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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


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Viv permalink
    February 9, 2018 8:23 pm

    Loved this comment, Amanda. I’m a biochemist turning to Aesthetician and l’m utterly bewildered by the cognitive dissonance that exists in most consumers’ minds. Even worse, perhaps, are the half-truths that too many businesses use to market their products. Your blog is lovely, clear and refreshing.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      February 9, 2018 10:23 pm

      Thanks Viv, that is lovely to hear.

  2. Nanette Vaughn permalink
    February 19, 2018 1:52 am

    This phenomenon transcends cosmetic chemistry. While reading this I realized you could easily be writing about a certain segment in American politics. Disregarding and even having disdain for facts is a disturbing trend that yields frightening results.

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