What makes a cosmetic chemist – Episode 168

Beauty Science News

What makes a cosmetic chemist?

Here’s a story published in the Insider back in November talking about the Luxury skin-care brand Sunday Riley and whether their founder is actually a cosmetic chemist.

But what makes someone a cosmetic chemist?

Nearly all cosmetic chemists working in the mainstream cosmetic industry have a college degree in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Pharmaceutical or maybe Biology. Most people have Bachelor’s degrees but more and more people are getting Masters degrees from places like the University of Cincinnati.

Alright, so there is the education piece but then there is the experience piece. The truth is when you get a chemistry degree they teach you about chemistry in all fields. They don’t specifically train you in something like cosmetic chemistry. In fact, when I started in the field I didn’t know much about cosmetic science at all. Everything I learned was on-the-job training and research I did on my own.

To be a cosmetic chemist it takes more than just having a degree in chemistry or even a PHD is some subject. To be a cosmetic chemist you have to have worked as a cosmetic chemist. And there are even cosmetic chemists who haven’t done formulating. Formulating means that you put together recipes. There are cosmetic chemists who do basic research or claims testing that have little knowledge about creating cosmetic formulas.

And the truth is that formulating skin care products is different than hair care products which is different than color cosmetics. I have spent most of my time formulating hair care products and some of my time with skin care products. I haven’t spent much time at all making color cosmetics beyond a few lipstick and foundation formulas

Question 1: Heat Protectants for Hair

Sharon wonders about heat protectants for hair. Heat protectants are products that contain ingredients that protect the hair from heat styling. So, if you use hot tools like straightening irons, curling irons or blow dryers, you’ll want to protect your hair from the heat.

Heat is bad for the hair because it causes chemical changes in the fiber. It also causes water to evaporate from the hair – which is great when you are trying to dry the hair, but bad for the condition of your hair…

Question 2: I guess I could Google this, but… I sometimes leave nail polish on my toes for a long time. Is that bad?

Not really

Question 3: Dragongirlpatch wonders if Herbivore Botanicals products are properly preserved?

In looking at the ingredient list, it appears they do not use standard, effective preservative like parabens but instead use a combination of things including Sodium Anisate and Sodium Phytate. They also likely use a low pH (say below 5.0) and then do their best to produce the products in a clean environment. This type of formulation strategy is known as “hurdle technology” and a lot of natural brands are doing this. This allows them to make the claim that they are paraben free or preservative free. Other natural brand and formulas also use organic acids like Sorbic Acid or Benzoic acid or they use Phenoxyethanol. There are a number of alternative preservatives used by natural formulators.

Honestly, I have a hard time relating to this claim because when I hear “paraben free” or especially “preservative free” I think “unsafe” and “contaminated with dangerous microbes.” But clearly, I’m not their intended consumer.

So, yes the products are most likely preserved but you might want to use the products quickly because I wouldn’t expect them to last as long as standard beauty products.

While on their website I was struck by a few of the other claims that they made. In their marketing story they said

During our creative formulating process we knew we needed to innovate because we were trying to create something that didn’t exist and had never been created before: A lightweight, natural, truly synthetic-free moisturizing cream with a dewy finish that easily blends into skin leaving it perfectly moisturized.

In looking at their ingredient list they clearly have not lived up to this claim. They have Glyceryl Stearate Citrate, Cetearyl Alcohol, and Cetyl Palmitate. These ingredients do not exist in nature. There is no cetearyl alcohol plant out there. You can create it from plant material but only using synthetic chemistry.

I’m sure they’re perfectly fine formulas although at $48 for 1.7 ounces of product, it certainly isn’t a bargain. You can find products that work just as well or better for much less money. But this company engages in what we call fear marketing touting the boogeyman of synthetics while propagating all the standard natural product propaganda. They’re products are not safer than the ones produced by the big guys. And based on the preservative systems they use, I’d worry they are less safe.

Question 4: Curious Pete asks – If you were only allowed to buy 1 product for shower, shampoo, shave , what would it be?

Mine would be shampoo. In fact, that’s pretty much what I use. I like a shampoo that gives a good creamy lather. Phique shampoo but something like Tresemme or Pantene is great too. In truth, I’m happy using something like VO5 or Suave because the foam is good & I like the fragrances.

Question 5: Janis says “My hair is thinning as I age. Is that inevitable?”

For a large portion of people, yes.
There was a study published in British Journal of Dermatology back in 2001 where they looked at the Hair density, hair diameter and the prevalence of female pattern hair loss. The researchers looked at a general population and also a group of women who specifically complained about hair loss. What they found was the for the general population older people had lower density of hairs, so there were less hairs on their head. To give you a sense of this, at 35 people have an average of 293 hairs per cm2 while at age 70 people had an average of 211 hairs per centimeter squared. That’s about a 27% hair thinning just from density. But there is also the problem of hair fibers thinning. At age 35 the hair fiber had the largest diameters at 83 micrometers while at age 70 the diameter was only about 68 micrometers.

So, it looks like aging naturally results in thinning hair. And as far as treatments go, Minoxidil is the only thing proven in humans to work topically. I was reading some research on mice that showed both Peppermint Oil and Lavender might work as well as minoxidil, but mice studies are often not repeatable in humans. With something like hair loss, I’d like to see substantial proof in humans before recommending people try some products.

Cosmetic marketers however, are more than happy to sell you hair treatments with peppermint and lavender with the promise that it works. I’m skeptical.

Thanks for listening.

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