When I started studying how to make (real) cosmetics at home, it was because I was unsatisfied with all those “extremely easy and miraculous” recipes you find online.
From the “firming soap” (made, obviously, with aloe vera :D), the “detoxifying cream” and the “acne treatment” made with too much tea tree essential oil.
Yes it was inspiring for a start, but often things were not sounding right and I felt the need to know more.
Now, after studying (I am still studying of course, because the more you learn, the more you realize how much you still don’t know) I realize that sometimes things are not just “not right”… sometimes they are terribly wrong!
So this is why I am writing here.
Let’s start from the so called MIRACULOUS PROPERTIES: no cosmetic has such.
I learnt this with the first creams I was making: I learnt how to formulate, at first I used recipes of more experienced people and then I was tempted to do on my own. I obviously started adding all the active ingredients I had on hand… so to create the miraculous face cream which could help against acne, be full of antioxidants and also pore minimizer.
I had avoided all the silicons (which my skin doesn’t like, but if they work for your skin… why not 😉 ), all the synthetic oils (using instead oils which had good properties for my skin)… still my skin was better but it had not changed into a photoshopped magazine skin: it was still my skin with a small pimple every now and then, a bit oily on the T zone at the end of the day.
This is when I understood that learning to make cosmetics at home is mainly about NOT believing any commercial anymore 🙂 (and same goes for the tempting miraculous solutions trending online).
Another thing I have noticed is the general (and terribly wrong) belief that if something is “natural” it is therefore also mild.
Let’s talk, for example, about essential oils: I have seen people adding essential oils into creams or products for their infants! This is terribly wrong because essential oils are highly allergenic: their content of allergens is so high that it may cause painful reactions on the skin, therefore, if you wish to make a soothing cream for the butt of your baby and you can’t help adding some kind of perfume to it: add an allergen free fragrance oil to it! (they exist and are easy to find on the websites I spoke about HERE).
This is a rule that many mothers don’t seem to understand because they are fascinated by the amount of “lovin’ essential oils” websites they find. Please understand that essential oils can be good in some contexts but they are definitely NOT fresh water and they should never be used on infants.
There is also another bad trend of giving to anything handmade a healing property.
It is AT LEAST deceiving to boost about the healing properties of something you make: firstly, because it is not a pharmacological product, tests haven’t been done on your product proving that it has healing properties; secondly because you are almost cheating the people you speak with.
Let me make an example: exactly yesterday I entered a shop of homemade soap. The soaps were looking good, smells were great but the problem was on the labeling.
The soaps were not called “Aloe Vera Soap” or “Lavender Soap”… they were something like “Stress relief Soap” (which is quite fine), “Firming soap” (??? how on earth is a soap supposed to firm your skin… I don’t know :D), “Flu Aid Soap” and so on.
I felt deceived and I didn’t purchase anything.
It is also true that sometimes your friends, once they know you make creams, will start asking you if you can make them try some homemade cream of yours. Usually they go “Can you make me an eye-lifting cream?” but sometimes they even go “I suffer of Dermatitis, can you make me a cream to cure it?” In this last case… say a big NO.
When it happened to me, I suggested my friend to go to a dermatologist and ask the dermatologist which cream to use. I also said that I am not a pharmacist and I cannot make “curing creams”. All I could do was to make an highly hydrating cream and I could try to gather information about what might help in case of Dermatitis but this still wouldn’t make my cream a cure for it.
My friend understood and called the doctor.
I know it is tempting, once you are able to make creams, to boost about your abilities and feel almost like you can do anything in the world… but bear in mind that you are still not a doctor and that you cannot substitute one.
The last thing I don’t like much, is the general belief that anything synthetic is, therefore, bad.
Of course this is not true.
I already made the example of the allergen-free fragrance oil which is better than any essential oil in case of products for babies, but there is a bigger example I can make:
SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulfate)
They are surfactants which have gone through any kind of bad publicity lately.
What happened is a big misleading campaign: there are no scientific studies saying that they cause cancer!
To be very honest soaps are harsher on the skin than most cosmetic-approved synthetic detergents!
Another thing I have read about SLS is that it is used to clean industrial floors or boats and therefore it is dangerous to the skin… well yes and no: anything if used in wrong amount can be dangerous! Even water can be lethal if you drink too much: it all depends on the concentration at which an ingredient is used!
If a detergent is formulated well, you can be sure that it is not dangerous to your skin. If a detergent is badly formulated… it might be aggressive (but still it doesn’t directly depend on the mere presence of SLS or SLES).
And, last but not least, THE PRESERVATIVES! 😀
Apparently it is very difficult to understand that any product containing water or water based ingredients (unless in certain, specific cases) NEEDS to be preserved with a real preservative.
I don’t know why but there is this huuuge campaign against preservatives, in general, as if they were “concentrated evil” 😀 where, actually, they save our cosmetics from a lot of trouble.
Of course, some preservatives are better than others (for example I am not a fan of formaldehyde donors!) but nowadays there are so many “new” combinations of ingredients for preserving a product, even almost eco-friendly (or better to say “not eco-un-friendly” 😀 ) that really there is no excuse! Anyone who wants to learn how to make cosmetics at home must understand that PRESERVATIVES ARE NOT AN OPTION, they are a must. 😀
So don’t be shy or stubborn and use them properly! 😀
Actually cosmetic brands often play with the scare of people and I have already found cosmetics where you read on the label “it doesn’t contain preservatives”, but it simply means that it doesn’t contain the preservatives which you know about 😀 maybe they are using a combination of ingredients like salicylic acid, urea or something else… that might figure as if they were inside of the cream for another reason, but eventually they are behaving as preservatives 😀
Ps: NO NO NO: essential oils are NOT preservatives! No matter how many pages you found on the internet chanting the, let’s say, amazing properties of tea tree oil! 😀
Have a great day! 😀
19 thoughts on “Homemade cosmetics trends (and mistakes)”
There is one dose of truth to the bad rep of SLS and its likes, and it has nothing to do with causing cancer. Nor is it really anything that most people should object to, but I thought I should point it out to you since some people looking into handmade cosmetics are those who might be affected – SLS and SLES do increase permeability of the skin since they are surfactants, and our cell membranes are made of phospholipids, which are affected by such. Now, correctly using these is harmless to most people, but people with either very dry skin, or those suffering from eczema should avoid them in favor of mild superfatted soap, which is possibly more ‘stripping’ of the fats on skin, but it does not affect the actual cell membrane permeability that I know of.
Similarly, people with very fine, weak hair should avoid them since they can cause breakage of the hair shaft (if it is already fine) for the same reason.
Ok I didn’t know! But does this apply to ANY surfactant in general or only to SLS and SLES? 🙂
I know for sure that it applies to those two, and I suspect it applies to any surfactant because of the chemical properties of the skin, but the degree may vary. I can research that and get back to you – I’m a food biochemist, only starting to learn cosmetic chemistry as of recently, and because of similar reasons to yours – I am sick and tired of all the clearly fake claims, urgh! Well, and because I want to make my own luxury stuff!.
While we are on the subject, I might as well comment on-topic for your post! I agree entirely – when I started looking at recipes people post online, half the time I am fit to tear hair out at the 1. claims (oh merciful gads!), and 2. people sticking essential oils as substitute for doctors’ visits (I posted a rather pointed comment re: that and allergy on one blog, and the owner went – but you can use lemon and lavender and it makes it aaaaalll better… I got so angry – people can die of an allergy, ffs.). Or people who recommend not using a preservative.. I could rant and rant, but it’s gotten long enough already! In any case, kudos for pointing that sort of stuff out!
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Ahahah yes I understand you sooo well! Me too when I started looking for recipes online I got to read so many misleading posts!
Thank you for everything!!!
Oh and in which city are you? You can reply to my email! 😀
Replied to email! 😀
Aha! I’ve looked it up – essentially, the ones you need to watch out for are the anionic surfactants, and detergents in general, but not all surfactants (since some are quite kind and even conditioning to skin and hair).
As far as I know, which may not be complete, SLS and SLES are the major ones used in cosmetics. If I come across any others to be careful with, I’ll let you know!
Great point about using a “real” preservative. People often confuse antioxidants such as vitamin E, GSE, rosemary as preservatives when they are antioxidants – they extend the life of oils slightly but do nothing to prevent bacteria, mould and fungus which grow in anything containing water (inc hydrosols, floral water, goat’s milk, aloe vera which all contain mainly water).
However it’s not simply a matter of just adding a preservative. Formulation, processing and packaging is key, for example, cutting down the % “bug food”, reducing water activity, adding a chelator and using the right packaging to minise contamination in use. Tips on this, together with reviews of 27 preservatives including those which are Ecocert approved (“natural”) – http://makingskincare.com/preservatives/
There are so many products on the market which say “preservative free” that consumers often feel a preservative is unnecessary. What they don’t realise is that those products do actually contain a preservative system. For example, ingredients such as Glyceryl Caprylate/Dermosoft GMCY are known as wetting agents/emollients but are effective against bacteria and fungus but weak against mould. p-Anisic Acid/Dermosoft® 688 eco is good against mould but is listed as fragrance or parfum. Pair the two together (with a chelator) and you have a “preservative free” system. Naticide is another patented preservative which is listed as parfum/fragrance in the ingredients list.
Well said! 🙂
I am guilty of most of these mistakes. I made some simple handlotions with “natural” “preservatives” n they grew awful molds in a couple of weeks. 😦
ahahah well 😀
I have been a little guilty as well, before I started to make “serious” things 😀
I guess nobody is without guilt! 😉 ahahah
Great article. I like that it calls out a lot of the misconceptions common in ‘natural’ product communities.
Another point about SLES, though–while the substance itself is only recognized as an irritant, it is sometimes contaminated with 1,4 dioxane–a by-product created during its production. Unfortunately, 1,4 dioxane is recognized as a carcinogen in the US. Usually it’s found in lower doses than are likely to cause cancer, but companies are not required to remove it from their SLES products, and I’m not sure how thoroughly the FDA or other agencies monitors or enforces limits on 1,4 dioxane in cosmetics or other goods.
Thank you Mel!
I think this sort of issue is actually true not only for SLES, but for many more ingredients.
However it is also true that nowadays these sort of contaminations are tackled even more strictly, as they have become known issues 🙂
Of course we can choose to substitute SLES with any other similar surfactant, just to be sure 😉
Thank you for writing your comment Mel!
Hello! Thanks for this article, it’s very helpful.
This is potentially a very stupid question, but what exactly is prevented when we use a preservative in our formulations? I am absolutely convinced that we need them, but I work at a “natural health” store, where many people are not quite as convinced- “Sure it gets ‘moldy’ but what’s so bad about that? There are bacteria all over and in our bodies, and bacteria is “natural!”‘ is the argument I’m faced with over and over again. I have no direct answers for them. I will mutter about “oils go rancid, and there is bad bacteria out there too,” but I need details. What are the most common “bad bacteria” to grow on our creams & lotions formulated without a preservative, and what are the most common or biggest risks?
The issues are both from bacteria and molds as well.
The biggest risks, for example, are: getting blind thanks to an eye infection caused by an unpreserved cream (it has happened to some women in Spain a couple of years ago), or even dying of a pneumonia caused by another unpreserved cream (which the woman, in hospital, shared with other patients causing a spread of the disease in already ill people…). It is really not a joke.
Tell your customers that the mold they see is just the tip of the iceberg: a ml of HIGHLY contaminated water (millions of bacteria in it) still looks and smells like fresh water… So the risks are invisible and very high.
Adding a preservative is, seriously, the lower risk they take, compared to using an unpreserved cream.
If they want to avoid preservatives, they should avoid using water: just make body butters! The oils going rancid is not such a risk… But bacteria and molds really are 😉
Oh my I think I love you haha
I’m starting out with making my own cosmetics, mostly for environmental reasons. I struggle to find information/recipes because everything is aimed at “miraculous” products, or “natural” “chemical free” (impossible) stuff that doesn’t work. I’m about to have a dig through your other posts!
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Hello Anthea, thanks for the nice comment!
You are my new favorite person!! I’m a recently retired Registered Nurse and I have become fascinated with making lip balm and body butters. And YES, I made the awful mistake of giving some of my “Anti-Aging” Body Butter to a couple of friends, who loved it initially and then VOILA….they “broke out”. I am now obsessed with skincare formulation and I want to do it the right way!! I am currently enrolled in a Natural Skincare course so that I don’t ever make that mistake again!! I totally agree with what you say about preservatives…They are an absolute must!! And with this all natural craze, people just don’t understand this. I am in the process of creating a website and I really want to create an all-natural line, knowing that I do need to use preservatives and emulsifiers in order to create a safe and effective product.
And even more infuriating to me is the fact that, here in the US, there is also an essential oil craze going on. There are two large MLM companies here that tell people they can apply it undiluted to their skin, they tell everyone that their Essential Oils are “pure” and every other brand out there has watered down Oils!!. They go as far as telling everyone that they can ingest them!! They have an almost cult following and their followers believe all of this!
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Will definitely try this out. I have oily skin