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Solubility is relative, not absolute.

January 18, 2019

In spite of the dramatic rise in people making their own cosmetic products over the twenty years or so that I’ve been in business I haven’t really noted a comparable increase in science literacy. This is in spite of many people completing online or face-to-face courses.  Now I’m obviously part of the problem, being as though I’m an educator and I teach some short courses myself but I have to say that while I’m willing to try to push myself and my teaching harder, I am not prepared to take the whole blame for this and anyway, there’s no blame required as long as everyone stays open-minded, we’ll all learn as we go. Together!

So solubility…

Solubility is the art of disappearing one chemical into another.  It could be salt or sugar into water (where does it go?),  olive oil into avocado oil (do they combine into a new super-oil or do they stay separate?),  a food dye into water or some (but not all) essential oils into alcohol.

Is this magic or what?

To me chemistry IS magic,  a magic that only gets more magical on deeper understanding. There is no need for the slight-of-hand trickery, even when one knows exactly what is going on the reality is just magical and other-worldly. Solubility is one bit of the chemistry magic and this bit is relative.

Relative:  Considered in relation or proportion to something else.

We can only really have very meaningful conversations about solubility when we understand both the solvent and the solute.

Solvent: The medium that the ingredient is to disappear or dissolve into – it may not even disappear, colours don’t disappear do they? They merely integrate and spread out!

Solute: The thing that you are trying to solubilise or make disappear.

Us humans have a very large tendency to over-simplify everything in order to get things processed in a way that is as energy-efficient as possible – turns out our brains are super hungry and we don’t like churning through the calories just thinking.

So we tend to just stick to two categories of stuff in cosmetic science:

Oil or water. 

The question I get asked frequently is ‘is it soluble in oil or water’ and that’s a reasonable question but it is only a first step.

Finding out if something is generally oil or water-soluble helps us to understand the main nature of the ingredient, to visualise where it might sit in a formula and/or what type of issues we might face in using it.  But we shouldn’t stop there.

Once we get into the lab we might find that what we thought was going to be an easy job of disappearing our ingredient has turned into a nightmare.

This is what I mean about solubility being a bit more complex and with it being conditional.

Here are some of the conditions that can come into play with solubility:

  • Temperature
  • Concentration
  • pH
  • Molecular weight where a molecule has a variety of weights or sizes
  • Ionic strength of solute
  • Ionic strength of solvent solution.
  • Chemical interactions within the rest of the formula.

The above may mean nothing much to you until (or unless) you’ve been in the lab or your kitchen and things have’t gone to plan in the solubilisation realm.

The ionic strength part is actually quite a big thing in cosmetic chemistry, especially these days where people like putting all sorts of wonderful things in their water phase so people’s water phase is rarely just water.

If you have a formula that contains aloe powder and you next want to dissolve Sodium PCA, your water phase is no longer just water, it is aloe water.  This probably won’t stop the Sodium PCA from mixing in with your water but it might affect other things like, for example, how easy it is to solubilise essential oils into that ‘water’, how easy it is to form a stable emulsion with that ‘water phase’ or how readily the preservative dissolves through.

The other main thing is concentration.  Everything has its solubilisation limit and if you exceed that you may end up with sedimentation in your product, graininess, full product instability or crystallisation.   Published solubility data for water-soluble things is talking about pure water and not water that already has five different actives added so do keep that in mind too!

The bottom line is that things aren’t always infinitely soluble in each other so just because a chemical is soluble in water or oil doesn’t mean they will always be soluble in your water or oil phase or product, your product may have changed the solvent characteristics significantly enough to make the ingredient insoluble at the concentration you want to use.

Chemicals have their preferences and their limits.  If you are having issues with solubilising or stabilising something then do take a helicopter view of your formula and check that you are not over-loading the phases.  What I often do in that case is pair back and re-build one step at a time to see what kills it.

And don’t forget pH, pH can make the difference between something disappearing forever or staying stubbornly separate.

Amanda

PS: When you combine oils, they generally just get tangled and co-exist rather than becoming a new super-oil. This is why some oil blends can soften in a non-even way so you get some liquid forming on the top while the bulk is still solid – well that has something to do with heat transfer too but wide and separate melting points also play a part.

 

 

Reflections on ‘Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?’

January 14, 2019

Over the weekend I came across this article ‘Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?

It got me cheering happy cheers.

Then it got me thinking.

And by the end of the weekend I was back to feeling pretty ugh about it all.  Not that it matters what I feel in the big scheme of things as feelings are just personal and are often driven by attachment and bias but in this case I am going to talk about them.  I’m going to use my personal feelings to dissect the intricate and layered points served up in this article in order to form a relatable scaffold from which we can explore, together.  I’m going to do this because I’m a white girl living on Black Country therefore I burn easily,  I have some fear about skin cancer and I have had quite a lot of exposure to the actual science of sunscreens.  So, if you are ready, let’s go.

beach 2

Is sunscreen the new margarine?

One needs a catchy headline for an article and anyone who has spent any amount of time in certain health food circles will understand this reference – margarine is the devils work apparently.   There is a heady mix of science, urban myth and complete rubbish (my opinion) that underpins the argument that margarine is evil that plays to a very basic fear that we have developed of what I’ll call ‘science food’.   God gave us butter but Frankenstein created Marg – or something like that…

Margarine is a product of a chemical reaction between vegetable fats and hydrogen gas.  a bit of emulsifier is added, some antioxidants, vitamin (even vit D which in nature is actually found in some veg oils)  maybe and even a bit of colour.  Before you know it this is a ‘product’ created in a big factory where nobody loves anyone, everyone walks around like robots and somewhere in the corner the boss man (it was always only ever a man) sits in the corner counting their cash while we, the public, die of heart disease and clogged arteries or so the legend goes.

There are myths about this stuff being black, brown and grey, smelling and tasting rancid until ‘chemicals’ are added and then some.  The truth in this debate is to do with partial hydrogenation and trans fats, an issue that this article brought up and yes, it is probable that the Marg industry didn’t get on board with lowering trans fats quickly enough.  Trans fat levels now have to be listed (these are the bent chain fats that can clog the arteries) and you’ll find levels  in margarine sold today to be extremely low – around 0.1% max – so virtually trans fat-free, there is some info on trans fats here. It’s hard being a scientist in this day and age because while people do seem to have an appetite for new things and solutions, there is zero tolerance of mistakes or down-sides.  Now I’m not going to sit here and make out that corruption and self-interest or withholding truth can’t happen, more that all of that is somewhat encouraged by our un-trusting and un-scientific ways of thinking and our desire for everything to be a conspiracy rather than just a natural part of the scientific process.  Anyway…. The other reality is energy. Butter delivers around 3093kj of energy per 100g vs Nuttelex (a popular Aussie vegan margarine) which delivers 2430kg.  As the risks to health of carrying too much excess body fat are known it may well be the lesser of two evils (if that’s the way you look at it) to consume the lower fat option as a way of gradually cutting back calories, a 21.5% saving is not inconsequential and I’m sure that every little may help.  By the way a family member of mine was, for many years factory manager at a substantially sized margarine manufacturer and I did discuss the issues surrounding Marg with them.  It was always interesting yet not alarming. Anyway, enough said…

So that aside what next?

Ok so now we get into what I was excited about.  The premise behind this article seems to be that we have been fed a message to ‘wear sunscreen’ whatever we do, wherever we are, whatever colour our skin and we’ve largely heard that although not all of us take up the offer.  However, those of us that heard without doing carry guilt and humans are terrible with guilt, we don’t want to feel bad, flawed, lazy or sinful and this is especially true if we have within our care little people (children etc).  So, when we see an article like this that seems to say ‘sunscreen is bad, you are good to avoid it’ we breathe a sigh of relief immediately.  That’s where I got sad. Because it doesn’t say that at all.

The truth of the matter is that this article is pointing out some good facts.  Our skin does synthesise the very useful and biologically necessary (for health, wellbeing and (maybe) cancer prevention) vitamin D.  Wearing sunscreen like a second skin OR avoiding the sun under all circumstances are both ways in which you can severely restrict your body’s natural capacity to produce vitamin D.  I have talked about this before and have also pointed out the different pathways that vitamin D takes within your body.  Popping pills = different type of Vitamin D to what your skin produces, it goes first to the liver,  Sun-on-skin = optimal type of Vitamin D, gets used or excreted, rarely touching the liver.   Vitamin D is fat soluble and can become toxic in large doses and start causing trouble.  The reason that nature doesn’t give us that many foods that contain vitamin D is because we are only supposed to eat it in extreme circumstances or environments – the Northern European winter being one such circumstance.  The foods that do contain vitamin D are cold climate or sun-starved foods – wild grown mushrooms (grow best in darkness and damp conditions but produce Vitamin D when exposed to UV light),  Cod (hence why us Northern Europeans were spoon fed cod liver oil in winter, yuck!) and other oily fish, egg yolks (oK, they are eaten everywhere),  beef liver and a few other things besides (see here although I personally think they got it wrong with the supplement advise but I’m not a doctor).   So, the article’s point about sunscreen being a very real threat to our natural biology is correct, at least in theory…

In practice it is debatable as to whether any sunscreen could completely block Vitamin D synthesis, sunscreens don’t BLOCK all of the sun, even the best sunscreen lets some sun through so IF people were living a natural life (living mostly outdoors) even with lots of sunscreen on it could still be possible to get enough vitamin D through the gaps.  But this brings up another tangent,  us humans are diverse in our skins ability to convert vitamin D from sunlight, the darker the skin, the more sunlight is needed to allow for conversation to start, the lighter the skin the less sun is required to do the job.  This would be fine if we all lived in climates that matched our skin colour but we don’t.

Living Naturally. 

beach

OK so I’m not talking about buying ‘free from’ cosmetics here, I’m talking about living life outdoors and under the sun that suits us best.   The article does point out that people survived without sunscreen and comfortable inside jobs and housing for millennia which is true but I’d hazard a guess that, at least once-upon-a-time these people were also hairier than us and that, for at least much of history, lived, on average, for only a fraction of the time – 1/2 our life span at best for many.   I don’t want to dismiss the very real point of this article (and the bit that got me excited) about living more naturally, in tune and in touch with the weather, the sun and all that, but I do think it’s worth sprinkling in a little reality here.  While it may be natural for humans to modify their environment to increase their comfort, that doesn’t change their biology and need for environmental interaction.  Also the migration and movement of humans from continent to continent (even before planes, trains and automobiles) seems to be entirely natural in terms of human instinct, and desirable, in terms of human cultural evolution but biologically it has left people stuck as we try to fit our biological hardware to our alien environment – my experience of Australia being a case in point.

The bottom line here is that it is denying reality to come up with a one-rule-fits-all mantra for sunscreen use,  not only that it’s possibly quite racist – assuming that what’s right for white is right for all.

Cancer. 

Another thing I’m not an expert at is dermatology but cancer usually require triggers and for skin cancers it’s possible that UV induced DNA damage is one. The article rightly points out that there is more than one type of ‘skin cancer’ but what people may not realise is that not all skin cancers are linked to sun exposure, there is also a viral and genetic element.   However, if we just focus on the UV exposure part of the pie the risks of getting skin cancer logically increase with increased UV exposure, something that does directly correlate to  life span.  Our current average life expectancy is pretty high compared to that which our ancestors would have enjoyed.  A consequence of that could have been that many of our ancient ancestors simply died before their skin cancers could develop.

What about the pointer towards sun worshipers being less likely to die of skin cancer than sun avoiders?

The article points to reports that have found this to be true, that while sun worshipers got more melanomas, sun avoiders died more from their skin cancers.   There are lots of ways you could frame and then internalise that, some of which may miss the point entirely.  For me I immediately think like this.

So, why would people avoid the sun?  

Here are two simple reasons that may be relevant. I’m sure there are more.

a) Because they have a genetic condition that makes the sun damaging for them – albinism maybe?

b) Because they are a very pale skinned human.

What I think when I see data like this is that people who tend to worship the sun can tolerate it enough to worship it.  I like being outside but I hate being sunburned and so I tend to moderate my behaviour to avoid the down side.  I have a friend who would quite literally spend the whole summer on the beach and not feel burned.  She probably won’t die of skin cancer because she doesn’t burn, if I sat with her for a few summers I’d be in hospital.  I have another friend who was so pale she got sun burned walking across the street of the office for a coffee.  She may well get skin cancer before my sun-loving friend too.  That’s two of us vs one.

And, as the article pointed out they are only comparing death rates, not other things.  It doesn’t take much time walking around a crowded Australian city before you see someone with a chunk of head missing and it’s not all shark related.

Then there’s the notion that the people who use the most sunscreen get the most cancers.

I think (and again, this is only a thought, I don’t have data for this but do keep in mind that with enough time, money and resources one can find data to support anything) it could be likely that the people who buy the most sunscreen are the people who have the highest levels of fear about sun exposure because they have had the highest level of negative experiences before (burning etc) or the highest levels of fear about being judged or making the wrong decision based on the dominant social narrative of ‘wear sunscreen’.  They may be parents of young children,  have mainly inside jobs and have skin that is less accustomed to the sun so more likely to burn, have skin types or conditions as above or want to do ‘the right thing’ because of what they’ve read.   Without knowing more about this sunscreen purchasing group than that it’s hard to say but as people tend to make purchases based on wants or needs (and not that many sunscreens are marketed in a ‘want’ way) it’s likely they perceive a need.

On that point it is pertinent to bring up another point.  Sunscreen use  is usually not a sensory neutral experience.  Many sunscreens smell, some are greasy,  many feel heavy, some whiten the appearance of the skin, some stain clothing, I even have a hand print mark on my car left from a sunscreen greased palm when the kids were little,  some make you feel hotter and others are expensive.   Not everyone can tolerate such sensory inconvenience on their skin as an inevitable part of going out and about. Some will modify their behaviour to avoid putting themselves into ‘sunscreen is necessary’ type scenario while others will just take the risk. None of this is insignificant when it comes to trying to decipher data such as is presented above.  Feelings do matter. It is likely that those most adverse to the sensory aspect of sunscreen will also be wishing to avoid the negative aspects of sun exposure as prickly heat, sunstroke and burns are not pleasant either, the net result being complete behavioural modification.   Now we could extrapolate that still further, that feelings thing,  some people don’t feel part of the mainstream and don’t adhere to mainstream values and norms, they might feel deeply suspicious of sunscreen and seek to validate that suspicion with any ‘science’ that supports the notion that they are right to be wary.  So when the article beings a paragraph with the rebellious sentence opener:  ‘The idea that slavish application of SPF 50 might be as bad for you as Marlboro 100s” our sunscreen hating audience’s appetite for more blood is sated,  sunscreens are bad, there, says it on the page, there’s even a bold headline to prove it,  found easily by scanning ones eye through the article without having to read the detail.  The article does go on from there but I’m going to leave it at that and sum up under my own rebellious headline:

So is Sunscreen Only for Stupid People and regular People in Unnatural Situations?

Stupid = having or showing a great lack of intelligence of common sense. 

If you read through the original article and persisted through my verbose thoughts you may possibly have got to here with an air of  ‘what now’ about you.   My own personal conclusion was to pose the above question to myself and ponder if I was indeed right to be so dismissive of humanity and to say that ‘yes, sunscreen is only for stupid people – I originally just added the ‘people in unnatural situations’  to avoid sounding like a complete ass hole.   Only then I wondered,  how does one determine what that a stupid person or unnatural situation is?

What I was trying to capture in that was the idea that we are naturally equip, as humans, to live somewhere on this planet and that if we are in tune with that, we can make choices that give us the best outcomes while managing the down sides.  Whether we do that or not is another question. If we do that without considering all of the information and knowledge (scientific or otherwise) we have at our disposal IS stupid (to me at least).

There is a certain amount of stupid that came with me moving to Australia. I was NEVER going to turn black enough to protect myself from this sun so I would forever be in danger of damaging my skin and my health through sunburn/ sunstroke and getting some form of skin cancer – I go the clinic for my annual check so who knows what will show up in future.    However, to my mind, I only BECOME a stupid person if I fail to manage the risks that living with pale skin in a hot climate present and even then I should re-frame my response to ‘I would be a person who made stupid choices’ rather than seeing myself as a wholly stupid person.  Better for the self-esteem hahahahaha

Products such as sunscreen can help me bridge the gap when I can’t (see, element of choice here) avoid the sun either entirely or in another way and I’m likely to have already achieved an optimal biological dose of rays.  For me, sunscreen could be one of the tools I use to help me live more naturally in an environment that is unnatural for me.   Other tools being clothing, behavioural modification, diet and general health etc. However, if I try to replace my brain with a bottle of sunscreen and just apply it and move on, I’m liable to a) still burn – sunscreen isn’t sun block so if I’m outside long enough the sunscreen will let enough light through to burn me, b) end up with a deficiency in my vitamin D levels, especially if I over-do the sunscreen when spending the vast majority of my time indoors and c) potentially waste lots of money on unnecessary sunscreen.

I know that saying things and people are ‘stupid’ is a bit immature but what got me feeling a bit sad about this article was the realisation that while the article is awesome and factually pretty good, it does come at the facts after dissing science which invites people to stay stupid by encouraging them to dismiss science/ scientists and so-called experts. To persist in the view that these people conspire against us only for profit or otherwise corrupt us.  I can see how easy it would be for people who are already primed to hate or distrust sunscreens could use this as validation that sunscreens are completely bad or useless when clearly they have their place.   Lastly I found the whole thing a little sad  because of the inherent racism that seems obvious to me now within the sunscreen world. The whole sunscreen industry has grown off the back of white people’s stupid behaviour – go on a tropical holiday, wear tiny swimwear,  stay in the sun all day = wear sunscreen – without really acknowledging or celebrating the reality of skin of colour.  I believe that if we had embraced human diversity in the first instance we would have not only found it easier to relate to the science behind sunscreens but we would have also found it easier to form a connection between us and the natural world, a more natural way of living.  Instead we are now in a position where black people living in white climates are being sold sunscreen that they most probably don’t need.  Oh my god!

 So is Sunscreen the New Margarine?

Yes it is, but only because like margarine, people would rather stay stupid,  sticking to their hatred and mistrust of science rather than looking to see what potential solutions science can offer us for what are real problems – Butter  doesn’t spread straight from the fridge and white people can’t take too much UV.

Humans are naturally curious so let’s harness that and grow as that’s what science is really about.

Amanda x

PS: In spite of what it might seem like after reading this I really did like the article I’ve repeatedly quoted. It’s got us all thinking..

 

 

 

 

Cetearyl Alcohol is an awesome thing.

January 11, 2019

 

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Picture sourced from here.

Cetyl = C16. (C16H34O)

Stearyl = C18 (C18H38O)

Cetearyl = A blend of both.

This ingredient is the quiet achiever in your emulsion, one that people never used to really think about much until recently. Taken for granted until that point where it gets taken away.

Cetearyl Alcohol use is one of the things coming under the spotlight thanks to the ‘Palm Free’ movement.  It is 100% naturally derived, petrochemical free, vegan friendly, renewable, skin safe but not palm free.

I do keep my eyes open for palm free versions of this little material but alas, to date (and do remember you may well be reading this blog at some time in the far future from now) there is no supplier of such a beast that I’ve come across (and I’ve asked a lot).

Cetearyl Alcohol is a great example of how a ban on a certain material can impact a brand in ways that they had possibly not previously imagined.  This ingredient is often paired with others to form what we in the industry call ‘self-emulsifying waxes’. These ingredients are the thing that make it easy for the average person on the street to make an emulsion without getting out a calculator and figuring out HLB’s.  But besides that it’s a very useful ingredient in its own right and is often the thing that turns your lotion into a cream into a thick custard or pot-set rich cold cream. Without it things are left looking a bit thin…

The interesting thing about cetearyl alcohol is the way it works. It is fatty so it integrates its self into the oil phase of your emulsion but because it also has an alcohol portion to it it has a decent capacity to play with water.

If we compare that to your average oil phase ingredients – let’s take Olive Oil, Shea Butter and Beeswax as examples.  These three ingredients might differ in their chemical structure but they share the same feature of complete oil solubility.  They have practically zero interest in playing with water and will, therefore, become fully integrated into your oil phase.

People looking to thicken their creams may well think (with some logic and truth) that swapping from Olive oil to Shea butter will make the cream thicker because Shea butter is thicker.  Those same people are often disappointed when they realise that didn’t exactly happen.  Go one step further and add a dollop of Beeswax into the mix and while again, you do get some change in the way the cream looks and feels and a change in viscosity could well be part of that but the trouble with doing either of these things is that a) you don’t get the dramatic viscosity change that you can get with cetearyl alcohol and b) the whole feel and stability of the cream changes when you mess around with the dispersed phase.

Adding more oil does sometimes help but only to a point.  If you think about it, the oil is going to be emulsified INSIDE the cream into little spheres.  If you only have a few spheres of oil the cream could be quite loosely packed and flowable.  Pop a few more in and it will thicken a bit.  However, you will reach a natural limit with this strategy as the oil (internal) phase starts to become too much for the emulsifier.  Often these oil-heavy mixtures will separate leaving the oil floating on the top and the water phase sinking.

Cetearyl Alcohol isn’t without it’s problems, you can wax-out your formula, however, it’s definitely the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to affect your products viscosity.  0.5-5% is fairly typical in a cream, paired with glycerin if you want to go to the higher end- the glycerin helps to prevent total waxing and cracking.  Hair conditioners may have as much as 15% cetearyl alcohol in as, believe it or not, it’s this simple ingredient that provides most of the oil phase in those things!

The image above is the most beautiful I’ve seen of what actually happens inside your formula. The fatty alcohols form ripples of ‘thickness’ in your water phase with the polar phase – the -OH parts and the non-ionic tails -the cetearyl parts aligning to form chain after chain radiating out from each oil drop.  This is what makes your creams thicker, this structuring of the water phase with fatty alcohols,  this is what ensures your emulsions are non-greasy and light even when they are thick.

But we can’t use this in palm free formulations.

It may be that this material becomes available as palm free in the future but it’s not likely to be something that oleochemical factories are jumping around to do.  Basically palm oil makes its way to oleochemical plants, often, but not always it’s mixed in with coconut too and sold as a mixed vegetable oil with just the right mix of C16 and C18 to be helpful.  Scientists who research this type of thing found that if the chain length is bigger or smaller than this the layered cake structure doesn’t form as well and the desirable properties of cetearyl alcohol can’t be achieved.  This is why there are no drop-in replacements, just in case you were wondering.  So basically these oleochemical plants take the oil in and split it up into its fatty acids and then go on to react them from there.  For a long time it has made sense for oleochemical companies to be located near to the oil (saves on transport costs) so there are quite a lot of these manufacturers in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.  As the oleochemical business is mainly a bulk commodity one it has become quite normal for the oleochemical processors to be backwardly integrated with their farmed supply.  So either the chemical companies purchased the farms or the farms purchased the chemical companies, whatever way it happened I don’t think there are that many sizeable oleochemical companies who don’t have an interest in palm.  So there we have it, the nub of the issue for those looking for palm free…

To make a palm free version of this or any other commodity, low priced chemical for cosmetics would require the development or segregation of a whole new supply chain. This is easier for the smaller makers outside of this hot-bed of palm growing activity than it is for the bigger players who probably, to be fair, produce 80% or more of the worlds supply.  Further, even though it is quite possible to produce these fatty alcohols from other oil feedstocks what is the incentive for companies to do that when they own palm plantations?  There is a risk in diverting expensive plant and man-power to a new product that is going to be more expensive and will potentially lead people to question even more why you don’t go palm free for everything or don’t simply ‘do more’.  On that note, I doubt many companies want to pretend there isn’t an issue with land clearing and un-sustainable practices more that nobody really wants to come out first and face it.

The bottom line then is that formulators of palm free products have to do away with cetearyl alcohol which means that things like hair conditioners, all kinds of moisturisers and some shaving products are all made heaps more difficult to formulate because we can’t use this ingredient and are unlikely to get a direct replacement any time soon.

So that’s that really and that’s why some palm free moisturisers are a bit different to palmy ones.

And no, this isn’t an ingredient you can just whip up at home.  It takes some serious chemistry equipment to create this – a simple enough reaction but not exactly home-makable.

Amanda x

 

New Year, now what?

January 9, 2019

We are mid-way through what for some of my Australian clients is the first full week back after the Christmas and New Year holidays. In Australia our end of year break coincides with summer and the end of the school year so many of us take extended holidays to reflect (deeply) on what we got up to last year in an attempt to learn something.

Along with many of my customers, I’ve been doing just that.

One of the good and bad things about my type of business is in seeing the brands I work with bob along on their own individual journeys. Some of them zoom into the fast lane, selling heaps, expanding greatly and pushing all kinds of boundaries, others take three, four or five years just to gather themselves enough to launch one thing and manage that from home.  All of this is success or failure depending on how you wish to measure that. I don’t sit here in judgement, I travel with my clients as I do with my own business, holding their hands as best I can (or as much as they let me), holding on for dear life when the shit hits the fan and sharing their elation when there is a big win. As you can imagine, it is quite a journey and one that is played out across different brands in different spaces working towards different goals for different reasons.

During this time of reflection and especially after a prolonged time away from the chaos it is common for people to sit back and ponder the point of it all.  Is this enough?  Am I doing it right?  Does it mean anything?

I have my own fair share of that and I have to admit that I wrapped up 2018 looking more like this:

Than this:

For a variety of reasons that have led me to wonder if it is all worth it too.

When that question comes up for me or anyone I am involved with in business I tend to advise taking a step back to critically evaluate why that feeling or thought has surfaced.  In some cases it’s just sheer exhaustion after a busy year of juggling, in other cases it is a sign that things are critically wrong and need some attention.   In all cases it’s quite possibly a sign that you have notched up another rung on life’s learning ladder and, if you are open to it, you will grow just that little bit more after taking a moment to reflect.

From what I see one of the most common underpinning issues that brand owners and supporting businesses face is them losing their direction, becoming somewhat dis-orientated or realising that they actually never had a clear direction in the first place or, as is sometimes the case with older businesses, their original direction has shifted as they learned more and now they don’t quite know how to portray that – I sometimes feel like that’s been the nub of my problem…

In terms of what can lead up to that moment, I’ve noticed that for a brand owner it can happen when they feel like they are constantly chasing the rabbit  – their distributors or sales people constantly tell them that ‘we’d sell more if you changed that, added this,  went there’ therefore always giving them more problems than solutions, always wanting more stuff, the perfect baby, the next best thing etc.   For my business and in my case it’s when I wonder why the information that I give and share isn’t valued as much as it used to be, when it gets drowned out by the noise or plopped into the bargain basement with everything else.  In both cases that ‘what is the point’ feeling is being fed by a feeling of no longer being enough or of somehow missing the target in spite of being enough.

In my case I’ve realised that I have reached a point in my career that I need to make some changes to the way I do things in my business to ensure that the joy, the detail and the point (my point of teaching, valuing resources, the art of paying attention) don’t get drowned out in the rush.  In the case of my clients and brand owning friends it may be that the next logical step is to sell, diversify, consolidate or to hold firm, slow down and observe more. Whatever the case it will all be worth it as long as you keep your eyes and mind open to change and appreciate the saying that goes ‘if you want different results, try a different approach’ easier said than done but nonetheless true.

To sum it up I found two great quotes that I’ve put on my personal mood board for this year.  One says ‘I’m one of the lucky people. It doesn’t get much better than this’ and I’ve popped that on top of a black and white picture of an old camp site in the forest to remind me of the amazing feeling of being grounded and free that being in the great outdoors give me.  The other is a quote from a book I just read over the holidays called ‘Milkman’. and it goes ‘after generation upon generation, fathers upon forefathers, mothers upon foremothers, centuries and millennia of being one colour officially and three colours unofficially, a colourful sky, just like that, could not be allowed to be’.  That means a lot to me, both literally and metaphorically, indeed that’s the way I see my science in a world when the evidence points to most others seeing something much more one-dimensional.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with that and with the space (hopefully) to ponder your new business year and hopefully set yourself up on a pathway to great success whatever and however that looks.

Amanda x

 

What’s happening almost one year on from the EU proposed ban on Palm in Biodiesel.

January 9, 2019

Last night I was reading an article in an English language Malaysian newspaper about a letter that one of their parliamentarians was about to send to the EU protesting at their proposed Palm Oil ban and stating very clearly that ‘there would be consequences’.  As with most online news reading these days, the article took me around 5 minutes to digest and then I sat back with my cup of tea and read through the comments…

What is clear is that the other people who are reading this paper are aware of the intricate detail that underpins this lucrative industry and what’s more they mainly have little faith in the efficacy of the approach that their government is reporting to be considering.

So what’s going on?

The EU decided that the best way to make their diesel ‘green’ was to make it out of trees (because trees are green duh).  Ok, that’s not exactly it but it is close to the truth.  Now in the global ‘green’ oil market palm reins supreme so palm it was.  Get rid of that nasty petrochemical oil that is unsustainable and replace it with palm oil which is made from palms which are trees which is lovely and can presumably grow on forever.

Only now we know that we missed the point completely on account of the fact that our tree diesel obsession has not stopped global warming (another duh moment but what can you do?)

So now the EU is going ‘aha,  people don’t like palm because the plantations take the rain forests and the rain forests are home to Orang Utans and people are getting very upset about that so let’s ban palm and seem like we give a shit’.  They are proposing to replace palm with Soy, Canola and Rapeseed, crops that clearly have a magical way of growing en mass, on small pockets of already degraded land in high-prices Europe where we no longer have nature, wilderness or animals because of. Wait, what?   SSHHHHHH!!!!

In following up I read another article this morning which you can find here on the ecobusiness website.   

The take-home message for me was this:

 

Europe uses around 1/3 of the palm oil it imports in biodiesel, the rest going to food and chemical industries.

That accounts for 4% of the global production of palm which is a fair chunk really but possibly not enough to save the forests, especially when you consider the rest of what the article says.

The suppliers to the EU are currently the certified sustainable suppliers and get a premium for their oil.  Whether their certification is worth anything or not is debatable but clearly there is some acknowledgement that the customers are asking for sustainably sourced palm and the industry is attempting to give them it.  Now a 4% drop in demand is most likely to result in a drop in price (due to the usual dynamics of business) which could then open up the palm market to other, lower barrier-to-entry markets. The certified suppliers are the biggest losers here while the bottom end of the market will no doubt cash in.  So it is likely that rather than reduce the demand it will just cheapen and diversify it.

Let’s ponder that for a moment…

So I’m left sitting here feeling a strange synchronicity between this and the UK BREXIT debacle (because whichever way you would have voted it has now turned into a complete brawl).   Sure, leaving it all behind looks to be a good idea and there might well be some merit to it but, as always, the devil is in the detail and maybe there is a smarter way to play this, a way that doesn’t result in a net negative for humanity.

I only hope it gets sorted.

Amanda

 

Give it away, give it away, give it away now!

January 9, 2019

If, like me, you lived through a Red Hot Chilli Pepper concert in the 90’s and saw Flea with his kit off you will be able to place the pop culture reference in my title.  If you weren’t, no matter, it’s not really relevant anyway, it just reminded me of what I want to talk about and that’s Intellectual Property.

I’ve started the New Year with a dilemma and I want to let some ideas flow onto this virtual paper as a way of me exploring how I really feel about this and (maybe) providing you readers with some light entertainment.

The giving away of what appears to be ones intellectual property for free (or very cheaply) as a business model.

You may be wondering how that can be a business model when there is no business to be had when everything is free?  Well I’m guessing it has something to do with the cult of celebrity and the hope that their rising profile and follower count will eventually lead to a big pay-day somehow and somewhere.

misty forest

Anyway…

I feel a bit weird about it all to be honest. It’s not that I’m adverse to sharing or not monetizing the knowledge that I personally have.  I’ve been writing this blog for free for long enough now for that (hopefully) to be apparent and while, yes, the blog does serve as a bit of advertising for my consulting,  it’s actually a fact that the bulk of my paid customer base over the last ten years haven’t found me through my blog at all, it’s been more of a word of mouth, industry type of thing which is nice but it does somewhat prove that I could have just kept my mis-spelt words and wacky intellect to myself and used my time to walk more or talk to my dogs. I digress…

So the weirdness I feel is centred on what is turning out to be the theme of my life really, my one-woman quest to try to encourage people to place more value on their resources than they currently do.  For me this spans all things from environmental resources such as palm oil to personal resources such as your time and energy. Somewhere in between all of that is the huge amount of value that I place on the scientific method, slow and deep thinking and the art of paying attention.

leaves

To sum up the weirdness I feel about all of this giving away of everything is that for me it kind of flies in the face of all that I value, not because of the act of giving, I think we should give more, I truly do (is she just contradicting herself a bit here???), more that I fear we are dumbing everything down and commoditising what should be a really beautiful learning process and that this has become a particularly popular thing to do thanks to the addictive aspect of social media that is ‘the cult of celebrity’ and ‘promise of easy money’.

But then I ponder on again, maybe I’ve missed something here. Maybe these people don’t have the same relationship with knowledge that I do?  It’s highly possible that is the case…

It is true that not all Intellectual Property is created equally.  I might go into the lab and find that this goes with that and creates something nice and the whole process have taken me next to no time, as a bit of creative fun. I could then quite happily share that with my online friends, as a comment in a group of specialists or on my Instagram feed with a nice picture.  My sharing is about the here and now, what you see is what you get and the rest is up to you.

But it doesn’t work like that for me.

Sure I go into the lab for five minutes and throw some things together and sometimes they work out great but my five minutes has been underpinned by foundations that span 21 years of trial and error, that have chemistry and application knowledge, that intimately know the supply chain and the problems that can come up, that understand scalability and process flow, that have an intricate knowledge of costing, margins and return-on-investment and not just for one brand, for many.  I understand the legal framework albeit not as thoroughly as a regulatory specialist but I understand it nonetheless,  then there’s stability, micro testing, packaging compatibility, consumer behaviour, marketing and skin feel.   So my five minutes in the lab was supported and made fruitful thanks to the 2.6 million minutes that sat behind it,  at least half of those totally self-funded via my own business.

It’s not that I think that nobody else has that kind of understanding, more that I don’t think the way that business is being run these days as a social media popularity or get-rich-and-famous-quickly model is helping people to reflect on the true value of what they have or what they are asking and rank it accordingly.  Social media doesn’t necessarily give you more points for being better qualified or more experienced and it’s hard for people to tell that stuff,  one good layout of pictures or share of ‘behind the scenes’ action looks as convincing as the next to the layperson, that’s what’s led to brands that share pictures of their founders mixing what we are led to believe are cosmetics in their food kitchen, in food bowls with hair flowing and everyone breathing into everything.  Not exactly representative of what goes on in a real lab environment but we like it so it ‘wins’.

So back to this and I’m left with the realisation that the reason I’m a bit weirded out by all this is because, yet again, I’m living in a completely different I.P world to many of the other people I float around with on social media and while that’s OK, it’s going to sometimes jar a little.

My final thought brings me back to the point of it all, the human desire to share and exchange ideas and make connections.  I now understand, I think, that there are tiers of I.P  supported by different layers of value that is invisible/ unfathomable to the bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed but that to participate in this dance I have to find a way to play and I will play.   In order for me to play I have to keep my mission, my motivation, at the front of my mind so that the exercise is all worth it.   So with that I confirm that the point of it all for me is to participate in the pursuit of knowledge and the growth of understanding,  not in what to think but in how to think.

sky

And that’s why I sometimes won’t give you a formula or specific ‘do this or that’ advise but I will hand you a key to unlock that door for yourself.  It’s not my problem if you don’t recognise what a key is but you know what, I’d probably try to help you learn of the keys value too as that’s just what I do whenever possible.

And with that I’m going to go off and look at how I can better orient my social media chanels to allign with that  realisation 🙂

Amanda

Free from: Is all or nothing all there is left?

December 29, 2018

A friend of mine posted something on Facebook yesterday that got me thinking. It was a comment on those people who were outraged about Japan resuming whaling yet whom were still making choices that weren’t best for the environment themselves.  A calling out of double standards maybe?  A cry from the heart to friends who seem blind by their own digressions?   I don’t know, I didn’t ask, it wasn’t my conversation to be part of nor my time to seek clarification because for me, I’d taken this comment and placed it into the context of the cosmetic industry.

Every so often, in the twenty plus years of me being here, in this industry, another thing creeps on the ‘free from’ list. First it was SLS until someone also reminded someone who there is also SLES although almost no-one really knew the difference.  All that was needed to be known came through the fax machines and into the offices of the 90’s in black and white, like a message from the invisible typing gods on high who had a premonition that a future of death and destruction would surely be the fate of anyone daring to ignore this grave warning.  I don’t need to highlight the warnings that followed, we all know them by now but by now we’ve gone past mere ingredient shaming and have now gone the full monte,  pitching whole brands, their philosophy, their owners ethics and their life-cycle analysis against a moral tuning fork in order to judge whether it hits the right note or if it is all wrong. There is no in-between…

Or is there?

I get it, I understand the neat and tidy ‘this or that’ of it all.  The desire to make up our minds and be done with it,  to not dwell or get tied up in the minutia of detail, to just choose and be done.  We are time poor, maybe more so than ever before but it is not just time we are poor of, its mental capacity, head-space,  mental clarity.  In a world where everything we thought we knew was wrong, we just want something to cling to. Why can’t our cosmetics come with a simple good or bad tick?  Why should we have to care?  Since when did washing our face become an activity that can leave us feeling like we are sanctioning the murder the world?

I think we are in danger of losing the plot.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Time is running out.

Run-away climate change

45% (or is it more?) of the world’s biodiversity lost in MY LIFETIME!!!

GLOBAL WARMING

If that isn’t the shit hitting the fan then I don’t know what is…

But I am still not sure that we should, in our only-human mortal individualistic, lonesome selves, take on the burden of fixing everything for fear that anything less is doing nothing.

Oh and I certainly can’t back the shaming of others who are not quite pounding the moral high ground in the way that we expect them too.

So what should we do?

Far be it from me to dictate anything to you, dear reader/ brand owner/ business entrepreneur or home-made enthusiast so instead of issuing you a directive I’ll offer you an opinion.  My opinion is that it would be good if we all just woke up a little more and stretched out our hands to re-connect to each other, to see ourselves once again as small pieces in a great big puzzle, a puzzle that nobody really has the full picture of but that we are all just trying to make sense of by holding each other together.  My experience of parenting and nurturing (and helping to grow)  small brands into big ones is that nobody feels motivated or good about being shamed and a goal is not a goal but is a torment if it is too lofty and far removed or plainly un-realistic to even attempt to work towards.

The truth of the matter as I see it is that there isn’t a cosmetic brand on earth that can save the world from all that we are doing for it but we can all use our energy, passion, creativity and vision to do the best that we can in the sphere in which we resonate.  Using our energy and passion to attack or focus on what others are doing and then judge them is absolutely not helping unless, of course, they are breaking the law then do the right thing, tell the authorities and move on with being the best you you can be.

I truly do believe that there is still room for everyone and everything that is creative, that creates value and that celebrates the value of our resources, natural or otherwise.   In time we all naturally evolve to have more empathy, think bigger,  be more all-encompassing and powerful than we once were as long as we feel safe and supported.  In the meantime if everyone could just be part of the movement to politely and happily encourage that in whatever form it takes it would probably not be a bad thing.

Thanks for reading my blog this year. I may get another post in before 2019 but then again I may not. I’m off into the forest to plan my next adventure and I hope you are too 🙂

Amanda