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Invested in my oppressor – Beauty laid bare

November 19, 2019

I was having a deep conversation the other day about beauty equality and how, whatever way you look at it, it doesn’t really exist.

You have the whitewash version of beauty that pushes people to bleach their skin straighten and/or dye their hair and turn into a more western version of themselves.

Then there’s the body positive movement which is all ‘woo-hoo’ for curvy, curly, short, thick and jiggly’ beauty but at the end of the day it’s still all revolving around looks.

After that is the ‘I don’t give a shit darling’ movement which is all hippies and mung beans, earth mothers and minimalism which is all very anti-capitalist (which you may find exciting) on the outside but is still actually selling you something when you look closely, only these things have to be fair trade, woke, organic, native, raw, balanced etc.  Very, very privileged really.

I’ve never really liked any of the above if I’m honest.

I can’t stand colonialism, have much more to worry about than my looks these days and think far too deeply to truly believe that by just purchasing a few goods that tick some boxes I will change the world.

Ok, so that’s a bit harsh and I know that there’s a thing about ‘little steps making a big effect’ and I do believe that but I yearn for something more and that something more may just be this…

Our investment in oppression. 

I am not going to research this deeply, I’m going to lay it down how I feel it,  as a person walking through this world with their eyes as open as blue eyes in a sun-bleached landscape can be so here goes…

This is a story about the beginning  of a journey to beauty freedom, a freedom would be made possible by gaining some power over how this person presents to the world. This journey would open doors and make things possible that hadn’t been possible before but, unbeknown to us, it also meant this person would lose something. Nobody really talks about what you might lose when what you will lose has been widely thought of as a problem. I mean nobody says ‘wow man, it sucks that your cancer got better’ or ‘Gosh, how on earth are you going to spend your time now that you don’t have to limp around with that stick?’. It just doesn’t happen, it’s all gain and no more pain.

However, humans don’t seem to work like that, or at least that’s how it appears after knowing a few of them and being one.

What if there was a little part of us that came to see ourselves a certain way, to live with the hurt and disappointment or anger (or other self-damaging emotion) as part of us, that we find a way to ‘make the most of it’ or ‘battle on regardless’ or ‘overcome the obstacles’.  That battle becomes us and we become that battle.

It was in thinking of this that I wondered about oppression and in particular the oppression that many of us confront and make peace with in order to interact with the beauty industry.   I’m wondering if this is the reason that even when we do get on top of our skin, hair or body ‘problems’ instead of rejoicing we either find ourselves somewhat lost or we jump straight into another battle.

I’m wondering if we need to talk about this a bit more, especially when the oppression you have just overcome is just one layer of the onion of your beauty life. Especially when even by un-peeling the final layer of that onion you may never really present the way you feel is enough?

I’ll give you a personal example of how this thinking has impacted me over my life just to help you work out what I’m saying if it is not yet obvious.  I wrote a piece on me being ‘itchy girl’ a while back. I had assumed this identity subconsciously after several decades of skin issues caused by my eczema.  I had internalised the eczema narrative so strongly that it had become me and I had become it.  So when it was pointed out to me (in therapy)  that I’d pigeon holed myself as itchy girl I felt like a bit of a dick head to be honest.  Self fulfilling prophecy maybe,  wrote the scabby ending to my own beauty story…  Something like that.

Now just before you think ‘well hang on, just not calling yourself itchy girl doesn’t make eczema go away’ that’s not what I’m going to say. I still have the condition, I still scratch and itch at times but what I don’t have now, after battling through my own narrative, is an attachment to my oppressor, that being the deficit narrative around me just being that inevitable itching thing that can never be comfortable in her skin.

Never be comfortable in her own skin…

I want to let that sink in for a minute.

So why would I adopt that narrative in the first place?

What benefit did that bring me?

Step into my shoes for a minute and I’ll tell you.  By the time I had got to this awakened state I’d lived in my skin for just short of 40 years.  That’s a long time and during that time I had come to accept that this was me and that was that in terms of my beauty persona and that’s the bit I’m interested in here.

As a child I was told by well-meaning friends that I could not be a fairy because a) I was too big and heavy (I was a bit then) and b) I had scabby skin.  As a child I felt confident enough that my body would changed as I grew up into adulthood but I had no confidence that my skin would change even though I was told that I would, to a large degree, grow out of the eczema I had.  Why did I think that?  Because at primary school I wanted to be a fairy and fairies weren’t scabby.  As a teenager I wanted to be famous and on TV but nobody on TV had scabby skin (and yes, I still did although it was a bit better than it had been).  As an adolescent I still wanted to be famous, important and now rich too but I didn’t see any of the people I aspired to be like walking around scratching themselves, they all had their skin shit together.  As an adult in the boardroom I did actually come across other itchy people but by that time I was already programmed and so it didn’t really matter any more.  I was never going to reach the beauty potential I could in life because my skin was itchy and looked bad on camera (still does, I still cringe when I see my hands in the clips I’m creating).

It is tiring and disappointing to always refer back to how good things could be for you if only you weren’t like you are.  I’m guessing that at some point one decides whether to just live with it and get on with it (resilience),  fight it (militancy) or succumb to it (surrender).  I chose resilience back then but resilience is only marginally less tiring than militancy and only slightly more empowering than surrender.

In choosing to be resilient I also had to adopt some coping strategies as resilient attitudes don’t stop the situation.  For example I may decide to be resilient and still join the swimming team and train twice a week and suffer the deep cracks to my skin but the deep cracks still hurt and stick to my clothing.  So, my coping mechanisms involved growing tougher, turning down my pain receptors and switching focus to other things like developing other parts of my personality and skill set that don’t involve my looks (which, I had decided, were always going to let me down).

By now I think you get the picture, also by this stage in my life telling you this feels a bit odd as I really don’t attach to this narrative any more but it is useful to share nonetheless.

I’d invested heavily in and given much power to my oppressor. My first step in life as a child wasn’t to challenge my own narrative about the way I saw myself and the limits I created because of it but rather to invest time and energy in managing my oppressor, my relationship with it,  and thus getting on with my ‘new’ life.

So when, later in life, I was challenged to think of myself differently I had more than a moment or two of trepidation to be honest.  Who would I be now? What would my beauty narrative be?  Could I actually re-visit my hopes and dreams of childhood (if I still wanted to) and become that girl?   How much mourning was there to do around the many ways I’ve limited myself by thinking and being this way? What about all that energy and pain I’ve sucked up? Am I going to crack under the strain of all that emotion when it gushes out?  Maybe, I guess maybe…

For me, holding those views stopped me from fully engaging with my feelings and finding myself a solution both mentally and physically.  I actually preferred not to think much about my eczema and instead, just got on with life, using the hydrocortisone cream when it got so bad I couldn’t sleep and occasionally using whatever other cream I could find to help me keep some kind of comfort at other times. It was only when I was invited to look deeper than what could be seen, felt and judged by others that I really was able to get to grips with myself, my skin and my own identity and believe me, there was a lot tied up in that itchy girl narrative, a lot of self-protective resilience moves that left me battered and tired.

So, back to the beginning and this person who was just given some beauty freedom. 

The story the beauty industry wants is that the person comes with a problem and goes out with a problem solved. However, in this case something else happened, something different, something deeper and more interesting.

Taking away the oppressor leaves a vacuum and I’m sure you’ve heard that saying ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ even if you don’t know what it means.

What happens when your new-found freedom feels like you won it by trading your soul (or your identity which in this case is close to the same thing).

Now, instead of a problem being solved, a new problem was made the ‘who am I now’ problem.

After a bit of time, this person was able to embrace their new found beauty freedom and take another step towards true self-empowerment, an empowerment that didn’t mean getting stuck in a corner, fighting off or negotiating with an oppressor, an empowerment that lay well beyond the physical, an empowerment that would actually last.

To be clear, this isn’t a post-purchase regret like the type we get when we ask the hairdresser to give us a buzz cut because we are sick to death already of the summer heat only to regret it the moment the blades make their first chop or the regret we feel when we allow our best friend to stick-and-poke tattoo us as it felt like the right thing to do at 3am on a Sunday morning after partying hard all night.  No, this is not a regret at all, this is a re-frame.

I am telling you this because whatever role you play in this, the beauty industry if you do it right, if you really do try to make a connection that goes beyond the physical, you will see and feel this sometimes. Sometimes the fears of the individual are just individual fears, sometimes they carry the weight of centuries of oppression or privilege that they or even their whole in-group may not fully realise yet. Whatever it is, however it transpires  it is worth diving into rather than shying away from as I’m convinced that the only way to feel comfortable within our own skins is to finally get to the mother itch and scratch the hell out of it, in the most gentle and kind way possible of course.

Pictures by me:  Thinking it over with tea, reflections by the lake and navel-gazing in the park.








Product testing – when seeing is believing.

November 16, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog post about the importance of not forgetting the ‘development’ part of the R&D relationship.  As a follow up I’m sharing a video that I made this week with hair stylist, brand owner and photographer Sam Overton. One of the best ways to develop your formula is through the actual testing and evaluation of how it works in practice.  That sounds obvious enough but how many times have we (me included) tested out a facial moisturiser or foundation on the back of our hands rather than worn it all day? How many times have we just focused on the foaming profile and viscosity of a shampoo without really testing it – and not just once, but I mean really tested it a few times?

This video outlines a great in-use protocol that can be followed to accurately evaluate the product being tested, in this case a hair mask.  An accurate use protocol is really important as many products feel and act differently when they are under or over-dosed.  While we don’t have ultimate control over that as formulators we do have some control. The way our samples are presented to clients, especially clients who have a limited experience of the R&D process, will help to guide how much they use.   In this video I gave Sam a huge pot of product, 500g!  Sam is experienced with hair masks and so only took what he knew was a typical application of a product like this. This is not a trivial detail as when I tested this on myself at home I took a huge dollop of stuff and rubbed it into my hair in a much more hap-hazard way. Luckily I still enjoyed the results I got but I would have had a very different perception of how many applications the 500g pot contained to Sam and in business that would really matter even if it didn’t negatively impact the outcome.

Asking an industry professional to test a product gives you an informed opinion of what you have created and that is a really important step. However, testing like this doesn’t constitute a scientific trial, for that we would have to try the product on more people and control more variables so that results could be compared.

Once a good in-use protocol has been established and the product has been deemed as worthy of further investment, the next step is to get some measurable benefit results. For a product like this, good results to collect may be an evaluation of the shine (if applicable) that the product imparts. Another may be a measure of increased  moisture content or hair strength before and after use.  The number of outcomes  you wish to evaluate will inform the number of times you have to repeat the experiment in order to get a statistically valid result.  Generally speaking a panel of ten is the minimum you would need to find a basic result that you could have some confidence in.

Conducting trials such as the above in a validated test lab set-up can be very expensive but definitely worth investing in, if you have a limited budget you can still have a go at creating a basic trial with a few volunteer test subjects.  Another thing you could (and probably should) do is look at how the product compares with another (benchmark), that can be really valuable as it may be that all products work as well as yours (and that’s not a bad thing at all).

Anyway, enough of the chatter, this is what we did.  It’s all good fun and I hope you enjoy the video.




Broadening the narrative.

November 4, 2019

Have you ever had that ‘Aha’ feeling happen?

I seem to be having a run on them personally and there’s one that I want to share here.

It was around 1.30am last night, after I’d been in bed for around 2 hours that I woke up hot, agitated and with a head that was quite literally buzzing with answers to the questions that had been bugging me all year.  What on earth should I do next?

It’s not that I don’t like what I do now but it is easy to find oneself in a bit of a rut, stuck. Not for lack of good or interesting projects or ideas, just…. because.  Well that was me until last night.

I have always been the type of girl who has the mantra ‘if it’s to be it’s up to me’ tattooed on her heart but for some reason the flotsam and jetsam of a life turned somewhat upside down due to ongoing family situations be it with mental health, physical health or personal safety had just wrung something vital from my blood.  For the first time in my life I had become a ‘can’t do’ person.

I heard it in my voice last week as I called and had tea with friends after reaching a bit of a cross-roads moment of ‘omg what now?’  It seems melodramatic now but also not, anyone who has a business knows how much energy it takes to keep the balls in the air in spite of everything and so, when they all fell down last week I temporarily fell down too, somewhat quietly though, by that point I was too tired for anything noteworthy.

‘So what’s going on’ you may ask… Why am I so full throttle than stop?  What can be happening to this privileged white girl that has a dream job?  Am I being super self-indulgent?   Let’s just say that the last ten to twelve years of running this business have coincided with some pretty heavy personal shit including, but not limited to some distressing mental health issues within my circle.   When everything is going well these ‘other’ things just bob along like the tides, sometimes crashing in but always making their inevitable and relieving retreat, washing the ground clear and leaving life sparkly again.  It is true, you really do appreciate what you have got when it is almost taken from you time after time.  It’s hard to say any more and I say what I say knowing that this may put some potential customers off but hey ho, I come with baggage but guess what? I also come with so much more besides and that includes a much more nuanced understanding of the darker side of life and how hard that can be to push through. That’s what this is about.

So last night it clicked.  I was stuck because I had made myself stuck – how could I expect my world to change when I was just doing the same old thing the same old way time after time?  I needed to bring my A game and be the change I wanted to see in the world.  Too many cliches and puns yes but this is what happens when you are sleep deprived.

What I’ve been wanting to do is what I thought I had been doing for the last 12 years and that’s broaden the beauty narrative.  What occurred to me at 1.30am last night was that I hadn’t actually been doing what I thought I was, I’d somehow missed my own mark and was sub-consciously seeking ways for other people to make this happen for me.  What a Wally!

Anyway, long story short I am now just getting on with it.

Now it is worth pointing out that I am a very white white woman – so white that sometimes I’m blue and sometimes I’m that really unattractive mottled colour which is rather unfortunate.  Anyway,  I have anglo Saxon heritage and a family history that could not be more Northern European if it tried.  I was brought up in a nice town with nice people who had nice English manners. I lived in the posh part of that town and went to ballet, listened to classical music, learned the flute and had two little sisters, one of whom went horse riding on the weekend (I was allergic, that really shit me to be honest as her gloves always made me break out in hives) while the other learned to sing. I grew up knowing ‘I was worth it’ even when I probably wasn’t and while I wasn’t handed everything on a plate, I was handed a lot by virtue of all this.

With that in mind I look at where I am now and  more closely at the industry I am in.  I really thought I was WOKE for a while there. I was (and am) naturally interested in diversity, social justice and equality. I do try to to see the world from diverse perspectives,  peer into the lives of others and ask MY people to consider these situations with fresh eyes.  Is it right that women in Africa are only allowed to participate in the Shea Butter industry at the lowest rungs of the ladder (and I say ‘allowed’ meaning it loosely, I don’t know what the actual situation is but I do know that the beauty industry loves to tell us that the women picking the shea are receiving ‘fair trade’ wages and ‘nice’ conditions?  My point has always been ‘well why the bloody hell can’t they run ALL of the companies then?  Stuff just picking the nuts, they can do so much more, I’m sure of it.  Only that’s all I did, pose the question then shut up.  I have done the same for palm oil issues, mica mining,  Aboriginal run enterprise,  charitable causes and more.  Please note, I am not saying all this to get a ‘oh but at least you did that’ response.  I know that this is a start but I was actually sitting back thinking I’d done loads and have only just realised that Shining a light then walking away without actively giving more IS a display of yet more privilege by me.  Oh my god my woke cloak just ripped…

So, that’s where I got to in the middle of the night.

I am putting in place a plan and taking some actions that I hope will really broaden the beauty narrative. Rather than only shine a light onto the stories  I tell in my own words, I’m going to hand the light to these diverse groups of people who wish to take a seat at the beauty table and I’ll leave the light with them as they tell their stories in their words.  I’ll put my effort into bringing the networks to them and the power to their elbows.

I won’t be the helper, being the helper implies that these people are deficient and they are not deficient. They are powerful, they have stories to tell and lessons to share.  They can and will change the world themselves over time but I want that time to be now which is why I’m going to do my bit and open a few doors for them.

So who are the ‘them’ that I keep talking about?

Labelling people as ‘others’ is not the done thing so I should stop that right away but I’m saying it to highlight who is not in the beauty tent (and to be honest that’s pretty much everyone).

The beauty narrative is so narrow that ‘they’ could be almost anyone but trying to hold or provide space for everyones stories would be quite tricky for one person so I’m going to start with the people that are affected by the issues I’ve already talked about on this blog. From there who knows what will happen next.

Of course I am still going to run my business in a way that may not seem to be that different to how it has been but just as sand shifts grain by grain so will I. The difference now being that I know where I’m shifting to and, more importantly why.

So what’s all that got to do with me going through heavy stuff in my personal life?

The answer to that is everything.

I know how it feels to be seen as one thing and feel another.

I know how it feels to battle barriers that are very real to you but invisible to others.

I know how it feels to be powerful and have self-belief but to be just so tired.

I know how it feel to be really seen, celebrated and held space for, not at the place where you wish to be but in the place where you are.

Together we’ll grow roots and branches and talk to each other through the soil.

That’s a bit weird but I know what I mean.

Amanda x

I’ve done my research, now what?

October 30, 2019

Something is missing from the lives of many of the people I talk to and I can assure you that something isn’t research.

The internet is a fantastic tool that brings a wide range of information to your eye balls in just a few short clicks and keyboard strokes.  The internet satisfies an evolutionary urge some of us have to collect and ‘own’ useful stuff, to keep our cupboard stocked full (in case of emergencies).  We scroll, click, download and save the mass of interesting data we find and store it into our own private files. As we do this our confidence in our own ability to know stuff grows and we feel empowered, knowledgable and qualified.

But are we just blowing smoke up our own arses here or what?

I’m not sure when or how the word ‘research’ got divorced from its life partner ‘development’ but it does seem to have happened.  I assume it has something to do with what I’ve said above about research being an easy box to tick now but I don’t know for sure.  What I do know is that this divorce has left both partners as only shadows of their former selves.

If research helps to inform your idea about a thing, development helps you test, refine and construct it.

Without development your research just informs your idea in a theoretical way but doesn’t actually turn it into anything.

It might be a bit hard to imagine this in a scientific setting so let’s turn to my next favourite laboratory, parenthood (or the mentoring of young people who you have some responsibility of care over).

Anyone who has been there has read a parenting or coaching book or website and learned the theory.

As a new mother to my first baby I had ZERO idea of what I was doing. There was no ‘mothers intuition’ I just thought ‘oh shit, this little thing hates everything I do to her, I seem to be winding her up so I’ll just give her to her dad’ and that’s how I handled it – delegation.

Ok, that’s a bit harsh. I was very sure that I loved this little thing and wanted to know how to help her so I took to reading a few books to get some tips. I did this while my husband got on with doing the thing of raising the baby.

Long story short, my research paid off in my head and I now had a plan, I had what I felt was a great understanding of what my grizzly baby could be wanting each time (nappy, food, water, connection or release from over-stimulation) and now, each time she grizzled I went through the list like some sleep deprived robot mum.  Needless to say nothing worked as well for me as it did for my non-researching hubby.

The shit hit the fan one day when I was left alone with my Bub and just couldn’t get her to settle.  Hearing the distress next door, my neighbour popped in to help. She was one of the worlds ‘super mothers’ with four kids of her own (I think, it was a while ago) and a tribe of about 6-10 kids that she minded every day.  Anyway, she gave me the best advice ever when she told me to put the books down and come around to her house with the baby and have a cup of tea.  That’s what I did.

Development at tea time.

That cup of tea taught me more about motherhood than the five books I’d been pouring over ever did. This uber mother told me to just relax, that all babies were different, that everything will work out in the end and that once I find my natural flow she’ll find hers (no pressure hey…).  It was sometime between my first cup of tea and my third (plus a handful of biscuits) that I realised that what she was saying is what my husband had been doing all along.  Paying attention and going with the flow.


Again, long story short I never did feel like the ‘mother’ my husband was when my kids were little and couldn’t talk but I did start to feel comfortable and was more than happy to be the ‘daddy’ if that makes sense.  What I learned in that very vulnerable moment of my life was what I’m talking about here as a mother (of two children who have securely bonded to me and me to them and who are now young women) and as a scientist who does both ‘research’ and ‘development’.

All the research in the world won’t prepare you for reality, only development will do that.

and yes, sometimes the person who does the development work first is often better informed than the person that spends too long researching.

So what does that mean for a cosmetic brand?

It means you have to do both.

It means that when you talk to me about ‘doing your research’ I’m going to ask you about how you have or plan to develop that into a product, brand, business or plan.  At this point I feel it is important to note that you may not be in a position practically to do all of your own research OR development (especially development as a lab might be a requirement) but what you should be able to do is start to build up a conception of what you might need to do to develop that idea and apply that research.

It’s a circle.

R&D or Research and Development is written like that because the two are done together.

You research an idea a bit as this helps you to flesh it out and plan for some real action.  You then test that research with some development work either by going into the lab or kitchen and giving something a go or by gathering your own data. This is worth exploring more as it is at this point that we go from secondary to primary data collection.

Let’s explore this by using that good-old-fashioned teachers-favourite tool, Bloom’s Taxonomy:



So this wheel gives us some language to describe what types of things we are doing when we work through an idea (start our research).

There are 6 levels in this chart which move us all the way from a very rudimental idea about something to the point where we can critically evaluate and analyse a situation or problem.  Think of the chart as moving you from a low grade D (scraping a pass) at level 1 through to a very high A (level 6). With that in mind, level 4 is where we are really wanting to get to in order for our R&D activities to start turning into financial opportunities for our market.

Reading through that chart you notice the first stages could easily be quite theoretical.  Level one is about selecting questions to investigate (building knowledge), level two is about interpreting and summarising (comprehending) the data you find via your research while level three is about applying the information you have found  to your problem, question or scenario.  A high achiever at level three will start to do their own PRIMARY investigations as they test out their research in a way that creates PRIMARY data.

Primary data = data that you create (not just interpret or curate) so this could be a survey, lab work, field trip or project.

Secondary data = data that you source from others.


Levels three and four are where most good, non-scientists or non-consultant scientists can get to with their general ideas after carrying out a mixture of research and development activities to create and analyse primary and secondary data in an applied way.

Levels five and six require a deeper understanding of the science behind the subject (if we are talking about cosmetic chemistry) and seek to build on that initial R&D work to probe, create and expand knowledge thus creating a more polished and optimised solution.  This is typically what I do during my laboratory sessions and what I always do with my formulating work.

Don’t forget the circle.

The research and development process doesn’t always (or only) go in one way. Some ideas turn out to be rubbish while others need to be refined and further developed.  It is common to start off with what you feel is one problem or question and then have it turn into a number of little questions, each of which may need a closer look in order to create the best chance of success and truly develop both your theoretical knowledge and your applied solution.

The moral of this story is…

Don’t just pride yourself on doing your research because research without development is not smart.

Oh and remember, you don’t have to do it all, you just have to know that there’s stuff that needs to be done and then find a place, person or way to make that happen.

Happy R&D’ing.

Amanda x





The White Folks Zinc Trap

October 6, 2019

Are you white?

Are you thinking of (or have you) made a zinc based sunscreen?

If so, please, for the love of GOD don’t promote it as non-whitening, non-ghosting or greying if you haven’t shown it on skin tones other than white.

To get a really high SPF it’s important to use a sunscreen (attenuation) grade of Zinc, typically these come as either nano or micronised particles sold pre-dispersed or as powders.  Nano particles are super tiny (primary particle size of less than 100 microns and often around 10 microns) and can often give much higher SPF levels per % added (if formulated correctly). These are the least likely to give streaking or a greyish tinge on darker toned skin, especially when the particles are at the smaller end of the scale and have maintained a fine dispersion within the finished product.  However,  there’s a significant minority section of the natural sunscreen market that are anti-nano due to perceived health and/or environmental concerns and/or just a generalised non-specific fear.

On the other hand we have micro particles which are much bigger than nano and typically have primary particle sizes of between 100-200 microns.   It’s this type of Zinc that you would use in products claiming COSMOS/ ECOCERT certification, including up to certified organic.  That is not because the zinc comes from a different or special source but because those standards typically have taken up the position of not supporting nano particles at this time, most likely because of the vocal minority fear around the subject which so far looks to be at least largely unfounded.

In order to give you a visual reference I’ve shared this below. This comes from a down-loadable PDF from a company called KOBO who produce some really great quality pigment dispersions, particles and sunscreen actives.  As you can see, anything from 60nm upwards is looking pretty visible on both skin tones but that grey tint is much more noticeable and harder to disguise on darker skin and this can become a huge issue.

Kobo Data

Here is another screen shot showing some details of the grades that fall into the micro category for natural or organic certifications.

Non Nano

Sometimes I feel that I’m still part of an industry that has a whitewashed mentality to life and that bothers me.   When I look at this example I’m struck by the fact that we now have a hierarchical of ‘best, better, best-ist’ that disadvantages anyone who doesn’t have white skin.  Best is zinc (apparently), better are zinc formulations that are somewhat natural and the best-ist of all are zinc formulations that are certified organic.  So, the top of the tree are products that get their SPF rating through micronised rather than nano-sized zinc particles, particles that are likely to leave dark skins a weird shade of blue/grey…

But there is something that we can do about this and this is why I’m sharing.

As I said in the beginning, brand owners please take the time to test and demonstrate your product honestly on a range of skin colours throughout the R&D process and as part of your marketing strategy.   Doing this should help formulators both recognise any potential problems as they arise and work towards making better sunscreens via making finer dispersions.  While it is much easier to formulate a clear-zinc with the smaller particulate zinc it is possible to make a fairly decent product with micronised zinc given the right skill set, equipment and testing.

I hope that is helpful and look forward to seeing us covering diversity better as we move forward with our sunscreen developing, making, testing and selling!


Any story is better than a pile of questions. Discuss.

October 4, 2019

I heard that line in a podcast yesterday as I was driving home from work.

The moment the sentence was delivered to my ears, my brain leapt into action and sent that all-too-familiar sinking feeling through my body.

Oh shit, is THIS how normal people think (leading to the realisation that I clearly still have the view that I am NOT normal which is fine by me)…

How can literally ANY story be better than the exciting prospect of a bunch of questions that you can explore, plan for, invest in, discuss and ponder over?

I just didn’t and still don’t compute.

The context leading up to that line being delivered was a story about a woman who found that her long-term boyfriend had an online dating profile that had been set up while they were dating.  She confronted him, he was perplexed by it, saying that someone must have hacked him. She then set out to find the trickster and so the story went on. It’s on the Invisibiia podcast if you want the full story. The episode is called ‘The Profile’ from 20 Sep 2019.

If I’m honest I’ve probably spent a good proportion of my life trying to work out how other people think and process information and why they come to the conclusions they do.  I didn’t realise that my career as a Cosmetic Chemist would put me in the perfect position to do this on a daily basis on account of being surrounded by people for whom stories are real and science is magic.

The reason I’ve invested so much time in trying to work out the patterns and points at which the story becomes the appeal is not just because I don’t get it but because, if I’m honest, I want to CHANGE that.  I do want to tap into that brain wiring and re-route that connection towards one that follows MY path, the path of scientific enquiry.  Why? Because I want there to be more truth and less ‘any story’.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love stories, all kinds of stories from the factually correct and historical to the fantasy and dreamlike imaginings of the true creatives.  Constructing stories is a very human thing to do and telling them over and over is a tried and tested way of passing knowledge, culture and meaning from generation to generation.  So I don’t hate stories at all, in fact, on reflection, one of the reasons my blog has been such a big part of my business life over the last 12 years is that it is a medium through which I can tell my type of stories, stories about science stuff.

I have my story about why people prefer ANY story, even one that is fanciful, unlikely or odd, over just a bunch of questions.  I feel it’s a combination of things.  Firstly because the human brain is lazy and secondly because we become successful and powerful humans by knowing stuff.  Not just any stuff like the stuff that good questions are made of, no I mean stuff that makes people go ‘aha, thanks, you have just given me an answer to something and now I know more than I did before’.

Answers are like gold.

Answers make us successful, rich and powerful.

On the other hand, our mind can easily equate us having unanswered questions with us being inadequate, poor and vulnerable.  None of which is evolutionary desirable.

But of course that is bollocks and making up literally anything instead of seeking something based on reality is a sure fire way to stuff your life up.

So clearly we are smarter than that. Clearly we don’t just make up any story when we have questions. There must be a filter somewhere, some place in our brain where we weigh up the odds and then go down the story vs truth march path…

Again I have an idea of where that switch might be but again I don’t really know and am just making my own stories up as I go, to make me feel better maybe as I really do feel like my switch is either not functioning in the same way as lots of other people or is in a different place.  Not that it matters but the difference does fascinate me.

I think that we must all set our ‘story’ point depending on our own history, world view, personal motivation for making the investment (perceived gain)  and capacity for question investigating.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a scientific mind. I have always been fascinated by stuff and would sit looking at the grass for ages or I’d pick things out of the pond to look at under a magnifying glass or microscope. I’d lie out on the road (yep, not too bright) to check out the stars at night and would spend hours pouring over books on biology, birds and mushrooms just because I loved how weird and different these things could be and loved the questions that I came up with to investigate.  Anyway, that’s me.

So my world view is one that pivots around an intense thirst for not just theoretical knowledge but experimental investigating of the natural world.  I know that most things in nature can be dissected and investigated in a way that’s like peeling an onion – the layers just keep coming and each one is wonderful!  So for me the prospect of just settling and leaving those layers un-investigated is not appealing at all.  But I get it that not everyone has that level of engagement with, or experience of, the joy of this.  I guess that’s where my compulsion to share my enthusiasm for chemistry comes from, that desire for others to be able to share the joy that I experience by knowing this and doing that.

Anyway, I’m waffling.

I guess my point in writing this was, as it always is, to commit to paper (albeit of the virtual kind) my thoughts about an issue that can lead to my clients making up and trusting stories rather than engaging with the science.  As always I find myself coming to the end of this piece realising that in writing this I’m probably more likely to have changed (or grown, I think I prefer grown) myself than anyone else and I like that, I really do.

So now all that’s left is to wrap this up with an enlightened, succinct conclusion so here goes…

My purpose on this planet is to write the kind of stories that make the scientific investigative path seem so easy, comfortable and inviting that it’s only natural to explore it.   My job is to offer those that can’t explore it personally, the opportunity to explore it through me, either via this blog or via the stuff I get paid to do as a consultant.  I really like that. I think I’ve once again re-found my spot in the world and in doing that I recognise how normal wanting that is.

Amanda x

Essential Oil Aroma – Impact and Longevity!

October 2, 2019

I recently stumbled across a part of the Perfumers World website that had me captivated for a good couple of hours.  Anyone that knows me and my ADHD knows that rabbit holes are an occupational hazard of mine and falling into them is one reason why  I’m still not rich or on top of my day-to-day workload 🙂

Anyway, here is what I found.

Anyone who has ever played around with essential oil perfumery knows that the aromas you create don’t always last a long time. I just wrote about this in my Fixatives article a few posts back but there is another part of that puzzle.

Essential oils have, for a long  time been categorised as being top, middle or base notes and most places I’ve looked tend to link that to their longevity.  Top notes last a short time, middle notes a bit longer and base notes the longest time.  However, what I hadn’t fully appreciated before finding the data on Perfumers World is that it’s actually a bit more complex than that and that within the simplistic ‘note’ categorisation are other things including a feature called ‘odour impact’ or odour intensity.

It turns out that among short, middle and base notes exists a whole range of odour intensities with some oils having a huge odour impact (peppermint is a good example of this even though it is mostly classified as a top note),  while others have a very low impact (Peru Balsam is a low impact odour and that’s a base note).

At this point I’m beginning to question if the ‘notes’ way of thinking is kind of pointless OR have I just not understood it correctly?  Either way, this is news that I can use!

I sorted through their website and came up with a table which organises the data that is useful for me on a daily basis as it relates to the essential oils I mostly use.   This table is ordered by increasing odour impact:

Data from Perfumers World Increasing odour impact on application. >>>>>
Essential oil Odour Impact Odour Life in hours
Amyris 30 2000
Peru Balsam 45 72
Myrrh 60 24
Sandalwood 70 999
Cedarwood Atlas 75 48
Manuka 85 40
Frankincense (Olibanum) 97 3
Patchouli 98 42
Eucalyptus Citradora 100 0
Clary Sage 105 20
Vetiver 105 320
Sweeet Orange 110 8
Bergamot 110 8
Lavender 110 27
Elemi 120 12
Neroli 120 5
Grapefruit Pink 125 2
Pine Needle 125 5
Lemon Oil 130 1.2
Rosemary 130 11
Sweet Basil Essential Oil 130 25
Spruce 130 2.5
Lime Distilled 135 1.2
Ylang Ylang 140 20
Black Pepper 150 10
Cinnamon Bark Essential Oil 150 80
Geranium 170 14
Tea Tree 180 23
Clove Bud Essential Oil 180 36
Ginger 200 14
Juniper Berry 200 3
Clove Leaf Essential Oil 220 30
Roman Chanomile 230 30
spearmint 230 8
Citrolenna 280 8
Eucalyptus Globulus 370 2.6
Peppermint 400 10

I am going to experiment with this data to see if I can stretch out my odour impact and longevity further by taking this into account and formulating around the sweet spot of long-life and high odour intensity wherever possible.

I thought that this data may be especially useful when formulating products that need to smell good for a long time such as deodorants, perfumes or scented balms.   It’s probably less of an issue for face creams and make-up products…

What was also interesting at Perfumery World was their notes on formulating.  They give an applications score to each oil (and aroma note) to help identify where the ingredient is best used and where to avoid.  Looking at Peppermint again I see that it is not so good in talcum powder or alcoholic products but it’s great in everything else.  With Neroli, I see it has a huge issue in hair conditioners and by the looks of it I should be careful if putting it into more acidic formulations.

I don’t know how I’ve got through life so far without knowing this but now I have found this I feel like a new woman!