Skip to content

Eye cream, face cream, body cream and feet. Why one size doesn’t always fit all.

June 13, 2017

Skin is skin isn’t it?

If you are trying to down-size your bathroom cabinet in an attempt to shrink your carbon footprint or save money seeing the skin as all the same is a reasonable place to start.   The one-skin-one-moisturiser approach.  I did that for the year that I went backpacking out into the wilds of Indonesia and across Australia.  I took my first ‘home made’ cream (an aqueous cream base infused with lavender and tea tree essential oil that I’d mixed in) and that was all I used except for the occasional dab of sunscreen – I really wasn’t that sun aware back then and neither was I in need of an eye or foot cream, I was only 20 and was only interested in keeping my spots and the mozzy bites at bay.

So is it fair to say that the skin is all the same and this approach is enough for everyone or are we missing something?

Well yes, one could say that to a point.  The 20 year old me had a very short and non-specific criteria for the moisturiser and I started off with a base that was pretty bland – not too heavy or greasy. It isn’t always like that.

A better approach for a cosmetic chemist to take is to think holistically about where the product is to be applied, how often and for what purpose.

Let’s consider the eye area.

Now I’m in my 40’s I find my eyes get dry and itchy more often so an eye cream certainly feels like something I need after rubbing them one-and-off all day (I have allergies).  While the skin that my product will be applied to (the stratum corneum) is the same as the skin that I can find on my back it is fair to say that it is nowhere near as robust and this is highly relevant.

The stratum corneum is layer of cells that we present to the world. These are essentially dead cells that act as our first line of defence against outside intruders.  The stratum corneum around our eyes is the thinnest skin that cosmetic chemists have to work with and that is worth taking into consideration.  Because the S.C is so thin around the eyes it is reasonable to expect this skin to be more sensitive than skin on say your back or your feet. Indeed, as an aside, one of the biggest practical faults in using animal models as human dermatology reference points is the huge variation in Stratum Corneum thickness.  In some cases it is like comparing someone wearing a suit of amour with someone in a silk nighty! The cosmetic chemist should take into consideration the reality that of all the skin you could apply a cosmetic to, this is quite probably the most sensitive area and formulate accordingly.

But it is not just the potential for irritation that is important.  This delicate area doesn’t benefit from being tugged at or rubbed hard so it is important that us cosmetic chemists appreciate that and design products that either sink in quickly or that can be spread lightly.  What we are talking about here is rheology or flow.  It isn’t always the case that a moisturiser should sink in quickly,  for people with very dry skin or for products that benefit from being massaged or from remaining towards the surface of the skin (like sunscreens and make-up) a long-flow is more appropriate.  However, around the eyes it is best that a product sink into the skin quickly with minimal rubbing (shear force).  Another angle in this pot of considerations is to do with the products ability to wet the surface (surface tension modification).  Think of how water droplets form a bead on the skin versus oils that seem to spread out very easily.  I try to formulate products for the eye area that have a higher tendency to bead than spread far and wide so they don’t spread out INTO the eye its self (and sting).  The balance between spreadability and difficult-to-rub in is achieved by careful selection of emulsifier (if required), oil phase ingredients and percentage and composition of the water phase.  See, there is quite a bit to think about!

A pretty obvious eye area consideration is aroma.  Not many people want their eye area to be highly perfumed, indeed there is no need for it.  An eye product may be unscented, use scent just to cover the base formula aroma or may use aroma as part of its actives (cucumber carrier oil or essential oils for example).  What is important here is that the perfuming agents are chosen for their low risk of sensitivity and solar reactivity (non photosensitising).  If using essential oils it is also important to look at whether they will enhance the overall skin penetration of the formula or not (some EO’s are penetration enhancing and thus may increase the likelihood of the formula being irritating).  When aroma is used intentionally it is usually kept to a low level – typically half to a quarter of that used in a regular facial moisturiser.

Another angle to consider is efficacy (what the product is to achieve). When it comes to the eye area the big issue is dark circles!

What causes dark circles to form under the eyes is surprisingly complex and an easy-to-read paper explaining this can be found here: What causes dark circles under the eyes? Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, Volume 6 (3) – September 1, 2007. 

In a nutshell (and for those who haven’t got time to read the attachment), eye bags have a variety of causes from allergy to trauma (swelling) to  fatty deposits and circulatory issues to increased melanin deposition to general fatigue.  One assumes, as a cosmetic chemist that one is creating a product for a ‘cosmetic-only’ application rather than a pathological diseased state.  So, we mostly focus on the visible and topically correctable issues and work there.  It might be totally appropriate to have a brightening eye cream with ingredients that suppress melanin production somewhat if your eye discolouration has a melanin factor to it.  It is unlikely that the eyes would then become white while the rest of the facial skin remained your natural colour because you are starting off with more melanin that necessary in the target area – the aim would be to shade it down to match the bulk of your facial skin.  If the problem is oedema (swelling) a low-irritant formula containing a topical anti-inflammatory active that is cosmetically acceptable, such as bisabolol might be appropriate.  If the problem is fatty circulatory it might be possible to try adding some mild vasodilating herbal extracts to the formula – not too much though as opening up the microcirculation too far might lead to more blood pooling rather than less.

To sum up, without even having to go to the extent of reading paper after paper after paper, we can already see that the eye area has its own specific set of ‘problems’,  it’s own considerations when it comes to wearability and practicality and it’s own way of best applying it.  We haven’t even looked at the business case yet  – the fact that the products are usually used in small amounts (small surface area of the body to apply to) so can retail for a much higher price per ml than most body creams that have a higher dosage requirement.  This premium price point does open the product up for the addition of the very best of anti-ageing actives, much more so than can be afforded in general skin care.

And what about the rest of the body?

While it is fair to say the eye area has the most intricate set of requirements for the cosmetic chemist to work around, the eye area is not the only place on the body that can benefit from special treatment.   Foot and hand products benefit from being non-greasy or slippery, should sink in relatively quickly but feel quite nourishing, heavy even (in some cases). Perfume wise, these ares can often tolerate quite a bit more aroma than products for other areas of the body but that does change when the audience has a chronic dry and cracked skin condition.   Hands and feet are very similar but the chemist should keep in mind that hands are exposed to far more sun (usually) and weather extremes than feet, that feet are more often occluded (covered and prone to sweating) in socks and shoes than hands (which are generally out or in gloves) and that hands are more often immersed in surfactants than feet (hand wash, dish washing etc).   Body products may benefit from being extra shiny and slippery,  may be more attractive to customers if they have a more potent and attractive aroma but need to be cheaper due to the higher use level.  Also as a body product is designed to be applied all over the body, the allergenic or irritant potential of the formula should be taken into consideration  – the bigger the dose, the more likely a reaction.

So one size doesn’t really fit all then?

To this I’d say yes and no.

If you have skin that is behaving its self, giving you little to be concerned about, then a basic light moisturising cream just to help the natural barrier functioning out when it is a bit stressed (too much swimming, hot or cold weather, too little sleep etc) may well be more than enough to keep you happy. But if this isn’t you and especially if you have specific concerns about an area of your skin then I’d personally seek out a product formulated with that area and your specific issue in mind, especially if you are looking to spend a decent amount of  money on trying to ‘correct’ whatever it is.

The bottom line is that it is a cosmetic chemists job to produce an applied solution to a specific concern (real or perceived) and that involves them looking at more than just the morphology of the skin.






What’s been your most life-changing beauty purchase so far? For me, it was my daughters Tangle Teezer.

June 12, 2017

My youngest daughter has curly hair and when I say curly I mean massively curly in the ‘could turn to dreadlocks at any moment’ kind.  I have always loved her hair from the innocent golden blonde ringlets of her pre-school years to the fiercely full-bodied golden brown frizz that is so fitting for her full-throttle teenage personality.  But as most parents of VERY curly haired children know, there are many tears that come with an un-tameable mane and so, in 2011 when, at the Hair Expo I came across a thing called a Tangle Teezer I bought two (just in case).

It is fair to say that the Tangle Teezer changed my daughters life.  In 2011 she was 8 and was still having lots of trouble dealing with anyone touching her hair let alone comb it.  This was a complete nightmare at times given the love affair that primary school children seem to have in spreading nits – you can’t get rid of nits unless you comb the hair with a very, very fine toothed comb and a comb with teeth that fine doesn’t tend to make its way painlessly through heavily entangled knots.  Not only did the Tangle Teezer make it possible for ME to comb her hair, it made it possible for HER to comb her hair and not only that, it opened a door for her to start enjoying her naturally beautiful curls.

Today my curly haired daughter and I were lucky enough to be at the hair expo in Sydney when an opportunity arose for my daughter to model for the inventor of the Tangle Teezer Shaun Pulfrey who was on stage demonstrating his new brush design!  He did a fantastic job of straightening a section of her hair in just a few minutes using nothing more than a spritz of water and a medium heat hair dryer.  Very little impresses me in the beauty space these days but THIS to me was pure magic!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As a mum I recognised early on, thanks in part to the curly haired issues we were facing, how important it is for us as individuals to be able to manage our own looks and feel good about ourselves.  For my 8 year old daughter, the ability to take control of her hair and form her own style was pivotal in helping her feel good and in control of her life.  I’m sure this is true for many of us of all ages, indeed if it weren’t true there would be no need for the ‘bad hair day’ saying.

As a chemist I understand the nature of the hair and have had a long-standing aversion to heat treatment myself.  I rarely use a hair dryer and never go for straighteners or other heat devices.  My daughters do own a hair straightener and I have to say that they don’t use it all that often but even so, I’d rather it never be used at all if I’m honest.  The excessive heat pumped out by those things can very easily singe the hair and at best regular use without the right under-coat product can leave it brittle and dull.

Finally as someone with an environmental conscious that is always trying to do better I am really happy to see that a good ‘tool’ can replace both the need for excess electricity (heating) AND heat protector product and all of its ingredients (chemicals).  Surely this product needs to be put in for a green award, it is almost the ultimate in a green product!

So I’d just like to thank Shaun again for the hard work and vision that has gone into this life-changing little product and wish him and the team all the best in growing their already super successful global brand.

Well done all – you are doing me out of a job 🙂

What has been your biggest life-changing cosmetic product (including tools) purchase and why?


PS: My daughter volunteered as tribute (model) and I paid the full show price for the brushes that I purchased at the end.  I have no professional association with the Tangle Teezer team and just find it a genuinely interesting product.

My Brand, My Voice. The power of knowing what you are saying.

June 6, 2017

As a brand owner have you ever felt like your customers are trying to pin you into a corner?  Well maybe they are and maybe it’s because of something you said……


People approach brand development from many angles and today I want to talk about one of them.  While I’ve mentioned before on this blog that your brand is not you (in as much as it pays to step outside of what YOU like for a minute and check that YOUR tastes are shared by a sizeable and accessible portion of the ‘market’) it is fair to say that your brand is a PART of you, you birthed it.  For people who are setting up a brand that is positioned as a healthier, purer, more environmentally friendly, better for human rights OR more anti-animal testing than xxx brand,   this is for you.

Your brand is your voice in the world.

One of the things I hear often from brand owners or customer facing professionals in the beauty/ personal care industry is that every day customers will come in or call up or email through with another question, another thing they want reassurance on, another ingredient they want answers on.  While this is all perfectly reasonable, something to be encouraged even, it is often possible for the person fielding all of this to end up feeling like the tail isn’t just wagging the dog, it is dragging it deeper into the forest where there is no easy way out!

For brand owners that are the sole decision maker and investor in their brand, this can also lead to meltdown, especially when your very mission at the outset was to give people a better option.


OK so let’s start with a look at the law of attraction.

What we focus on, we attract.

So you set out to be an authentic brand that people could trust and that was your main thing.  You talked about trust, truth, transparency and authenticity and what you got was a bunch of people testing you out by asking questions to see how trustworthy, truthful, transparent and authentic you are, only those people aren’t interested in your reality, they are interested in theirs.


The problem that I see most often with this ‘morally good’ brand development platform is that all too often, it leaves too much to the imaginations of your customer – it isn’t developed enough.  Let me give you an example.

You claim ‘paraben free’  (everyone else does so why not).

So you write ‘paraben free’ on your label and before long  you notice that your brand is attracting people who are looking for cosmetics that have preservatives that are completely 100% safe with no down side what so ever. For one reason or another (unbeknown to you unless you take the time to ask each one) they have become fearful of preservatives and will question you about everything you put forward unless it looks so innocuous that they feel they could eat it.  Some of these people would actually like preservative free products ‘just to be on the safe side’ and will question you as to why yours are not.


So when you claimed paraben free what were you really saying?

From where I sit I see the moral to this story as this,  as a brand owner it is important to explore what you are saying and how you are positioning your brand in depth before you do it.  Saying or claiming something just because everyone else does is a recipe for disaster, even if you believe you are doing the right thing and especially if you are the only one who can answer the probing questions that will in time come to you.

And in cases like this time can be your enemy. 

The longer a brand owner or store owner goes on holding an unexamined ingredient philosophy the more there is at stake in examining it – what if, when you finally work out what you are trying to achieve you realise you were wrong?  What if there is no evidence to substantiate what you are saying? What if there is a consumer backlash against this unsubstantiated positioning – what if their questioning starts to overtake your understanding and they do have the evidence to back it up?  What if those with the most probing questions are those you most want to impress and can’t answer?  What if you realise that you are solving none of the problems you set out to by sticking to this idea?

So what can be done?

Well we could reframe our position as a journey.

It might be an idea to start by re-framing our position and remaining open to new information.  We can start by taking our customers on a journey, OUR journey rather than locking them into our present destination. So, we might preface our ‘paraben free’ statement with a statement like ‘innovative ingredient focused’  or ‘progressive chemistry’  or something interesting and action-packed to draw in a crowed that is less about out-right bans and more about progressive thinking although it is likely that the ‘paraben free’ tick box will still have to remain, at least while people get used to this new way of communicating. Many people still wouldn’t know what a paraben even is, only that they don’t want them!

Setting out to be the most authentic brand, the brand that saves the whales,  releases children from slave labour,  opens the cages and lets the lab rats free or re-wilds the forests of palm plantations is no easy feat and it seems reasonable enough to me that it might take several years (if not a brand lifetime) to achieve that. Expecting the situation ‘on the ground’ to remain static is, at best pessimistic and at worst just plain wrong. Science advances on, governments bring in new legislation, public opinion changes and ideas develop so why not use those changing goal posts to give your brand some flexibility AND an opportunity for your customers to get involved, give feedback, help shape your future?  Even if you don’t want customers to directly contribute an acknowledgement that your brand philosophy is a journey will at least keep them coming back to find out more!

The aim of re-thinking and re-working our ingredient positioning  is to attract people who will join us with positive energy as that’s what brands thrive off.

There are a set of customers out there that would like nothing better than to have completely amazing skin care that gave instant results for a reasonable price but that used no ingredients that look like they might be chemicals at all (even the ones allowed in an organic product).  It is currently impossible to achieve that but what is possible is to be working towards a better and better outcome for X, Y or Z.  X may be the environment, Y may be animal treatment and Z might be the results the product delivers to the skin.  Picking one as a core value is not a bad idea.

The art of researching properly.

Once a position has been fully scoped out – for example ‘I’ll go paraben free because parabens are most often petroleum derived and I want to avoid non-renewable resources’ then you will automatically find yourself in a better position to start properly researching the area and that will enable you to develop more meaningful conversations with customers.  Instead of ‘paraben free’ being a conversation non-starter, it becomes a gateway into a conversation about your tangible and measurable values.

Prepare, aim and then fire those words out into the world.

As a brand owner your words have power and if you understand that power you can harness opportunities that would otherwise pass you by.  Not only that but you can also save yourself many hours of heartache answering questions from people who are most likely never going to buy your products anyway.  So my final words on this are as follows:  You don’t necessarily have to CHANGE your philosophy, you just have to CHALLENGE it and be able to DEFEND or EXPLAIN it when CHALLENGED back.  That is much easier to do when you are aware of and in control of how your words might be interpreted as pre-examining that puts the power back into your hands.

Good luck out there.
Amanda x



‘Why is olive oil soap so hard to make?’ Well the answer may be in its unsaponifiables…..

May 29, 2017

Last week I had a chat to a rather lovely person who was struggling with their Olive Oil soap. Now I’m not a great soaper myself – no patience, can’t be bothered with making them look fancy etc – but I am a chemist and as it turns out, that is pretty blooming handy!

So after explaining to me what she was trying to do and how her recipe was currently constructed I put to her a theory, a theory about unsaponifiables and it has led to this.

Let me take you on a journey.

Vegetable oils are not created equally with regards to chemistry. In fact you couldn’t get a more diverse set of ingredients (that we all tend to take for granted).  I’ve spoken before about how some vegetable oils have the power to enhance skin penetration and how others can contribute positively to a products inherent sun protection (although not by having an SPF as such) but now it seems there is something else to think about.

When you are soaping you need to rip the oil apart and chemically change it.  The triglycerides that make up the bulk of the oil have to part ways with their glycerin (Tri = three, glycerol = glycerin.  Three fatty chains on a glycerin backbone).  Those fatty chains then use the hand that they were holding onto glycerin with to become a soap – a soap is literally a fatty acid plus an ionic head group – Sodium and Potassium (from the lye) are the most common but Triethanolamine soaps are also well-known.   This reaction is known as SAPONIFICATION and it is one of the most important (if not THE most important) reaction in cosmetic chemistry as it gives rise to many of our functional ingredients.

But the saponification reaction doesn’t work on EVERYTHING contained within that vegetable oil.

Vegetable oils will almost always contain a proportion of ‘stuff’ that won’t saponify.  Jojoba oil is particularly resistant to saponification and will only form soaps in very harsh conditions – much harsher than your typical hand-made soaper can manage.  That is one reason why Jojoba doesn’t make a good soaping oil on its own – it simply doesn’t turn into soap.  But it can make a very good super-fat / moisturising bar if that’s more your thing.

This ‘stuff’ that doesn’t want to play with the lye and become soap is called the ‘unsaponifiables’ and each oil has its own unsaponifiable footprint.

My theory with the Olive soap was that the unsaponifiable portion of the oil is quite high and that if that isn’t factored into the ‘super fat’ calculation there is a danger of not using enough lye to get a good bar.

To my surprise, when I looked at a range of vegetable oils, the unsaponifiable percentage of Olive Oil wasn’t the highest.  It turns out that oils such as Rice Bran, Walnut and Wheatgerm have much higher unsaponifiable fractions.   So the idea that the unsaponifiable fraction percentage would be all I needed to predict soaping behaviour wasn’t all of the story.  It was then that I decided to look into the composition of this fraction for each oil. I was particularly interested in the role that the Olive Oils Squalene might play in making Olive Soap difficult to make.  As it turns out I think I was on the right tracks. However, looking into the chemical composition of the unsaponifiable fraction wasn’t that easy mainly because of the different methods and units of measure used in each study but also because of the natural diversity of ‘grown’ products.  To put it simply, there were large variations between the numbers that I found so I basically had to do a lot of reading to get a rough (very rough in some cases) idea of what’s what. I gave up writing all the references as I got bored (and this is only a blog after all)…..


The chemistry of the unsaponifiable fraction is interesting. It is here that we get the antioxidants,  some anti-inflammatories and some anti-microbial activity of oils as well as some of the UV protective qualities.  Indeed some oils are harvested for this unsaponifiable fraction which is separated off and sold separately to the main oil as more money can be made that way.   I’m sure we are all aware that we can purchase Olive Squalene as a separate ingredient and that natural vitamin E is extracted from vegetable oils and sold separately either as mixed tocopherols or as alpha tocopherol (the biologically active component).   The financial value of this unsaponifiable fraction has meant that it has been widely studied for some oils and that has been very useful for me in this work but like I said, please do take the numbers as indicative as it has been hard to nail down meaningful figures or ranges given the natural variation between samples.

So there is an unsaponifiable fraction and this fraction contains a mixture of different chemicals or ‘stuff’.


unsaponifiable table

There is no doubt when looking over the data that I’ve managed to compile that the unsaponifiable fraction of Olive Oil is quite different to the other oils in its squalene concentration – it has heaps more.   I’ve been wondering if there is something particular about squalene in the soaping environment that makes olive oil soap quite difficult to make and long to cure (it is said that pure olive oil soap can take 12 months to fully cure)?

Chemically Squalene is a hydrocarbon which means it is composed of hydrogen and carbon only (quite simple really).  It has a straight-chain structure with some double bonds and is chemically non-polar and hydrophobic (water hating).   Both of these features mean that when it comes into contact with soap, the soap will try to emulsify it.

If we think about using a bar of soap to wash grease from our hands we know that the soap interacts with the oil, lifting it from the surface of our skin and into the rinse water thus leaving our hands clean.  In a bar of soap the squalene (grease equivalent) doesn’t so much wash away as become emulsified thus changing the very structure of the bar.

I imagine that a bar of soap with none of these straight chain hydrocarbons will be a relatively densely packed lump of saponified oil (soap) just waiting to clean a surface. However, add a proportion of these hydrocarbons INTO the structure and it is likely you will end up with an internal phase in the soap – a sort of emulsion. The soap part becomes the emulsifier and the hydrocarbon the internal phase (emulsified substance).

I know from my work with emulsified lip and body balms that adding an emulsifier and internal phase to a balm changes the structure of the whole product, sometimes making it softer and sometimes gritty (if the phases aren’t particularly well mixed).  This all makes sense when you think about it as a two-phase soap could very well end up less densely packed than a single phase, homogenous ‘soap’ and this might be the start of the trouble.  Also, let’s not forget that if some of the ‘soap’ part of the bar is actually being put to work as an emulsifier it will be less available to be soapy so I’d expect a reduction (or change) in lather behaviour and cleansing ability too.   Things that do play out when you talk to soapers.

So what about the other unsaponifiables?

If you look at the table I put together you see that the other unsaponifiables have structures that are more similar to each other, give or take a few carbons.  They contain aromatic ring structures and oxygens so are no longer hydrocarbons.   From my reading I know that the tocopherols (vitamin E isomers) don’t become saponified during soaping and I also know that their presence in soap doesn’t seem to affect the soap behaviour too much (as far as one can see).  I think it is very likely that the tocopherols just sit dispersed throughout the soap doing their own thing and helping to prevent premature oxidation (rancidity) where possible.  The same could also be said for the phenols and sterols.  This is possibly why some oils (such as Rice Bran) can have a much larger unsaponifiable portion than Olive Oil but still be easier to soap with – quite literally the unsaponifiable portion just sits in the mix rather than it interfering with it.  That said, I would still be inclined to count this unsaponifiable percentage into my soaping calculations so as not to end up with a super-fat that is much larger than I was anticipating.

Hang on, what is super fat?

Super fat is the amount of unsaponified fat left over after soaping. Soapers usually leave some oil un-saponified to make the soap more moisturising/ nourishing.  While super fatting your soap recipe can be a good thing, going too far can lead to disaster.  A soap with too much super fat may be very soft and very un-bubbly as described here by the Soap Queen. 

What we know about super fat does seem to add up and make sense when viewed against this natural unsaponifiable issue we are talking about here.  Make sure you take it into account for your soap blend would be my advice.

So back to Squalene, can this theory that squalene concentration makes for a tricky soap be tested?

Well yes and this is where I would like YOUR help (because I’m not a great soaper anyway).  I reckon that you could take an oil, any oil and experiment with soaping with it with different squalene concentrations by buying some squalene and simply adding it.

I would start off with a simple, predictable soap blend such as coconut and palm – this by the way is a simple and predictable starter soap blend BECAUSE palm and coconut are very simple and predictable oils with very low levels of unsaponifiables.  It would be good to start by incorporating 1 or 2% Squalene into the mix, then 4 and finally 6% to see how that goes.  If the soap becomes softer, less bubbly or takes longer to cure then we can safely say the squalene is implicated.   Worth giving it a go I think!

But before we get all excited it is worth remembering that oils are naturally variable.

One thing I did notice in compiling this data is how very hard it is to get comparable data (I mentioned this above).  The oil content and composition in vegetable seeds can vary hugely depending on their variety, growing conditions, age, time and conditions of picking and processing method.   Keep this in mind when comparing your soaping results with others or from batch to batch and especially when moving from one oil supplier or type to another.  It is likely that cheaper vegetable oils contain lower amounts of unsaponifiables as they may have been stripped out to sell separately.  If in doubt do ask for a specification that includes the fatty acid composition and the unsaponifiable fraction.  It might help to keep you on the right track.

And lastly,  remember to only change one thing at a time.

If you do plan to turn into an investigative scientist do yourself a favour and only change one component of your experiment at a time.  Set yourself up so you can use the very same batch of oil across the whole experiment and try keeping mixing equipment and temperatures even.  That way, and with your help we might just completely nail this thing and make soapy disasters a thing of the past.

One last thing.

Before I go and in case someone says ‘yes but you didn’t do ‘xxxx’ oil, how does that react?’  Let me tell you that the reading to get this information did my head in.  It took four days and nearly 100 papers to get what I’ve got for this (free) blog post and even then I don’t feel entirely happy with all of the data although it serves its purpose.  I am a chemist who has worked in this area for 19 years now and has maintained an interest and passion for this type of research and application work.  That doesn’t mean that I presume I’ve got it all right but it does mean that my theory has some measurable logic behind it and my data has some degree of error checking built-in.  Enjoy and please do feel free to help build on this. It is exciting.

Happy experimenting.

Oh and here’s another interesting Soap Queen post that helps you visualise pure single-oil soaps. 

Amanda x



You can’t patent that.

May 20, 2017

For the brand that asked this week, with love x

Dear brand owners,

You cannot patent a blend or ‘recipe’.

No matter how good it seems.

The end.


Patents are granted on the basis that something amazing, unusual, synergistic, un-expected, happened when you got your recipe together.

Maybe you got an outrageously high SPF by stumbling across the best dispersing agent and then adding a rather unique combination of things as film formers.

You might be able to patent that combination on the back of your results IF the results were indeed extraordinary, but you’d have to have the results first and they would have to stand up to scrutiny.

Maybe you have been trialling your product on your friends and they all say it is wonderful and has helped to clear up their minor scratches and boils in no time. You want to patent this as you’ve never seen that level of efficacy before.

To be even in the running for a patent you should first run some properly constructed clinical trials.  This is sure to cost you several thousands if not tens of thousands depending on the complexity and sample size.

After that, if you get a result showing that yes, your product did work when compared to something else you should then be able to explain how and why – what is the key to this invention.  That might involve more analytical testing to work out exact activity levels of ingredients and to establish whether this activity is re-producible or a freak of nature.  Again, more money and time.

By now you might be starting to get the picture that patenting is a big and expensive deal.

If you do have something worthy of patenting (and some people might) then you would have to decide on the detail (or scope) of your application.  I’m far from an expert at this and so would suggest you start a conversation with a patent attorney who should be able to guide you through the maze of paperwork and legal terminology and protocol.  Again, expect to pay quite a lot for this too.

This is one such company that I know people here in Australia use for this work: Engle, Hellyer and Co

Here is another one that might be worth talking to: Patentec


So is a patent worth it?

If you do think you have something worth patenting and you do eventually gather enough evidence to prove you do then yes, of course it is. A patent is something of immense value to you and your business.

At what point to I go to a patent attorney?

The answer to that is I don’t know, I guess in some cases it could be as soon as possible but my gut feeling is that you are going to need some convincing evidence before you start spending big bucks on a legal professional – expect to pay $200-$500 per hour for the time and advice.

 Before you do anything the first thing you have to do is have a really good look around to see if you can see if anyone has done what you are suggesting before.  You’d be surprised by the number of people who mention they are going to patent something to me and I mention that they should look at this or that brand as that’s what they do already. A true patent search is costly and will be something you get a professional to do but a thorough check of your market category relative to the patent area might save you thousands and much time in the long-run.

Next and providing the above came up with nothing much, I think it is a good exercise to imagine you already have the patent you want . Try to work out how you would gain a commercial advantage with that patent, how much scope for capitalizing on it is there? What would you be up against? Is THAT idea patented?  It might surprise you to realise that there are other products out there that have different yet similar results to what you are offering, you might end up being a competitor of theirs, that means the price you can offer your solution at will be influenced by the existing market price.  Does that make commercial sense?  Is it still worth the hassle?

If there is a business case for you the next step will be to produce evidence that is water-tight – not subjective or un-controlled or ad-hoc. I would strongly suggest that brand owners approach gathering this data like they would approach going to court to defend themselves in a situation. Have a strong grasp on the bit that you want to patent so you don’t lose sight of that – it is likely you can’t just cover everything in the patent. Make sure you are backing up your case with facts, figures, data and methods that can be validated (repeated) and that stand up to scrutiny.

Lastly I would remind everyone again that this process is not cheap and that you should be prepared to part with several thousand dollars to get started and maybe tens of thousands before your process is complete.  In most cases the cost alone will mean that the patent process is just not viable for most.

I really hope that some of you have found amazing solutions to problems that can be patented and I also hope that some of you do make it through the legal jungle and get yourself a patent granted but for the rest of us mere mortals don’t forget that patent or not you can still have fun, make money and help make peoples lives better every day just by doing what you do.

Have fun!



The business of being human. Coping in a crisis.

May 19, 2017

I am not writing this to tell you how to cope in a crisis and neither do I want to come across as some life coach or guru – I’ll leave that to others more suitably qualified. What I am going to do is just tell it as it is.

Sometimes life gets complicated and work stops.

Silver lining

In late March through to the end of April this year something bad was happening and I stopped being able to function.  The idea of emailing or phoning clients to explain the situation I was in was difficult because it wasn’t exactly ‘my’ situation to tell, it was something personal and challenging involving my family who were in the middle of a crisis, a crisis which came to my house, the house where my office is located (I had no problem with this by the way, I was happy that I could help).

Anyway, I did what I could to let people know what was going on but to be honest most of the time I was just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that the extra 6 weeks on the projects left hanging would go somewhat unnoticed.  For the most part I was not even able to think about work much as things were just too crazy, both in my head (processing the trouble) and in reality. I found myself with zero capacity for creative thinking and with about only 20% capacity for repetitive and predictable tasks.  My mojo had been well and truly squashed.

As one would expect my income dried up during this time and while I had a bit of cash to keep me going I was not only earning nothing but having to spend more as I played my part to absorb this problem. It wasn’t long before the stress and adrenaline rush that I’d been experiencing because of a situation external to my being started to become stress and adrenaline about my ability to pay my own mortgage and other bills.  There was no way I could go down with this ship, I realised that I was the ship, a ship with more passengers than I had previously given credit for.

By the way, I’m sorry for the cryptic nature of this but as things are still playing out with this drama I don’t want to say too much.  Suffice to say that it was not nice.

Anyway, things pretty much exploded then changed on the home front before my business shat its self (which it didn’t, thankfully) and after a day in recovery I literally dragged myself back into it, answering emails and tackling things one by one.

This was neither easy nor pleasant.

That whole week I felt strung out, exhausted, over-whelmed and deeply burdened by a to-do list that I couldn’t even face writing for fear that it would just make me feel worse.

I was able to detach little by little from the family situation,  enough to fit more and more work in,  first 4 hours per day then 6 and then 8.   I’m two weeks into it now and can finally stay awake for long enough to do an 8 hour day AND function as a person.  That feels good.  What feels even better is the energy boost that the last couple of days have given me – new work coming in,  old projects going well,  all customers now dealt with, mortgage paid and tax payments almost covered (almost….)

But to do this I’ve had to draw on an almost super-human inner strength and block out those niggling ‘I can’t do this any more’ feelings.

So what has this got to do with you?

Well, I just wanted to say that guys, if you have a business or want to own a brand some day, shit happens and if, like me, you rely on having your shit together (sorry for the language) then these times are going to hit like a brick.  I am not sure you can prepare or rehearse 100% for those unexpected scenarios where you can’t work for a period of time but I am convinced that there are some small steps you can take to give yourself breathing space when needed.

These are the things that I think have helped me, in this situation, this time. I can’t say that they would help again or are relevant to you but hey ho. I hope it doesn’t sound too preachy.

  1. When times turn bad it is great if you can be surrounded by people who know you and have your back, even if you feel like running away and curling up into a ball,  You can’t. I am lucky to have that in my husband, children and some close friends and extended family. I am grateful I didn’t totally neglect those relationships while building this business as when you need them, you need them bad 🙂
  2. As a business owner you CAN choose your company culture, your client base and your modus operandi with regards to contact.  On the whole my customers have been amazing,  so very supportive. Indeed, after a little bit of explaining and then demonstrating my re-gained competence all of my customers came through with me. Sure I had to face a bashing for a few days and sure, some of them might not come back (crazy woman has a life that sometimes gets in the way of her work – that is true) but that’s OK because on the whole we did it!
  3. Be fair and open in the good times, not just to build credit for dramas down the track, but because you are a fair and open person.  I have had customers that have gone through problems or got distracted during their time working with me and as hard as it has been sometimes I’ve tried, on the whole to bite my tongue when things got annoying, to re-write those smart email responses for something more giving and loving and generally keep communication channels open and respectful. It is all too easy to be rude and walk away from people but do it too often and the word becomes a nasty place.
  4. DON’T THROW IN THE TOWEL JUST BECAUSE YOU FEEL JOYLESS ABOUT YOUR WORK FOR A WHILE.  There have been many times when I’ve thought ‘stuff it, it is all just tooooooo hard’  but I’ve realised that’s just my doubts and fears coming in again.  Running a business where you NEED the money to keep coming in is seriously scary and can feel extremely lonely. No wonder that when things go bad in other areas of life you feel like calling it a day.  The best way I’ve found to get over myself in these moments is to just put my head down and do it, starting with something simple and building up with something more rewarding.  Eventually the joy of why you do what you do returns and you thank your lucky stars you didn’t apply for that job on a checkout at Aldi 🙂
  5. Take care of your mental health by being kind to yourself.   I’ve had to pick myself up and get on with it a few times in my life and this has been no different.  But carrying on like nothing happened is neither realistic or healthy. The best way that I’ve found for me to deal with life’s downers is to set up some rules of engagement and then exercise discipline in sticking to them.  So for example, I might allow myself an hour in the morning to dwell on said issue, do some googling, mull over it with a friend over coffee or go to a therapy session or for a walk or whatever but the rest of the day I just get on with work – shift my focus.  Easier said than done in the beginning but over time I’ve found it easier.

We are all human and while I do think that clients should be treated with a professional distance and not put at a disadvantage when things go wrong there are times when it just can’t be helped. In those times it is often what happens next that makes the most difference and how you move forward is easier with a plan.

I wish I had have found it easier to pick up the phone earlier and kept more people in the loop but that’s my own personal issue to deal with and deal with it I am.

I just wanted to put this out there because I know that some of you are business owners too and I wanted to stand in solidarity side by side with you and explain that I know how it feels when you just can’t do it any more.  This too will pass x



The Blame Game – Who Cops a bashing when the S**T hits the fan?

May 15, 2017

If you stick around this industry long enough something will go wrong.  It’s inevitable really given the complexity of the task at hand. But who is to blame when things go very wrong, when batches spoil, clients get boils,  launch dates get foiled or work mates get covered in hot oil?

Let’s have a look from start to finish.

The ingredients.

Lots of things can go wrong with ingredients and most of the time there is very little you can do about it actually, especially if you have no guaranteed supply contract in place, something that rarely gets implemented at the small end of town as it requires the type of volumes that a multi-national might commit to.

Scenario 1: Material not available when you need it.

Basically multinational companies will usually have two to three approved sources for all raw materials unless they are specific materials that only one manufacturer supplier. In that case they usually place a blanket order covering their projected supply for a period of time and a set volume.  They work this out via forecasting – something that most small to medium-sized brands find next to impossible to do and hence getting caught short is a common problem.

Sometimes materials are campaign manufactured which means the manufacturer will only produce that ingredient when they have sufficient orders to do so. This is particularly true of retinol but other short shelf-life materials are dealt with in a similar way.  Basically if you don’t have your orders in early you are unlikely to find stock when you rock up with your unscheduled demand.

Scenario 2: Material not available anymore EVER.

OK so this sucks and yes, it does happen. Sometimes ingredient manufacturers have a closet clean out and discontinue items that maybe you love but others don’t.  This can be  a pain, especially if it is a specific active that you’ve based that product around. It does happen and it pays for brands who are in this position to keep their supply chain relationships tight so at least they can buy themselves some stock and time to re-formulate.

Scenario 3: Materials are held up in a war zone or natural disaster or they are just out of season.

This is VERY common, especially with natural extracts, oils and butters.  Do make sure you think through what would happen if you got caught short or if your chosen amazing botanical suddenly became very popular and demand outstripped supply. This scenario happens regularly with things like Rose hip oil and vanilla but I’ve also seen it with glycerin of all things.  Odd indeed!

Scenario 4: Your material supplier changed ingredient manufacturer source and now the stuff doesn’t work.

Ok so remember how I said that multinationals have a few approved sources? These are usually PRIMARY sources and the multinational will have spent considerable time and money in testing them out – nothing is taken for granted at the big end of town.  Sadly for many small brands they can’t buy bulk from the large suppliers and are often served (and served well I might add) by the smaller re-packers.  Small re-packers may source from a number of approved suppliers rather like the multinationals or they might buy on spec, taking whatever meets their needs at the right price and right time.  At other times it can be a combination of the two depending on the ingredient.  Then of course there is the reality that the small re-packer has to compete with the big guys for supply so they may well fall foul of the ‘its in short supply globally’ issue.

So what can you do about all of this?

Well basically the answer is to try to forecast your demand as best you can and keep stocks to buy you time.  The amount and storage conditions required will differ for each brand but chances are you will need a decent sized store if you are a brand owner with 5 or so products that you regularly manufacture 20Kg batches of.  Is it time you moved into a manufacturing unit?

OK so next there is the manufacturing, who’s to blame when that goes wrong????

  1. You formulated and you manufacture.

OK so this sucks but sadly if it is your formula and you are the manufacturer you do need to look within for the answer to what went wrong.  I often talk to people in this situation who tell me that they have been making this cream for 10 years without an issue then BAM it exploded all over the place and it must be someone else’s fault.  Sad but true.

All sorts of things can go wrong in manufacturing, I know because I’ve experienced most of them myself.  Sometimes we can forget something simple like adjusting the pH at the right time and that can stuff things up. At other times we might mistake one ingredient for another,  our scales might be faulty and we didn’t notice,  we might even forget to add an ingredient altogether OR add it twice!  The trouble with mistakes is that we wouldn’t make them if we were concentrating 100% – we all think we were but were we really?

Even if you did do everything right there can still be other things at play. The outside temperature can really screw things up sometimes – too hot or too cold – that could speed up or slow down emulsification or setting.  If it is too hot (weather wise) as you are in the middle of a long heat wave there is always the chance that some of your ingredients have perished. Cocoa butter blooms in hot weather, Decyl Glucoside solidifies in cold weather.

In these cases when things go very wrong I suggest that people take a step back, stop looking for someone else to blame (as that just has the effect of making you blind to the situation) and formulate a plan.  My favourite plan in these situations is to carefully re-visit the recipe, ingredient by ingredient – check them, do they look, smell and feel the same as normal, did you buy them from the same place, are they in date and spec? Then check your manufacturing equipment to make sure nothing is broken or faulty, then slowly remake a small batch and test it to see if that works. Sometimes you will never get to the bottom of what happened that day but hopefully you will at least get back on track by doing this.

2. You had the product formulated but you manufacture.

When you first get hold of a formula that you’ve purchased you should get to know it by making small batches – 500g to 1Kg is about right depending on what it is.  It is important that you test it out and get to know how to handle it and how to manufacture before going straight to a 100Kg batch.  This lab work also allows you to go through the process ahead of the critical time so you can get clarification from the formulator for any questions you might have.  If you stuff up here it is usually because you have either not invested in your own scale-up testing or you have but other problems have reared their head.

  •  Stability testing and PET.
  •  As the brand owner you are responsible for the stability of the product you put onto the market. Your formulator may have agreed to do the testing for you but that is not always the case, plus if you haven’t organised packaging you should keep in mind that different packaging can affect product stability by making the product more or less stable.  If in doubt ask the question before you scale up big. I would never recommend batches larger than 20Kg for products that haven’t been stability tested JUST IN CASE.

3. You had the product formulated and manufactured elsewhere.

If something goes wrong in this position it is usually down to the manufacturer to compensate for any loss but the degree to which that compensation runs is debatable and usually only covers the bulk.    If the client won’t or can’t pay for stability and/or micro before making a big batch it is a bit rough to expect the manufacturer (me in some cases) to cover the costs if the batch is found wanting although if the manufacturer hasn’t agreed on the limits to their liability in writing they could still be legally liable to compensate (which sucks for the manufacturer).  What actually happens in these situations will depend on the relationship with the client, the costs involved and the ease in which the problem can be rectified but needless to say things go much more smoothly when both parties work as a team and give the testing the investment and time required.

4. You formulated the product but got it manufactured elsewhere. 

I have had plenty of occasions where clients want me to manufacture something for them that they haven’t tested themselves, they just have a basic formula that they have made in their kitchen and now they want 20Kg made and packaged.  This always makes me nervous as essentially I am taking the risk that this formula is as good as the client says and it will stand up.  Now I personally won’t take that risk without first doing some lab work (what I call a lab session) to get my head around the formula, try it out, do some basic stability on it and make sure it works.  Basic stability is not full stability though and neither is it micro stability (PET) so things can (and do) go wrong when it comes to scale up so the best way to tackle this is when both the manufacturer and the formulator accept there is a shared responsibility (however they decide to share it) to pull together for a good outcome.

But that’s not all that can go wrong. Sometimes you just don’t like the finished product as much as you thought you would. Maybe it looks or smells a bit different to what you make.  This can be a huge grey area for people, especially newbies who really don’t have much experience to fall back on.  The general rule of thumb is this – the more natural and complex a product, the more likely there is to be some batch-to-batch variation, the key is in knowing how much variation is enough.

So what can you do about all of this?

I recommend brand owners take a slightly relaxed view about their first few product batches if they are making a natural or organically certified product – this is always easier if the packaging hides the product a bit – don’t go for clear packaging straight off the bat.   Over a few batches variations in aroma, colour and viscosity should work their way out and you can set a product specification based on these experiments.  A spec should include a description of how the product looks, smells, it’s viscosity, pH (if relevant) and its general form (gel, liquid, cream etc).  This helps you work out if that slightly different batch is out of spec (and therefore unsellable) or not.

I also recommend that brand owners invest in as much product testing as they can afford as soon as they can afford it and keep on with regular testing (micro, viscosity, colour, aroma etc) throughout the products saleable life.  This way you keep a check on your quality.

What about when your product safety is called into question?

OK so safety can cover stability and as we have touched on that before I’ll not mention it again only to say that yes, you need to do it!

Beyond physical stability we have chemical stability and microbial stability and these can sometimes be overlooked – the ‘as long as the cream doesn’t split it is OK’ attitude.

I’ve come across a few products in my time, some of which shift their pH down quite dramatically over their shelf life.  This isn’t safe.  I also regularly see products that discolour on ageing or have their aroma change, these things can both be due to oxidation and in some cases they can mean the product has become more irritating and less able to do the job it is trying to do.

Brand owners should be aware that if their product does change colour or pH during its usable shelf life it could become more irritating and that might be the reason people start to react to what started off as a very well tolerated product.

By far the biggest and most dramatic fail though is with micro.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep up your micro testing if you are a manufacturer or a responsible brand owner (even if someone else manufactures for you).  You should have micro test results for every saleable batch of anything you make that presents a risk to the consumer – usually that’s all your water containing products.  Micro counts are your way of proving the product was manufactured in adherence to GMP (good manufacturing practice) standards.  Your insurance company will probably assume you do this so don’t let them down!  Over and above that PET (Preservative Efficacy Testing) is essential for all new formulations and ideally you should test at the beginning and towards the end of the products shelf life.  Now before you say ‘yes but that would make my business unviable, it is all too expensive’  I know.  However, if you want to sell safe cosmetics you should appreciate that safety isn’t just about avoiding whatever chemicals are on the hit list this week.  Micro contamination is a safety issue and it is arguably the biggest one there is.

If you are unlucky enough to find yourself with a micro issue as a brand owner you will have to trace back the steps to find out where the contamination came from.  If you have micro results for each batch that’s going to be helpful.  The manufacturers I work with most often carry out micro checks on their water, their packaging, their filling line samples, the manufactured bulk and the packed goods.  A lot of testing BUT it does insure everybody that what ends up on the market is clean.  If you don’t have that data how do you know where the contamination came from?   It is also worth keeping in mind that if you are a manufacturer, using one preservative only can spell trouble.  House microbes tend to take hold when only one preservative is used as it is unlikely that any preservative will kill everything straight out so over time the bits that get missed develop resistance to the preservative and you can end up with endless rounds of contamination where before there was none.  This can be complex and expensive to fix so don’t let it happen to you!

Fixing oxidation issues. 

Stability testing should help you pinpoint where the issue is coming from – air only, heat, UV light or a combination.  An assay of your product sample might be in order to identify which components are oxidising. This is particularly helpful if you are making claims about specific simple ingredients (retinol, vitamin C etc) and want to know if they are still active in the product over time). Once you have identified the problem you can beef up your anti-oxidants to help you stabilise the formula and/ or select packaging that minimises environmental stressors.

The bottom line here is that as a brand owner it is up to you to put safe and effective products on the market. If you don’t understand what might go wrong with your product, ask a professional.

Finally who is to blame when your launch date is missed?

Oh how I love this little beauty.  So this is a big one.  Obviously brands have plans and plans need time lines that people try their best to meet.  But when you are putting together something new there is always that unknown factor, the devil in the detail, that turns up and slaps your plan right out of your hands.  The blame often lies in the fact that those involved in the project don’t set aside enough time to plan contingency strategies before the project starts.

I’ve had projects that I’ve worked on where a formula is created and signed over within a month.  I’ve also had projects get abandoned after we’ve slugged away on and off for nearly 2 years.  Again in multinational world a 12-18 month project timeline is pretty normal but for start-up no-clue enthusiasts I’ve seen people want to walk out with a fully functioning and customised brand within 1 week of saying hello.  Something’s gotta give!

All I can say here is this.  Life can be very complicated and frustrating. If you as the brand owner want to create something amazing, unique and truly innovative be sure to give yourself time – potentially 12-18 months to achieve that.  If you just want a simple variant on what is already available give yourself at least 6 months and that’s for the R&D, you’ll still have to queue for your manufacturing which could be another 4-16 weeks AND then there’s the ingredient sourcing which to Australia could take forever.

I get that when you get started you want everything yesterday but if that is you then do consider white labelling existing formulations with no changes so all you have to wait for is the packaging (and that can take its sweet time to get to you).   Once you start getting a rhythm to your business you might find that you can slowly start working on your own unique formulations which you integrate into your product offering as they become ready. This is the lowest stress way of operating and is suitable for all but the very highest of fashion type brands.  If you are high fashion then make sure people know that straight up but do listen when the people you employ to help you voice their concerns – if they say the cocoa has a 12 week lead time don’t book in the launch for 4 weeks time and then blame them.  This isn’t ‘The Devil Wears Prada’.

So let’s wrap this little post up shall we?

Who is to blame?

Who can I sue?

Who can I harass with phone calls and emails?

Well my dear, this is the cosmetic industry. It is complex, scientific, experimental, fashionable and fun and if you want it and your relationships within it and your brand vibe to stay positive and beautiful then you have to accept that you are a part of it. We all are and together we will get there.

Blame isn’t a fun game so just do what you can to play your part and try to partner with people who you trust to do theirs.  After all it is not what goes wrong that should define us, it is how we try to fix it.