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Cosmetic Chemistry and the Oversimplification Trap.

June 18, 2014


“To simplify to the point of distortion, as by ignoring essential details.”  Your

“To describe or explain something in such a simple way that it is no longer correct or true’  Cambridge Dictionary online.

‘To simplify to such an extent as to bring about distortion, misunderstanding, or error.’ Merriam Webster Dictionary.

I think it is great that more people than ever are interested in cosmetic science, that it is possible to download recipes, attend cheap and effective ‘get you started classes’ both online and off. That people can swap lab notes online and get real-time help to enable them to try new things, experiment and get creative. That is it awesome that people are considering the ingredients they use, where they come from, where they end up and what they do.   The only thing I don’t like is that it can often lead to a situation of oversimplification and that can lead to BIG problems.

As a teacher my job is to break down complex concepts and make them understandable so that my students can build from there. As a consultant by job is to think through, trouble shoot and make profitable (as profitable as possible) the product or potential product I’m commissioned to work on. I enjoy both aspects of my job and take on both with a bucket full of enthusiasm but I find neither simple.

In the seventeen years that I’ve worked in the cosmetic industry I’ve grown in answers and questions in equal measure. I have learned that nothing is simple, not because making things complex is a way to make more money (that is a gross misunderstanding of what complexity is) but because it IS complex.   As a cosmetic chemist I am supposed to take a whole bunch of ingredients (mostly naturally derived these days), mix them together so they play nicely, react when we want them to (antioxidants and AHA’s), stay calm when we need them too (no blowing up bottles, changing colour, odour or form), feel great, look amazing and produce results that knock years off of our age? Oh and I’m supposed to do that for the lowest possible price (don’t leave any money on the table guys) and ensure that it is safe (legally and toxicologically safe). Oh and before you rub your hands together and say ‘my oh my that sounds easy’ I have to work hard to ensure that this fresh, delicious bunch of natural loveliness stays usable for up to 30 months.

Oversimplification does what it says in the definitions above. It simplifies to the point of being incorrect, misleading and inaccurate. If cosmetic science underpins your hobby then this probably doesn’t matter so much as any errors and issues are all part of the learning process and very little is at stake. However, if cosmetic science is at the heart of your business then this matters. It matters a whole lot. Oversimplification and the subsequent misunderstandings impact on your time, your ability to be financially successful, your relationships with other people in the industry (you will wonder what the fuss is about, why things can’t be done yesterday, how something can go so wrong), your brand and ultimately your enjoyment levels and I find that a tragedy.

So what can you do to avoid falling into the oversimplification trap?

Think, that is all. Just think.

Yes I get paid for explaining and helping people to work through the detail but this isn’t an advert for my services. I won’t take on clients that are clearly not able to think things through or appreciate the complexity behind what they are trying to achieve because those are the very same people who will sue when things don’t go to plan (their plan)…..

So, I encourage you all to think with an open mind, explore and ask questions, test your ideas and theories scientifically and open yourself up to knowing and appreciating the difference between what you do and don’t know. Nobody can know everything and some things can’t be known without getting stuck in and trying it out and I am not going to stop anyone from giving that a go.

Best of luck guys.

Amanda x



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