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Let’s face it, some brands are just talking shit.

April 13, 2018

Sorry, sorry, sorry.  I didn’t mean to offend anyone with my swearing but swearing is something I do a bit of, especially these days when confronted by what can only be described as a liberal dose of bull dust written on the packet of another piece of cosmetic goop and presented to me by one of my clients along with the  ‘how can they say/ do/ be this?’

The bottom line is that some brands are just talking shit.

I’m going to keep this short and vague as I do believe that one should always at least try to see the good in everyone and believe that most of these are honest or ignorant mistakes but, in saying that I wasn’t born yesterday and I am well aware of the fact that some people live on the back of the mantra ‘ask for forgiveness and not permission’ and, just like the Australian cricket team of recent days, prefer to headbutt the line rather than walk politely next to it.

So here we go with some thoughts of mine on this…….situation.

  • Brands sometimes use ingredients in ways that fall outside of industry norms. So this is a shout out to those brand owners who were happy to sell their active serum or cream with x% active advertised on the label until they saw another brand making lots of noise for using the same active at double the concentration. 
    • Industry guidelines and norms exist for a reason and usually that reason is scientifically validated for safety, efficacy, cost, stability or all of the those reasons.  There is a limit to what the skin can safely tolerate at once, that limit might be low for some ingredients and high for others but nevertheless there will come a point where more in doesn’t give you more out.  Sometimes when I look into the detail of these claims there is no scientific basis for doing what some brands are doing.  In some cases the evidence points to the extra ingredient just being somewhat redundant and in other cases it is more likely to irritate.   I say to my clients in these cases that numbers are often just vanity/ marketing/ scandal/ ka-pow factor and that there’s nothing wrong with that per se but that they should be prepared to recognise it for what it is and not necessarily blindly follow.
  • Brands make claims that I advise people they can’t legally make such as a cosmetic that treats eczema or an anti-ageing cream that repairs DNA.
    • Not all brand owners have had the advantage of having their claims checked and not all brand owners know what you can and can’t say.  Some have been checked and  know the rules but prefer to live dangerously and as a consequence some subsequently  get caught out and have to deal with those consequences. Other brand owners spend quite a bit of money coming up with ways of conveying the message they want without breaking the rules so while, at first glance it looks like they are saying stuff you can’t, they technically aren’t.  This could be seen either as clever or as manipulative depending on the individual case.  My advise, first and foremost is to not take what other brands do as evidence that it can be done, always focus on yourself, your brand and your reality.  Professional advice can be sought and not by calling up the government department (such as NICNAS – they won’t help you word your labels), you need to employ a regs consultant who can take a 360 degree look at your range and give you an applied answer. I am not a regs consultant by the way.
  • Brands claim to be preservative free. 
    • OK so this is a trend that has had more traction in the EU than here in Australasia mainly because the legal framework between the two regions differs.  I tell my clients that preservative free does not mean un-preserved.  Merely it means that a brand has been formulated to manage their micro risk in ways that do not involve the use of listed preservatives.  Now this isn’t simple but neither is it impossible. Ingredients such as glyceryl caprylate and ethylhexylglycerin are good preservatives but are not listed as preservatives in the EU COSING database so you could preserve your product using these but still claim a preservative free product.  In addition to that some brands use alcohol, salt, sugar or anhydrous formula techniques to avoid the need for preservatives.  As with all questions about preservatives, the only way to know if you are covered is to test your product so I would hope that all brands claiming they are preservatives free have at least done that!
  • Brands claim to be chemical free.
    • In spite of the fact that I’m an actual chemist by degree and have a fascination for all things chemistry I generally reserve my right to blurt out ‘but that’s stupid as everything is chemical’ and instead advise brand owners to define chemical for themselves.  I state that in the cosmetics realm this term has come to mean slightly different things for different brand owners and that as a brand owner seeking to use this term, some thought should be given to fleshing it out.  I advise that some brands see a chemical as anything that comes from a petrochemical origin whereas other brands classify anything you can’t pronounce as a chemical.  Basically I feel it is up to the brand owner to define what they mean by that and if it is too hard (as indeed it often is) to maybe consider getting certified by a third-party such as COSMOS or ECOCERT as they have thought about this before.
  • Soap brands that claim to contain ‘no lye’.
    • OK so I tell my brand owners that the chemical reaction of saponification requires lye. Without it you just have oils and water and not soap.  I mention that soap bars can be made without lye being added at that point and those bars are called ‘syndet bars’ the most famous example being the Dove bar.  But just because these bars are formed without a saponification step it doesn’t mean that the ingredients that go into making the bar haven’t come across ‘lye’ before.   The next thing I say is that even with cold process, traditional soap making lye may not be present in the final bar, in fact, it is a blooming good thing if it is not!  A typical cold-process facial soap is super-fatted which means it contains more fat than lye which means that as the saponification reaction finishes before all of the fat is used up, so there is more oil than lye.  This results in a more moisturising bar with a slightly lower pH.  A caustic soap bar used for cleaning the house in the good old days might be lye heavy as lye is a good degreaser, so that would potentially contain lye solution.  So, basically my clients find out that again, this is quite a strange thing to claim and that often there is a long and interesting explanation behind it.
  • That water in cosmetics is just a cheap filler and it is not necessary.
    • I typically find this line cast by small brands whose owner hasn’t got the expertise or confidence to use water in their formulations, so, in some ways it is used to turn a negative into a positive.  Now notwithstanding the fact that we, as an industry, may well move closer towards concentrated products and away from using water as the 60-90% input in a cosmetic for environmental reasons and to reduce packaging, water is a key ingredient as far as skin health is concerned. Without it we become damaged and dried out old prunes!  So basically I tell that to my brand owners and suggest that the best compromise in terms of environmental sustainability/ packaging reduction and product performance is to ensure that the water in the product is active and available and that the product has been formulated to maximise its efficiency so that it is used in full (rather than being got half way thought then tossed aside).
  •  Brands that claim they have completely natural formulations when they actually don’t. 
    • If only you could draw a straight and solid line between natural and synthetic…….  Most of the time, brand owners that I work with get annoyed when they see a brand touting themselves as all natural when they contain some synthetics in the mix.  First things first I make sure the brand owner has a closer look at the products in question to make sure they are really saying that and it is not just a cleaver marketing perception.  Aesop is a classic here, you would not believe the number of brand owners who I know have looked up to Aesop as a natural brand and not realised that they claim nothing of the sort – it’s there in black and white (or beautiful shades of beige) but still people don’t see it – why? Because they don’t want to and that’s how marketing works. But for those brands that do claim to be 100% natural while using phenoxyethanol preservative and polysorbate 20 solubilises it can be a bit annoying.  While it is possible to call these brands out for that as in some cases it is blatantly misleading I personally feel that focusing on calling out other peoples wrongs can just end up being a huge waste of time and energy as, at the end of the day you, as a brand owner want people to focus on what you are doing and not what other brands are not. Let your products speak for themselves and let the industry regulators pull up the others if they are legitimately doing the wrong thing.
  • Brands that claim that everyone else is terrible and they are the only ones you should trust.
    • Well I don’t know about you but if I start getting a whiff that this is going on I would rather run a mile than trust the brand.  Brands that come in like a wrecking ball and claim to be doing everything that ‘they’ don’t want you to do/ know/ see are usually talking shit,  many are wilfully ignorant and will not take kindly to anyone trying to burst that bubble.  Ignore and move on is my best advice as one or another reality will hit them in the face soon enough.

I’ve just clocked up a mega 20 years of working in this beautiful industry now and in that time I’ve seen quite a lot.  The market of today is somewhat looser than it was back in the day thanks to the lowering of barriers to entry – better access to more cosmetic ingredients in small packs,  more training/ recipes and more transparency in terms of labelling.  However, in some ways it seems that freedom has galloped ahead of responsibility and that some people involved in this industry don’t even realise that to be the case.  This has been exacerbated further by their being lots of basic education around but less in-depth understanding and practical experience.  When I started out it wasn’t uncommon to come across 20 people working in an average sized brand/ manufacturers R&D lab whereas now you are lucky to find 2 or 3.  Many people giving advise, writing blogs or even offering training have limited industry experience (I did say many, not all, some have lots of experience to draw on) and that does impact on their ability to up-skill the next generation and make new brand owners aware of their obligations.  So as annoying as it is to work in a landscape littered with mis-information and un-truths it is also worth remembering that this is also an industry of much creativity, beauty and fun and that, for me, still makes it worthwhile being part of.

So the last advice I give to my brand owning customers and friends is to block out the haters and try not to spend too much time focusing on what other people do. It is what you do that matters and you can make that count much more when you turn your full attention to it 🙂



4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2018 2:38 pm

    Reblogged this on LIFE STORY'S FROM LINCOLN.

  2. Jean Althoff permalink
    June 5, 2018 9:52 pm

    I really enjoy your posts too!

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