Tips From A Cosmetic Formulator - Anna Doxie

Today’s society is turning in an au naturel direction. It’s part of the reason natural DIYs are on the rise, and why we are so DIY-crazy here at EG. Providing safer, more healthful options for people is what we’re passionate about and other DIYers are too.

However, good intentions have not prevented misconceptions from entering into the DIY world, and formulators are speaking out about it. We recently spoke with cosmetic formulator and registered aromatherapist, Anna Doxie on the subject of DIYs and creating better body products from home. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation with her.

What is your stance on preservatives?

 In a product that contains water, a preservative must be used. It isn’t necessarily part of a pattern of belief, but ethical protection of your end users. In an anhydrous product [a product that is oil based, and does not contain water], an anti-oxidant must be used to protect the shelf life. The presence of contamination is a larger danger than any of the preservatives themselves.

Is there a way to avoid the use of preservatives?

If you're making products for personal use only, then just know that they should be made in very small batches and will have a very short shelf life. If you're giving it away, put an approximate expiration date on it. If you’re selling it and you don't want to set yourself up for failure or put yourself in a liable situation, preservatives are not optional. 

Why is proper solubilization important when making water based products with essential oils?

A solubilizer [such as Polysorbate 20] evenly distributes the essential oils throughout the product making sure that the essential oils dissolve properly into the water. This helps to avoid a negative skin reaction, such as irritation or sensitization. Solubilizing is easy and effective.

Are there any common misconceptions you’ve noticed in DIYs?

The misconceptions in DIYers are significant and probably too numerous to name. Some common ones are:

  • My products are “chemical free.” All matter is a chemical. While they really have a message behind that “market speak”, it is still inaccurate to say. It generally stems from a naturalistic fallacy, or the assumption that everything natural is safer and that plants are not chemicals. It is more accurate to either define what you mean as “natural” (perhaps plant based and naturally occurring minerals minimally processed) and then to infer to your clients that you strive to make “safer” products.
  • Vitamin E is a preservative.
  • I can use an oil with a calculated SPF as a sunscreen.

What are your thoughts on the DIY movement? It seems that many formulators these days have mixed feelings about the DIY movement, due to incorrect or dangerous formulations. Do you agree or oppose this idea.

Most formulators look down on DIYers who make their products out of a fear of chemicals and do not use credible sources of educational materials to evolve. As a formulator who works with many startups, I can weigh-in and say that almost universally I see the clients who do not evolve or who cling to fear based marketing either fail or plateau out quickly.

This does not mean that they cannot stay in harmony with their initial altruistic plan to make safe products. They can look at the natural standards and rather than treating “natural” as an undefined term subject to interpretation, they can define it.

Lastly, if you use honest and credible marketing and a defined standard, you can still make safe products while also being effective and affordable. There is nothing wrong with this approach if you are honest with the limitations of what a DIY product can accomplish, the product’s shelf life and are aware of the risks of being a DIYer, it’s perfectly fine. 

What is your advice to people seeking to make their own body products at home? 

Educate yourself! Blogs are a great introduction to get you going and making personal products. But if you seek to ever start a business, get professional training, otherwise, you are setting yourself and your business up for failure and risk of liability. Grow your knowledge, grow your business!

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