From Formularius to Product

I want long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen, Knotted, polka dotted, twisted, beaded, braidedPowdered, flowered and confettied Bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied
— Writers & composers James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot

Influential on a lot of people, the whole idea of hair being a principal part of fashion, defining an individual was NOT new, indeed no. Hair, on the head or otherwise has defined status and health since Adam was a boy!And again it was men and women who sported fashionable hairdos along with other body adornments from as early as has been recorded. The people below are contempory africans, and their hairstyles still match those of their ancient Egyptian ancestors, obviously cannot improve on perfection.

So go some of the words to the iconic song of the 60’s and 70’s HAIR!  brown dye. Misery is described as a BAD HAIR DAY. get the desired modern look. Colour can be anything, and I for one make sure that I keep my grey locks hidden behind a good layer of reactive dark In the 21stC we can hardly do without a daily shampoo, condition and style. Cutting is an artform, and there are dozens of appliances one can use to 

Products used in hair treatment in Old Egypt: (


Ancient Egyptians used to wash their hair and their wigs regularly. They have a way to do it with a mix of water and citric juices. The citric acid dissolves the fatty oils from the hair and leaves the follicle sealed, so it keeps it dry. The hair results smooth and brilliant. They used almond oil as a conditioner after washing the head.


Methods of hair removal included preparations like a paste made of lime, starch and arsenic. They also used a mix of sugar and beeswax to remove superfluous hair. They had razors made of copper or bronze with sharp edges, and efficient tweezers.


Along the centuries, their favorite colors were black or orange-reds. Since 4,000 years before the Christian Age, the henna was the most common dye; it gives orange or red variations to the hair color. They mixed it with cow’s blood and crushed tadpoles, to obtain different tonalities. The henna plant (lawsonia inermis) grew abundantly in the banks of the River Nile. To make black dyes they used the indigo, extracted from the plant indigofera tinctoria. Those who became gray-haired colored their hair with a recipe of blood of ox boiled in oil: it was a magic solution, because it was believed that the darkness of the animal was transferred to the hair. After 1500 BC they started to use wigs of vivid colors, like blue, red or green.

Treatment for baldness:

As it always has been, those who became bald because they lose their hair, were not happy and they wanted to recover it. The recipes were based in several preparations, with fat of different animals: goats, lions, crocodiles, snakes and hippopotamus, and also cats. Another cure was a patch made with leaves of lettuce, or the application of fenugreek’s seeds.


To set their hairstyles, they applied an ointment of beeswax, letting it dry exposing the head to the sun, until it hardened.

Hair growing stimulation:

Different oils were used to strengthen the hair: almond oil, rosemary oil, or castor oil.

Plinius the Elder used to say: “How tedious and boring is the time dedicated by Roman women to those endless sessions of hairdressing...” Roman Patrician women, who had a better social status, adorned their hair assisted by servants or slaves called “ornatrix”, who made their hair ornaments. Complex and sophisticated styles were indicative of a high social status, while the simple ones were considered a sign of barbarism. To curl their hair they use a tool called “calamistrum”, (a curling iron) which was a hollow iron tube that was heated on the ashes and the hair was rolled around it. They wore wigs to augment the size of their hair. As some of them were very sophisticated, the Roman poet Juvenal said: “The more important is the matter of their beauty, more stores piled one on each other like a building”. The common name among the Romans for a wig, was “Galerus”.Wigs were usually made with human hair; blond hair came from German slaves and black hair from India. Dyes were made with different formulas, mixing henna with other herbs for reddish hairs, saffron flowers for blond hair and a weird recipe recommended by Plinius the Elder to dye the hair of black color: “applying leeches that have rotten in red wine for 40 days, and, with the juice obtained of that, to colorize the hair”. They also used potassium water and hydrogen peroxide, or bleach, to decolorise it.

So if rotten leaches are not your thing, modernish methods of creating a good hair day didn’t really improve by the middle ages with Nostradamus giving recipes for becoming blond, obviously Blondes have always had more fun.

Here we come to a short sample of modern formulas to keep hair nicely spruced and up to date. They will be found on the following pages.Otherwise there are so many versions of “product”, muddy, sticky, shiny , waxen, they start to sound like the verse in HAIR!Now in the last 100 years and much in the memory of this little black duck, there is “Maccassar oil” (a blend of coconut and palm oils scented with ylang ylang and not Argan oil as we have been told) which was a fave for a long time with the blokes in the early 20th C way before “Brylcream” (pretty similar in appearance and greasiness), “cedel shampoo bar” or dog soap for washing hair before fancy shampoos like “Blue Clinic” hit the shower shelf. I read that it was in the ‘70’s ads with Farrah Fawcett and Christy Brinkley that washing ones hair became a daily event, and looks like when that happened and we lost all the oils needed to keep our hair looking wonderful, came the need for all the conditioners, treatments and “product” to style it. The lads nowadays either shave their heads, not for the lice and fleas in days gone by, but because that too now is a “do” that has a cachet. 

Otherwise there are so many versions of “product”, muddy, sticky, shiny , waxen, they start to sound like the verse in HAIR!

Here we come to a short sample of modern formulas to keep hair nicely spruced and up to date. They will be found on the following pages. 

Part 1, Chapter XXIV: How to make the hair golden blond, no matter how black or white it is, making it pale yellow without losing its colour for a long time, and retaining it in its entirety, and making it grow in such a way as to be that colour right down to the root, just as it is to the very tip.

Take a pound of twigs of the wood called fustet, ground to a fine powder, half a pound of box-wood shavings, four ounces of fresh liquorice, four ounces of nice, dry, yellow orange-peel, four ounces each of celandine root and papaver, two ounces of the leaves and flower of glaucium or guelder-rose [?], half an ounce of saffron, and half a pound of paste made from finely ground wheat flour.Boil it all up in some lye made with half pounded ashes and then pour it all out [through a strainer?].Next, take a large earthenware pot or jar, and make ten or twelve little holes in the bottom.Then afterwards take equal quantities of sacred ash [?] and pounded wood-ash and put them in some large wooden mortar or something of the kind, as you please, and sprinkle them with the said concoction while pounding them vigorously for the best part of a day.Keep doing so until the ash is fairly hard, and while pounding it add a little rye- and wheat-straw, continually pounding it so that it soaks up most of the concoction.Then take the said pounded ashes and put them in the said pot or jar, and in each of the holes in the said pot stick an ear of rye that passes out to the exterior and make alternate beds of straw and ashes until the said pot is full, but leave a little room for the rest of the concoction.Then, towards evening, position another pot or jar to collect the lye that dribbles out of the holes along the ears of rye.When you want to use it in the morning, go and see what has oozed out, sponge it up and apply it to the hair by wiping.And at the end of three or four days you will have hair that is as golden-blond as a golden ducat.But before you put it on your head, wash it with another good lye, because if it were greasy it wouldn’t take so easily.And you must understand that the contents of the present recipe are sufficient for one or two years, and are sufficient, if used properly, for the needs of ten or twelve women, for only a little of the liquor is sufficient to colour the hair quickly and easily, and there is no need to wash with anything other than this for a woman whose hair was black as coal to become quickly blond, and for a very long time.
— Traité des fardemens et confitures, English translation by Peter Lesmesurier,

Claiming the High Ground

In the last issue I banged on about how to go about briefing your formulator and manufacturer to get the best results. Part of that brief revolves around the ingredient and product claims a Brand Owner wants to be integral to their range.

In this musing, I am not opening the can of worms that revolves around making claims that we think that imply that if we use your brand we are all going to end up looking young, sexy and fresh. Gosh if you actually believe that then please don’t bother with the rest of the article.

Making (and basing your marketing around) claims may well be a good strategy in defining the brand and what it stands for. It’s one way of differentiating your products from those of your competitor.

And, in the battle to get your product shelf space, there is a lot of pressure from retailers to know what’s your unique selling proposition – in other words what’s your “angle”.

Depending on how you define where you stand, you may be building a limit on your demographic appeal and the buying clique that are prepared to at least try your product. It’s a point worth considering before determining a particular path.

Sometimes a strongly defined brand stamp can alienate many others. In contrast, take a look at the really well established brands and that many have very unexpressed or limited claims around their branding. For example the expression “Because you’re worth it”TM  is one that most of us will be familiar with yet it isn’t a specific claim about the products (or their ingredients) that the expression is associated with.  OR they have a perception of naturalness or simplicity or efficacy or strength in the marketplace, these notions have been their marketing power, not individual claims. All in all whether a product has claims or whether it just stands its ground through force of marketing communication or longevity, the final product MUST be true to its assertion that it is true and factual.

First there are the new ingredient and positive efficacy claims...

The oldest ones we know are along the lines of “contains the highest amount of ‘transfabulous peptide A’ in any cream”. This type of claim has been used since my mum was a girl, and to my astonishment, is still the main tag of many big name products. Each year or product launch of the brand often finds a new ingredient or molecule being added and the new ‘miracle’ ingredient becomes the focus of the ‘new and improved’ claims.

The clear advantage of such an approach is that the base formula changes little (and avoids alienating the existing  customer base) while the company stays “ahead of the Game” with new technology, or at least something that looks like it. Just using the one new ingredient can be beneficial, as the ingredient manufacturer is the one who generally has done all the work testing and proving efficacy.

The Brand Owner must spend a fair bit of resources to communicate the benefits of the new and maybe unknown ingredient to the masses. And eventually the new material will be available to everyone who wishes to “me too” off the hard work of the ingredient manufacturer and 1st marketer’s efforts.

Then there is the “may help the symptoms of...” claim.

This again is an old claim. Like the symptoms of old age . . . wrinkles. “May” is the key word; like a few others it can be a finudging or finessing is not a claim that is an absolute remedy. However the diagrams and advertising usually show faces transformed in a few weeks from withering hags to spunky pert things.

The ‘symptoms’ claim is a good one to use for cosmetic products aimed at skin with various inflammatory symptoms, and in conjunction with the latest or greatest ingredient to reduce redness.

Then there are the claims that are specific to a genre that sound positive, but may have a bit of an undertone of intimated negativity. These are:

  • “Organic” In my world of carbon chemistry, most chemically things are organic. The context that a Brand Owner often wishes or intends to convey to the consumer is that the raw material is organically farmed, as ‘organic’ is often decoded by the consumer as ‘better’. (Anyone prefer an organic poison to a synthetic one?) Organic chemistry is a loophole many marketers are happy to use when quizzed on certain ingredients – same word, different meaning!
  • “Certified Organic”, this is like the “Heart tick” on margarine and defines that the formula has been checked by a private certifier. The only hassle is not all standards are the same and cannot be compared, and when there are literally hundreds of certifiers, it can be confusing, and is ultimately expensive.
  • “Natural”, this one can present a hornet’s nest of interpretations. Natural in the broadest sense can get you pretty much a very good formulation and it will depend on what you may pair with it, like a “does not contain” list as well.
  • Then there are the subsets o these above, like “Biodynamic”, “Homeopathic”, “Alchemic”, “Wild Crafted Ingredients” ,“Green”, “pH balanced”, “Chirally Correct”, “By Women for Women” etc.

In this sector I am yet to find “All synthetic”,  yet when I do I probably won’t be surprised.

The last sector is the “NO” lists or to  soften the claim . . . “Free from”.  These are very popular now. They are  not my favourite as they are negative and they get too exclusive and sometimes plain silly – for example a ‘lactose free’ short black coffee. Other ‘free from’ claims can involve materials that would never be used by a formulator in the product that the claim is applied to. “Petrolatum free” is pretty useless in a body wash. My personal favourite is “gluten free shampoo”, as this is pretty much meaningless for a person with gluten intolerance. The NO list comprises mainly of “NO or Free from petrochemicals”, and I find this somewhat incongruent when the product is contained in a plastic tube or bottle, in a carton printed with petrochemical based inks.

However, there may be allergy risks for individuals with certain topical raw materials that need to be addressed, and “nut free” is an interesting potential claim that I have not seen yet, and maybe really hard to prove.  A free from list for formulators can be helpful. The brand may have a specific “no animal products” claim to appeal to vegans.

All these claims can limit the buying demographic and bring out the bloggers (or trolls) who love to find fault with claims.  So when we are briefed with claims, expect us as formulators and manufacturers to quiz back at you to make sure this is who you are and that you can be absolutely true to your claim. 

Lessons from my Mum

MARG SMITH is the owner of Syndet Works – an Australian company established in 1984 to formulate and produce soap free skincare bars.

MARG SMITH is the owner of Syndet Works – an Australian company established in 1984 to formulate and produce soap free skincare bars. Syndet has developed an enviable reputation for custom formulated and manufactured skincare that now extend well beyond the origins of the business.


☛ Read the original article here in The Science Of Beauty Magazine

My mum was a classic collector (and possible hoarder) of stuff. As she got older she became what we called “scientific” because of the many food experiments she kept in the fridge and pantry. As mum got older, we took on greater responsibility for the contents of the fridge, freezer and pantry and Ian (see my previous article on dishwasher Nazis) would immediately chuck the obviously failed experiments. Both of us were always amused at the number of packets we found without “best by” dates – a sure indicator of great age.

Most Mums are extremely protective of their children and in this respect, my Mum had an almost maternal instinct towards her ‘experiments’. At least that was the case until the day when I leapt across the sofa to grab the bickie she was about to put into her mouth. The dip she had just scooped onto the biscuit had turned grey with pink, black and green moulds. She put her glasses on and was not all that impressed. A weekly examination of the fridge was accepted from that point. Many of us become this sort of scientist as we get bigger fridges and start collecting containers of partially consumed items. It is both “eee – yeww”and fascinating to discover an older specimen happily growing in the rear of level 1 of the “cold stability fridge” at home.

Now as I get older and more “scientific”, I have a tendency to claim the lost container as a ridgy didge experiment and check out exactly what has grown on the tortellini...endlessly enthralling. Ho hum??? On the positive side, not all the wild things are bad. Both hubby and I have a bit of a penchant for fermenting and growing stuff and have come to appreciate the wonders of yeast. He for the elegant wine and me for the herby or fruiting mush that may unlock a new and exciting end result topically not internally or neurologically. Though I do indeed enjoy the fruits of his skill, I really do love growing or collecting a herb or plant and seeing what happens to it after giving a week or two in the fermenter. Assuming nothing disastrous has taken place I’ll often distil the fermentation results to see if that has any effect on either contamination or efficacy. NO it is nothing LIKE Breaking Bad. It is a lot more like Breaking Wind if the ferment goes off through contamination by fungus or mould or bacteria. Even when perfect there is something quite redolent can be great or a bit essentially herby.

All this is a bit of fun, but get real Marg, our brands, our personal and skin care products cannot become multicoloured, bloated dip type things, they just can’t, so experiments that might be OK for the home kitchen should never reach retail shelves. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that vegetable matter is crawling with all types of greeblies, most of which are quite harmless most of the time. Indeed protecting ourselves from some may can be great or a bit essentially herby. All this is a bit of fun, but get real Marg, our brands, our personal and skin care products cannot become multicoloured, bloated dip type things, they just can’t, so experiments that might be OK for the home kitchen should never reach retail shelves. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that vegetable matter is crawling with all types of greeblies, most of which are quite harmless most of the time. Indeed protecting ourselves from some may have the exact opposite effect, as there is now an emerging body of evidence that suggests our immune systems are strengthened by exposure to these bugs and that it is beneficial if we ingest them or apply them whilst fresh. However when we capture them, put them amongst a nice nutrient base like a cream, then package them off, without completely knocking them off, then the “fermentation” is quite different and will become either unpleasant or toxic or both.

As formulators and manufacturers get more and more into the natural and often “organic” products that are demanded of us, the need for raw materials to be subject to more careful scrutiny has grown. Traditionally and legally, most raw materials for cosmetic purposes must be clean and have bacterial, mould and fungal growth right down low. Pretty much all the raw materials accepted by us have a certificate of analysis, stating amongst other things the bacterial, fungal and mould loading. There are limits and they must not be exceeded. Each material is different and if imported (unfortunately most are now) must have AQIS clearance to get into the country. If a material has not been cleared it is either irradiated or destroyed. This is where it is sticky for our certified organics, as they are not to be irradiated or preserved with many preservatives except those which are classed by the certifier as natural. Unfortunately bug counts from raw organic materials can cause quite a few headaches for manufacturer and brand owner alike, when the finished product is being certified as organic. For 2 reasons mainly (amongst many)

  1. Contamination that cannot be controlled by normal methods if those methods aren’t approved by the certifying body
  2. Shelf life.

The link between these 2 points is preservation methods and materials. For manufacturers and people trying to do the “right thing” by customers regarding safety, it can be a really hard gig. Quite frankly the whole question of preservative systems and what is, and isn’t allowed, is an issue that has taken up a lot of our time and those of people who care. The push is to have preservation free or natural preservation. All good intentions, but in my ever so humble opinion, just not quite there yet in the world of mass market cosmetics, where shelf life of up to 3 years is often claimed.

The challenge for a safe extended shelf life becomes greater for natural and organic cosmetics due to (usually) higher commencing bug counts even when freshly made. Microbial/fungal/ mould (B/F/M) contamination in a natural (thus) vegetable based product that has not been rigidly preserved or decontaminated prior to using in a cosmetic is normal but a time bomb. As an example take a simple case of using an Aloe Vera extract. Almost all formulators use a 1:200 powder concentrate, reconstituted in water for use as the “water phase” in natural and particularly organic creams lotions washes. It means that pretty much in one simple operation, the product achieves the percentage of organic material required by the certifier. In most cases now this is from 75-95% of the total. The certificate of analysis shows that in its powdered form it passes the loading of b/f/m totals allowed, but remember that in powdered form it is inactive.

The conventional way of treating the Aloe Vera powder is to wet it out, preserve the wetted out powder with a good broad spectrum preservative, then add it as one does to our formulation. But if this product is to be certified as organic that really will not be feasible if the broad spectrum preservative is not approved by the certifying body. To conform to certified organics we must reconstitute the Aloe Vera powder prior to manufacture. It is at this stage that we must be able to decontaminate/ protect it. The processes we have available to achieve this include the use of heat, which is great but does not kill everything. Alternatively we can lower the pH so it is about 3.5 (like wine) and that helps too, but can be a bit too jolly low for other parts of the product to work. After all this we can use potassium sorbate, well not for this little black duck and many thousands of us as we are horribly sensitive both topically and internally to the stuff. And anyway it is only any good to knock the m part of our b/f/m, so it is useless. And I keep having this conversation about what we can and need to do to make a product safe and compatible with skin. I have seen cosmetics that adhere to the recommended practices and dosage of natural preservative manufacturers, and yes they do work within a limited range of conditions and types of packaging. Also one must be very aware of the microbug load of all ones natural and organic raw materials before one even thinks of formulating.

I have seen both recommendations and tests done on various systems and materials of 1.5-4% with differing results. This all leads on to the issue of shelf life. Let’s start with the shelf life or expiration date of our starting materials. Well they are all over the shop. I have here in front of me the expiry dates (from manufacturing date) of over 500 raw materials we purchase. I have a sampling here and please understand that this is not a standard, it is just what various companies declare (and thus do not take responsibility for after this date).

Can anyone see something going on here? I know most materials are decontaminated and then preserved but some of the manufacturers are giving us as users not much time at all to have these materials shipped and made up. They are I guess relying on the manufacturer of the finished product to preserve the entirety and thus extend (hopefully) the shelf life of the individual raw materials within. However I wonder if this has been tested either by a lab or the law, as to the responsibility of the safety and the efficacy of the parts and the sum. I am particularly miffed when we get perfume at 12 months and preservatives at 24 months and emulsifiers at 1 year!! Does that mean that they fail after this time? In our experience most materials are pretty stable, but in this world of documents, proof, evidence and litigation, I do admit to being a bit scared. So every time we make something, our customer will ask “what is the shelf life” and the “ PAO” (Period After Opening)? Well here is our recommendation: The dates below are loose guidelines for PAO for conventional well preserved products, but note that the more a product is exposed to air and potential bacteria, the shorter its lifespan.

Powders last longer than liquids, and liquids in pumps stay fresher longer than liquids in jars. Always handle the product after cleaning your hands, and anything that directly touches your skin should be cleaned or replaced regularly, such as brushes, cosmetic sponges, eyeliner tips, mascara wands and lip liner. Everyone really tries to makes products that go with the 3 year shelf life but really naturals and organics can really only be safe for 2 years. And in saying that I would put a strict proviso on the types of vegetal raw materials used as so many organic vegetable oils can go rancid in a much lesser time. Anti-ageing and acne treatments: Three months to a year. Serums with antioxidants can turn quickly; be on the lookout for any changes in colour. Eye cream: Unopened three years and six months after first use. Body lotion: One year if opened and two years if unopened. The pump containers tend to stay fresh longest. But they will dry up and will need to be cleaned out if left for a few weeks Shampoo, conditioner and shower gel: About two years. Bath oil: One year to use up that gorgeous bottle with the lavender stems; don’t delay. Remember my point about rancidity and leave in a cool dark place to extend its life. Hairstyling products: Three to five years. Most are alcohol-based, which helps preserve the formula. Hair gel and spray typically last two to three years. Bar soap: Up to three years. Mascara and liquid eyeliner: Three to four months once you start using it. Two years if unopened.

Gosh do any of us do that!!!! Eye and lip pencils: Three to five years. Sharpen them before each use as a way to preserve them and keep them clean, or dab them on a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. Lipstick and gloss: Two to three years unopened or 18 months after first use. Foundation and concealer: About two years for oil-based and up to three years for water-based if unopened. Most of these products are designed to last up to a year, so if you don’t use it up, chances are you didn’t love it anyway. You should aim to use them up within about six months after first use. Please note comments re SPF below as that will change the lifespan. Anything with SPF: Should have an expiration date. All others, up to three years. Sunscreen: Check the package for an expiration date, but if you still have last year’s opened bottle of sunscreen, you should abandon it. Aim to use it up within six months of first use; if you don’t, you’re probably not using it enough. Blush/bronzer: About 18 months after first use. Perfume: About two years. To get more mileage out of a perfume, resist the temptation to display a pretty bottle on your vanity. Instead, stash it away in a cool, dark place (in the fridge). Or if you get a new scent that you won’t use for a while definitely keep away from light and store it in your refrigerator. Nail polish: One year. Nail-polish remover: Good indefinitely. Shaving cream: About two years. Deodorant: Up to two years, but antiperspirants should have an expiration date. And I must say we get gulps and gasps of disbelief...Retailers won’t allow that! They must have minimum of 3 years on the shelf, (and with no special conditions like temperature lower than 25-30C, or blazing sunlight or feature lighting on it). And then PAO needs to be at least 12 months same reason. In the end what I want to say is that my mum was as scientific then as many of us now, buying and making stuff and wanting it to be OK well beyond reason. Just see why manufacturers start to arc up with both materials suppliers and with customers and retailers pushing the window of reason so narrowly that very few products can get through.

We all got so used to our stuff being really well preserved and quite frankly bullet proof, that we have forgotten that the insistence of a natural and almost conventional preservative free product has dashed that little dream to blazes. “In this all I ask is the customers, brand owners, retailers and natural product certifiers get real about the use of preservatives and have some thought for the real safety of the consumer.”