Find out what those weird sounding ingredients do.

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 […]

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 […]

Are natural and organic products better for you than synthetic ones?

Well there’s a question that got me thinking…..

I happened across a piece of writing proclaiming to give me ‘the truth’ about natural beauty products the other day and sat down to take note.  I didn’t learn much from the article to be fair but what it did do is help me to refresh my mind and gain a better perspective of the size of the information gap that marketing speak can fill.  It’s massive!

Let me explain:

When asked ‘Are natural and organic products better for you than synthetic ones’ the answer given was ‘in short yes’.   Psychologically I can see why, environmentally I can see where that is going  and as such that may actually be enough.  But when it comes to your skin and your health I am not convinced that we have any hard evidence to support that.

But apparently the evidence is ‘wherever we look’.  I am not sure it is that simple, especially given the argument for evolution (the ‘our skin evolved with nature and not synthetic chemicals’ argument).  I think you’d be hard pushed to find evidence of any caveman, woman or child bathing in certified organic bubble bath or even rubbing sweet almond oil into their battle wounds – sweet almond oil has to be extracted by crushing the seeds which would have been pretty time-consuming and difficult under the circumstances.

What I am saying is that things like essential oils,  plant-based surfactants and emulsifiers, plant butters and many plant-based oils don’t exactly JUMP out at you when you venture into the bush. These things have to be squeezed,  ground, reacted and heated and in relatively large quantities to give us the exposure limits that we have become accustomed to. […]

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in skin care

Part of my job as a consultant chemist to the cosmetics industry is to evaluate existing research using a sort of SWOT analysis before suggesting a course action stemming from that.

Past examples have been as follows:

What is the issue with palm oil and how best to tackle that?
Can zinc oxide nanoparticles penetrate the skin and if so what damage could they do?
Shea butter lip balms tend to develop grains on standing.  How big a problem is this and can it be prevented?
What is a Halal cosmetic and what (if any) problems would they solve/ benefits would they bring to the market both as a whole and for the Muslim community.

Anyway, this week my topic is Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and more specifically their alleged toxicity.  

One of my clients has become concerned over information published about the toxicity of seed oils. More specifically this research focuses on the  large percentage of unsaturated fatty acids in oils such as Sunflower and almond.   The concern is that the oxidation of these oils on the face (which is exposed to both UV light, oxygen and moisture) would cause a degradation of the oils leading to cell damage, inflammation and the like brought on by the breakdown of these unstable fatty components.

When I initially got the call to look into this I thought ‘aha, yet another thing for us all to become paranoid about – as if there isn’t enough rope out there already’  but then I started to un-pick the question a bit further.

As with many simple propositions, the devil is in the detail and there is so much detail in here you would probably die of boredom or confusion before I got to […]

The Politics of Feedstock Part 2: Is it time to ditch the veggies?

I have been banging on about Palm oil for a while now, in fact for pretty much all of my blogging career on-and-off and for good reason.  Sustainability matters to my customers and I and I believe that I owe it not only to myself but also to my readers and paid clients to at least give them the opportunity to utilize the most environmentally friendly ingredients out there, after all, I make it my job to know about these things (because I’m interested).

The cosmetic industry lives in a world that has pretty much given up on animal fats (which I can understand), said NO to petroleum (again, totally understandable given its poor renewability stats) and feels uneasy about Palm (deforestation, displacement, corruption and more besides).  However, on weighing up the chemistry palm has always seemed to be the only sensible option to me (high productivity, low pesticide requirements, high quality oil etc.) so what is it that I am missing in my analysis?

The time had come to go and nut this out with someone who, when it comes to the environment and beauty, knows their stuff.   Cue Grace, owner and founder of Pure and Green Organic Personal Care.

It was Grace that suggested that maybe the issue shouldn’t be about palm after all given that there is so much waste land and material around from which to create feedstock.   I began to think that maybe the time has come to ditch the veggies altogether…

As a non-cosmetic brand owner I don’t have to worry about selling ideas like this to the public.  My focus is directed at the nuts and bolts of the cosmetics industry – the chemical ingredient manufacturers.  A place where all ingredients […]

The politics of feed stock – in search of a palm free cosmetic.

OK so I am the first to admit that when it comes to palm oil  I am all of the below:

Fascinated by the palm vs no palm debate.
Concerned about the environmental impact that our non-essential human purchases and whims have on the environment.
Am not an environmental scientist and have limited time/ resources/ background knowledge to research the agricultural side of this debate but….
Still slightly bias towards palm but open to the idea that there are other options out there.
Interested in the global balance of equity (fairness) and wealth (opportunity).

That is not a disclaimer, it is fact.  I am trying to work through, question, analyse and feel my way towards an action plan that ticks as many boxes as is practical without loosing focus on the main issue – once virgin forest is gone it is gone. Monoculture plantations are not animal/ bird/ bee etc friendly.

So, where next.

I sit and listen as many people come to me for ‘palm free’ products.  When I say many I mean enough to say that there is a trend but not enough to displace those looking for Organic which is generally about 10% of my customer base – on that basis I’d estimate it to be around 1-2%.  Out of the remaining 88 ish % 3/4 want all-natural and the other 1/4 are OK with most things as long as the product works and isn’t classified as toxic.

On that basis I generally write, talk and think about palm more than it is worth in terms of my $$$.  It is possible to be a cosmetic chemist, make bucket loads of money (if you are lucky OR good OR in some cases both) without scratching the surface of any of […]

Seabuckthorn Oil – how and why it does what it does.

I recently bought some pills from the internet which is quite unlike me as I’m not much of a pill taker – especially pills that I know little about.  However these just caught my eye:

Being ‘old school’ trained in cosmetic science (Before everything turned natural of which I am grateful, occasionally skeptical but grateful)  I find myself often lacking in-depth of knowledge about some of these natural superheros. Product knowledge that my customers take in their stride as they wax lyrical about the benefits of  one or another new exotic oil, extract or plant.  Me?  Well I just have to go back to basics and research the bejesus out of it to work out if it is something I should be slapping on or lapping up.

Turns out that Seabuckthorn  does cut the mustard.

Here are some facts that I found on my journey to enlightenment:

Seabuckthorn Oil comes from the Hippophae Rhamnoides plant which is native to the mountains of China and Russia where it thrives in sandy soil.
The fresh fruit is a rich source of vitamins C and E, Folic Acid, Carotenoids, Flavonoids and fatty acids.
 Omega-7  essential fatty acid is found in abundance in the fruit but only in small quantities in the oil. This EFA is the miracle skin-healing and cellular regeneration active and so if that’s what you want, get yourself some of the fruit extract!
The Flavonoids are the bits most used medically and are similar to those found in Ginko Biloba.  These are the components that help the skin to fight UV damage, well these plus the antioxidants and carotenoids which I’ll mention next. This is a really good article about how natural additives can help boost our UV protection but just […]

pH Matchmaker Physicians Formula.

Ok so when I first saw this product I was pretty excited.  I am one of ‘those’ people who has skin that every now and then decides to throw a ‘let’s turn orange’ party and wreck my beauty life for a few days.  Let me explain.

I’ll wake up on some mornings, wash, moisturise and then apply my usual goop of choice and then get on with getting on.  However, a quick check back at the face before leaving the house reveals that my usual light beige face is now a flaky shade of orange.  My skin has reacted to the make-up and ruined it completely.  This orange tone is usually worse on my forehead, bridge of nose and just below the cheek bones which is enough to make me look seriously dodgy in the make-up department.  I basically have to go back to the bathroom, re-wash and spend the day either without the slap or with only a tinted moisturiser and the lightest amount of powder.  This is OK but after spending over 25 years of my life with acne on and off I am not one of those people who ‘looks good naked’…..

So, when I saw a pH matchmaker formula my immediate thought was ‘great, this would help me during my orange phase.  I need never suffer again!’ and so I purchased some – $24 ish which isn’t too bad but is more than I’d usually spend on a pressed powder to be fair. I’m a bit  stingy when it comes to my personal make-up regimen.

Anyway, it was only after the credit card was accepted that I sat back for a mo and thought  “REALLY?”

Is pH the likely cause of my dramas or […]

How to work out Aloe Vera Strengths for cosmetics

Math is something that many people find tricky- me included at times and as such working out how much of an ingredient to add when it comes in different strengths/ presentations can be a nightmare.  Aloe is one such beast as it can be purchased in the health store as a juice,  as a concentrated powder or as a liquid extract made to a supplier specific recipe.

When I talk to people about using the powder instead of a liquid (as it is more economical for shipping) they are always shocked at how little is to be used.  So, to prove (fingers crossed) that I am not lying to you all I have done a quick comparison chart here to show just how much powder you need to end up with the same strength aloe as your health store product.

 So as you can see from the above, to make your own health store strength aloe vera gel for cosmetics you just need 0.005g of powder in 100g of water.   To measure that little you would need some accurate scales that measure to three decimal places. That can also be expensive and tricky so I recommend this from ebay (if they still have them) or equivalent.  They are not ‘professional’ quality but you can calibrate them yourself pretty well by using a shiny new coin – coins are weighed very accurately and you can look up the weight online.

These cost less than $20.

Now as you can see they only weigh to two decimal places not three. To fix that you would have to make up 200g of solution (double) and just use double the amount of Aloe – o.01g. Voila – same strength just more of it.

Based on the above the New Directions […]

Tea Time :)

I have always loved a cuppa (I put that down to being English) but these days my tea love has become more of an obsession for a couple of reasons:

1) I can no longer drink coffee (I think I’m allergic to it or something as it makes me feel really bad),  soft drinks (don’t really like them anyway but the high sugar is a no no) or alcohol (again, not a big fan anyway and again the sugar content isn’t good).

2) Tea is a great way to get some active herbs into your life without too much thought and there is nothing that I need more right now than some herbal therapy to get my system running like a well oiled machine!

So, imagine my delight when I rolled up at the door of Spa Sublime in Katoomba to find that they had their very own range of hand-blended teas on sale!

Finding Autumn to be delish I bought one of each so that I could experience them all and share that experience with you. So, here we go!

Spring – Uplift and Energise.

This is probably my favourite all-day tea from the range as it is so flavoursome and refreshing. I also LOVE the fact that it contains Ginseng which is a known energy booster – bring it on!

Summer – Cleanse and Detoxify.

This is a lovely subtle minty/ floral tea that I’ll use as an afternoon pick-me-up thanks to its  green tea content (green tea contains a little caffeine).

Autumn – Balance and Regenerate.

I LOOOOOVe this one, it is just a beautiful tea and is again very flavoursome and warming – just like a hug in a mug!   The ingredient list of this one is quite long […]