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Australian Grown – Where your Essential Oils Come From.

August 29, 2018

Here is a map that I’ve put together to give you a bit of an idea of what grows where. With all of New South Wales in drought at the moment I thought it would be a good idea to have a look and see if I could predict which oils might run in short supply as a result of that but actually it’s surprisingly hard and after all that reading I honestly haven’t a clue!  What I did find out though is that baby trees, say the Eucalypts or myrtles, do very badly when planted in a drought (not surprising) and so what might happen is that farmers looking to expand by planting more crops might have to wait until a better time when there is more water.  Another thing I know from my time with the lavender and Tea Tree growers is that drought does put plants under stress and so oil profiles might change slightly during this time.  Any change in oil chemistry will affect the smell so it might be that NSW grown oils will smell different to before thanks to the drought.

Anyway, here’s the map.

I sourced the data from various RIRDC  RIRDC  (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation) data, the Essential Oil Producers Association of Australia  , the Citrus growers of Australia, Ginger growers, ATTIA (Tea Tree) and a few other such places. I did try to pinpoint the farms exactly in my first map iteration then I thought ‘stuff that’ as it was a bit tricky, things grow all over the place and nobody really knows what’s where in Australia anyway.

Australian Grown Essential Oils

Basically like most agriculture the growing hugs the area around the coast and just inland from that (mostly).  The inland of Australia is always dry so not much grows so while we have a big country it’s mostly uninhabitable or can only support low population densities.

Soil around the north of NSW and up the coast of Queensland is very good as parts of it are volcanic. The area around Byron Bay (northern NSW) is particularly good for Essential Oil plantation visiting, Koala spotting and general bumming around.

Do remember that while some of the crops grown in Australia are pretty sizeable, others are teeny tiny such as the Rose Damask industry in Victoria. That’s pretty small.  Also note that just because essential oils are ‘grown’ in a spot it doesn’t mean they are distilled there. Distilleries can be on or off farm. Also there are crops that are grown for multi-purposes such as citrus so just because a farm grows oranges it doesn’t necessarily follow that they produce orange essential oil.

One day I want to go explore all of those farms and maybe even grow a bit more essential oil myself. Currently I’m growing a couple of types of Eucalyptus and plan to grow a few more things as long as the weather is kind and I can get them planted.


Is my product vegan friendly?

August 28, 2018

This is a hot button topic right now chaps and I want you to know that I’m 100% onto it!

Vegan cosmetics may be hot right now but they are not a new thing, it’s just over the last year things have really picked up momentum. This is off the back of a growing awareness of the negative environmental impacts of a meat based diet plus growing concerns over animal testing – an issue that the Chinese cosmetic market has pushed back to the forefront thanks to their import testing requirements.

So how can you tell if your products are or aren’t vegan.  I mean, it’s not like you can just ask them is it?

Apparently vegan skin care is made from plant materials, minerals and some safe synthetics. I’d like to know more about those ‘safe’ synthetics as that would surely mean mineral oil based which actually means tiny little squashed dead things that are fossilised but anyway…

The ingredients list is a good place to start when ‘sanity checking’ a product and here are some things to check.

  1. Does it contain beeswax, honey, lanolin, milk, silk or derivatives thereof?  If it does it’s not vegan.
  2. Does it contain glycerin, squalene, collagen, hyaluronic acid?  These ingredients may or may not be animal derived.  Glycerin can come from the saponification of animal fat or (most likely) from vegetable oil saponification.  Hyaluronic acid can be from rooster combs but more often now it’s from microbial fermentation – you can read more about that here and work out for yourself if that still makes it vegan friendly.  Collagen is usually plant derived or a collagen-like substance but could come from animal cells and squalene can still be sourced from sharks although these days most western cosmetic companies source it from olive.
  3. Does the formula contain lecithin?  If yes, don’t stress as most comes from Soy or other vegetable sources (if organic it will be non GMO) BUT lecithin can come from eggs so you might want to double-check.
  4. Does it contain fatty materials other than glycerin?  Fats are the mainstay of the cosmetic industry and most come from palm (which is another story). These days it’s rare for things like stearic acid and Oleic acid to come from the meat industry but it’s not impossible, especially not in the cleaning and industrial end of the market.  Dow Chemicals still makes a range of tallow amines for industrial applications as per here. 
  5. Is it palm derived?  Palm oil is not animal derived and so palm oil derivatives are not strictly banned in vegan products but some vegans include palm free as a philosophy due to the damage that the palm industry is doing to the rain forests of the world. If this is a concern or something that a vegan brand wants to tap into then it’s essential to find the origins of all ingredients as palm can show up in a wide range of things including preservatives, emulsifiers and active ingredients.
  6. Is the product manufactured using ingredients from biotechnology?  Often microbes used in biotechnology materials are sourced from animals.  It’s not that animals are made to get sick so that the microbes can be harvested from them, more that certain microbes, when spotted during health checks, are swabbed and taken back for utilisation in this industry.  Otherwise microbes can come from plant material or other sources.  I don’t know if vegans go as far as to worry about the microbes that might grow their materials but this is likely to become a growing area of cosmetic science (due to the pro and pre biotic rush) so it might be worth having a bit of a think now. On top of various microbes potentially being sourced from animals, the broth used to grow (culture) these microbes is potentially made using bone and blood agar type media.
  7. Is there any Carmine in the formula? Carmine is a red/ pink pigment made from the Cochineal beetles that live on the prickly pear. This ingredient may also be known under its CI number: CI 75470. As it is expensive to source this colour from the beetle a fair bit of work is going into researching alternative sourcing methods including creating the colour via a fermentation process. This means that this beautiful red/pink colour may not be out of the reach of vegan skin care for ever.
  8. Chitosan – This fish-origin film former is sometimes added in natural hair gels, long-wear make-up, anti-wrinkle formulations and deep acting moisturisers. While it’s not that widely used it worth looking out for as it’s always derived from fishy little fish.
  9. Gelatin – Gelatin is not often used in cosmetics but it may well form part of a tablet coating or capsule coating, especially in natural products. This is extracted from animal connective tissue, skin and bone so it’s never vegan friendly unless it’s sold as animal gelatine and then it might be hydroxyethylcellulose or something similar.
  10. Keratin and/or Keratin Amino Acids – Chicken (Fowl) feathers are a pretty normal source of keratin for the cosmetic industry so unless you want chicken feathers in your creams and hair care, best leave this alone.
  11. Placenta – OK so this is a bit messy (pardon the pun).   The placenta extracts talked about in cosmetics can come from a number of sources, sometimes sheep or cow and other times human but mostly plant.  While plants don’t technically have a placenta in the same way that animals do, the term ‘placenta’ is sometimes applied to plant parts because the word grabs the attention and sells well. Then you have the ingredients that are synthetically made to re-create the goodness of a placenta without ever touching a placenta at all. So, vegans need not fear the placenta, merely do a bit more digging around in it to get to the bottom of what it is made of. Nice!
  12. Vitamin D (two types).  Vitamin D is not that abundant in plants but it is found in mushrooms so it may be that the vitamin D in your skin care comes from that source.  However, it could also come from egg yolks, liver or fish oil so it is definitely worth double checking.

But I’ve heard that there’s some other weird stuff put into cosmetics that can be from animals, like cows wee and stuff?

I’ve seen and had people ask me if the Urea in a hand cream comes from cows wee, the Allantoin in the soothing cream comes from Uric Acid (the stuff that gives you kidney stones – sourced from animal waste) or the Lactic Acid in the AHA mask comes from milk. The answer to all of these at least 99.9% of the time is NO, these things do not come from there and are, in fact, vegan friendly.

I think it’s worth noting that just because something CAN come from an animal source it doesn’t mean it ever HAS or is practical to continue to do so.  Sometimes I find that vegan reference sources are quite outdated and so it looks like something is a big deal when actually it is not.  That said, it is always good to double-check rather than not think about these things at all.

So is there anything else to consider?

Sure, there’s the animal testing credentials of the brand (and whether they sell in China as that’s most likely to put them into the animal testing basket at the moment although this situation will also change in the near future as China is investing the most in alternative testing methods.

People looking for vegan skin care should also satisfy themselves that the products being offered align with the reasons why they went vegan in the first place. Not everyone is vegan because of animal welfare for example, if you are more concerned about the environment and carbon footprints then it makes sense to seek out cosmetics that perform better than average in that realm too.

I hope this helps a little in your search for vegan skin care either as a maker or a wearer.

If you are a maker or wearer it is also worth noting that you can also look for products that have been accredited as cruelty free. Here is a link to the Australian teams website.  



Is the Dunning-Kruger Effect Dumbing Down our Cosmetic Industry?

August 28, 2018

For all of those readers who don’t like my long-winded, exploration-style tone I’ll give you a spoiler and say ‘yes, yes, I actually think it is’. There, now you can go back to polishing your own ego’s while the rest of us think.

I’ve been mulling about this topic for some time now and had come to the conclusion that the fast-food style way that ‘research’ can be carried out by cosmetic brand owners is not entirely helpful. The way that there are no longer processes and gates to go through in order to access information, the way that many people feel frustrated by the idea that actual experimentation might go on and on and on for months or even (God forbid) over a year before a formula is well and truly born.  Even the way that we become (or feel) qualified to act on this information.  The general expectation seems to be that one can become a cosmetic chemist after taking a short course of study, maybe online but maybe not, then make a couple of things in your own time for your own use and then voila, you’ve made it.  I don’t personally think that the title of cosmetic chemist should be banded around lightly and should NEVER apply to anyone who hasn’t successfully scaled up an idea at a third-party facility that they don’t have ultimate control over.  And only after doing that, at least one of their products. should have become a commercial and scientific success (peer-reviewed/ stability tested/ assayed etc) before that person can truly count themselves initiated. Oh, and even then only in THAT product genre and not necessarily in everything.  It’s a big deal and a long process.

There are many people out there that own their own brand, having  gone from zero to hero in terms of sales only to realise as their brand took off that they absolutely can’t trust anyone else with their manufacturing or anything?  These people are not artists or perfectionists or even people interested in owning the whole process because they like joined-up-thinking. Instead these people are control freaks scared that someone who knows something might just come along and say ‘what the fuck are you doing here?’.  Even then it’s not a Fair Acclompli unless their conformation bias wins out and that’s what this is about.

So the Dunning Kruger Effect was first described in 1999 apparently. I only heard about this last week which means that I’ve been pondering about this needlessly for nearly 20 years when the answer was there all along. Bugger.

The best way to describe this effect is with this graph:

What it basically boils down to is that the higher the level of incompetence a person has, the more likely they are to be unable to recognise their own incompetence. Not only that but they are also likely to feel extremely confident and severely over-estimate their abilities.

How I see this play out in my working life is as follows (without malice).

People think that they are accumulating lots of knowledge by reading a lot of stuff online and making the occasional thing in their kitchen. They think they are having that knowledge validated by making real sales online or in another low-barrier-to-entry environment.  This can translate into a financial win and for some people this can then lead them to feel that they are experts, not only in their way of doing things but in general, as a cosmetic chemist.

In reality what’s happened is that the cognitive bias of the individual has barely ever been challenged. In fact, what I often see is that every time the brand feels challenged they retreat back into their sphere of control. This may ultimately limit the growth of that brand but may not, depending on the goals of the brand owner.  But what it does do is leave a growing and uncomfortable gap between them and the outside world where knowledge can and should be challenged, tested and analysed.  Often this all comes crashing down when these brands try to expand overseas, get listings with retailers that demand paperwork or investors that want to see real and legal proof and backing about what underpins a business.

I also see evidence of this happening in my chemistry classes.

When I started teaching cosmetic chemistry I wanted to help people grow the onion rather than peel it. I wanted them to start from basics- the skin and hair – and build up their knowledge and understanding of what they need in order to formulate products that did exactly that. However, what I often see now is people wanting to just go home with a recipe, a peeling the onion or top-down approach but not one that gets to anything of any depth.  That worries me.

When building something up you can’t stop and have a product until you’ve well and truly thought out your foundations and began to build. You can’t stop until you are at a point where you have a simple something. Simple yet well thought out.  When peeling an onion you can stop before you’ve even really got started as you’ve already got the product there in the same way as you would get if you just went in one door of the class empty-handed and came out with a replicable recipe in the other hand five minutes later.  The investment and effort were as shallow as the learning.

But neither of those scenarios look like being an issue until you think back to the Dunning-Kruger graph.  The building-up scenario requires the true building on knowledge, problem solving, crafting and growing whereas the peeling-back scenario requires nothing more than validation that your own pre-emptive bias can be realised and that is self-evident in the finished product.

But does that matter?

It matters to be because you the top-down approach stifles true creativity allowing us only to achieve small incremental changes on what already exists.  It also empowers this bias and un-examined way of thinking whereas the build-up way does exactly the opposite.

The only issue for me, as a teacher, is that I take in a class full of people who feel they know a lot already (I know everything) and push them over to the right a bit (There is more to this than I thought) or  (I’m never going to understand this).  Given enough time, some personal follow-up lab work and a bit more guidance people can then move into the part of the graph where things start to make sense.  If I can’t get everyone there after 2 or 3 days of classes I’m left with a class of people who go out feeling like they know less than when they came in.  Some people tend to get a bit angry at that point…

Angry People and the Desire to Buy Confidence.

Some people who do start to doubt their own skills or ability feel angry about that for reasons that only they truly understand.  I sometimes intersect with these people when they come to me for a solution.  In my experience some of these people feel the answer to their current discomfort and their woes is to transfer the risks they now realise they face onto someone else and that as long as they can pay they will be OK. In theory that is relatively sensible, you engage a professional to  help fix things for you and business carries on as usual. However,   Dunning Kluger also applies here (oh yes indeedie it does…)

A professional service provider is not paid to fix your crap, they are paid to do a specific job and in doing that specific job they may actually uncover another issue, an issue that is not theirs to fix just because they found it.   You see Dunning Kluger is all about misplaced confidence but alongside that goes misplaced everything including the ability to take responsibility for their own business in its entirety.  So, for example a professional who agrees to do your stability testing for you is not responsible for what happens should the product fail, even if that means you miss your own launch deadline and have to let people down.  Dunning Kluger might have given you the misplaced confidence in your ability but the cold-hard bitch of a testing lab result doesn’t care about false or misplaced optimism, it only cares about binary results – pass or fail. OK, sometimes you can get conditional passes or grey areas but that’s another story.

The gap between misplaced confidence and reality can be a source of much angst and bluster but again, that can be overcome by brand owners who take a step back and embrace their new-found reality and, as a consequence of that, move one more step to the right of the graph, towards true understanding.

So what to do, what to do?

Do a Kendrick (Lamar), sit down and be humble.

OK so that’s just one option, the rest is really up to you and me. I try, whenever I see evidence that the Dunning Kluger thing is happening, to nip it in the bud. It’s only human to try to self soothe by surrounding ourselves with confirmation that we are actually OK, on the right track, doing well etc.  I understand that but it is also my job as a consultant to shake that comfort zone so that we can all grow together, hand-in-hand if you want that and if you don’t that’s cool too, just don’t ask me to validate that.


Amanda x


So you want a therapeutic grade essential oil do you?

August 24, 2018

People have been asking for therapeutic grade essential oils a lot lately but it doesn’t take much digging to realise that asking for this may not get you what you want or need. Let’s take a closer look…

Eucalyptus leavesWoodlandForest

The term ‘therapeutic grade oil’ has become quite popular over the last five or so years but it has no legal or measurable definition and as such is a term of limited value.

There has been an attempt to link the term ‘therapeutic grade oil’ with the practice of ingesting oils but this is also baseless.  The practice of ingesting essential oil is therapeutic in nature and as such it follows that this should only be undertaken when prescribed by a suitably qualified professional based on a specific need, dose and time frame.  This activity sits in the therapeutic realm and relies on checking oil quality against specific monographs (ISO/ USP/ EP etc) which dictate suitable oil composition ranges.  Oils that have a pharmacopeia specification could be referred to as ‘Therapeutic’ quality but there is no provision in the pharmacopeia for dictating that these oils should be from a single source (what might be referred to as pure), only that they meet the chemistry and botanical origin requirement.  So, it is possible to acquire an oil which meets a specific pharmacopeia standard because it has been ‘manufactured’ by combining several different batches of oil. In addition, the oil may have also been modified via the addition of aroma chemical isolates of either natural or nature-identical origin to best meet the relevant specification.

When all the above is taken into consideration we can see that there are potentially two different things that the client asking for ‘Therapeutic Grade’ oils might be looking for:

  1. Pharmacopeia grade oil.
  2. Oil purity and general quality.

For clients wanting a pharmacopeia grade oil, because they are looking to add the ingredient as an active into a listed medical product or device, the best way to ascertain if an oil is suitable is to refer to the original specification and C of A.  This data can be compared to the pharmacopeia relevant to the client and if there is a match, the oil is likely to be suitable for that application.  Sometimes there can be a match in grade or quality of oil but your particular supplier isn’t registered as a pharmaceutical supplier/ manufacturer the oil may still not be suitable for the client’s purpose while in other cases this is not an issue.

For clients who were asking the question in hope of receiving only the best quality and purest oils that can be addressed in a different way.   Oil purity is a measure of oil origin plus the omission of any contaminants. This can be confirmed by the product specification, botanical name/ plant part etc and the manufacturing flow chart.  The quality can also be checked organoleptically by smelling and looking at the oil.  Further analytical testing can be carried out, if required, to confirm oil chemistry, this testing can range in price from around $50 per test to more than $300 depending on what is required.  There are laboratories around Australia that offer this service.

In terms of quality, it is possible for an oil to be pure but to be of low quality. Quality can be quite subjective but generally what we’d be meaning is that the oil might fall short of the ideal in terms of its chemistry and odour profile (these two things are intrinsically linked).  Oils can fall short in their chemistry when the distillation process, filling and storage of oils is sub-optimal, but they can also fall short when environmental conditions are challenging such as when there is a drought, frosts, flooding or heat waves.  As these negative factors fall into two camps: Operator/ processor influenced and ‘acts of God’ (a term for things like the weather that can’t be controlled) it is possible for a very experienced oil producer to produce a very bad quality oil crop on occasion.  In some cases, this will lead to a reduction in the volume of oil put onto the market as producers hold poor quality oil back for blending with other oils later, while in other cases the oil will be sold as is but possibly at a lower price point if that oil is still in good supply.

The final part of the puzzle is general oil desirability which is quite a personal measure as this generally covers how we respond to an oil.  Believe it or not, the way an oil is branded and even the sales environment can contribute to how we feel about it. Outside of that is the more up-close-and-personal experience of the oil, how it smells, looks and sometimes even feels (when diluted of course).   Smell is a very powerful emotion and a we all pick up on different notes within an oil and form our opinions based on that and the memories and feelings that they evoke.  For this reason, it is impossible to really suggest that one oil is totally superior to another because that final judgement is always somewhat personal.

In summary, while it is important that we understand the actual meaning of the words we use to describe and select essential oils, what is more important is that we eventually connect with the best oil for us at that moment in time.  To increase the changes of that happening we recommend taking a little more time, asking a few more questions and do a bit more sniffing before signing off or discarding an oil.


Hyaluronic Acid – Is it really from abattoirs or horse gut bacteria?

August 21, 2018

A client of mine just sent me a link to a scathing review about Hyaluronic acid. Amongst other things the review mentioned the following:

  • Hyaluronic acid is too large to be absorbed through the skin and instead sits on the skin drawing moisture out and dehydrating it.
  • Promotes build-up of keratin cells which are responsible for flaking.
  • That it is made in China through fermentation of Streptococcus Zoepidemicus bacteria, commonly found in the guts and lungs of sick horses.
  • That a safer way of making Hyaluronic acid from Bacillus Subtilis fermentation failed commercially thus leaving this unsafe, dirty process HA as the only vegan option (which is clearly not good enough).
  • That a high percentage of Hyaluronic Acid in the market is made from rooster combs and other animal parts.

Now before I look into all of the above I’ll just remind the reader that Hyaluronic acid is a long, sugar-like molecule that we classify as a GAG (Glycosaminoglycan). Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally throughout our bodies. It forms part of our extra cellular matrix, neural tissues and epithelial tissues such as the inside of the mouth and the Lung air sacks.

In cosmetic science we have mostly been using this as an active delivery system (delivery via osmotic pump), humectant, thickener, feel-modifier and general biomimetic skin balancing active.  Maybe we got that all wrong…

So let’s have a look, firstly at where Hyaluronic Acid comes from. 

Hyaluronic acid is often manufactured from Streptococcus Zoepidemicus as we can see by following this link.

This particular Streptococcus strain is most commonly found in horses although it is also found in cows, rabbits and occasionally humans.  This link provides a bit more background.

Factories manufacturing Hyaluronic Acid do not need to have a field full of horses or cows hanging around in order to harvest live bacteria from them. These factories usually purchase a starting culture for their manufacturing and starting cultures of bacteria can be purchased from a number of sources and these sources can germinate the bacteria in a number of different ways.

Here is one such culture, I’m not sure if this would be suitable for Hyaluronic Acid production but if you look through the data we can see that this bacteria has been grown  (incubated) on agar plates made from animal matter.

This version of the bacteria culture is patented for Hyaluronic Acid production.   The culture is also said to be available grown on a Todd Hewitt medium which is referenced here.

So right about now we can take a step back and say the comments above were right, that Hyaluronic Acid is made from a nasty pathogen that lives inside horses.  Only that would not be telling the whole story and in life, sometimes the whole story is what we need.

While all of the above is true, it is also true that the biotechnology industry is also subject to the same ethical and moral codes AND increasingly marketing pressures as everywhere else.  The market for animal free microbe culture is growing both for use in probiotic foods and for things like this.  Needless to say a fair amount of research has gone into looking at alternative growth medium for the microbes that go on to make Hyaluronic Acid.   The preferred non-animal broth is now either Soy peptone (let’s just hope that’s GMO free), yeast extract or glucose monohydrate.  Here is a paper about this. Here is another interesting paper that is looking at growing HA in Palmyra Palm (no, not that palm) in a bid to find a value-added application for this under-utilised material. This article has only just been published and interest in this space is really growing.

One key fact in the production of hyaluronic acid is that the cost of production is heavily influenced by the cost of the growth medium.  These non-animal derived sources are not only helping to give us a source of vegetarian hyaluronic acid source but they are also keeping the price down and in addition are also helping to address another part of the puzzle, safety.

Pathogenic microbes sound awfully scary and one wouldn’t want to put a disease-causing organism onto the skin if it stood any chance of causing disease.  Now I’m no expert in biotechnology but what I have read confirms that the microbes that get used in the manufacture of Hyaluronic Acid have been somewhat genetically engineered to a) be better at the job in hand (making HA) and b) reduce any harm from the use of the microbe.  On top of that a non disease-causing growth medium makes for a pretty safe process for skin care. Here is an article looking at one aspect of recumbent Streptococcus Zooepidermicus and here is another.  Again, this has been an area of intense research over the years and as with all things, I’m sure that as the years continue to roll on we will find safer and better ways to utilise microbes such as this to make materials such as hyaluronic acid.

Just as an aside, it might be useful for me to explain quickly why microbes are in this story. Basically the Streptococcus produces hyaluronic acid as a shield for its pathogenic bombs. The disease-bomb part of the microbe effectively hides in hyaluronic and makes its way into the body that way.  It is because hyaluronic is so well tolerated by the body that the microbe uses this technology as its armour – bio-mimicry.  So, it is odd that there is talk that Hyaluronic in its self can somehow be bad for the body? Maybe yes, in the wrong place and at the wrong time but most of the time these conditions wouldn’t necessarily happen.

Another point – the use of HA in eye surgery.

Hyaluronic acid is used in eye surgery and this requires a very different standard of additive including different molecular weigh, purity and longevity.  While these are both hyaluronic acid it is not helpful to view the two applications as the same thing, rather like it is not equivalent to view table salt the same as road de-icing salt.

So now let’s look at the claim that HA is too big to penetrate the skin.

This is absolutely true, whether the HA is high or low molecular weight but it is somewhat inconsequential as cosmetics must act on the surface and hyaluronic acid is totally capable of doing a good job there including delivering moisture and actives.  The only way to get hyaluronic acid INTO the deep tissue layers to plump the skin is via injection and the brand that has the patent for that is Restalyne.

It is highly unlikely that HA would ever dehydrate the skin.  As an osmotic active it is always going to want to share moisture from high to low areas. The skin contains, at best around 0.7 x it’s weight in water whereas the HA contains around 1000x it’s weight.  The osmotic pump-action of Hyaluronic Acid has been well documented as has the general action of Hyaluronic Acid as a humectant (water binder). In fact, Hyaluronic is thought to be so useful in dermatology that it is being increasingly used as a hydrogel base for tissue protection and repair. Hyaluronic Acid’s polymer structure can also be exploited to help create different textures, hardnesses and breathability all from one highly bio-compatible and non immune-stimulating natural polymer.

As for the comment about this ingredient leading to a build up of keratin cells I can find no reason why that should be so.  Hyperkeratosis can occur in skin that has been irritated such as when there is an eczema flair up, sun damage, warts or other disease. There is also a condition called Keratosis Pilaris which is harmless but can cause some distress as it leaves the skin looking lumpy and rough – this is also affectionately known as ‘chicken skin’ and I am sporting some of this.  This is caused by a build up of dry skin but it is somewhat of a dysfunction so usually there is more than just a lack of moisture to blame – think genetic malfunction of a minor kind or similar.   It might be that the writer has extrapolated that if the HA dehydrates the skin it will leave it more prone to this. I can follow that line of thinking but feel it is well and truly over-stated and unlikely to be linked to HA use in any case.

So what about the last claims about the materials origin?

It is true that lots of Hyaluronic Acid is made in China but that has more to do with their investment in biotechnology than anything else. Several manufacturers in China now have natural standard accreditation and I’ve had no problem in getting data out of the main players as to their supply chain and animal origin when asked.

As for the animal derived material, it is true that there will still be animal material on the market but the research into alternatives has given us materials that are not just better quality and more reliable a supply source but also that is  cheaper so that leaves very little reason for the animal origin material to thrive.

With regards to there being safer ways of making HA and other microbes can be used, it is true that there are many companies looking for even safer ways to make this, cheaper ways to make it, better ways to improve yield and ways to make the quality even better and that is involving the investigating into other micro starting cultures.  Not all of these will be (or have been) successful as with the specific example cited above but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be successful alternative in future. What is important now is that the microbes used to make HA now are able to make safe and clean HA for cosmetic use. The massive push for even safer alternatives is mainly for the high-end injectable market and especially for eye surgery.  Eye surgical needs for HA are growing as this is a key component in many types of eye surgery related to ageing and with an ageing population we will be needing more and more HA!

So, how did that all stack up?

There is no need to use Hyaluronic Acid if you don’t want to and sure, check your sources, ask the questions and make sure you feel comfortable with the supply chain but do try to keep things into perspective.  I remember watching a documentary about a farm once, the farmer was growing organic veggies and he had a rat problem. He ended up trapping and killing the rats then using them as blood and bone for his veggie patch. It did remind me that that’s what soil is after all – the microbes, the carbon matter, the trace minerals etc.  At some point you just have to draw the line.

In conclusion, based on the experiences I’ve had, the reading I’ve done and the products I’ve tested I would say that Hyaluronic Acid is more likely to do good than nothing and more likely to do nothing than do something bad so go for it!

Amanda x




Are we in danger of creating products that do nothing and go nowhere?

August 21, 2018

It’s been over a month since I posted on here and that’s odd for me but to be honest, the last month has been difficult and I’d like to explain why.

The world has gone completely mad!

I started blogging to investigate and communicate the back-stage world of cosmetics, the chemistry, ingredients, supply chain issues etc.  I still find all of that deeply interesting and as I am still a practicing cosmetic chemist I’m rarely short of material.  Instead, what I’m battling is a shortness in understanding of where to from here?

It was inevitable that ‘free from’ lists would get longer – ‘free from parabens and sulfates’ has morphed into a ‘free from’ list that now includes things like nuts, gluten, palm derivatives, anything that can’t easily be dropped into polite, normal conversation (if you can’t pronounce it, don’t put it on your face), fragrance and preservative.   On the ‘what’s in the box then’ side we have a growth of claims including ‘Vegan’, ‘Palm Free’, ‘Organic’ and ‘Natural’.   As a keen advocate of green chemistry that encompasses environmental stewardship and skin safety I have always seen merit, to some degree or other, in most if not all of these claims but what I’m struggling with now is that people want to be all things to all people.

Free from everything used to be a chemist joke but now it’s almost a reality.

So yes, we (chemists) did used to get together and joke about how our latest brief had a ‘free from’ list that took up several pages and so we just presented the client with Jojoba oil and called it a moisturiser…

That is now happening for real. Regularly.

There is nothing wrong with using jojoba oil as a moisturiser. A good quality jojoba oil is a beautiful thing and simplicity and purity are not to be scoffed at but there are limits to how far this minimalism can be stretched.

This simple approach now includes clay masks that are literally just a bag of dirt, toners that are just water (hydrosols/ OK they are nice but they have a limited capacity to do anything) and serums that are just hyaluronic acid solutions.

And this is all OK except…

The products are mostly quite shite when you really, critically analyse them.

Sure, a small percentage of the population are into DIY cosmetics, cosmetic minimalism and ‘true to nature’ simplicity but this won’t cut it for the mainstream as while the personal care side of the industry does have a utilitarian bent, the beauty industry is all about luxury, great textures, pleasure and feeling good. As such I struggle to see how rubbing a bag of dirt over your face and calling it a face mask can make you feel like you are being indulged, especially given the dirt is likely to be contaminated with heavy metals and microbes – no, they didn’t make the ‘free from’ list because chemically and microbially analysing products is not something that these brands necessarily do.

Fighting the Anti-Science.

One only has to look at global politics to see that things are getting pretty weird out there in the world, well things are getting pretty weird in here too and we now have the anti-science lobby spamming the airways and making things like the above products not only possible but desirable.

As a scientist I find living in an increasingly anti-science world quite distressing as I can see the progress that is being made to create cleaner, greener and better ingredients that can go on to make meaningful products pushed aside for things that quite frankly belong in the Stone Age.  It’s a crying shame.

I had a very distressing conversation with one brand in the last month and it left me literally banging my head against the wall.  Not only is a background understanding or at least appreciation of science not needed in the cosmetic industry here in Australia, some brands are carrying on like knowing shit about chemistry is a liability / bias / corrupting influence.  Pair that with a market that is increasingly moving towards free from everything and it’s tempting to give up entirely!

So where to from here?

I can’t blow smoke up the arse of brands who feel that the answer to the worlds problems is to just pretend that chemistry was never invented and that anything that sounds chemical is evil.   What I can do is work with brand owners who appreciate the evolutionary nature of science to progress towards products that do tick as many meaningful ‘free from’ boxes as required while still being functionally good.

Chemistry is a tool, not a product and it can be used to create amazingly good ingredients and finished products.  I’m increasingly reminding my clients that a sustainable brand in the true sense of the word is one that produces products that people use and keep using and that do people good.  There are so many innovations in packaging, product delivery, skin compatibility (especially with the micro biome), product safety, efficiency and texture that it would be a shame to turn our backs on that and pretend that it isn’t happening.  What I will concede is that we do need to value our materials more highly and if anything, that means we need more, not less science.  This scientific approach can give us super concentrated products that take up less packaging, dry items that have a longer shelf life,  products that are highly efficient and cost-effective and everything in between.

So while I have been feeling a little distressed about the anti-science rhetoric of a few brands around the Insta-space that seem to be gaining traction I do feel that it is pointless for people like me to get caught up in the drama of that.

I guess in that way I am bias, I’m a chemist and I like chemistry but I like it because it can make some amazing products possible, help comfort and protect the skin and genuinely bring a level of enjoyment into people’s lives without costing the earth.

So on that note, I’ll get back into the lab and make some magic happen.

Amanda x




The Creative Flow – Girl Interrupted

July 16, 2018

A film came out in 1999 called ‘Girl Interrupted’. I didn’t watch it then and still haven’t, neither have I read the book but there was something about the film’s (I didn’t know it was a book first) title that has stuck with me all these years.  I would sum myself up as being that girl – not the film/ book girl, just the interrupted girl.

I think slow.

I am easily distracted and daydreamy but I’m ultimately very disciplined and never truly forget my obligations.

I can’t meditate when I’m sitting still, I have to walk – walking meditation and my brain work well together.

I also think fast.

I am easily distracted and messy but I’ve also got tonnes of energy to burst through that chaos when necessary.

I can’t focus when I’m being talked at or when people try to re-direct, re-prioritise or otherwise turn my virtual boat around.

I often think that’s why I’ve ended up working on my own but it isn’t really, I work on my own because I just like it. Working alone doesn’t stop, cure of otherwise fix any of the above, in fact in many ways it makes it worse as I have to overcome all of the above to keep my business moving and grooving (and my pay coming in).  And I have been doing that for ten solid years…

It’s probably not a good idea for a business owner who IS the business to admit to such failings in public (if indeed they are failings), let alone on their own business blog, a blog that their customer, prospective and existing, their suppliers and industry peers read and review but I don’t care much for convention and I am willing to take the good with the bad and share this anyway as I know I’m not alone in having a slightly anti-business way of going about things and anyway, I think I owe it to my customers to explain why I can sometimes be away with the fairies so to speak…

I’ve had a period of a few months, probably 7 or 8 in total, where I’ve felt like my own creative flow has got mixed up and as a consequence I’ve ended up missing things, getting a bit lost and being otherwise inefficient. What happened to me is that I went against my better judgement and allowed customers to change the way I generally did things.  It seemed a good idea at the time but has since turned into a bit of a nightmare for me which I think matters as I am the one trying to solve the problems creatively.  While all of this might sound a bit cryptic the bottom line in terms of learning for me has been just how important it is for me to hold firm in my boundaries and explain to customers why – something that I didn’t even know how to do until this last 7-8 months.

For me, with my brain in my body in my family with my current energy levels, knowledge and personal power I have learned that the best way for me to be productive, creative and efficient is to create my own space and work through that without too much collaboration or constant input.  I’ll explain that a bit more so as not to be misunderstood.  If you engaged an artist to paint you a picture you’d expect to sit with them and discuss the piece at the beginning,  you might want a process update if the project is taking a while but you would probably not discuss the fine detail of the process along the way – how the paint is made, why one canvas was chosen over another etc.  Less still would you expect to challenge the painter, change your mind about the paint material and even provide the paints to the already-started painter.   That’s not exactly what’s happening in my case but it is somewhat true.  In any case what it does is change the painters role from that of an artisan to that of a teacher and teaching requires less creativity and more process skills than pure experimental artistry and as such, the result is less creative and more consciously constructed.  I have certainly been feeling that a bit lately.

I expect it is true of many creative folk that when closely and critically observed, their creative edge drops off a little.  In some cases of course, this doesn’t matter, the end result doesn’t have to be groundbreaking in terms of innovation or finish but in other cases it can kill a project.  I’m willing to accept that maybe I am more sensitive to this than others,  I do have a hard time keeping my brain on track anyway thanks to my ADHD tendencies – but I also have demonstrated the capacity for immense creativity and vision and so it quite possibly shits me more than it would the average chemist when I produce something that I know to be only average instead of exceptional.

Now before I come across all doom and gloom I have to say that not all of my work, all of the time is super creative.  I might need a period of ‘hands-off’ time to get myself into the groove but then subsequent tweaks and changes or alternations are much more process orientated and so discussions, collaboration and contact are more welcomed and helpful but every now and then what I need in order to get something really good cooking is a bit of space and freedom to get myself into that ever illusive creative zone.  I have the discipline I just need the permission to create the space.

I really wanted to share this now because I’ve worked with a lot of different clients over my time and I appreciate that some people want a rock-solid process driven time line with regular contact and incremental progress while others are totally laid back to the point that they could easily be forgotten.  Most people fit somewhere in the middle of course and I tend to be able to manage them the best and they to manage me.  This is also why I don’t take on every client that asks me, sometimes I just know that I’ll not be what they need, it’s like chemistry tinder – swipe left and move along x

One thing I’ve learned both about myself and about running a business over the last ten years is that while we, as business owners and professionals do grow and become better skilled and equip to deal with the challenges of our working life, to pro-actively manage ourselves,  pick our customers better and plan our work flow with more insight and patience we are still uniquely us – good, bad and indifferent  and that the essence of us will always win out in the end so we ignore it at our peril!  I have learned a valuable lesson over this last few months about how I work best, as a consultant, for my clients and it is only because I’ve been getting it wrong that I’ve had that opportunity but now, in order to respect myself and to preserve my energy, creativity and enthusiasm I need to take back control.

I accept that I’m always going to feel like a girl interrupted while running a business and that customers, being a pretty big part of any business need to be given appropriate time, effort and access – I’m not advocating for clients to drop their R&D brief’s off at an undisclosed location and leave them with me for 6 years while I ponder them in complete silence, that would be weird, unhelpful and completely impractical.  I’ve learned to use that adrenaline, need for connection and fight to keep myself on track, build some structure and routine into my week, organise myself better and keep work flowing but the other part of me knows that I’m only going to produce my best, most amazing work when I take control of and direct the projects that require my full creative input and that sometimes, that also means saying ‘no, I just need a little space to do this. Trust me’.

I guess for me, the moral of this whole story is to trust yourself, that if you are a consultant or a brand owner or another creative professional it is not only right to say ‘give me some space’ every now and then, it’s essential and probably to the benefit of your clients in the long-run.  I think a little part of me still feels that this side of me is a bit of a failure, that we are always supposed to be there for people, to help them,  listen and indulge them but thankfully that little part of me is no longer going to be sucking the air out of the creative side of me.  There is a time and space for everything and yes, now I do trust me as I work towards being the uninterrupted girl who creates magic.

Amanda x