Sunday, October 26, 2014

Weekend Wonderings: Some rambling thoughts for the day...

I haven't written much lately, and that's mainly because I'm in research mode. I remember Evelyn Lau saying that writing is 80% researching and thinking and 20% writing, and I think I'm in my 80% phase. I've been reading and researching new ingredients, checking out studies, reviewing things I find on-line, and designing new recipes for those fleeting moments I get to spend in the workshop. Although I've had time to make things, I've been making things I desperately need, like conditioner and face wash, things I've shared with you in the past. For those of you worried that I'm not here much, know that I am working on new things, but they aren't quite ready yet!

I have to ask you this question - why are you trying to make recipes from scratch? I address this question to the newbies amongst us. I think it's wonderful that you want to make something your own, but I ask you consider this...would you make a cake from scratch without ever having made a cake or without knowledge of what a cake should look or taste like? If you have an idea for a lotion you'd like to make with sweet almond oil and shea butter, find a recipe that has generic entries like "oil" and "butter" - like this newbie recipe I designed - and try that out. Do everything exactly as it is written - cut no corners! - and see what happens. If you like this recipe, then make it again and again and again. If you think it needs tweaking, get online and look into how you could tweak it with different ingredients. But don't start off thinking that you will make a recipe from scratch with adequate amounts of thickeners and emulsifiers and oils and so the first time you make a lotion (or conditioner or other product) because it's highly unlikely to work. I don't mean to be a downer, but making bath & body products is a craft and it takes time to learn how to do it. You can't design and sew a dress perfectly the first time you sit in front of a sewing machine, and you can't design a complicated product like a lotion from scratch and expect it to work. Find a recipe that has some reviews on it and try that!

I'm not saying that you can't eventually create your own recipes, but it will only end in tears if you begin your formulating career this way. I'm not saying this to keep you from being creative; I'm sharing this because I want you to have good experiences that encourage you to continue making awesome products. If you fail the first time out, you're not likely to want to keep going!

Related posts:
Newbie section of the blog
How do tell if it's a good recipe?

I have to say how much I love this foaming rice facial wash and how long it lasted! I made 100 grams in May, and I'm just running out. Those foamer bottles have a way of stretching out our products so we're only using a titch every time! Here's a version I made with foaming silk surfactant and here's a version I made with foaming oat surfactant.

As an aside, if you're looking for suppliers for bath & body products, look no further than the section about this topic in the frequently asked questions section of this blog. Readers like you have made suggestions about your favourite and least favourite suppliers (with explanations). You know which ones I like the best - remember, I'm not paid by anyone, these are my honest opinions - but it's nice to know what else is out there. Feel free to add your favourite suppliers to the list!


Birgit said...

Great question. I guess partially it was prompted by people who make a kilo of product on their first try. Anyway, here's my story of how I became a home-crafter. It looks like I have an addictive personality - when I cook, I go all in, and there was a time when I used to sew a lot (and absolutely agree with your point of practice making perfect - my first attempts were sad compared how good I got after years and years of work).
Anyway, about a year and a half ago I noticed my elbows and knees badly needed a scrubbing, yet I was out of body scrub. So I decided to make my own. It was a simple salt scrub. But I liked it a lot. And it was so cheap (as I made it out of things I had in the kitchen anyway). So I had a successful attempt which, of course, led to more. There were more scrubs, and whipped butters. Sprinkled with some bath fizzies and bombs.
At around that time I started actually doing research as I realized that just throwing random things together may not give the best results. And then the flood gates opened. I ordered emulsifiers and made the first emulsified scrubs. Oh, wow. For Christmas all my friends got scrubs and butters. And they loved them. After that it was a slippery slope, I ordered new ingredients every month and spent more and more time on research. I was hooked. The point of cheap is long forgotten (if I would be rubbing orogold on me on regular basis, I still would not hit the amount I have spent on raw ingredients in this decade). But it is so much fun.
I still have not made a lotion. But have finally started meddling in hydrous products (made your toner, and am looking forward making your foaming face wash). So to answer your question in a few words: cream-making is awesome! I would have said soap-making, but I am afraid of lye, and don't really use bar soap anyway. Made a few melt'n'pours, but they were too sweaty.
You have been a huge influence on how and what I craft in the best possible way - whenever I get a new ingredient, I study it thoroughly - skin feel, how it behaves, etc. And I regret not finding your blog earlier, as I have about 10 different emulsifiers, and no real plan for them :-)
I love every moment I spend in my workshop, even if it is frustrating at times. And that is why I craft. (And sorry for all the newbie questions.)

Susanna Originals said...

I'm not a newbie to making the products; I'm a newbie to making it RIGHT. And still not sure. Many years ago I made a cream for horses' heel cracks and people who used it on their horses started asking me for more for themselves. But it was made with lard. Greasy as sin, made an awful mess of the bedclothes if you used it on your feet but thinking back, it never went bad! I'm years out of the racehorse business and the golden years have brought some amazing chemical sensitivities. I serve ice cream at my little store and have to wash my hands over and over in the summer and soap of any kind would cause about three layers of skin on my hands to peel off and itch like crazy. Which brought my old horse recipe to mind. I bought a little bottle of SLS free soap at the farmers market, looked at the ingredients and started to research suppliers, which lead me to New Directions. I went crazy the first order and got stuff that I'll never have a chance to use before it expires! My crack cream was okay; the recipe isn't perfect but at least I could make it and use it and finally have normal hands. But the fun I thought I'd have with all the other ingredients - body butter, etc, was almost impossible because I couldn't figure out how to do it right. I ordered one book from New Directions (useless); another from Amazon (not great) and then I found your website from one of the comments on a product from ND. Bonus! I learned more in a day reading your blog than from 2 books and 6 months of research. BUT! I still need to avoid chemicals. I've ordered two of your ebooks and still don't know which ingredients are crucial and which can be avoided. Or which ones will make my face break out in red blotches. The reason I'm making my own stuff is to avoid chemicals and I'll willingly sacrifice glidiness, creamy thickness and whatever else is necessary to avoid them until I know more about my reaction to them and if I really need to use them. This is a very long answer to a short question and to use your analogy, you are teaching me how to bake but because I'm celiac (yeah, that too!) I can't use your cake recipe.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Susanna! I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I guess I'm wondering why you couldn't use one of my base recipes - the ones with things listed as oils or butters instead of specific ingredients - as a starting point?

I see people who want to write a recipe completely from scratch without any guidelines at all, and that is what worries me. Why re-invent the wheel when it has been done over and over again? I'm thinking about Birgit's comment of throwing things together not working. That is what I'm referring to in this post.

Susanna Originals said...

Your base recipes are really helpful and I am using them now that I ordered some cetyl alcohol, especially for body butter. My face cream was based on your basic cream recipe, otherwise I wouldn't have known to use glycerin, but I left out the things I didn't have and used things that I did. The hard part is knowing which parts of a recipe are crucial. My mother used to tell people they should never ask me for a recipe because I was the queen of substitution and their dish wouldn't be remotely like mine. Let's see, what's in the cupboard? But without you, I wouldn't have a base recipe to start with. Or know things like the 100% rule or the heat and hold rule. Or about preservatives. The ingredients we use are not cheap and I don't understand why anyone would chance wasting them by making up a completely new recipe either.

Elisabeth said...

I started making my own cosmetics around four years ago after I finally got my hands on an expensive and much-praised nail oil which wasn't sold in Finland at all, and then thought "If this nail oil is only sesame oil with lemon, lavender and myrrh essential oils in a stupidly designed package, why not make it myself, put it into a better bottle and save myself a lot of trouble and money?" Only later, after finding cocoa butter and virgin coconut oil in the local eco-shop and rice bran oil in an Asian food shop, and getting used to making up my own combinations for anhydrous products, it occurred to me to look for ingredients and recipes on the web, and realised I'd been reinventing the wheel. Once emulsions came into my life, I'd already got the bad habit of experimenting first, and it's been rather hard to break. And then it comes to availability of ingredients, where a lot of your most exciting recipes become a heartbreaking row of "can't get this one, this one or this one, but what's the INCI list of that one, maybe there's an equivalent in Europe" and it's off to do research. As to why not exclusively use recipes written by European sources, well, they're lightyears behind and not as inspiring, or I feel that their outlook could be more firmly based in science. Getting a match in the other direction can be equally difficult. E.g. I like to use the German-made emollient Lamesoft PO65 that's available through a Finnish supplier (active ingredients coco glucoside, glyceryl oleate, citric acid) in body and facial washes, but good luck trying to find a recipe that isn't in French or German. So I just put 1-5 % into the water phase and cross my fingers. So far, no strange interactions. Finally, on the "naturalism vs. chemicalism" scale I'm somewhere in the middle, as I believe firmly in emulsifiers, esters and preservatives and am a slave to great fragrances, while I still like most of my ingredients to be biodegradable and don't like the feel of silicones.

Anna said...

I am one of those newbies who constantly creates her own recipes, and I will most likely keep doing it. I still think it is great that you adress this question though, since creating your own recipes undoubtedly begins with lots of "failures" that might discourage many people. However, the experimenting in itself is what gives me a good experience. Not the final result of a product, but the getting to know an ingredient and exploring how skinfeel, viscosity and smell changes when combining different ingredients.

And since I´ve been a skincare-junkie for some years now, I actually do know how a good product should feel like.

I would also like to add that I agree with previous comments saying that your blog is a huge part in making the positive experience of skincare crafting possible. So thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge with us!

Rolanda said...

I think you're absolutely right, Susan. I made two of your recipes as written. I decided what I liked and didn't like. When I started tweaking the recipes...they didn't work initially. But this gave me the opportunity to learn how different ingredients feel and more importantly how they behave with other ingredients. For example, I do not like formulating with Polawax, I prefer BTMS or BTMS-50. For my dry skin, I prefer 6-8% butter in a formula. It took me about two years before I could comfortably go into the kitchen and just start creating things.

Bob Zonis said...

Susan, I'd like to make another point - that there's a level of crafting between buying a cake from the store and baking one from scratch - and that level is using a cake mix.

There are a number of ingredients available that function for creams/lotions and conditioners that function the same way a cake mix works for baking - add one or two ingredients, mix and you have a finished product. (I only know the professional names for these, but I can look them up on the small-scale websites if people want to know - and yes, I am a professional cosmetic chemist)

If someone likes doing this, the next step should be making products from more elaborate recipes. Making substitutions, in my mind, should wait until you understand at least something about the materials.

Dev said...

Hi Susan!!!!

I've been a fan of your blog for YEARS! I comment with a question every now and again, but I know you're busy so I really don't expect an answer from you directly lol. I say that to say, I'm more than just a lurker on your blog. Anyway, I found your blog back in 2012. I had just cut all my hair off and went "natural". When I say natural, I mean NATURAL. I only used nuts, berries, oils, yogurts, pureed fruits & veggies, etc on my hair. I later progressed to store bought butters and creams like shea and mango, which then progressed to making my own whipped butters and creams, which then progressed to researching cosmetic chemistry--when I found your blog, which THEN progressed to using regular store bought products (just the fancy one's), which lead me to making my own because the raw ingredients are WAY cheaper than buying a $30 jar of MoroccanOil Intense Conditioner.

I actually started making products early last year and I started out using a few of your base recipes for conditioner, but later added to them. Shortly after (within a day or two) I started looking at products on the market and breaking down their ingredient list to form recipes. Some were good (used loosely) and others were complete failures. But I always felt accomplished and happy I tried. The failures were learning experiences. Sidenote: Behenyl Alcohol is an intense ingredient lol.

I find that I get more satisfaction when I formulate from scratch and figure things out with my own research then I do with following other's formulations. Just following a recipe kind of takes the fun out of it for me because it's not mine. It's good to use base recipes to get the feel, but for me I feel less accomplished. It doesn't feel like MY product when I'm giving it to people to test or have. I look up recipes to see how an ingredient is used though.