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Kombucha Gotcha?

March 3, 2017

Of all the things I do in my work, stability testing teaches me the most and that’s why I find it a shame when companies don’t really want to pay for it to be done properly, such a wasted opportunity.  Anyway, it was one such experience that highlighted an issue to me, an issue that I’ve seen to varying degrees over a range of organic products.


I got the above picture from here as I really like the way they have explained the Kombucha process and thought you might like that too!

The pH of Organic Products often shifts downwards over time but not always to a point that one would consider alarming.  Why is that?

Some organic (and some non-organic) emulsion based products get gassy and thin at the same time when they degrade? Why is that?

I’ve got my theories, they are based on observations of stability test results and trends carried out over several years (I’ve been running a stability lab since 2011).

My theory is one of fermentation and it goes something like this.

Fermentation works well when the following conditions are met:

  • Sugar is present, specifically monosaccharides.
  • The pH is acidic, pH 4-4.5 is good.
  • The formula is potentially under-preserved for the conditions. Not necessarily enough to warrant a PET fail but enough to allow some ‘good’ bacteria and especially yeast to thrive.

I see these conditions quite often in organic and some natural formulations, mainly because these are most likely to include a large amount of Aloe in the water phase (to increase the organic percentage while at the same time capturing the benefits of this sugar-rich juice).

So as extracts go Aloe derives almost all of its benefits from sugars both monosaccharides (simple sugars) and polysaccharides (complex sugars of the type found in cellulose).  The natural abundance of these simple sugars makes it a prime candidate for fermentation, a process that requires the presence of glucose and simple sugars to commence.

Fermentation but first glycolysis.

Glycolysis is a potential first step in this two-step reaction and is where the sugars in the product are broken down to form Pyruvic acid which then goes on to catalyse the fermentation reaction.

This part of the reaction is as far as I think most cosmetic products get as to start fermenting a few more conditions are required.  But this part of the reaction is enough to account for an ever decreasing pH.

Pyruvic acid has a very low pKa which means it could potentially see the pH of the product drop to 2.5 if it was able to build up to high enough levels.  I’d suspect this was happening in any product that displayed a consistent drop in pH throughout the stability testing where no other contributing factors were present (dehydration, concentrating the acids etc).

This reaction doesn’t generate any gas so the product would look and feel as per the control until the pH dropped below 3.5 ish or was applied on damaged skin.

My worry with products displaying this type of action is that the pH drop might cause the product to become irritating over its shelf life due to this low pH.  How much the pH was felt on the skin would depend on how much Pyruvic acid was produced and the ratio of the oil and water phase but needless to say it could get messy.

If you were to have a product that was thickened only by these susceptible polysaccharides you could end up with a very thin product.  We often see this with Hyaluronic Acid gels (predominantly disaccharides to start with) and it certainly happens with pure Aloe gels or gels created using guar – some sugars are more resistant to glycolysis than others.

But some products don’t stop there.

After glycolysis comes fermentation and this is what generates the bubbles.

Fermentation takes the pyruvic acid as it moves to create alcohol.  In doing so Carbon Dioxide gas is produced which can make a product look very bubbly.

A consequence of the pyruvic acid being used up in the fermentation process means the pH slide is halted as fermentation tends to produce acids with a higher pKa so it is more likely to end up with a product with a pH around 3.5-3.8 which is still low but nowhere near as low and irritating as 2.5 which is classed as too low for a commercial cosmetic product.

So what can be done about this?

While it is likely that this type of degradation is somewhat inevitable in this type of formula the question is can we slow it down and meet a reasonable shelf life?  I think we can.  Organic products are often preserved using more gentle microbiostatics rather than microbiocidals.  To illustrate the difference I’ll give you the example of my cockroach problem at home.  A cockroach happened to walk its self into my pantry moth sticky trap on Wednesday and while it couldn’t get off because its feet were stuck, it did eventually die – after 2 days – and that’s called a humane trap…..  Contrast that with the cockroach that got a whiff of my national parks friendly creepy bug spray and died within minutes.   A microbiostatic stops bugs in their tracks so they can’t feed or breed and eventually die of boredom I suppose – it would be quite boring not being able to do those things.   A microbiocidal basically nukes the hell out of the bugs, killing them quickly but potentially being more toxic to the surrounds.   So organic products with their more humane preservatives are an easy target for yeast – even good yeast- to start the fermenting process.   Organic products are less likely to use chelating agents (in my experience here, this is probably not the case overseas) as they don’t want to use anything that reduces the organic content.  A chelating agent can really help boost preservative efficacy and would be helpful here.   Starting pH in some organic formulations is low due to the desire to make the preservatives work better and the fact that natural preservatives often work by acidifying their environment.  A move from pH 4.5 to 5.5 might be just enough to stack the odds in your favour without ruining your preservatives life.   I am sure there are more things that could be tried too but the preservative free hurdle technology is going to be less helpful in this type of formula as the presence of sugars is the start and end of the problem, not how much free water you have, especially give the fact that irradiation is banned for organic products so some microbes including yeasts are bound to be in your product to start with.


How do I find out if I’m affected by this Kombucha affliction?

Stability testing is the way to go, organised multi-temperature stability testing over a period of at least 12 weeks.

And could anything else cause these symptoms or are you sure its fermentation?

Well as I said at the beginning this is a theory so there could well be other things at play but the observations I have made across a number of products do seem to stack up with these well-known and well documented processes.  Having said that products can become bubbly through other things too and viscosity can drop in gels for other reasons so it is more that the whole picture is pointing me to this conclusion than any single sign.

And is there any analytical test that could back this theory up?

That is what I’m currently looking into as I’m as keen as anyone to get some data to back this up.  I can’t see why levels of Pyruvic acid, lactic or acetic acid  or alcohol can’t be measured. That should be easy.  Oh and of course we can do another micro test to see how the yeast levels are looking compared to at the start of the testing.

To be honest I’m not sure what I’m going to do next with this but if I do invest in some more testing I’ll be sure to let you know!

Amanda x

Coenzyme Q10 – Ubiquinone and Idebenone

February 20, 2017

I looked at putting Ubiquinone, the naturally derived Coq10 into a TGA listed skin care product a few months ago and found that it wasn’t possible, the ARTG only allows CoQ10 in oral preparations and not in skin care. This is because of a lack of efficacy data to support deliver of this active via that route.  I thought that was interesting.

When dosed orally Coenzyme Q10 is said to help keep the heart healthy.  It is essential for cellular function as it is used by the cells to generate energy – no COQ10, no energy – sounds legit.

Apparently it doesn’t quite work that way when applied topically.

After hearing that one would be forgiven for feeling that COQ10 is a bit of a dud, another fad that the cosmetic industry comes up with in order to sell products but to think that would be to do COQ10 a great dis-service.   It is, in fact very helpful but not as an energy booster,  instead COQ10 acts as a powerful and quite useful antioxidant and every skin care guru needs a bit of that in their life!

Ubiquinone is the name for the COQ10 that is naturally produced, us cosmetic chemists sometimes extract it from plant material, the rather un-sexy Japanese Knott Weed is a particularly reliable and cost-effective plant source that is widely used.   The wonderful world of pharmaceuticals created their own super-potent version of this COQ10 when they made Idebenone. This is a slightly smaller molecule with better solubility and efficacy, at least when it comes to pharmaceutical applications but for cosmetics it has proved to be a little too risky an ingredient for most thanks to its ability to induce dermal allergic reactions – possibly due to its enhanced skin penetration ability?  I am not sure…..  In any case the cosmetic world now favours Ubiquinone  and uses it as an antioxidant while the pharmaceutical world favours Idebenone and uses it as both an antioxidant and a cellular energy booster.

Here are the molecular diagrams so you can see the structure of the two chemicals:


So what do we know of the antioxidant properties of Ubiquinone?


I found this table in an article I was reading about the antioxidant efficacy of the COQ10 (Idebenone: A new antioxidant. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, Vol 4 (1) – Jan 1, 2005).  As you can see from this, in this round of  tests the Ubiquinone scores 55 out of 100, Idebenone 95 and Tocopherol (Natural Vitamin E) scores 80.   55 out of 100 doesn’t look great but numbers can be deceptive in these things – as you can see Ubiquinone scores about the same as Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and Alpha Lipoic Acid, another popular Antioxidant in cosmetics comes in last with 41.   When it comes to dosing your product up with antioxidants I like to think of it like this.  Say you want to give your house a good clean, protect it from dirt and grime,  you would be best sourcing a variety of implements – duster,  vacuum cleaner, broom, mop etc – rather than just getting in 4 x vacuum cleaners.  Antioxidants are the same, they work to keep your product protected from the ravages of free radical pollution.  Free radicals come in different shapes, sizes and amounts and so it makes sense to try to tackle them in a variety of ways.  If you are lucky your variety of tools will work synergistically creating a combination that is better than the sum of its parts.  It is worth trying for that.   So, when I look at the table above that’s what I see,  a set of antioxidants with different levels of ability but also different chemistries, chemistries that might prove better suited to something outside of this test criteria.  After all, Idebenone might perform the best here on paper but what use is that when some people react to it?

So how much Ubiquinone should you use to access its antioxidant benefits?

Well, the beauty of an antioxidant is that any amount you do is better than nothing – like cleaning up the house, just picking up one pair of socks from the floor makes a difference and is worth it (yes children, I hope you are listening…).   That said there is an optimal level that insures efficacy without a high risk of irritation or product instability or expensivity (I just made that word up).  The amount most commonly used is 0.01-0.5% – quite a wide range but again that does reflect the fact that each formula will have a different level of need for an antioxidant both as product protection (to prevent the formula from going rancid) and in terms of claim substantiation (to protect the skin from free radicals).

The ingredient is oil soluble although it is fair to say it is poorly soluble and often needs filtering before adding to a base as it won’t fully dissolve into most oils.  I’ve found success in dissolving it into vegetable squalane and that solvent has the added benefit of being skin-like and something of a skin penetration enhancer because of its ability to spread the ingredient out evenly.

Anything else to keep in mind when using CO Q10?

Well it is expensive when compared to Vitamin E (somewhere in the region of 8-10 times more) so you would tend to using less of this than your tocopherol.  Also it is a bright yellow in colour and that colour will run through into your base product, especially if you are using 0.5% of this active.  Otherwise it is pretty much odourless which makes it quite easy to add into most formulations and because the addition rate is low it can also be dispersed through a gel (water-based) serum if needs be.

And one last thing, what is Kinetin?  It also appears in that antioxidant test result table. 

That is a plant hormone that stimulates growth.  Apparently it is also used in skin care along with vitamin A (Retinol) to help fight ageing although I’ve not come across it myself (but that doesn’t mean much to be honest).   Just a quick Google of products containing this show up Almay Skin Soothing Foundation, Pro Therapy MD Cream and Garden of Eden tissue growth cream – high-end products.  This antioxidant is listed as an unrestricted ingredient in the COSING database (EU ingredient database) and looking at Special Chemicals for Cosmetics it seemed to be quite popular in 2010-2014 with nothing much since and no suppliers listed so I’ll have to dig around a bit more about why that is.

So there you go.  Ubiquinone, CO Q10 is a good antioxidant for skincare and is probably worth adding to your regular round-up of antioxidant heros if you can afford it.  If you can’t afford it, it looks like tried and trusted Vitamin E is better on a weight for weight basis anyway so don’t feel like you are missing out too much.

Amanda x



Still Don’t Make Your Own Sunscreen But….. A Closer Look at Raspberry Seed Oil

February 19, 2017

In December 2012 I wrote a little article advising people not to make their own Zinc based sunscreen.  That post still attracts lots of eyeballs and comments which is interesting and why I’m following it up with another post.  I’m happy to say that I have dissuaded some people from making and selling their own zinc sunscreen either because they didn’t realise the testing costs involved or that actually there is more to this than just adding zinc into a cream and hoping for the best but I haven’t put everyone off.  Some of those enthusiastic people feel that there is always the potential for a stone I’ve left unturned (maybe there is) or a solution I didn’t spot (again, possible) but to date I’m yet to read a comment that has me going ‘aha, they are onto something’ and the zinc-only products on the market are still largely as they were when I wrote this – a mixture of not-that-great to quite nice and wearable but not as invisible or flexible as some other options out there.

But that’s not what I’m wanting to talk about here,  here I want to talk about Raspberry Seed Oil.

So while some ‘make your own sunscreen’ enthusiasts are off playing with zinc, others are out picking raspberries……

It has been said, once or twice on the great Googlesphere that Raspberry Seed Oil is a fab natural sunscreen.  Now while there is some scientific basis behind that statement a sunscreen it is not and I think it’s time I explained why in the best way I can and for me that means starting with the science of what we know and what we don’t.

Scientific Study: Characteristics of Raspberry Seed Oil,  B Dave Oomah, Stephanie Ladet, David V Godfrey, Jun Liang, Benoit Girard. Food Research Programme Canada Published in Food Chemistry issue 69, 2000, page 187-193.

Finding:  Raspberry Seed Oil showed good absorbance in the UVB – UVC ranges with potential for use as a broad spectrum UV protectant.

NOTE: The oil extracted for this test was done so using hexane, a food-grade solvent.  

Snipped of the above paper talking about Sun Protection.

























I don’t want to be the biggest party pooper on the planet but WHAT ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT HERE?

Crude Raspberry Seed Oil showed some absorbance in the UVC and UVB range.

OK so UVC is is not a concern for the skin as it is filtered by the ozone layer whereas UVB and UVA are as they are the more energetic ‘skin damaging’ rays – well, damaging if you get too much.  Therefore I’ll ignore the UVC bit.

UVB is interesting though but how did they test this?  I’m suspecting it was using a labsphere machine because of how the data is presented.  Labsphere machines can give a theoretical SPF/ result to make sure a product is safe to then start using on real people, they are often used in sunscreen testing for that purpose and to give an idea of where testing should start (what SPF).

I’m feeling OK about this until I see the next sentence:  In the UVB range, Raspberry Seed Oil can shield against UVA induced damage by scattering as well as by absorption.

What?  How can they now jump to what the oil will do in the UVA region when they are not measuring it?  What do they mean by shielding against damage by scattering and absorption I wonder?  These terms are simple enough – scattering light is what Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide do – they bounce it away from the skin so the energy doesn’t get in and burn us.  Absorption is also easy, that’s what chemical sunscreens do, they interact with UV rays and chemically disable it by reducing its energy.   I can’t accept that Raspberry Seed Oil can do either without evidence and I see no evidence here.

With regards to results for UVB that’s fine but if you shield the skin from UVB without considering UVA you actually leave the skin in a situation that is worse than if you used nothing. Our skin has evolved with the UVA and UVB in proportion, not one or the other. To treat the UV spectrum as a set of boxes that you can either take or leave is to not understand how it works, it is a continuum, a spectrum and rather than chopping it up one needs to just dim it evenly like you would dim the lights in a room.

Ok but then we have another sentence that in light of the above makes me even more confused:

The optical transmission of Raspberry Seed Oil, especially in the UV range (290-400nm) was comparable to that of titanium dioxide preparations with sun protection factors for UVB and UVA between 28-50 and 6.5-7.5 respectively. 

That sentence above has been enough to have a whole barrel load of people think that Raspberry Seed oil has an SPF of up to 50.  I would hesitate to get so excited and this is why.

  • I can see no evidence that this test was validated on people – what something appears to do on a labsphere machine may not happen in-vivo.  It would make sense to test this on people and I have seen that happen with far lower results than these ( A potential SPF boost of between 4-5 possibly).
  • Again the UVA and UVB are separated which makes no sense when we are looking to apply this to real life.  It is a falsehood to think that human SPF testing ONLY focuses on UVB, the human SPF testing exposes people to a simulated sunshine which includes UVA as well as UVB.  While we can induce the sunburn with just UVB whereas UVA doesn’t do that to think that an SPF is ONLY UVB is outdated for the reasons I stated before.  The red reaction is what we measure because it is the first visual sign that the skin is in trauma and that trauma  is a signal for both UVA and UVB, the body doesn’t care to assign such arbitrary limits.
  • Titanium Dioxide at what concentration and particle size?  The way this is written shows a lack of understanding for how sunscreen actives are sold.  It would make more sense to report an approximate SPF range per unit used.  Titanium Dioxide generally gives around 2 and up to 2.5 ish SPF units per 1%.  Zinc Oxide is somewhere in the region of 1-1.5.   We are none the wiser as to the concentration of Raspberry seed oil needed to get this amazing result OR do we just assume we put it on neat?
  • Neat oil is a possibility but what about the lens effect of the oil film?  Oils that leave the skin shiny can actually accentuate the suns rays thus making it more likely rather than less to burn. It is likely that this physical phenomena would reduce the SPF potential of this oil somewhat, especially if one needs to apply it neat to get a result.
  • The UV spectra range of Titanium Dioxide is only broad spectrum if the particle size is small (towards nano) and even then it doesn’t have the broad UVA coverage that Zinc does so will this Raspberry Oil leave us wanting in the high frequency UVA range?

Let’s have a closer look at the graphs:

At the bottom of these it does say that the Raspberry Seed Oil was diluted to 1%


And here are some typical absorbance curves.



We are focusing on the Absorbance as that’s what matters.  To be like Titanium Dioxide we would want to see absorbance above 1 in the 290-340 wavelength.  What we do see is weird.  The top graph only goes up to a wavelength of 290, anything before that is kind of irrelevant as we only start counting UVB from 280.  At 280 the Absorbance is looking to be somewhere around 0.2 which is not really that good.  Absorbance usually ranges from 0-2. O = no absorption and 2= 99% absorption.  So if we just extrapolate that and say, for argument’s sake that an Absorbance of 1 = 50:50 (1/2 of rays are absorbed),  0.5 = 1/4 of rays absorbed and 0.25 = 1.8th of rays absorbed or 12.5% so more is getting through than being mopped up or diverted.

We have to come down to the second graph to get the interesting data but suddenly the Raspberry seed oil has jumped from absorbing only 0.2 at 290nm to absorbing nearly 0.9 at 290nm – how can this even happen?  It then drops off reaching around 0.1 absorbance at the 350 wavelength which means that even if we can trust these numbers it is running well short of being broad spectrum.

Then on the last graph we again see what looks like a miraculous jump from an absorbance of close to 0 at 400 wavelength to an absorbance of………less than 0.1 – yes, they changed the gradient to make it look more exciting maybe or maybe just so we can zero in on how not good this is at protecting from these high wavelengths.

By contrast we see the graph below.  We can see that Titanium Dioxide does quite a good job in the UVB region (280-320) absorbing in the 1.2 region (60% absorbed) but by the time it gets to 400 we only have about 0.3 or 15% absorbed, 75% getting through.

So what’s the verdict?

If I had to base my sunscreen formulations on this one paper I’d not be relying on Raspberry Seed Oil. The study has some deficits that make me wonder if the people involved had much experience in sunscreen development – why should they after all, they are publishing in a food journal about a food by-product.

But I don’t just read journals I also do lab stuff.

I have seen raspberry seed oil in action and being tested in sunscreen formulations and in the tests I’ve seen it might add a bit of a boost to the SPF – in the order of 4-5 SPF units for a product containing between 1-5%.  Aha, I hear you say, but what about a product with JUST Raspberry seed oil????  Based on the above I’d not rely on the Raspberry seed oil to give me anything like the broad spectrum protection that Zinc Oxide or smaller particulate Titanium Dioxide can give so no, I don’t see that as an option.

But what we haven’t talked about is the oils antioxidant content.  Quite a few fruit oils do contain antioxidant chemicals which can help mop up the damage that excessive UV radiation can leave behind.  Dousing the skin with antioxidants every day sounds like a very good idea to me and could strengthen the skin making it less likely to succumb to UV induced damage.  However, this mopping up doesn’t mean the skin hasn’t been exposed.  One would have to weigh up the benefit of having a good cleaner in a house full of slobs.  Sure the cleaner will work like mad but if there are too many slobs in the house the cleaner will get tired and die of exhaustion, your antioxidants are no different.

My advice to those looking to substitute ‘chemical’ sunscreens with antioxidant rich oils and extracts is yes, do it but also do yourself a favour and modify your sun behaviour too so that you are at least giving your antioxidants a fighting chance of keeping up.

I see no reason for these antioxidant rich oils to not be part of a natural approach to sun protection and for some people it may indeed be enough, but for everyone else I’m still going to be advising some good old-fashioned ‘chemical’ sunscreen.






Extrinsic Ageing and the Limit of a Cosmetic Ingredient Efficacy.

February 19, 2017

I really like this picture that I found on ‘On Health’ here.

Apparently the twin on the right smokes and likes to sunbathe whereas the twin on the left doesn’t.


Pictures like this do help me to set customers expectations with regards to what a cosmetic product can and can’t do and for me, that’s a beautiful thing!

The cosmetic industry is full of hype and to be honest some of it just does my head in.  I am not a fan of ingredient companies that sell their actives on the basis that they worked In Vitro – basically on cells that they made up in the lab in a test tube.  That isn’t real life, the cosmetic chemist can’t just grab the exact cells they need and dab their product onto them.  We have to go through layer after layer of Keratinocytes before we even get to the live cells (Keratinocytes are dead and are what covers all of our outer skin except for our lips) and that’s not easy when the whole point of the skin is to keep stuff out.  We really do have to swim against the tide!

As someone who does read through the efficacy data with a fine tooth comb before going to a site like Deep Dyvve (you have to pay to subscribe) to read other scientific papers to see if the results the ingredient manufacturer got stack up in the world outside of their imaginations I do sometimes find myself a bit lacking in the enthusiasm department for some shiny new cosmetic ingredients because of this In Vitro issue.  But this stuff isn’t going away any time soon, ingredient manufacturers aren’t so much lying when they tell us about their in-vitro awesomeness,  more that they are potentially over-stating the facts  or drawing conclusions as to the how’s and why’s while trying to provide this insatiable market place with a little bit of something that isn’t BAD for you.

So what’s the deal with these In Vitro wonder kids? Do they do anything? Should they be avoided altogether?

OK so if something can be proven to do something good in vitro while at the same time doing nothing bad it may be worth the gamble don’t you think?  In vitro testing does tend to help answer the ‘is this going to be toxic?’ question and that is quite important don’t you think….

Then there is always the possibility that the cosmetic chemist will manage to reach these viable cells if the base formula is right.

Lastly and not insignificantly most these ingredient companies do go on to run some real-life efficacy tests and see some visible improvements in the skin of their test subjects. Even if the visible results are not directly linked to what the ingredient can do in-vivo does that really matter if it makes you look better and the ingredient meets your marketing expectations?  I think not.

OK, so let’s get back to the picture and what cosmetics CAN do shall we?

The picture above shows a number of skin-based processes that have been accelerated due to lifestyle choices and environmental exposure – extrinsic ageing.  Properly formulated cosmetics can help either to prevent this damage and/or correct a little of what’s gone wrong but only up to a point.

  • Fine lines and wrinkles – Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise. Cosmetic emulsions (Creams) can excel in this area delivering by delivering extra oil in a breathable and pH balanced watery soup to the skin in a comfortable and easy-to-spread way.  Never under-estimate the role of a bit of strategically placed moisture on the skin!
  • Deeper lines – Prevention is the only thing a cosmetic can help with.  Deep lines, once formed can only be removed by a face lift or fillers – surgical intervention.Where a cosmetic can help is in boosting moisture (to plump up the skin),  reflecting light away from the wrinkle (so the lines look like they have diminished) and topically tightening the skin with the aid of a shrink-to-fit polymer that physically tightens the skin by tightening onto it.   While there are a selection of ‘topical botox’ type ingredients (typically peptides) around that can affect the muscle contractions the ingredient does have to get right down past the dermal-epidermal junction in order to work and while this isn’t impossible, it isn’t easy and results will not be as dramatic and permanent as you can achieve with fillers or botox.
  • Pigmentation is something that a cosmetic product can affect.  Bearberry (uva Ursi) extract is very commonly used in brightening formulations in order to capture the benefits of the Arbutin that it contains.  Arbutin is structurally similar to Hydroquinone (same molecular family only arbutin is glycosylated. Glycosylation is a reaction where a carbohydrate (sugar) is attached onto a molecule so Arbutin is hydroquinone plus this carbohydrate part) and works in a similar way by blocking the melanin pathway.  If melanin can’t be ‘grown’ and deposited in the cell a discolouration won’t develop.   Hydroquinone is a prescription only ingredient in Europe, the USA and Australia  whereas Bearberry extract is not regulated that way.  The reason hydroquinone is restricted is because of outstanding questions and concerns over its potential carcinogenic status. It is thought that because of the slight difference in chemical structure Bearberry is a safer option.  One study looking into the amount of Arbutin in Bearberry found concentration ranges between 6.3-9.16%.  One patent for a topical lightening cream containing Arbutin specified an active Arbutin concentration of between 0.05-5%.    On that basis one would be looking at adding the Bearberry active at between 0.55% – 79.3% of the formula to get a result. This may or may not be possible depending on the type of product you are trying to make.  Anyway, enough of the detail, the bottom line is that one can decrease pigmentation by topical application of a treatment or cosmetic product as long as the actives are the right ones and present at the right concentration.
  • Uneven Skin Tone can also be addressed cosmetically.  We have the make-up option and we also have at our disposal a range of anti-inflammatories and soothing agents that can help address redness and skin marks.  A common and popular soothing agent is Bisabolol from Chamomile and a great anti-inflammatory is Allantoin from Comfrey.  Together they can help to even things out while the other ingredients get to work.
  • Sun damage and the general lack of vitality in environmentally aged skin can be prevented or slowed down by the application of antioxidants.  Popular antioxidants are Coenzyme Q10,  Resveratrol,  Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Alpha Lipoic Acid.  Antioxidants are common to many fruit based extracts and vegetable oils, ingredients which are growing in popularity amongst those looking for active natural skin care.  It is relatively easy for the cosmetic chemist to deliver these to our clients skin because oxidation occurs where there is oxygen – on the surface – so as long as we have a good range of ingredients at concentrations that won’t irritate and they are spread well across the skin we should get results and slow down that extrinsic ageing and boost the skins natural capacity to protect its self from the sun at the same time!  Bonus!

So cosmetics do work!

While there are some things that a cosmetic product just can’t do there is much that they can.  It often surprises my students when I tell them just how many things can be achieved on or close to the skin’s surface – I think most people assume ingredients have to almost get into the blood stream to work.  When it comes to moisturising, protecting, strengthening, re-surfacing,  smoothing,  ‘feeding’ and brightening our products only have to soak into the top few layers which is great as that’s pretty much as far as most cosmetic products get, even with the aid of delivery systems.

But cosmetic product do have their limits.

In the case of these twins, no amount of cosmetic product will have the twin on the right hand side of this image looking like the twin on the left although the right products might get her somewhere close (if she even wants that, after all, we don’t know).  What is also important is  that neither twin looks to be in their twenties, thirties or even early forties and that is significant.  A good cosmetic product may do as much as help you look a good few years younger than your age but the only thing that can take decades off you is either surgery, good genes, good life-choices or good fortune (a stress free life).

Expectations set, let’s get into the lab and try some stuff out.

Amanda x



Skincare for beginners – Birthing a Brand

February 19, 2017

After being in the business of cosmetic formulating, brand building and product development for just shy of 20 years I do know a thing or two about how it all works. I can tell you know that it isn’t all about sexy packaging, Insta-magic and miracle cures, this industry is bloody hard work, relentless and to be taken seriously.

I’ve been focusing on the new end of town over the last month (hence no blog posts) as I re-wrote and delivered the first of a new range of workshops on the subject.  Deciding what to put in and what to leave out has been the hardest challenge for me as I also teach the advanced courses and as a consequence knowing where to draw the (information) line has been my biggest problem, not least because these days people do think they know a lot more than they actually do because of our good old friend Google.

Google-Goggles Give you Confidence.

What I have found, especially over the last five years or so is a rise in the number of people who come to a workshop already feeling like they know how this industry thing works.  This is not surprising given the number of industry insiders (me included) visible and approachable on the internet.  Plus now you can get qualified online, talk detail with people in cosmetic interest groups and generally turn up to your first hands-on play time fully briefed and qualified as a cosmetic chemist – qualified before you’ve ever set foot in a cosmetic factory or even met someone (face-to-face) that does this for a living.

But it isn’t until theory meets practice that things start to get real.

My instincts tell me that the people turning up with dreams of being the next big brand need to know the nitty-gritty and need to know it FAST.  The instant gratification of an uncomplicated answer is not my job to give.  This shit is about to get serious  – especially if you are about to plough a significant chunk of your life savings, time and energy into it.

The doom merchant.

So I’m sitting here contemplating whether my workshop participants should be introduced to me as ‘Amanda, Mistress of DOOM’…….. Sure I’ll give them some handy tips and hints of how to customise a base formula, select actives and develop a good story but I’m also going to tell them that natural ingredients can still be irritating,  yes you all need to use preservatives and no there are none that sound wonderfully natural that work in all situations and cost less than an arm and a leg.   And while we are at it I’ll make sure that everyone knows who is responsible for the safety of their product (them) and that a safe product doesn’t just begin and end with unpronounceable ingredients.  I’ll tell them that they need to keep a close eye on their budget and that some product ideas and ingredient philosophies haven’t been done before because they are either illegal or un-viable.

Yes I’ll tell them all of that.

But I’ll also tell them that cosmetic science isn’t just about science, numbers, scalability, responsibility and detail.  It is also about creative expression, people and art.

A silver lining?

While I know that for some people this approach will be too much, what I hope is that for those that are serious it will be inspiring.   We are all grown ups here and as fancy and glamorous as the cosmetic industry looks from the outside, on the inside it is still a business and business has rules and responsibility.

But we still have to play.

And that’s why I’ve made sure these beginners workshops are still jam-packed with lovely recipes to try to enjoy!  That we have some space during the day to talk to each other, share ideas, think up questions and get some answers.

Giving birth to a brand is no different to giving birth to a baby.  There’s pain, discomfort, realisation, stress and confusion but there is also immense joy, love and pride – hopefully that will last my students a lifetime.


So let’s do this thing.

Amanda x


That ever elusive ingredient. Why you can’t always get what you want (or need)….

January 10, 2017

OK so I’m writing this in Australia but I’ve also lived and worked in Europe.  The markets and access issues are different in both places and I’m sure they are different again across the other continents.

I have been working on a formula and, as sometimes happens, I’ve hit upon a problem.  I won’t tell you exactly what the problem is (it’s to do with boosting the performance of this product) as that’s not that relevant but I will tell you what I learned from this experience as I think it’s relevant to others. Maybe even you!

So my problem is that I can’t achieve the performance I want in my formula without a specialised ingredient or set of ingredients that I don’t currently stock in my lab.

So I come back to my desk and start searching the internet for an ingredient that might just fix this issue I have and I find one!


Being forever grateful for my ten years of product management (Supply chain/ tech support) once I’ve found this wonder chemical I know a few of the avenues I can go to access it.  I try them and fail.  NOTHING TO SEE HERE….

Not that I was particularly optimistic in the first place as the supplier that has created this awesome chemical is one I know well and one that rarely has its awesome technology available in neat small packs that can be purchased from a local wholesaler.

I was also sort of meh about it because living in Australia the chemicals we use for cosmetics (and for anything else for that matter) have to come through a regulatory board called NICNAS and I pretty much assumed straight off the bat that this little beauty wouldn’t have got through that door.  Sure I could arrange a low volume permit but that would set up hassles for my customer and I don’t want to do that.


During my internet searching I came across a thread on a cosmetic science discussion where someone was asking for the exact same thing as I needed and yeh, they got no joy either.  However,  that did make me think and that is why I’m writing now.

The person asking the question was a self-confessed newbie asking after this ingredient with all of the optimism of a person who hasn’t tried for months to get the paperwork together for a NICNAS permit,  try and get a new ingredient sponsored through the system or put their 10kg pack speciality order into a supplier only finding it still not here 15 weeks later (got to wait for a consolidated load and sea freight it) OR had to pay almost double to get the stuff in via air.


So the moral of this story is this.  Professional chemists and newbies alike are sometimes faced with finding the most awesome life-changing solution-bringing chemical online only to find it impossible to access.

Things have got a little better over the years as more small lot wholesale companies have sprung up but it is unlikely that the market will open up completely given that being able to purchase something once is only half the battle (regulatory, testing, re-order etc).  I’ve known many a large ingredient manufacturer drop products from their local range because they became too expensive to support – not the market for them.  So just as you get hooked on something it becomes impossible to re-order.  Not good.


Everyone is different and everyone’s needs are different but what I do is this.  I formulate for clients (I don’t have my own brand) so I have to think about the ease of access to the materials I formulate with so I screen out all the problems I can before we get too far.  You might not care about that.  How I then go about solving my problem is by using my knowledge of chemistry and my creativity.


Gross saying BTW but anyway….

So what I’ll do is to think carefully about what I am trying to achieve then see if other ingredient combinations that I can more easily access can help me get there.  This involves more time, more failed attempts in the lab and more fiddling than just buying one thing and whacking it in the pot but on the plus side this also improves ones chemistry skills,  artisanship, problem solving and increases the likelihood that the resulting formula will be unique and interesting.


Well as a teacher type of person I think this is just wonderful as it creates the perfect environment for innovation and further learning but if your focus is on fast results then probably no.


That is waiting for a couple more ingredients that are easier to access (and NICNAS registered) to come in so I can play with them and failing that I’ve got a more clunky ‘fix’ in the bag.



Thinking: The importance of staying flexible.

January 8, 2017

I saw this today and it made me think.


Have we become so delicate and embattled that we can no longer see that we are sometimes wrong?

Let’s have a think focusing only on the image and not the writing in black or red.

This shape happens to be on the floor and we can’t tell everything about it from just looking at the picture – is it drawn on or is it placed there?  What is it made from/ created with?  Is it one or multi-dimensional in real life?

There is a tendency to assume that the symbolic people, the characters in this narrative feel they have sufficient evidence, from their point of view, to loudly declare it a 6 or a 9.   There is also a tendency to assume the pair are arguing or at least holding their opinions loudly and somewhat unwaveringly due to the body language (stiff bodies, pointing, apparent shouting, distance) that’s described in the drawing.   But these are mere assumptions.

We might also assume more context to this narrative, that neither one of these people is responsible for creating this situation and that they are both just faced with dealing with it as they found it.

I don’t know about you but I tend to reach that conclusion because if one of them had created it then surely the caption would be ‘no, I put that there and it is a ….’.

But again we are making assumptions.

Whomever created this situation, be it one of these or a third party (and it could still be one of these people who just happens, for the moment to be playing a shouting game) could have intended a number of things including but not limited to:

  • The intention is that it the number 6 and that the viewers will interpret it as such and understand its meaning because they understand western numerals
  • The intention is that it is the number 9 with the same context as above.
  • The intention is that it is purposely ambiguous so as to leave the interpretation up to the viewer and that it can therefore be either a 6 or a 9 or whatever the viewer wants it to be.
  • It is neither 6 o 9 it is just a curly shape that happens to remind people of a number.
  • It is a kids train track.
  • It is a road map.
  • It is a failed attempt at drawing a @ sign.
  • A trace of the journey that a snail made when plucked from the garden and left on the ground while being observed.
  • It is the letter g.

Throughout my career as a cosmetic chemist I’ve been challenged both by people who do have more knowledge and insight into what I’m currently working on and those that don’t.  Both groups can have a tendency to come at you with equal ferocity and confidence in the ‘fact’ that they are correct and have something to teach you.  Rather than shout and become defensive first up I’ve tried to remain open minded and to seek further information on the other persons perspective:

“What is it that they can see that I can’t”  is a favourite question of mine.

So we look for more information, do our research and in this case it involves reading the small print….

So let’s look at the rest of the information we have to hand. 

If the small print under the Meme above is correct the drawing on the floor is a 6 or a 9 (we should assume the author of the piece does have sufficient information to draw that conclusion but as a scientist it is always OK to note that assumption in your summary) we can conclude that one of the people is wrong and we can also conclude that the advice given to look for other clues as to the orientation of the number is sound.  Further, the caution at the end of the piece also rings true, that an uninformed opinion is dangerous although I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it is ruining the world and that nobody wants to do any research.  I’d be more inclined to say that people simply don’t appreciate the position that they are in.

After all, how many other people would have looked at that shape and thought it could be a snail trail?

Maybe it’s just imagination we lack.

Amanda x

PS:  Scientists call our own in-built desire to interpret something in a particular way as BIAS and as a science professional we have to be aware of the bias trap at all times.  How can we find out anything new if we only look for confirmation that we are right all the time?