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My take on the fake. Chemists without a clue.

December 3, 2018

I wasn’t going to comment publicly on the blog post that Lisalise wrote but as she did send it to me and it’s got some attention I thought I’d publicly share my experience in a more direct way, especially as Lisa had got some flack for not naming and shaming these people.

So, fake chemists…

Let me start by saying that this industry LOVES fake.

Fake claims

Fake problems

Fake products

That isn’t to say that there is nothing ‘real’ about what we do but there is more than a veneer of fakery to this place (the cosmetic industry) and that can sometimes get me down.

The cosmetic industry brings a bit of pizzazz to your life, makes you believe that anything is possible, that you can iron your wrinkles, feed your face, save the planet and turn back time all by just purchasing a little pot of cream.  Of course that’s bullshit but it doesn’t mean it’s a pointless exercise either.  Before you turn off thinking that I’m just a cynical old thing I will confess that I have always loved fairy stories and spent many an evening as a child begging to be let out at midnight to walk around hills so I could find the fairy doors (it’s a long story).  I still love the magic of this industry and so accept a bit of fake as the spice of life but for magic to happen you need an imagination and a dose of passion and that’s what these rip-off merchants don’t have.

Stealing an imagination and misplaced passion.

Fake chemists (people who have no real chemistry or even science background), real chemists but with no relevant experience, real chemists with no bench-time relevant to the issue they are professing about, new chemists who are impatient and want to get a reputation quickly, hobbyists who want to sound like they are the only ones who really know the truth, egotist who don’t look beyond their own self-gratification regardless of their reality,  I’ve seen them all and more besides.  The one thing that joins these people is their lack of imagination and their misplaced passion.  They can’t think things up for themselves so they beg, borrow or steel and the only thing they are passionate about is gaining a bigger platform for themselves, becoming the worlds best cosmetic chemist or whatever they want to call themselves.  Fame and the pursuit of self-interest comes before scientific exploration and deepening their real understanding and thus progressing the industry as a whole.

How big is the problem of these fakers?

I’ve been around the traps for 22 years now so I’ve had my fair share of people rip into and off me both offline and on. I can’t say it doesn’t hurt but as it happens all of the time it’s best not to dwell there.  There are enough people out there claiming to be something beyond their pay grade that it is a fairly common problem to bump into someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Not knowing what you are talking about isn’t a crime and isn’t so much of a problem until you start charging for it or selling yourself as someone who is qualified.

The big issue in this industry is that there isn’t a set qualification or path you have to take to become a cosmetic chemist. I’ve seen all sorts of people suddenly start calling themselves a cosmetic chemist after dabbling a bit and doing a quick (or even relatively long) course.   I am a bit of a pedant about this myself and would personally prefer that all cosmetic chemists have a chemistry or at least related science degree first to prove that a) they understand scientific method and thinking, b) that they are not scared by chemicals and c) that they know how to work mathematically.  The rest, then is just building experience through doing and having that experience tested through doing in a professional environment (i.e people may start experimenting at home but I wouldn’t class someone as a professional cosmetic chemist until they had some years of experience in a factory environment and preferably one that they didn’t own or were at least challenged in by someone who has got some tested experience. It’s easy to sit in a bubble (not a surfactant bubble) in this industry and self-validate. That’s not good for ones personal development.

How have fakers affected me?

Hummmm,  I have cried a lot.

I’ve questions my worth and I’ve sometimes been paralysed so much that I can no longer write as I felt sick to the stomach that I know that people who only want to use my words, experimental data or research to on-sell them as their own were watching and taking advantage of me.

I’ve avoided going to events, making friends in the industry,  reading other peoples work, collaboration and other such nice things because I have just been disappointed so many times and in the end it’s just not good for my mental health.  Very few people want to be challenged about their ideas which is odd because that’s what science should be about…

Thinking about me as a whole person, I  have had my own personal set of inner and external (life) dramas to deal with over the years of me being a cosmetic chemist, my career has co-existed with me bringing up my own family and dealing with all that entails as the primary bread-winner so  I already feel somewhat vulnerable at least some of the time. The way I work means that I’ve been sharing my raw passion and experimentation as a means to make ends meet for a long time now. One simply can’t be a consultant without being the business and that does leave you bare and that vulnerability has to be protected.

So what have I done about it personally?

I learned fairly early on to just only look forward and to only put effort into what I’m passionate about, the notion of not feeding the trolls has paid off somewhat but it has come at a price and that price has been for me to stay somewhat under the radar which may have thwarted my ambition to take over the world (insert evil laugh).

In terms of calling these people out, I haven’t spent much time pursuing them and looking for justice because that then robs me of my time and joy plus I do believe in karma (well, when I say believe it’s complicated but I feel that people will come unstuck in their own time).

What I have ploughed my energy into is writing the best blog I can write and being the best consultant I can be, being as honest and open as possible, helping people through various means and spending time exploring in my lab, including paying for validation results where possible.   So my strategy, for the preservation of my own mental health as much as anything, has been to just continue to grow my own way and to avoid wasting energy on these bottom feeders. In terms of my responsibility to my clients be they readers (who get the content for free) or paying clients (formulations etc) I  am sure to put as close to 110% effort in everything I do including doing my due diligence with research,  sharing results, posing questions, educating people and empowering my clients.   Sure, that also indirectly feeds the people who have no imagination to come up with their own content but surely if they are ripping off my good advice then the net result is that their readers get good advice.  As that’s all I can control it is, at least something to be happy about.

Is there anything else that can be done?

I doubt that there is any good way of policing who says what.  I personally still think that the only way to weed out the fakers is through education starting with educating people in how to think scientifically and test ideas and information.  If we, as people know how to critically evaluate and weigh out evidence presented to us, we are less likely to be conned or follow bad advice. Providing, doing and seeking that type of education is everyone’s business and responsibility.  As always the people who need it least are probably the ones who’d be happy to go get it, the fakers would most likely feel that this would be good for everyone but them. That’s just human nature.

Oh and why aren’t they being named/ called out by people like me? 

Really?

Let me say again that these people affect my life to the point of me needing therapy and you want me to be the police too?  FUCK THAT.

The trouble here is that it’s hard for one person to prove that a law has been broken. If someone constantly reads my blog then re-hashes the content I’ve written as their own what can I do?  How much of my time SHOULD I spend policing that?  When I see people cross the line (as they have time and time again) I will pull them up but I have not the time or the energy to devote to setting and following up honey traps.  That would send me to the wall emotionally and financially.

And a final word. 

As I mentioned, I wasn’t going to comment on Lisa’s blog post publicly but as I’ve had a couple of emails since about it I thought I should give my perspective and that’s what I’ve done here.   Fake chemists are people who are posing as something they are not or not making it perfectly clear where the boundaries of their experience are.  I don’t want people to feel that I’m advocating for only chemists to write about cosmetic science, it’s not that at all more that when we write we take care not to over-reach or assume a position we are not entitled to.

The bottom line is that yes, fakeness exists in this industry, some welcomed, others not.  The fake chemistry thing has affected me personally so I can validate Lisa’s experience but I generally choose not to dwell on it or pursue it directly.  The solution I propose is education and that’s what I’ve always tried to do on my blog and as that’s the only thing I have power or control over that’s where I feel my efforts are best placed.

So that’s that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2018 9:25 am

    I love everything you write. It’s real!!

  2. December 7, 2018 2:47 am

    Damn, I think I’ve been nailed. I have become an “expert” without the background and credentials, IOW I am a fucking fake! I confess. I own it. I am a bit shaken.

    I am a pet groomer. If you think the world of human cosmetics is a mess of smoke and mirrors, you should check out mine. We have all the same smoke and mirrors, plus a cloak of secrecy. Pet grooming products are not required to declare ingredients. For decades groomers have worked with no knowledge beyond manufacturers’ claims and sales pitches.

    After about 20 years of pet grooming in the dark, I got curious. I have an unusual background with a college education that included two years of college chemistry. That little slice of chemistry was enough that I was not put off by ingredient names that I couldn’t pronounce, plus a basic understanding of scientific method. My curiosity led me to self-educate. One thing led to another – I started explaining how shampoos and conditioners worked, I created a seminar, I wrote a book, I got black-balled from the trade shows because vendors hated it when I talked and then groomers asked for ingredient disclosure. Twenty years of looking stuff up, busting myths, calling out claims and “dancing” with sales reps has resulted in my being regarded as a trusted source of information and truth. I am considered an expert by groomers. Most company types consider me a pain in the ass. I stepped into a void and created a legacy for myself.

    Is there a way forward? You’ve got me questioning myself. Is an occasional disclaimer sufficient? Can there be such a thing as a reliable fake?

    Barbara Bird
    author, Beyond Suds & Scent – Understanding Pet Shampoos & Conditioners
    1/2 of The GroomPod, weekly podcast for pet groomers

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      December 7, 2018 6:45 am

      Hi Barbara,
      Thanks for writing in and explaining where you have come from. For the record I’ve never heard of you so my piece wasn’t written with you in mind but maybe some of it is relevant, I don’t know. The main point I was trying to make in my response to another article written elsewhere was that as an individual and a chemist I personally see no problem in non-chemists talking about / exploring / sharing their ideas about chemistry as it pertains to their experience. However, I feel strongly that it can quickly become disingenuous when people without broader chemistry knowledge or without challenged knowledge (an example of this would be someone who was self taught then putting themselves through a legitimate third party higher education certificate) start teaching others about chemistry without continuing to check themselves against reliable sources. Again, this doesn’t mean that their teaching is necessarily all wrong – it isn’t a black or white world, more that time and time again I see people doing this who don’t know what they don’t know and that can lead to mis-information being perpetuated in whatever industry we are talking about. Also I have personal experience of this where the application expert teaches chemistry for so long that they no longer believe they could possibly benefit from knowing any more and some even become hostile and/or defensive when challenged, even when challenged very gently on their request. There starts to be an element of them ‘asking to confirm their knowledge rather than asking to understand’ and there is a difference. Again, this isn’t about everyone, just a pattern I’ve seen in some.

      The position you appear to be in as an experienced member of your industry is common to many of my clients. Hairdressers typically make (or inform) good hair products, beauticians ditto, nurses, massage therapists and dog groomers probably likewise.
      People who pay attention, who are curious beyond their comfort zone and who challenge their ideas generally make good scientists so I’ve seen many a non-science-educated brand owners achieve wonderful things and I’m not about to squash that.
      I would imagine, based on what you have shared here, that you are absolutely entitled to call yourself a grooming expert and that would, logically include commentary about the products, even down to the level of what ingredients do and how to re-create products if you have achieved that. But if you were calling yourself a chemist without formal qualifications and challenged experience then I’d say yes, that is probably inappropriate.
      With regards to disclaimers I don’t know what you do or what’s relevant in your case but I’d typically disclose up-front what my experience is and would, in the moment when teaching or holding a meeting, if asked something outside of my experience, disclose that I’m not a expert in that part of the industry and would be sure to make recommendations of where people can go for expert advice or to test what I’ve said to them.
      A parting comment is that I didn’t write this to be the judge and jury, I’m not qualified for that, more to bring attention to the fact that there is a real problem of people over-stepping their knowledge mark in my industry and that does impact severely on both my sanity and my ability to actually progress the science that underpins cosmetic products for my clients. I felt entitled to respond to the piece because of that.
      I hope the opportunity to reflect on your situation has been fruitful.

  3. Kelly permalink
    December 7, 2018 12:09 pm

    I’ve seen this happen a bit in the aromatherapy industry too, unfortunately this has led to some highly experienced aromatherapists hesitant to share their IP in the public arena. I’m lucky in that I’ve been using essential oils for about 30 years and have invested in formal training and quality books. But I fear for the general public with respect to the shocking and dangerous usage suggestions in the public arena.
    I honestly can’t get my head around the psychology of charlatans setting themselves up as experts and dishing out dangerous bogus information, and stealing the IP of genuine experts…..but like you I am a big believer in karma and I know it will catch up with them eventually.
    I’m sorry this behaviour has hurt you and hope that calling out such behaviour makes you feel a little bit better.
    Please don’t ever stop writing and sharing your thoughts and knowledge because of these people, the world needs people like you to share your thoughts experience and knowledge…. plus selfishly your blog is my favourite and I don’t want your articles to stop xx

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      December 7, 2018 12:21 pm

      aaahhh thanks Kelly, I can’t lie, from time to time I do go into a ‘what’s the point’ brain freeze but I do usually come out the other side. Thanks again for the support and best of luck with your work in the essential oil space.

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