Skip to content

The ‘I’ve solved my problem, now I can solve all yours’ trap

November 13, 2017

I was listening to a radio segment on the phenomena of life coaches today (Life Matters, ‘What’s driving the rise of life coaches’ with Amanda Smith) and something the doctor taking part in the discussion said reminded me of the situation we face in the cosmetic industry all.of.the.time  I’m talking about the ‘I’ve solved my problem, now I can solve all yours’ people.

I don’t think anyone goes into a brand (or into life coaching) thinking that they are doing this but from the outside it is easy to see that this is exactly what is happening and sooner or later it will come unstuck.

Some examples of where I’ve seen this situation in my realm of work are:

  • People who became healthy after giving up ‘chemicals’ and therefore go on to create a ‘chemical’ free cosmetic range to help others become healthy.
  • People who cured their eczema with one particular ingredient or formula and create a range around that ingredient.
  • People who found a cure for their own acne via a certain regimen and use their experience to ‘treat’ others.
  • People whose baby responds well to their massage oil and sleeps through the night so they package that up and sell it as a sleepy cure.

But to be honest it could be anything.

Some of the above, if not all of the above are often as good a reason as any to get into the cosmetic industry, after all what is more motivating than finding a cure for your own situation and wanting to use that to help others.  There is nothing wrong with that public referral type of selling or idea sharing but where it becomes dangerous is when personal referrals and personal experience gets dressed up as professional truth.  The line that gets crossed is the line that takes you from an individual with a compelling story to a consultant with a prescriptive solution. The problem with this leap into the prescriptive is that it is often undertaken without  supervision (qualified reflection on own processes and working through the problems that come up) or evidence – one persons success does not a trial make.  Supervision is essential for all therapists/ health care professionals as is professional development and evidence is what differentiates quackery from science (not that I’m saying all science is based on GOOD or even TRUTHFUL evidence, just that evidence is a requirement of science).

So what to do?

Listening to that short radio segment was a bit of a reminder to me that I do need to talk about this with my clients and my students. I need to challenge them to move beyond their personal ‘cure alls’ and biases so that they can work towards finding some truth in that unstructured enthusiasm as there is always a little bit of scientific truth behind these personal success stories and it is often just a matter of measuring and testing it appropriately.  The danger of not doing this early in your brand owning life is that you build a brand based on a false-hood, part-truth or wishful thought, a brand that really doesn’t live up to what you had promised.  Then again, the danger of testing your wonder cure is that it turns out to be a fluke, not that wonderful or only half the story and that can be disappointing but I’d argue that it is better to be disappointed early rather than later so you can re-group and fill in the gaps with something that has better efficacy behind it.

As you will see from this evidence triangle, case reports (personal stories), opinions (such as mine in this blog) and letters (from a doctor etc) are weak evidence. That doesn’t mean they are ZERO evidence, it just means that you need a lot of them together to have any chance of finding a commonality or pattern between the cases.  The sad thing for me with regards to the internet is that it is easier to find 10 blogs claiming that eczema can be cured with coconut oil than to find 10 that dispute or question that from an evidence based perspective.  This helps to drive the conclusion that the information is true, tested and validated when, in reality it is just a half-truth or mis-informed opinion repeated.  The bottom line with these weak forms of evidence is the credentials and process of the individuals involved. Are they trained in scientific thinking, are they displaying bias, are they profiting from an opinion and if so which outcome do they profit from and is that likely to be corruptible?  To help work out if an outcome may be corruptible one can check to see if the outcome is something they are in control of or invested in personally – for example a brand owner selling a cure is in control of the brand that gains popularity by promoting its self as a cure and also profits from the selling of that cure. There is a chance for corruption here because of the concentration of power but this doesn’t mean there will be corruption, just that we should be mindful.  On the other hand  a scientist promoting a science base testing approach may well have some control over how the science is carried out but can’t control the outcomes as the outcomes may not be controllable, especially not if the outcomes are measured by customers or test subjects such as in a panel test or questionnaire. Also even if the scientist controls the lab that publishes the initial favourable results, other labs have to repeat that for the results to be valid and no scientist owns and controls all the labs so their lies, bias or mis-directed methodology will eventually show up just so long as there is transparency and reproducibility in the methodology.

For me, the bottom line is that while we might all come into this industry for different reasons and via different pathways once we are in here we have to accept that while hype and hyperbole may be the wings that launch a brand it is evidence-based results that keep the brands heart ticking.

If you are wanting to invest for the long-term, invest wisely and it is wise to remember that just because you have solved your problem, doesn’t mean you are qualified to solve them all.

Amanda x


Trust your mamma?

November 8, 2017

As much as I love my mamma mushroom I don’t trust her 100%, after all she’s the woman that told me there were crocodiles in our tiny garden pond, that if I didn’t fall asleep my 9pm the 9 O’Clock horses would come and take me away and that if I went to bed with my nighty on back-to-front the fairies would come and twist my head around in the night!  However, after reading the interwebs for some ingredient safety information it seems that I’m all alone in doubting my mothers credibility to know everything.

I’m talking mamma bloggers.

Mamma bloggers are a big thing aren’t they?

I kind of get it, that association between mothering and safe mushy feelings of being secure and cosseted but I also don’t.  As a mother myself I would not say that the ability to grow a baby magically bestowed upon me the powers of knowing anything and everything about whatever takes my fancy so why do these ladies think they can decipher cosmetic chemistry, toxicology, environmental science and the laws of physics?  I have clearly been short changed!

I spend a good proportion of my time having to look to see what the mamma bloggers have said after a customer or reader of my blog writes in to ‘get a second opinion’.  Sometimes I really do feel that my second opinion is taken as being quite valid albeit reluctantly at times, when at other times I feel it’s a case of ‘yeh but nah’ – I get the brush off. Cognitive dissonance is a real bummer but only for as long as you entertain two ideas in your head at the same time and often it’s easier to stick with mamma than run with the wolves AKA me. HA!

That said, I don’t really know why I brought this up to be honest. I’ve long since given up trying to beat these mammas into submission – nobody likes that kind of violence – and I’m no longer as fussed if people immediately thank me for my hours of nerdy reading, cross referencing, questioning and equationing.  I have long since realised that I do what I do because I like and am qualified to do.  I feel that I’m giving this my full attention and trying to do the best job I can in bringing up my readers with the best, most well balanced information that I can serve.  I suppose, when I think about it that is all that any mother tries to do really isn’t it?  To do their best?  Maybe I’m just being a bit boring for sticking to one subject of expertise rather than spreading my wisdom around like vegemite or jam!

Anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter as long as we do what we do with love and as ‘doing/ making/ packing/ wrapping with love’ is another thing mamma bloggers do well then maybe, just maybe I’m one too……

Let me just go and have a cup of tea while I process that.

Amanda x



Comfrey is not for your face.

November 8, 2017

I have to admit to not knowing that until recently. I’d never really had the need to look into it to be honest, especially given that most cosmetic chemists look to Comfrey only for its Allantoin concentration and allantoin is cheap and abundant enough on its own. But just recently I did have reason to do some digging and this is what I found.


Comfrey is a lovely herb (my stash is shown above. I wonder how that superbly round hole got there…) but it is a herb which contains a few toxic alkaloids. Toxicity being a relative thing Comfrey is still OK to use topically with warnings but the herbal extract is not currently recommended for internal use due to the presence of these powerful naturally occurring chemicals.  I say ‘not currently’ because our understanding of the science and risks of chemicals both natural and synthetic evolves over time.

The alkaloids in question are Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids and we are looking at concentrations of between 0.02-0.5% depending on the species and whether the roots or leaves are taken.  As an aside, the concentration of Allantoin found in Comfrey is said to be between 0.6-4.7%, a cosmetically effective dose is around 0.2% so I’d need to add somewhere between 4.2 – 33% of herb to my cosmetic to get that dose – basically that doesn’t sound very practical to me.  Here is some information on herbs and their alkaloids. 

Even though using Comfrey extract is a poor way to achieve a good dose of Allantoin I still thought about doing it in order to meet my clients requirements for an organically certifiable product that contained the allantoin active.  This became a potential avenue to solve that problem once I realised that while allantoin is a naturally occurring chemical it is not extracted from plants, it is manufactured.  This discovery wasn’t exactly ground-breaking for me as many plant-derived isolates are man-made or what we call ‘nature-identical’ these days but what was annoying to discover was the fact that while allantoin synthesis originated as a natural process, it had been surpassed by a more economical, higher yielding, fully synthetic process that just wouldn’t pass muster with the organic certification bodies.  So pure, 100% active allantoin was out!

So back to Comfrey.

So after discovering Comfrey’s dirty little alkaloid secret (apparently one of them is a human carcinogen) I wanted to confirm how and when this ingredient could be used on skin so off to the TGA I went – do remember that I’m based in Australia and we have the TGA. If you are reading this from any other country you should really check with your therapeutic goods legislators before mixing up a batch of Comfrey cream or whatever.

In 2016 the TGA here in Australia were reviewing the status of Comfrey and following that some changes were made in the schedule. Now I’m not a law specialist – I find it too boring to be honest – but what I did find is this:

  • Comfrey is on a poisons schedule (SUSMP)- schedule 5.
  • THE SUSMP was updated in October 2017 – so very recently – and amendments to comfrey are reflected there.
  • Comfrey is listed in the schedule under its botanical name Symphytum.
  • It is referenced in schedule 10 and 5 and labelling legislation is in part 3 of appendix F.

Basically what all of this boils down to is that Comfrey extract can be used in cosmetics only as a topical (not to be ingested) extract but it can’t be used on the face or the genitals unless your doctor tells you to- yes it does say that:

Warnings comfreysymphytum

Here is a link to the relevant piece of legislation. 

So with that line of investigative science exhausted for my particular application I turned my attention to other ways of getting a bit of Allantoin goodness into a cosmetic face cream and of course, who can forget the humble snail!  Snail secretion extract became a huge thing across Asia a couple of years ago but it was slower to take-off here, you could say it took off at a snail’s pace……  I was always a bit sad about that because no snails need to die to making snail secretion extract AND it is a lovely source of natural polymeric sugars of the Glycosaminoglycan type (same family as Hyaluronic acid and great for skin)  plus, of course, the allantoin.  Also I suspect the snails in the snail farm are treated with a bit more respect than they usually receive from your average veggie gardener or blackbird!  That said, I’m quite convinced it won’t be every body’s cup of tea but at least it’s an option.

Before I go I guess I should re-cap with you on what Allantoin is actually good for shouldn’t I!

Allantoin is usually supplied as a pharmaceutical grade active with high purity, this means that usually 98.5% or more of the white, crystaline material is active Allantoin. Powdered, concentrated actives are great in terms of their small input level and relatively small transportation carbon footprint so in many ways synthetic allantoin is probably a whole lot more eco-friendly than using Comfrey extract.

Here is a summary of its benefits:

  • Increase moisture retention in the skin by increasing the capacity of the corneocytes to bind water.
  • Soften skin by exfoliating dry and damaged cells making this a mild keratolytic active.
  • Irritation prevention.  The active has been found to reduce the irritation potential of other actives including surfactants making it great even in wash-off applications.
  • Improves the skins resilience making this a good ingredient for anti-pollution products as well as restorative skincare.

Parting Comments. 

The natural source of the active I want is not as safe as the synthetic source but the synthetic source is not allowed because of how it is processed.  I spend many an hour pondering this weird reality of ours trying to work out if we are, indeed, making any progress in the world of chemistry. Thank goodness for snails.




Disruptor brands – a form of narcisism?

October 27, 2017

A word that has smacked me in the face with regards to cosmetic brands this year is ‘disruptor’ as in disruptor brands. I thought it was time I had a look at what that really means as my gut feeling is that it is a term thought up by psychopathic narcissists to make them feel clever.  But is that unduly harsh?

verb (used with object)

to cause disorder or turmoil in:

The news disrupted their conference.

to destroy, usually temporarily, the normal continuance or unity of; interrupt:

Telephone service was disrupted for hours.

to break apart:

to disrupt a connection.

Business. to radically change (an industry, business strategy, etc.), as by introducing a new product or service that creates a new market:

It’s time to disrupt your old business model.
Based on what I’ve seen in terms of cosmetic brands in this industry segment I’d say they are most definitely opting for definition 4 in the above list.  They come in like a wrecking ball and slice through all of the underlying convention and road-blocks to innovation therefore freeing themselves to create miracles and deliver never before seen results!
Do I sound too cynical?
Every now and then things do need a shake up and move around.  Human brains require a lot of energy to work and nothing is more energy draining than change and so as a consequence humans are prone to slipping into routines, even if they know or feel that their routine isn’t exactly optimal.  I have a routine where I go and get a big bag of Cheezles on the way home from work each week and stuff my face with them while I sit in traffic.  That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about here but of course in a big, business sense, not in a bag-of-chips-sense.
So disruption can be a good thing, a catalyst for change and God knows that chemists love a good catalyst.
But is changing or at least challenging everything a good or ‘safe’ idea?
Disruptor brands have tended to be new kids on the block, industry outsiders or newbies which is no surprise because some of the things they do could only be achieved by ignorance, either will full or blind and a hefty dose of self belief (hence my initial rather harsh appraisal).  These brands just seem to come in and shove something new in our faces, take us by surprise and shake us up!  The questions I have are ‘are they playing fair’ and ‘is this type of thing always good?’
In terms of fairness my experience of disruptor brands is that they don’t often appreciate how unfair they are when they launch.  Often a lack of appreciation or regard to the rules of the game creates an un level playing field in which the disruptor brand has an unfair advantage. This may present a very real problem for an existing brands seeking to defend their position but who is respectful of the normal rules around here.
While many of us think that rules are boring from time to time, most would agree that there are some rules that keep us safe and save us from ourselves!  Rules such as how much of a particular active is safe to put in a product, what products can and can’t claim and how products should be tested for example.   Sure it seems boring to toe the line by checking the rules and performing the tests  before launching versus just  putting your brain fart out there  and ‘letting the market decide’ but there is method to that dull madness and I wonder if that method is lost in the thrill of the chance to make a quick buck and feel all free and powerful.
So why would I think that disruptor brand owners are narcissistic?
Well look, this is a bit of an exaggeration but I do think that it takes more than just balls to go out and position yourself as a disruptor in an established industry which does have rules and protocol and my guess is that the extra bit of bravado must come from something outside of the ordinary and narcissism is one potential candidate for that.  Another is just a ‘who cares’ or ‘he who dares’ attitude which may start out as a bit of a joke or gamble but ends up being very much bigger than anyone could have imagined.   I’ve met a few people in my time who have this latter approach to business, who tend to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I personally feel that comes from a sense of ingrained entitlement but again, I might be putting a negative spin on something that can bring a lot of joy and goodness into the world – disruptor brands aren’t, by definition always bad!
I am under no illusion that a disruptor brand would even read this but I guess all I’d say to anyone who is thinking of launching a radically different brand and cashing in is to still do that but do that with a tad of respect for what has gone before you. Here’s my top list of rules that shouldn’t be disregarded, mainly to answer my concern over the safety of disruptor brands but also to address the fairness query too.
  1. Customers deserve their innovated disruptor brands to be safe so these brands should invest in testing their products – micro, stability and whole product safety (like the EU safety assessment).  This is especially true is the disruptor is planning to come in with higher levels of actives than seen before or lower pH’s or whatever else.
  2. Industry rules for labelling and claims may be boring but they are necessary.  Outrageous claims may get you sales but they can also get you arrested, especially in Europe now as claims should be substantiated.  Before launching a disruptor brand should get a legal person qualified in this area to make sure they are compliant.  Disrupt law via the proper channel  – Politicians and not police.
  3. Don’t underestimate your competition.  Time and time again I see disruptor brands come in and make out that every other brand is crap except them. That the competition does everything wrong and they get everything right. That the competition is ripping people off but they have your back. These tactics are not just confined to disruptor brands but they are typical of them.  If it isn’t brands they are dissing it is the ingredients.  This is the bit that I find most unfair because it is unlikely that many people launching a disruptor brand knows for sure what other brands do and even if they know what some other brands do the chances are they won’t know what everyone does so what they have painted is a false reality rather than an accurate reflection of the status quo. This is, at the very least, unfair and at the worst misleading.
  4. Focus on your creativity.  So I’ve focused a lot on the negatives but it isn’t all bad. People that have disruptor potential are usually very creative and do have a new take on things. These things are valuable and will be enough to get Peoples attention without resorting to more underhand tactics.  While we all know that fear sells, it is so much nicer to sell people a great creative solution and in the end it is much more valuable to your business long-term.
  5. Build bridges, not walls.   So it is impossible to disrupt an industry without ruffling feathers and making a few enemies. People have egos and when their position is threatened they will get mad and project that madness onto the newbie.  However, as a disruptor you are in control of how you make that entrance and what you do next.  Throwing stones, making out everyone else has rubbish on offer and you are the only saviour is perhaps not the nicest way to be.  Building bridges may be difficult but it is not impossible and if all else fails as they say in Bambi ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’.

The bottom line is that the beauty industry is built on fashion and fashion needs innovation and change – other words for disruption. Disruption is fun, cool and creative at best, aggressive and dangerous at worst.  I’m calling for the former kind of disruption so that we may all bask safely in this awesomeness and new way of looking at the world.  For those of you that are buyers rather than makers, I’m hopeful that those brands with new and exciting ideas can see the value in appreciating the framework of rules that underpin the cosmetic industry so hat you can enjoy these new and exciting products safely and without regret.

And no, I don’t think all disruptor brand owners are mentally ill but I do think they have a ballsiness that might benefit from taming just a tad.


PS: I am not trained in psychology, psychiatry or mental health so I can’t diagnose anyone as a narcissist. Thank you please.

So I just came 6th in a best beauty blog pagent thing. AWESOME…..

October 27, 2017

Ok so maybe I shouldn’t have told the guy who emailed me about my little achievement that awards are not really my thing but I did already.  Finding out I am 6th most popular Beauty Blog in Australia by whatever criteria they have thought to apply is interesting to a point I guess but to be honest I’m not exactly overwhelmed.

I blog because I like writing and it helps make me a better chemist and teacher.

I guess that lists are good for people who want to know where to start when it comes to blogs to read but only if they want to read what is popular. I don’t give a shit about what’s popular to be honest (sorry for the swearing word there BTW) – chemistry was NEVER popular at school and even at uni we struggled to get enough of a cohort together to fill the average bar counter – so I’m unaccustomed to being or caring about popularity and am deeply skeptical about what that means about the quality or relevance of my content.

My blog is and always has been about digging around in the muck to find gold.  My writing has meandered along with me on my consulting journey over the last ten years and as I’ve grown in my lab and practical experience, my writing has grown too. I can dig deeper than before, pursue avenues that I didn’t realise existed before and have access to conclusions and evidence that eluded me in the beginning.  How does one meaningfully rank that exactly?

If the truth be known I rank myself on my ability to connect with and serve my customers.  I delight in the conversations we have, the projects I’m privy to, the evidence I can generate for them and the questions I can help answer.  I feel most accomplished when I can put my years of practice to good use and help a client see their situation in a different light, empower them to move beyond where they are now, where they are stuck, to encourage them and support their growth.  As a consultant and even as a writer so much of that remains hidden from public view. My professional day-to-day looks to be laid bare on Instagram, Facebook or this blog but the reality is you see next to nothing. Customers are protected by confidentiality agreements, I protect myself by knowing the value of what I bring to clients while sharing just enough in public, here, to give those that have their eyes wide open a thread to follow.  The main people who matter in terms of blog loving are you, the readers that get here and take the time to really see, hear and feel what I’m saying and not an algorithm or panel of people who may or may not be qualified to make such a judgement.  Does it matter if there are 10, 100 or 1000 of you here a day (for the record there are between 400-600 of you just so you know – that’s a lot of science nerds) just as long as what you get here is nourishment and thought-provoking value?


So yes, that’s that really. You are officially reading the 6th best beauty blog in Australia and I bloody well hope you like reading it as much as I like writing it.

And as for me, well I’ll try not to let this ‘success’ go to my head.

Onwards and upwards.



Love in, nasty chemicals OUT.

October 27, 2017

How do you know if something has been made with love?

How can you quantify the impact on the quality of something that wasn’t?

And are we any clearer now on what constitutes a ‘nasty’ chemical?

chemical love

I hear, see and read so many things as I make my way through my cosmetic chemist life, things that I know people feel quite deeply yet I have no simple way to explain.  How do I communicate these intangible things to my students and clients?  How indeed……

I was listening to the radio on my way into the office on Monday and a lady came on to talk about her new book about trust. Basically we are now living in a world where we trust people we’ve never met to take us places and host our holidays (Uber, Air B&B), listen to the man on the bus more intensely than we listen to the economist on the news (this was an actual answer to a pre-brexit street opinion poll) and get our news from our Facebook feed – shared by friends and family – rather than from the ‘news’ papers.   The radio lady didn’t state that this was good or bad, she just made the point that it was different, that society is changing and that our old social norms were pretty much dead and buried to the point that the thing we fear most now isn’t so much strangers as corporations and institutions.

I see those attitudes play out in the cosmetic world. When I first became a consultant I could explain something to a customer, maybe even show them with a bit of lab work and they would place some trust in the fact that I had some idea of what I was doing.  As I don’t want or intend to sound ‘aaahhh the good old days when people just listened to me’ here I’ll qualify to say that I have always gone out of my way to qualify what I say and do, give it limits, explain how different results might occur and contain the trust and understanding to what has been presented rather than have customers seeing it as a universal truth from their guru (me).  That’s not my style.   But now that situation has changed and not really in a good way.  Before many people came along, got some advise then went home to try it.  Now, more and more people are coming along, getting what they frame as an ‘opinion’ (subtly difference to advice), going home and re-googling that before trying anything at all and often coming back with counter arguments and counter truths – some of which are quite bazaar but that I counter as best as I can. Maybe they are trying to rank the advice, maybe they are trying to test it but definitely I see more and more people struggling with cognitive dissonance these days, cognitive dissonance followed by paralysis.

cognitive dissonance

  1. the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.

It is more common now to see prospective brand owners who have spent two or more years ‘researching’ without even stepping into their kitchens to try anything than way back.  But rather than these people be coming across as theoretical geniuses, their dogmatic clinging to their constructed reality seems to have tied them into a tight knot and I don’t like that.  I became a consultant to teach and as a teacher my job is to empower, encourage and engage. Quite frankly, that is getting harder to do and while I don’t mind ‘hard’ I do mind ‘pointless’.

I think that these difficulties stem from their being many more layers of pre-formed half-truths to peel back before we get to the eager to give-it-a-go individual underneath.  A teaching or consulting session now feels like therapy where I’m the therapist. My first job is to try to find a thread from each layer to pull at, tweak, invoke a reaction, challenge.  Again I must add that my job is not to do that with a mind to re-programming people to my point of view, that would be manipulative. More it is to just loosen off the straight jacketed layers of unreality and straw man truths that are worn for self-protection so that I might open up the client to a much more empowering and free future, one where they are in control, where they call the shots.  It’s a challenge.

So how does this fit in with the ‘made with love’ and ‘without nasty chemicals’ ideology?

I have come to the conclusion that these statements represent belief systems more than they represent an actual tangible thing. That isn’t to say they can’t be traced back to something, more that they don’t need to be proved to feel and therefore ‘be’ true (I think therefore I am scenario).

Love is a basic human need and to give love is to make or form a connection, to pop your vulnerability on the line, to reach out with open arms, to hug, to accept, to welcome.  I am coming to the conclusion that people write ‘made with love’ or another incarnation of those words as a reaction to the harsh, cold, analytical world that they find themselves in, a world they can’t trust (and I really don’t blame them). That they reach out in a ‘love conquers all’ way to other humans, that their products may wrap their public up in an aromatically pleasing, smooth sensation of pleasure, taking the edge off it all for a moment (and helping to make their skin look and feel better too).

I try to challenge my students by saying ‘so who do you think doesn’t make their products with love and how can you tell’  to which there is either no answer or a vague notion that there is no love in a big factory – that instead of love for the product in a factory, there is just love for money.  But when I ask them how many of them have worked in or visited a cosmetic factory no hands go up.  That maybe the people working in the factory are just as proud of their jobs, love their families and their health just as much as the small batch kitchen made brand. Or what happens when, as a consequence of having a successful brand, their batch sizes have to increase and that home-style kitchen batching becomes impossible – does the love diminish in proportion to each extra Kg of product you make?  I also try to add a bit of chemistry in there too, an observation that love may exist in your small hand-crafted batch sized kitchen product but I’m pretty sure a vacuum, high-powered mixer does not.  That air is more likely to be introduced into a small hand-made batch than in a larger batch and that air equals oxygen and oxygen equals oxidation but this is just white noise.  Similarly I mention the economic and energetic benefits of scale as well as the ability to invest testing to detect and processes to control micro issues more effectively.  Again, stunned silence as this doesn’t fit the narrative because this is outside of the experience of majority and the imagination of some.

And I try to do the same with the nasty chemical thing. I find it easy to get agreement of what ‘nasty’ means in terms of petroleum derived vs plant-based but it’s the space in between that’s causing the angst, what us in the industry call ‘green chemistry’.  Chemistry, chemicals, chem trails, nasty…..

I respect people want to know but there is a limit to how much extra one gains through knowing the detail behind every last thing.  I’ve just been working on a vitamin project for example, uncovering how each individual vitamin is made, in-depth, step by step.  This process got messy, long-winded and extremely complicated to the point where I started to really wonder what good this was doing in the world.  I’ll give you an example.  Vitamin B3 is very popular in skin care because it can brighten the complexion, even out sebum production, help reduce acne lesions, act as an anti-inflammatory, improve skin barrier function and possibly even (potentially) reduce the risk of skin cancer (being investigated).  Vitamin B3 is called Niacinamide or Nicotinamide (how we use it in cosmetics mostly) and can be found in nature (as Niacin)  in yeast, meat, milk and leafy green vegetables.  Because of that many people assume that when they buy Vitamin B3 to put into their cosmetic it came from one of the above, preferably the leafy green veggies rather than the meat as that’s a bit of a harder sell but those of us from within the industry appreciate the difficulties and costs that would go into doing that and as such are happy to settle for the nature-identical but synthetically made alternative.  Not that it is an alternative really as naturally derived B3 is not something I’ve ever found available, Lonza is the company involved in producing around half of the worlds Niacin and Niacinamide and they do that ‘synthetically’.  

There is a reasonable overview of the steps involved to manufacture niacin (and from there niacinamide) here if you want to have a look but in a nutshell this is full-on synthetic chemistry albeit to make a very useful and far more bioavailable form of the vitamin that can be otherwise achieved by diet alone.

So what happens when people find out that this Vitamin B3 or anything else for that matter is made in a chemical factory using chemicals?

Chaos. Brain chaos is what I’ve observed.

It seems to me that we are entering a new realm of crazy-making reality with all of this stuff. It was relatively easy for a newbie brand owner to check out what’s hot in the ‘free from’ list and just go with it, thinking that as long as they are not that everything would be OK.  But now there are so many ways to be free from sulfates (and lots of brands are), silicones (there are many natural ingredients that give some level of silicone look, function and feel), parabens (there are now preservatives made from radishes!) and mineral oil (just choose from one of the hundreds of vegetable oils around) that the brand owner now feels the need to not just write THESE words but to actually understand and be able to explain everything about everything and that’s tiresome.

I guess there is a danger in me writing this, a danger that you, the reader think that I would prefer it is things went back to the way they were, to a time when nothing was asked or questioned but of course that is wrong.  So what do I want and yearn for?  Well, when I reflect on all of this I come back to one simple thing and that’s human connection, humanity, love.

I have realised that what is motivating me most at this point in my career outside of the ‘exploring new chemicals and recipies’ part is my desire to connect people to their brand using the language in which I am a native speaker but which is so foreign and un-usual for others and that’s chemistry.  So for me, made with love always includes a love of the science that makes their products possible, be they from freshly squeezed leaves or silicone elastomers and when it comes to nasty chemicals I strive to live in a world where we can weigh up the good, the bad and the ugly for what it is and either accept or reject it on fact but do so with respect and love rather than fear and disgust.  As my granny used to say ‘there is a place for everything and everything in its place.

And that my dear, is that.

Amanda x


Follow me, I’ve got nothing.

September 22, 2017

A brand started following me on Instagram the other week which is always nice.  Feeling a bit like indulging in some time-wasting I decided to have a look at what they were all about so I spent a minute or two scrolling down through their pictures and they were beautiful pictures of an enviable lifestyle. Pictures that were perfectly captured on exotic (and what looks to be expensive) locations featuring attractive young models having fun. Then I checked their bio and my jaw dropped, over 18,000 followers and yet the brand hadn’t even launched yet. NOT EVEN LAUNCHED!!!!!!!!!!!

Eighteen thousand people are happy to follow nothing because it looks like something they want.

Oh My God.

It’s not like this is news to me, I’ve had people actually tell me about how they have achieved a similar level of ‘success’ before actually making a product.  How they use this HYPE to get people to part with their money and pay for goods before they are even made sometimes. Some brand owners who I’ve spoken to don’t even know how on earth they are going to deliver on their promises in order to fulfil this (cue a few tense conversations with a cosmetic chemist or manufacturer).

So this is how business is done in 2017…..

I want to say a couple of things about this from my perspective which is based on me having worked with start-ups and growing-up businesses for nearly 20 years.

  • This strategy is risky and the risks increase if you lack experience of the industry you are ‘disrupting’ – the more of an outsider you are, the more likely you are to trip up, get frustrated, over-promise, burn bridges and under-deliver – none of this matters of course if you want to just make a quick buck and then leave but if you want to pass this down to your children then take care.
  • It strategy will only get you so far. People who will flock to nothing because they think it is something usually have only a transient relationship with a brand and unless you’ve got the stamina to keep feeding the machine and delivering then it’s going to start looking like a sham very quickly.


  • Numbers are vanity, repeat dollars are sanity.  The golden rule in business is that unless it is banked and accounted for and the returns period has expired you can’t bank on it.  Repeat customers dollars are worth more than new clients as you have a higher degree of certainty that they are not going to return the goods or complain.  So, a solid customer base of reasonable size is much better than a large customer base that comes and goes as it pleases.

  • This strategy can be expensive.  Not all of us live in glorious places, have models or famous people as friends and have an awesome photographer on staff and so for us a PR company is needed. These companies can cost you anything but figures from $2000 to$10,000 per month are not unusual and most will insist (and rightly so) that you sign up for 3, 6 or 12 months – they need time to work their magic.  I have no judgement to make about this spend but do make sure you take a step back and budget for this while knowing how much stock you have to turn over to pay for this and everything else in your business.  Start-up costs can be disproportionately high compared to business running costs but if it going to cripple your cash flow for the next 5 years to launch and make it impossible for you to pay yourself the salary you need then the business might not long enough to break even.  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  • Don’t make the mistake of breaking the law.  Overstating claims because ‘everyone else does’, talking about benefits that you have no evidence for or over-stepping your product category boundaries (selling a cosmetic as a pharmaceutical for example) is running the risk of being a fraud.  Just because someone else is saying their lip balm cures cancer doesn’t mean you can too.   My advice would be to get advice before you post anything that could be seen as misleading and if you are not a good judge of that because you are very excitable then get someone with experience and no emotional attachment to look at it first and if they recommend a professional regulatory consultant do it and listen to them not your PR company. PR companies don’t necessarily have experience in cosmetic, pharma or food law.

The bottom line is that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Blogs have made setting up a brand with international reach much easier but that doesn’t mean it has made running an international business any easier and nor does it mean you don’t have to know and respect the rules.

Happy Instagramming and if you want to follow me I’m amandathechemist