As Terry Prachett points out, if you make a man a fire, he is warm for a day. Set a man on fire, he'll be warm for the rest of his life. No, wait, I meant to say something about teaching you how to set fish on fire? I think I might be all studied out. Yeah, I take school really seriously. I should! It costs a fortune!
For instance, someone asked if lecithin could be used in place of cetyl alcohol in a conditioner. Here are a few questions I would ask. Why is the cetyl alcohol in the conditioner? What is the role of lecithin in a product? What would lecithin bring to a conditioner? Does it do something similar to cetyl alcohol? And would it behave like cetyl alcohol in this product specifically?
Why cetyl alcohol in a conditioner? It acts as an emollient and boosts the substantively of the cationic or positively charged quaternary compound, like behentrmonium methosulfate (BTMS).
What does lecithin do? It's an emollient and emulsifier when coupled with another HLB emulsifier.
What would lecithin bring to the conditioner? It would act as an emollient. We don't need an extra emulsifier because our cationic quaternary compound is already a great emulsifier.
Does it do something similar to cetyl alcohol? What do these two ingredients have in common? They are both emollients.
Would it behave like cetyl alcohol in a conditioner? Lecithin would not boost the substantivity of the cationic quaternary compound because lecithin is not a fatty alcohol. It would behave as an emollient.
If your goal is to add an emollient to your conditioner, lecithin would behave that way. If you want to boost substantivity, it will not. Lecithin may or may not be a substitute depending upon your goal.
All of this information can be found in the emollients section, the hair care section, and the FAQ. Look to your right to the links to lists section.
Someone else asked if she could use glycerin to lower the freezing point of a lotion bar. Ask the questions! What does glycerin do? Will it lower the freezing point of oils? Is glycerin water or oil soluble? Is it compatible with your anhydrous product? What would you have to do to get this ingredient into your product? Is it worth it?
But the first question should be - why are you trying to lower the freezing point of a lotion bar? Solid oils don't really care about cold that much, and it never gets cold enough in my house to worry about them freezing even in the dead of winter.
Seriously, question the validity of your concept. In the shower one day, I worked on an idea for a solid body wash bar to go with my shampoo, conditioner, and scrub bars. Raymond pointed out this would be called a soap (or a syndet bar). If you aren't finding information on how to do what you want to do, it might be due to the fact that you can't or shouldn't do that thing, that it has been tried before and was terrible, or perhaps it simply doesn't work. Stop and question yourself. Throw your ego out the door and ask yourself if your idea is actually good. It might be, and it might not be.
If you play this mental game enough, you'll learn which questions to ask and where to find the information you want. Do your homework. You learn very little when someone tells you the answer, and you learn so much when you take a little time to read and research. Listen to people with more experience when they tell you your idea isn't great or that your product will fail: We really are trying to help, not hinder. (Besides, why ask us if you don't want our answers?)
There are no stupid questions. But there are questions you can answer yourself by using the resources you have. Always check FAQs. (Every day I am posed at least two questions answered in the FAQ. Go there first!) Do some thinking about the information you've gathered. (If glycerin is water soluble, will it mix with oils? If not, what would I have to do? Add an emulsifier? Which one might work? And so on...) Try to connect ideas, create relationships between bits of stuff you've learned. (If glycerin is water soluble and liquid green tea extract is water soluble and lavender hydrosol is water soluble, I pull mix these three things together without much effort. Right?) And experiment. Try putting lecithin into a conditioner and see how it compares to one with cetyl alcohol. It might be that you like the lecithin more! (Then share that information with others. I really feel we have an obligation to share what we learn as a thank you to those who shared with us. Let's create an open and generous community instead of a carefully guarded one. But that's another post...)
Lovely readers, please add your suggestions for questions and resources! What questions do you ask? What processes do you find valuable?
In the meantime, here's are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure. First, some pretty blue dissolved copper salt, then some lactose free Malteser ice cream Raymond made for me, and finally a thick carbomer gel I made last week. (Look for fun with gels coming soon!) Wish me luck on my exam!