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The importance of choosing the right teacher

March 17, 2015

The importance of choosing the ‘right teacher for the job’ hypothesis has come from participating in the cosmetic trade as teacher, student, facilitator and observer and witnessing some rather bad advice swirling around and around, sucking people into a black hole of confusion.

I have noticed over my time in this cosmetic making space that people sit in ‘camps’ and tend to try to nourish themselves both intellectually and spiritually from within that camp.  In many cases people from outside of their camp are seen as people to be wary of, not to be trusted or people who just don’t get them.  I know from personal experience that this is very wrong.

But first, here are some examples of camps that can be found in cosmetic circles:

  • The professional cosmetic chemists belong to the cosmetic industry, talk to people within the industry and see the world through a cosmetic industry gaze. They are not taught about people and what motivates them to connect with a product.  Also while they are taught the theory of skin they don’t have to touch much of it in their day-to-day life of lab working or ingredient sourcing.
  • The market-stall or home crafters join forums in order to share ideas, tips and ‘inside information’ with other market-stall crafters, often but not always centred around soap making but sometimes it’s balms or bath salts. These guys may have never set foot in a cosmetic factory before, have little to no background in ingredient supply chain logistics, have never scaled-up production, exported goods, pitched to retail stores or dealt with recalls. Also much about labelling and claim support may be self-taught and passed down from one member to another potentially leading to a culture of mis-information. 
  • The alternative therapists focused on their individual modality be it crystal healing, herbs, aromatherapy or colour therapy- some having a background in compounding of basic natural creams and concoctions while others do not but few have an appreciation or education in the wider cosmetic landscape in terms of stability, labelling, safety, claims and scaled manufacturing.
  • The compounding chemists (who come from a pharmacy background) focused on actives, pharmacology and delivery vehicles but probably has little understanding or awareness of the many hundreds of safe ingredients that can enhance the aesthetics of a base and delivery of its actives.
  • The ‘scientists’ – who are another curious group of people who have one or another science qualification often sort of related to health, skin or pharmacy who find themselves in the cosmetics industry but realise they are neither cosmetic chemist, compound pharmacist or lay-person.  These people often tend to try to start their own groups, defined by their unique take on the world without really understanding the world they are trying to re-define.
  • The beauty industry professionals (beauticians, hairdressers, dermal therapists) who have a great understanding of the skin, hair and people but have holes in their science and/or cosmetic industry knowledge.
  • and finally the home-made for my family mob who aren’t really aiming to sell products but they do like to sell their wisdom and inspiration – look, I made this awesome home-made sunscreen  OR ‘don’t buy toothpaste at the store when you can make your own with bicarb and peppermint oil’.   These guys are just amazed that they can make something great and, just like a cake recipe, they can’t wait to share it with the attitude ‘rules, what rules, I made it, I know what is in it, therefore it is safe’.

There is a huge down-side of operating your professional life in a knowledge and experiential silo, the main one being that you simply don’t know what you don’t know….

There are many  intricate details surrounding getting a cosmetic product from concept to market and making a success of it.  It is possible that one person or one group (silo) of people can take a product from cradle to grave without crossing into another group for advice,  inspiration  or good old-fashioned practical help but I’d question just how valuable that way of working actually is.   Time and time again I’ve had to take off my ‘don’t you know I’m a chemist’ hat and listen, just listen.  And I’ve learned so much and often from groups that I would have thought can’t teach me anything (yes, that is a horrible attitude but it is also honest).  Approaching another group as an outsider, even as ‘the enemy’ sometimes (I’ve found that people tend to have an instant dislike for chemists, probably because people tend to associate chemicals with badness and pollution) is not easy.  Listening to understand rather than to convert, correct, make-fun-of, get angry with or dismiss is a key an important skill that I’m always happy to work on.

But time and time again when I do have my ‘I can help you, I’m a chemist’ hat on people will turn up their nose, walk away and go ask the opinion of one of their own.

I believe this is called prejudice.

While I completely understand that people prefer to be with and talk to like-minded people who clearly share common ground in terms of experience, values and view of the world if we REALLY want to grow and learn we need to get out of out bubbles and talk.  We need cross-pollination.

So, if you have identified with one of the silos above why not branch out and make some new connections, why not invite a herbalist to help you with that next natural baby balm blog post, or invite a cosmetic chemist into your soap or craft circle?  How about playing host to an aromatherapist  at your next monthly cosmetic chemistry meeting or get a beautician to help you get that compounded formula feeling just right?

Let’s leave our ego’s at home and choose the right teacher for the right job.

That is, if you really do want progress.  You do, don’t you?

Amanda x

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