In depth look at particular pieces of beauty news from our own perspective.

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 […]

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. […]

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

How much is that recipe in the window (and can I have it?)

It often seems to me that people think of formulations as something that should be just given away or handed out left, right and centre.  Sometimes they are and sometimes those formulations are great but most of the time, when it comes to creating a great formula  there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Maybe this mindset has something to do with the fact that many feel that cooking up a cosmetic recipe must be like cooking up a storm in the kitchen.  And they would be sort of but not entirely right.


Maybe it is because the internet via various ingredient suppliers,  hobbyists, bloggers, beauty experts and tutorials dish up the odd recipe as part of their promotional packaging.

I think that it is probably a mix of both really.

We are all looking for that money tree…….

But don’t let that trick you into thinking and feeling that recipes are ten-a-penny or something to be handed out on a whim just because you asked for one.

A good cosmetics formula takes time, money and knowledge to create.

A good recipe takes experience, patience and an appreciation for the method to re-create.

A good recipe will always require testing to ensure it performs to YOUR company/ brand standards and with YOUR packaging.

A good recipe will make you money but only after you have invested in ‘growing’ it.

I will let you into a little secret now. I have been formulating cosmetic products as a full-time job for 6 years now, before that it was a mixture of hobby/ secondary part of my full-time work requirements as a sales/ marketing/ product manager.   As such I have been making emulsions (creams and lotions) for a long time but I have to […]

Business 101: Entitlement is the Original Sin.

I am always fascinated by the thoughts that get my brain whirring and this one did take me by surprise.

After travelling in China and coming back to my Australian life I was struck by a sense of ‘something isn’t quite right here, something is different’.   I was talking about our (Australian) business culture – well, the bit that I am part of anyway and an underlying energy that I could sense.   I am now of the opinion that energy was driven by a sense of entitlement……

Entitlement = feeling owed,  the ‘that’s mine and I should have it’ mindset, the ‘I deserve’ or ‘I’m special and need’ the ‘how come you can and I can’t’.

I feel this energy sometimes during my working day dealing with clients and students, especially when I am teaching  new cosmetic science tricks and tips or critiquing their formulations or brand direction.   I do my best to notice that raw nerve ahead of time and navigate around it, numb it with psychological anaesthetic, give it time to settle and feel comfortable but it isn’t always possible to avoid.

I have noticed over my short but sweet 6 years in business that a sense of entitlement is a dangerous thing to have. It sets you up for all sorts of political dramas, underpins many a dysfunctional relationship and prevents you from fully growing.  I believe it contributes to all of these things because of what entitlement masks and that is one of two closely linked emotions – shame and vulnerability.

Let’s think this through for a minute.

Entitlement as a mindset revolves around the feeling of being ‘owed’ .  As such it makes sense to think that where there is an owing […]

I Protest!!!!! Our right to free speech and all that Jazz.

While I have often heard people waxing lyrical about their ‘right to freedom of speech’ it is rare to hear a conversation about the responsibilities that go with that and that’s what I want to talk about today.

An article in the Australian has struck a chord as on the surface it looks like an early attempt by the government to squash our (the public)  right to self-expression and in particular our ability to join and protest about issues that sit uncomfortably with us.  Examples given in the article are logging and live exports but they could stretch to those that we see in cosmetics I guess – ingredient choices, supply chain issues, animal testing etc.

As usual I can see (and feel for) both sides of the argument and as usual I am trying to work out where the sweet spot of balance is. Damn my Libran brain 🙂

Freedom is a wonderful thing but I feel that most of us understand that it does have its limits.  Take for example by love of music. I am one of those people who likes to FEEL the vibe as well as hear it (which might explain why I’m a little deaf) and as such I often get told to ‘turn it down’ by my kids, husband and dog (well I assume that’s what she is trying to say).   When they are not with me, if I was to take the freedom of self-expression mindset to the extreme  I would be able to have my music on as loud as my speakers allow but I don’t.  My behaviour is modified by my environment – will that annoy the neighbours?  What time of day is it?  Is that […]