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The devil is in the detail and that is why we must get our hands dirty often.

December 14, 2014

Cosmetic chemistry is an applied science that belongs in the laboratories, salons, spa’s and bathrooms of its creators and not just in a big book, blog post or Facebook Status Update.  There is simply no way to reducing all that one feels, smells and experiences onto a downloadable PDF and calling that ‘right’.

I was in my lab working away yesterday and started to feel a little dejected when something that I wanted to try didn’t turn out quite to plan.  I had blended some essential oils together and was going to pop them into a refreshing/ aromatic spritz spray and was not prepared when this particular essential oil blend started to show signs of producing some sedimentation.  This was mildly annoying – I had just wanted that part to be simple and to conform to what I ‘knew’ about blending essential oils (oils and are oils, like-dissolves-like and the oils I’d chosen were pretty ‘normal’ in that regard.   The ironic thing, now that I look back, is that I HAVE seen this happen before and on thinking it through I can completely rationalise it, pin it down to the essential oil that caused the problem and the chemical component of said oil that doesn’t want to play ball.  What’s more I can now explain why my earlier organic spritz/ spray formulations were so damn hard to get crystal clear (without ending up producing a sticky-fest.  This inconvenient ‘issue’ was my new EUREKA moment and once I had opened my mind to accept what my eyes were showing me I pushed onwards and upwards.  I went on to create several successful versions of the formula that I wanted, making it greener, cleaner, more efficient and more cost-effective as I went until I finished up with something that I was actually quite proud of and I hope my client will be too!

Breakthroughs like that don’t really register in our brains if things work out perfectly first time.  Humans tend to be quite lazy (it’s OK, it’s just how we have evolved) and prejudiced when it comes to accepting information or ideas that conflict with their idea of the world.  We seek not to find what is RIGHT but instead look to find information that supports what we already hold true.   I believe that the ability to recognise this and push on through, even when it quite literally gives you brain ache is an important part of being a consultant chemist – if I never opened my eyes to the unexpected I could never produce anything other than what’s been produced before, never un-lock the secrets of why something that seems not to work works and never add value to the process that I charge for.

But back to the importance of the struggle.


My struggle to get to this point included  financial COSTS of approx.  $150 worth of material (if you include the beaker that I smashed on my way to the sink), EFFORT –  several days of  on-and-off thinking and fiddling with the formula and RISK – the potential of not being able to fulfil my clients exact requirements. The client dissatisfaction possibility was much more worrying to me than the time or money, plus it doesn’t FEEL good to have a project that you can’t quite get 100% right but in the framework of a business one simply can’t go on experimenting and racking up costs forever.  I HAD To get this right.

The above scenario sets the scene for a healthy type of stress,  the type of stress that puts a fire in our bellies and makes us push on ‘to prove we can do it’.

How do you get that kind of feeling from a book, phone call or class?

The activities and progressions of this week have given me much to be thankful for as not only am I a consultant but I am also a teacher and what better way to teach students than through experience, through examples of what can go wrong, why it happens and how to put that wrong right!   My bucket of empathy for those starting out, scared to try something and trying to take it all in was re-filled.  The process of failure and subsequent success had inspired me.

So why tell you this?

I have gained so much from these things that don’t work out first time (such as my zinc only organic sunscreen adventures which are not back on track) that I want to encourage and support that – I don’t want you to fail for failures sake but I do want you to have the courage to open yourself up to that journey, to read a little but then DO a lot.

I come across many people in my consulting life who email or phone me looking for a formulation for this, a recipe for that, a sound bite ‘just use x% and mix for this many minutes’ and I just can’t give it to them.  Not because I want to make everything complicated or avoid the question but because I want to share the beauty of the journey.

Beauty is my God  and the pursuit of it is my mission and is you want to conquer the Devil in the detail then you need God on your side.

Come let’s play.

Amanda x

PS: I rarely give away formulations because I feel that it seriously devalues the process that I am talking about above, I will give ‘starting point’ formulations or advice to get people started but ONLY if they demonstrate an understanding of the process and a willingness to participate and bring something to it.

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