Learn about a variety of natural and organic skincare ingredients used in recipes for natural and organic skincare products.

How to substitute ingredients when making skincare products

Has this ever happened to you?

  • You find a product that you want to make but you are missing one or more of the ingredients?
  • You live in a country where some ingredients are not readily available
  • You want to save money by using less expensive ingredients while still retaining the benefits of the product.

We often get asked: I love your recipe/formula for X product but I don’t have Y ingredient. What can I use instead?

This is a great question!

You are starting to look at the product formula and see how you can make adjustments.

You are starting to think like a formulator!


To help you choose a substitute ingredient, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions:


1) What is the purpose of the overall product?

Every skincare product has a specific purpose, a specific thing that it will help with. When you start to think about substituting ingredients you’ll need to decide if you want to stay true to the original purpose of the product or if you want to change it.

If you want to stay true then you’ll want to replace ingredients with ones that will offer the same benefit. If you want to create a product with a slightly different purpose then you are free to select ingredients that offer something different.

Fill in this blank:

The purpose of the product is to:______________.


Then get specific about the ingredient in question.


2) What is the function of the ingredient in the product? What is its role, what does it do?

Is it an emulsifier/ thickener/ preservative/ emollient etc?

You’ll want to substitute like for like. So one emulsifiers for another emulsifier, or one emollient for another emollient.

Fill in this blank:

The role/ function of the ingredient is: _____________.


3) What benefit does this ingredient offer?

If you want to stay true to the original purpose of the product you’ll want to find something else that offers the same or similar benefit.

For example if it is an anti-aging active, you’ll want to replace it with another anti-aging active. If it is an uplifting essential oil then you’ll want to replace it with another uplifting essential oil. If it’s a carrier oil that assists in skin barrier repair then you’ll want to replace it with another that offers this too.

If you want to alter the benefit of the product then you can do that too by selecting an ingredient which offers a different benefit.

Fill in this blank:

The benefit the ingredient offers is ___________.


4) What skin feel does it give? What is its absorption rate?

These are useful questions to ask when substituting carrier oil or butters. Some carrier oils have a light feeling on the skin and others a medium or heavier feeling. Some are quickly absorbed, others take longer to be absorbed.

If you want to create something similar to the original product then you’ll want to substitute like for like. So one fast absorbing oil for another, for example.

If you want to adapt the product and create something a bit different then you could mix it up a bit and substitute an oil for one with a different skin feel or absorption rate

Fill in this blank:

The skin feel/ absorption rate of the ingredient is _________.


Once you’ve considered these questions, and filled in the blanks you’ll know: 

The purpose of the product is to:____________

The role/ function of the ingredient is __________

The benefit the ingredient offers is ___________

The skin feel/ absorption rate of the ingredient is _________

Then the final part of the puzzle is to complete this sentence:

Therefore other possible ingredients are _________.

(This one will take a bit of thinking/ research.  If you are restricted to using a particular supplier you’ll need to see what else they sell that fits the bill.)


Once you have a shortlist of ingredients you can consider:

  • Can I easily get hold of this?
  • Is it within my price range?

Then you can refine your list further.


The next step is to practice and experiment!

  • Rewrite the recipe or formula with your chosen substitute ingredient.
  • Consider if you need to alter the amount or % it is being used. For example if you are replacing a soft butter such as shea butter with a harder butter such as cocoa butter you may want to reduce the amount or % that the butter is being used at.
  • Try making the product with one of your substitute ingredients.
  • Record the results. Are you happy or do you want to try something different?


Getting to know the functions, benefits, properties and qualities of ingredients is essential if you want to start making adjustments to recipes and thinking and creating like a formulator.


If you like the sound of formulating your own products then you’ll want to join our best-selling online class… 

Enrolling now: Diploma in Natural and Organic Skincare Formulation

Join us for the Spring 2017 enrollment to benefit from:

  • A brand new, super affordable 3 part payment plan (available for a limited time only)
  • Studying alongside a group of students from all around the world
  • Activities and challenges that help you put theory into practice, learn from others and stay motivated
  • Our current prices (which are rising soon)

Enrollment deadline 17th March. Limited to 100 students. (Over half the places have been taken already)

Find out more and enroll here


Checklist: How to make sure the skincare products you make are safe and stable

You want to make your own natural products right? Products that are natural, pure and  free from harmful chemicals. Products that care for yourself and your family. Products that are safe.


Oh course you do. That’s why you’re here.


So it seems crazy that by making your own skincare products you could actually be making and using UNSAFE and potentially HARMFUL products.




Let me explain.


If you rely on books, blogs, Facebook, Youtube and Pinterest for your knowledge and recipes there are a few problems.


Books can quickly go out of date. For example there are some classic Aromatherapy books which contain wonderful descriptions of essential oils and their uses. BUT usage guidelines since they were published have been drastically altered meaning if you follow their guidance you’ll be using potentially harmful levels of oils.


Blogs, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube are often inaccurate. They are created by well meaning and passionate people but often they are unqualified and pass on inaccurate information. This means you might be making things aren’t right or worse, unsafe!


We want to help put this right.


With so much information out there, it is really confusing.


So here is a handy dandy guide. A checklist to help you create safe and stable products. Read it. Keep it with you when looking at or creating skincare recipes. Check the recipe against each of these points..


Safe and Stable Product Checklist


1) Check: What % of essential oil is being used?

The problem: Many books and recipes use levels of essential oils that are way too high and could cause severe reactions. Essential oils are highly concentrated substances and should only be used in low dilutions of usually 1-2% combined TOTAL in a product although this could be lower for certain essential oils e.g. Rose, some product types e.g. lip balms or some people e.g. babies/ children. If you are making products to sell your safety assessor can help you calculate the exact permitted %s. The International Fragrance Association can also provide guidelines for specific oils and sensitizers.


Two further problems:

  • Essential oil measurements are often given in drops. Drops are not an accurate way to measure essential oils. The viscosity of oils varies and the dropper size in bottle varies. As a rough estimate for product you use at home 20-25 drops – 1 gram (which would be 1% in a 100g product)
  • A further problem is that when a recipe uses mixed measurements (e.g. cups, ounces and drops or milliliters, grams and drops) it is very difficult to see or work out what % of essential oil is being used.


Quick rule: Be wary of recipes given in mixed measurements. Recalculate essential oil amounts using 1-2% TOTAL as a general rule (0.5% for lip balms). Be aware that some oils, product types and people should use even lower amounts. Quality suppliers of Essential Oils should be able to provide an IFRA (International Fragrance Association) certificate on request which should tell you the maximum use levels of the oil in different product categories. 

Usually you would weigh all your ingredients and ensure you are using 1-2 grams of essential oil total in a product that weighs 100 grams. If you are making very small amounts of a product for use at home, you can use standard Aromatherapy guidelines: 1% = 1 drop in 5ml carrier oil and 2% = 2 drops in 5ml carrier oil. Seek professional advice if in doubt.


2) Check: Do the essential oils carry any contraindications?


The problem: Many recipes you find online will not mention contraindications. A contraindications is an important safety consideration that states an essential oil should not be used under certain circumstances.


For example,


  • Some essential oils should not be used where certain health conditions exist e.g. pregnancy, high blood pressure, headaches and migraines
  • Some essential oils should not be used in situations where treatment for certain medical conditions is taking place or where certain medication has been prescribed
  • And there are essential oils that should not be used on very young children, the very weak, elderly or frail


Quick rule: Check if an essential oil has any contraindications prior to use. A good quality and up to date Aromatherapy Textbook is a good place to start. There are many good authors from which to choose and some examples are up to date books written by Robert Tisserand, Salvatore Battaglia, Penny Price and Jan Kusmirek. and if in doubt an Aromatherapy Association might also be able to help.


3) Check: If the product contains water does it also contain a broad spectrum preservative?


Problem: Many people are misinformed or uninformed about the need for preservatives and there are misconceptions that natural products don’t need them.  


Preservatives play a very important function in products containing water; they kill microorganisms and waterborne bacteria and prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. These products need preservation to prevent microbial growth, spoiling of the cosmetic product and potential skin infections.


If a product is anhydrous (it only contains oils and butters) and it won’t come into contact with water then it can be made without a broad spectrum preservative.


There are so many recipes both in books and shared online, that don’t follow this basic safety principle. If you only remember one thing from this checklist make it this one. We share 3 natural, broad spectrum preservative here.


Quick rule: If a product contains water (including hydrosols, floral water and aloe vera which all contain water) or will come into contact with water (e.g. a scrub used with wet fingers) a broad spectrum preservative is essential to help prevent microbes growing. Broad Spectrum means it is effective against bacteria, mold and yeast.


4) Check: Are antioxidants being confused with preservatives?


Problem: Many people confuse antioxidants and preservatives. They say that antioxidants such as Vitamin E, Rosemary Extract, Grapefruit Seed Extract will preserve the product. This isn’t right. An antioxidant is useful to extend the shelf life of oils and butters by preventing them oxidizing and going rancid as quickly. BUT they will not act as broad spectrum preservatives to stop the growth of bacteria, yeast and mold.


Quick rule: Oil based products that don’t contain water (anhydrous products) and that won’t come into contact with water don’t need preservatives and can include antioxidants to extend their shelf life. Products containing water need broad spectrum preservative and can include antioxidants in addition to, but not instead of, preservatives.


5) Check: Are you storing and using the product correctly?

The problem: Yes an anhydrous product generally doesn’t need a preservative. BUT this is only true if it won’t come into contact with water. Recipes for anhydrous products that could come into contact with water (such as scrubs and cleansers) should advise to store away from water or use a preservative.


Quick rule: Keep anhydrous products away from water when storing and using them to avoid contamination.


6) Check: Are oil and water being combined without an emulsifier or solubilizer?

Problem: Water and oil do not mix together. Pour oil and water into the same container and the oil will float on the top. You will find recipes online and in books that will try to mix oil soluble and water soluble ingredients together and without an emulsifier or solubilizer. This won’t work; the two ingredients will separate.


Some examples are a toner or spritzer (water based products) that included a carrier oil or essential oil (oil soluble). Or an oil based serum that includes a water soluble extract/vitamin such as Provitamin B5. In some instances vigorous shaking before each use to mix the ingredients is possible but ultimately the product will separate each time.


Quick rule: Oil and water do not mix without the use of an emulsifier or solubilizer.


7) Check: Is beeswax being used as an emulsifier?

Problem: An emulsifier is used to mix oils and water together to create emulsions (creams and lotions are classic examples of emulsions). There is a big misconception that beeswax is an emulsifier. It is not. You will find TONS of recipes for creams and lotions that will list beeswax as an emulsifier. These recipes will ultimately fail and the ingredients will separate leaving you with a yucky mess. Beeswax is oil soluble and used to thicken products (such as lip balms). Discover 3 Natural Emulsifiers here.


Quick rule: Beeswax is not an emulsifier.


8) Check: Is purified water being used?


The problem: Tap water, whether boiled first or not, should be avoided in cosmetics. Deionized or distilled water is much purer and will help to increase the shelf life of your products.


Quick rule: Use deionized or distilled water.


9) Check: Is the recipe claiming to be a sunscreen?


The problem: Be very very wary of recipes claiming to be sunscreens. Products sold as sunscreens undergo rigorous testing to ensure that they adequately protect the skin from UVA and UVB and the level of protection they offer. Yes, some natural ingredients may offer UV screening qualities, BUT they are highly unlikely to offer sufficient protection.


Quick rule: Unless a product has undergone testing, it should not claim to be a sunscreen.


10) Check: Are you using GMP?


The problem: Good Manufacturing Practice ensures consistency in production and minimizes risks such as the contamination of products during their manufacture. Even if you only make products for yourself at home you should be aware of the basics. The basics include: clean working area, clean and sanitized equipment, good personal hygiene, protective clothing, clearly labelled raw materials, accurate measuring, following documented manufacturing processes and keeping accurate records.


Quick rule: GMP is essential if you are selling products and even if you only make at home for yourself then basic GMP practices should be followed. You can find FDA guidelines for GMP here.


Ultimately: Has the relevant product testing been carried out?

This is really important especially if you are selling your products. If your products contain water then a microbiological test (also known as a preservative efficacy test or challenge test) will test the efficacy of your preservative system to check that your product is not going to grow bacteria. If you are making at home for yourself you can buy home testing kits from Aromantic (UK) or Lotioncrafter (USA) which will help you to determine how well your preservative is working. Ultimately though a test carried out in a lab will be the most accurate.

If you are selling products you also need to make sure you comply with the relevant Cosmetic Regulations (this varies by country) which may require you to have other tests carried out such as a stability test and/or Cosmetic Product Safety Report. If you are selling in the UK our eKit will explain further what you need to do.

Ultimately professional product testing is the way to know your products are safe and stable.


We hope this checklist is useful!

If you’d like to download and save your own copy of this checklist, to print or refer back to please enter your details below.




Please note: This checklist highlights some of the common issues found with skincare recipes posted online. It is not a substitute for professional product testing, which is what we recommend.

3 Natural Preservatives for Cosmetics

We are asked all the time about natural preservatives for cosmetics. So today we are sharing three broad spectrum preservatives, either derived from natural sources or nature identical, that are readily available, easy to use and carry organic certification.

When and why do you need to use preservatives?

Cosmetic products need preservation to prevent microbial growth, spoiling of the cosmetic product and potential skin infections. 

Preservatives play a very important function in products containing water; they kill microorganisms and water borne bacteria and prevent the growth of bacteria, mould and yeast.

If a product contains water (including hydrosols, floral water and aloe vera which all contain water) or will come into contact with water (e.g. a scrub used with wet fingers) a preservative is essential to help prevent microbes growing. Preservatives are not generally necessary in anhydrous products which are not prone to microbial contamination (unless of course they may come into contact with water).

You will need to use a broad spectrum preservative which means it is effective against bacteria, mould and yeast.

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the amount of preservative to use; too much or too little could be potentially hazardous.

The only way to know that your preservative working sufficiently is to have a microbiological challenge test carried out by a lab. This is recommended (and in some countries compulsory) if you are selling your products.

Vitamin E, rosemary extract and grapefruit seed extract are not preservatives.

Here are 3 broad spectrum natural preservatives for cosmetics:

The below list are all approved for use in certified organic products. They are either derived from natural sources or are nature identical.

REMEMBER: It is your responsibility to check the efficacy of your preservative system. We strongly recommend having a microbiological challenge test carried out by a lab as this is the best way to be sure that your preservative system is effective.

1) Preservative Eco

Other trade names include Mikrokill ECT, Geogard ECT and Plantaserv M.

INCI: Benzyl Alcohol (and) Salicylic Acid (and) Glycerin (and) Sorbic Acid

(Meets Ecocert and COSMOS Standards)

This is a broad spectrum preservative which contains four different components: Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerin and Sorbic Acid. These molecules are all found in nature in plants such as pine resin, rowan berries and willow bark. It is a non-paraben, non-formaldehyde, non-isothiazolone based preservative system. A liquid that is added to the cooling phase of a cream. It also has a low odour profile therefore ideal for fragrance-free systems. Suitable for use in oil-in-water, water-in-oil and water based formulas so compatible with a wide range of skin, hair and sun care formulations.

Available from Aromantic (UK). Also sold as Geogard™ ECT available from Voyageur Soap and Candle Company (USA) and Plantaserv M available from New Directions (Australia).

It’s usually used at 1% in water based products.

Not permitted in products for children under the age of 3 yrs.

It has a wide pH compatibility of pH 3-8.

2) Geogard 221 / Cosgard

INCI: Benzyl Alcohol (and) Dehydroacetic Acid

(Meets Ecocert and COSMOS standards, NaTrue Certified and Soil Association approved)

An Ecocert approved, multi-use, broad spectrum preservative system that is a synergistic blend of an organic acid and alcohol that can be added at room and elevated temperatures. Dehyroacetic Acid & Benzyl Alcohol are both organic compounds which are accepted for use in natural cosmetics, offering a broad spectrum of stability at a wide range of pH. The organic preservative compound is a non-paraben, non-formaldehyde, non isothiazolone based preservative system.

Available from Naturally Thinking (UK) and Making Cosmetics (USA) and Go Native (NZ).

It is water soluble with an effective pH from pH 2-7.

Typical recommended use level is 0.2-1%.

3) Naticide / Plantaserv Q

INCI: Fragrance or Parfum

A broad-spectrum preservative effective against Gram+, Gram -, yeasts and moulds. Naticide is a vegetable derived fragrance that has a sweet vanilla/almond like scent and this remains in the end formulation. This preservative is popular with natural companies in Australia and New Zealand.

It is effective at a pH of 4-9.

Typical recommended use level is up to 0.3- 1% depending on the type of formulation. Up to 0.6% is soluble in water. Further details can be obtained from the supplier Sinerga.

If this has been useful, you can grab a Natural Preservatives and Emulsifiers Fact Sheet as a free download below…

Get your FREE Natural Preservatives and Emulsifiers Fact Sheet

Quick Guide to Natural and Organic Emulsifiers for Cosmetics

So many of you want to make natural or organic creams and lotions and for that there is one essential ingredient needed: a natural and organic emulsifier for cosmetics.

We’ve put together this quick guide to three of our favourite natural and organic emulsifiers to help you create your own beautiful natural skincare products.

What are emulsifiers and why are they used in cosmetics?

A cream or lotion contains an oil phase and a water phase. As oil and water do not naturally mix together, in order to make a cream or lotion an emulsifier is needed.

Emulsifiers contain a hydrophilic element (water loving) and lipophilic element (oil loving). This means they are attracted to both oil and water which allows them to bind the two together to form a stable mixture. Note that beeswax is not a emulsifier, it will not create stable emulsions.

3  Natural and Organic Emulsifiers for Cosmetics

Here we feature 3 modern, natural emulsifiers made to ecological principles with no petrochemicals or solvents. These are all-in-one emulsifiers that do not require additional or ‘co’ emulsifiers. Their INCI name is used along with the trade name under which it is sold.

When searching for these ingredients online use the INCI name as they may be sold under a few different trade names.

1) Xyliance

INCI Cetearyl Wheat Straw Glucosides (and) Cetearyl Alcohol

Accepted by Ecocert

Sold by The Herbarie (USA) and in Europe from Huiles et Sens 

This emulsifier is made of 100% plant origin where the sugar (xylose) is derived from wheat straw (hence the name) and the fatty alcohols are derived from rapeseed and palm.

This is the ideal emulsifier for beginners because it’s easy to use and creates very stable emulsions.

Perfect for rich cream textures which are non greasy. Very suitable for anti-aging or very hydrating creams.

To be used in the oil phase (70 degrees) .


4-5% for a lotion or serum

8% for a cream

Xyliance natural organic cosmetic emulsifier

2) ECOMulse / Glyceryl stearate SE

INCI: Glyceryl Stearate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate

Accepted by Ecocert and most organic certifiers

Derived from Vegetable (coconut, palm and palm kernel) and mineral (potassium).

Another easy to use emulsifier which creates smooth and creamy emulsions. Very versatile, as it helps create a wide range of textures – from milks to heavy creams depending on dosage used.

Imparts an elegant, smooth and cool feeling to formulation making it ideal for oilier/combination skin types, eye contour care, body milks and non greasy creams for the hands and body.

Works in an ideal pH range of 5-7.5 as outside of this pH range can de-stabilize the emulsion resulting in splitting or separation.

To be used in the oil phase (70 degrees) .


3% for a milk with added 0.3% xanthan gum to ensure stability

4% for a serum

5% for a lotion

8% for a cream

Important note: ECOMulse is anionic therefore it is recommended that is should not be used with ingredients that do not mix well with anionic ingredients

In the UK, where this emulsifier isn’t available as an all in one product, the alternative is to use Glyceryl Stearate (also sold as VE Emulsifier) with Sodium Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate (also sold as  MF emulsifier) and Cetearyl Alcohol.

3) Olivem 1000

INCI: Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate

Accepted by Ecocert and most organic certifiers

This emulsifier is derived from natural olive chemistry. It is an emulsifier and thickener in one which is compatible with a wide variety of cosmetic and active ingredients over a wide pH range (3 to 12).

Safe and clinically tested to be hypoallergenic, it provides creams with an excellent moisturising effect and spreadability with a creamy, non oily, cool touch.

Ideal for wrinkle care for both eye contour and face, due to being very emollient and moisturizing.

To be used in the oil phase (70-75 degrees C)


5% for a serum

6% for a lotion or lighter cream

8% for a cream

If you have problems with the stability of this emulsifier some suppliers recommend using 5-7% Olivem 1000 with 0.5%-1% Glyceryl Stearate, 1%-4% Cetearyl Alcohol, and 0.2% Xanthan gum to form a stable emulsion.

Suppliers of these ingredients will be able to provide you with further details of how best to use them.

We hope this is useful!  Enjoy creating your gorgeous natural creams and lotions!

Get your FREE Natural Preservatives and Emulsifiers Fact Sheet

What makes products foam?

Have you ever wondered what makes foaming products foam?

It’s thanks to a category of ingredient called surfactants.

Surfactants allow us to create a wide range of foaming products; everything from shampoo, to body wash, hand soap to bubble bath.

Surfactants are a hugely useful ingredient and a category of ingredient that are really worth getting to know better if you want to increase the range of products you can make.

Surfactants have many functions.

They can make products foam, they can create emulsification in creams and lotions and they help solubilise ingredients too.

Here are 7 of their main functions in skincare products.

7 Functions of Surfactants:

1. Wetting

This is how a product spreads out when it is applied onto a surface; for example a shampoo spreads out on your hair in a specific way in order to carry out its function.

2. Foaming

Surfactants are used to create foam in a product such as in shampoo, body, face and hand washes.

3. Dispersion

This is a where a solid e.g. a powder is dispersed in a liquid.

4. Emulsification

This is the formation of a dispersed system, made of two liquids that do not mix. An example here are creams and lotions which contain both oil and water. Emulsification creates a dispersed system, which allows the oil and water to mix together without separating.

5. Detergency

Surfactants have the ability to remove dirt and grime from a surface. Examples here are in cleansing products and also in detergents used to wash our clothes.

6. Solubilisation

This is a process where insoluble materials, such as essential oils, can be made soluble. An example would be solubilising essential oils into a water based product such as a toner or shower gel.

7. Viscosity Regulation

This means surfactants have the ability to vary the viscosity or thickness of a product. For example a shower gel is a thicker product than a foaming facial cleanser, which needs to be thinner due to the type of packaging it will be packaged in.


So as you can see surfactants are extremely useful ingredients to get to know.

That’s why our latest Diploma course delves into surfactants in detail. And you’ll learn how to formulate your own range of foaming and cleansing products using them.

By the end you’ll be able to confidently formulate a range of shower gels, face and body washes, bubble bath, liquid hand soap, foaming facial cleansers and more.

You’ll have the support of a professional Cosmetic Scientist (who has formulated for big brands such as the Body Shop and REN: Clean Skincare), be part of a lively student community and have fun along the way with challenges and prizes!

Enrollment closes this week. Are you in? Grab your place here.


Formulating with Surfactants FB



12 toxic and harmful ingredients in makeup and skincare products you must avoid

With so many harmful ingredients in makeup and skincare products we asked our resident Cosmetic Chemist, Chandni Patel, to compile this intelligent and in-depth guide, backed up by scientific studies to help you know what to avoid.


Ready? Let’s get started!


The skin is the largest organ of the body. It has several functions, the most important being to form a physical barrier to the environment, allowing and limiting the inward and outward passage of water, electrolytes and various substances while providing protection against micro-organisms, ultraviolet radiation and toxic agents (Washington education, 2006).


However, the skins porous nature means what you put on it can penetrate through the superficial layer of the skin, which in turn can affect your health and sense of well-being; negatively or positively.
This article will focus on twelve key ingredients found in skincare and/or make-up products that can have a negative impact your health and sense of well being, and that should be avoided.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail now.


The 12 Toxic and Harmful Ingredients in Make-Up and Skincare Products You Must Avoid are:


1) Phthalates

Phthalates (also called Phthalic acid esters) are multifunctional chemicals. There have been concerns over phthalates exposure to the body due to their detection in blood, amniotic fluid and human breast milk across many countries (Koniecki et al, 2011).

Currently, all phthalates have been banned from cosmetics in the European Union under category two substances (which may be considered as impairing fertility) (Koniecki et al, 2011) however, some countries such as USA still employ phthalates in cosmetics and skincare products.

2) Parabens

Parabens are a family of synthetic esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid that share similar molecular structures and are widely used as preservatives.

Paraben compounds; the most common being methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben have been found to affect oestrogen levels, potentially impacting female reproductive health (Gao et al, 2016).

This is further supported by a new study by Geer et al (2016) which found an association between antimicrobials and adverse birth outcomes in neonates. These findings are also consistent with animal data resulting in developmental and reproductive toxicity.

3) Triclosan

Triclosan is a wide spectrum antimicrobial agent. It is believed that Triclosan can penetrate through skin and it is a suspected endocrine disruptor, that is, that it affects hormone function. This is supported by a 2009 study which found that Triclosan decreased thyroid hormone concentrations.

In addition, another study showed that Triclosan enhanced the expression of androgen and oestrogen sensitive genes (Zorilla et al, 2008, Ahn et al 2008).

Furthermore, Triclosans lipophilic nature has shown accumulation in fatty tissues, which has been supported by studies that have found concentrations of Triclosan in three out of five human milk samples (Adolfsson-Erici et al, 2002; Allymr et al, 2006)

4) Sodium Laureth Sulphate/Sodium Lauryl Sulphate

Sodium Laureth Sulphate/Sodium Lauryl Sulphate was introduced globally more than 60 years ago as an emulsifier or detergent. Alone or in combination, these surfactants are used as the primary detergents in a majority of products such as skin cleansers.

Studies on skin irritation of surfactants show that irritation is dependent on the structure of the sulphate. SLS is an anionic detergent which tend to be more irritating to the skin and eyes in comparison to amphoteric and non-ionic detergents (L. Rhein, 2007).

Their ability to remove stratum corneum lipids means they penetrate the skin deeper into the viable layers and cause immune reactions (Lémery et al, 2015).

In addition, they are also known to elicit skin reactions such as irritant contact dermatitis or may cause inflammation. Though emulsions are often used to treat inflammatory skin disorders such as eczema, emulsions may also cause skin disorders because of the presence of surfactants added as stabilisers (Bárány et al, 2000).

5) Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs)

Polyethylene Glycols are petroleum based ingredients and are often used in creams in particular, as a moisturising agent.

They have a penetration enhancing effect which is important to remember for several reasons:

Firstly, PEGs make it easier for other undesirable ingredients in your skincare products to penetrate deep into your skin.

Secondly, PEGs have the potential to disrupt the skins natural moisture balance, thus altering the surface tension of the skin.

And thirdly, PEGs often come contaminated with toxic impurities. Examples of these impurities are Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-Dioxane. Studies have shown exposure to high concentrations of 1,4-Dioxane may cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation, nervous system effects, and liver and kidney toxicity (Stickney and Carlson-Lynch, 2014).

On the other hand, although Ethylene Oxide has exhibited a low carcinogenic potency in animal models, epidemiological studies have not conclusively linked exposures to Ethylene Oxide with carcinogenic outcomes in humans (Parod, 2014). Information on PEG toxicity is limited and contradictory, but they should be avoided to ensure safety.

6) Imidazolidinyl Urea

Imidazolidinyl Urea is often found in water-based cosmetics. It serves as a preservative or additive in these types of products and after application often remains on the skin for hours, allowing sufficient time to be absorbed by the skins dermal cells.

Its Formaldehyde releasing ability makes it known to be a potential allergen and toxicant in humans. Formaldehyde in cosmetics is widely understood to cause allergic skin reactions and rashes in some people (Flyvholm MA and Menne T, 1992; Boyvat A, 2005; Prat et al 2004).

Other formaldehyde releasing chemicals to look out for are DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methenamine, and Quarternium-15.

7) Triethanolamine (TEA)

Triethanolamine (TEA) is primarily used as a pH adjuster and it also has several other purposes in cosmetic and personal care products, for example a surfactant, buffering and masking agent.

Triethanolamine (TEA) is an amine produced by reacting Ethylene Oxide (considered highly toxic) with ammonia (another known toxin). These compounds break down over time and recombine to form nitrosamines which can be a carcinogenic and toxic.

It has been determined by CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review Assessments) as a skin toxicant and “safe for use in cosmetics and personal care products designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin. In products intended for prolonged contact with the skin, the concentration of Triethanolamine should not exceed 5%.”

8) Sunscreen chemicals

Sunscreen Chemicals such as Benzophenone-3, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate (EHMC) and Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, (BMDBM) have more recently been utilised in cosmetic and personal care products to protect the consumers against adverse effects of solar radiation.

However, some UV filters can have side effects with potential health risks to the consumer.

Laboratory studies of several sunscreen chemicals indicate that they may mimic hormones and disrupt the hormone system (Krause et al 2012; Schlumpf 2001, 2008).

In addition, two European studies have detected sunscreen chemicals in mothers’ breast milk, indicating that the developing fetus and newborns may be exposed to these substances (Schlumpf 2008; Schlumpf 2010). A 2010 study by Margaret Schlumpf of the University of Zurich found at least one sunscreen chemical in 85 percent of milk samples.

Mineral sunscreens such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are usually better in terms of safety, however it is important the forms used are coated with inert chemicals as to reduce photoactivity otherwise user could potentially suffer damage to skin.


9) Synthetic Colourants

Synthetic Colourants are often incorporated in cosmetics and hair dyes to make them look “pretty” however, the FD&C colours used in these product types are derived from coal tar (a by-product of petroleum). Some of these are restricted by the FDA, (Food and Drugs Administration) in the USA, to 10 parts per million of lead and arsenic due to their carcinogenic nature.

A study conducted in 2009 found women who used permanent hair dye once a month for more than a year double their risk of bladder cancer (Jiang et al, 2001).

In addition, Lake colours can also be derived from coal tar and stimulate allergic reactions.

10) Synthetic Fragrances

Synthetic fragrances are used in some cosmetic products and primarily personal care products. However, they are not required to be declared in the ingredients list other than indicated under ‘parfum’, therefore it is impossible to know which fragrance substances are in the cosmetic products we purchase. This has raised some concerns as there have been some reported side-effects of these substances related to  skin sensitivity, rashes, dermatitis, coughing, asthma attacks, migraine, etc (De Groot and Frosch, 1997; Bickers, et al., 2003).

Some of the ingredients of concern and their potential effects can be further read-up on the following link http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/fragrance/

11) Polyacrylamide

Polyacrylamides are used in colour cosmetics, skincare lotions and moisturisers as a stabilising and binding agents or foaming, anti-static, and lubricating agents. Though the ingredient itself is not a concern it is its potential to breakdown into acrylamide, which is a suspected carcinogenic.

This has been supported by human studies who have found associations between acrylamide exposure and pancreatic cancer among men, exposed in the workplace. Moreover, studies have shown that acrylamide may reduce fetal weight at doses in the low parts per million ranges (Manson et al, 2005).

As a consequence of the potential negative effects, the use of acrylamide is banned in cosmetics in the EU and the EU also sets limits for the amount of residual acrylamide allowed in products containing polyacrylamide.

12) Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is used primarily in skincare products for its strong affect as a whitening agent. This ingredient has been related to several health concerns; cancer and organ-system toxicity. Studies which support these concerns have shown Hydroquinone works by decreasing the production and increasing the degradation of melanin pigments in the skin. This increases the skin’s exposure to UVA and UVB rays, increasing the risk of skin cancer (Jimbow et al, 1974). Also, Hydroquinone has been linked to a skin condition called Ochronosis in which the skin thickens and turns bluish-grey (Findlay et al, 1975).


What to do next?

There are a few ways you can be sure you are avoiding these toxic ingredients.

The first is to get really good at reading product labels. Try not to be blinded by beautifully packaged, scientifically substantiated claims, on-trend colours and gorgeous scents when selecting your make-up and skincare products, and to pay careful attention to the ingredients present in these products, before you purchase them. Even then you may find some products not labelled correctly (yes it happens).

The other is to make your own products. That way you can be 100% sure about what is going in them.

Let our Cosmetic Scientist take you step by step through how to create your own foaming and cleansing products (avoiding the notorious SLS).

Learn how to make a range of natural foaming and cleansing products including body and face wash, shower gel, bubble bath, liquid hand soap and foaming facial cleansers using gentle, natural and organic ingredients.

Avoid SLS/ SLES, parabens, PEGs, formaldehyde releasers and other undesirable ingredients forever.

Put your health and wellbeing back in your own hands.

Enrollment is open until May 13th. Find out more and enrol here!

Formulating with Surfactants FB


  1. http://courses.washington.edu/bioen327/Labs/Lit_SkinStruct_Bensouillah_Ch01.pdf
  2. Diane Koniecki, Rong Wang, Richard P. Moody, Jiping Zhu, 2011, Phthalates in cosmetic and personal care products: Concentrations and possible dermal exposure, Environmental Research, 111(3) 329-336.
  3. Yanpeng Gao, Yuemeng Ji, Guiying Li, Taicheng An,, 2016, Theoretical investigation on the kinetics and mechanisms of hydroxyl radical-induced transformation of parabens and its consequences for toxicity: Influence of alkyl-chain length, Water Research, (91) 77-85.
  4. Laura A. Geer, Benny F.G. Pycke,  Joshua Waxenbaum, David M. Sherer, Ovadia Abulafia, Rolf U. Halden, 2016, Association of Birth Outcomes with Fetal Exposure to Parabens, Triclosan and Triclocarban in an Immigrant Population in Brooklyn, New York
  5. Zorrilla L, Gibson EK, Jeffay SC, Crofton KM, Setzer Wr, Cooper RL, and Stoker TE, 2008, “The effects of Triclosan on Puberty and Thyroid Hormones in Male Wistar Rats,” Toxicological Sciences, 107(1) 56-64.
  6. Ahn KC, Zhao B, Chen J, Cherednichenko G, Sanmarti E, Denison MS, Lasley B, Pessah IN, Kültz D, Chang DP, Gee SJ, Hammock BD, 2008, “In vitro biologic activities of the antimicrobials triclocarban, its analogs, and triclosan in bioassay screens: receptor-based bioassay screens.” Environ Health Perspect, 116(9):1203-10.
  7. Adolfsson-Erici M, Pettersson M, Parkkonen J, and Sturve J, 2002, “Triclosan, a commonly used bactericide found in human milk and in the aquatic environment in Sweden.” Chemosphere, 46(9-10):1485-9.
  8. Allymr M, Adolfsson-Erici M, McLachlan MS, and Sandborgh-Englund G, 2006, “Triclosan in plasma and milk from Swedish nursing mothers and their exposure via personal care products.” Sci Total Environ. 372(1):87-93.
  9. L. Rhein, 2007, C.3 – Surfactant Action on Skin and Hair: Cleansing and Skin Reactivity Mechanisms
  10. Emmanuelle Lémery,  Stéphanie Briançon,  Yves Chevalier, Claire Bordes,  Thierry Oddos, Annie Gohier, Marie-Alexandrine Bolzinger, March 2015, Skin toxicity of surfactants: Structure/toxicity relationships, 469:166-179.
  11. E. Bárány, M. Lindberg, M. Lodén, 2000, Unexpected skin barrier influence from nonionic emulsifiers, Int. J. Pharm., 195 (2000):189–195.
  12. J. Stickney, H. Carlson-Lynch, 2014, Dioxane, 1,4-Reference Module in Biomedical Sciences, from Encyclopaedia of Toxicology (Third Edition),  Pages 186-189.
  13. R.J. Parod, September 2014, (Reference Module in Biomedical Sciences, from Encyclopaedia of Toxicology (Third Edition),  Pages 535-538.
  14. Flyvholm MA, Menne T, 1992, Allergic contact dermatitis from formaldehyde. A case study focusing on sources of formaldehyde exposure. Contact Dermatitis, 27(1):27-36.
    Boyvat A, Akyol A, Gurgey E, 2005, Contact sensitivity to preservatives in Turkey. Contact Dermatitis, 52(6):333-337.
  15. Pratt MD, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA, Fowler JF Jr, Fransway AF, Maibach HI, Marks JG, Mathias CG, Rietschel RL, Sasseville D, Sheretz EF, Storss FJ, Taylor JS, Zug K, 2004, North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch-test results, 2001-2002 study period. Dermatitis, 27(1):27-36
  16. Krause M, Klit A, Blomberg Jensen M, Søeborg T, Frederiksen H, Schlumpf M, Lichtensteiger W, Skakkebaek NE, Drzewiecki KT, 2012, Sunscreens: are they beneficial for health? An overview of endocrine disrupting properties of UV-filters, International Journal of Andrology.  35(3):424-36
  17. Schlumpf M, Cotton B, Conscience M, Haller V, Steinmann B, Lichtensteiger W, 2001, In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens, Environ Health Perspect.  109(3):239-44.
  18. Schlumpf M, Durrer S, Faass O, Ehnes C, Fuetsch M, Gaille C, Henseler M, Hofkamp L, Maerkel K, Reolon S, Timms B, Tresguerres JA, Lichtensteiger W, 2008, Developmental toxicity of UV filters and environmental exposure: a review, Int J Androl, 31(2):144-51
  19. Schlumpf M, Kypke K, Wittassek M, Angerer J, Mascher H, Mascher D, Vökt C, Birchler M, Lichtensteiger W, 2010, Exposure patterns of UV filters, fragrances, parabens, phthalates, organochlor pesticides, PBDEs, and PCBs in human milk: correlation of UV filters with use of cosmetics. Chemosphere, (10):1171-83.
  20. X Jiang, J E Castelao, S Groshen, V K Cortessis, D Shibata, D V Conti, J-M Yuan, M C Pike, and M Gago-Dominguez, 2001, Urinary tract infections and reduced risk of bladder cancer in Los Angeles
    De Groot AC, Frosch PJ, 1997, Adverse reactions to fragrances. A clinical review, Contact Dermatitis., 36(2):57-86.
  21. David R Bickers, Peter Calow, Helmut A Greim, Jon M Hanifin, Adrianne E Rogers, Jean-Hilaire Saurat, I Glenn Sipes, Robert L Smith, Hachiro Tagami, 2003, The safety assessment of fragrance materials,Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 37 (2):218–273.
  22. http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/fragrance/
  23. Jeanne Manson, Michael J. Brabec, Judy Buelke-Sam, Gary P. Carlson, Robert E. Chapin, John B. Favor, Lawrence J. Fischer, Dale Hattis, Peter S.J. Lees, Sally Perreault-Darney, Joe Rutledge, Thomas J. Smith,  Raymond R. Tice and Peter Working, 2005, NTP‐CERHR Expert Panel report on the reproductive and developmental toxicity of acrylamide. Birth Defects Research Part B: Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology, 74(1): 17-113
  24. Jimbow, K., Obata, H., Pathak, M. A. and Fitzpatrick, T. B., 1974, Mechanisms of depigmentation by hydroquinone. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 62: 436–449.
  25. Findlay, G. H., Morrison, J. G. L., & Simson, I. W, 1975, Exogenous ochronosis and pigmented colloid milium from hydroquinone bleaching creams, British Journal of Dermatology, 93(6):613-622

6 benefits of perilla seed oil for skin

Today we are sharing with you a fabulous oil that you may not have heard of before – Perilla Seed Oil. We’ll be delving into the benefits of perilla seed oil for skin and skincare, what it is and how to use it.

As a School we love keeping up to date with new and exciting natural ingredients and beauty trends. These more unusual ingredients enhance your products in so many ways; by adding many beneficial properties to them, helping your products stand out from others and being a great talking point in your marketing.

What is Perilla seed oil?

Perilla oil is a member of the mint family and is native to Eastern Asia. This oil is a great source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, from which many of its health and skin therapeutic benefits are derived. Perilla oil is extracted from the plant called Perilla frutescens which also happens to be the botanical or INCI name. It has been known to be called :

  • Japanese mint
  • Chinese basil
  • Shiso

Benefits of Perilla Seed Oil for Skin

Here are 6 reasons to include Perilla seed oil in your formulations:

  1. This potent oil demonstrates excellent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities due to the abundance of Linoleic acid. This makes it a great choice for problematic skin types.
  2. Excellent for treating ageing skin – it is rich in omega-3, that soothes, repairs and provides powerful antioxidant protection for mature and aging skin.
  3. Rich in Flavones it offers potent antioxidant activity thus helps to prevent free radical-induced damage to the skin cells which can result in premature ageing.
  4. It also contains a compound which acts as a natural precursor for ceramides, which plays a role in maintaining the skin barrier to protect against water loss. This makes it very suitable in dry skin body oils and face products for drier complexions
  5. The oil is naturally rich in polyphenols (particularly Rosmarinic acid) and triterpenoids (particularly Ursolic acid), natural molecules that demonstrate anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant and anti-allergic qualities.
  6. This oil is a fine, ‘dry’ oil which is easily absorbed into the skin. Its non greasy and useful for a wide variety of products.

Composition of Perilla Seed Oil

Perilla Oil contains very high levels of n-3 linolenic acid (over 50%)  an essential fatty acid that plays a major role in regulating inflammation in the body as well as the skin. Perilla  oil also contains high amounts of the skin loving omega-3 essential fatty acid  and alpha-linolenic acid ( ALA).  Rich in Flavones (plant compounds) which are heavily present in this botanical, it offers potent antioxidant activity thus helps to prevent free radical-induced damage to the skin cells which can result in premature ageing. Perilla Oil has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial,antioxidant, and anti-allergic qualities due to being naturally rich in polyphenols (particularly Rosmarinic acid) and triterpenoids (particularly Ursolic acid).

Which skin types benefit from Perilla Seed Oil?

As mentioned above it is useful for many skin types including

  • Aging and mature skin
  • Problematic skin types and acne
  • Dry skin

The use of Perilla oil for treating acne and ageing skin conditions is well  known. It is rich in omega-3, that soothes, repairs and provides powerful antioxidant protection for mature and aging skin. With regular use of this oil, the skin can become clearer, calmer and toned with a refreshed look.

In addition, it also contains a compound which acts as a natural precursor for ceramides, which plays a role in maintaining the skin barrier to protect against water loss. This makes it very suitable in for drier complexions. 

Creating products with Perilla Seed Oil

A fine, ‘dry’ oil, Perilla seed oil is easily absorbed into the skin. This ‘lesser known’ oil can make a great addition to your skincare oils and creams.

Perilla seed oil is a wonderful addition to facial oil and serum formulations for aging skin and problematic skin.

It is also excellent in body oils and face products for drier complexions.

Perilla seed oil is just one of the fabulous new ingredients you can use to supercharge your serums when you join our new Advanced Certificate in Natural, High Performance Serum Formulation.

We’re starting soon and class is nearly full. Want to join us?

Enrol now 9th Feb

How natural is natural skincare?

“Is this natural?”  We’ve heard many of our students ask that question about a wide spectrum of ingredients, as they move through our courses, or sometimes it will be posted in our online student forums. 

The answer is not so straightforward, and it actually poses a really personal question right back toward you: Do you think it is natural?  Do your customers think its natural?

Each person has a different interpretation and definition of the term natural.  With the added complication of being a widespread global industry which currently does not have regulation or governance guiding terminology, that leaves the natural formulator and customer confused about what to call or define as natural or unnatural.


By developing your own definition of what you consider natural, you are creating a clear boundary and focus for you, your skincare brand and your company.


Degrees of natural

There are varying degrees of natural.  Starting with the most raw, organic version of something naturally-occurring from nature, being unrefined, unprocessed and pure.  An example of this would be raw, organic unrefined butters and oils such as shea butter, cocoa butter or coconut oil.  These oils are cold-pressed and filtered, and that is the extent of their processing.  Most everyone would define this as natural.

There are many naturally-occurring ingredients which are refined and processed, sometimes with a natural process such as cold-pressing or filtration.  There are methods of processing such as bleaching or deodorizing where a chemical or substance is applied in order to achieve a desired effect.  The end product is something which many would call natural, however it has been chemically altered in what some may define as an unnatural or chemical. 

Read more