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Essential Oil Encapsulation and what it can do for you.

January 20, 2020

In my job as a cosmetic formulator, I mostly get involved with essential oils when a client wants to fragrance their product naturally and prefers the idea of an essential oil based aroma over something synthetic.  That said, there are also many clients who see essential oils as part of their range of actives and a few are tempted to use them as preservatives although that often doesn’t work out too well. Suffice to say that essential oils often make up part of the formulations that I create and develop.

Using essential oils as your fragrance is a great way to turn what would otherwise just be a ‘perception’ ingredient into a ‘reality’ ingredient in as much as a synthetic fragrance just make things feel good whereas essential oils can actually do some good too.  However, it’s not quite that simple, essential oils often contain natural weak spots – chemistry within their mix that is challenged by the formula environment.  Over time the essential oils in a formula can oxidise or chemically change, in some cases causing the product to discolour and in others causing the product to become more irritating to the skin.  On top of that, some essential oils can be quite corrosive to packaging,  especially when used at higher amounts or when added into a sub-optimal formula (where the essential oil isn’t fully solubilised or integrated).  In these cases packaging failure can accelerate oxidation or negatively impact the publics perception of the product due to pump failures, packaging cracking or discolouration or a dissolving of glue and weakening of packaging glue.  The above are all examples of what we look out for during stability testing as some of these changes are only measurable or perceivable over a period of time.  Stability testing typically puts the product under heat stress for a set period of time, 3 months at 40C gives us insight into what might happen at room temperature over 12 months.  Twelve months of really good stability is quite often the minimum standard one should aim for in a commercially viable product and that is no way a given if your product contains unprotected essential oils.

Protection of essential oils in a product comes in many forms and a formulator will consider all of these things in the R&D stage.  The use of appropriate antioxidants to reduce and/or slow down oxidative chemical changes (over the nominated shelf life) is a common step.  Most people who put recipes and formulations together will have noticed there is nearly always a ‘vitamin E’ step these days.  In the old days (so to speak) this may well have been a BHT/ BHA step but now, with the push for vegetable derived solutions it’s mostly tocopherols that do the holding back of oxidation.  Tocopherol (vitamin E) in its mixed state (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta Isomers) is a pretty good formulation partner in this regard being relatively cost effective, long-lasting (much more stable than BHT/ BHA), readily available and easy to incorporate.  However, it’s not perfect, has a slight to sometimes quite strong odour of its own and an oil solubility that is logical and necessary for its function but makes it hard to combine into a spritz spray formula due to its effect on the dispersed phase solubility.  Other options are available to compliment or replace vitamin E including Rosemary Antioxidant (Amiox from Alban Muller is popular) and then Ferulic Acid,  Hydroxyacetophenone, Vitamin C (although this is often the first thing to oxidise as it’s very unstable compared to vitamin E), Coenzyme Q10, plant polyphenols, Alpha Lipoic Acid and many more besides some of which will be present in your plant based actives and others you may add specifically.

When it comes to antioxidant selection (for product protection) I always go along with the ‘eat a rainbow’ mentality. What I mean by that is, a combination (eating the rainbow) is more nutritious (or stabilising) than just sticking to one colour (say just eating broccoli).  The reason for this is that there are many reactions that go on in a formula that may speed up oxidation and so using a few different tools will give you a few more chances to mop everything up before it overruns your formula.  Indeed, on a simple level this is why mixed tocopherol generally out-performs alpha tocopherol alone in product protection – because it is one ingredient with four ‘faces’, each of which performs slightly differently thus giving a broader antioxidant coverage than just the alpha alone.

As good as loading up a formula with antioxidants is, it isn’t always the answer to your formulating problems, especially when you wish to achieve a very long shelf life (in excess of 24 months maybe) and/or have a very natural or very naturally active formula.   One other strategy that has been around for some time is encapsulation technology, this is where the active part of the formula is protected from oxidation and other environmental stressors by wrapping it up in a shell.  This technology has been successfully used to protect volatile chemical mixtures such as essential oils and other flavour and fragrance combinations across food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries and again, while it may not be the perfect solution for every formula, it is well worth diving into.


The first time I came across encapsulation in the essential oil space was back in the late 1990’s  when CLR Berlin brought out an encapsulated Tea Tree Oil called Epicutin TT which they may well still sell.  I was working in my first cosmetic job and the ingredient distribution company that I was working for was the agent for this manufacturer so I got to hear quite a bit about their products and technology.  I remember the contents of this article being quite eye opening to me as a young science grad and new industry participant as it was probably the first time when I really saw how scientific the cosmetic industry could be and that excited me!

This table from the above article  stood out to me as it was both simple and complex in the data  it  presented.

This table really brought it home to me that we can think of essential oils as single entities on one level and as complex blends of discrete ‘actives’ on another.  It showed me that there were some ‘actives’ or aroma chemicals within essential oils that were worth a closer look, that some were prone to chemical instability and that we, as scientists could go some way towards reducing this instability if we focus on controlling the ingredients environment.  The fact that doing this wasn’t just good for the (in this case) Tea Tree Oil, that it was also then better for the skin – less irritating, more potent and less smelly – was really quite something. Epicutin TT was developed as an active for blemish prone skin and had sebum reducing properties.

A note on being less smelly.

I mentioned off the bat that my client base often turns to essential oils for their aroma rather than their activity per se, so, it is important to note that the process of encapsulation can and often does change the initial ‘wow’ factor you get from the oil on first whiff.  In the example above, this was actually part of its selling point as not many people swoon over the medicinal odour that is Tea Tree, especially when it’s at the kind of dose needed for a decent result (around 0.5% as active Tea Tree or 5% Epicutin TT as supplied).  So, in this case the lower odour impact of the Tea Tree was a selling point but that isn’t always the case.  Where I have clients who are wanting the perfume of the essential oils rather than the therapeutic benefit per se, encapsulation may negatively impact on that.  So does this make encapsulation pointless for the majority of cosmetic clients?  I don’t think so as what you loose in the volatile, pack-opening WOW factor you gain in the long term in-use experience of the product so it’s probably more of a re-imagining and re-training of how to appreciate the product rather than a case of shunning the technology altogether. I think most cosmetic brand owners would rather the client have a good long-lasting wear presence of the aroma over just a knock-out whiff from the pack, especially given this technology also protects the aroma from causing irritation.

Back to the Tea Tree Example and some application advice.

Out of interest I’ve found and am sharing two promotional formulations that were published to encourage formulators to try the Epicutin TT. I’ve popped the INCI names next to trade names where I could find them  so  you  can  get  a  better  understanding  of  how  these  formulations  look.   One  thing  that  stands  out  to  me  is  how  simple  things were  back  then,  now  it’s  common  to  find  supplier  formulations  loaded  with  so  much  stuff  that  it  would  be  hard  to  know  what  ingredient  was  giving  you  the  benefit…

Encapsulate Technology.

Back then, 21 years ago, the technology for encapsulation of cosmetic actives was Cyclodextrins or cyclic sugar polymers.  There was a pretty decent review article written about this in the Journal of Cosmetic Science back in 2002 and here it is.

As you can see from reading the linked article, cyclodextrin capsules were not new technology in the 1990s, indeed the article found reference to them as far back as 1891 although back then, they were named cellulosins.  In 1903 it was an Australian based microbiologist,  Franz Schardinger, who we can thank for the name cyclodextrin after he discovered that the sugars that form these encapsulates are dextrin based – alpha and beta.  He noted that they form ring structures which explains the logic behind the name cyclo (ring) dextrin (dextrose based sugar).  A fair bit more research went on and by the 1980’s this technology was becoming so interesting that a symposium was held to help further its commercialisation across a number of high-value industries.

As the price of Cyclodextrin technology reduced this chemistry was used to protect all types of active ingredients from the environments they found themselves in.  This included flavour, fragrance, drug and other consumer product applications where active protection and long-term active delivery were advantageous.  The technology was also useful in allowing ingredients that were usually poorly soluble in water to be formulated into watery products thanks to the Trojan horse disguise the inert cyclodextrins provided.

Cyclodextrins can be thought of as protective shells that surround the target active. These shells come in the shape of a donut where the middle (or surface surrounding the donut hole) is oil loving and the outer surface of the donut is water loving.  I was looking around for suitable video to demonstrate this and couldn’t go past this crazy offering from the 1980’s. 

Cyclodextrins are just one example of a physical (and inert in the cosmetic sense) shell encapsulate material, there are many more with each type offering its own features and benefits as well as hold-backs and challenges.  Shells made of Chitosan, alginate,  modified cellulose, tristearin and more besides are available from a multitude of ingredient manufacturers, filled with a multitude of vulnerable materials. This little video gives a very simple overview of why different encapsulating materials may be chosen.   One of the draw backs with earlier cyclodextrin technology was the load capacity of the structure or, to put it another way,  the proportion of the complex that was being delivered vs the proportion that was doing the delivery.  The example I gave above was offering a payload of 10% so for each 1g of cyclodextrin active you added to your formula, 0.1g of it would be ‘active’ and 0.9g would be shell.  That’s OK if the shell is inert and cheap but not so great if the shell is going to change the look or feel of your cosmetic product and/or is very expensive.   There is now encapsulate shell technology available that can delivery in excess of 90% payload such as these colour-containing capsules from Tagra.  This gives formulators added flexibility when developing products, especially in the natural/ organic space where percentage of compliant input is essential for certification (not that this particular example is suitable for organic formulations).   One other development in the encapsulate space is size.  It’s possible to find capsules that are super tiny,  even into the nano-particulate range now. These can make all sorts of products possible as the active may now be technically invisible.  Theoretically one may be able to make a water-clear suspension of retinol or other oil-soluble actives thanks to the magical disappearing properties of nano encapsulation!

A final word.

Putting all of this together we see a technological concept (encapsulation) that has a long history of safe and effective use in the cosmetic field that can both protect our essential oils in the formula (for long-term stability and packaging compatibility) and enhance their (long-term) delivery on (or even through if that’s what you need) the skin.  While this may not be a good fit for all formulations (depending on your formula philosophy, price point or aesthetic),  it seems like a useful thing to know about and experiment with, especially where you are using essential oils AS actives rather than just for their fragrance alone.

What prompted me to look into this again was the launch of a new encapsulated lavender at New Directions Australia.  I have to admit that I’d forgotten how exciting this technology can be! There is some more information about this type of encapsulating material here and on the Tagra website.

Lavender essential oil is Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) in terms of its irritation potential. However, that status refers to its un-oxidised or fresh state.  As lavender oil ages the main components, linalool and lineally acetate can oxidise and when they do, they become more irritating to the skin.   Linalool oxidation occurs spontaneously over time when the oil is exposed to air.  There is a link to a paper here in the Contact Dermatitis journal that investigated the increase in allergenic potential between fresh and oxidised linalool.  Here is a link to one paper that looks at the oxidation of linalyl acetate, a process that occurs in the presence of peroxides.  Peroxides can form in a formula as other ingredients break down so it may be that one of your carrier oils starts to go rancid and the free radicals released into the formula because of that kick start the oxidation of linalyl acetate in your lavender.   Robert Tisserand has a good web resource for more information on essential oil stability and it is important to note that there are likely to be subtle differences in how natural lavender oils oxidise vs synthetic fragrances that contain these chemicals but in any case,  Lavender oxidation should be avoided.  I would say that the lengths you go to avoid it and the costs incurred to do so will depend very much on what role the lavender is playing in your finished product (active or just aroma), its dose, the reactivity of the formula as a whole,  who the formula is targeted at (babies and eczema prone individuals should really have all stability precautions taken), leave on or rinse-off and your packaging choice.   The New Directions team put the encapsulated Lavender into a night cocoon sleep mask as the key active so the integrity of the lavender was essential to the finished product efficacy.

Maybe something to put on your ‘to do’ list too whether you are considering it for essential oils or other difficult-to-stabilise actives I’m sure that a solution (or particulate) exists!


PS: I am part of the New Directions consulting team and have been for some time but I don’t tend to get involved with the selection of new ingredients or their in-house formulating so what’s new to the showroom is usually quite new for me also 🙂



Water, the next frontier for green beauty.

January 6, 2020

Talking about water isn’t a new thing in the cosmetic industry. I mean it is inevitable that this little ingredient will come up given the role it plays in hydrating and barrier protection, in creating space for the external phase structure of our formulations to exist and in hydrating key ingredients while keeping everything at safe dilutions and pH’s.  Water also comes up in newbie circles as many start-up brands feel they are onto something when they make a whole cosmetic range without the stuff (think face oils, dry face masks, salt scrubs, concentrates etc).  Alternatively many opt to swap regular water for something like Aloe Juice or Milk to take the emphasis off the first ingredient being ‘water’ (cheap filler territory) and give them a platform for something a little more active or even organic.  However, when it comes to water in general, the wider use of water, especially in the tasks that up-and-down-stream (excuse the pun) make that cosmetic product either possible or practical,  less is said.  I assume this is because it is a less sexy, more mathematical, less predictable or controllable story and one which many brands are yet to really get to grips with.  I mean how do you work out the water footprint of your clay ingredient or your vegetable face oil?  How do you account for all of the water used in creating the packaging option you opt for or the water used to clean your hands and facility before and after the mixing phase?  All of that is tricky and then there is the water we use when using the product, how do we talk about that?

I want to explore this topic widely and deeply in 2020 as I feel that water security will be a growing issue in this decade.  I have lots of ideas of how I’ll do that so watch this space as I dive into the watery side of the cosmetic industry.

But first, this.

When I first moved to Australia I was facilitating workshops at a place called the Watershed in Newtown.  This place was lovely, it was a community hub, a place to go for information on green living, the place that handed out re-usable shopping bags long before everyone had their own.  A place where picking up cigarette butts was serious business given the water flow from Newtown into Sydney harbour, a place where people went to become better people, me included.  The workshop I facilitated was all about making better beauty choices, not about how to formulate your own products but more about how you can cut back and go without so much wet stuff.  I ended up taking the workshop in a wider and broader direction and delivered it at both the Sydney and Canberra science festivals as well as Greenfest in Brisbane. It was all heaps of fun but it ended when my general consulting picked up and I no longer had so much time.

During that time a key part of my message was the one that the Watershed was built on – small steps make for big effects.  I really did believe that back then (this started in 2007 for me) and I enthusiastically got behind the message that if we all did something it would be better than nothing and that by 2020 the world would be better.  As the years rolled on and I got busier and then lost touch with that side of my work I stopped believing so much in that message.  I saw the world get worse and worse as people either didn’t care, didn’t believe (as if wasting resources is something up for debate like your belief in God or Fairies or Zero calorie chocolate). I started to wonder what the point in me ‘suffering’ was when nobody else seemed to get it or care.  When I had more money I’d save up and fly somewhere nice on holiday with the kids and hubby. Maybe back to the UK or to Thailand,  Malaysia, Fiji or Bali.  It was all lovely and self-indulgent for a while there, especially while my kids were kids and creating a book of family childhood memories was my focus.

But then I woke up.

During the second half of 2019 the bush fires started here in Australia.  I knew it was dry, dryer than usual, as I am a huge bush-walking fan.  I live in a beautiful part of Australia, a World Heritage National Park (well it was, not sure what it will be after this) and I can’t get enough of being out amongst it all.  However, my inner ‘oh shit this isn’t good’ voice was proved right when the bush fire season started early, impacting on land around one of the clients I’ve been working with for the last year and a bit.  I felt sick to my stomach as that area too is beautiful and after a prolonged and painful drought I knew that this was the last thing the farmers needed.  It wasn’t long before it was our turn to weep and rasp as my beloved Blue Mountains went up next albeit slowly.

We are still burning, in fact today is the first day back at work after the Christmas break. I was planning to do so much work over the last two weeks but sadly my attention has been on fires, intense smoke, bad air quality and oppressive heat so I’m starting 2020 behind the eight ball yet again.   While my home is not under any immediate danger (the fire is still some 14Km off I think) my husband and I have been planning, preparing and adapting and that’s where water comes in.

One of the stories that captured my imagination during this horrendous fire season (which is far from over) was that of a fire truck caught short for water as the crew tried (successfully I might add) to defend their truck, hose and a home with only 2000 litres left.  They used their water wisely and finished the job with 200 litres spare, so that’s 1800 litres used and a house and truck saved.  Great job!  The figures quoted really resonated with me and something clicked.  I realised that it actually doesn’t take much to defend a property when you have to.  I started to think about how I’d been using water up to that point and again became interested in measuring my use and, hopefully, reducing it.

Another fact for us Aussies, especially those of us in the Sydney area is that our dam levels are falling at a rapid rate.  The stored water that we drink is practically on fire right now. The fire that is creeping towards our homes up here came from the dam and it has grown over several weeks to surround the whole area thus increasing evaporation and (potentially) compromising water quality.  If that goes, who knows what Sydney will do (although we do have desalination plants I suppose).   Anyway, you get the picture, suddenly my life became all about water.  The water that would sustain me and the water that could save my house.

I decided to start with the shower.

I placed a 30 litre tub in my shower and stood in it while I turned on the tap and rinsed away the day, daydreaming about this new project idea I had as the warm, clean water tumbled over me.  Before I knew it the bucket was full to the 20 litre mark.  I finished showering and felt horrible about what I’d done.  So this is how much water I’ve been using in my absentmindedness?  Sure a long shower is good (and it wasn’t even that long at 5 mins and I hadn’t put the shower on full power) but is it good enough to risk this type of waste for?

Over the last week I’ve experimented with my timer, reducing flow and changing routine.  I have now got my shower to a decent 2 minutes using between 5 – 10 litres per shower which is way less than the average figures quoted for Australia.  As it is mostly hot here I’m sometimes having two showers a day, especially as I have been doing lots of heavy outdoor work to prepare our garden for the fires.  Keeping the flow and time low has meant that my husband and I can both have two showers each and still not exceed 20 litres of water between us.  That, by the way, is now going onto the garden, either to keep what’s left of the grass around the home damp (additional fire break) or to water plants if the water is not too soapy.  I’ve been washing my hair with shampoo bars and forgoing conditioner (which does leave me a bit coarse and curly but I can handle that another way) and to shave my legs I’ve used the collected water in the bucket so it’s like a bath and shower in one – like when the kids were little).

A complete change of mindset once more.

So where to from here?

Well, I wanted to start with this as a way of bringing my attention together, as a focal and personal starting point into this conversation.  I have always found it easier to explore a topic from a starting point that is personal and hands-on so this feels like the right thing for me to do.

On another note we are also in the process of rigging up a very water efficient sprinkler system for our roof to go with our misting system we already have around the eaves. This isn’t so much about beauty but about fire protection although again, it does remind me of the many ways we can use delivery systems to maximise the effect of water while minimising its use.  I think that’s an angle I should explore more too!

I’m looking forward to exploring this further with you all and will most likely run some interviews with people who have interesting stories to share on this topic.

Stay sensibly and sustainably hydrated my lovely readers and watch this space for more water news.


PS: So, by my terrible mathematical calculations I think I’m saving around 15 litres per shower now. My husband never used as much as me but he’s probably saving around 2-5 litres too now he has to stand in the bucket. If our two teenagers get on board too there will easily be another 20-30 litres saved per showering day.  That’s  maybe 50 litres saved per day for our family from just one activity.  If this were stored in order to fight off a fire like that in my example above, we’d have saved enough to save our home within 36 days!   OK, so we’re not doing that but when put like that it just shows you how much difference a little bit more attention can make!

Do we really need masks for our bottoms?

January 6, 2020

It’s rather unlike me to do a product review as I’m not really that kind of girl/ blogger/ chemist but I just couldn’t help popping this little beauty into my basket when I visited Mecca late last year:

Yes, this shiny piece of consumerism is a butt mask!

Now I’m not sure about you but I don’t ever, in normal every-day life consider taking time out to beautify my butt.  As I’m typing that I feel a bit weird actually,  like why wouldn’t I exfoliate, moisturise and treat such a big part of my body and identify (hahahahahaha)???   Maybe it’s because I just have not had the time or energy or imagination to do it until now!  This mask certainly got me thinking of all the years of neglect my poor backside has had…

Anyway, I had forgotten about this mask after the initial excitement of the purchase wore off and it became just another sample in my sample draw until the other day when I was looking for something else (as is often the case).  The other day was New Years Day and I’d just sat through a barrage of ten year challenge photos on Facebook as my (mostly English I have to say) friends posted their ‘this was me at the start of 2010 and this is me in 2020’ pictures.  I have a sister in England who is currently heavily pregnant (yay, baby time!) and feeling rather blobby about herself.  We were having a chat about this photo-challenge thing and she was trying to get me to participate – I don’t generally do things like that as I just think it’s a bit pathetic to be honest but I did want to make her laugh so I said that I’d be tempted to post a picture of my arse ten years ago vs now, just to make a statement about how ridiculous the whole thing is – just an opportunity for people who feel they have aged beautifully to show the world and get some kudos.  My sister loved the idea but I was like ‘damn my mouth, why did I say such a silly thing’ and went off to bed and forgot about it again.

But that thought didn’t go away and as I was doing some New Years cleaning out under my bed I found the box of ‘Amongst Sisters’ books that I’d kept for myself as a memento of that project I did that went wrong (I wrote a book, realised it was too heavy to post and too expensive to sell so it got nowhere and ended up being dumped along with all the money I’d put into it which, at the time was devastating and financially problematic but we all live and learn…)  The good thing about this book in relation to the above challenge is that it was compiled in 2010 AND…  It has a picture of my arse on the front!

I quickly got the camera and got myself on the floor, in the same position as I was in when the original was taken and tried to get a selfie of my butt that was both artful and realistic while resembling as closely as possible the look that had been achieved back in the day.   Here are the results:

I’ve put that cats face there just to save your blushes really as god knows who you are but I’m sure you do not want to be confronted by anything close to porn on a blog like this at this time of day (insert time here…..).  Look, you can see my dirty floor (oh my god that’s bad),  my un-matching PJ’s and the fact that I used the Christmas decorations suitcase as the backdrop for the picture.  The top is my arm as I skilfully reach for the camera to get the shot having not received a selfie (or arsey) stick for Christmas!  After some careful cropping to sort of align it to the original and then putting a light filter on to give it a similar tone too I ended up with this:

Top = the book cover, bottom = my bottom now.  I couldn’t work out on the picture which way I was facing but I kind of like the result anyway.  Arty bums.

With that done and my bum mask re-discovered I was set, my new smoother bottomed life was only a 10 minute mask away…

The mask.

Ingredient wise this is a hydrating, water-based sheet mask that contains marine extracts as its actives. There is a blue algae (Haslea Ostreaia) and Bladderwrack extract (Fucus Vesiculosus) plus a little oat, hydrolysed soy protein, aloe and chamomile (also mostly soothing and hydrating).  The pack tells me that the marine algae will firm my butt (which I wasn’t sure I needed but hey, let’s give it a go) by combating gravity – that’s a big call but I guess in the butt world it may be a case of go-big-or-go-home! For a minute I forgot I was a chemist and fell in love with the marketing words turned into promises that were thoughtfully strung together across this pack. Plumping, Soothing, and firming, how nice.

I  have a very close relationship to bladderwrack seaweed as it reminds me of the times we spent at our holiday beach home as a kid. I used to collect lots of this stuff which I felt looked a bit like witches hair!  I’d put it into my bucket then sit popping the little glands rather like you might pop bubble wrap or that Angalypta embossed wallpaper which was another favourite of mine to pop (google it, it’s that cool stuff everyone had in England back in the day).  As a kid some of my best memories were around being outside in the woods or on or around the beach just collecting and playing with plants and other stuff.  My mum would tell me about how, in the olden days, people would come and collect and eat this stuff which I always thought was gross but now it would be trendy to do such a thing – wild harvesting, off-the-grid-living,  foraging maybe.  My mum and her brother (who still has a very keen interest in all of natures wonders) would also tell me about how different plants could be used for the skin and for washing the hair but I didn’t pay too much attention to that back then, for me it was more to do with the sensory aspect of stuff and for me, seaweed was and always will be the slimy stuff you pop!

I toyed around with going into the chemistry of the ingredients here but don’t want to as I feel it would be best for me to do that in another post.  That said, I didn’t want to leave anyone hanging and so here is a link to a decent introduction to the benefits (and chemistry) of Bladderwrack. Suffice to say that these are good choices for any skin care and are worthy of further investigation.

Time to try it:

I’ve made a bit of an attempt to make the action shot a little less explicit by adding the fake flowers. Hopefully that helps, sorry if it doesn’t.

That stain on the shake part is MICA God Damn it!  I repeat MICA!!!

The experience:

Firstly there is mica so that’s what has stained the sheets and that’s what makes your butt a bit shimmery afterwards. It’s on the ingredients list of course but I overlooked it before. I assume this is the ‘illuminate’ part of the claims.  Light up your backside with shimmer 🙂

Next the sheets were bigger than I was expecting – not a bad thing as surely one wants their whole booty covered in serum goodness rather than just a slither but it was quite a surprise to see the bigness of the sheets.

Further, the sheets were much better quality material than I’d anticipated so I’m sure these could be rinsed through and used again, possibly with any other serum you wish to pop on your bot.

It’s a cold experience.  Now two days ago we had a hot-day-to-end-all-hot-days.  12 Km down the road the town reached a recorded temp of 48.6C which is insanely hot. I would have died for a cold butt mask then but today it’s only 20 something degrees so the coldness was less pleasant, especially as it was cold and damp. I would probably heat this up next time or use it on another hot day.

Other than that it’s quite nice and you do get a good 10-15 minutes of forced down-time to just chill out (literally) and indulge yourself as there’s not much you can do with two sheets stuck to your bottom.

The verdict:

This is definitely something that people like me that don’t get out much would find amusing and for that reason it’s worth buying and trying. The ingredients are all pretty lovely and it is well made so it doesn’t feel like a waste.  The mask would go just as well on your face or boobs if you so wished but the butt factor did give me a laugh and God knows we all need more of that in our lives.  As a chemist I’ve done a poor job of explaining this product but as a regular, suburban mum shopper I think this is just peachy and because the sheets are such good quality you can satisfy your inner anti-globalist, anti-capitalist urges by beating the system and using the sheets again and again! Ha! Take that neo-liberalism.  Oh and for all you adventurous types why not get a handful of friends (and masks) together and have a butt mask party?  Now I’d better stop there as that sounds a bit risqué.

Now, if only I’d have done the mask BEFORE my ten year challenge photo I’d have had a firmer more illuminated butt to share…



Happy New Year? But First This…

January 3, 2020

Well, here we are again, another year older, wiser and (hopefully) more beautiful inside and out and if we aren’t then there are another 360 plus days to figure it all out and do some experimenting.

2019 wasn’t my most prolific year here on the blog as my enthusiasm for sharing the thoughts that go on in my head ebbed more than it flowed for the first time since I started this thing back in 2007. That scared me a bit to be honest,  I was expecting that, at some point my ideas would dry up and I’d get writers block or something but that’s not what it has been,  it’s been more of a mental ‘why bother’ block which I think I’ve mentioned before.  This doesn’t get fixed by people, readers telling you that you are awesome and to carry on…I write out of compulsion, I go with my own flow as a way of avoiding the kind of mental constipation that comes with holding in a million thoughts a day.   So, in 2019 I was confronted by this ‘why bother’ mentality first followed by a reduction in blog views (inevitably when you go from posting often to posting infrequently).  It didn’t take me long to realise that it wasn’t the numbers that bothered me. I’ve been around long enough to know that mind blowing visitor/ follower/ eyeball growth figures year-after-year are all about the sizzle rather than the sausage in the junk food game of social media.  No, for me it was this attitude that I’d developed that was killing me (and I mean killing me, without being overly dramatic, I did feel pretty dire about it all for a long while there).

I have since realised, on reflection, that my work attitude was being unduly influenced by the energy and what I perceived to be the values of others. This led to me spiralling into what can only be described as a mild catatonic state ( an immobile or unresponsive stupor) or, to use a physics term, a state of inertia.   I must add at this point that this is different to procrastination, with procrastination one is moving but in a way that serves to distract them from what SHOULD be done.  What I was achieving was a state where nothing happens.  Quite zen like in a really dysfunctional way,  I think my brain was just shutting down-too tired, too under nourished, too stressed maybe…

I don’t like the feeling of having my strings pulled by others, it feels very silly and more than a little pathetic, something I frequently remind my kids not to fall for.

I guess it also runs counter to my idea of myself as a strong, independent woman and that felt depressing.

I’m very much a loner and someone who doesn’t really care about how others perceive me. Well, of course I care to a point but that point is more to do with people mis-understanding me than disliking me, there is a big difference I’ve found.  What I realised over the holidays was that I had become overly attached to, or developed a dependency on the need to be fully understood or at least heard by the people who contact me.  Putting this into the context of my work what I mean is this, people ask me questions about their brands and formulations and I go to (what I feel) is great lengths to un-pick their questions and answer them, with their input, from the ground up.  I do this so that the person asking the question may end the exercise truly empowered and with a far deeper understanding than they thought possible.  I do this by taking the surface question and picking at it, uncovering the layer after layer underneath it then encouraging the customer to explore and re-build those layers with me then alone into a whole new world of possibility, invention, originality and satisfaction.   Let’s just say that 2019 was the first whole year where I’ve felt that nobody gives a shit about that any more, about knowing why, how and when.  Somewhere along the line I seemed to have internalised that to ‘nobody gives a shit about people like me any more’ which again is subtly different to ‘nobody gives a shit about me’ – that’s a far more personal take on it all and not something I’d tend towards.  However, by the end of 2019 I felt totally drained and like the world was rewarding the stupid, vacuous, fake and shallow thinking that was everything I hated. That made me angry because I don’t like hating people or situations, it’s very energy consuming and quite destructive until fully analysed (which I’m trying to do here but had no time to do at the time).  So my hatred wore me out and gave me another job to do at a time when the last thing I needed was another job.  Great!

Anyway, time to dig deeper…


My hyper-focused state consumed  all of my energy as I tried to ‘help’ people who didn’t realise they needed or wanted that ‘help’ to understand cosmetic chemistry the way I do. I dearly wanted for them to develop the relationship with the subject that I have and to therefore appreciate it WITH me so I’d have more people to play with.

Aside: Anyone who has ever had kids and tried to get them to like and enthusiastically participate in your hobby the way you do will know that I was onto a loser here…

Now wishing for the world to be full of people who think just like me and then getting the shits when they don’t could be signs of bigger problems in every-day life but we’re not talking every-day here. In my work life  I’m a highly accomplished consultant, someone well respected in this field, someone with nearly 23 years of experience (and not just google experience).  I built up my business with the strange notion that I was building a way for people to have a piece of this, learn this, share this, I felt that my unique insight and modus operandi was what people came to me for. Oh shit, that sounds very pompous. If you don’t know me personally you may be thinking right now that I’m actually a self-obsessed dick-head and I take responsibility for that because of how I’ve written what I’ve written. So when it all started to backfire, when people started approaching me like they were doing me a favour, like I was just the lab girl awaiting instructions, that I was the one who needed to ‘do more research’, like their basic ideas were so precious they couldn’t possibly share them with me for fear I’d steal them (as if…)  I felt angry and my brain went into oppositional defiant mode. I WILL NOT WORK FOR YOU ARSE HOLES THEN, STUFF YOU! That’s how it sounded in my head, all shouty and rude.


But as is so often true in life, on reflection I realise that it is me that has this all wrong, not everyone else.  What a bummer that is, always being wrong 😦

The truth is, interactions with people affect how I feel about myself and how motivated I am to perform for them and yes, teaching is a performance, a lovely, wholesome, from-the-heart-body-and-soul performance that I love dearly but only when the audience reciprocates.

The masters teaching course I’m studying helped formalised my understanding of the importance of reciprocation in teaching during 2019 and ironically that was the very same year I felt that reciprocation fizzle out.

I feel it is important for me to point out that reciprocation is NOT, I repeat NOT the same as agreeing, sucking up, fawning over or quietly obeying. I am not a dominatrix, I don’t want to be your master (although I don’t doubt it would pay me more at times hahahahaha)

Most teachers recognise reciprocation in all of its guises (and challenges). Resistance is reciprocation, questioning and debating, sharing and testing ideas, theories and points-of-view are all great, anything but quiet submission or ‘yes missing’.   A good teacher focuses on creating an environment where student-teacher communication is welcomed, it is dynamic, nourishing and where it has the ability to develop both the teacher and the student’s understanding and relationship with the subject at hand. But somehow, it has felt less like that for me this year and not for want of me trying.

So it is with this mindset that I have traditionally taken on my consulting work in all it’s forms. That I’m the teacher and that my customers are, in part, students.  I understand that the teacher-student relationship only goes as far as the scope of the work I am doing. If they are asking me for technical help then I’m a teacher of cosmetic chemistry, if they are asking about their branding or communication then I’m educating them on how that may be perceived (based on my professional experience) both by the layperson and by professionals like myself and so on and so forth.  On the reciprocal side, I accept with an open mind that my customers are the teachers and I’m the student when it comes to their business. They know that better than I do and I am attentive and thorough in my learning about that in order to tailor my part, my teaching to their specific needs.

Anyway, I’m going on but that’s the gist of how I do things so it felt really crushing when it felt like nobody even cared.  To be honest I think it played into my underlying fear that I have about me always seeing things slightly differently to other people.  Again I get it that everyone sees things differently to everyone else but what I mean is my ADHD brain, being wired in a way that processes information in unpredictable ways, tends to lead me to put a different spin on things, find a different focal point  or notice things that others don’t and miss things too.  This can leave me feeling like I’m living on another planet to most people I’m with who all ‘get it’ when I don’t and vice versa.  I’ve mostly learned to live with that and even see it as a strength (as in what I offer with my business – a truly unique view of things) but when the chips are down it becomes my weak spot and I begin to second guess everything and shut down.  It’s hard to trust your instincts when, as a pack animal, the rest of the pack are running in the very direction your instincts are screaming at you to avoid.

That’s what happened in 2019, that’s what kept blowing out my sparkle.

Instead of just meeting my clients where they were at, I was trying to drag them into my world, instead of not taking it personally I was eating it down like poison, instead of choosing my battles I was taking each interaction I had as a chance to unsheathe my science sword.  Oh boy!

But that was then.

It’s 2020 now, a whole new decade which is exciting in a way isn’t it?

It’s time for me to grow up a bit more.

I’m 45 for goodness sake and my home is surrounded by fire (well, not that closely but yes, like much of Australialand the Blue Mountains has been burning and we currently have a clear and present danger sitting about 18km to the south east of us and 12km to the north west. The bottom one is slowly creeping into those dry river beds, the ones that lead straight up the backside of our property line. The Rural Fire Service have already cut their last-line of defence posts into our fence line.  Comforting and terrifying in equal measure.

If truth be told,  I don’t fully have a plan for how I’m going to get over my habit of trying to teach every person that asks me a question whether they like it or not (and harshly judging those who opt to not receive the gift that is my teaching hahahahaha) but at least now I know what my problem is and how it makes me feel. That’s positive!

I’ve also realised once again why I bother as in bothering with this blog, what I do, how I do it and how much I care about it.

I bother because I find myself in my writing and my work.   My writing and lab play time are ways of anticipating, finding, exploring, investigating, resolving and communicating problems.  That’s what my consulting business is about not about shoving thoughts down peoples throats.

I bother because I do this for me and how I respond to it is the only thing I have any control over.  Oh why did I forget that for so long…

Anyway, happy 2020 everyone. I think I’ve got a bit more sparkle in my magic wand now and I’m almost ready to take this new year by the steering wheel and drive it like I stole it 🙂 Just one more weekend of hedonism to go.

Onwards and upwards starting with all of those jobs I need to get finished from 2019! Ouch.

Amanda x

P.S I’ve already got quite a few science-type articles lined up for the coming days/ weeks etc so don’t worry, it’s not going to be wall-to-wall self pity, that is now all done and dusted for a while at least 🙂




Video killed the radio star.

December 20, 2019

If someone was to ask me what I’d be (career wise) if I wasn’t this (a cosmetic chemist) I’d say ‘documentary maker/ story teller/ interviewer of people/ uncoverer of detail’.

My obsession with picking at the threads of life has been with me since forever and while I often say to people that I’m not a people person,  what I really mean is that I’m not the type of individual that thrives when surrounded by people in my personal space – communal living is my idea of hell. However, what I do love is observing people and shining the light on their lives and experiences.  I think that has a lot to do with my feeling of ‘otherness’ which, I think is mostly due to the fact that my brain works in a different way to the majority of others, it being classified as having ‘ADHD’ wiring.  To me, people (the mainstream) have always been somewhat of a mystery. I don’t really understand the full force of what it feels like to be jealous of someone, compete with someone, obsess over what other people think of me or sit with a burning desire for the adoration of others.  I say this because sometimes when I tell people that I’ve always wanted to make documentary style programs, they immediately imagine that I want to be a TV star and that’s not really it.  Sure, if telling those stories means my ‘self’ gets filmed and becomes known to others then that’s ok but that’s just a small consequence rather than the main point.  It’s with that mindset that I’ve entered into this new project of video making and it is because of this mindset that I’ve decided to keep just being my whole, crazy and often distracted self as you may start to see if you watch anything I do. I figured that if you can’t bring your whole self to the party,  you are at the wrong party.

So what is this thing?

NDTV – New Directions TV.

By August 2020 I’ll have been at New Directions as their help desk chemist/ writer and trouble shooter (one of a team) for 10 years and as such, it felt like time for something different!  New Directions is a honey pot for start-up businesses but it’s not just start-ups that come and talk to me there or avail themselves of the companies products and/or services.  Everyone from the very smallest to the largest of business enterprises comes through those doors and leaves with a little bit of something to help them on their way.  As of November this year I took up the challenge of grabbing time with some of those people and telling their stories,  getting behind their professional poker-faced public image and finding out what it’s REALLY (and I mean really) like to be a person working in this, the cosmetic industry space.

And what a weird space it is…

Over the coming months this project will expand and encompass many different elements of life behind the scenes of the cosmetic industry.  As I mentioned on the post the other way when I introduced the video trailer, I have a LOT to learn about video editing and production but like most of the clients that come through the door of New Directions, I, like them, will be learning as I go.

If you are interested in having a look you can find the new content on the New Directions You Tube page which is here.

I’ve also embedded one of the videos here, this is the longest one we have made so far at just over 20 mins and is where I talk to Hairdresser, brand owner and educator Sam Overton about Silicone chemistry in the hair care industry.  As you can see it’s not just a chalk-and-talk type presentation – a format that I find very uninspiring.

Other videos on the recent playlist include a chat to Beauty Room Clinic Owner, Meredith Langley about her business and new Lash and Brow Lounge and a catch up with Melissa from Washpool Soaperie at the Finders Keepers Markets to find out what’s new and get an update how business in a drought affected rural area is going. I’ve also got a video with Ben, founder of men’s skin care brand Milkman,  a practical demonstration of the new hair mask from New Directions and a ‘what’s new in the showroom’ short video showcasing how the New Directions bases can be used to help clients get a better literacy over what suits their skin.

Exciting times.

Amanda x


An Instinct for experimentation.

December 14, 2019

I’ve had to apply myself to a new task over the last month,  the task of video production.  This was not something I’d done much of prior to the month of November, in fact, most attempts I made at creating IMovie content ended in a bit of a disaster as there was just too much that I didn’t know. However, that has now changed, quite rapidly in fact, and I feel it has something to do with my instinct for experimentation.

I’m not the kind of girl that reads instructions.  I just look, touch, experience then try.  Often this can lead to massive failures and sometimes I do find myself digging through the bin or cupboard in search of that wonderful bit of guidance that accompanies most tools, self-assembly furniture or lab equipment these days.  But the important thing for me is that I pretty much have to fail in some way first before I recognise what I know and what I don’t know, what I can teach myself and what I’m best being taught.

Having just finished creating what I must say, I’m pretty proud of – a You Tube intro clip for the re-vamped channel that I’m creating content for (for New Directions Australia), I wanted to share it around to make sure that a) I wasn’t completely deluded and b) that it was on track with what was wanted by the company.  It was during that ‘show-and-tell’ that I got a comment that has just come back to me as an ‘a-ha’ moment:

‘I bet you watched a lot of You Tube ‘how-to’s’ to learn how to do that?’

Boom, there it is.

That’s what’s happening.

That is the norm.


Ok so I did watch a bit of You Tube, probably 15 minutes where I sat down first with one of the company directors and reviewed various movie trailers (to form a brief) and then with my daughter (who was working with me at the time) and a few more team members to find videos of things smashing and mixing in slow motion.  15 minutes tops, that’s it I’d say.

By modern ‘I’ve done my research’ standards I was hitting an  F minus or even less.

But that’s all I needed because I wasn’t searching for a prescription, I was searching for ideas.

I have been wondering about that in light of the issues I face with the people I talk to during my consulting week.  When I started the technical help desk service I was getting some pretty basic questions (as is expected and welcomed) but the energy behind them was inquisitive, probing and with a clear feel for what they were wanting to know.  Fast forward ten years to now and we have a situation where the tone is more combative, the questions are posed in a way that is less open to ideas and more demanding AN answer as in ‘give me THE answer’.  As anyone who has ever asked me a technical question (or read my other blog posts) knows there is no single answer to a cosmetic formulating question, this is an applied science and that’s why I love it.

My thoughts led me to reflect on how I had been going about my new and unfamiliar task in a world that I’m not actually qualified to be in and have no ‘best practice’ or insider knowledge to fall back on.  What is it that makes the people I talk to now approach this new venture in such a different way to how I am approaching my new venture?

I guess I suggested my own possible explanation in the title of the post, that I have an instinct for experimentation which, I have to say, is best when paired with a vivid and energetic imagination.  I do have all of that although I’m not always the best at executing my ideas or thinking them through (in that I’ve pretty much encapsulated the high and low points of an ADHD brain like mine) but what I can do is get some runs on the board.

To me, experimenting or enthusiastically just giving something a go (albeit with a little age-appropriate risk-assessing) is at the heart of everything I value about how I do things and how I work things out.  It is the approach that I try to encourage in my students, my clients and my friends and family.  I am comfortable making mistakes on camera, in class, during public speaking and even in print (although my spelling and grammar blind spots do shit me to tears at times) because I know that the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind.  I know that this is true because while the first set of people are critically evaluating and trying to rank in terms of importance and value what I’ve just said or done, the latter have just picked up the baton and ran with it.  I don’t just LIKE those people, I LOVE them.

When I was growing up my dad had a saying that he’d often share with us.  He usually dropped it when he saw someone participating in a hobby, a person who had ‘all the gear but no idea’ meaning they had the best of everything in terms of things you could purchase but had no capacity to make a real go of it in practice.

These days with the ready availability of ingredients, cheap and fast online and offline courses, recipes and sharing groups, blogs (such as mine) and other platforms that turn amateurs and charlatans into experts,  these ‘all the gear and no idea’ types have thrived.  In the days of my childhood, very few people had the resources to be THAT person, these days much of the research comes for free so by the time you do your little bit of online course or whatever, you already feel like an expert.  By the time you actually use that gear (information, equipment, ingredients etc) you feel like all of the boxes have been ticked only they haven’t because there are no courses that can qualify you in imagination;  the learning that comes from just doing, being, touching and seeing; a natural aptitude and ‘feel’ for the subject and, most importantly, an inquisitive and flexible mind.  In fact the opposite is true – these days if there isn’t a tutorial, recipe or prescription for it, it is a problem, not an opportunity.

I have often bemoaned my chaotic approach to life, the money and time I’ve wasted on ideas that I’ve enthusiastically but unpreparedly commenced then crashed out of, the projects that have left me broke and tired and the thoughts that have robbed me of too much sleep.  However now, when I look at what I’m achieving with my video work, however crude it currently is, however many things I’ve still got to learn, perfect, polish and re-do, I know that my approach, my natural instinct is right.  This is what we need more of in the world,  more getting stuck in and giving it a go, more creating, experimenting, more fearlessness, more open minded exploration, more gumption.  Gumption is another good word from my childhood, it means ‘shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness’.  I really like that!

If you still have the instinct for experimentation and the gumption to see it through let me know, if you don’t know what I’m talking about,  you are not my people.

Here’s my video trailer:

It looks relatively simple now but getting those bubbles of oil filmed was a bitch I can tell you!  Then getting them edited in the right space in the right way was another headache and so on and so forth.

The last bit of the puzzle was the sound track which we all had a good laugh making.  We chose some random morse code from the iMovie sound effects studio but a late night conversation about morse code that morphed into a side chat about whale penises (long story….) resulted in me generating a bit of meaningful code to add instead.

Net result: I like it but like most experimenting people, I want to now keep pushing myself to do bigger, better, longer, stronger etc…

Keep experimenting.

Don’t stop,

Remember that 10,000 hours to becoming an expert that I’ve often talked about, well if you think that’s just 10,000 hours of You Tube watching you are probably delusional 🙂

Amanda x

Beauty is virginity

November 23, 2019

Let’s think about this for a minute, about how this one word has shaped our history.