Skip to content

Oleogel Testing Experiment Update – The First Round of Data is in!

September 10, 2021

While it’s fair to say I’m not always the best at reading the room, I would put a good deal of money on me being right that most of you have NOT been joining me in my excitement driven sleepless nights waiting for this data. That said, this project is turning out to be very interesting and likely to provide insights that can spread further and wider than my oleogel under pressure!

So what’s been going on and what am I talking about?

If you didn’t watch the part 1 video go do it now as that will get you on the right page. For those that watched it but can’t remember it (or would rather forget) I am investigating the strength of oleogels both ‘naked’ (unpackaged) and in different types of packaging – plastic, glass, metal and cardboard. I’m doing this for many reasons, not least because many brands are trying to reduce packaging waste by choosing eco-friendly options such as cardboard over plastic. As a formulator, teacher and science communicator I want to explore these consequences in an applied way. So often when you look for science data it’s talking about a single component – say oleogels as a thing or packaging as a thing. By investigating the relationship under stress (some might say all relationships are stressful…) between both the packaging AND the contents I’m producing APPLIED data. Applied data in this case means data that we can APPLY (or use) in our real-life scenarios so when we are trying to work out the pro’s and con’s of choosing this over that container.

Why Oleogels?

Oleogels are weird, that’s why. They have no continuous structure to them which should mean they are floppy, sloppy and leaky but they are generally not, well not all the time. It’s this complexity and weirdness that fascinates me. Their structure changes over time, when you make them different ways and as they respond to stresses and strains. It’s almost like they are emotional little flowers!

In all seriousness oleogel physics are just very interesting. I am leaning towards using Ice (not the drug, no need to panic mum) as a comparrison model as that seems to have similar properties. Oleogels have a crystaline internal structure that can be described as fractal in nature. They also have fluid regions that can leak when the crystals grow big and/or numerous enough. They have regions that generally stay quite fluid thus creating a constant shift in the internal landscape that us cosmetic chemists try to control, often unsuccessfully.

I don’t know about you but I’ve looked back on some of the oleogel formulations I’ve made over the years and found samples that have developed a gem-stone like crystaline structure to them as the balm aged. I’ve also had balms that became so hard over time that you couldn’t use them at all. Balms that split into oily and waxy parts and balms that bounce! When does an emulsion ever give you that much entertainment and confusion?

I also like oleogels because it’s a chemistry that beginners make because it seems simple – just blend wax and oil and you are done! I quite like the way nature has of sticking its fingers up at us and saying ‘you may think I’m simple but I’m going to kick your ass’. Sure, not every oleogel is as tempremental as a teenager with no internet but I’m not interested in those ones, I want these 🙂

Where I’m at with testing.

This round of testing is still in the process development stage so while I’m collecting statistically significant data it’s taking rather a lot of tests to reach that point – ideally I’d be doing 20 rounds of testing per variable rather than 40-60. I will repeat these tests with a slightly modified process to reduce the variability in my data while maintaining its significance (just in case you were wondering). That ‘optimisation’ will then make it possible and practical to run this sort of testing on your products should you want it.

The rest of the information is in this video including some more information about how I’m handling the data I’m producing and how I’m making sure my strength comparrisons are fair and as accurate as possible. There’s a lot of maths involved and I’m just hoping I chose the right equations for this data – I am also going to check that with a physics expert before moving to the next stage.

My hope in sharing this journey with you is that you will start to understand and maybe value the process of ‘doing’ science a bit more. That you may invest more of your own time in running controlled experiments and analysing the data you produce. Finally and importantly given that this is a business, I’m hoping that in sharing this I can demonstrate to you the value of knowing the applied strength of your oleogels and how this data can help you with your own R&D.

Thanks for watching.

Developing a method for press/ squish testing balms and oleogels.

September 2, 2021

Hello people,

Believe it or not I’ve had a lot of cosmetic sciency things going on in my mind and all over my house (mostly thanks to COVID lockdowns) over the last month or so and I’m just about ready to share them with you. I say ‘just about’ because in my head there’s always more to learn and invetigate and that’s as exciting as it is annoying (because nothing ever feels finished).

Anyway, I decided to share this content with you via the wonders of video because… Why not! In summary what you will find in this 20 minute video is a walk-through of a new testing method I’m developing that YOU (yes you) will be able to access for your balm, pomade, gel and waxy solid style products when the time is right and the crystals are fully charged.

I thought it might be quite nice to share what I’m doing at this, the R&D stage to help you get an appreciation for the science that’s involved in a project like this, the amount of testing that gets done, the time that it all takes and the fact that at the end of it all you have to sit down and do a lot of math homework (oh the joy!)

So come along on this process with me and (hopefully) learn a little more about the science of squishing.

Also note, you can’t submit your products for squish testing (a type of application testing – how your products will perform in-use or in different containers maybe) just yet. I am trying to speed the project up and will introduce this new service on my website as soon as I’ve fully validated my method and worked out how many millions of dollars this service is worth mwahahahahahahaha.

Another note: I didn’t do my hair or make-up for this video because I forgot and it’s likely I end the last frame with an oilier than usual face because I have a habit of touching my face a lot and balms are oily…

Getting INDI brands to class.

August 4, 2021

Warning, I am going to sound very old and set-in-my-ways in 3, 2, 1…

There is no doubt that social media, especially visual platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok have created the perfect environment for small, start-up brands to thrive. In the cosmetic industry we call these ‘Indie’ brands and we worship them like Gods. Well, I don’t but that’s because the only thing I worship generally is trees and chocolate.

These Indi or ‘independent’ brands birth themselves into the world, growing from strength of their own ideas, sense of entitlement and magnificent aesthetic. Ok, bit harsh but you get the picture.

Some of these Indi brands do eventually realise they need to attend a course or two or seek some professional help (collaboration darling, they seek collaborations – a meeting of minds) but only after their usual research tricks – searching You Tube, the blogs and social content of other Indie branders for free tips and recipes or asking their followers for feedback on each brain fart they have – draws a blank.

Their reluctance to go outside of their Indie bubble doesn’t stem from fear of them finding out they actually don’t really know enough to own a brand by themselves as that thought would never cross their minds. No, this reluctance is based on a lack of tolerance for anything deemed borning and non-goal orientated. They want to launch product X so they want to lean HOW to make product X because only they have what it takes to make things for their brand.

As a teacher (sorry, ‘collaborator’) Indi brands will tell me without telling me they don’t want to waste time exploring the science and reality that product X will be built on, they also aren’t that interested in learning how to formulate X from scratch although it will shit them when it turns out you can’t easily match a multi-national brands top selling anti-ageing cream when only using whole food type ingredients sourced from your garden. Who’d have known…

Yes these Indi brands have high standards, lots of ideas and zero tolerance for my shit and there’s nothing wrong with that is there ladies and gents?

Thinking a little skin science may be a good place to start I bring that up but that falls flat on its beautiful face also. The Indie brand has already got skin science nailed and not just because they have been hash-tag ‘genetically blessed’ and are still under 30. They learned everything they need to know about problem skin (which they don’t have) from Dr Pimple Popper and gleened from (you guessed it) You Tube and that Netflix series ‘Skin Decision’ (which is actually very good). My cosmetic science take on the dermis and how to facilitate better dermal penetration just can’t compete.

But they finally come to school, mostly to teach me how good they are, create some memories for their Insta feed and take selfies in a lab coat (there will be lab coats right?).

I’m mostly joking of course and while some of these things are definitely true some of the time, on the whole, Indie brand owners are as interested in cosmetic science and learning as the rest of us and a little background meandering never did anyone any harm.

Happy formulating.

Amanda

Natural Preservatives Vs Letting Nature Do its Thing.

July 27, 2021

Three months ago I prepared a large batch of this natural cream. I split the cream into several portions and to each portion added one of nine different natural, nature identical or naturally derived preservatives/ preserative blends. The tenth sample is the one on the right which I left with an incomplete preservative strategy while sample zero, the unpreserved base is shown as the one on the left. After adding the preservatives I re-adjusted the formula pH to a suitable level so I could compare the samples against each other fairly.

All of the other samples in this trial worked well and preserved the cream adequately based on the measures I undertook. A full report of that is being uploaded to the New Directions Website to act as a teaching aid. However, it was these samples which intrigued me most. The way they nourished different microbes because of that one change – that being potassium sorbate 0.5% on the right and nothing on the left in a formula base set at pH 5.5.

It’s not a great idea to grow your own microbiological weapons under your desk so I didn’t keep these for longer than I had to. I kind of regret not sending them off for analysis but am also not sure I want to know what grossness was existing in these cream samples. What I am happy about is that these two failures made my good guys look oh so much better and made me feel proud that the other options I’d chosen had (as far as I could tell) been able to defend its self against this horror show.

I often get people tell me how they don’t need to preserve their product as they keep it in the fridge or only make as much as they need and then make another fresh batch. This makes me cringe on the inside…

I ponder how I must have by now earned the right to call myself the champion growner of mouldy cosmetics due to the fact I do so much experimenting (not because I’m crap of course although some days, I actually can be) and maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve got plenty of lived experience of just how fast your beautiful creams can turn into a shit show of epic proportions when you don’t know what you are doing. That said, I’ve also got plenty of evidence to show that following a few simple steps and being somewhat sensible is all you need to ensure this doesn’t happen to you – there’s really no need for a full body suit and end-of-lease cleaning squad each time you get the cosmetic chemicals out just don’t lick anything or pick your nose while on the job.

Questions around product preservation still top my in box each week with many people taking extreme positions aroud what they will and won’t use and can and can’t try. While I respect that paper research on one level, I know that it’s only when the theory hits the practice that we start to see what your ideas are made of. I just wish people would experiment more. It is for that reason that I put together this little experiment, to encourage people to experiment more and to take my starter-for-ten and run with it. So what if you end up with a few failures, the below samples are not nothing, they are beautiful lessons in their own right. They show us the microbes that were hiding in the formula all along, of what Potassium Sorbate had to kill before it met its match in black hairy land. This is the stuff epic lab tales are made of.

And with that I’ll go back to my work as I’ve got more samples to process and more reports to write up. Oh and if a microbiologist does see this post and comment ‘oh wow, your hands must have been covered in poop when you made those’ I really don’t want to know. Thank you and goodbye 🙂

Castor oil is not like other oils.

July 26, 2021

As exciting as it is to browse through the hundreds of different vegetable oils that are available to today’s cosmetic chemists, most of them, for the most part, are chemically quite similar. What I’m referring to here is the fact that the majority of vegetable oils are comprised of triglycerides dominant in Oleic, Linoleic and Linolenic fatty acids. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, there are occasions when it’s nice to work with something different, something that behaves a little more interestingly, that stands out from all the rest in some way. That’s where Castor oil steps in.

If you’ve ever wondered why castor oil performs better than your typical veggie oil at solubilising pigments, why it is often used in skin cleansing formulations or why it’s popular in hair and eyelash treatments, it is due to its unique and interesting chemistry.

Castor oil conforms to the usual oil structure of being dominant in triglycerides but its fatty acid of choice is Ricinoleic rather than oleic, linoleic or linolenic acid.

Ricinoleic is a C18 fatty acid and just like Oleic it also contains a single double bond. However, Ricinoleic also contains something else – an extra hydroxyl group on its fatty tail – another -OH or, in chemistry speak Oh My God That Changes Everything!!!

This extra -OH group on a C18 fatty acid that typically makes up between 85-90% of the oil makes Castor a whole lot more polar and surface-active than your average oily triglyceride. That explains why Castor oil is much more interested in getting up close and personal with other polar chemicals in a similar way to that of a surfactant/ emulsifier. While it would be misleading to hint that this oil can be used as an emulsifier – it’s not polar enough for that – the extra -OH’s does give Castor oil an ability to modify the surface tension of a formula in a way that non polar oils simply cannot and that feature can be very, very useful!

Surface tension is a repellant force that exists at the interface between an oil and water phase. This may be within a product (say, at the oil:water boundary of an emulsion) or during product use (when you try and spread a product through the hair or across the skin). The bigger the difference in polarity between the phases, the greater the interfacial force and potentially the greater the resistance to flow (less spreadable product).

While some surface tension between phases is desirable and required to maintain the integrity of an emulsion or multi-phase product, it’s often possible and preferable to create formulations that are a little less highly strung and more relaxed. Adding more polar ingredients to an oil phase of an emulsion or at the emulsion interface (eg caprylyl glycol) can improve spreadability. In formulations that contain a water phase, another surface-tension modification option is to decrease the polarity of the water phase and this can be achieved by adding glycerin, glycols or alcohol. Often multiple strategies are used to balance out the benefits of a reduced surface tension with the requirements for creating a stable product. So it could quite easily be the case that polar oils are used to increase the polarity of the oil phase while glycols are used to reduce the polarity of the water phase.

This surface-tension modification can be used by formulators to increase the spreadability and flow of a formula, and so the fact Castor oil can help with this more so than most other oils is what makes it such an interesting and useful ingredient.

Castor oil is quite safe to use and has a low potential for triggering allergies but it can turn rancid quite quickly thanks to this very feature that makes the oil so interesting – the joys of double bonds and oxygen groups! As such, it’s definitely best to avoid storing this in warm environments, in UV exposed locations or where moisture can get into it – I’d definitely recommend limiting the oils head space but would not advocate storing this in the fridge, a room temperature cupboard should suffice.

In terms of identifying when castor oil is going off that’s not too difficult actually. This oil becomes much darker in colour when it oxidises going from a light yellow to a darker yellow and onto a slight orange tone. Ironically the oils propensity for this is what got it kicked out of most lipstick formulations back in the day as people got fed up with their lipsticks getting progressively more orange after a few months of being used.

In spite of its succeptibility to oxidation, this is a good oil. It’s cheap, widely available and has some really interesting chemistry that delivers a multitude of benefits in a formula.

I love it when a simple, low-key ingredient that many people take for granted is uncovered as a having chemistry super-powers like these. It stories like this that make my chemistry world go around!

Enjoy.

Amanda x

PS: for those who are interested, here is a link to one of the articles I reviewed when checking up on the composition of Castor Seed Oil.

Mutlu, H., & Meier, M. (2010). Castor oil as a renewable resource for the chemical industry. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology, 112(1), 10-30.

The Curious Chemistry of Glyceryl Stearate

July 25, 2021

Click here to listen to an audio version of this article via our Podcast

Until last week this commonly-used cosmetic chemical had been something I’d never, ever thought of looking into.  I hadn’t questioned its chemistry or function having used it many times in many different formulations and while I knew of and appreciated the difference between the SE and non-SE versions of this (SE = Self Emulsifying indicating the presence of a little saponified fatty acid to help turn up its emulsification properties)  beyond that, I had next to no interest in spending time analysing this.  That has since changed.

It came to my attention recently that this particular chemical can be sold under another name – mono and diglycerides or monoglyceride or variations on that theme…

Chemically speaking glyceryl stearate is (or should be) a monoglyceride. 

As someone who takes most things literally (why wouldn’t you), I read this chemical as being one-part glycerine and one-part stearic acid.  In my book that also makes this a monoglyceride but why call it a monoglyceride when that’s less specific and useful?

The name glyceryl stearate is telling us exactly what this chemical is or so I thought…

Glycerides.

Glycerides are esters formed by combining glycerine with one or more fatty acid.

At this point it is useful to remember that glycerine likes water and fatty acids typically like oil. Putting those two things together on the one molecule generally gives us a surface-active ingredient.  In this case it’s accurate to think of glycerides as having some degree of emulsification power.

Three different families of glyceride exist:

Monoglycerides are where there is one glycerine attached to one fatty acid.  This arrangement leaves two of glycerines functional groups (or bonding hands) free to make new friends and influence people.  The fact that two water-loving functional groups are left available makes monoglycerides most surface-active and most useful to the cosmetic chemist looking for emulsification properties.

Diglycerides are where there is one glycerine and two fatty acids.  This leaves one glycerine hand free for bonding thus reducing the emulsification power of this type of chemical but still leaving a little opportunity for useful surface-activity.

Triglycerides are one glycerine and three fatty acids and at this point we have what can only be described as an oil.  There’s no water-loving at all going on at this point.

Triglycerides dominate the chemistry of most vegetable oils and are typically used as reference points for identifying an oil and analysing its quality, features and benefits. As veggie oils can contain up to 90 or more percent triglyceride it’s not uncommon for other minor oil chemistry that exists to be entirely ignored but in reality,  most vegetable oils contain some di and mono glycerides plus an unspecifiable fraction within their natural chemistry and all of this is useful.

Broad vs Narrow Vs specific cuts.

My first ‘aha’ moment came when I realised that in the world of glycerides, it is quite often incorrect to assume you are buying a material with an exact and precise chemistry.

There are a few different reaction paths ingredient manufacturers can take to create an abundance of monoglyceride (of which some might be glyceryl stearate AKA glyceryl monostearate). Both the choice of feedstock oil and the reaction pathway the manufacturer chooses influence what you end up with, sounds obvious enough now it’s been mentioned.

Choosing your feedstock.

As glycerides exist abundantly in vegetable oils and as vegetable oils are readily available to the cosmetic ingredient manufacturer, it’s highly unusual these days for this chemistry to come from anything other than vegetable sources with the most likely being palm.  This wasn’t always the case and when I first started in the industry,  we regularly had to ask if the fatty acids and glycerides were tallow (beef) derived but BSE and other global regulatory changes put an abrupt stop to that. Mineral oil does not naturally contain glycerides and as such, is less likely to be the feedstock for this type of chemistry.

Generally speaking, most commonly used feedstock oils are dominated by C18 fatty acids with a typical oil having between 70-90% of its fatty acids in this configuration.  C18 fatty acids are most commonly found as Oleic (C18:1) and Linoleic (C18:2) with the remainder as Stearic (C18:0), Linolenic (C18:3) and Alpha Eleostearic (C18:3).   This may be why the fatty acid in glycerides is often referred to as stearate, a sort of catch-all that tells most but not necessarily all of the story.  More on that later.

Doing the chemistry.

Once a feedstock oil has been selected the next step is to chemistrify it!

There are many reactions you can do to end up with Glyceryl Stearate,  but two of the oldest tried and tested methods are a) glycerolysis or b) direct esterification

Glycerolysis.

The simplest way to generate some monoglycerides involves heating your feedstock oil (triglycerides) with glycerine in the presence of a little catalyst (which could be sodium hydroxide).  The catalyst isn’t enough to completely saponify the oil so the triglycerides don’t break up completely but the combination of  heat (180-250C), slight alkalinity and extra glycerine produces just enough of an enticement for some of the triglyceride fatty acids to swap their triglyceride relationship for a new mono or diglyceride bond.

This paper contains a lovely graph to represent this change over time, showing that an almost 100% triglyceride starting material at time 0 transforms  to a 26:18: 66 mix of mono:di:triglyceride after 1 hour and progresses to 40:30:30. Mono:di:triglyceride at the 3 hour mark beyond which the diglycerides increase with a corresponding drop in triglycerides to end up with a 40:48: 12 mono:di and triglyceride blend after 6 hours.

Seeing this data helps to explain what I’ve been seeing as I’ve been investigating this chemistry and what’s on offer from different manufacturers.  It’s quite common for an ingredient manufacturer to be offering a range of monoglycerides for sale with varying percentages of mono and diglycerides.  In some cases, some of these materials are called glyceryl stearate yet come with specifications that indicate they too are blends of different glyceride chemistry.  It’s potentially very confusing!

Direct Esterification.

Another method for creating monoglycerides is to react a fatty acid with glycerine thus creating a monoglyceride.

This reaction is what I thought was happening all along but as it’s more complex and takes a few more steps, it’s actually not the most common method.

Gaining access to fatty acids requires saponification of the oil (triglyceride) to fully break the glycerine: fatty acid bond. This is a common reaction within the cosmetics industry and is often the first of many chemistry steps oily feedstock goes through in order to create the exact chemistry we require for our creams, serums and soaps.

During full saponification, the glycerine is siphoned off into another vessel.  Then the fatty acids which are now free from their glycerine bonds can be fractionally distilled or sorted.  This sieving of the fatty acids utilises the different melting points of the different chain length and bonded fatty acids to separate them.  While I like the idea of ending up with completely sorted and isolated fatty acids,  again the reality is not quite that simple.  Different markets require different things and it’s much cheaper to broadly separate the fatty acids vs doing it to a more precise level and indeed, that’s exactly what happens.

Unless specified (and paid for) Stearate fatty acid cuts typically include some C16 and all the different C18 arrangements, not just the C18:0.   This isn’t necessarily such a big deal and I feel in danger of becoming a little pedantic here but it is worth noting.  In a manufacturing environment, whenever a variety of chemistry (or broad cut blend) can be sold under one chemical name, there’s a greater potential for the ingredient to perform differently when moving from one manufacturer or supply source to the next.  This is  a lot less of an issue when the chemistry is precise.  Further, this is likely to present as a bigger problem if these changes mean the resulting chemical isn’t as strong an emulsifier as the previous version.  I can see that being a possibility here.

Before we leave direct esterification behind I’d like to come back to the stearate name again and add a little detail to our understanding.  As I mentioned again above,  C18 chemistry in oils typically goes beyond just stearic, the saturated fat and includes mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids.  These double bonds are unwelcome complications when we are trying to further react these fatty acids so often, after saponification and sorting into a ‘stearate’ cut, the stearate chemistry is hydrogenated to leave a C16-C18 fatty acid blend that no longer contains any double bonds.  This chemistry is typically sold as hydrogenated palm stearine as we see here and is a very common raw material used by many cosmetic ingredient factories.

While direct esterification sounds so simple and elegant, it’s actually a multi-step process and one that can still result in a few variations on the monoglyceride theme.

Why do we use Glyceryl Stearate?

Cosmetic formulators and manufacturers will often reach for the glyceryl stearate as a co-emulsifier for their oil-in-water emulsions or as a surface-tension modifier for their oily balms.  The self-emulsifying version of this chemical is more popular in our industry due to it having a higher HLB (more water-loving so better emulsification properties) but as the step that turns one into the other occurs as a final step in the process, it’s not usually that which causes the issues I’ll talk about next.

Both glyceryl stearate and the SE version have the potential to be based on broad or narrow cut fatty acids and be formed via the glycerolysis or direct esterification reaction pathway and this is significant. The reality is that you can be buying glyceryl stearate and end up with an ingredient that is exactly that:  glycerine plus stearic acid you could be buying a blend of mono and diglycerides in a range of proportions with only  30-60% of the mix being monoglycerides and only some of that being glyceryl stearate. 

Does this really matter?

For some applications this will not be an issue.  All cosmetic ingredient suppliers know the HLB, melting point, acid value and rough chemical breakdown of the ingredient they are selling you.  Generally, if you are using this as an emulsifier and the HLB is as expected, things will work out.

Where problems can and do occur is where the nuance and variety that exists within this chemistry is not understood or fully appreciated and brand owners, formulators or manufacturers change supply source frequently without fully testing new material in situ (in a representative formula).   It is much more likely for cosmetic manufacturers to run into issues when the glyceryl stearate they source is predominantly marketed to the food industry as they favour glycolysis as a means of producing monoglycerides (of which glyceryl stearate is one).  They do this as glycolysis is cheaper and faster plus it produces chemistry that works well for the food environment.   Manufacturers and formulators are much more likely to get a higher percentage of glyceryl stearate in a narrow-cut fatty acid blend when shopping from cosmetic ingredient manufacturers.   This isn’t to say we can’t shop around and use both, more that we need to understand the potential problems in doing this and not just focus on convenience, natural declarations, material origin (palm alternatives) or price point (glycolysis is a cheaper reaction pathway).

Glycery Stearate- the final word.

Don’t take it as a given that you are getting what you ask for.  It’s not the supplier’s fault, it’s not illegal or immoral to sell this chemical as monodiglycerides, monoglyceride, glyceryl stearate or glyceryl monostearate.  These terms are all accurate but they don’t give the average cosmetic manufacturer enough information to go on.   Do yourself a favour and check out the spec carefully then test out the ingredient to make sure it performs the job you are buying it for and if it doesn’t (or doesn’t seem to) now you have a bit more insight into why.

Isn’t chemistry great!

Suddenly Autistic. Business and the neurodiverse brain.

July 20, 2021

Hello readers,

Today I’ve gone for a slightly different way of presenting my thoughts to you and opted for a video. I thought it only right to come out from behind the scenes for this one – the blog post where I finish what I started back in January and confirm my diagnosis of autism with you. Sorry for the spoilers but let’s face it, it was probably quite obvious to all my long-time readers, customers and students that I’m on my own little planet most of the time…

The video is quite long (18 mins 37 seconds) so if you don’t want to watch it what am I banging on about? In a nutshell I’m explaining that a) I am now confirmed as autistic alongside my ADHD diagnosis and that b) that has given me a few AHA moments when reflecting on how chaotic and stressful running a business has been for me and c) that my brain is actually very awesome, rarer than rocking horse shite and probably worth at least a gazillion dollars so there.

Jokes aside 2021 has been a tough one for me and my close family. We’ve been through some difficult times but I’m finally able to say that the future is looking somewhat brighter and more sparkly for us all. Having set up my consulting business at home when my two children were little it was always going to be a case of blurred boundaries (family| business) and add to that my own internal brain chaos and you get a last 12 plus years of work that’s been achieved against the odds. That doesn’t make me a genius or super-human, it makes me tired and more than a little stressed out…

The key to my future success is in me recognising my whole self, honouring my strengths and managing my weaknesses. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Like many of you reading this I’ll be trying to re-orientate my life with little to no safety net so it’s going to have to happen slowly and carefullt so while I may easily pass for the biggest ball of white girl privilege you’ve ever come across at first glance, that’s only partly true (yep, I’ve got to own up to some of it).

In sharing this I hope to help my long-term readers understand me better and gain a better insight into the brains behind the posts and what it’s been like running this business for that time. I also hope that it serves to remind me that today is the first day of the start of something new and that while I’ve definitely struggled in my past (especially the last two years), I’ve still achieved way more than I ever thought possible.

So onwards and upwards one step at a time.

Amanda

Let’s Play Master and Servant

May 5, 2021

Why do people set up their own businesses and brands only to go on and attempt to outsource their decision making to others?


Starting your own business should be such an empowering time, one where you finally get to call the shots, direct your own life and curate your own story. So why then do so many people, when they meet or talk to me about their budding new idea say things like this:

‘what packaging do you think I should go with?’

‘which one would you prefer?’ (with regards to scents, colours, sample optoions)

‘I’m not a chemist so that’s why I’m asking you’

and

‘how should people use my product?’

Before we go on I want to make one thing crystal clear. I am NOT your servant.

And another: I am NOT automatically your teacher. I only become your teacher if teaching you is what we’ve agreed to and you’ve paid for. Consultancy encompasses many things of which teaching is only one service.

What I am is an industry and chemistry specialist who can help you gain the information you need either by producing it, pointing you in the right direction to discover it or by teaching you more about it.


Servant.

The word ‘servant’ comes from the word slave which in turn comes from the term ‘captive’.

As a brand owner, you could say that your products are your slaves in as much as they are imagined by you, under your control and produce profits for you and outcomes for others to enjoy by either taking away some of their problems or making them feel more comfortable and cared for.

Master.

The word ‘master’ comes from the Latin word, magister. If we stick to its original meaning – chief, head or director – it becomes easier to see just how fitting this description is.

You are a master, I am a master but neither of us is THE Master of the other.

I am the master of my domain, you are the master of yours. We meet together as equal but different and it’s only within the third dimension, the one that we agree on together where we assume other roles and I’ll revisit this in a moment.


Taking or seeking understanding and control is my natural orientation in the world. I anticipate that in saying that it may conjure up some weird or even perverted ideas but hopefully not – I’m talking within the context of our chat.

The domain in which I am the master is my business. I created my business through my own experimentation, thoughts, actions and insights. Things didn’t always go well and the way I initially orientated myself and presented my Queendom didn’t resonate with others – the world was neither as open or as social as it is now. Every time I presented myself as a master into the world I would face a challenge. Every time that happened I’d take some time out to process that and re-frame my strategy. Eventually something stuck and long-story-short we find ourselves here where I know what I’ve created, its boundaries and capacity and, importantly, I know and accept the rights and responsibilities, strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats that come with my role inside of this.

When it comes to you as a brand and/or business owner/manager/ creator your first job is to know the same about your domain and yourself within it. Being hazy on those details leave you vulnerable to disappointment, misunderstanding, over or under-reach and reduction of potential.

When two masters meet to discuss a new, shared opportunity they create something new together – a project. That project is oriented towards achieving something. Often in the case of my clients and myself the new thing is a piece of work – maybe a new formulation, a laboratory session type project or some teaching. If my potential client knows their domain and strengths well they can clearly articulate what they are looking for and identify the gaps in their current situation for me to fill. I can then evaluate that and clearly (and efficiently) advise of what I can and can’t do, how I propose to tackle the work and roughly how long it might take/ how much it might cost. I am informed and directed by the clients vision, the client is re-assured and trusting of my ability to fill the gaps for them. Neither of us is expecting each other to turn up in our domains and take over.

Hostile take-over examples.

An increasingly common example of over-reach I find in my role is when clients come to me wanting formulation work but then, after I start the work they keep trying to get involved either by suggesting new ingredients, by questioning how I’ve done things or getting other people outside of our agreement involved in the process. It’s not that any of these actions are in themselves a bad thing, more that if they are to be a thing, they need to be identified and discussed at the start – your domain, my domain etc.

An example of how a consultant such as myself can over-reach into their clients domain is to ignore the brief given in favour of going our own way (because we know best). Again while it might be appropriate for the consultant to challenge the clients initial brief and ideas and it’s certainly part of our job to broaden our clients horizons in terms of new, different or better ways to achieve an outcome, it is not for us to re-imagine it unless that’s the title of the project.

You can’t be a master without a domain (Queendom in my case) and you can’t achieve new things if you are constantly feeling attacked and needing to defend that domain.

Mastery in action. A re-look at the things people say.

Let’s have a look at the things brand owners say again and re-frame them using this approach:

  • What packaging do you thing I should go with becomes ‘this is what I’m wanting to create for this audience, based on that information which of your packaging options would it be worth me considering?’
  • Which one do you prefer becomes ‘This is my target market profile, could you talk me through the options that would compliment or be compatible with that please?’
  • I’m not a chemist so that’s why I’m asking you becomes ‘I know what I want to achieve with my products but I’m looking for some skilled help in translating that into appropriate ingredient choices’
  • How should the product be applied becomes ‘These are the outcomes I want for my product, are there any application tips or instructions I can give that help me and my clients reach that goal with what we have here?

A master to master discussion focused on directing the servant (your current or future products).

No inappropriate domination, no hostile take-overs, just clear, direct communication.

I hope that’s a little helpful. In a future article I’m going to delve into another thing that happens with the people I talk to – the slide into servitude – but for now that’s your lot.

Enjoy your day.

Amanda

PS: Thanks to Depeche Mode for this and all of their other very wonderful tunes which have kept me entertained since the 80’s 🙂

Emulsification 101: When things don’t look right.

April 26, 2021

Setting the Scene.

I am insanely curious about and focused on cosmetic chemistry. I use the word ‘insanely’ purposefully as there is almost no way a ‘normal’ person could be consumed by the subject in the way and to the depth I am – it is not ‘normal’ but it is also not bad.

Etymology of the word:

In = Not (latin)

Sanus = Healthy (latin)

While I do find the idea that my personal attachment to cosmetic science is not healthy a bit perplexing (how can that be?) I also agree with it. I shall never be financially rich or mainstream famous – two things I really wanted to be once upon a time. Why? Because to become rich requires prioritising money above almost everything else, being famous requires loving yourself while making other people feel good above other things. Meanwhile I prioritise cosmetic chemistry above everything else, prioritising it at all costs. This leaves the already a little socially awkward me more vulnerable as in this realm I’m raw and open.

So, in a state of being incapable of massaging other peoples ego’s, or take them on as sporty competition or even (often) cunjoring up enough executive function to put a value to what I’m doing and then write up an invoice I’m left on my island of one, bemoaning the fact that people don’t take the time to look, really look at things any more and don’t value those of us that do. That, my friends is why I’ve come to the conclusion that I am insanely curious about this subject and I don’t mind it one bit. So it’s with that in mind that I share this.

The starter.

A few weeks ago I received an email about a problem a client was having with an emulsifier. In short, they were observing something within their oil phase that was different to what they were expecting and had come to the conclusion that there was something wrong with the ingredient.

Long story short, I put forward my suggestions, gave a few tips on how to experiment further and then mentioned that if they were still struggling to bring the product into me and I can look at it and maybe that will help us find the answer (I can look at chemicals in the same way as Beth Harmon (The Queen’s Gambit) looks at chess pieces.

Side dish.

At this point I thought I’d made it clear that by ‘product’ I meant the emulsion that they were trying to make given that I had the ingredient here already. The customer didn’t hear me that way and instead turned up with the ingredient a week or so later which left me face-palming myself and feeling like I’d wasted my breath with my earlier tutoring but I took it, tried it, found no problem so sat on my results until they called again.

The main course.

Roll on a few more weeks and I got another email almost identical to the first but from another person. This person was more game to take me on and didn’t disappear back into their lab to try any of the things I suggested and instead called me straight back after receiving my email. I quickly became audibly frustrated as on hearing this person I realised that what was going on here was a logical fallacy of the type ‘conspiratorial thinking’. The plot thickens…

Navigating the plate.

I have laid out some of what was presented to me below, in a series of dot point summaries. I won’t say all the points as I don’t want to embarrass anyone or make it easy to identify anyone, emails are confidential after all:

  • The emulsifier in question wasn’t performing as expected.
  • When compared to an alternative, familiar emulsifier this one was doing something different and it wasn’t a good different.
  • This difference was being discussed in a group.
  • Another comparable group had not experienced this problem thus leading to the conclusion that this group had the wrong material of the right material but something was wrong with it.

Chewing and digesting.

After my initial frustration and rebuttals (mostly frustration at the questioners not having interpreted my information in the right way or taken the carrots I’d dangled for them) I calmed down and became interested. This is interesting but also not the type of interesting that wins me friends, fame or fortune. I knew that in taking this on I was going to ruffle some feathers and trample on some ego.

From my vantage point of now having the input from two different but connected people, having ‘the material’ and my chemistry seeing eyes I constructed a plan. So as to be fair and transparent I verbalised that plan to the complainant, giving them another task to complete, making sure this time they had ‘heard’ me properly (I actually still can’t be sure of that but I tried to labour the point enough). I then went off to do my thing, this time slowing down my thinking to match their pace…

Pause for detail.

So this is what was going on. An emulsion was being prepared by the two in the usual way, water phase, oil phase, heat, mix, cool and finish. However, the oil phase wasn’t going well. Instead of the emulsifier disappearing or turning the oil phase just a little hazy it was forming little precipitate wax bits in the bottom of the beaker and that was completely perplexing to my pair.

As I mentioned earlier, I had received a sample of this ‘bad’ batch and tried it in my lab. On being able to form an emulsion with no problem at all I had dismissed their concerns as maybe them not heating the mix up enough, heating too much, not mixing well enough, having an oil phase that was too concentrated for the emulsifier to fully solubilise or something of that nature. For me, the appearance of the oil phase was less important than the ability of it to form an emulsion. It is this ‘fact’, this difference in perspective that got my interest piqued. As an ‘expert’ it is sometimes easy for ‘us’ to miss the things that trip up industry newbies because we have already pushed some detail to muscle memory. While this is somewhat essential so we can make way for new things in our working memory, it can also mean we aren’t the best teachers for newbies as we simply don’t see things the same way or experience the process as they do. However, this is where we have to remember that I’m insane in this domain 🙂

Because of the way my brain works I tumble out of that trap very easily. My insane curiosity for detail, for understanding, for visualising what is going on inside that beaker overrides everything else and while sure, it still takes a trigger to snap my brain out of my bias for higher thinking, once that trigger is pulled I’m all in.

Finishing off the main course.

The trigger for me was the second phone call and the pile-on of (to my mind) irrelevant and misguided conclusions that had been drawn. The oppositional chip in my brain had been triggered, I knew these people were wrong but now just had to prove it. When I say ‘had to’ I actually had no obligation to do what I did next but this ‘had to’ was coming from my own insane curiosity. What comes next is what I did.

So after an initial trial in the lab to get a visual ID on the problem and a quick, almost flippant discussion with a fellow chemist the problem was solved. This was a solubility situation – something I had mentioned in my initial and follow up email and phone call but hey, whose keeping score…

This weekend I went to work recording what happened at different temperatures, with different heating methods and with different oil phases. This work took me about an hour or so, mostly because I was trying (and mostly failing) to film it rather than anything else. It would have cost me around $20 max in ingredients, probably more like $5 plus a laboratory beaker and a drinking glass that I smashed as I can’t seem to do any lab project without smashing something (my fine motor skills are shockingly bad). Bottom line, this didn’t take a lot of cash or equipment come to think of it. Anyone could do this.

Dessert.

Oh the sweetness!

My insane fascination with cosmetic science has its rewards and with this one, slowing down and really looking into this has kept my neurons singing for the last 24 hours.

What was going on in the beaker of my troubled question askers was both chemical and physical. The emulsifier in question has two parts to it, under most conditions they are holding hands (bonded) together via hydrogen bonds brought about by a smattering of water bound in the waxy mesh – a seemingly inconsequential little ‘spice’ that actually makes it all possible.

When this particular emulsifier is placed in the company of an oil phase that it likes but isn’t in ‘love’ with and the temperature is turned up a little too much, waxy precipitates appear. I imagine this as a scene from the film ‘Promising young woman’. Her sitting there uncomfortable but ready to do her job, the guys circling, turning up the heat and then boom, things get too hot and one way or another she is split apart (I was talking metaphorically but it works on all levels I guess and if you haven’t yet seen the film I really do recommend it).

The presence of these waxy blobs signify the breakage of the hydrogen bond that exists between the two halves of this emulsifier. One half of the emulsifier is readily soluble in oils, almost without exception. The other half is poorly soluble in oils and thus forms the crystalline waxy lumps that can then be seen. This bond breaking isn’t fatal at this point (around 80-85C) but it doesn’t look that good and can even become foamy. The waxy blobs increase as the temperature rises because the water that’s providing hydrogen for the H bonds is evaporating off, releasing more of the insoluble component of the emulsifier into the hostile environment. When you place something that’s insoluble in a solution into that solution it will try to stick together, another analogy that comes to mind when I describe this is the penguins looking after their egg or sheltering from snow storms. They try to reduce their contact with the ‘evil’ outside phase, thus forming agglomerates (which we see as waxy white blobs).

At this point, if the oil phase is then mixed with an equally hot water phase (or if both are cooled a little first) an emulsion can form as the two halves of this emulsifier combo re-configure themselves into their happy places. It is because of this that I didn’t pay too much attention to this before – I want an emulsion, I get an emulsion, who cares if the oil phase stage isn’t ‘pretty’? Anyway, that’s why I didn’t think too much of it at first and also why I was so frustrated at the people asking the question, neither of which readily volunteered up an answer to my simple question ‘yes, but does it still form an emulsion’. That perplexed me but then again, a juicy mystery of a story that’s wrong is better (neurologically speaking) than a more intellectually complex and strenuous story that’s right unless you are me.

What are we having?

We are having an investigation into solubility and, more specifically how it changes and what that looks like in this applied setting (the oil phase)

  • Different emulsifiers have different chemistry.
  • Different oils (in your oil phase) have different chemistry.
  • Some oil: emulsifier combinations are very soluble in each other (melting to crystal clarity)
  • Some oil: emulsifier combinations are miscible (melting to cloudy but smooth)

Throw in a little heat.

Solubility is relative not absolute. Temperature changes things whether than be going up or coming down. Your oil phase will be looking different at 40C vs 60C, 60C vs 80C, 80C vs 90C etc. This is important.

A Little vs big slice.

Solubility is relative not absolute. Put a lot of emulsifier into a little oil and you have created an environment with different solubility outcomes to when you have a little emulsifier in a little oil or a little emulsifier in a lot of oil. Simple really but often overlooked. Remember your oil phase is not the whole formula so when you have a formula that asks for 20% oil and 5% emulsifier, on preparing your oil phase you have 25% of your formula of which 1/5th of it (20%) is the emulsifier…

Turn up the flavour.

Solubility is relative, not absolute. Every oil or oily emollient, wax or butter has its own chemistry. This chemistry may be more or less amenable to solubilising or mixing with the emulsifier you’ve chosen. Some oil phases may make your emulsifier melt to crystal clarity, others may leave it hazy, some may produce those little waxy bits that we are trying to identify.

The after-dinner coffee and mint.

All of the above was confirmed with evidence after doing some experiments and taking a little time out to reflect and research the physical properties of the emulsifier components. Not hard to do once you know where to look but knowing where to look and what to do is hard when your brain is filled with conspiracies around the material just being wrong. I see this often enough to know it’s a thing and more often than not the people most likely to jump to conspiratorial conclusions are the ones who haven’t yet grasped what science actually is. Science is not a mastery of chemistry facts or a mathematical genius. Science is a way of thinking, of deconstructing a problem, of creatively mapping out all the many roads one could go down to investigate this odd situation they find themselves in. Sure, having some years under your belt, formal training, understanding of what’s happening in the beaker etc helps but without curiosity and a creative mind that’s all pointless.

Paying the bill.

The cost to the people I gave this answer to was, I assume very little not least because they didn’t have to pay me anything and the answer when they finally got one that made sense was easily accepted.

The value to me was both huge and less than nothing which is another nod to this insanity.

On the up side I learned another little detail to pay attention to and teach, to explore and get to know better. I enjoyed doing what I did and am still keen to explore more.

On the down side I was again reminded of the huge gap that exists between me and what I value and am prepared to do to get answers, and ‘them’. ‘They’ are not the individuals involved in this exchange, ‘they’ are the hundreds of others, including the people making money from teaching crap courses, or those selling themselves as consultants when they haven’t the slightest clue how to investigate or create anything, those thinking they know more than they do. I struggle with that, I wish I didn’t but I do.

So I just pay the bill and focus on what I can control while working out either how to turn everything else into a positive or to turn it into dust and blow it away.

I know my articles are long and people don’t have time for long but I don’t have time for people who think that so I’m going to carry on regardless.

Lots of love

Amanda

The logical fallacies of Cosmetic Science.

March 29, 2021

Deep, investigative thinking of the type we generally call ‘research’ is not easy. We must wrestle the invisible minefield of our thoughts and navigate the difficult-to-map place that is our mind. This is a journey full of hidden obstacles and side-shows, many of which are bespoke – created by us and offering the type comfort that resonates deeply and instinctively. In many ways the minefield, our minefield is us or at least the essence of us and while we may not wish to lose ourselves completely in the pursuit of better research outcomes, we can gently and temporarily (if we decide we’d prefer that) carve out new pathways around them if we give ourselves enough time and the right tools.

Insight is a powerful tool to take on this journey.

A good way of gaining insight into how our minds work is to start with an exercise in understanding it’s operating system and in particular, where it’s lazy shortcuts are as it is often these than undo us! Before I go on, I wish to make it clear that I’m not professing to be a mind specialist or someone formally trained in this field. Instead, what I am doing is writing as a scientist, researcher and neuro-diverse person who is made aware of how different my typical process pattern is to the ‘norm’ on a daily basis. As such, I’ve felt compelled to study ‘humans’ and in particular how thoughts are ‘typically’ processed so that I might understand who people do and say what they do and say. As a consequence of that, logical fallacies are of great interest to me and while I can’t profess to being free of falling for them myself from time to time, I can at least recognise that I’ve done so more often than not.

So here’s what I’m talking about…

I describe Logical Fallacies as patterns of thinking that lead us to draw conclusions in a way that is somewhat faulty either by being incomplete, unbalanced or mis-directed. I hope you don’t think by me saying this that there is only one ‘truth’ or ‘correct’ answer one can reach through avoiding these traps though as that would be incorrect. I’m talking about applying these principals to cosmetic science and as that combines scientific truth and logic with aspects such as desire, aspiration and aesthetics there is always room for a myriad of conclusions. I just personally prefer the science to be logical or at least to have it represented in a way that is fully realised and appreciated. What you choose to do with that in terms of brand development is then up to you.

Without further ado I’ll share with you some examples I’ve already put together that illustrate 10 common logical fallacies and how they play out in the cosmetic realm. Again, remember the examples I’ve given are given not with the view to showcase how wrong the thinking illustrated is, rather how it is often incomplete.

I do hope you find this interesting.