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Podcast 37 – Botaneco Natural Emulsion Technology

Chemists Corner is a podcast about cosmetic science and formulating.

Tony Abboud currently does Technical Sales and Special Projects at Botaneco. Tony graduated with a Bachelors of Science and Masters of Biomedical Technology, both from the University of Calgary, and joined Botaneco at the company’s inception in 2007. Tony is responsible for working with key strategic accounts and provides guidance for the company’s customer projects. Botaneco-logo

Todd Zielke is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Botanic. He has over 18 years experience in sales, marketing and business development in the health care sector. He spent 14 years at J&J.

Contact information:

Website : Botaneco website

Technology explanation

Cosmetic Science Stories

Is bacteria the next big cosmetic ingredient?

Natural cosmetics hit $30 billion

Cosmetic Formulating Tips

Here’s an interesting trend that will affect cosmetic chemists and formulators in the future. More and more, natural ingredients are replacing standard cosmetic raw materials. What will this mean?

Cosmetic reformulation

Cosmetic chemists will no doubt have to reformulate almost all the products that they have. Anything that contains a petroleum derivative will have to be re-worked to contain only plant and sustainable ingredients. This might seem like a lot of trouble but it is good news for formulators because it gives you some new opportunities to create new formulations.

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a cosmetic chemist is that you make very few changes to formulas. In truth, a company doesn’t want to stray too far from their existing formulations because using new raw materials requires more warehouse storage, raw material ingredient costs will increase because you are not buying in bulk as much and the stability and performance is less well known.

There are forces that work against creating truly new and innovative formulations.

Good for raw material suppliers

Raw material suppliers will also like this trend because they can more easily get chemists to start using new raw materials. One of the biggest challenges raw material suppliers face is that chemists do not like to use new raw materials. The reason is that they are unproven and almost always more expensive. Now, raw material companies will be able to sell new raw materials that are more profitable.
On the other hand, there are some problems with this new trend.

Not all positive

The biggest problem is that substitution of raw materials with new ones will not likely lead to improved products. In fact, it will probably lead to products that don’t work as well. It used to be that a cosmetic chemist would switch out a raw material for some performance reason. They discover that some raw material works better than their current so they make the switch. But with this trend, cosmetic chemists are switching out raw materials for a non-performance based reason. Naturally, performance will likely suffer.

But perhaps the worst aspect of this trend is that consumers will have to pay more money for formulations that do not work as well. They are the losers in this trend.

Although, one could argue that consumers are not paying enough for their cosmetics right now. They are not covering the cost that cosmetic use has on the environment and they should. So, perhaps the fact that consumers pay more for better sustainable products is overall a good thing. I’m just not sure consumers will agree with it.


Join the cosmetic science forum

Come to the NYSCC scientific seminar in New York! I’m doing a hair care seminar on Thursday morning.


Natural Cosmetic Preservative Questions Answered

On a number of occasions we get asked questions about formulating cosmetics. When there are enough questions on a theme we turn it into a blog post. So here you are, some common questions asked about natural preservatives answered. cosmetic raw materials

What are some examples of preservatives commonly found in “natural” products?

The type of preservative that you normally find in cosmetic products include ingredients with the name “paraben” in them (e.g. methylparaben, propylparaben, or butylparaben), some type of formaldehyde donor molecule (DMDM Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea or Quaternium-15), or an organic molecule like Methylisothiazolinone. These are all very effective at stopping microbes from growing in your formula and protecting the consumer. Here is a list of the most common cosmetic preservatives.

However, none of these ingredients are acceptable according to the majority of the cosmetic natural and organic standards. It’s worth pointing out that none of these standards are mandated by the government and you could market a natural product using these preservatives. It’s just that some consumers or consumer watchdog groups might call you out on it.

If you want to produce a safe, natural cosmetic products you MUST use a preservative. Now, you may be able to get away without using a preservative if there is no free water in your formula (natural juices are mostly water) but these instances are less common. For the most part whenever you make a cosmetic, natural or not, use a preservative.

The type of preservative formulators use for “natural” cosmetics include some of the following.

Benzoic acid
Boraxitrus seed extracts
Citric Acid
Copper salts
Essential Oils
Fragrance oils
Japanese Honeysuckle extracts
Lactic Acid
Melaleucol (Tea Tree) oil
Perillic acid
Potassium Sorbate
Salicylic acid
Silver Chloride
Sodium Gluconate
Sodium benzoate
Sorbic acid
Usnic acid
Wasabi extract
Zinc Salts

For professional formulas the most common are Sodium Benzoate, Phenoxyethanol, or Sorbic Acid. However, these don’t work for every application. Figuring out a natural cosmetic preservative is highly dependent on your particular ingredients.

How long will a product preserved with natural cosmetic preservatives last?

This is really dependent on the level of testing that the company who made the product requires. A large, reputable company insists that their products have a shelf life of at least one year. This should be the standard for everyone but some smaller companies are happy with products that last 6 months. The length of time it lasts also depends on where the consumer stores it and how they use the product.

How do these preservatives work?

Standard preservatives work in a variety of ways but typically it is by disrupting the cell walls of microbes.

Natural preservatives do this to a lesser extent, but they also help to bind water molecules. For example, honey or sugar are able to bind up water molecules so no microbe is able to use that water to fuel growth. Honey is so effective at keeping water bound to it that it can stay preserved for nearly 1000 years.

Another way that natural preservatives work is by lowering the pH of the formula. Most microbes prefer a pH range of 5 to 7.5 for growth. So if you keep the pH range below 4 you can prevent most microbial growth. However, this isn’t completely effective because there are extremophiles that can thrive at any range of pHs. Fortunately, they are rarely found in cosmetics.

What types of bacteria are found in cosmetics? Are they dangerous? How long does it take to become sick?

There are a number of types of microbes that can grow in cosmetics and some of them are dangerous.

There is the Staphylococcus Epidermidis bacteria that can be found living on color cosmetics like lipsticks, eyeshadows and eyeliners. This bacteria naturally lives on the skin but some strains can cause infection. This is why you shouldn’t share color cosmetics with another person.

Another bacterial group in your cosmetics is Staphylococcus Warneri which is normally found on the skin. If you are sick and have a compromised immune system this bacteria can cause problems. In extreme cases, this bacteria has been associated with heart valve damage. It’s something you want to avoid.

Then there are bacteria that can cause pneumonia, lower respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and more. There are also yeasts that can cause thrush, and a variety of molds that can cause allergic reactions, cornea infections, and lung damage.

See this post for a longer list of specific bacteria in cosmetics.

The length of time you have to be exposed to a microbe to develop a sickness depends on too many factors to give a simple answer. It could be just a couple of microbes one time and you get sick. Or you could be one of those people who are particularly tolerant of microbes and you never get sick no matter how much exposure you have. Since you can’t know it’s best to avoid exposure whenever possible.

What are some signs a natural cosmetic formula has gone bad?

There are a number of indications that your cosmetic has gone bad. The most obvious one is black or white spots spread throughout the formula. Those are growth colonies.

Another obvious indication is an odor change. If the product doesn’t smell the same as when you first bought it that could be a sign that it’s been contaminated. The formula should be discarded.

Another sign that the product has gone bad is that the color may have changed. If it is not the same color as when you first got it, microbes could be lurking in the formula.

Finally, if the formula is more thin than when you first got it this could be a sign of microbial contamination.

Where is the best place to store natural beauty products?

Since natural beauty products use preservative systems that are not as effective or robust as standard products you may be able to store the product in places that are less conducive to growth.

Most microbes prefer a warm, dark, damp place to thrive. So if you can keep them in a cooler environment they will not grow as quickly. Also, if you can keep the products stored in a place that gets more light this can help inhibit growth of some types of microbes. Of course, some microbes thrive in light conditions so none of these are sure fire solutions. Perhaps the worst place you can keep you cosmetics is in a dark cabinet under your sink. This is fine for most standard products but if you have a natural cosmetic and it uses one of the alternative cosmetic preservatives your best bet is to leave the product on your bathroom countertop away from the warm shower.

Want a FREE natural formulating book?  Download it here now.

Formulating Natural Cosmetics


What does Natural Cosmetics mean to consumers?

Many cosmetic entrepreneurs are interested in producing all natural and organic cosmetics. We frequently get emails here on Chemists Corner that say something like “I want to make a natural and organic line of cosmetics that is chemical free.”

Ignoring the fact that nothing is chemical free, the request is still difficult to answer because the terms “natural” and “organic” don’t have any standard technical meaning. If you want to make a natural cosmetic you have to know what the term natural means to your consumers. We’ve had an interesting discussion about this on our cosmetic science forum. The question is what does “natural” mean?

My contention is that from the standpoint of a formulator, natural can mean whatever you want. It is up to you to tell your consumers what natural means. And if they like your story or brand they will believe you.

Consumers don’t know

Consumers are definitely confused about what things mean in this natural market. They look for ingredients that aren’t harmful, ones that don’t include allergies and many avoid fragrance. But who decides what ingredients are harmful? Parabens aren’t harmful but there are many natural organizations that tell people they can’t use them. For example, as in the Whole Foods Premium list.

Natural cosmetics

If you want to follow the Whole Foods natural list or Ecocert standards or any of the other natural standard, you can do this. But you can also create your own definition of what is natural. Arguably, petroleum is natural as is coal or natural gas. Coal is even plant derived technically.

The important thing is whether your consumers believe that you are producing a natural cosmetic. To convince consumers you are natural when you are not following someone else’s standards takes good marketing. But it can be done. The big brands like Aveeno are able to do it.

Incidentally, if you are interested in more information about formulating natural products, be sure to get our free natural product formulating report.


Podcast 36 – Irina Tudor on Fragrance Science

Chemists Corner is a podcast about cosmetic science and formulating.

Today’s interview: Irina Tudor Irina Tudor

Irina Tudor is the founder and owner of Irina Tudor Consultancy.  She has a Masters of of Science degree in Behavioral Science and has studied cosmetics through the SCS distance learning program.  She is a researcher focusing on the science of odor and smell and is available to help solve fragrance problems.

Contact information:

Websites -



Twitter:  SomethingSmelly


Cosmetic Science Stories

Anti-Pollution is a new trend in cosmetics.

Ban on Animal testing for cosmetics in US.

First scented message sent over the Internet

Not tested on animal claim banned in Europe

Cosmetic Formulating Tips

This question was asked on the cosmetic science forum and I thought would make for a good discussion.

How do you go about switching ingredient vendors? We want to switch vendors because of lower prices and lower minimums. Can you just switch one ingredient out for another?

Why switch cosmetic ingredient sources

Before I answer, it is a good idea to think about why you would want to have an alternate source for a raw material. There are a number of reasons.

1. Price – You can get the raw material for lower cost. An excellent reason to switch suppliers.
2. Lower minimums – You can buy less of the ingredient. This is particularly important for small businesses.
3. Insurance – If you have a single source, you are at the mercy of your supplier. You should have other sources just in case something goes wrong.
4. Reliability – You need to have a supplier who will be able to reliably fill your orders.

Changing cosmetic raw materials sources

Unfortunately, changing from one source to another isn’t as simple as just buying from a new source. The main problem is that ingredients that have the same name, don’t necessarily have the same composition.  INCI names cover a wide range of mixed materials.  For example, Cetyl Alcohol from one supplier can have a higher % of C16 material than the Cetyl Alcohol from another supplier.

Another problem is that suppliers often make raw materials in a different way which can lead to different residual materials in the finished product.  Residual materials are frequently hidden in a raw material but can wreck havoc on certain ingredients in your formula.  The result will be a color change, viscosity change, or formula destabilization.

The bottom line is that you can’t just switch raw materials from one source to another without proper testing.

So how do you go about approving a different supplier?

To approve a new supplier there are a number of things you need to do. First, you need to make sure the specification (or specs) for the ingredient match. To do this, you can look at the certificate of analysis (C of A) that the new supplier provides with samples. Compare this document to your current specification sheet and note where there are differences. Then you can tell the new supplier changes in the specs that you can make. It may also be easier to just give the new supplier your specification sheet and ask that they meet it.  Remember, specifications are negotiable.

Once you have matching specs for the new material, you’ll need to make batches and run some tests. The first test is simply to see what happens to your batch when you use the new raw material.  Make a batch with your current raw material and make one with the new raw material.  Keep all the other raw materials the same.  Check the pH, viscosity, appearance, order, and anything else that might be different. You should also conduct performance tests.  The specific test you conduct will depends on the type of product you are making.  For cleansing products you would run a foam test.  For skin lotions you might run a moisutization test.  If things look good you’ll have to conduct stability tests of the formula in your final packaging. If the change is significant enough, for example this formula is a big seller for you, you’ll also want to run consumer tests.  Once you are satisfied that you can’t tell any differences you can start using the new raw material.

Note, it may make sense to make a batch where you blend the new raw material with your current source just to make sure that you can safely blend the two ingredients in the future. Sometimes when you are making a batch you may run out of a raw material and be forced to use something from a different supplier.

Testing depends on material

There are some ingredients where it’s not too risky to use an alternate supplier. Things like Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, and Salt will be so similar that there is little risk in using a different source. But materials like natural ingredients, fatty alcohols, and surfactants are much more risky. For these you’ll want to do a full battery of tests.


Join the cosmetic science forum

Come to the NYSCC scientific seminar in New York!


Cosmetic Innovation – From discovery to product

The cosmetic industry is mostly run by the marketing group.  They are primarily the ones responsible for developing new product ideas, testing them with consumers, coming up with ad copy and deciding on what the product looks like.  Unfortunately, this relegates the people who actually make the product (cosmetic chemists) to workers executing a plan.   I understand how this happens as the first purchase of any product is a result of the marketing much more than a result of the functionality of the product.  However, I don’t think things in the cosmetic industry should be like this.  I believe that cosmetic chemists should take the lead in coming up with new product ideas.  You should be responsible for developing the best ideas your company has to offer. wasabi toothpaste

Become an Inventor

There are a number of reasons that this doesn’t happen more.  The primary reason is that in college scientists are not taught to think about the world in terms of practical products.  We spend our time researching esoteric questions that have little practical value.  We focus on a fraction of a problem and give only a cursory thought to the application of technology.  In colleges and universities, this is great.  In industry, it’s not.  While working in an industry you have to become an inventor.

Coming up with new product ideas can be challenging for most people.  The way that most cosmetic industry marketers (and all marketers probably) come up with ideas is that they look around and see what the competition is doing.  They see that Moroccan Oil products are selling well, so they look to develop a Moroccan Oil product.  When “natural” products started to gain a significant market share everyone wanted to start selling all-natural cosmetics.  This me-too approach can be effective but it’s not something that scientists are uniquely qualified to do.  Anyone can come up with a me-too new product idea.  The scientists of the cosmetic industry have to be different.

Science to get new products

As a scientists you are in a unique position to find new product ideas in places that most marketing people would not look…scientific journals.  You should be constantly monitoring science journals to find inspiration for ideas that may lead to the next new product idea.  It doesn’t have to be a “breakthrough” technology, just a different one.  Your company thirsts for different ideas.  They want ideas that are different from their competition.  As I said, most ideas are just copies of what someone else is doing.

Here is an excellent example of how a technological discovery lead to the development of a new product idea.

In this article it was reported that Japanese researchers discovered that Wasabi has the potential to reduce the chances of getting tooth decay.  This was first reported in 2000, fourteen years ago.   Why has it taken so long to get turned into a product?  I have no idea but it could be that the marketing group didn’t know about it.  The science group should have.

Anyway, the discovery has finally been turned into a new product, wasabi toothpaste.

Now, I don’t know if it will be a successful product.  The success of a cosmetic product idea is rarely a function of how well the product performs.  It’s more related to how well it is marketed and timing.

Method for new product ideas

But the development of this product demonstrates a way that a cosmetic formulator can come up with a truly unique idea.

Step 1 – Keep constant review of scientific discoveries.  A great source for that is ScienceDaily or Eurekalerts.  Cosmetic things typically fall under the Health and Medicine category.

Step 2 –  Bookmark any article that has the potential for a new product.  I use Evernote to bookmark relevant ideas.

Step 3 – Do a weekly review of these articles and come up with new product ideas based on the technologies.

You can save these ideas for later to be presented at a brainstorming event or start working on prototypes.  Even if your company doesn’t want your idea that doesn’t mean you won’t find some use for the idea later in your career.

Remember, you always work for yourself.

Never stop innovating.


Natural Cosmetic Chat with Cosmetic Chemists

On Saturday we had a “tweet-up” with a group of cosmetic chemists.  A “tweet-up” is just an agreed upon time in which users who are on Twitter virtually gather and discuss a topic.  Most of the people in the group had never done one before (I had not) and it was interesting.  The topic of the day was Natural Cosmetics.  If you want to see the discussion do a search for #CosChemChat on Twitter.  Since Twitter has a tendency to make it difficult to find old Tweets I thought it would be helpful to collect all the relevant discussions and do a summary here. 

Cosmetic Chemists who tweet

Here is a list of all the cosmetic chemists who participated in this tweet-up. Be sure to follow everyone.
thelahobo – Moderator

Natural Cosmetic Chat Topics

There were a wide range of issues related to natural cosmetics that were discussed.  The first thing that was about the impact of natural cosmetic marketing on traditional cosmetics.  There seemed to be agreement that there was some impact on formulating, but it is still a minor part of formulating.  Also mentioned in the thread was the difficulties of formulating and whether consumers even want natural products that might not perform as well.

Impact of Natural trend on formulas

A few of the formulators suggested that the impact of natural on formulating included…

1.  Naturals made formulas more expensive

2.  Naturals made formulas potentially less stable (oxidation)

3.  Naturals were harder to work with, required more formulation time without benefit.

4.  They also don’t work as well.  Inconsistent batches

5.  Consumers are the losers in this natural trend.

6.  It’s good job security for formulators

Cosmetic Greenwashing

The topic of natural marketing and greenwashing was discussed.  Highlights from this topic…

1.  If consumers want natural, marketing groups will respond.

2.  Marketers want to incorporate natural ingredients until they hear the price.

3.  Cosmetic lines highlight natural ingredients to get around making a 100% natural formula

4.  The desire for natural ingredients comes from the mistaken notion that synthetic ingredients are bad.

5.  The term ‘natural’ is not defined.

6.  Greenwashing may be exactly what consumers want.

7.  Greenwashing is the perfect balance of giving consumers a feeling of natural while delivering a functional product.

There was also some disagreement about the effectiveness of natural formulas.  While many of the group believed the notion that natural formulas do not work as well, at least one participant questioned that belief.

“The German pharma industry is largely natural based”

“If Pharma can prove that naturals work I question the idea that all naturals are ineffective”

Although, no one claimed that naturals were ineffective.

“Naturals do work.  Chemists use anything that works.  If naturals work better, we use naturals”

First Cosmetic Chat Tweetup

Well, that about sums it up.  It was interesting to participate in the discussion.  For me it was challenging to keep up with all the side discussions and it may have benefitted from having some set questions in the beginning, but overall I think it was a good chat.

Hopefully, we get some more starting questions for the next one.  I’m not sure when that will be but I’d be happy to do it again.

twitter cosmetic chemistHere’s a snapshot of the entire conversation just in case it gets deleted from Twitter over time.



Proper Preservation for your Cosmetic Formulation

There have been a few stories in the news recently about product recalls due to bacterial or microbial contamination of cosmetic products.  This one about baby wipes that have been recalled is an example of a public recall.  But according to this story there have been 7 major cosmetic recalls this year.  This is unacceptable!  The cosmetic formulators involved in creating these products should be embarrassed.  They put the public in serious risk and they give the cosmetic industry as a whole a bad name.  Someone deserves to be reprimanded or even fired for this.  The companies should be severely fined.  Risking the health of your consumers is just not right! preserving cosmetics

Why incidences of contamination are increasing

There are a number of factors resulting in more contamination of cosmetics, but the primary reason is because cosmetic formulators are moving away from using proven, safe preservatives like Parabens, Formaldehyde-donors, and Isothiazolones.  They are turning to alternative cosmetic preservatives which might look better on a label, but are not nearly as effective at protecting consumers.

Ultimately, the reason formulators are doing this is because their companies are selling products to uniformed or misinformed consumers.  Thanks to fearmongering groups like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the EWG, misinformation about the safety of cosmetics is broadcasted throughout the Internet.  Add to that the naturalistic fallacy and marketers who either naively or unscrupulously take advantage of misinformed consumers and you have the situation we’re in now.

People with no toxicologic or scientific background are telling cosmetic formulators what types of preservatives they can or cannot use.

And formulators (who typically have limited control in these situations) are using unproven, potentially less safe, and less effective alternative preservatives.

This is wrong.

Alternative preservation is hard

If you are a cosmetic entrepreneur or work for a small company in which you have a lot of influence on what chemicals are used in a formula, use proven cosmetic preservatives.  Use parabens, formaldehyde-donors or other compounds that have been safely and effectively used for years.  The reality is that using alternatives is not impossible but it is really hard.  It is more expensive, takes more research time, requires more testing, and needs to be done in clean manufacturing facilities.  You can’t just drop an alternative preservative into a formula at 0.2% and feel confident it will be effective.  Big companies may be able to shoulder this additional money, R&D and testing, but small companies cannot.

And there is no good reason for avoiding standard preservatives anyway!

Safety first

I once had a twitter discussion dispute with @BadgerBalmUSA after it was revealed that they had to recall a children’s sunscreen product due to microbial contamination.  Shockingly, they minimized the seriousness of the contamination

My understanding of the toxicologist’s report is that the “organisms” found in the failed products are also commonly found in the environment and on our skin. They are unlikely to cause problems except for in immune-compromised persons or for persons with severely damaged skin.

They then tried to insist that safety was their highest priority, but still wouldn’t use parabens or other traditional preservatives.   If safety is your “highest priority” traditional preservatives are the ONLY option.  Indeed, their highest priority and that of many natural brands is the “naturalness” of their products.  If you are not using a traditional cosmetic preservative you are making product safety a secondary priority.  Consumer safety is taking a back seat to your marketing position.

Product preservation is easy

If you make the safety of your products the highest priority then preservation is easy.  You simply pick proven active antimicrobial ingredients (e.g. parabens or formaldehyde donors) and add them at an appropriate level in your formula.  Next, you conduct tests for contamination and also a preservative efficacy test.  This should be done on samples you make initially and on ones that have been stored at elevated temperatures for an extended amount of time (45C for 8 weeks is standard).  If your product passes this testing then you can have confidence that future batches will be protected from contamination.  This also assumes that you have a relatively low level of contamination in your manufacturing facilities too.

This method will also work if you choose an alternative cosmetic preservative, but as the Badger Balm company and others have discovered, this increases your chances of contaminated product.

In the end, a contaminated product is a sign of poor formulating.  You may feel pressure from your marketing group to avoid parabens and other preservatives but you should never compromise product safety for a marketing position.



Avoiding pseudoscience in the cosmetic industry

Here is an interesting take on the cosmetic industry written by Zen Liu, a scientist but not a formulator or cosmetic chemist. She is looking at the question of why cosmetic marketers can get away with perpetuating pseudosciencecosmetic ingredient list

For the most part, she gets it right. People who sell cosmeceuticals do rely on tricky marketing phrases or some blatant lies to convince consumers to buy their products. For some products it’s actually even worse than she imagines. While companies are not allowed to outright lie on their packaging or in their advertising, there is no one policing the salesperson in the department store or the salon stylist. They can pretty much say anything they want about a product. I’m not suggesting that they lie on purpose but it’s easy to see how they could be spreading misinformation.

Yes, the cosmetic industry sells products that promise (or at least imply) to make you look younger. And some of these products cost a lot of money!

Not quite right

There are some things in the article that I don’t think she got quite right or at least didn’t correctly emphasize.

– While the FDA does distinguish between cosmetics and drugs based on intended use, it is not legal for a company to put an active drug in their formula and make lesser claims about the effectiveness of the product. Sometimes ingredients matter. Admittedly, this is a grey area.

– The FTC has not ignored the cosmetics industry but it has limited funds and should be going after products that are actually dangerous if used like dietary supplements.

– L’Oreal’s research budget is not for just anti-aging products but for all their products. So, even less money is spent on research for anti-aging products than reported.

Protecting Consumers

What the author doesn’t give is a solution to the problem. Reading between the lines it seems like she is suggesting better regulation. I don’t really think that is a reasonable solution. First, the FDA has limited funds and the chances of them getting a significant amount more is pretty small. Therefore, even if there were more strict regulations, there would not be enough money to police them. Second, the money that the FDA does have should be focused on preventing actual health problems. Spoiled food, drugs and dietary supplements represent a real threat to human health. Overpriced anti-aging creams do not.

While more regulation is not the solution there is one. Make consumers smarter. We need to do a better job of educating consumers to help them avoid making dumb choices. No one should be spending hundreds of dollars on an anti-aging skin cream with the expectation that it will work better than a less expensive moisturizer. Articles like these are a good addition to the conversation. Our blog The Beauty Brains has similarly been dedicated to looking at products and telling people whether they are worth the money.

People need to take responsibility for the choices they make. The FDA needs to ensure that these products are safe, and they are doing this. It is illegal to sell unsafe cosmetics. But when it comes to what products people buy…that is up to them to get educated. The information is out there. If someone is too blinded by their desire for a product to work that they’ll overspend to get it, it’s not the fault of the company who sells the product.

When it comes to cosmetics & beauty products…buyer beware.


As a cosmetic formulator I’m often annoyed by chemical fear mongering of NGOs and other non-scientists who claim that cosmetics represent a significant health concern. The reality is that there is no evidence that parabens or formaldehyde-releasing preservatives cause any harm. There is no evidence that mineral oil or petrolatum or sodium lauryl sulfate or any of the other most vilified cosmetic ingredients cause actual problems. And yet there are entire groups who’s sole existence is to unnecessarily frighten people about products that are tested and safe. `cosmetic food supplements

Usually, I think they are just misguided but on my more cynical days I believe it to be a plot by Big Natural Cosmetics to dupe unsuspecting consumers into spending much more for their cosmetic products than they have to.

While the NGOs and their cosmetic chemical fearmongering annoys me there is something I find really strange. There does not appear to be an equivalent group who campaigns against a real danger in the US…dietary supplements.

Wild wild west of dietary supplements

While the cosmetic industry is regulated by the FDA, in the US the dietary supplement industry is essentially unregulated. They used to be, but in 1994 Congress passed the DSHEA which severely limits the power of the FDA to regulate dietary supplements. They have some recall ability and power to regulate medical claims but for the most part if you want to sell a dietary supplement in the US you can pretty much sell anything you want.

It really is a travesty and represents a significant health concern for consumers. There are lots of stories about the dangers of these products. This recent study demonstrated that about two thirds of the FDA recalled dietary supplements were still on the store shelves and contained banned drugs! That’s right even after an FDA recall for banned drugs in dietary supplements, consumers could still find them on store shelves.

These products are things you ingest. They get into your body where they can do actual damage. They are not simply put on the surface of your skin but rather right into your bloodstream. And the products are not required to be proven safe before being sold. As long as the manufacturer says they are safe, they can be sold. No proof required. In fact, nothing is required by the FDA unless there is some demonstrable health problem. And even after an FDA recall not much happens.

Something to be concerned about

This is a serious risk to consumers. It’s a real danger that people should be concerned about. And yet there is silence. NGOs like the EWG have nothing to say about it. Why can’t the Food Babe redirect her efforts to something that actually harms people? Fear mongerers like Mercola will scream about the “dangers” of cosmetics and then sell unregulated dietary supplements that could be filled with actually dangerous, illegal drugs.

It makes no sense to me.

The DSHEA has to go and the dietary supplement industry in the US needs much better regulation. How many people must die before it happens?

It seems there was movement afoot to do something in 2010 but obviously this has stalled in our do-nothing congress.


Cosmetic delivery system of the future

Are nanoparticles the cosmetic delivery system of the future? They may be if this research can ever be completed and commercialized. cosmetic-nanotechnology

According to scientists at the University of Southampton, they have identified a number of key characteristics that can enhance the penetration of nanoparticles through skin. In their research, they were able to demonstrate that gold nanoparticles could be made to penetrate deeper by changing the shape and surface charge. It turns out positively charged, nanorod shaped particles penetrated skin into the dermis.

Cosmetic chemist implications

For cosmetic chemists I see two applications of this research.

1. A method of creating nanoparticle delivery systems for cosmeceutical type ingredients.

2. A method for creating nanoparticles of sunscreen that will not penetrate the skin. They’ve demonstrated the factors that affect penetration so we could (theoretically) control the shape to inhibit penetration.

Nanoparticles could indeed be the way of the future for cosmetic formulating. However, there could be some significant marketing hurdles if the technology becomes something of which people are afraid. Right now public opinion shows a 3 to 1 ratio of people who see benefits versus people who see negative risks. It remains to be seen where the large minority (44%) of people who are unsure about the risks of nanotechnology end up. If groups like the EWG are able to shape public opinion, it’s not promising.