Friday, March 14, 2014

What interests you? My background

The question was posed to me in the What interests you? post - what is your background? So I thought I'd take a moment to answer that as best I can...

I graduated from university with a degree in English and Canadian studies with the intention of teaching. It was the middle of the recession and no one was hiring, so I became a financial worker at the the income assistance department. I eventually became a social worker with the child protection department, but left for a while because it was an incredibly stressful job! After writing a book - and not getting paid for it - I returned to work as a family counsellor with community services, the best job ever and one I am in today. 

A few months after starting my job, my husband and I started a games night with a few kids at the library. I started connecting with kids on my caseload through crafting, and we decided to start this group at the library. I had practiced making bath bombs at home, but when we tried them at the library, we failed epically and embarassingly. I went home and did a search to figure out where I went wrong, and I found the Dish forum. (I was using hydrous citric acid and I wanted anhydrous citric acid!) I had no idea you could make all these bath and body products from scratch! 

I got up the courage to make a lotion and was completely mesmerized by the moment of emulsification. The success of that project spurred me to try making shampoo, then conditioner, then everything else (except soap). (As an aside, I haven't used any store bought products since 2007 with the exceptions of mascara, toothpaste, and deodorant! I make everything else!) 

I started on the first page of the archives of the Dish and read to the beginning of that section, then started in on the first page of the current section. I experimented along the way, then returned to those sections with new questions. I started reading textbooks on making products, but I soon realized my chemistry knowledge was lacking, so I registered for a grade 11 class at the local continuing education centre. I didn't take chemistry in high school. I started, but switched out for a German class because that seemed way more interesting, so this was all brand new for me. I finished that class in three months, then the grade 12 in two months. (A+ in both classes! Yay!) I re-did my math classes, then registered at the local university for chemistry classes. (I'm still taking classes, and loving them! Am I working towards a degree? It would be nice...) 

In the meantime, I started the blog. At first, it was a place to post things from craft group, but in March 2009 - National Craft Month - I decided to turn it into a blog for writing about bath and body products with my first post on toners. 

And here we are today. I'm afraid it's not that interesting, but I do hope it encourages those of you who are scared of chemistry and math to give science and math a chance. You don't need to be a whiz to convert recipes from percentages to weights, and you don't need to be in the lab testing everything with a precise scale to make a lotion. A little curiosity and a willingness to learn are what you need to make awesome bath & body products...and I know we all have that inside us! 


Megan said...

Susan do you want to become a cosmetic chemist? Is that your dream?

Nicole Richard said...

It's very interesting to read about who is behind all that knowledge and wit! thanks for sharing!

soapjam said...

Thanks for sharing your background. I am impressed that you went back to school for chemistry and math. I wouldn't mind doing the same for chemistry. It's fascinating! :-)

Anonymous said...

Random question about Polawax (not the generic). Can you list it on the label as "polysorbate 60, cetearyl alcohol" or do you have to use the company provided inci name of "emulsifying wax nf"? I see a couple of internet suppliers specifying that you have an option of what to label it as.

Love your blog, Pete.

Em said...

Thank you for sharing your story! It's very impressive and inspiring!

Anonymous said...

It is interesting, but i will not give science a chance. I have dropped out of college so i would not have to face science courses, i did college algebra but it was very had for me to complete it. I love making beauty product and will start cosmetology course next fall for a year and hope to open a hair salon where i can make and use my own conditioner and leave in on my future clients, i have not tried shampoo yet. My favorite hair type is ethinic hair, just like mine. Thanks to you Susan i learned about the ingredients i use, and how to use them. I'll keep you posted on my progress, please no science for me!!!! It is impressive that you went back to school and found out that you love science.

p said...

So interesting to hear your story, and it's very cool that you embody the can-do/can-learn spirit that permeates your blog. You go, Susan!

MK said...

Susan, the first statement you ever made that I didn't agree with, "'s bit that interesting"...
On the contrary!
The road you took to writing this blog and how you decided to start making/experimenting with cosmetic products is ABSOLUTELY interesting!
I've followed you a few years now and always feel grateful to have stumbled upon your blog in the first place!
Thank you for being so passionate and having a curious nature!
Great story!

Elizabeth C. said...

Susan, you're the Walter White of the bath & body world! Each Christmas I've made something to give to friends/neighbors. Last December, my young daughters and I made a simple oil/sugar/essential oil scrub and put in 4 oz. glass jars. When we were asked for more, we decided to learn more about it and we're now making emulsified scrubs, body butters and lotions - and have nice 8 oz. PET jars and fancy labels, too! Your site is our "go-to" site. It's been great teaching this to my girls - chemistry, math and art! Thanks for all the time you put into this. p.s. I love Rock Band, too!

Heather said...

I am obsessed with creating soap, lotion, shampoo, conditioner and household cleaning products. My degree is in Anthropology and I am a child protective investigator. It is stressful, yes, but I love working with families. I am also obsessed with physics and although I hated math in school I have come to see it as more of a language than just boring calculations through my love of physics and astronomy. I often turn to your blog as a spring board when I want to make something new and after reading your background I feel as if we have a lot in common!
Thanks so much for the blog! It is very much appreciated :)

Cid said...

Mesmerizing is the right word: Your story, the science of formulating, philanthropy, and even the financial cogs that bring it all together! My mouth dropped open as I read your history because it's so similar to mine. However, I took math and chemistry as preparation for medical school in college, and then graduated with an English degree. I took a detour into technical writing and now I'm a teacher. For years I've been frustrated with the "1%" in products and also with the way folks have demonized science. I started tinkering with products so I could have what I want, thanks to you. I can read technical documents and scientific studies, and I put this to good use. In fact, I push my students (and I'd like to push some bloggers) to listen, research, and think for themselves. And I can't help myself; I just keep making products! This week my students are using freshly made soap (at home by me) to see how metamorphic rocks are formed. I layered it with micas and other things -- they get to squish it and see how pressure works on rock. Love you, Susan. You represent the best of what human minds can do. Your thoughtful honesty, ruthless quest for credible sources, humor, and rationality. . . . We need you!
-- Cid

Lynda said...

What Cyd said, + you do it with such kindness.

You're a beautiful role model not just for teens, but for all of us.

Shine on, Swift,


CariotaFamily said...

I have a suggestion and I'll bet because your site is the 'go-to' site for organized and concise information, others will probably find this helpful as well...

Is it possible to move your "Search This Blog" higher on the page? Seems I am on your site daily and usually have 8-12 different tabs open!

Elizabeth C.

Melanie said...

Why not make toothy tabs like Lush cosmetics? The ingredients are-Dicalcium Phosphate , Sodium Bicarbonate , Cream of Tartar (Potassium bitartrate) , Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate , Sorbitol , Sandalwood Powder (Fusanus spicatus) , Kaolin , Benzoin Gum (Styrax benzoin) , Vanilla Powder (Vanilla planifolia) , Myrrh Gum (Commiphora myrrha) , Fennel Seed Powder (Foeniculum vulgare) , Sodium Saccharin
And it would be great for me because our well water has too much flouride in it so I need toothpaste without flouride and I have to spend an arm and a leg for it.

Angela Yeseul Cho said...

Hi Susan
I've been struggling to find a great website where I can learn more about cosmetic formulation and ingredients.
Your blog is so awesome!
I sincerely thank you for sharing :)