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Have you formulated with dry water?

Here’s a technology I had never heard about, dry water.  It sounds fascinating and could result in the creation of truly surfactant free cosmetic products.

What is dry water?

Dry water is essentially a water/air emulsion in which a dry, hydrophobic powder is used to coat droplets of water.  It was first patented in 1968 then re-discovered in 2001 in the form of liquid marbles.  The technology seems pretty cool.  Take a look at this video for a demonstration.  There is a powder covering the top of the water so when the experimenter pokes their finger through the surface, it doesn’t get wet.

While it seems pretty cool, I’m still trying to figure out how this could be used in a cosmetic product. Perhaps you could coat aqueous solutions of humectants or maybe even a liquid marble of emulsion particles. I wonder if that would work.

Anyway, it seems like pretty interesting technology. It’s definitely a technology I haven’t seen extensively applied to cosmetics. This could be an innovative avenue for a crafty formulator to follow.


Cosmetic colorants – the safest cosmetic ingredients

Recently we received a request from someone who wanted to make their own face paint for children.  Specifically, they wanted to know how to make homemade face paints using natural ingredients that would be safe for skin.  They also said they wanted to use plant derived pigments.   This sounds like a fun project, but I’m concerned about the focus on “natural ingredients.”  As we frequently say, just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it is safe.cosmetic colorants

Cosmetic Colorants

The part of this request that is worth discussing is the request about colorants.  In truth, you would be hard pressed to find any safer ingredient in cosmetics than the colorants.  On some level, it was colorants (specifically dangerous ones) that lead to the development of the FDA.  While there aren’t a lot of ingredient restrictions in the US for cosmetics, colorants and any other material put in the product to impart color, are the most strictly regulated of all cosmetic ingredients.

Here is a listing of important documents regarding the colors that can and cannot be used in cosmetics in the US.

Basic Requirements of colorants

Coloring your cosmetic product is not as simple as finding some plant or flower that has a pretty color, distilling that color and using it in your formula.  You specifically CANNOT do this.  Some of the approved colorants are plant derived but many are not.  Here are some basic facts about regulated colors in cosmetics.

  • All colors used in your formula must be approved by the FDA.  If it’s not on the approved list (no matter where it comes from) it can’t be used.
  • Nearly all colors must also be certified by the FDA.  For most colorants every batch of the color has to be inspected and approved by the FDA.  You can’t just make your own colors in the kitchen.
  • All colors must meet specifications before being used.
  • Colors are restricted in the ways and amounts in which they can be used.

Making edible color cosmetics

So if you wanted to make face paints that contained only colors that were edible you would limit yourself to food approved colorants.  Here is a list of food colorants.  There are some that are exempt from the certification requirements.  These would include things like Caramel, Annatto extract, Dehydrated beets, Fruit juice, Carrot oil, and more.  There are also food colorings that are allowed which require certification.  These are things like FD&C Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5 and a few others.

Basically, if you want to make a safe face paint that is edible stick to approved food colorings.  If you want it to be plant derived, stick to the food colorants that do not require certification.

I’ve always found it baffling that stories about Lead in Lipstick get so much traction and hype in the media.  NGOs use these type of stories to push for greater regulation.  But the reality is that colorants are the most highly regulated ingredients in the industry.  How much more regulation on colorants could there possibly be?

While there may be some ingredients that could concern you about cosmetics, colorants should not be one of them.



When is a cosmetic ingredient considered safe?

While surfing the Internet looking for information about cosmetics you can’t help but stumble onto negative information about the “toxic” chemicals evil corporations put into their products.  We once posted a list of the most vilified cosmetic chemicals which included… scaremongering cosmetics

1. Parabens
2. Diazolidiny Urea
3. Diethanolamine
4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
5. Petrolatum
6. Mineral Oil
7. Propylene Glycol
8. Triclosan
9. Fragrance
10. Color pigments
11. PEG — Polyethylene Glycol
12. Talc

A couple more ingredients that should be added to this list are

13. BPA
14. Phthalates

Evidence of danger

The thing that I find frustrating about the information shared about these ingredients is that it is incredibly biased and often just wrong.  Or the purveyors of this BS jump to conclusions about preliminary studies then ignore any kind of follow-up by researchers.

Parabens are an excellent example.  According to the fearmongering groups, parabens are dangerous chemicals that shouldn’t be used in cosmetics.  But when a group of independent scientists (actual toxicologists) hired by the EU governments went through all the safety data and determined that parabens are safe as used in cosmetics, did the fearmongering group go back and revise it’s stance?

No.  They don’t care about science.  They exist to scare people,harass cosmetic companies, and generate money through donations.  They have no interest in actually educating people about products & product safety.

They don’t care that a group like the European Food Safety Authority has looked at the safety data of BPA and determined that BPA does not pose a risk in cosmetics.  You will still see the fearmongers shouting about irrelevant hazards.  And lazy, clueless reporters will take up the torch and continue to pass misinformation.  These reporters lack the integrity to throughly investigate the topics they write about.

Making things less safe

Worse is that these groups are prompting companies to find alternatives that are actually making products less safe.  The folks at Badger Sunscreen are adamant about avoiding parabens and surprise, surprise, they sold low quality product that was dangerously contaminated.  Worse yet, it was a children’s product.  There should have been a much bigger fine for a company that would release under-preserved product.

And all those BPA replacements?  Yeah they are less safe too.

Watchdog groups done right

While I criticize these groups I do believe that they can provide a service to consumers and to the cosmetic industry.  It is perfectly legitimate to have a listing of chemicals of concern.  However, that should just be a starting point.  If there is evidence that the ingredients on your list are actually not harmful (as has been proven for most of the vilified ingredients) then they should acknowledge that and stop spreading misinformation.

I would love to see a world where we have science-based groups that are looking out for the safety of consumers.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any at the moment.

So, when should a cosmetic chemical considered safe?

When the best science available says it is.  And it should be toxicologists who make that determination, not clueless reporters or fearmongering groups run by English majors not educated in the subject of science.


Weekend science – surfactants

Here’s a nice video I found on Youtube that explains the chemistry of surfactants in a solution.  It’s a nice way to spend 5 minutes on a snowy Sunday.


Crude oil is pretty amazing stuff.   It’s a mixture of a variety of hydrocarbon molecules and can be used to create any number of organic molecules.  In that sentence the term “organic” refers to organic chemistry as in containing Hydrogen and Carbon atoms.  These hydrocarbon molecules have anywhere from 5 to 40 Carbon atoms and come in all different types of structure.

While crude oil is a fascinating material there are a number of problems with using it.  First, there is a limited supply.  Once we’ve used it all up, there won’t be any left.  And there is already a notion that we have hit the peak level and there is less in the ground than we have used.  Some estimate that by 2040 we will only be able to produce 20% of what we produce now.  That will not be good news for anyone.  That’s why it’s important for industries like the cosmetic industry to start reducing our reliance on petroleum based ingredients.  Eventually, they’ll be gone.

Fortunately, most of the ingredients used in the cosmetic industry can be produced from renewable plant sources.  Pretty much anything that can be made with hydrocarbon chains from C8 to C22 can be made using plant sources.  The way you typically make a surfactant is you start with an oil with a known distribution of straight chain hydrocarbons (like crude oil or a plant oil), chemically react it with the appropriate reactants and make your surfactant.

So, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate can be made by blending petroleum based C12 fatty acids or it can be made using Coconut derived C12 fatty acids.  Cetyl alcohol could be made from petroleum or from Palm oil.

Here is a list of some natural materials that can be made into surfactants

1.  Soybean oil – In fact, here’s a new soybean oil based surfactant.
2.  Coconut oil
3.  Palm oil
4.  Sunflower oil
5.  Meadowfoam Seed oil
6.  Corn oil
7.  Castor oil
8.  Hemp oil
9.  Sugar

Of course there are lots more sources but this is a good start.  Perhaps we’ll expand this post in the future.



How stem cell technology can really work

Right now there are a bunch of cosmetic brand that claim to use stem cells to provide benefits. For example, there is the Swiss Botany brand with their apple stem cells or the Peter Thomas Roth rose stem cell product. cosmetic stem cells

The stem cells in these products have virtually no effect. You can bet that if you left the stem cells out of those formulas no one would be able to tell the difference. It is pure marketing hype and nothing more.

But stem cell technology does have some promise. Here is an excellent piece of research that shows scientists have grown human hair from stem cells. It’s pretty cool. They took human pluripotent stem cells and were able to coax them into converting into human hair follicles. This was all done in a lab and on human cell cultures but it represent the first time it was ever achieved. Apparently growing dermal stem cells outside of the body makes them quickly lose their hair producing properties.

There are two important things to note here which separates this research from the stem cell nonsense that is put into cosmetic products.

1. They use human stem cells. It baffles me that companies use apple or rose stem cells and expect that they will do anything on human skin.

2. Their results are modest. They make no claims that they’ve cured baldness or any other condition people would love to solve. Researchers are almost always (as they should be) reserved about the meaning of any experiment. This could just be a fluke that they can’t repeat.

This is a very promising result though and it will be interesting to see where this technology goes. Animal and then human trials are probably the next thing required. But it won’t be as simple as just rinsing your head in a stream of human stem cells or topically applying some stem cell cream. They have to actually do a tissue transplant to get it to work.

Stem cell technology is promising and I believe in the future there really will be some amazing things done with it. Just don’t believe the hype of stem cell containing creams that you see for sale now. The stem cells aren’t doing anything.


Cosmetic science on tv

One of the fun aspects of what I do for a living is that I occasionally get invited to be a guest on TV shows.  Recently, I recorded a spot on the Dr Oz show which is filmed in New York.  You can see the video clip here.

Cosmetic Chemist TV Appearance

You might be curious about the whole process so I thought I would explain what happens.

Getting invited

The first time I was invited on the show, it was arranged by my book publisher, Harlequin.  We had just published our book “Can You Get Hooked on Lip Balm” and they sent me on a media tour.  In addition to the Dr Oz show I was also on a number of local news programs and on the Rachel Ray show.  Before doing all these tv appearances they also sent me through a day of media training which was very helpful.  If you want to appear on TV or in the media, I would suggest you do some type of media training.

Since the first appearance went well the Dr Oz show invited me out a few more times.  This latest time is the 4th time I’ve been on the show.  Now they contact me directly and usually it’s whenever they have some type of new story angle that involves cosmetic product mythbusting.  If I was a bit more ambitious I suppose I could pitch stories to them but I don’t look at TV appearances as anything but fun opportunities. That’s probably a mistake by me but oh well.

Preparing for the segment

When the producers contact you, it’s usually through email.  They first want to see if you are available.  Then they talk to you on the phone about the segment and what they want to cover.  You have some input here but a lot of times they have specific things they want to talk about.  In the segment above I can’t remember but I think I suggested the body wash micro beads piece.  They had ideas about the sunscreen and argan oil.  Of course, I helped flesh out the ideas with the basic facts and that eventually got turned into the segment we recorded.

I don’t get paid to be on the show but they do cover any traveling expenses.  For this segment I just happened to be in New York so they covered my car ride to and from the studio.  It’s a pretty nice studio by the way.  They used to film across the hall from the Jimmy Fallon show but they have since moved uptown.

The day of taping

They don’t tell you what to wear although they did ask me to bring my lab coat.  I’ve gotten a lot of use out of that lab coat outside of the lab.  I try to wear a collared, solid color shirt, staying away from stripes, and some black pants, business casual.  They fix your hair up a bit and put on some makeup to smooth your face and remove some of the oiliness.

You get put in a waiting room where the producer goes over the “script” with you.  You don’t memorize what to say and they don’t tell you what you have to say, but there are certain key phrases they would like you to include.  It helps make the segment flow more smoothly.  I figure this is done to help prepare you for the pressure of all the attention being on you.  Most of his guests are not frequently in front of an audience like this and it’s pretty easy to freeze up or stumble over your words.  After doing appearances on TV I have much more sympathy for politicians who get up in front of an audience and say stupid things.  It’s really easy to say something stupid under such circumstances.

After you’ve run through the script a few times they take you out to the stage to do a quick run through with how the segment will go.  This helps the camera men and prop people prepare.  Those stations you see set up get adjusted if needed.  You also get to say hello to Dr Oz (who’s a very nice guy by the way) and walk through how the segment will go.   You don’t really talk as they prefer to keep everything as spontaneous as they can. It takes only about 10 or 15 minutes but that is mostly just waiting for your turn.

In the green room

When the rehearsal is done they send you to hair and makeup to get made pretty and then back to your room where you wait.  The producer will come in and go over the script with you one or two more times.  When I was alone I also spent time running through the script in my mind.  The more you rehearse it the less likely you are to stumble over your words.

The first time I was on the show I had people from the publishing company with me in the green room but in subsequent appearances I’ve been alone.  There’s not much to do while you wait except run through the script, eat food from the veggie tray in your room, drink water, tea, or coffee, and watch the tv monitor to see what’s going on with the show.  I was probably waiting about 90 minutes prior to going on the show.

Appearing on the show

When it’s time to tape your segment the producer walks you from the green room to the backstage area.  The sound people hook you up with a microphone and you get led to the entrance of the stage.  Between segments there is a comedian who keeps the studio audience entertained and energized.  There is probably another 5 or 10 minute wait until they call you on.

My segment taped first so they positioned me at the prop stand and I waited for Dr Oz to do an intro to the segment.  This was the first time I saw the video of me being introduced as a “world renown cosmetic chemist.”  I like that.

Then we taped the segment.  Fortunately, I didn’t screw up or ramble so it went off pretty well this time.  They did do some editing but mostly I was happy with how it turned out.  In truth, it’s cringing for me to watch myself on TV so usually I don’t.  It’s a little embarrassing.  Still, it’s also fun for me and I’m happy to be getting the message out about cosmetic science to millions of viewers.

After you tape your segment you walk off-stage, get your microphone removed and you’re pretty much done.  The producer tells you you did a great job (whether you did or not) and they take you back to the green room to get your stuff.  If you want to stick around and catch the rest of the show you can but I didn’t.  I had to get back to the airport to fly home.


Overall, it was a positive experience for me.  I know some people will criticize me for appearing on the Dr Oz show since much of the stuff on his show is of dubious scientific validity.  In fact, one study suggested like 53% of his advice is wrong.  I definitely have mixed feelings about it.  However, I figure as long as I’m in the 47% of information that is correct and true and that I can help people learn more about their cosmetics, plus get the notion that being a scientist isn’t all about being nerdy, I’ll continue to do the show.  Besides my mom & dad like to see me on TV.

If you ever get the chance to be on a show like this, I encourage you to do it.  We need more scientists out in the public eye speaking about science.  There are too many people who know nothing about science but pretend they do getting on TV.  We need more actual scientists who know what they are talking about to combat them.



Don’t turn your cosmetic into a drug

Contrary to what you read on the Internet, the cosmetics industry in the US is regulated.  It is regulated by the FDA and they do a fairly decent job of it given their limited resources.  Cosmetics are some of the most safe consumer products you can buy.  One of the biggest mistakes companies make is that they “accidentally” turn their cosmetic products into drugs.  When this happens the FDA will contact you and if you don’t change your ways, they will impound or confiscate your products. cosmetics and drugs

Here is how you can turn your cosmetic into a drug and how to avoid doing that.

Use a drug active

In the US, an ingredient that interacts with living tissue and causes the cells to behave in a way that they normally wouldn’t is considered a drug.  The FDA lists a number of drug actives and these can not normally be used in cosmetic products.  So if you include an anti-dandruff ingredient or a glaucoma drug active in your formula you are selling a misbranded drug.  Even if you don’t make claims that the drug is doing anything for people you are still inappropriately selling a drug.  You might be able to hide from the FDA for a little while like this company did but eventually they will find you, warn you, confiscate your product and likely shut down your production.

Don’t secretly use drug actives in your cosmetics!

Make a drug claim

Most cosmetic companies don’t use drug actives, but they make the more common mistake of making drug claims which turn their cosmetic into a misbranded drug.  Raw material suppliers will often come to you with claims about ingredients that can stimulate collagen production, boost hair growth, or do some other magical transformation to the body.  Your suppliers can say these things but you can’t.  At least you can’t do it in a direct way.  Any claim that suggests your product is interacting or interfering with normal body metabolism is a drug claim and the FDA can send you a warning letter and potential shut you down.

Here is a recent example.  The company Cell Vitals was warned by the FDA for making drug claims about their cosmetic product.  Here are some of their offenses.

The company claimed that their stem cell facial moisturizer contained Camellia Sinesis Extract which is “anti-bacterial and … anti-cancer.”  They also said that their product contains “Argireline® …keeps down the release of a neural signal protein (catecholamine) and thus, prevents the muscle contraction involved in facial expressions.”

Those are not cosmetic claims!  And they will get you in trouble with the FDA if you make them.

Note the FDA has people that scour the Internet specifically looking for companies that are making illegal drug claims.  Being small is no guarantee that you can get away with it.

Avoiding problems

To avoid the problem of turning your cosmetic into a drug follow these tips.

1.  Don’t claim that your product will treat a disease.
2.  Don’t claim your product changes the body’s biochemistry
3.  Use phrases like “changes the appearance” or “helps the body” or “stimulates”
4.  Don’t ascribe function to any single ingredient.  Always say your formula provides the benefits.

If you follow these tips you should be ok but you’ll see some competitor’s who continue to make drug claims.  Don’t do it.  These companies are probably in it for the short term to make quick money then get out before they are busted by the FDA.  If you are serious about building a beauty brand avoid turning your cosmetics into drugs.



The largest natural and organic cosmetic companies

We’re in the process of launching a new course about formulating natural cosmetic products.  You can see our latest video here.

Formulating natural cosmetic products

In the process of putting together this course I’ve been looking at the different ways that cosmetic companies market their products as natural.  While it seems that almost everyone has some kind of SKU or advertising targeting natural there are a number of brands that really focus solely on a natural positioning.  Here are the top 15 natural brands as of 2013.  Interestingly, it is big companies that dominate.  However, there is a big hole for companies like P&G and Unilever as they don’t have any top brands…yet.

Burt’s Bees (Clorox)
Aveda (Estee Lauder)
Aveeno (Johnson & Johnson)
The Body Shop (L’Oreal)
Nu Skin
Hain Celestial Group
Dr. Perricone, MD Cosm
Bare Essentials
Tom’s of Maine (Colgate-Palmolive)
Dr Bronner’s
Yes to Carrots
Aubrey Organics

Incidentally, if you are interested in natural formulating be sure to get our free formulating natural cosmetics report.


How stable are your formulations?

I once made a shampoo formula that I kept for about 17 years.  It was my first batch of anything and for some reason I just never disposed of it.  It stayed stable for about 7 years before it striated into three layers.  I suspect if it were a clear shampoo that would not have happened. ancient-skin-cream-cosmetic

Anyway, 17 years seems pretty impressive but not nearly as impressive as this cream which is just about 2000 years old.  The formula contained animal fat, starch and tin dioxide.  Even more interesting, the scientists who analyzed it made a copy of the formula.

Perhaps the 2000 year old sample wasn’t completely stable (no one said whether they tried it or not) but it doesn’t look separated in the picture.  That’s an impressive feat by an ancient cosmetic chemist.