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Things have changed around here.

August 29, 2017

Those of you that know me whether through this blog or in person know that I’ve been doing this cosmetic chemistry thing for near on 20 years now  – yes that does make me feel a little old.  Things have changed a lot since I started in this industry, both inside my head and in the wider cosmetic industry community and while some of those changes have been good, others have been a bit worrying to be honest!  Let me explain.

People do seem to be reading  more.

It makes me smile when someone who I am pretty confident is relatively new and fairly in-experienced in this industry starts a conversation with me by explaining how micro emulsions are better than regular emulsions for stabilising difficult actives and then asking ‘so why aren’t your products micro emulsions?’.   I smile not because the question is silly, far from it, it is a beautiful question and is full of merit. More that after a bit of time being in the industry you quickly realise there is theory and reality. Sure micro emulsions are good but how many manufacturers are experienced in that?  OK so some are but will they accommodate your small order and if they do,  have you any evidence that this method IS actually better than something simpler to make and can you make it organic, gluten-free, palm free and vegan?

People do seem to be confident in asking more questions.

It is a great thing that people are engaged enough to invest time in asking for ways to optimise their formulations and make sure their preservatives work.  Again I think this is great but I’m finding that an increasing amount of people are looking for quick, absolute, black or white answers when this is a world of many colours.  I have lost track of the number of times people start a conversation with ‘Everyone I ask tells me something different and now I want to know what you think’. Probably not because they think I know everything but most likely because they know that I’ll explain why all the different answers.  In case you are wondering why all the different answers the answer to that is simple – Cosmetic Science is an APPLIED science, there are always lots of ways to do the same thing. The only problem is that most people who are ‘asked’ during this search for wisdom will be other relative novices on forums who know what works for them but may not know why and even if they do may not think to ask the original questioner if their solution applies.

People do seem to be good at finding new ingredients.

I was speaking to a couple of ingredient suppliers about this on the weekend at Beauty Expo and they told me that they do get more calls and emails from individual members of the public and small brand owners now than they ever used to. I  assume this is because trade-name ingredients are more traceable now to the smaller end of town with many small lot ingredient packers selling things by their trade name or at least referencing it.  Some savvy brand owners or individuals do manage to trace these things back to the source or at least the importer who then unleashes a world of information on these poor little fish!  There are also bloggers that mention trade names and of course the dreaded (but useful) online forums and Facebook groups.   Now again, all of this is good but there is a down side.  As a formulator I’m always quite careful about which ingredients I pick for start-ups because it is very confronting to be told that you have to invest your first $3000 (after paying for a formula) into a 200 litre drum of that special thing which will probably run out of shelf-life before you use it all.  It is even more disheartening when, after doing that AND it running close to the end of its shelf life you find out the supplier is no longer supporting it in this market and you won’t be able to get fresh stock. Lastly it is devastating to find that your prized and lovingly sourced active (from overseas) is not registered for use here in Australia OR is not actually compliant to Organic or whatever regs.  I quite honestly have all the anxiety for my clients I’m sure as they don’t often seem to sense the gravity of all of this – maybe I do because it’s happened to me many times throughout my beauty industry life and it sucks.

People do seem quite sure of themselves.

Probably the most striking difference that I’ve felt over the last six or so years of dealing with lots of start-ups and wanna-be brand owners is the confidence that they now have about their formulating ideas – sometimes I feel they will whack me when I say ‘yes but…. not possible luv’.   I think that this confidence comes from all of the above,  feeling like a lot of research has already been done, a lot of people canvassed,  the ingredient suppliers sourced, the need established and the outlet primed.  The only down side is that again, what looks good on paper and in theory doesn’t always work well in practice.  Now I know that 20 years isn’t really a long time in something but it is long enough to have amassed a good set of bad experiences to pull from (similar to the above with the raw material example).  Sometimes this experience has been gained by longer term observations of what works and what doesn’t and other times it is because I’ve actually done that, tested it and got the results to prove it and that’s what I want to talk about now.

Results based discussion.

One thing that hasn’t really changed as far as I can tell is the depth of knowledge in this subject.  Sure there is more breadth because information is more accessible – you no longer have to be in the industry to access industry information – but I am not seeing much evidence that people actually know much more or are finding out many new things and that’s what worries me. That isn’t to say that I think the science boffins in their Ivory tower labs aren’t producing anything new, more that it is not swishing around in the pool that I spend much of my time in really and being as though it’s this end of town that’s really growing and trying to innovate I think it should be.  So what to do, what to do?

For a long time now I’ve been personally frustrated by the fact that I would like to do more testing but I haven’t always been able to afford it.  Testing ideas out doesn’t come for free as I’m sure everyone appreciates and it’s not only money, it’s also time. It takes time to make samples to test, time to think through what’s wrong and to learn and apply new knowledge.  I have to admit to having been reluctant to share some of the things I learn from time to time as I have sometimes felt that information is commoditized and taken for granted. We expect answers from a Google search without thinking about the trials and tribulations the information creator went through to get it there.  But then I think ‘stuff it’,  I’ll just do what I can and as long as I’m enjoying it and not breaching any brand IP then I’m all good.  So that’s what’s happening now.

A change for Realize Beauty.

I’m lucky enough to find myself in the position now that I do have a bit of time (well, not really but we’ll make time) and a bit of spare money to do some testing and share the results in order to help build a depth of knowledge that I think is a bit lacking in our smaller end of town.   The tests I am talking about are the kind of thing I tried to fund through my Blue Sky Lab program a few years back  – I couldn’t quite get that together then but now I’m pretty much ready.   So I’m talking a few Preservative Efficacy Tests,  some micro testing of different products,  Assaying of actives to see if they are there after a period of time,  Stability testing of some basic concepts, creating and testing of essential and vegetable oils that I press and more besides.  I’m basically talking about measurable analytics and data. Stuff that can help us all tackle questions like:

  • Does a sugar scrub need a preservative?
  • Does Vitamin C survive in a water based product?
  • Is there any retinol left in my night cream?
  • How different is one batch of essential oil from another?
  • Is my manufacturing procedure clean enough?
  • How active is my extract?

And so on and so forth.

Now before we all get too excited, I can’t do EVERYTHING my little chickadees but I can do SOMETHING and hopefully that something that I can do and share will be interesting and thought-provoking for you as to be honest I think the world is getting a little tired of just reading or hearing opinions what we all want more of is results.

So let’s get on with it shall we?


PS: While I’m not short on ideas and projects it is always interesting to find out what interests and puzzles you. If you do have a request why not let me know either on here or via an email:   Also if you want to know where you can get some tests done do let me know as I can also help you out with that too.  The more people who actually do stuff the better in my opinion.





3 Comments leave one →
  1. labmuffin permalink
    August 29, 2017 5:39 pm

    I can’t wait to see more substantive data on these issues! It’s incredibly annoying that most things have manufacturer data on the raw materials at best, or self-report-based “clinical trials”. I realise that it’s a significant financial burden to do these tests (how I miss my unfettered access to an LCMS and NMR spectrometer!), so I applaud your charitable efforts.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 29, 2017 5:44 pm

      Well if you ever happen to stumble across the odd HPLC oR GC machine on your travels let me know and I’ll pop some samples in your pocket to analyse 🙂 Dubious manufacturer claims are on my radar!

  2. August 29, 2017 6:44 pm

    Great blog

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