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Are we in danger of creating products that do nothing and go nowhere?

August 21, 2018

It’s been over a month since I posted on here and that’s odd for me but to be honest, the last month has been difficult and I’d like to explain why.

The world has gone completely mad!

I started blogging to investigate and communicate the back-stage world of cosmetics, the chemistry, ingredients, supply chain issues etc.  I still find all of that deeply interesting and as I am still a practicing cosmetic chemist I’m rarely short of material.  Instead, what I’m battling is a shortness in understanding of where to from here?

It was inevitable that ‘free from’ lists would get longer – ‘free from parabens and sulfates’ has morphed into a ‘free from’ list that now includes things like nuts, gluten, palm derivatives, anything that can’t easily be dropped into polite, normal conversation (if you can’t pronounce it, don’t put it on your face), fragrance and preservative.   On the ‘what’s in the box then’ side we have a growth of claims including ‘Vegan’, ‘Palm Free’, ‘Organic’ and ‘Natural’.   As a keen advocate of green chemistry that encompasses environmental stewardship and skin safety I have always seen merit, to some degree or other, in most if not all of these claims but what I’m struggling with now is that people want to be all things to all people.

Free from everything used to be a chemist joke but now it’s almost a reality.

So yes, we (chemists) did used to get together and joke about how our latest brief had a ‘free from’ list that took up several pages and so we just presented the client with Jojoba oil and called it a moisturiser…

That is now happening for real. Regularly.

There is nothing wrong with using jojoba oil as a moisturiser. A good quality jojoba oil is a beautiful thing and simplicity and purity are not to be scoffed at but there are limits to how far this minimalism can be stretched.

This simple approach now includes clay masks that are literally just a bag of dirt, toners that are just water (hydrosols/ OK they are nice but they have a limited capacity to do anything) and serums that are just hyaluronic acid solutions.

And this is all OK except…

The products are mostly quite shite when you really, critically analyse them.

Sure, a small percentage of the population are into DIY cosmetics, cosmetic minimalism and ‘true to nature’ simplicity but this won’t cut it for the mainstream as while the personal care side of the industry does have a utilitarian bent, the beauty industry is all about luxury, great textures, pleasure and feeling good. As such I struggle to see how rubbing a bag of dirt over your face and calling it a face mask can make you feel like you are being indulged, especially given the dirt is likely to be contaminated with heavy metals and microbes – no, they didn’t make the ‘free from’ list because chemically and microbially analysing products is not something that these brands necessarily do.

Fighting the Anti-Science.

One only has to look at global politics to see that things are getting pretty weird out there in the world, well things are getting pretty weird in here too and we now have the anti-science lobby spamming the airways and making things like the above products not only possible but desirable.

As a scientist I find living in an increasingly anti-science world quite distressing as I can see the progress that is being made to create cleaner, greener and better ingredients that can go on to make meaningful products pushed aside for things that quite frankly belong in the Stone Age.  It’s a crying shame.

I had a very distressing conversation with one brand in the last month and it left me literally banging my head against the wall.  Not only is a background understanding or at least appreciation of science not needed in the cosmetic industry here in Australia, some brands are carrying on like knowing shit about chemistry is a liability / bias / corrupting influence.  Pair that with a market that is increasingly moving towards free from everything and it’s tempting to give up entirely!

So where to from here?

I can’t blow smoke up the arse of brands who feel that the answer to the worlds problems is to just pretend that chemistry was never invented and that anything that sounds chemical is evil.   What I can do is work with brand owners who appreciate the evolutionary nature of science to progress towards products that do tick as many meaningful ‘free from’ boxes as required while still being functionally good.

Chemistry is a tool, not a product and it can be used to create amazingly good ingredients and finished products.  I’m increasingly reminding my clients that a sustainable brand in the true sense of the word is one that produces products that people use and keep using and that do people good.  There are so many innovations in packaging, product delivery, skin compatibility (especially with the micro biome), product safety, efficiency and texture that it would be a shame to turn our backs on that and pretend that it isn’t happening.  What I will concede is that we do need to value our materials more highly and if anything, that means we need more, not less science.  This scientific approach can give us super concentrated products that take up less packaging, dry items that have a longer shelf life,  products that are highly efficient and cost-effective and everything in between.

So while I have been feeling a little distressed about the anti-science rhetoric of a few brands around the Insta-space that seem to be gaining traction I do feel that it is pointless for people like me to get caught up in the drama of that.

I guess in that way I am bias, I’m a chemist and I like chemistry but I like it because it can make some amazing products possible, help comfort and protect the skin and genuinely bring a level of enjoyment into people’s lives without costing the earth.

So on that note, I’ll get back into the lab and make some magic happen.

Amanda x




8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2018 6:03 am

    Wahahaha and those ‘chemical free’ labels stuff cracks me up. Crazy green wash communication.

    Poor paraben, mineral oil and (soon) silicon will be crucified. Non-science is winning, I’m afraid. I am frankly scared of the new preservatives that replaced paraben.

  2. Alex permalink
    August 21, 2018 7:14 am

    Absolutely enjoyed reading your article and taking a few lessons as we are at inception of another product! Thank you Amanda!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 24, 2018 8:30 am

      Cool! Good luck with your R&D.

  3. marion permalink
    August 21, 2018 8:05 am

    Great article!

  4. MaryB permalink
    August 27, 2018 6:49 pm

    I immensely enjoyed reading this. Thank you for such a great article.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 27, 2018 7:49 pm

      Thank you, that’s lovely to hear.

  5. September 4, 2018 4:22 am

    I feel your pain! People do not trust the science anymore, (at least in skincare) they trust the brands that are putting out nonsense and calling everything else toxic. They dont follow the money… I also think people are doing the same thing in the healthcare world, where they dont trust doctors anymore, but health bloggers that start trends like Paleo or Keto as “natural diets” and then sell boxed, processed foods with a Paleo label on it. This is a big topic, thank you for tackling it!


  1. Newsletter: September 2018 – Scrub Me Down

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