September 21, 2009

Cosmetic Ingredients 101 - Part 2

Today we'll discuss some of the scary-sounding ingredient names on the labels of your favorite personal care products. I have heard comments about people scanning cosmetic labels for "bad" ingredients like acids, alcohols and hydrogenated oils when really most of these are pretty benign. Let's investigate a few of the more common ingredients in this category.

Stearic Acid: A wax-like fatty acid that is made from animal or vegetable fats/oils via hydrolization. We use the vegetable source in our products to help thicken and stabilize lotions and creams. Stearic Acid is also commonly used in the cosmetic industry to help harden soap bars.

Hyaluronic Acid: In cosmetics it is used as a hydrator that can hold 1000 times its own weight in water. It's useful in moisturizing treatments to aid dry and/or mature skin as it helps to hold moisture in the skin. It is also purported to help draw ingredients deeper into the skin, but that is still being studied. Hyaluronan is a major component of your skin, where it is involved in tissue repair. You might recognize the trade name Restylane. This is hyaluronic acid in injection form used by dermatologists to help fill in facial wrinkles by temporarily plumping the skin.

Cetyl Alcohol: A member of the fatty alcohol group this ingredient is typically made from vegetable matter like palm or coconut. It is used in cosmetic products as an emulsifier, emollient or thickening agent and is nothing like the alcohol you're used to seeing on the drugstore shelves.

Citric Acid: A weak organic acid that is found naturally in many fruits, and is abundant in citrus fruit such as limes and lemons. While there are myriad uses for citric acid it is typically used in cosmetic formulations to adjust the acidity (pH) or in combination with sodium bicarbonate to create an effervescent product such as bath bombs. It is also used in detergents and water softeners as a chelating agent.

So there you have it. These are only a very few of the typical ingredients found in products on your drugstore shelves or beauty counters. While the words "acid" and "alcohol" jump out at you from the ingredient label they are not always as scary as they sound. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding ingredients you would like to investigate, please leave your comments on this post.

September 16, 2009

Cosmetic Ingredients 101

Are you a label reader? I am and I always have been. I want to know what's in the stuff I put into and onto my body. I prefer to go organic if given the choice, but I'm not gonna lie, I love the variety of fragrances, flavors and colors available in the market today. I believe in a good balance between nature and science to make Bidwell Botanicals products safe, effective and as natural as possible and still have desirable fragrance and eye appeal. I'd like to think that other manufacturers of bath and body products do the same.

So, how do you know what these things are that you see on the product labels? You could do your homework and research the web looking up chemical names and botanical information, but that's time consuming and tedious for most us, and all resources are not accurate. You could trust the information you get from the website you buy your products from, but let's face it, you typically get the information they want to project rather than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. To help you along your way I offer Cosmetic Ingredients 101. A continuing series of blog posts divulging the secrets of cosmetic and personal care ingredients including everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask, or you asked but you never got an answer that you understood.

Today we start with three very basic ingredient categories that are commonly used in the manufacturing of personal care products.
  • Water (Aqua): I know this is a no-brainer, but if you read the ingredient labels of water-based (hydrous) products you might see a lot of variation where water is concerned and it can be confusing. I've seen Distilled, Spring, Deionized and even Rain water listed as the first ingredient. Why so many different types? Water is not just water as it has minerals and chemicals depending on where it came from. We try to avoid using water with minerals or chemicals in it as it can create problems with other ingredients so we use steam distilled water and it is sterilized before inclusion in our formulas.

    Some products list herbal or fruit infusions complete with the herbs, fruits or what-have-you as their first ingredient. That's a bit misleading as the actual levels in these infusions rarely contain a significant amount of the botanical materials and they should be listed separately and probably further down on the list. That is not to say they don't add to the product efficacy, but you probably wouldn't want to use a facial toner, for example, that has a very high percentage of peppermint or citrus extract as it could prove irritating. Keep that in mind when you're perusing the myriad choices on the drug store shelf. If it's at the top of the list presumably there's more of it than what's at the bottom.

  • Sodium Hydroxide (aka Lye): This is a critical ingredient in soap making. It is not, however, present in its original form in the finished product, at least it shouldn't be. This is one of the reasons why many manufacturers don't list it on their ingredient disclosure. It is what makes oils and water into soap - period. At some point in the process of taking a variety of ingredients and combining them to make soap sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide will have to be included. This is true for all types of true soap, including most liquid soap products and melt and pour soaps (aka glycerin soap). Some syndet (synthetic detergent) bars can be made with surfactants and waxes but they are not considered a true soap by the legal definition. There are hybrids of soap and syndet out there but where there is soap there is, or at least was, lye.

    So if someone tries to tell you that they make soap without lye - well that's sort of a lie. They themselves might not be handling the lye but when the initial soap base was made it included lye or you'd have a puddle of oils and water in your soap dish. Any questions? No? Good. We'll move along then. (stepping off the proverbial soapbox)

  • Humectant: This is a broad category so we'll skim it today and delve deeper later. A humectant (pronounced hyoo-mek-tuh nt) is by definition: a substance that absorbs or helps another substance retain moisture. There are many varieties of humectants including natural and man-made sources such as honey, vegetable glycerin, lactic acid, propylene glycol and hyaluronic acid. All help to reduce transdermal water loss (TEWL) and attract and retain moisture.
All right students, that's all for today. Next time we'll examine some of the mysterious chemical names you can't decipher on the labels of your favorite beauty products. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding subject material please leave me some feedback. Class dismissed!

September 10, 2009

Keeping it Real

We all know that television commercials and glossy magazine ads are a form of creative marketing. By that I mean they embellish the truth - a lot. Commercials that promise long, lush, natural looking lashes are particularly amusing to me. You too can have the lashes of the stars if you purchase several pairs of mink false eyelashes, but realistically you're not going to turn average eyelashes into doe-eyes with mascara alone. Magazine ads that show models with flawless complexions and perfect bodies touting any number of products or services and eluding that you will get the same results are just a tad exaggerated. Actually not even the beautiful people are as perfect as they are portrayed with the wonders of photo and film editing creating unattainable perfection.

Now, admit it, you are compelled by some of these ads to try the products. I know I am and I'm thrilled when something does some of what it was advertised to do. Mostly I'm disappointed but I am also realistic. I know full well that I will never look like a 20 year old model telling me that if I use (insert product name) that I can have wrinkle-free, pore-less skin like hers. I didn't have skin like hers when I was twenty!

In partial defense for this mummery, selling products in a glutted market and hard financial times has to be very creative in order to first get our attention and second prompt us to buy. It's highly doubtful than anyone is going to use "real" women in ads to promote beauty products. I suppose it's just the nature of the beast. We want to be beautiful so they show us what our culture considers the epitome of beauty and encourage us to strive for that unrealistic portrayal.

In my humble opinion we are all beautiful in our own way. I think the old cliche about inner beauty being the most important is for the most part true. For without grace and beauty of the heart and soul of a person outward beauty is only a window dressing and nothing more.

September 3, 2009

Top Ten Reasons to Start Your Holiday Shopping Now!

It's already Labor Day Weekend! How did that happen? It seems the months just keep flying by and I can barely make plans and the month is over. I know most of you probably feel this way too, and that's why I'm offering my top ten reasons to start your holiday shopping now list:
  1. September quickly becomes December in a wink of an eye! Don't be fooled by glimpses of summer still in the air. We're heading into Autumn people, and you know what comes next!
  2. Take advantage of end of summer and Labor Day sales where you can scoop up all kinds of cute clothes, beachwear for the mid-winter vacation to the south and tons of gifts at outrageously cheap prices to store until December.
  3. If you're looking for something particular and unique do it now. You're likely not the only one looking for it and if it's truly unique there won't be many of them to go around. Jump on it!
  4. Holiday decorations are on sale all over the place right now. I picked up some very cool Thanksgiving table decorations for a very good price at Michaels. If you're planning on crafting decorations get in to your local craft store now as most are super stocked with supplies and you'll have time to get it done before the holidays begin.
  5. Shop online? I know that a lot of people think web shopping means instantaneous gratification. Those of us that supply you with goods also get crazy busy during this time of the year and we adore customers that put their big holiday orders in early. It gives us time to get things made and shipped in a timely manner. It also gives you time, God forbid, to exchange items that were not exactly what you wanted, wrong size, color, etc and get the returns to you on time.
  6. Lots of stores offer pre-holiday sales sometimes to move out old stock to make room for new items, but many times they cut prices on new items to make sure they make their profits early in the holiday shopping season.
  7. Things can get a little crazy around the holidays with relatives stopping in, school productions, office parties and more. Getting your gift shopping done, wrapped and ready to give in advance will take a bite out of the frantic times to come.
  8. Check for purchase incentives as many companies are offering buy 2 - get 1 free, or a gift with purchase that you can either keep for yourself or give to someone else.
  9. I don't do huge, angry crowds, especially during a season I prefer to feel joyous and at peace with the world. Let's face it - standing in line with a bunch of grumpy, tired and frustrated people on Christmas Eve all fighting for the last "insert item name" is not my idea of a good time. By getting out there now there's plenty of merchandise, I can spread my spending over a few months and skip the mobs in December.
  10. My top ten reason to start your holiday shopping now: (drum roll please) In the words of a wise comedian, "Git er done!" It never fails that if I procrastinate something happens and I wind up in an insane rush and for me that just takes the joy out of the holiday.
Those are my reasons to get a jump on your gift giving this year. In blog posts to come I'll give you some good suggestions on what to give, how to wrap it, where to buy and get great prices.
So put on your comfy walking shoes, make a list and check it twice, get a grip on that Visa and let's shop!!