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What cream do you turn to when you scratch off your own skin with a knife?

April 26, 2019

Has this ever happened to you?

What about the desire to scald your skin to take away the itch? Ever had that?

I know what that feels like and I know I’m not alone.


Eczema and other chronic skin conditions are no joke and while I appreciate the well-meaning efforts of those caring for their eczema prone loved ones, I mostly find them lacking in understanding of what it’s really like to prefer the pain of no skin to your own itchy stuff.  It’s dysfunctional.

Most people I meet want to ‘cure’ their loved ones eczema with a natural cream as nature is best. That’s the logic.  I truly get that but I grew up with steroid cream, petroleum and parabens and in the professional eczema space, nothing much has changed because that shit works.

I’m not a dermatologist so I won’t pretend to sum up the pro’s and con’s of steroids in a cosmetic chemist blog post but suffice to say that when your itching has rendered you sleepless and in danger of sepsis, the relief that steroids bring is heavenly albeit in a fingers-crossed kind of way as you hope that you rid yourself of the itch before your skin thins.  Steroids aren’t a long-term fix.

Barrier and aqueous creams are more of a long-term essential for those prone to any of the above and if you are bad enough to need long-term dermatological support they will most likely suggest petroleum-based, nothing-fancy products. These simple, old-fashioned formulations are not prescribed because god hates you,  all dermatologists are sponsored by big petroleum/big oil/ big daddy or because the dermatology world forgot to check ‘what’s hot’ in cosmetics.  No, these things are prescribed or recommended because they are, themselves, pretty inert.

Pretty inert doesn’t mean nothing by the way…

A month or so ago I was explaining petroleum oils vs vegetable oils to a client and I said that ‘the reason petroleum derived oils have a long shelf life is because they are already dead whereas vegetable oils are not’.  I feel like the customer took that quite literally as in ‘OMG, who would want dead things on their skin, that’s another reason why petroleum derivatives are bad, they are dead and dead is bad’.   Noting this was not quite the response I wanted I attempted to re-frame my analogy:  ‘I meant ‘dead’ as in less likely to chemically change in ways that could be detrimental. I probably should have used the term ‘chemically stable”.  I went on to say that ‘vegetable oils are still in a dynamic chemistry state and will inevitably oxidise as their triglycerides break down. One break-down product being free oleic acid, a dermal penetration enhancer and potential skin irritant.  That’s not all but that’s fairly significant in terms of their potential to precipitate a negative skin reaction or flair-up in skin that’s already damaged’.   However, as is with life,  once a person has had a light bulb turn on, albeit prematurely and in the wrong room, it is very difficult to pursued them to reconsider.

So what I was trying to say was..

Petroleum derivatives are intentionally chosen for products aiming at atopic skin because they are predictable, un-reactive and very slow to change. Vegetable oils are the opposite of that.


 

How I attempt to handle my own skin. 

My own experience shows me that there are three distinct phases in coping with an eczema type skin situation and in each phase, different ‘treatment’ products may be of use.  I’m giving my own experience, observations and preferences here as something to ponder on, not as a prescriptive view of how everyone with eczema is and prefers to manage it.  Also note that if I was a wiz at managing my eczema it wouldn’t still be plaguing me today, 44 years after it first started (boohoo).

Stage 1 = the stinger

This is trauma central and is the phase that I opened with, where you quite literally want to scratch, boil or chew off your own skin.  In this stage everything, even water stings and irritates and the thought of soothing skin like this in coconut oil, soap or anything else is quite repugnant to me.  When I’m like this I reach for the antihistamine (to reduce the itch),  relaxation (to reduce the subconscious impulse to scratch), cooling (clothes, foods and environments (to reduce a scratch trigger = sweating, over-heating) and then after that I’ll go for a product.  If my itching is very bad still or I’m worried about infection I’d go for a cortisone cream. If not I’ll go for a basic barrier cream.  I choose a cream rather than an ointment or balm because I have a real problem with the skin feeling over-heated or occluded so a water-and-oil product suits me best unless I’m in a very dry and cold environment in which case I might use a balm.  Remember that at this point in time the above will sting me and I’ll need to use mind-over-matter to stick with the program and get my barrier back in one piece.

Stage 2= The wounded soldier.

This is where we have recovered from rock-bottom but it’s still a long way from happiness. Here I’ll be mostly reaching for loads of aqueous cream to just provide the skin with hydration and a little barrier protection while it rebuilds.  I’ll probably apply this once or twice an hour in the beginning as my skin is ripped to shreds and dehydrates quickly when in this phase. Also I find the pulling sensation of dry skin gets confused in my brain with itching so I can subconsciously scratch again and end up back at stage 1.  At this stage I’d be concerned about using creams that are too ‘active’ as the skin is still a long way from normal.  That’s why I’d advocate against vegetable oils, too much too soon.

Stage 3= Almost normal.

I say ‘almost’ because skin like mine is never completely normal, it’s quite fragile and can easily be tripped into disfunction again. However, in this stage the barrier is repaired, it’s no longer itchy and I am no longer stinging at the touch of water.   This is where I am more able to tolerate ‘active’ creams if that’s what I want. However, for me, I still have to be careful not to use products that make my skin feel sweaty and occluded as that can kick-start a new round of scratching for me.  I have often wondered if natural ‘essential fatty acid’ rich oil creams are best for my skin during this time but to be honest, I’ve not noticed any particular benefits, on my hands at least (and it’s my hands that are most affected these days).  Maybe it’s because my hands are so often exposed to surfactants (washing up, washing hands etc) that they are already primed for irritation, I don’t know.  I can’t see any reason why a lovely, natural fatty acid enriched cream wouldn’t be good for my skin in this stage as long as it didn’t itch whether I’d notice the benefit would really depend on what else was going on in my life at the time.  I feel that for my skin it’s not what I put on it as much as what I take out of it (put it through) that matters if you know what I mean.


 

The bottom line for me as an eczema sufferer is that I want people selling into this space to be aware of the phases that us itchy folk go through. I think it would be really useful if wanna-be brand owners think about their ‘solutions’ be they cosmetic (maintaining your good skin) to therapeutic (stopping the dysfunction) in a holistic way and not just as a one-size-fits-all.  It would be awesome is brand owners could demonstrate an understanding of the huge emotional, physical and economic impact itchy skin has and to be sensible and measured in their response (rather than jumping on each and every cure-all band wagon).  Finally, I’d like brand owners in this space to understand that for some of us, sometimes (or even all the time) petroleum-based, simple creams are lifesavers mostly because dead things are more predictable.

Hand Model

 

 

 

 

 

Your body probably doesn’t ‘detox’ when you change deodorants.

April 17, 2019

As a scientist I read a lot of things that make me squirm. As a fellow human with all of my non-scientific biases, preferences and illogicalness I can see where these pearls of wisdom come from, their basis or origin. However, I still can’t quite get past the non-science of it all and often that leaves me feeling a bit bleugh.  Here is another example of that.

skin.png

So, deodorant formulating has become something of a thing over the last few years as people try to solve today’s problems (over-use of plastic, chemical-phobia, anti-corporate bullshit) using home-made recipes to stop the stench.  This is all well and good, especially given that the deodorants market was pretty boring for a long time there but it starts to wrinkle up my face in ‘oh no, but why?’ when I see things like this written as if it were fact:

“your body goes through a natural ‘detox’ when you change from aluminium deodorant to a natural one”.

This, my friends, is most likely a stinking crock of shit.

I think the best way for me to walk through this is how I walk through any problem in my own brain and that is to break it down, piece by piece.  Here are the pieces:

Aluminium,  Natural Deodorant, Detox, Sweat Stench.

Now I’m famous for taking 12 words to say what most others say in 2 but today I’m going to just cut to the chase and get on with it (hooray).  There is much research to do to fill in the gaps and I’ll point that out but in the meantime here’s what these things mean (background) followed by my hypothesis (best guess at what is going on) and a rationale for how to attempt to answer that.

So first to the definitions:

Aluminium and its link to detoxing.

sweat.png

Aluminium salts are used to plug the sweat glands temporarily so they don’t leak.  As such, aluminium ‘deodorants’ are actually called ‘antiperspirants’ as they stop (or are anti) perspiration.   Deodorants don’t stop perspiration, they typically focus on either covering up the bad odour with a good one (spray perfume types for example) or killing or preventing the growth of the bacteria that cause the smell.

Aluminium salt-based antiperspirants of the type that we recognise in the western world have been available on the market since the early 1900’s.   Everdry was apparently the first patented antiperspirants in 1903. However, I found this box which states the company had been active since 1910 so maybe the product first became available around then).  However, white westerners with a penchant for marketing didn’t invent this (sorry, not sorry).  This paper outlines science that was known by people all along the spice trail and there are similar stories in the Americas too.  Aluminium Salts were part of our collective human personal care cabinet before we even had one.

So:

Nature gives us aluminium salts which we can put ON our bodies to deodorize them.

Science took those aluminium salts and found a way to make them sit into our sweat glands to temporarily plug them.

The take-home for me here is the aluminium salts have been interacting with our human bodies since forever, are part of many indigenous medical traditions and are, therefore, a logical ingredient for this purpose.

Cancer or Alzheimer’s risk of Aluminium deodorants.

I feel obliged to bring this up as people do still think that aluminium causes either or both of the above but there is currently no evidence for this.

It is logical to worry about the long-term effects of plugging up sweat glands as the skin is, at least in part,  an organ of excretion and our sweat glands are the pipes that carry what we have to excrete.  This is probably where the detox theory comes in, that our armpits are doing the mother load of the detoxing of our body.  One only has to step back from that idea for a second to realise how inefficient and ridiculous that sounds but anyway, that’s where we are at.

So, when it comes to armpit detox potential, it pays to remember:

  • The skin is not the main organ of excretion, the kidneys and liver do that.
  • Even if the skin were the main organ of excretion, we don’t use antiperspirants on our whole skin AND the armpits are a tiny percentage of our whole skin.
  • While the sweat that comes out of our armpits is different from that from our forehead, it isn’t unique to our armpits so using antiperspirants under our arms doesn’t stop all the porcine/ apoeccrine flow.
  • Aluminium plugs are not permanent.

 

So, onto sweat stench and natural deodorants.

OK, so the theory goes  (and this is all over the internet, copied from one blog and magazine post to another so it must be right, right?) that you have to be prepared to stink for a bit when you change from your regular deodorant to a natural one because your body is ‘detoxing’ from the chemicals it was exposed to before.

Apparently this detox process takes several weeks and some blogs have even graphed the stink profile which is especially helpful and makes it all seem very scientifically valid.

Now I have formulated a few natural deodorants and the ones that I’ve persisted in trying out for myself have led to me smelling a bit whiffy for a few weeks too which I also thought was odd although I was less inclined to jump to the conclusion described above. Now before I get into that I should mention the word ‘natural’ as that’s really key to this detox theory.  Many newly formed deodorant brands are using the fact that they are natural as a selling point and there is nothing wrong with that.  The problem (to my mind) comes from the bias towards natural as always better and safer.   The use of the word ‘natural’ is used in a similar way to how I was taught to be aware of strangers who ask you to come and look at their puppies  – it’s a lure.  When we see the word ‘natural’ associated with a cosmetic product we automatically start associating words like ‘safe, skin-friendly,  earth-friendly, gentle, kind, mild’ etc.  To be honest, for most of us that’s where the brain shuts down and just goes ‘OK, where do I buy you!’.  It works for the brand but does nothing to progress our real understanding of anything. I get sad about that.

Anyway…

Sweat stench comes, not from the salty fluid or wetness that we excrete, that’s odour free.  The smell comes from microbes that feed on the fatty stuff we excrete.  Where our Apocrine and Apoeccrine glands differ from our Eccrine glands is in their ability to sweat out fatty stuff that can be digested in a stinky way by microbes. That’s why our pits and groin areas stink more than our sweaty faces do.

Knowing that, it makes sense to me that what may well be happening when we change deodorants is that we are disrupting the balance of our natural pit flora.  So, rather than ‘detoxing’ what we are actually doing is re-arranging our microbiome.   I’d go so far as to say the natural part of the equation is somewhat irrelevant although that does play into many people’s chemical phobia and inherent biases.

Many natural deodorants contain ingredients that have anti-microbial properties so is it not logical that they could alter our micro biome?

In addition, many (but not all) natural deodorants also contain new fats that could provide other microbes with food, thus setting up the potential for an entirely different micro biome thanks to the now abundant fat supply.

Further, some (but not all) natural deodorants form an occlusive barrier on the skin which reduces sweating in a different but similar way to aluminium salts. This limits oxygen supply which again would favour different microbes.

Further still we now have deodorants that come with pre and pro-biotic ingredients added.  Most of these microbes or micro-feeders are still somewhat un-natural for our human armpit area (no matter how much we love coconut, we don’t have coconut microbes under our pits naturally) so while they may be ‘good’ bacteria, they may not be able to do much good under these conditions and may just be another thing for our natural pit microbes to adjust to and either accept or reject.

Lastly we now have deodorants available in a range of pH values from acidic through to strongly alkali which again would encourage different microbial flora.

So, all of this points me to my ‘changing microbes’ hypothesis rather than a detox hypothesis.

To me, this makes complete sense.

It also makes sense why it can take a while for things to settle down when you change deodorant. Micro colonies do not pack up and move overnight and new colonies don’t grow that quick either. I’m sure the few weeks of pit-chaos is what helps to cause the stench.

To Conclude.

So firstly I apologise, I took more words than I wanted to.

Secondly I want to remind you that the very chemical many natural brands are trying to avoid is, indeed natural (aluminium salts), see, there’s a piece of stupid right there but I get it, I do…

Thirdly  I’d say that while my best guess or hypothesis makes sense to me, it will need testing.  On that,  it is somewhat possible to count and characterise microbes from under the armpit but I’m not sure where I’d go for that test, how much it would cost or whether the method is delicate enough to show up small changes (I can’t assume these changes are major, it may be the our base micro biome is very stable but it’s the small changes that cause the biggest stink…)

Thinking and then doing (or even just thinking) is far more rewarding than parroting orphaned statements as facts.  I hope you can see where my idea has come from and that it has excited you to do more – that’s what science and being a scientist is.  Further, I hope that one day I’ll be able to do some more experimenting and testing to prove or disprove my hypothesis – scientists find it just as interesting being wrong as being right.  That often isn’t the case with lifestyle brand bloggers.

Does that make sense to you?

Maybe our growing understanding of the microbiome will allow us to find still more ways of solving the pong problem. One can only hope!

 

 

 

Applied Teaching. My Business Journey.

April 5, 2019

Hello readers,

It’s a rainy day here in the Blue Mountains and I’m at the end of a week that has been quite remarkable for me, remarkable in a simple, invisible-to-others way.  This week I’ve felt the earth shift a little as I work through my relationship with my business. I’m telling you this knowing that some of you read this just so you can copy me or to “be me but better”. I know that there is a risk that you will copy this too. I mention this because I have a lot of customers that worry out loud to me about people copying them. I tell them the same as I tell myself:  Nobody can be you, you are unique, complex and wonderful.  Only worry about what you can control,  where you are going, what you want to achieve and why.  If people insist on following you just make sure they have somewhere good (and hard) to go. Make them work hard, run far and sweat blood.  We are women (and men)  that run with the wolves…

I just celebrated the week by purchasing this print for my office. You can find Tessa Lyons work here. A bit indulgent of me being as though I’ve got a bit of work to do on my finances at the moment but hey, you only live once and this art would look as good in a tent as it does in my house 🙂

Anyway, here’s a bit more back story.

I’ve been in the cosmetics industry for twenty-two years now and in that time I’ve seen a lot of changes, some for what I feel to be the better but many that seem to be sending us down a path full of nonsense (non-science, that’s what I like to call it).  To cut what could be a long story short the amount of bull crap that I now find piled up in the virtual hallways of the internet and people’s minds had started to pollute my heart and affect my motivation.  That might sound a bit melodramatic but wallow in shit for long enough and you turn to shit.

I don’t tend naturally to wallow in shit, I’m not the type of person to go running into a drama just to watch, take selfies and spread the gossip. Mostly I prefer to not talk to anyone.  However, my work does, by its very nature, bring me up-close-and-personal with the issues of the day, many of which I blog about here but many more I just stew on as I attempt to process them in a way that is respectful of people’s intangible humanness (that’s my other phrase for feelings).

There has been much to stew about too, from unbridled consumerism and chemical phobia to protection of indigenous intellectual property, plastic pollution and the politics of palm free.  But it’s not these issues that I’m stewing (or stuck) on per se,  it is our human ability to constantly fuck things up and avoid real meaningful action by jumping to simple, bias and often fact-less or fact-lacking conclusions of how to manage all of the above.  I am constantly finding myself stuck in a spider-web-like thought bubble of other people’s making trying to free myself so I can get to the great stuff on the other side.  To put that in a simple way, I’ve been spending so much of my time trying to work through other people’s feelings both with them and on my own in order that I can create enough space and trust between us for new ideas to sprout.  Only I have come to the realisation that many people have concreted over their brains with the same zeal that Australian political parties have for concreting over our bush.  Not much space for organic growth is left and I’m left feeling mentally exhausted, wound up and disengaged.

Only that changed this week.

I sensed my growing discontent late last year and, with my children both having reached ages where it is no longer illegal to expect them to fend for themselves (and let’s face it, they have the skills and the desire) I can actually try something new, just for me.

I enrolled in a Masters of Education Degree just after Christmas with a view to learning more about teaching (specifically chemistry but teaching in general too) and am currently working through my first semester.  Having just completed (almost) my first assignment I am starting to feel something weird and exciting happening to my brain, a feeling that I’ve missed for so long.  That feeling is one of accomplishment, synchronicity even, like the world is starting to make sense again in a whole new, deeper and more empowering way.  I feel like I’ve been handed a fresh new map that contains within its ridge lines and land marks endless new adventures and life-enriching experiences.   What I have found outside of the cosmetics industry is my love of research, planning, order and scientific enquiry reflected back at me in a way that empowers and builds real knowledge rather than fakery.

So am I saying the cosmetic industry is fake?

Hummmmmmmm deep breath…

No.

This is what I think is going on.

Learning how to educate others for educations sake is a pure, co-operative and intensely human experience.  Sure there are agreements on what to teach (a syllabus or schedule etc) and that may be politically motivated but spend five minutes reading about teaching and you realise that the ‘what’ is nowhere near enough to make a difference on its own.

As I mentioned, I’m picking up this study at the time when my children are moving into another stage of their development, as such I can reflect on what has mattered in my teaching of them.  Was what I said more important than what I did? Absolutely not. Was how much they respected and trusted me more impactful than what I physically provided for them? I can guarantee that it was.

Thinking about my work,  I am paid to solve problems,  produce products and pull answers out of somewhere – hopefully the ‘right’ answers.  Sure, I’m also sometimes  paid to teach and my professional teaching has been my favourite part of my career to date, but I’m starting to see that many clients (though not all) only want to be taught on their terms and when they are prepared for it.

Thinking about my industry as a whole, science is always applied to a scenario and usually one that has a sales opportunity or risk attached to it.  Science for science sake or what I still call ‘blue sky thinking’ is still there but is somewhat hidden under the pile of work that must be done so that bills are paid, new products are created and customers get answers.

  • Reflecting this back on myself I can now see where my frustration stems from:
  • I see every interaction as an opportunity to teach and to learn.
  • I never feel comfortable assuming the how, why and where’s, I want to explore them. There often isn’t time.
  • I always want to feel something and make the story behind the product strong and cohesive.
  • I find joy in tackling and not just solving problems.
  • I need to be with people who do, not just people who think they do.

So, to sum this up, I don’t think the industry or the science it does is fake at all, it serves a purpose and is often carried out very professionally and thoroughly. However, just as with parenting and teaching, there is an X factor that sits behind industry that is less measurable or definable because it’s about relationships, meaning and trust and maybe that’s where I’m feeling the disconnect. In fact, I’m sure it is.

Reflecting on that in my business.

What I have recognised here is a disconnect between how I communicate and lay out what I value and where I get my energy/ flow/ joy from and what my customers come to me for, not in terms of product but in terms of process.  An example might help to flesh this out more clearly:

A customer may come to me for a formula. They pay the money and then sit back and wait. This is a transaction with a relatively low cognitive load for them. I am their outsourced brain, they paid me so they don’t have to think about this side of things.

I see formulating as an opportunity to teach and empower the customer, using the formula as my framework. I  am  open with how I do things, sharing my process and the evolution of the formula and talking through the challenges and trials I’ve gone through.  The customer receives multiple versions of a formula idea as it progresses through different stages and eventually we get a winner. In my eyes the customer gets added value as they now not only have one formula, they have several. They not only get the finished product, they know how to make and tweak it. To me that’s huge!

The customer, not necessarily being prepared for this level of information/ choice may either get overwhelmed or confused with the process. They may tend to focus on areas that they are already comfortable with (their prior knowledge), or they obsess over small details that they don’t fully understand (cognitive distress).  Not seeing this exchange as ‘education’ (they didn’t pay for a class), they may just not value it at all (which may leave me feeling frustrated) or may find it causes them more problems than it solves (they recognise they don’t understand what I’ve done and now feel vulnerable, confused and possibly even further away from their goals).

Now reading this may lead you to think that every formulating job ends in disaster. That isn’t the case at all but what can happen both to me and in other formulator/ client relationships that I’ve been party to is that there is a general disconnect between the two parties that tends towards maintaining the status quo educational-wise rather than progressing it.  What I mean by that is that many formulators feel that many customers don’t really understand them and many customers don’t really understand what they have purchased.  The net result being we all stay where we are.

THAT, in a 1700 word nutshell is what I’ve realised.

Going forward with my business.

I’m teaching this weekend and so will use the next few days to reflect on all of the above before making any firm changes but what I’m leaning towards is me orientating my business more intentionally towards education than it has been before.  The customers that I’ve had the best relationships with over the years have been supportive of my explorational approach to the industry and my work and, most importantly, have been open to learning and teaching themselves.

My final point at this pivotal moment in my work journey is to reflect back to the fact that when I first left the corporate world to set up this business I called myself ‘Selling Science Pty Ltd’ and had the idea of being an educator. Maybe now is the right time to actually revisit that initial idea. Maybe now I have the experience and the words.

Before I go I think it is important for me to note that I do realise that not all people who seek out cosmetic chemists will want someone like me to wants to teach them.  When I book a mechanic I don’t necessarily want them to tell me how they fixed my car. However, I’m not saying that it has to be that way, more that the ability to teach and learn, that connection is and opportunity is something I value. Back to the mechanic example and I can tell you now that when something does go wrong with your car it is so refreshing to be able to respectfully discuss (and trust) the person with the spanner in their hands no matter how little you aspire to be in their position.  If all else fails maybe those ‘other’ customers can find other chemists.

Anyway, thanks for listening, for teaching me and learning by my side.

Amanda

 

 

 

I dream of Gum Trees.

March 29, 2019

Lots of  people talking, many words, so much is spoken,

Bottled, traded, commoditised, disconnected, chain is broken.

We focus on the profit and the ego that we gain

Construct our own reality and distract ourself from pain.

But out there stand the gum trees, their real names long unspoken

Turning sunlight into liquid gold

To soothe that which is broken.

The Land

I’m not from this land, my bones come from the northern hemisphere at least for as long as I remember or can trace.  But that doesn’t stop me from feeling my spirit in this Wiradjuri soil and from celebrating the fruits of its toil.

Last Friday I was lucky enough to be able to attend a Eucalyptus Identification Day with my local Land Care group – Central Tablelands.  Well, I say ‘local’  it sort of is, the land in this picture is actually just slipping over into the Central West Slopes and Plains region which means our land is a sort of mash-up of two types of vegetative habitats, that makes is even more interesting in my eyes. In any case,  the boundaries are ‘white people’ stuff which of course I understand but I really shouldn’t get too hung up on.

The reason I’m so keen to get to know the Eucalypts in my area (and all areas to be honest) is because these trees really exude Australia from every fibre of their being. They look like Australia, smell like Australia and give us a range of resources of a quality and strength that could only ever be Australian!  I love this country and of course I want to reflect it back in everything I do and say so what better way to do that than to get to know its trees. Once known, they can be celebrated to their fullest potential rather than just seen as ‘just another bottle of oil’.

So there are hundreds of species of Eucalyptus here in Australia and as such it can be very difficult to work out what is what.  The take-home tip I took from the workshop was to be careful to gather lots of pieces of evidence from the trees including a big picture of the whole tree,  notes on the bark appearance including whether the bark changes throughout the growth of the tree (a substantial number of Eucalypts have bark that is rough in parts then smooth in others),  young leaf shape, older leaf shape and size, fruit shape and size (young and old) plus flowers.  It can he hard to get all of that in one go but the more that can be gathered, the better.  I was interested to find that a Eucalyptus tree’s leaves can go through lots of changes in shape and even orientation during their life-cycle with baby leaves often looking nothing like their future adult selves – I guess you could say the same about us humans…  Anyway, once that data has been gathered you can go to one of a number of online tools to pop in your data using a Dichotomous key:

A dichotomous key is a tool that allows the user to determine the identity of items in the natural world, such as trees, wildflowers, mammals, reptiles, rocks, and fish. Keys consist of a series of choices that lead the user to the correct name of a given item. “Dichotomous” means “divided into two parts”.

Sourced here. 

The actual key that I’ve been using for my Eucalyptus Tree ID is called Euclid and you can pop straight into the database by clicking here. 

A note on using the key.

Full Disclosure here, the key sounds simple, it’s either a choice between this or that, but it is not that simple to implement.  The key uses plant part names that may be unfamiliar to you (they still are to me) and as such it can be easy to get confused and put the wrong data into the key.  That’s no big deal, you can always start again but it can feel quite stressful when you narrow it down to 2-3 trees and none of them look anything like what you have seen.   I took four tries and several more visits to one of my trees to narrow it down to a positive ID and even then I was still a little un-confident in my final answer until I’d double and triple checked it.  I assume it’s just like anything else new, it takes experience and practice to get right.

The Oily Stuff.

Pictures I took of my Eucalyptus leaves under the microscope.

I am a complete tree lover to be honest so there is nothing about these trees that I don’t want to learn about but one of the most interesting and relevant initial focuses has to be their oil.  As I mentioned above, you only have to step out off the plane in Australia to smell the magic of these trees in the air.  The essential oil doesn’t require extensive processing to access either, the oil glands can be broken, at least partly, by crushing the leaves under thumb and finger and unlike crops like Lavender (which can also be smelled in this way), the oil is available all year around.

After the workshop I went back to our property and collected up some fresh-growth leaves from our junior Eucalyptus bushes.  The new leaves are lighter in colour and much more malleable to the touch than the older leaves which seem to take on a stiffer structure.  In addition, the leaves are smaller so every handful of branch contains more leaf matter than you get from picking an older branch.

I have a 30 litre essential oil still that I use for educational purposes and in that I can produce anything from 10-30ml of essential oil at a time (so not really enough to turn into a business venture).   It takes roughly one of those re-usable shopping bag lots full of small twigs and leaves to pack the vessel which is then filled up with cold water. The water is then boiled along with the plant matter with the Alembic still attached.  Once the mixture reaches a temperature of around 80C the essential oil starts to flow and by 98C the oil and condensed hydrosol flows freely for around 40 minutes before the whole thing starts to slow down again.

My Own Essential Oil Research Method.

Leaves

My professional interest in this is for me to have a deeper appreciation of all of the things that make a difference when processing essential oils in general and Eucalyptus oils specifically.  My aim is to then use this research to write papers, teach and empower communities and brand owners to develop their own boutique batch ingredients as a way of building a better connection to their materials.

My own approach is to take this in two stages, I’m currently in the first stage which is ‘discovery and play’.

I feel that science and scientists are often too quick to jump into the proper method of things and keep notes, change one thing at once and be super organised. Of  course, I see the massive benefits in that and there is no doubt that you can’t draw proper conclusions without a proper method but there is also so much to be gained through play and yes, adult scientists can play too!

My playing revolves around me letting what I feel about the process dictate the process rather than letting what I think is right form my method- so it’s more intuitive than academic.  What I mean by that is that I will make sure I’m 100% present in choosing the leaves, that I observe the whole plant and how happy it looks and feels (to the touch).  It’s all a bit abstract and ‘soft’ compared to how I’ve been trained but it helps me to keep my head up and feel on the floor.  When packing the still I think about bathing the leaves and about how they will interact with the water. I use pure observation to dictate when the process is finished – smell and appearance – rather than focusing on times, temperatures and yields.  It all feels like so much more fun and has been instrumental in my noticing more about what matters in this process.   The final step has been to use my other eyes (my microscope) to look closer at the product and the leaves in different stages to ‘see’ at a closer level, what’s happened.

The Spent Leaves.

spent-leaf.jpg

The Point for me and you. 

I’ve been in the cosmetics industry for 22 years now and I feel that the best thing I can do for my future enjoyment, engagement and professional development is to go deeper both psychologically and physically.  The process that I’m undergoing here with Eucalyptus is taking me in all sorts of interesting directions and on many different journeys both inside and out.

I don’t see me becoming an essential oil producer anytime soon although I’m enjoying the oils that I’m creating.  Neither do I feel that I’ll be able to become a Eucalyptus expert, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day of cells in my brain for that. What I do see me becoming is someone who has got deeper roots, many more bountiful and welcoming branches and a crown that’s grown out of my striving towards the light.  I think that should all prove worthwhile,  extremely fulfilling and totally scalable don’t you?

I dream of gum trees.

 

All About Women – A Weekend of Talks

March 12, 2019

I purposefully spent a good amount of my young life trying not to be too girly while still presenting and identifying  as a biological female.  During the time that I grew up I didn’t really know how to discuss or explore gender in a societal sense, I understood that I COULD be whatever I wanted to be and that I could aim high but had no idea how one could be COMFORTABLE living as a strong,  driven girl or a girl that wasn’t at all interested in the things that the media designated for me.  I couldn’t get my head around how my biological sex could ever be expected to shape and mould my everything and I was absolutely adamant that I would ‘save’ myself, make my own money and do whatever the bloody hell I pleased (as long as it was legal, I have always been respectfully anarchic which makes no sense at all unless you know me well). Anyway,  as a consequence I grew up feeling very detached from what one might call ‘the sisterhood’, even though I had (and still have) two sisters.  Being ‘one of the girls’ wasn’t something I aspired to, in fact it filled me with dread and that dream continued well into my adult life and especially into my business life.


Even now that I’m somewhat more comfortable in my woman-skin I am still  prickly about joining in women-only networking events as they still feel too much like an environment I’ll find alien given that, in my experience, I have quite different feelings and experiences of navigating the big ‘woman’ issues such as mothering, business, life, relationships. While that no longer makes me feel like there is something wrong with me, it still makes interactions with groups of women a little difficult and slightly uncomfortable  for me as inevitably I’m on a completely different emotional page to the bulk of them – see, I’m calling them ‘them’ like I’m not included…

But I still keep trying and that’s why I came along to this talk fest ‘All About Women’ on the weekend following International Womens day.

Women are an important part of my business and while not all of my customers are women, the majority of brands  I end up working with have women as their primary target.  As a cosmetic chemist I don’t have much say in how the formulations get marketed, typically the marketing part is done by the brand owner and is presented to me as a brief which I furnish with chemistry, perhaps (in fact often) suggesting actives and a strategy to help the product sing to that market.  To achieve this task the process of brief development and targeting reduces women down to a few key features, we FRAGMENT her into:

Her Skin

Her Aspirations

Her Self-Esteem

Her Lifestyle

‘Of course a good cosmetic chemist and brand owner will never lose sight of the big picture’ I hear you say but you’d be quite wrong there,  it’s more often than not that brand owners and the brief process strip away the whole in favour of perfecting the parts.

I remember having a conversation with a male chemist years ago who happened to let slip that he sometimes used to forget to actually try what he formulated out, especially the colour cosmetics.  I have to admit that there have been times when I’ve done that too, got so caught up in the game of stability, formula price, how the product looks and how it flows out of the packaging that I too have forgotten to wear it, I too had reduced the woman-dominant target audience to just a canvas on which to display my work. Shameful really!

I set up ‘Realize Beauty’ to remind me and the wider public that beauty deserves to be realised wherever it exists and by that I mean we should strive to deeply and clearly understand and take time to register beauty in all things and all people, to expand our understanding of what beauty is and how it is expressed in all its many guises.  In order to achieve that I feel it is important that we take the time to absorb and appreciate beauty as a whole first rather than approach it in a reductive, fragmented, objectified or commercialised way.  I set up this way to advocate for relationship building based on appreciation and love rather than on something transactional, I think that realising beauty takes time, open minds and a willingness to really see things for what they are, not just how you perceive them to be (although one could argue philosophically about what that means and whether it is ever possible to see things from other perspectives or without our own intrinsic bias).

The talk that I went to at the Opera House was on the ‘Me too’ movement which was interesting but somewhat frustrating for reasons that perhaps aren’t relevant here but nevertheless it was good to be out amongst interested and eager-to-learn women and men of all ages and demographics.  I took my husband, youngest daughter and exchange student along for the ride and I’m pretty sure we all got something positive out of the experience.

Here are some pictures:

Reflecting on this with regards to how it relates to my business life I’m reminded to stay focused on respecting and realising beauty as a source of positive energy in the world.  The politics, legal constructs and societal expectations can all weigh heavily on us whoever we are and wherever we sit but at the end of the day if we focus on creating, appreciating, celebrating and empowering beauty wherever we see it we will be doing OK.  The world sometimes tells us that beauty is all fluff and bubbles but I’d say that’s wrong, it’s everything else that’s superfluous.

So I should just keep on keeping on then…

Amanda x

 

It’s Time To Switch Up The Narrative on Australian Native Botanicals and Bush Foods.

March 11, 2019

I don’t know how to start this. I’m suddenly feeling very much the white girl trying to tell a story about black culture and frankly even I’m cringing.   I’m over digging and digging in shallow, monotonic ground with only one underlying narrative that’s passed off as truth.  A narrative born in Europe – the Roman Empire probably (did you know that the reason why it is so hard for Australian law to truly value nature for natures sake is because our law is based on a Roman system of individualism and ownership and backed up by western individualistic philosophy)? A narrative that favours Masculinity,  frames the natural world as ‘survival of the fittest’ as if it’s all just some grand competition. A narrative that related to nature in a tame-and-control/ dominate way.  This way of thinking (and it is only that, a way, one way) permeates every aspect of my reality and while I can see that it is not worthless, it’s as colourless as my own skin. I don’t mind my own skin but let’s face it it’s blank (maybe that’s why we get so many tattoos these days…).  And not like a blank canvas, anticipating the passion, energy and vibrance of an artist, not like that at all.  I mean it’s blank like a shroud that is hurriedly and carelessly flung over a scene we’d rather forget – push it under the carpet darling, keep remembering it’s you vs the world, divide and conquer, if we don’t take it someone else will.  Yep, that’s about how it feels.

And I’m OK with sitting with that, in that and with that history. It’s just that I no longer want to perpetuate that into the future.

It’s time.

Time to switch up the narrative.

And with that in mind I’ll tell my story, the only story I have a right to tell, and will leave the rest to you and your brilliant individual minds to work out what to do next.


So, I was invited to speak at a conference on bush foods/ bush botanicals for Aboriginal Women in Business and I went and participated in that this week.  When the invitation came through, being a privileged white girl I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes, excited, let me in, I would LOVE to do that’.  I mention this because these things should be laid out on the table for what they are. I’ve had my own fair share of ‘shit-life-syndrome’ but, the bottom line is that it’s likely been easier (note: not ‘easy’ just ‘relatively easier’) for me, compared to many others, to skim over and through that because of how society views me and one of the consequences of that has been that I’ve been able to keep hold of my ego somewhat, enough to feel worthy of opportunity.  That has to be remembered when we are talking about women in business as feeling worthy is only one of the hurdles that women have to traverse and that’s all women and that’s before you start piling on everything else. Some women quite literally have to scale a mountain before they can even say ‘right oh, I’m here now, let’s think about starting’.

Anyway, I went along with my talk and I gave it my all in order to demonstrate that I was happy to be there for them as a deliverer of some information and opportunity rather than being just another outsider/ business person who wants to come along and take things for my own profit.

And that’s what we’ve done before you see, people like me, we’ve gone into these spaces and dominated them, taking ownership of what we’ve been told, taking liberties with precious information, stripping it of its cultural roots and whoring it for profit.

It sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it?  However, it has been my experience too. I remember having a conversation with a client of mine from the past, a client that was happy to sell products that capitalised on the Australian Native Extract story but was adamant that they didn’t want to draw attention to the Aboriginality of that as it ‘was problematic, THEY get all difficult and start restricting what we can do, wanting money and all that.  I remember, as someone relatively naive to that type of racism and cultural blindness just thinking ‘oh, OK then, that must just be how it is around here then. That must be OK’.

But it’s not OK.

At the conference I was touched by one fact, a fact that I couldn’t get over.  Aboriginal business participation in the Australian Bush Foods Industry is 1%.  1% of a $22 million dollar business that just can’t get enough of indigenous food stuff either for its novelty value or its ‘super food’ status.  An industry that is hungry for more but sadly, not more culture by the looks of it, just more stuff that we can shove down our throats.   The Aboriginal population of Australia is currently counted at 3.3% and growing thanks to their stubborn resistance to dying and giving up (thank goodness) so even if we reflected that woeful statistic in this business Aboriginal business should still be taking another $0.5 million directly.

Not all bush foods / medicines are even grown here any more.

Sadly, like most indigenous crops the seed stock left the building long before the local elders had the power to do anything about it and it is now possible to find Kakadu Plum and other ‘big hitting’ bush foods like our Finger Lime growing outside of Australian soil. Not that this is unusual, seeds are spread all over the world and crops have grown far away from their native lands since the beginnings of human trade but it is worth mentioning that it looks likely that while someone benefited financially from this bio-piracy (stolen seed) or bio-trade, it likely wasn’t the people who gave it its value, understood it the best and have a deep connection to it.

That wasn’t the only thing that struck me at the conference as to be honest, that’s just money talking and while it was true that the women at the conference all deserved the opportunity to be part of that, I’m sure that most of them, including all that I talked to, were more interested in the first instance in just gaining a better connection to their indigenous knowledge and building connections and networks around valuing that and being valued in their entirety, not just focusing on making millions.

My fear for those women is that they won’t catch on fast enough, won’t close the gap that’s already excluding them and seeing them as immaterial.   I fear not because I think these women aren’t capable, more because I know what my people are capable of.

The last thing I’d like to say is that the women at the conference were, just like my non-indigenous clients, all looking for authenticity, honesty and realism in a world that has forgotten what it’s here for.   These women all have stories to tell that sit outside of my western narrative, stories that consider and value different ways of connecting to and interacting with nature.   The women remind me of this land, a land so unlike my native Northern Europe with its cold, mossy and damp forest floor and rotting leaves.  These women are hard seeds, protected by a casing that let’s them sit dormant through long dry summers that seem never to end. These woman have a resilience and strength that can only be ignited and germinated by wildfire.

It might just be time to light the match.

Amanda x

PS: Want to be part of the solution?  Ask about Indigenous business ownership when buying your extracts and take an interest in and support Indigeous Business Initiatives, Culture, Cultural Workshops and Cerfied Merchandise. Let’s stop selling our people short.

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The slide show includes pictures of two species of Davison Plum, a Finger Lime and Warrigal Greens, Australia’s Native Spinach equivalent.

The Rise of the Bland

February 27, 2019

Hummmmmm

The Brand vs the Bland…

Instagram is full of blands.

Sure these blands look pretty and they sure do know how to market themselves. They are all coordinated colour schemes, pleasing to the eye, blank space between content, content curated ahead of time to look just so, staged and perfected.  Bubble gum food, eye candy, beautiful but strangely bland, unsatisfying and with little in the way of longevity.

Blandness isn’t just about how things look either, it’s about the feel and philosophy of the product.  All the cool kids are now vegan, palm free and organic even though most of the cool kids can’t work out without asking someone whether that avocado oil they just bought ticks all the boxes or not.

The bland that I’m talking about here isn’t a slight on prettiness or those who ‘get’ and ‘work’ social media and it’s all-too-easy-to-play followers.  Having that, by its self as a goal is a goal and in business if it gets you sales then it’s enough.  No, the bland that I’m talking about is the bland that is band wagon bland, because-everyone-else-is-doing-it bland,  the FOMO AKA Fear Of Missing Outness of it all. That’s what I’m talking about.

I know, I’m sounding all cynical again.  Lo Siento.

When you stand for nothing you fall for everything.

I vaguely remembered that, or a version of that quote from sometime in my past but a google search now left me none-the-wiser of its origins nor proper form but the form that I’ve got there highlights what I’ve got to say perfectly in this case.

For me a brand becomes a bland when it does this.

By falling for everything I mean the mindlessly ticking of boxes without really knowing or (worse in my opinion) caring about the detail.

This mentality breeds angry brand owners who ask questions but don’t want to hear any nuance in the answer ‘just give me a yes or a no’.

It creates promises that it can’t necessarily keep as it doesn’t understand its role in keeping them because it never thought to ask ‘why am I doing this’ or ‘how is this helping’ or ‘what benefit does this bring to the world’

and, worst of all, this bland mentality can actually derail legitimate causes by diluting or even making a mockery of the message because it was always misunderstood – for example being a vegan skin care brand but sending out your samples in little silk purses.  I don’t know a brand that does that but that’s just an example of the lack of joined up thinking that can exist in the bland space.

The solution?

I think it’s as simple as considering these three steps.

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION.

And no, I don’t mean google or your best friends blog (unless I am your best friend xxx)

Invest some real-time and real money into investigating why there is a growing trend for vegan skin care when skin care isn’t something you eat.  What does it mean for people, what do they want it to be, how different is vegan vs other skin care, does being a vegan brand constrain your brand at all and if so how will you tackle that. You can’t really build this into your authentic brand story if you have either no idea or a very shallow notion of why you are doing it.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND SING ABOUT THAT.

I often find that people who go for the prescriptive way of doing things because ‘that’s how you get on, that’s what they are teaching you to do in Instagram school’ have no imagination of their own.  Now not having an imagination is not a crime but it does make you a prime bland candidate and to avoid falling into that you need to plan.  Everybody is unique and has their own little point of difference that got their brand started, do yourself a favour and pop a little drop of that into your marketing whether it be your face or another legal and suitable body part (hands, feet, back of head etc), your location or your actual products in action is up to you but do SOMETHING to avoid becoming 100% blended out.  Don’t be afraid of who you are and the brand you are creating. It’s not all about glossy pre-purchased lifestyle images.

CURATED BUT STILL CONNECTED.

When I formulate for someone I don’t take their ideas and turn them into my own product. I try and grasp their flow and develop what they want. This approach ensures that people get something they relate to when they finally walk off with their formula rather than something that I just wanted to do. This approach only ever goes wrong when the client coming to me had no real clue of what they wanted on a deep and personal level anyway. If I have to guess you’ve lost me.  Same I think it true of Instagram.

The trend in having curated feeds that are very professional and set out like an art gallery is lovely and soothing to look out but it can quickly become bland if your audience can’t spot YOU in there.  Sure pick a colour scheme, filter and visual ‘voice’ but make sure you relate to it and that it’s authenticity filters through to your branding or else you might win a customer once but you’ll fail to keep them for that all-important follow up and ongoing sale.

So to sum up. 

Life is too short to create a bland make what you do count by investing in understanding more about what you are doing.

Go for broke, back your individuality, build your story and share it your way.

and if you fear you can’t because you are a weirdo just do it anyway, we are all weird!!!