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You can’t patent that.

May 20, 2017

For the brand that asked this week, with love x

Dear brand owners,

You cannot patent a blend or ‘recipe’.

No matter how good it seems.

The end.


Patents are granted on the basis that something amazing, unusual, synergistic, un-expected, happened when you got your recipe together.

Maybe you got an outrageously high SPF by stumbling across the best dispersing agent and then adding a rather unique combination of things as film formers.

You might be able to patent that combination on the back of your results IF the results were indeed extraordinary, but you’d have to have the results first and they would have to stand up to scrutiny.

Maybe you have been trialling your product on your friends and they all say it is wonderful and has helped to clear up their minor scratches and boils in no time. You want to patent this as you’ve never seen that level of efficacy before.

To be even in the running for a patent you should first run some properly constructed clinical trials.  This is sure to cost you several thousands if not tens of thousands depending on the complexity and sample size.

After that, if you get a result showing that yes, your product did work when compared to something else you should then be able to explain how and why – what is the key to this invention.  That might involve more analytical testing to work out exact activity levels of ingredients and to establish whether this activity is re-producible or a freak of nature.  Again, more money and time.

By now you might be starting to get the picture that patenting is a big and expensive deal.

If you do have something worthy of patenting (and some people might) then you would have to decide on the detail (or scope) of your application.  I’m far from an expert at this and so would suggest you start a conversation with a patent attorney who should be able to guide you through the maze of paperwork and legal terminology and protocol.  Again, expect to pay quite a lot for this too.

This is one such company that I know people here in Australia use for this work: Engle, Hellyer and Co

Here is another one that might be worth talking to: Patentec


So is a patent worth it?

If you do think you have something worth patenting and you do eventually gather enough evidence to prove you do then yes, of course it is. A patent is something of immense value to you and your business.

At what point to I go to a patent attorney?

The answer to that is I don’t know, I guess in some cases it could be as soon as possible but my gut feeling is that you are going to need some convincing evidence before you start spending big bucks on a legal professional – expect to pay $200-$500 per hour for the time and advice.

 Before you do anything the first thing you have to do is have a really good look around to see if you can see if anyone has done what you are suggesting before.  You’d be surprised by the number of people who mention they are going to patent something to me and I mention that they should look at this or that brand as that’s what they do already. A true patent search is costly and will be something you get a professional to do but a thorough check of your market category relative to the patent area might save you thousands and much time in the long-run.

Next and providing the above came up with nothing much, I think it is a good exercise to imagine you already have the patent you want . Try to work out how you would gain a commercial advantage with that patent, how much scope for capitalizing on it is there? What would you be up against? Is THAT idea patented?  It might surprise you to realise that there are other products out there that have different yet similar results to what you are offering, you might end up being a competitor of theirs, that means the price you can offer your solution at will be influenced by the existing market price.  Does that make commercial sense?  Is it still worth the hassle?

If there is a business case for you the next step will be to produce evidence that is water-tight – not subjective or un-controlled or ad-hoc. I would strongly suggest that brand owners approach gathering this data like they would approach going to court to defend themselves in a situation. Have a strong grasp on the bit that you want to patent so you don’t lose sight of that – it is likely you can’t just cover everything in the patent. Make sure you are backing up your case with facts, figures, data and methods that can be validated (repeated) and that stand up to scrutiny.

Lastly I would remind everyone again that this process is not cheap and that you should be prepared to part with several thousand dollars to get started and maybe tens of thousands before your process is complete.  In most cases the cost alone will mean that the patent process is just not viable for most.

I really hope that some of you have found amazing solutions to problems that can be patented and I also hope that some of you do make it through the legal jungle and get yourself a patent granted but for the rest of us mere mortals don’t forget that patent or not you can still have fun, make money and help make peoples lives better every day just by doing what you do.

Have fun!



The business of being human. Coping in a crisis.

May 19, 2017

I am not writing this to tell you how to cope in a crisis and neither do I want to come across as some life coach or guru – I’ll leave that to others more suitably qualified. What I am going to do is just tell it as it is.

Sometimes life gets complicated and work stops.

Silver lining

In late March through to the end of April this year something bad was happening and I stopped being able to function.  The idea of emailing or phoning clients to explain the situation I was in was difficult because it wasn’t exactly ‘my’ situation to tell, it was something personal and challenging involving my family who were in the middle of a crisis, a crisis which came to my house, the house where my office is located (I had no problem with this by the way, I was happy that I could help).

Anyway, I did what I could to let people know what was going on but to be honest most of the time I was just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that the extra 6 weeks on the projects left hanging would go somewhat unnoticed.  For the most part I was not even able to think about work much as things were just too crazy, both in my head (processing the trouble) and in reality. I found myself with zero capacity for creative thinking and with about only 20% capacity for repetitive and predictable tasks.  My mojo had been well and truly squashed.

As one would expect my income dried up during this time and while I had a bit of cash to keep me going I was not only earning nothing but having to spend more as I played my part to absorb this problem. It wasn’t long before the stress and adrenaline rush that I’d been experiencing because of a situation external to my being started to become stress and adrenaline about my ability to pay my own mortgage and other bills.  There was no way I could go down with this ship, I realised that I was the ship, a ship with more passengers than I had previously given credit for.

By the way, I’m sorry for the cryptic nature of this but as things are still playing out with this drama I don’t want to say too much.  Suffice to say that it was not nice.

Anyway, things pretty much exploded then changed on the home front before my business shat its self (which it didn’t, thankfully) and after a day in recovery I literally dragged myself back into it, answering emails and tackling things one by one.

This was neither easy nor pleasant.

That whole week I felt strung out, exhausted, over-whelmed and deeply burdened by a to-do list that I couldn’t even face writing for fear that it would just make me feel worse.

I was able to detach little by little from the family situation,  enough to fit more and more work in,  first 4 hours per day then 6 and then 8.   I’m two weeks into it now and can finally stay awake for long enough to do an 8 hour day AND function as a person.  That feels good.  What feels even better is the energy boost that the last couple of days have given me – new work coming in,  old projects going well,  all customers now dealt with, mortgage paid and tax payments almost covered (almost….)

But to do this I’ve had to draw on an almost super-human inner strength and block out those niggling ‘I can’t do this any more’ feelings.

So what has this got to do with you?

Well, I just wanted to say that guys, if you have a business or want to own a brand some day, shit happens and if, like me, you rely on having your shit together (sorry for the language) then these times are going to hit like a brick.  I am not sure you can prepare or rehearse 100% for those unexpected scenarios where you can’t work for a period of time but I am convinced that there are some small steps you can take to give yourself breathing space when needed.

These are the things that I think have helped me, in this situation, this time. I can’t say that they would help again or are relevant to you but hey ho. I hope it doesn’t sound too preachy.

  1. When times turn bad it is great if you can be surrounded by people who know you and have your back, even if you feel like running away and curling up into a ball,  You can’t. I am lucky to have that in my husband, children and some close friends and extended family. I am grateful I didn’t totally neglect those relationships while building this business as when you need them, you need them bad 🙂
  2. As a business owner you CAN choose your company culture, your client base and your modus operandi with regards to contact.  On the whole my customers have been amazing,  so very supportive. Indeed, after a little bit of explaining and then demonstrating my re-gained competence all of my customers came through with me. Sure I had to face a bashing for a few days and sure, some of them might not come back (crazy woman has a life that sometimes gets in the way of her work – that is true) but that’s OK because on the whole we did it!
  3. Be fair and open in the good times, not just to build credit for dramas down the track, but because you are a fair and open person.  I have had customers that have gone through problems or got distracted during their time working with me and as hard as it has been sometimes I’ve tried, on the whole to bite my tongue when things got annoying, to re-write those smart email responses for something more giving and loving and generally keep communication channels open and respectful. It is all too easy to be rude and walk away from people but do it too often and the word becomes a nasty place.
  4. DON’T THROW IN THE TOWEL JUST BECAUSE YOU FEEL JOYLESS ABOUT YOUR WORK FOR A WHILE.  There have been many times when I’ve thought ‘stuff it, it is all just tooooooo hard’  but I’ve realised that’s just my doubts and fears coming in again.  Running a business where you NEED the money to keep coming in is seriously scary and can feel extremely lonely. No wonder that when things go bad in other areas of life you feel like calling it a day.  The best way I’ve found to get over myself in these moments is to just put my head down and do it, starting with something simple and building up with something more rewarding.  Eventually the joy of why you do what you do returns and you thank your lucky stars you didn’t apply for that job on a checkout at Aldi 🙂
  5. Take care of your mental health by being kind to yourself.   I’ve had to pick myself up and get on with it a few times in my life and this has been no different.  But carrying on like nothing happened is neither realistic or healthy. The best way that I’ve found for me to deal with life’s downers is to set up some rules of engagement and then exercise discipline in sticking to them.  So for example, I might allow myself an hour in the morning to dwell on said issue, do some googling, mull over it with a friend over coffee or go to a therapy session or for a walk or whatever but the rest of the day I just get on with work – shift my focus.  Easier said than done in the beginning but over time I’ve found it easier.

We are all human and while I do think that clients should be treated with a professional distance and not put at a disadvantage when things go wrong there are times when it just can’t be helped. In those times it is often what happens next that makes the most difference and how you move forward is easier with a plan.

I wish I had have found it easier to pick up the phone earlier and kept more people in the loop but that’s my own personal issue to deal with and deal with it I am.

I just wanted to put this out there because I know that some of you are business owners too and I wanted to stand in solidarity side by side with you and explain that I know how it feels when you just can’t do it any more.  This too will pass x



The Blame Game – Who Cops a bashing when the S**T hits the fan?

May 15, 2017

If you stick around this industry long enough something will go wrong.  It’s inevitable really given the complexity of the task at hand. But who is to blame when things go very wrong, when batches spoil, clients get boils,  launch dates get foiled or work mates get covered in hot oil?

Let’s have a look from start to finish.

The ingredients.

Lots of things can go wrong with ingredients and most of the time there is very little you can do about it actually, especially if you have no guaranteed supply contract in place, something that rarely gets implemented at the small end of town as it requires the type of volumes that a multi-national might commit to.

Scenario 1: Material not available when you need it.

Basically multinational companies will usually have two to three approved sources for all raw materials unless they are specific materials that only one manufacturer supplier. In that case they usually place a blanket order covering their projected supply for a period of time and a set volume.  They work this out via forecasting – something that most small to medium-sized brands find next to impossible to do and hence getting caught short is a common problem.

Sometimes materials are campaign manufactured which means the manufacturer will only produce that ingredient when they have sufficient orders to do so. This is particularly true of retinol but other short shelf-life materials are dealt with in a similar way.  Basically if you don’t have your orders in early you are unlikely to find stock when you rock up with your unscheduled demand.

Scenario 2: Material not available anymore EVER.

OK so this sucks and yes, it does happen. Sometimes ingredient manufacturers have a closet clean out and discontinue items that maybe you love but others don’t.  This can be  a pain, especially if it is a specific active that you’ve based that product around. It does happen and it pays for brands who are in this position to keep their supply chain relationships tight so at least they can buy themselves some stock and time to re-formulate.

Scenario 3: Materials are held up in a war zone or natural disaster or they are just out of season.

This is VERY common, especially with natural extracts, oils and butters.  Do make sure you think through what would happen if you got caught short or if your chosen amazing botanical suddenly became very popular and demand outstripped supply. This scenario happens regularly with things like Rose hip oil and vanilla but I’ve also seen it with glycerin of all things.  Odd indeed!

Scenario 4: Your material supplier changed ingredient manufacturer source and now the stuff doesn’t work.

Ok so remember how I said that multinationals have a few approved sources? These are usually PRIMARY sources and the multinational will have spent considerable time and money in testing them out – nothing is taken for granted at the big end of town.  Sadly for many small brands they can’t buy bulk from the large suppliers and are often served (and served well I might add) by the smaller re-packers.  Small re-packers may source from a number of approved suppliers rather like the multinationals or they might buy on spec, taking whatever meets their needs at the right price and right time.  At other times it can be a combination of the two depending on the ingredient.  Then of course there is the reality that the small re-packer has to compete with the big guys for supply so they may well fall foul of the ‘its in short supply globally’ issue.

So what can you do about all of this?

Well basically the answer is to try to forecast your demand as best you can and keep stocks to buy you time.  The amount and storage conditions required will differ for each brand but chances are you will need a decent sized store if you are a brand owner with 5 or so products that you regularly manufacture 20Kg batches of.  Is it time you moved into a manufacturing unit?

OK so next there is the manufacturing, who’s to blame when that goes wrong????

  1. You formulated and you manufacture.

OK so this sucks but sadly if it is your formula and you are the manufacturer you do need to look within for the answer to what went wrong.  I often talk to people in this situation who tell me that they have been making this cream for 10 years without an issue then BAM it exploded all over the place and it must be someone else’s fault.  Sad but true.

All sorts of things can go wrong in manufacturing, I know because I’ve experienced most of them myself.  Sometimes we can forget something simple like adjusting the pH at the right time and that can stuff things up. At other times we might mistake one ingredient for another,  our scales might be faulty and we didn’t notice,  we might even forget to add an ingredient altogether OR add it twice!  The trouble with mistakes is that we wouldn’t make them if we were concentrating 100% – we all think we were but were we really?

Even if you did do everything right there can still be other things at play. The outside temperature can really screw things up sometimes – too hot or too cold – that could speed up or slow down emulsification or setting.  If it is too hot (weather wise) as you are in the middle of a long heat wave there is always the chance that some of your ingredients have perished. Cocoa butter blooms in hot weather, Decyl Glucoside solidifies in cold weather.

In these cases when things go very wrong I suggest that people take a step back, stop looking for someone else to blame (as that just has the effect of making you blind to the situation) and formulate a plan.  My favourite plan in these situations is to carefully re-visit the recipe, ingredient by ingredient – check them, do they look, smell and feel the same as normal, did you buy them from the same place, are they in date and spec? Then check your manufacturing equipment to make sure nothing is broken or faulty, then slowly remake a small batch and test it to see if that works. Sometimes you will never get to the bottom of what happened that day but hopefully you will at least get back on track by doing this.

2. You had the product formulated but you manufacture.

When you first get hold of a formula that you’ve purchased you should get to know it by making small batches – 500g to 1Kg is about right depending on what it is.  It is important that you test it out and get to know how to handle it and how to manufacture before going straight to a 100Kg batch.  This lab work also allows you to go through the process ahead of the critical time so you can get clarification from the formulator for any questions you might have.  If you stuff up here it is usually because you have either not invested in your own scale-up testing or you have but other problems have reared their head.

  •  Stability testing and PET.
  •  As the brand owner you are responsible for the stability of the product you put onto the market. Your formulator may have agreed to do the testing for you but that is not always the case, plus if you haven’t organised packaging you should keep in mind that different packaging can affect product stability by making the product more or less stable.  If in doubt ask the question before you scale up big. I would never recommend batches larger than 20Kg for products that haven’t been stability tested JUST IN CASE.

3. You had the product formulated and manufactured elsewhere.

If something goes wrong in this position it is usually down to the manufacturer to compensate for any loss but the degree to which that compensation runs is debatable and usually only covers the bulk.    If the client won’t or can’t pay for stability and/or micro before making a big batch it is a bit rough to expect the manufacturer (me in some cases) to cover the costs if the batch is found wanting although if the manufacturer hasn’t agreed on the limits to their liability in writing they could still be legally liable to compensate (which sucks for the manufacturer).  What actually happens in these situations will depend on the relationship with the client, the costs involved and the ease in which the problem can be rectified but needless to say things go much more smoothly when both parties work as a team and give the testing the investment and time required.

4. You formulated the product but got it manufactured elsewhere. 

I have had plenty of occasions where clients want me to manufacture something for them that they haven’t tested themselves, they just have a basic formula that they have made in their kitchen and now they want 20Kg made and packaged.  This always makes me nervous as essentially I am taking the risk that this formula is as good as the client says and it will stand up.  Now I personally won’t take that risk without first doing some lab work (what I call a lab session) to get my head around the formula, try it out, do some basic stability on it and make sure it works.  Basic stability is not full stability though and neither is it micro stability (PET) so things can (and do) go wrong when it comes to scale up so the best way to tackle this is when both the manufacturer and the formulator accept there is a shared responsibility (however they decide to share it) to pull together for a good outcome.

But that’s not all that can go wrong. Sometimes you just don’t like the finished product as much as you thought you would. Maybe it looks or smells a bit different to what you make.  This can be a huge grey area for people, especially newbies who really don’t have much experience to fall back on.  The general rule of thumb is this – the more natural and complex a product, the more likely there is to be some batch-to-batch variation, the key is in knowing how much variation is enough.

So what can you do about all of this?

I recommend brand owners take a slightly relaxed view about their first few product batches if they are making a natural or organically certified product – this is always easier if the packaging hides the product a bit – don’t go for clear packaging straight off the bat.   Over a few batches variations in aroma, colour and viscosity should work their way out and you can set a product specification based on these experiments.  A spec should include a description of how the product looks, smells, it’s viscosity, pH (if relevant) and its general form (gel, liquid, cream etc).  This helps you work out if that slightly different batch is out of spec (and therefore unsellable) or not.

I also recommend that brand owners invest in as much product testing as they can afford as soon as they can afford it and keep on with regular testing (micro, viscosity, colour, aroma etc) throughout the products saleable life.  This way you keep a check on your quality.

What about when your product safety is called into question?

OK so safety can cover stability and as we have touched on that before I’ll not mention it again only to say that yes, you need to do it!

Beyond physical stability we have chemical stability and microbial stability and these can sometimes be overlooked – the ‘as long as the cream doesn’t split it is OK’ attitude.

I’ve come across a few products in my time, some of which shift their pH down quite dramatically over their shelf life.  This isn’t safe.  I also regularly see products that discolour on ageing or have their aroma change, these things can both be due to oxidation and in some cases they can mean the product has become more irritating and less able to do the job it is trying to do.

Brand owners should be aware that if their product does change colour or pH during its usable shelf life it could become more irritating and that might be the reason people start to react to what started off as a very well tolerated product.

By far the biggest and most dramatic fail though is with micro.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep up your micro testing if you are a manufacturer or a responsible brand owner (even if someone else manufactures for you).  You should have micro test results for every saleable batch of anything you make that presents a risk to the consumer – usually that’s all your water containing products.  Micro counts are your way of proving the product was manufactured in adherence to GMP (good manufacturing practice) standards.  Your insurance company will probably assume you do this so don’t let them down!  Over and above that PET (Preservative Efficacy Testing) is essential for all new formulations and ideally you should test at the beginning and towards the end of the products shelf life.  Now before you say ‘yes but that would make my business unviable, it is all too expensive’  I know.  However, if you want to sell safe cosmetics you should appreciate that safety isn’t just about avoiding whatever chemicals are on the hit list this week.  Micro contamination is a safety issue and it is arguably the biggest one there is.

If you are unlucky enough to find yourself with a micro issue as a brand owner you will have to trace back the steps to find out where the contamination came from.  If you have micro results for each batch that’s going to be helpful.  The manufacturers I work with most often carry out micro checks on their water, their packaging, their filling line samples, the manufactured bulk and the packed goods.  A lot of testing BUT it does insure everybody that what ends up on the market is clean.  If you don’t have that data how do you know where the contamination came from?   It is also worth keeping in mind that if you are a manufacturer, using one preservative only can spell trouble.  House microbes tend to take hold when only one preservative is used as it is unlikely that any preservative will kill everything straight out so over time the bits that get missed develop resistance to the preservative and you can end up with endless rounds of contamination where before there was none.  This can be complex and expensive to fix so don’t let it happen to you!

Fixing oxidation issues. 

Stability testing should help you pinpoint where the issue is coming from – air only, heat, UV light or a combination.  An assay of your product sample might be in order to identify which components are oxidising. This is particularly helpful if you are making claims about specific simple ingredients (retinol, vitamin C etc) and want to know if they are still active in the product over time). Once you have identified the problem you can beef up your anti-oxidants to help you stabilise the formula and/ or select packaging that minimises environmental stressors.

The bottom line here is that as a brand owner it is up to you to put safe and effective products on the market. If you don’t understand what might go wrong with your product, ask a professional.

Finally who is to blame when your launch date is missed?

Oh how I love this little beauty.  So this is a big one.  Obviously brands have plans and plans need time lines that people try their best to meet.  But when you are putting together something new there is always that unknown factor, the devil in the detail, that turns up and slaps your plan right out of your hands.  The blame often lies in the fact that those involved in the project don’t set aside enough time to plan contingency strategies before the project starts.

I’ve had projects that I’ve worked on where a formula is created and signed over within a month.  I’ve also had projects get abandoned after we’ve slugged away on and off for nearly 2 years.  Again in multinational world a 12-18 month project timeline is pretty normal but for start-up no-clue enthusiasts I’ve seen people want to walk out with a fully functioning and customised brand within 1 week of saying hello.  Something’s gotta give!

All I can say here is this.  Life can be very complicated and frustrating. If you as the brand owner want to create something amazing, unique and truly innovative be sure to give yourself time – potentially 12-18 months to achieve that.  If you just want a simple variant on what is already available give yourself at least 6 months and that’s for the R&D, you’ll still have to queue for your manufacturing which could be another 4-16 weeks AND then there’s the ingredient sourcing which to Australia could take forever.

I get that when you get started you want everything yesterday but if that is you then do consider white labelling existing formulations with no changes so all you have to wait for is the packaging (and that can take its sweet time to get to you).   Once you start getting a rhythm to your business you might find that you can slowly start working on your own unique formulations which you integrate into your product offering as they become ready. This is the lowest stress way of operating and is suitable for all but the very highest of fashion type brands.  If you are high fashion then make sure people know that straight up but do listen when the people you employ to help you voice their concerns – if they say the cocoa has a 12 week lead time don’t book in the launch for 4 weeks time and then blame them.  This isn’t ‘The Devil Wears Prada’.

So let’s wrap this little post up shall we?

Who is to blame?

Who can I sue?

Who can I harass with phone calls and emails?

Well my dear, this is the cosmetic industry. It is complex, scientific, experimental, fashionable and fun and if you want it and your relationships within it and your brand vibe to stay positive and beautiful then you have to accept that you are a part of it. We all are and together we will get there.

Blame isn’t a fun game so just do what you can to play your part and try to partner with people who you trust to do theirs.  After all it is not what goes wrong that should define us, it is how we try to fix it.



What Happens When You Whip it?

May 2, 2017

I really love whipped cream. I know it is bad for me to eat too much but seriously, who can resist the creamy, light, fluffy goodness that is a bit of whipped cream, scones and jam?  So yummy.  But when it comes to cosmetic creams I’m going to tell you to move away from that whip right now as nothing good will come from it.

Whipped moisturising cream or shea balm might look lovely at first but it is all looks and no substance, well, that’s not entirely true. What you have done is filled that little pot of cream up with air. Air = oxygen, oxygen = oxidation, oxidation = reduced shelf life, rancidity, drying out,  loss of efficacy, crustiness and one big hot mess.

Whipping stuff seems to be more of a thing for home crafters who may well get away with it as whipping air into a stiff butter will lighten the texture and give you a good looking and feeling product for a while, quite possibly long enough to make, pack and sell it at your local market but if you start to hit the big time it won’t be long before your whipped dreams become a nightmare as time catches up with these little suckers.

Adding antioxidants,  reducing subsequent oxygen penetration (airless packaging maybe), using very stable oils, waxes and butters as a base and adding something in the formula to help stabilise the oxygen bubbles (a gum maybe) could go some way to maintaining the shelf life of these products for longer but as for how long, I couldn’t easily say without testing.

There is always a solution to every problem but my take-home message for this is that whipping your cosmetic creams might just cause you more problems than it is worth, at least be aware of those potential problems and do what you can to mitigate them.


The coffee scrub trend gets sparkly.

May 2, 2017

Coffee scrubs existed before the Aussie brand ‘Frank’ came into being but it would be hard to argue that they haven’t been a game changer in this area.

I’ve written a post about this here, as you can see my head is somewhat all over the place with this brand as I move from the shear ‘wow, what an achievement’ to ‘you want me to put WHAT down my plug hole’.  It’s confusing but ultimately this is a big WIN for Frank and their little Frankfurters and that’s gotta be good for something.

Frank shimmer scrub


So Frank coffee scrub………As far as cosmetic chemistry goes there really isn’t much to say about these loose scrubs. They are easy to make (just shake some stuff together and put it into a bag) once you’ve got the right ratio of wet to dry stuff and have addressed any potential for microbes (low) and oxidation (can be quite high, depending on the other ingredients).   When packaged in those food-type pouches they should have a long and happy shelf life.

When it comes to the money side of things  again it’s all sweet, especially if you can fill these scrubs with relatively cheap ingredients – salt and/or sugar while eeking out the dearest and most volatile (price wise) of ingredients – coffee.   While some brands (including Frank at the beginning I think) do go to the lengths of recovering used coffee grinds from cafes this strategy, this strategy may turn out to be more costly in the long-term as the quality, moisture content and contamination potential of this waste can lead to up-stream problems that might just prove too difficult to overcome.

So that was my first though.

Only now iconic brand Frank is upping the anti again by adding shimmer. Welcome thought number two….

So initially I was like ‘oh great,  now the coffee-down-my-plug-hole trend is adding little pieces of sparkly plastic to clog my pipes’  and I posted my thoughts to my Facebook page.  Well, it turned out that I’d posted prematurely and that what I thought was glitter was in fact mica based ‘shimmer’ – slightly different. Mica is not plastic, it is a naturally mined mineral, usually mined in open cut mines in north east India but that’s another story.  Apparently it is biodegradable but I don’t actually think that minerals biodegrade, they just integrate but that’s a minor technicality.

But all that did get me thinking about what this trend is doing to our plumbing.

I am a plumbers daughter so I can’t help but think about these (boring) things.  I have to admit to having spent a few Saturday afternoons with my dad and his long drain cleaning machinery as he stuck his hands into other peoples toilets while I made the tea, swept the floor and ran back and forth to the van to collect the tool he needed next.

I’d be lying if I said Coffee and shimmer down the drain doesn’t worry me…..

But I’ll get to that later.

My third thought was back to the brand and it’s insane ability to make people part with their money for something as unremarkable as coffee scrub in a bag. 

What I find interesting about all this is how a seemingly simple and not-really innovative product (in terms of formulation) has captured the imaginations of people around the world in what can only be described as a triumph of marketing and brand experience.  Clearly people love Frank and why wouldn’t they?  If you follow ‘Frank’ on instagram you find ‘him’ cheeky, flirty, personable, inclusive and fun!  You can become a Frankfurter (fan of the brand), can send in your happy snaps of you enjoying your scrub moment and can get the inside gossip on what the brand is up to next.  This is exactly what the 15-25 year age group want from a brand – a bit of  sexy, risque but safe (and mostly natural based on the ingredients list) fun for under $20.  Apparently their limited edition shimmer scrub has a waiting list of 55,000 people ( – OMG I think I’ve gone all FOMO and have go get me some….

And then my mind comes back to the brand ingredients and claims – those damn claims….

As a cosmetic chemist it is only natural for me to focus on the formula and as I mentioned in the beginning, it isn’t exactly rocket science but this is as good a time as any to remind people that a formula doesn’t have to be that complex as long as it does its job and that’s where I do start to feel uncomfortable.  I have taken issue with this brand (in my own head only – I am not the brand police) for some of the claims they have made about their product on social media in the past – claims to do with treating stretch marks, acne, eczema etc – and my inner madness at this has been why I’ve not mentioned the brand on my blog before.   Now excuse me for being the party pooper but I’d love to see some proper validated research relevant to this brand that shows it to do all of the things it promises online.  Maybe I’m being old fashioned or a stickler for the law but when I was growing up in the cosmetic industry we weren’t allowed to talk about things like eczema and acne (they sit in the therapeutic realm) and the word ‘cure’ was banned.  I don’t think things have changed and will be advising my clients to respect the laws of the land in which they make and sell their products.

And then my mind comes back to the drain.

So this stuff that people love is messy.  I guess that doesn’t put you off if a) you don’t have to clean the bathroom because you still live at home with your slaves (parents) or b) you live in a shared house whose bathroom is of dubious sanitation at the best of times but for people like me who own and clean their own I’m still worried about my plumbing and rightly so.  Coffee grinds and other solid particles should not go down the drain so while these products are very pretty, super fun and extra tactile they need to be managed appropriately.  My advice would be either to use it outside and get hosed off into the garden beds (coffee is compostable but shimmer may not be so welcomed by your veggies) OR  catcher into your plug hole prior to indulging.  One thing I do remember about my dad’s Saturday afternoon call drain call outs was that they weren’t cheap!

Finishing on a high. Thought number six.

As much as I have a few issues with the way this brand does stuff I can’t help but think that if I was a beautifully perky 17 year old with a tan and a nice bikini I too would be buying this and posting selfies of myself on my bedroom wall in the hope that someone would drop by and lick this sugary crap off me.  But instead I’m a tired 42 year old chemist who will spend a good part of the next few months advising brands on how to perfect their own individual version of the coffee scrub and capture their equivalent of Frankfurters.

Sure this blog post has been a bit of a push-pull, love-hate affair but at the very bottom of my heart lies a deep respect for the fact that the team behind this simple little product got it very, very right and have sustained and grown that over the last two plus years and that takes some doing.

So well done frank and your shimmer scrub. It looks truly magical and if I can find someone to clean my bathroom afterwards I will gladly give it a try.

Amanda x

PS: I do not take or ask for freebies from brands and am not in any way affiliated with Frank the brand or the company behind it.


Personal Care Products – Is it worth paying more?

May 2, 2017

Did you see this?

Suave is a Unilever brand and is sold across the USA as a drugstore brand that retails for a couple of dollars a pack – Almond and Shea Butter shampoo and conditioner combo $4.98, Walmart  . Recently Unilever got a hunch that that maybe, just maybe their brands amazeballs hair-washing-and-conditioning results are being missed out on by a large trendy demographic thanks to a mega dose of brand snobbery in the haircare space.   Drug store brands just don’t cut it?  A $2 shampoo must be harsh and rubbish?  Hairdressers won’t recommend a regular product!  You name it, that muck has been slung at this brand.  So, Unilever decided to run an ad campaign in disguise using sleek new packaging, a new name and the allure of a higher price tag.  The results?  The influencers loved it as you can see in the above video.

OK so that’s that, but what about you brand owner guys sitting at home worrying about what this means for you and your market share?  And what about you, the public who are sitting there confused and frustrated with the whole thing?

Let’s break this down slowly.  First up price point.

Unilever is a massive company, one of the largest in the world for personal care. They have mega buying power and as such can command the lowest prices in the world (often) for their raw materials.  They can also have materials created for them, can tie up good materials in patents and can access global R&D resources and strategic alliances.  Your average mum-and-dad brand developers can’t compete in any of those ways so a shampoo that costs Unilever $0.50 to make could well cost mum and dad $5.00 – 10 times more.   This would translate to an on the shelf price around the $20-$25 per bottle rather than the $2-$3 for Unilever.

What this means for consumers is that it is true, multinationals can make good quality products that do what they say on the label for a cheap price.


Second – what are you actually buying/ investing in?

Gone are the days when we just purchased from companies without question. These days we want to know if they are sourcing raw materials sustainably, carrying out animal testing,  are an equitable employer,  are local and connected to our community,  care about recycling,  use the safest ingredients possible (and not necessarily the cheapest), are responsible global citizens, are truly innovative and so on and so forth.  While not everyone can afford to buy in accordance to their ethical wish-list a growing number of people can and do and for these, it is unlikely that a multi-national can tick all of the boxes better than a niche or local brand can.  The more we demand from our brands, the more likely we are to value a deeper and more personal connection to them, this opens up the door for smaller, niche players who have less of the constraints that global brands have.

Third – Sometimes it is just a question of taste, adventure and experimentation…..

The third and last thing I’d say about this is that most of us (me included) know that we can live without 99% of the personal care products we buy. We know we don’t have to wash our hair every day,  put make-up on,  smell like a tarts handbag, straighten, spray, gel or wax our hair but we do it anyway.  We do these things because they give us pleasure, make us feel celebrated, special,  sparkly and fresh!  How much is that worth?  For me the answer to that is it’s priceless.

For me what this ad campaign has reminded me is that cheap products can be great products and that pleases me as why should feeling and looking good be only reserved for the wealthy?  However, what it has also reminded me is that this wonderful industry that we are all a part of in some ways is about so much more than just that and that is what keeps me hustling year after year.  Invest wisely good people and enjoy x


Castile Soap – Yes indeedie, it contains chemicals.

March 27, 2017

Yes I am a chemist and yes I know that everything contains chemicals but I am in the minority here OK?

So earlier this month I got involved in a conversation about Liquid Castile Soap and more specifically about the fact that the ingredient listing for said soap contained a list of ingredients and not just one thing – the other person in the conversation felt uncomfortable with this because they wanted to avoid chemicals and while I understood the nuanced detail behind what was being said, I couldn’t help but feel that this is a bad situation, a real bad situation to be in.

The chemicals in question (on the list) were the saponified oils, glycerin, water and citric acid – as you would expect in a pure castile soap.  The ingredient list was rather like this:

Aqua, Glycerine, Potassium Olivate, Potassium Cocoate, Oleic Acid, Citric Acid.

Liquid castile soap is made from the same starting materials as bar soap – vegetable oils, water and an alkali, usually Sodium or Potassium Hydroxide. It was the Potassium Hydroxide that was used in this reaction as you can see from the potasium salts.  The oils in this reaction are coconut and olive.  The citric acid may be added in very small quantities to just neutralise any left over Potassium Hydroxide and/ or reduce the final pH just a tad although adding too much citric will lead to precipitation of the soap. The water is self-explanatory and the glycerine is released in the reaction that splits the oils (triglycerides) and turns them into soap.

Global Cosmetic labelling law isn’t a thing but most people these days do at least attempt to use INCI nomenclature to represent their ingredients list. In Australia this isn’t a strict requirement but this product would still have to be sold with all of those ingredients listed, you would literally just swap the word ‘aqua’ for water which isn’t too hard.

Saponification is a reaction that is as old as time really and is one that people have been utilising since fire and barbeques were invented.  It seems a terrible shame to me that this simple and elegant reaction, a reaction that is the first step in a whole host of chemical synthesis has been deemed ‘too chemical’ or ‘too dangerous’ for some.

The quest for a life less chemical (more simple/ simpler) is a nobel one and one which I fully support BUT if it is driven by ignorance and propelled by a lack of willingness to understand then I’m out.

I would like to think that the conversation I took part in ended in the other person having a bit of a closer look into their concerns but as the old saying goes ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’.

Happy Days.

Amanda x