botanicals listed above have their own not-always-happy story to tell.  Be it one of demand exceeding supply,  disturbance of native environment,  intellectual property ownership or greed and deception going ‘au naturel’ isn’t all sweetness and light!

Looking at the market and how it has developed over the last fifteen years shows that rather than experiencing ‘exotic plant fatigue’ our skin potion buying friends are hungry for more and that is why we need to start to stop and think about how we farm these things in order to avoid doing more harm to these species than good.

So, let’s have a look at the evolution of the cosmetic grade botanical extract to see […]

Be sure to go outside once in a while

I had an interesting chat to a customer of mine last week about the art of doing business in the digital age.  Fresh from hearing a motivational talk on the benefits of things like linked in, facebook and twitter for the modern high flier my client was keen to learn more and implement change within their business.

This is all well and good but I do have my reservations about life in a virtual reality…..

I talk to lots of people in a week some of which come to me for help crafting ideas and getting projects off the ground. Without fail after talking through their ideas, viewing their pinterest ideas boards, looking at their website copy and packaging choices I ask if they have been out and tested the concept, you know, in the ‘real world’.  Does my mum and aunty count?  Errrrrrr  no.

Time after time the people who I meet are building a brand in virtual reality rather than actuality.  They spend hours pouring over images, talking on forums and ‘connecting’ with people online without investing more than a passing second or two in the real world.  When I say ‘real world’ I do say that with my face a little contorted as I think ‘what is real anyway???’  that’s the philosopher in me poking out its head.  No matter, what I mean is in the three-dimensional world of the sensual where we can touch, smell, feel, taste and interact.  Where we can sense Peoples gut reactions rather than have to analyse their carefully thought out prose.

That said I am online a lot. For maybe 5 or 6 hours on my office days and I both enjoy and get a lot out of my online life. […]

Mind your own business

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned by being in business is how to mind my own and by that I essentially mean investing in my mental health.  I am convinced that one of the biggest barriers to success for the budding entrepreneur lies in the secret world of Emotional Intelligence or how well we know, trust and like ourselves and consequently others.

I can see how and why this happens as I have witnessed how  absolutely possible it is  to reach the dizzy heights of success in a given trade, art, business or charitable foundation without passing a ‘know yourself, love yourself, now love others’ class, in fact  ‘feelings’ and ’emotion’ were most unwelcome at many of the board room tables I’ve had the pleasure of sitting at – too girly, too prissy, too wishy-washy, diversionary, immeasurable  and not results-driven enough.

And yet time and time again businesses fail and people become disillusioned because of people issues.

Surely the only  ‘people’ you can control are your  ‘me, myself and I’.

And there in lies the problem…….

Didn’t make money this week?  Guess what entrepreneurial maveric, that’s because of you.

Missed that deadline?  Your problem.

Took on too much work?  Hello in there brain….

Not got enough work?   Pull your own socks up woman.

Triple booked yourself?  Where’s your diary dude?

Under quoted and ended up losing money?  You again.

Customers don’t understand you?  Sorry mate but maybe you don’t understand you either.

Made an expensive mistake?  Come on twinkle toes!!!!

These things hurt because while we can always think of a reason or situation to blame it on deep down inside we start to realize that the only way to stop this thing is to take a good long hard look at ourselves.  

Once […]

Give me anything as long as it’s not Palm

Thought for the day:

It is with more frequency (although by no means by every client) that I am asked to create something or suggest ingredients that are ‘palm free’.  I do both without the emotional response that the whole transaction used to elicit.  Why?  Because it’s what I’ve come to expect.

I guess I am a little fatigued at ‘fighting’ the marketing rhetoric of this one as it is powerfully emotive and in the large part truthful and as such I do have a high degree of sympathy with the cause.  Well, when I say the cause I mean the ‘protect our diversity and respect our natural resources’ cause, a cause that is complex, global and multi-faceted.  In short, everything that the average armchair campaigner finds challenging because there is no black or white, no utopian ending or glittering prizes awaiting you.

No, what I have to sit back and process after every happy exchange of ‘palm free’ information is the fact that the conversation stopped there.

Nobody ever questions the alternative.

It is as if I could give them anything as long as it’s not palm.



Ok well anything ‘natural’.

It would be quite feasible that I give them an alternative oil, emulsifier or surfactants made from the next door coconut plantation. Or maybe I offered them a rapeseed oil solution that is quietly helping to contribute to bee deaths across Europe due to the crops thirst for pesticide or maybe I give them an exotic sounding oil from the Amazon…………..

Quite frankly it disappoints me terribly that despite the vast amount of energy and words that go into boycotting palm very little emphasis is given on educating people about practical solutions and alternatives.

The mantra has worked,  the anti-palm lobby […]

Ethnic Beauty and why it sucks

At In Cosmetics Asia today there is a lecture on beauty market trends. Part of that lecture discusses ‘the rise of the ethnic beauty’.  Forgive me while I take my Lilly white self over to the nearest bathroom for a vomit.


Being ‘ethnic’ and buying cosmetics is a trend?

There have been people of colour FOR EVER.  This is not a trend, this is equality that is what this is.

Forgive me for getting angry (I’m not angry I’m just asserting my dissatisfaction) but it SUCKS that only now, when there is more money to be made are we (the cosmetics industry) saying ‘give me a piece of that’.

Of what?

Of the money that’s what.

Making colour cosmetic products for dark skins is no different to making products for light skins.  I know this because trying to make a foundation for a light-skinned person requires many tweaks in terms of the red/ yellow tone balance, the percentage coverage (to prevent chalking) and the desired finish (glossy, matt, dewy, light or heavy).

I am hoping that the talk at In Cosmetics Asia inspires beauty, innovation and creativity rather than just greed as nobody should be thought of as a cash cow.

And after all, nothing in life is ever just black or white.

Happy Mixing.

Amanda x