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I’m no longer sure about Arnica…

December 28, 2018

Aaahhhhh Arnica,

Arnica Wikipedia

I’ve used this in a few of my cosmetic formulations over the years, mainly because it has anti-inflammatory / soothing properties that can be put to good use in products aimed at sensitive skin.  However,  it has recently been brought to my attention that this herb and its extracts may not be welcome under EU Cosmetic regulation for much longer.  This looks to be mainly because of its irritation potential, its mutagenicity and for the fact that there are presently too many gaps in its safety dossier for cosmetic use. Apparently regulatory circles are starting to feel uneasy about the safety of this when used in a cosmetic setting.

It looks to me like this is a good example of a plant gone bad.

When nature bites back?

When natural doesn’t equal safe?

Where one can have too much of a good thing?


Suffice to say that I’m now running around pulling this out of my cosmetic formulations and replacing it with something less controversial, especially given that my herb books do confirm that this stuff can kill a human albeit in larger doses than I’m used to using I imagine!

The plants key toxicity concerns centre on a chemical called Helenalin which while being thought to be part of the plants anti-inflammatory activity is also (and somewhat counter-intuitively) an irritant or skin and mucousa – so not recommended in a lip balm or around the eyes in any case.  Here is some more toxicity info on that. 

For those that are wondering about the fact that one can still purchase Arnica creams and balms then yes, yes you can (at the moment) and maybe they are regulated under herbal medicine laws or pharmaceuticals or something else entirely.  It is always worth checking with the manufacturer (or even by looking at the packaging) as this caution applies to cosmetics only.   Cosmetic products are unlike pharmaceuticals in as much as they are designed to be used frequently and for a long-time (forever if you like) whereas medicines are really only used for a short prescribed period before leaving them alone.  It is this culminative and potentially large-scale (whole body maybe) use that could lead to an over-exposure from cosmetic use that is less likely in a pharmaceutical.

The bottom line is that there is no ban at the time of writing on using Arnica extract in a cosmetic product destined for sale in the EU but that you may struggle to get a safety assessment passed under some circumstances with this in your formula – if in doubt talk it out with your EU regulations consultant and in any case, go easy with the Arnica as it’s got a shady side.

For those who like to read from the original sources here is one report on Arnica from 2012 by the EU

You can also check out the COSING database where you will find no restrictions for Arnica which does make this a little confusing. 

Can you give me your opinion on…

December 28, 2018

2019 didn’t feel like a good year to be a scientist for many reasons but it is the rise in people asking questions prefaced by the above that has niggled me more than it probably should.

Opinions are not facts.

Fish are friends not food.

And anything else that springs to my mind 🙂

What’s I’m saying here is that my raw opinion doesn’t necessarily stand for anything when it comes to how your brand should move forward.

Let me explain with an example, an imperfect example that’s for sure but an example nonetheless…


Question: What is my opinion on peas?

Answer: My opinion on peas is that they are hideous vegetables.  Sure, they are cute when they are growing and their flowers are amongst my favourite in the world but peas? Please spare me the hassle of picking them out of my dinner by not serving them to me.

I hate peas.

I have always hated the taste of them and while I’ve become too lazy and distracted to actually pick each individual piece of pea out of a dish these days I still resent them being there.

So that’s my opinion on peas.

Now let me re-frame the question

Question:  Are peas a good thing to feature in a cosmetic brand?

Answer:  Well yes, I can’t see why not.  First of all peas are quite visually charming with pretty flowers and a certain cuteness and freshness about them that would go well with quite a lot of marketing messages. They are also natural, a salt-of-the-earth type of vegetable (simple, staple, reliable, hardy etc) and quite cost-effective.

With regards to their skin care properties that’s interesting. Pea extract is available in many shapes and forms and is currently manufactured by Alban Muller, BASF, Cosmetochem and Ashland. Now these are big names in cosmetic ingredients so clearly there is something good going on in the humble pea.  Reports by these companies suggest Tyrosinase inhibition (skin lightening), hydration, firming and even immediate wrinkle reduction so I’d say that yes, pea is looking good as a skin care ingredient option.

Look out for ‘Pisum Sativum’ on the INCI list,  the name might remind you that you need a wee (pisum) but hey, we’re all adults here and can overlook that…

‘AHA’ I hear you say,  ‘but the question was more specific the second time around, nobody would come to you and ask you such a broad question and expect you to interpret and apply it?’ 

Oh but that’s where you are wrong.  How questions usually arise is like this ‘I’ve been doing lots of reading online and there seem to be conflicting opinions on the use of peas in cosmetics.  I’m now confused as some people say they are good and some say they are bad. What do you think?’

And that’s when I have to get into teacher mode and break down the question which, at the heart of it is still asking for a simple opinion (what do I think about peas in cosmetics as in, would I seek out a cosmetic that contained peas/ would I use a cosmetic that contained peas or would the inclusion of peas sing out to me in brand marketing).

Lots of what is written online is personal stories, opinions and anecdotes.  Someone has success with something in one situation and can’t see why everyone doesn’t try it type of stuff.  That isn’t science, that’s gossip/ fashion/ public opinion/ vague.

Cosmetic science is an applied science so first off we have to scope out our problem before we can find a solution or even seek opinion about an option we’ve gone with.  It is perfectly reasonable to suspect that something that is perfect for one brand would be hideous for another.  The same is also true of safety (baby products have a different safety tolerance point than products for adults for example)


So what’s the outcome of this little exercise then?

Well I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want…

Basically its for people to stop and think about what they are asking. Not what they are absent-mindedly asking but what they are really asking.

While I understand that working with a cosmetic chemist with a fair chunk of experience does warrant the question ‘what would I do’ or ‘what do I think’ just asking that alone is not enough.  Further, if we only seek the opinion of others instead of the facts we are building ourselves a house (or brand) on sand as opinions can and do change and do not need to be based on anything tangible, measurable or specific unlike facts which, like diamonds, are forever (ish).



Does making your own shampoo save on plastic?

December 16, 2018

Quite a lot of people get into making their own products with the idea that it will help reduce their overall environmental impact and cut down on waste but is that idea based on reality? I think it’s time to have a look…


This year I got absolutely fed up with having my bathroom bins filled with shampoo and conditioner bottles.  We are a family of four but for much of this year we were a family of five, sometimes six and even seven as teenage girls with long hair came and went and left our shampoo stocks depleted.   Something had to give and I wasn’t prepared to give up on my children having friends and exchange students come and stay  so it was decided that the shampoo bottles were it.  Goodbye shop-bought shampoo!

Earlier on in the year I did a project with shampoo bars and I have to say that they are pretty awesome but I don’t want to talk about that here and now.  This isn’t a post on whether people even need shampoo, whether soap will do or whether we should all just use apple cider vinegar and bicarb. No, this is a post about plastic reduction so it’s time to get on with that.

So I weighed one of my empty shop-bought shampoo bottles = 88g

I then came up with a funky recipe that included three surfactants, a couple of conditioning actives, an extract and some perfume.  I’m not going to give you the formula because again that doesn’t matter but suffice to say the formula I made was on a par with the shop-bought product as that gave me a fair comparison.

Then I made a 10Kg batch and packed some of it off into 1Kg glass bottles with plastic pump lids – you can’t get un-plastic ones and to have these bottles be poured in the shower is impractical.


Then what I did is calculated the weight of the plastic containers needed to purchase the ingredients in and calculated in the plastic for the pumps:


As someone who has ran a cosmetic lab for the last eleven years I wasn’t totally surprised by the behind-the-scenes plastic so here’s mine:

Water:   2 x 4 litre containers of water @ 100g each = 200g

Surfactants 3 x 500g containers             @ 45g each =  135g

Surfactant 2 x 1000g containers.            @ 85 each  =  170g

Speciality actives 3 x 100g plastic.          @ 30g each = 90g

2 x glass bottles with plastic lids.            @ 3 g each = 6g

TOTAL                                                                  = 601g

Plus  10 x pumps for the new bottles @ 24g each = 144g

Plus plastic wrapper around the pumps @ 10g    = 10g


TOTAL                                                                    = 755g


What I did is to work out what a typical purchase might look like for someone buying supplies for a 10kg batch of shampoo following my recipe.  This shopping list would leave 20% of ingredients purchased ready for next time.  We could discount this from the plastic total so we only account for the amount of plastic that directly contributed to the ingredient going into the shampoo.  If we did that our total would be as follows:

TOTAL minus 20% to account for the proportion of ingredients we didn’t use = 635g

Comparing this to my shop bought shampoo.

I ended up with 10 x 1 litre shampoo bottles full.

As the shampoo I made is heavier than water this would make around 11.25 litres.

The shampoo I was using as an example comes in 700ml bottles.

So my batch would fill 16 bottles if everything went perfectly.

So the total plastic bottle count for that shampoo in my house would be:

88 x 16 = 1408g

That’s nearly 1.5Kg of bottles!

Comparing the two.

Our lab-made shampoo plastic count taking everything into account – my manufacturing, bottles and ingredients, came to a maximum of 755g or a minimum of 635g (see above).

The shop bought shampoo plastic container ONLY came to 1408g for an equivalent number of bottles.  We don’t know how much behind-the-scenes plastic was involved in the making of this but it is likely to be lower than our count as most shampoo factories have their demineralised water made on-site (rather than shipped in plastic),  buy surfactants either in metal drums or have it bulk delivered into tanks and buy extracts and other actives in larger containers.

So with my example, by making this at home and using re-usable glass bottles I have practically halved or more my plastic count which I feel is significant.

So what’s with this then? Should we all make our own shampoo?

While making this I was reminded of the fact that many people who do make their own cosmetics ‘forget’ that they still have a plastic footprint in the process.  The smaller the batches you make, the larger your comparative plastic footprint is due to you buying smaller and smaller lots of ingredients which are often packaged in plastic.   As an aside, if you are wondering why this is so and whether suppliers can sell ingredients loose then wonder no more.  PET is a good choice for most ingredients due to its low reactivity and high level of integrity (low oxygen and water permeability). Any supplier who has Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines and/or other quality control standards is unable to sell you goods unpackaged so you’ll only find the ‘scoop your own’ from suppliers who don’t have that sort of manufacturing standard, GMP suppliers will often opt for PET. PET is recyclable but it is still plastic.

Making your own shampoo that matches the performance of a shop bought product does involve some formulating skill and therefore isn’t something that everyone could do but if you can, it would save on plastic.  The question of just how much would be down to the batch sizes you could warrant making.  I would imagine that anything under 10Kg of bulk would probably make the process less favourable.

What if I want to continue to purchase shampoo and not change by shampoo use habit but still cut my plastic use?

Buy larger bottles maybe? That’s pretty much all I can think of there.

The bottom line.

It’s possible to save around 1/2 as much plastic by making your own shampoo even if you do buy many of your ingredients in plastic.  However, whether you can or want to go down that route is another matter and of course, there is more to a products environmental impact than just the plastic.

I just thought this was a fairly interesting exercise to work through!

And will I continue to make my own?

Well look, I’m in a great position here of having a lab and the ingredients to hand. Often I have to buy these things anyway for my day job so it’s easier and marginally cheaper for me to do just that.  However, I do also like supporting my clients and buying myself something new and interesting that I haven’t had to make so I think for me this will be a ‘sometimes’ activity.   On that note, don’t expect home-made to be cheaper.  This shampoo with bottle comes to around $13 per pack compared to around $8 for the one I am replacing it with. Sure I can use the bottle again and that does save me money but the savings along probably aren’t worth it once the labor is factored in.

Amanda x


Note on packaging shampoo in glass:

I chose the big ones as they are too heavy to pick up and therefore less likely to cause an accident in the shower. However, I would not recommend using glass packaging in a bathroom for families with young children, the elderly or in situations where it could easily be smashed during use.  It’s best for these to just sit on the floor and be pumped.

Note on re-using plastic pumps:

In an at-home environment and maybe when you use a product very frequently re-using the plastic pump may be an option but probably only once or twice (to a maximum of around 3 rounds I’d say).  Plastic pumps will become a source of contamination in the product over time and it is just not possible to wash them out effectively.  If you are selling your products then the pumps should be sold as single-use only to avoid any issues.






So which of my fats will go rancid first?

December 4, 2018

I’m asked so often about oil rancidity that I thought it best if I explain as best as I can here, with a blog post.

So the question that comes up is always a variation on the theme of ‘what is the shelf life of my vegetable oil/ oil blend?’

You would have maybe thought that to be one of the simplest questions for me to answer but no, like most things it’s actually quite complicated to understand the science.

Well, when I say complicated, I mean that there is a lot to consider.

So for those of you who are bored already I’ll give you the answer now to what is the most stable oil and work backwards from there:


Or, even better and easier to use.

Fractionated Coconut Oil (MCT Oil – Medium Chain Triglycerides) AKA liquid coconut oil.

The detail as to why these are the most stable is due to their structure.  Coconut, palm and it’s by-product MCT oil are saturated fats so there are no double bonds around to come under the influence of that naughty little shelf-life sucker-outer OXYGEN.

Want to know more?    Well brace yourself because here we go.

Most of the oily stuff we use in cosmetics these days is alive – based on non-fossilised carbon. For example, here are two beautiful plants that give us interesting oils to play with – Poppy and Passionfruit:

In the recentish old days we mostly made emulsions with mineral oils and mineral oil is dead carbon so being already dead it tended not to go off unless you contaminated it with water or something else.

Live carbon sources which include both animal and vegetable oils still have some fight left in them and they will interact with the environment and go off – turn rancid – end up stinking – however you wish to describe it.

We have to make sure we hold back that tide like Moses and the Red Sea 🙂


It turns out, rather unsurprisingly that these ‘live’ oils are not one-in-the-same.  They each have their own personalities and preferences.

We can group the oils in families of similar features to make it easier for us to make assumptions about them.  Scientists do this sort of thing all the time as part of their ‘top down’ approach to sorting.  It’s a good first step but where non-scientists and career scientists deviate is that the career scientist never, ever (and I mean never) gives up in looking to make either more and more groups or make the groups match in more and more ways (increasing level of similarity between items in the same group).

An analogy that came to mind just then was this.  When we look at a patch of sand from a distance we might see just yellow.

If we stand above it we start to see speckles of colour.

On our hands and knees we see more shades of colour pop out and we also see shapes of particles and can make out individual grains.

If we had a magnifying glass we could more clearly start to discern the shapes and sizes of the grains.

With a microscope we could determine whether the grains were porous or solid, sharp or smooth etc.

The pro scientist will bore you to death with the number of ways they can find to make smaller and smaller distinctions here just like I could with the veggie oils.

So basically the more closely we look, the more we start to understand the parts that go together to make the whole.

In cosmetic science it remains of key importance that we don’t focus on the parts to the detriment of the whole – i.e: that we don’t start becoming way too theoretical and stop making sense in the real world.

So back to living oils.

Here are some of the things that affect the chemical stability of living oils such as your veggie oils or animal fats.

  • Saturated vs not.

Saturation means that the carbon chains in the fats are all full with no double bonds.  This is the most stable formation for a fatty acid as there is no easy window or door for oxygen to get in.  Also, the electronic charges that exist around each element in the molecule (each carbon and hydrogen) are evenly settled so there is no massive electronic weak spot or focal point. In this drawing I’ve highlighted with green the hydrogens that I think might be vulnerable to oxygen attack. I might be wrong on this but in general it is the hydrogen on the carbon next to the one with the double bond.  It’s just for a general idea.

When fatty acids are unsaturated they contain double bonds, maybe one (mono-unsaturated), maybe more.  These double bonds do provide a window or door for oxygen to get in.  They do this by affecting the electrical force field around the molecule.  Double bonds tend to pull charge towards them which then leaves elements further down the chain with less electrical protection – think of it like your partner or pet hogging the bed clothes at night leaving your toes exposed to the monsters.  Anyway, those exposed parts become targets for the oxygen which is seeking a needy partner to hold onto. Before long you have your oxygen attached and oxidation starts.

While oils like coconut and palm are fully saturated, most oils contain a mixture of both saturated and unsaturated parts.  Looking at the ratio of saturated to non can help give a bit of an idea of how vulnerable an oil might be.

For example, if we look at a range of common oils we get these figures, the lower the number the more stable the oil as the higher the influence of the saturated part.

Camelia 1:4

Canola 1:16

Evening Primrose 1:11

Grape Seed 1:7

Hemp Oil 1:21

Olive:  1:5

Sunflower 1:7

Safflower 1:10

Ricebran: 1:4

Rosehip 1:14

  • The size and shape of the fatty acids as this helps determine how resilient it is to double bonds.

Think of your house and now think of how much more work it would be to secure your house if you doubled the number of windows and doors it had.   Now think of your house and then double it’s size without doubling the number or size of the doors and windows.  That’s kind of what’s going on here with the fatty acids.  Long chains will deal with the door and window created by a double bond or two better than small chains.  Small numbers of double bonds are easier to deal with than many BUT it could be that one double bond on a very small chain is more damaging than two double bonds on a very long chain.  The ability to influence the electronic force field is a little complicated.

I found a study that ranked the oxidative stability of some fatty acids in water and that ranked them like this:

Docosahexaenoic acid (from fish, omega 3) > Eicosapentaenoic acid (As before) > Arachidonic acid (similar to that found in cupachu butter) > alpha Linolenic acid (Flax, Perila, Soy, Walnut, Canola) > Gamma Linolenic (borage, Evening Primrose, Blackcurrant, Hemp) > Linoleic (Corn, Cotton, Grapeseed, Evening Primrose, Passionfruit, Poppy, Prickly Pear, Rosehip, Safflower, Sunflower, Watermelon).

Fatty acid structure is a big determinant in how vulnerable the oil will be to oxidation but that doesn’t mean that a vulnerable oil is a useless oil.  As you may see from the list (and that isn’t exhaustive), many of the oils commonly used in cosmetics contain Linoleic fatty acid, indeed these oils can be useful as cost-effective lubricants for the skin and pleasant, natural additives to hair, body and household care products.  However, we would be wise to take steps to manage the oxidative stability of the products we make using Linoleic rich oils so that we don’t end up with oxidative damage.


  • The presence of antioxidants including the unsaponifiable fraction. 

Antioxidants help to stop oxidation in its tracks so it is a good thing to have an antioxidant strategy whenever you are using ‘living’ ingredients.  Often the unsaponifiable fraction of an oil has some antioxidant protective features.

Plant antioxidants come in many forms with the best known being vitamin E (tocopherols).  Some methods of production are better for protecting these trace antioxidants than other. It is somewhat over-simplistic to try to hone in on a universal best method and apply that to all oils, rather it is best to research what is the optimal processing for the oil that is in question.  This may need to take into consideration yield values, price point, trace impurities, colour, odour etc.  Remember what I said about not losing sight of the end goal- the cosmetic.  The cosmetic chemist can add back antioxidants and use packaging methods to secure their choice of oil and price point rather than having to gain every solution inside the oil its self. Some plant antioxidants such as the chlorophyll and carotenoids are highly coloured chemicals and while that may be appropriate for some formulations, it may make for an unattractive proposition in others.   In addition chlorophyl rich oils, while naturally well protected from oxidation in some conditions, may turn pro-oxidative in others as the chlorophyl breaks down and catalyses other reactions.

So, something to ponder on is whether it is best, all things being equal, to buy a refined oil and add in a known quality of antioxidant or buy a virgin oil and manage the potential pro-oxidation caused by photo-catalysed break down via packaging?  I’m in no doubt that there are several right answers to that question.


  • The quality of the oil in general.

Oil quality starts at the farm and may not even be in the hands of the farmer (weather, soil quality that year, shade etc).  What happens to the crop, the seeds, during the squishing, the drumming, storage, transportation, further decanting and then manufacturing of your product can all impact the oil quality.  We can only control what we have within our power to influence so take a step back and work out what you can and can’t do then take formulation steps to address the gap.

There are some oils such as Olive, Canola, Grapeseed and Sunflower that have been widely studied, are grown all over the place and have quite tight quality specifications.  On the other hand there are some exotic and exciting oils like Raspberry and Apple Seed, Seabuckthorn and Papaya that are more boutique and are  less well understood.  Be sure to set your expectations in alignment of what the supply chain can provide.

Free Oleic Acid is something I’ve blogged about before as that is a skin penetration active, however high level of free oleic can also mean the oil is more unstable.  Levels of free oleic can be just a natural feature of the oil or a could be caused by poor growing or pressing conditions or could happen over time through bad storage. Check the number and the context.


  • Your manufacturing.

I grouped this into the step above but just to re-iterate that how you treat and manage the oil will also affect its shelf life. Do you take 2 years to get through a big drum thus leaving it for most of the time with a large head space full of oxygen?  Do you pack into open-mouthed jars?  Do you use permeable packaging?  Do you leave the oil heating for a long time?  Do you store in a garage that gets super hot in summer and freezing in winter?  All of these things can stress an oil and affect your shelf life.


  • Your formula.

I put this last because I didn’t want people thinking ‘well I’m not a chemist so I can’t do any of this’.   The chemistry of the oil can be found online generally and you can get an idea of how likely it is to oxidise there.  Remember that information is just ‘top level’ info and doesn’t mean your beloved oil will be useless just because it looks to be a fast-oxidiser.  It just means you need to take precautions.

So precautions could be blending your faster oxidising oil in with a base oil that is much more stable so as to reduce the overall oxidation potential of the product.  This can work well, especially when you really want to use a particular oil in a formula for marketing or access reasons.  Another option is to add in more antioxidants.  You can go too far with anti-oxidants and make a product too expensive, too irritating or even more likely to oxidise so my advise is this:  A blend of antioxidant strategies is better than lots of one,  do some stability testing to ascertain the size of the problem and the effectiveness of the solution (oil testing for rancidity is currently well under $100 per sample which is, in most cases cheaper than having failed batches).  Be sure to think about other ingredients that you are adding to your formula and make those as stable as you can. In some cases (emulsions etc) that would include adequate preservation, in other cases (where there are salts and /or sugars, extracts or clays)  it would include steps to avoid the dry ingredients attracting water into the mixture (dry isn’t always quite so dry).  Don’t forget to lean on your packaging for some support, store your ingredients well and manufacture with stability in mind as per above.

Useful oil-soluble antioxidants include:


Rosemary Antioxidants.


Coenzyme Q10

Some lycopene extracts (some of which can even be provided without the colour – Hydropom lycopene by Tri K. Lycopene helps make tomatoes red).

Specialised antioxidant blends such as Antiox GT from Hallstar or Phytocide Elderberry from Active micro technologies.

And if you are making a water and oil product.

Don’t forget that it will be at the interface between the oil and water where the maximum oxidation will take place or will at least start.  Take care to add some antioxidant to the water phase as well as keeping your oil phase protected.  Things like vitamin C,  Alpa Lipoic Acid and varying plant polyphenols from your extracts can help here but take care of adding trace metal ions as they catalyse oxidation.  Using a chelating agent is good where possible as this mops up the metal ions that can be brought in my plant-based herbs and extracts.  Chelating agents are things like EDTA, EDDS, Citric Acid,  Sodium Citrate, Sodium Phytate and the like.


OK so now we’ve saturated our minds with that can we answer the question?

Which of my oils will go rancid first?

On a purely fatty acid profile basis you have to start by considering Linoleic acid content (Omega 6).

Following that, look at saturated vs unsaturated ratio then antioxidant concentration / antioxidant stability, then free fatty acid then other things.

It might be that the oil that you can source the freshest is best for you.  It seems silly to use Rice bran because it is more stable on paper than Canola when you can get Canola fresh from up the road but the rice bran takes 6 months of shipping to arrive.

The bottom line is that the oil that ACTUALLY goes rancid first will be the oil that you fail to protect and preserve because you didn’t understand it or treat it right.  Hopefully now this epic article has put at least some of that power into your hands.

Useful References:

Auto-oxidation of fats – an oldie but a goodie for getting to grips with where oxygen attacks.

Linoleic acid – just some info that people considering eating the oil might stumble across. Don’t forget that ingestion and topical application are not the same. In fact I’d rather us use the oils that we can easily grow but can’t eat on our skin so we don’t compete and push up food prices.

Oil table – I wrote this a while ago and it took ages so I like to refer to it whenever I can.

Effect of fatty acids and tocopherol on oil stability.  


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? 


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.


PS: This article came across my desk the other day and I think it fits in well with how I feel about all of this right now.  






Why does lip balm form a dent in the top when it cools?

November 19, 2018

If you are not sure what I’m talking about then this picture might help:

NB: This type of packaging HAS to be hot filled. I added this comment after publishing after it became obvious that fact wasn’t well made before 🙂

Lip balms, lipsticks and gloss sticks are a mixture of waxes and other stuff – typically oils either hydrogenated or not and sometimes a butter /  oil combo .  Some contain colourants such as this one I’ve made which has mica added while others contain nothing but the greasy stuff.

A perennial problem with this type of formula is in getting it to stop doing the above and leaving you with a dented top. That’s actually quite tricky to do.

Lipsticks, which these are based on, are typically made by pouring hot waxy stuff into a metal mould, cooling that rapidly then popping the lip-stick out and putting it into the container.  Lip balms are poured straight into the container and that’s why we have a problem and it’s all to do with heat transfer.

You may notice, if you pay enough attention, that liquid wax/butter/oil combos take up more space than solid wax/butter/oil combos. This is quite normal and is to do with the way the molecules of stuff move about and combine.  You could try an experiment with your own body if you like. Dance around the room a bit and see how much space you take up. Then lie flat on the floor and measure that. Of course, you actually take up the same amount of space but the space you influence is smaller when you stop moving. When you dance you need not only the space you actually take up but also the space you potentially take up so you effectively create a ‘dance zone’ around you where other things can’t come in close because you are spinning and moving too much and the other things don’t want to get hit.

OK weird analogy but it is somewhat like that with chemistry.

Hot waxy stuff = dancing and creating dance zones around them.

Cold waxy stuff = knackered and asleep on the floor so other stuff can pile on top, next to and underneath thus fitting more stuff per unit of space.

So what’s with the shrinking?

Physics, it’s physics 🙂

So as things are cooling off in side, the wax is shrinking and as heat rises the top of the stick stays hottest for the longest.  As well as heat going to the top it also goes into the middle.  It’s like the heat is trying to get away from the cold spots so it goes inwards and upwards as much as it can until finally it gives up and cools.  The only trouble is that by the time the super hot core has run out of oomph and starts cooling, everything else has started to set around it which forms a barrier to its integration. So, instead of just becoming part of the rest of the waxy tube the core cools on its own.  The bigger the difference between the cooling time of the outside vs the cooling time of the inside, the larger the crater.

Can we prevent this?

It is quite tricky to prevent this as there is a limit to the temperature you can fill a tube – go too cool and while you might solve the hole in the top problem you may find it messy and difficult to get a good fill and this may make your sticks look lumpy instead of smooth.  Fill too hot and the problem is back again.

I ran a little experiment to see if I could demonstrate different fill and cool procedures visually for you. Here are the results:

A look at the body of the lipsticks.



100C, 75-80C,  65-68C pour freezer cooled.

100C, 75-80C, 65-68C pour bench cooled, lid on.

100C, 75-80C, 65-68C  pour bench cooled, lid off.


100C is the maximum you’d want to go to with most oils. At that temperature you get a nice quick fill as the product is typically very fluid and easy to pour. Also you get a long time to pour because it takes a while to start setting. At this temp it’s unlikely that air bubbles will form in the tube as any air will escape before the product sets. That leads to a much more robust and dense balm with greater oxidative stability.

75-80C is a good temperature to fill when your formula contains more delicate natural oils. At this range you are unlikely to start oxidising the oils and changing their colour but you can still pour for a while before gelling starts. The only downside here is that air bubbles might get trapped if you are not careful with your mixing. This is because the bulk sets quite quickly on pouring and can set before any bubbles escape.

65-68C is much harder to work with but is helpful in other ways. This is the temperature when gelling is just about to start (with my formula anyway).  The bulk is getting thicker but is yet to set. The lower energy level going into the tube makes it much less likely that large shrinkage will happen but it is more likely that air bubbles will get trapped.  It is possible to perfect the pour in this temperature range but it takes a bit of doing.

Lid vs no lid =. The lid will trap heat in for longer so I wanted to see how that would impact the denting.

Bench cool vs freezer cool = Freezer is rapid cool and I wanted to see how that impacted the stick. Bench cooling times will vary depending on your lab temperature.


My first round trial didn’t produce a satisfactory result with regards to indentation but it did help to see how the different temperatures and conditions affected things. However, in terms of the stick formation I found both the freezer and the 75-80C fill to produce the best looking sticks.

Experiment part 2.

Next I tried again with the same batch but this time I filled to the end of the twisty middle but not to the top and used a fill temp of 75C-80C as that seemed the best performer of the first round.  Once cooled I topped the tube up and let them stand on the bench without the lid. Doing this I was able to produce two lipsticks that didn’t indent on cooling – We have a winner!

A look at the body of the lipstick shows mixed results. Maybe this needs some work…

Discussion of these results.

The lipstick poured well at 75C. I left it for a few minutes to really set then added the rest. I made these two using the same method but as you can see one looks in much better shape than the next.  I am not the neatest person in the world (as you can see from my writing and other bits) but from this I’d say that the pour, leave then top up method at approx. 75C is worthy of a bit more tweaking and investigation.  Also now we know we have two parameters to measure 1) the dent on the top and how to avoid it and 2) the smoothness of the lipstick shaft.

Conclusion on pour method.

For my formula a filling method of filling the tubes to 1/2 or 3/4, letting it cool and then topping up. Keeping the lid off and cooling at room temp (around 25C at present) was best.  My formula had an expected gel temperature of around 60-65C based on the waxes, butters and mica contribution.

Further discussion and next steps.

Different formulations will have different melting points, this one is a little high to be honest and the resulting stick is a little hard to transfer onto the lips.  It is likely that the higher the melting point of the stick, the harder it will be to pour and avoid the indentation or other problems.  However, the lower the melting point, the softer the stick and that might then not hold up.  It is likely that the ideal temperature is between 52-58C so I could play with my formula to see if the same variables in terms of filling gave me a different result when I had a lower melting point wax blend.  As with many things scientific, just because the scientific theory stacks up it doesn’t mean we will be able to see anything different in practice. It may be that the change in melting point possible for a lipstick isn’t large enough to make much of a difference and that pouring method is always the best chance of gaining control over the product appearance.

As you can see from the above, something as simple as stopping your lipstick from indenting is actually quite a scientific endeavour.  As a consultant chemist it is my job to solve these types of problems for brands and optimise their Intellectual Property (formulations). One of the big reasons that you almost never find the exact (best) answer you need for your chemistry question on an online forum or blog (like this) is because everyone’s formula, manufacturing process, packaging and expectations are different.  While there is some learning that is transferable (such as an experimental method), the detail is always somewhat personal to you and that’s why it’s all so interesting.

So I hope that helps.

Amanda x





There’s an Orang Utan in my bedroom but… What Iceland didn’t tell you.

November 18, 2018

I remember the supermarket chain Iceland opening up in my home town back in England.  I remember it selling mostly shite  in the form of frozen junk food – cheap frozen junk food. I almost never shopped there, it wasn’t really my demographic which sounds a bit snobby but it’s true.

To be fair on the Iceland supermarket chain, the time I was remembering was the late 1990’s and early 2000’s which pre-dates their financial issues and ousting of their senior management team. Since then they have gone through ownership changes, gone back to the old management and started to grow their business again to the point when it is now a great financial success story.

Iceland supermarket have been involved in what I’d call ‘free from’ marketing since day one so the ‘free from palm’ stance is not out of character.  According to their own website timeline they removed artificial colours and flavourings in 1986 along with monosodium glutamate from their own range (they do sell other branded products),  banned mechanically recovered meat in 1990 (the paste-like rubbish that’s in cheap chicken nuggets and burgers) and stood against GMO’s in 1999.  However,  throughout all of this they have still specialised in selling pre-packaged, frozen junk food albeit junk food that has a bit more thinking behind its ingredients than some other branded junk.

With regards to my use of the term ‘junk’ food what I’m referring to here is food that is processed, much of which may have a low nutritional status compared to fresh produce, un-necessary (treat-like foods maybe), fast (to cook), convenient (to eat) and overly packaged (take-away type and ready meals).  My use of the word ‘junk’ is a personal value judgement. I shouldn’t use personal values when writing as that’s a bias but as I’m writing this from my perspective as an opinion piece then I felt it warranted.

So on we go.

Iceland is to be the first supermarket to be completely palm free by the end of 2018, a date that is fast approaching.  To co-inside with this rapidly approaching deadline comes an advert voiced by the very lovely Emma Thompson and telling the story of a beautiful baby Orang Utan that has turned up in a little girls bedroom.  The Orang Utan gets angry when it sees the little girls bar of chocolate and shampoo (two products that Iceland isn’t famous for selling) and says that there are humans in their forest that have taken its mother and destroyed its home.  The little girl promises to fight to make the plight of this little Orang Utan known.  It’s all very heart-tugging, especially to those of us that are already primed to respond to this message.

The advert was banned from TV for being too political. This has had the usual impact of making it extra appealing and so it’s been shared widely on social media.

But is it presenting a fair argument?  (Does it even have to?)

Is it adding any value to the cause?

Is it actually any good?

As you may have predicted my opinion on all of the above is ‘no’.

Iceland failed to give any real perspective of the real issue here and instead turned it into a ‘compassionate person wanting to save Orang Utans vs Palm’ argument.  I DETEST that argument as it is absolute emotional manipulation but I lost the battle for a more rational approach to this issue a long time ago so instead I’m trying to stay sane in this crazy messed up world by using therapy, bush walking and a quieter, deeper form of activism just so you know…

Chocolate and Shampoo are products that often utilise Palm Oil in their formulations but taking Palm out of these things would be relatively easy as long as we don’t mind paying a bit more compared to items such as biodiesel which is not mentioned in the advert (of course it isn’t, Iceland is a food supplier and they don’t sell biodiesel).   But even if chocolate and shampoo WERE the big issues here when we take palm out, what do we put in instead?

Iceland haven’t made much of what they are replacing Palm with.  I looked into this a little bit and found that they are looking to use Sunflower Oil and Butter as their oil replacements – a move that will save 500 tonnes of palm oil per year. 62 million tonnes were produced in 2015 so while 500 tonnes is something it’s only a tiny little dent of a something.

At this point my chemistry brain starts ticking.

Palm oil isn’t just added as palm oil, it’s a feedstock chemical that goes into ingredients such as emulsifiers, thickeners, preservatives, texture modifiers etc – some of the E number stuff and other interesting ingredients we often find on the labels of pre-packaged food, the types of things you wouldn’t put into home-made fair.

I wonder now if Iceland are talking about palm in its entirety or just as the oil? There is a difference…

In terms of sunflower and butter being alternatives I’m actually somewhat concerned by this.  Oil World figures show that Sunflower Oil produces around 0.5 tonnes per hectare of oil compared to 3.7 tonnes per hectare of Palm.   Now there are lots of things to consider behind these figures but the first big-hitter being the yield per field of crop can’t go unmentioned.   Iceland will need over 7 times more fields to grow its palm alternative than it currently does and that doesn’t come without environmental impact.  Sunflower oil is a crop that can be grown in a wider range of countries than Palm which needs a more tropical climate.   We could argue that it is better to preserve the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia at any cost (to anywhere else) but if we took that view a) those countries would rightly get the shits as they are being told not to ‘develop’ while elsewhere in the world hedges are being ripped out and bush land and residual forest destroyed to make room for more and more non-food use cropping – war is a potential consequence of our ignorance and b) we would feel the effects of this in other areas and would soon have to face another problem of food prices going through the roof as we squeeze more non-food oil crop into our farming mix.   Do you remember what happened when the US wanted to put bioethanol in their fuel?   Once again we are heading for war. 

As for butter being an alternative oh please…

I am currently still a meat eater and I am very aware of the impact that meat has on the environment and how hypocritical I am to be trying to work out how best to ‘save’ the planet while still eating meat.  I am working on that.  However, how any company can claim to be taking the moral high ground on an issue such as Palm while replacing it with butter is beyond me.  Do these people not have vegan customers?  I guess not, probably not their core demographic.

For the record butter coming from milk coming from cows is an environmental disaster. Sure the Orang Utans might be OK with butter as Indonesia and Malaysia aren’t chopping their forests down for cow grazing country but fly over to the other side of the world and voila- they are – bye bye Amazon (not the shop, the rainforest).

I’ve got plenty of articles on this on the blog – pop ‘palm oil’ into the search box if you want to read more that I’ve written, if you are interested. This is simply too complex of an issue to distil down into one article here.

So what should we do?

I know this is harsh but if Iceland really wanted to save the world they would probably close their doors and put their money behind good old-fashioned home cooking but that’s not entirely practical, their brand and product offering does serve a market that deserves serving well.

To my mind the issue behind palm is the same as the issue behind all of our environmental woes. There are too many people taking too many resources and not valuing them enough. We are still a throw-away, indulgent society that sees convenience and choice as our birthright.  Over the last 40 years we have started to feel increasingly bad about that and rightly so as over 60% of all animal diversity has been lost during my lifetime.  We simply can’t go on like this.  But instead of staring the real problem in the face we attempt to placate ourselves by working hard to save cuddly cute animals,  focus on what I call ‘busy work’ instead of putting in the hard yards.  We do this without realising that our efforts and sacrifice amount to next to nothing as far as the natural word is concerned and then we get angry and frustrated.

I think that Ice Cube had it in the bag when he said ‘they put the sheep to sleep and dominate the weak’.  He was talking about a particular situation in California but in my experience this  willingness to be anaesthetised happens everywhere in lots of situations.

My tip?  Stay awake and power through the pain. You can do it and after all, staying awake is what being alive is all about, anything else is just existing and maintaining the status quo.

PS: Sorry about the swears but they’ll be the least of your worries if this situation continues.

PPS: I forgot to mention this earlier but did you know that pre-packaged food, meat and dairy are huge water users. If we haven’t already killed each other over this farming palm oil and other crops issue we’ll all die of thirst.  Nice!