Monday, June 7, 2010

Question: How to research ingredients?

p suggested...You know how you posted on how you duplicate a product? I would absolutely love an analogous post on how you research ingredients and formulations. You shed so much light on topics that other sites discuss only casually. Do you do your research mostly through books? Or is the web actually a really good resource? I find that when I google many of the ingredients you use, the search results consist of either sites trying to sell a product or anti-chemical screed - neither of which is a source of good, objective information.

Let's say I find an ingredient that doesn't ring any bells for me. This happened the other day when I was researching the Pantene Fragile to Strong Shampoo for the ingredient sodium xylenesulfonate. I did a quick google search and found this web page. Oh, it's a hydrotrope that is used at up to 10% in shampoos to help increase solubility and produce a clear product.

Do I need more information on this ingredient? If I did, I might do a search in google books - choose only those books with limited or full preview (there's a link on the left hand of the screen so you can choose just that type of book). I generally put the word "cosmetic" with any ingredient that might have other applications. For instance, if I put in "olive oil", I really want to add "cosmetic" or "cosmetic chemistry" in the search box or I'll get tons of Mediterranean cooking recipes! The books you'll find here are textbooks relating to cosmetic chemistry, although there are some magazines and other types of books that might not be as reliable, it's still a good resource. You can also do a search in google scholar for studies on this ingredient or use EBSCO host through your local library (this is an awesome search engine, and you can access magazines like Drug & Cosmetic Industry for free!)

The 'net can be a good place to find information - I like to use the website to get basic information on the purpose of an ingredient and safe usage levels. I like the Beauty Brains for general information on ingredients. And, of course, I love the Dish for all kinds of great information from science-y type stuff to personal opinions on skin feel and inclusion in formulations. And don't forget your suppliers' sites for INCI names and general usage rates, as well as formulation ideas and recipes!

When you find a site, look for what I call my Trifecta of Argh! If you see the words "chemical free", if they are clearly trying to sell you something, or if they are making claims that are clearly dubious, move on immediately.

The Trifecta comes from me going "argh" when I see these husband tells me to stop reading and shut down that browser window because I'll only grow more frustrated! Good advice!

Consider using the manufacturer's sites for more information. Let's say you've just purchased Bioterge 804 made by Stepan. Get on the Stepan website and register (this might take a few days to get some kind of confirmation). Get the data bulletin and data sheet on the product. You might not understand all of it now, but it will come in very handy. Get the formulations they suggest for this product. Odds are really good you don't have all the ingredients for those formulations, but you'll get a sense of what percentages you can use the ingredient in various things. For instance, if you wanted to use Bioterge 804 in a shampoo, body wash, bubble bath, and facial cleanser, what are the percentages they suggest? Are they in combination with other surfactants? Or perhaps you don't see a facial cleanser? Maybe this is too strong a surfactant for that product? Do this for all the manufacturers of all the ingredients you use. (I had a list with links, but Blogger decided it didn't want to save this post and I don't have the time to do all that searching again!)

I do prefer the book learnin' to the on-line learnin' because I'm a book kind of girl. I tend to pick a topic and research it to death. When I wanted to learn about making shampoo, I started with the biology of our hair (which you've seen over the last few weeks). I learned all I could about that topic, and made notes at the side of my notebook pages for things I wanted to research further. Then I moved onto surfactants, and learned about each of these. Then I moved onto learning about the additives I found in shampoo - proteins, silicones, panthenol, and so on. 

Inevitably, I get sidetracked. As you can imagine, choosing something like shampoo can lead to all kinds of other topics like surfactants in skin care products, silicones in conditioners, and so on, so I keep track of those other topics so I can go back to them. I have a notebook for each topic (and yes, I have dozens of notebooks). I have separate ones for oils, butters, extracts and hydrosols, surfactants, and so on, as well as separate ones for the chemistry of our hair and skin. So if I find some information about silicones in hair care products, I'll make up a notebook on silicones and take my notes there, with a note in the hair care book that I have information about silicones in the other notebook. (Get a membership card at your local stationery store!) 

Yes, I am more than slightly obsessive compulsive, as if you hadn't noticed yet. When I started out, I had a notebook in which I wrote everything with headers, but I found I couldn't find things easily, so that's why I started with different books. You can have one just for hair care products if you find that helpful. I use 80 page graphing notebooks because I am a very messy writer, and this keeps me in line. You can use what you like. 

Figure out how you learn. I found that I needed to write things down a few times to learn it - I'm a tactile learner - so I will read something in a book or on-screen and take notes. I'll go through it again and make headings or write questions in the margins. I'll find the answers to those questions and write those down. Writing things down repeatedly (or typing them) helps me to remember more things more often. 

Keep separate notebooks or files so it's easy to find information. If you like notebooks, make separate ones for each topic. Start with something like "lotions" and "shampoos" and break it down further if you need to do so. If you're a computer person, make up a general folder with sub-folders or documents where you keep everything on a specific topic. I like to have a separate folder for all the recipes I've collected over the years so I can go through and delete the ones I didn't like or modify those with my own notes. 

Make a lot of products so you know how each ingredient behaves in your products and how it feels on your skin. I have a recipe template I use for each ingredient that I keep in a plastic sheet. I write on the sheet with a grease pencil as I play in the workshop, making notes for every ingredient like "used lavender hydrosol - out of aloe" or "more, wasn't paying attention" so I know what I did differently. I label each product with the date so I know what changes I made.

Collect information. Don't bookmark - print or save. Websites change, forums archive, companies merge - all of these things can make the bookmark obsolete. If you're a Mac user, print to PDF is your friend (if you're a PC user, I don't know how you'd do that!). Save all the information you can in various files with different labels for ease of searching.

Stay curious. I was a toddler who kept asking why, how, what, how come until my mother finally taught me to read so I could learn myself (true story). I'm never satisfied with what I know and I always want to know more more more! 


Dennis said...

While that's true about the primary function of SXS, it's used in the Pantene products to assist with coacervate formation and cationic deposition (see their relevant patents for more info)

ged said...

Susan, I've been avidly following your blog for some weeks now, and this post is one of the most inspiring of all the other inspiring ones I've read! Basically, I actually want to be you, so if you do suffer from OCD, please can I come and try to catch it from you?

It is amazingly generous of you to share your knowledge and the results of your researches with us and I've particularly benefitted from your posts on shampoo. As also have my customers ... I was never very confident about shampoo formulation and usually bought a base, but now I have the confidence to make up my own formulations. Mind you, I also sometimes feel frustrated when I read about the wonderful range of surfactants available "over the pond" to small manufacturers compared with what we are limited to in Europe!

I actually do have a question among all this! Although I sell shampoo as part of my range, I've actually become somewhat of a no-poo girl myself (not because of "nasty chemicals" but because my hair is so dry. Did your research on hair structure convince you that we do actually need to use shampoo for our hair?

Right, I'm off down to the Soap Mines (my workshop!) to try one of your conditioner recipes now!

Ged H in Spain

SierraSnowSoaps said...

Once again you have posted an enormous amount of information, and I thank you. Since I started blogging just this year I have learned so much by researching. I find myself getting bogged down because I don't understand a word so look that up, then get sidetracked and look something else up, but...the other day while reading one of your posts I actually KNEW what you were talking about because I had researched something the day before. It was so cool to be able to put 1 and 1 together. Once again, thank you so much for the time and effort you put into all the info gathering.
Michelle in NV

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Dennis! Thanks for the information on this ingredient. I've only skimmed over the information on coacervates - it's incredibly complex and my textbooks don't go into this topic in great detail - but it's on my to-study list for the near future. I didn't realize sodium xylenesulfonate served that purpose!

Dennis said...

I don't know if they still offer it, but the SCC used to have an advanced hair care class that went into coacervates in some detail. It's (was) instructed by Dr. Robert Lochhead, who has also published extensively on the subject.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi ged. I have what was once called "obsessive/compulsive tendencies" by one psychologist. (My mom sent me when I was young to find out why I was so hyper. He told her I could go on Ritalin or she could keep me busy. She chose to keep me busy! I could have been skinny my whole life...but I digress!) I tend to do things like forget to eat or shower because I'm busy studying or playing in the workshop. I prefer to think of it as being addicted to flow.

Do you mind if I answer your question in a post? It was getting too long as a comment! I've written it here...

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Michelle. I found the same thing. I was totally confused for so long - I'd see the word "anionic" and have to look it up. Then see it again and look it up. And again. Until it finally stuck! I was so excited.

I find that's the thing with researching. You start reading one thing, then another and another, and you realize you finally know something. Then you can tie two things together - if this works this way, then does it work this way in another application - and start to make some connections. It's so exciting!

That's why I like to write things in series starting from the basics to the more complicated. I realize it might seem irritating to some - where are the recipes? I just want to make stuff! - but that's the way my mind works. If I can detail each ingredient and its uses, then break down the products by ingredient, then you can make the connections about how to use the various ingredients in different combinations. You can't do that if I just give out recipes!

Tamryn said...

Thanks so much for putting me on to this post and the Emollients post Susan. I really REALLY appreciate all the work you've put into this pretty incredible resource for all of us. Thank you for sharing it!!

Sandra said...

Hi Everyone!

In terms of organization, I love Microsoft OneNote 2010 (for class, but not math/chem/physics with all of the symbols and fractions, but rather bio/ non-science electives because I type faster than I write, and especially for cosmetic chemistry notes). It lets you create different "notebooks" that you can share with programs like dropbox and then different tabs/sections, and further, different "pages" to divide different subtopics (there are no actual pages as there are with Word - each page has kind of an infinite scroll). For example, I have a "Cosmetics" notebook with sections such as "Ingredient notes" with subsections/pages including "Antioxidants" or "Preservatives", in which I can write notes and create tables, as well as highlight and make sidenotes with different coloured fonts to further organize things visually (am I OCD? >.<). I got mine for free from my uncle's work but I believe you can get it from stores like Future Shop as part of a Microsoft Office 2010 thing?

Oh and I'm in love with your blog, Susan!

Anna said...

I think it´s great that you break stuff down in detail. I find it impossible to remember something more than a week if I don´t understand how things work.

I have another question about researching ingredients. Do you know where can I find objective double blind studies made on the effect different ingredients have on the skin?

You have such an interesting blog. I can´t wait for your next ebook!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anna. I like to go through EBSCO host at my local library or at the university for studies. I'm afraid I can't offer a link as it would be a link to my local library, and you need a library card to use it!

Anonymous said...

Lucky that I'm just starting now (after a "successful" batch of moisturiser a year ago using mechanical emulsification and NO preservative, that only ran out recently - using this recipe but, whenever I want to look up an ingredient I just google "[ingredient] swift" and know you'll have the right information!