Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weekend Wonderings: So many comments! (Part two)

A tip for the day: If you don't have all the ingredients for a product on the blog, try searching for another recipe for that product. For instance, if you want to make a toner but don't have the extract I mention, try searching for another toner recipe to see if there's one that doesn't include it. (Also, read the reason why I'm including the ingredient. If you know why we're using the ingredient, you can figure out whether or not you can leave it out!) I have what I like to call basic versions of recipes, which are recipes stripped down to have only the things it needs to work, and I use generic words like "oil" or "butter" instead of specific ingredients. Here's an example of one of my basic recipes - Making a basic lotion - with a modification at the end of the post.

In this post - Weekend Wonderings: Solubilizers - Steven asks: Why would you even need to add a solublizer into a mix of Everclear, water and essential oils? I'm not sure about the water--why someone would even be adding that(?) but it's my understanding that Everclear totally disperses essential oils (and the Plauteau probably)--so why add the solublizer? I mean it's really just more weird chemicals to stick on our skin right? 

See the comments below for more information. I was wrong in my original answer.

After talking to people in classes and reading your comments and messages, I need to say something out loud - essential oils aren't these magical things that can defy the laws of chemistry. They are oils and, as such, follow the rules that oils have to follow when it comes to being mixed with other things. Oil and water don't mix, so if you're adding essential oils to water soluble products, you have to add an emulsifier or solubilizer to the mix so it doesn't float to the top of the bottle! When we make something like a body wash or facial cleanser, the surfactants in the product are actually emulsifiers, and they can all handle a tiny bit of oils so we need not add solubilizers. But things like toners or water based fragrance sprays need to have a solubilizer to make sure the oils actually mix into the product.

I also want to address the idea of "too many chemicals" or "more weird chemicals" in a product. There's a company out there - St. Ives, I think? - that has a slogan of "no unnecessary chemicals", as if other companies are throwing things into their products for the hell of it. I don't think there's a homecrafter or professional product maker out there using something that isn't necessary in a product. It's silly and wasteful! If you want to use a cooking analogy, this is like making a cake and deciding to throw in a hunk of pork for the hell of it. You wouldn't do that to a cake, and you wouldn't do that to a product. Every ingredient I use in a product is there for a reason. A lotion needs an emulsifier to be a lotion, a cleanser needs a surfactant to foam and lather, and all water based products need preservatives to stay safe. We add some things because it makes the product feel nicer - say, cetyl alcohol to make a product glidier or dimethicone to make a product feel slicker - or as actives that make our skin feel great.

And I need to say something about the word "chemicals". (Yeah, you've heard me say this before, I'm sure!) The word chemical means something that is composed of chemicals. And chemicals are composed of elements. Which means that everything on the earth is a chemical. Water, grass, trees, essential oils, carbon monoxide, my hair, this tea I'm drinking - everything on earth is a chemical. If I could have one wish this Christmas, it would be that people stop using the word "chemical" to mean bad and use it to mean something composed of chemicals without the judgement attached to it. I think the word we might want to use is "synthetic" or "man-made", neither of which are necessarily bad either, but it seems to be the word people are searching for when they use "chemical". (Maybe you're looking for the word "toxic"?)

Related post: Why does the idea of "natural" have to exclude science?

Join me tomorrow for more comments!


Gillian said...

I can't get over businesses claiming they are anti-chemical... it's like being anti-air! It shows that either they (or their writers) have little understanding of science or they think that we, as customers, are idiots. I take offense every time I see it. The fact that so many people jump onto this makes me think that maybe most of us are idiots when it comes to science... which means we are easily manipulated. Still, I won't buy anything from any company that spouts an anti-chemical mantra, and now I'll make sure to tell them why!

p said...

Hi Susan! Essential oils are *not* oils -- they're naturally occurring mixtures of various volatile compounds like terpenes, ketones, phenols, alcohols, and esters, and as a general rule they *are* soluble in pure ethanol. This is how perfume is made, after all! Volatile compounds like those found in essential oils (typically synthetic, though) are dissolved in pure ethanol to create perfume, with no separation. When you add some water, you lose solubility. If you've ever tried adding a bit of water to a clear spirit like pernod, absinthe, or sambuca, you see this phenomenon in action -- the once clear spirit goes cloudy, because some of the aromatic constituents (anise-smelling anethole in particular, if I remember correctly) are no longer soluble in the lower alcohol substrate. So yes, you don't need a solublizer for essential oils in pure ethanol*, but if you add some water, depending on the final percentage of alcohol and on the constituents in your essential oil, you might well need a solubilizer.

*When I say pure ethanol, I mean 95% pure -- 100% ethanol is so hygroscopic that it absorbs water from the air until it's 95% pure.

TheTarafotty said...

^^ What p said ^^ Ethanol is polar, but it also has non-polar groups as well (the two carbon chains). Some compounds have varying solubilities with oil and water. When I worked in a Histology lab, we would embed specimens in parrafin -- a very non-polar substance. We would clean up the wax with xylene, another non-polar substance. Then we would use degrading levels of ethanol (100%, 95%, then 70%) to clean out the xylene. 100% ethanol is miscible with xylene, 95% ethanol is miscible with xylene and to a small extent with water, then 70% is miscible with (hot) water and the 95% ethanol. So there are varying degrees of solubility and miscibility. 95% ethanol (Everclear) is quite miscible with essential oils.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi p & Tarafotty! My brain knows that alcohol and oil soluble things work together, but I didn't get that out in this post for some reason. That's the reason we use it to clean containers of grease. I've updated the post to direct people to your comments. Thanks for the correction!