There is a very serious and worthy video online made by the West Yorkshire police about the risks of medical creams that contain paraffin. I get what they are thinking. Policemen do of course look younger all the time, but no doubt there are still some that are old enough to remember paraffin heaters. These large but portable oil fired devices were a must to get through a cold English winter in the days before central heating. They might even remember the little paraffin burners with cotton wicks that were used in chemistry sets. I certainly do. So you can see why they might be worried. It really doesn’t sound like a good idea to get paraffin onto towels.
And they had an illustration of the risks involved when an elderly woman was involved in a house fire. It got out of hand and killed her. She suffered from a skin condition and had cream soaked towels around her at the time of the unfortunate incident.
Sodium benzoate is a preservative that crops up on ingredient lists for skin care products. It is safe, works well enough and doesn’t give rise to many skin reactions.
I don’t think it is many formulators favourite though, because there are other preservatives that work better. Not every preservative works in every formulation and against every organism, and sodium benzoate is one that really needs a low pH to work well and even then isn’t enormously effective against all the microbes you’d like it to be. So it has its uses, but it isn’t especially versatile.
To a chemist though, the name is quite interesting. It is the salt of benzoic acid, and benzoic acid has played a key part in the development of organic chemistry. It was first derived from an asian shrub. Specifically, it was extracted the gum of the Styrax platanifolius. This had been used for centuries but was purified still further by a sixteenth century French chemist. He got it into a crystalline format from which he concluded, correctly, that it must therefore be a single compound. I think that this was the first pure natural compound to be identified.
The chemist’s name was Nostradamus. He’s still famous, not for his science but for some confusing predictions he made that continue to be talked about.
The chemistry of this compound was the focus of intense interest in the nineteenth century. It was studied by many chemists. But the prize for working out its structure was taken by Friedrich Wöhler and Justus von Liebig. These are two of the giants in the history of chemistry. Their work was later built on to create the discipline of organic chemistry.
There are quite a lot of cosmetic ingredients that are derivatives of benzoic acid, so you see ‘benz’ quite often on the backs of packs. It is a neat little history lesson.
I think this is a universal truth, but it is certainly true in labs. The most stressful role is middle management. I enjoyed my time as a bench chemist doing the actual work. I enjoy supervising projects at a higher level. But most of my bad memories of my career are when I was in between – managing a team but reporting to senior management. Continue reading →
2017 was a remarkable year for the aviation industry. There was not a single passenger death from flying. The industry was quick to point out that there was an element of luck involved. But even so, given that their business is ferrying people around the world in metal tubes at a great height, to not have lost a single person in 12 months is quite an achievement. Continue reading →
I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up, or indeed how long people will put up with it for. But for the last week I have started the day with a 60 second video on my new Instagram account. If you aren’t familiar with the platform – you can’t post anything longer than 60 seconds. It is quite tough to say anything in such a short time frame, and I am finding that once I start it is a bit frustrating that I can’t get out everything I want to say. So here is a bit more detail on this morning’s one. Continue reading →
There is an article I have seen posted on Facebook a couple of times that highlights the health risks of synthetic fragrance ingredients. I won’t link to it, but if I am seeing it there is a good chance you will have seen it too. The thesis it proposes is that synthetic chemicals in fragrances are toxic and might be dangerous to people who inhale them in public places, even if they aren’t actually wearing the fragrance themselves. Continue reading →
Fashions come and go in the cosmetics and personal care world, and everyone is keen to be on the latest trend as soon as possible. The latest buzzy thing seems to be Cannabidiol or CBD. This has an interesting background, being a derivative of hemp which is also the source of cannabis – which has been a popular if illegal recreational pharmaceutical since the sixties. So CBD comes with ready made notoriety. But it is currently being sold not as a gateway into a counter culture, or even as an aid to relaxation, but as a substance with health benefits. Continue reading →
Some things are impossible to describe. Smell for example. But fragrance is a huge multinational business worth billions. So with so much at stake it is necessary to try. There have been various schemes put forward over the years but they all rely on the same basic idea. Continue reading →
We now live in a world where information is freely available in quantities much greater than we can possibly need. But information is not knowledge. Knowing facts isn’t much use without the knowledge of how to use them. A story I came across made this clear to me. A gentleman had bought a deodorant specifically because it had a big ‘alcohol free’ splash on the pack, and he reacts to alcohol. But in fact he still had very bad reaction to the product. When he looked at the ingredient list he noticed it contained benzyl alcohol. So, he concluded, the product was not alcohol free at all! Continue reading →
I had imagined the UK’s much publicised microbead ban would be basically much like the legislation that is either already in force or well on the way around the world already. Despite all the recent evidence I still think of my fellow countryfolk as sensible pragmatists who don’t panic about things. So when I heard that UK parliament had brought in a ban on microbeads I wasn’t too bothered. Such a ban is already in force in a few countries and no doubt EU legislation will be along later. In any case everyone in the business knows the score and has already got rid of them or is well on the way to doing so. I’d assumed this was just a bit of window dressing by the government to be seen to be doing something to help the oceans given how popular the Blue Planet television series is proving to be. So I didn’t trouble to look up the details. I’d guessed it would be a ban on very small polythene beads and we’d have to switch to natural or biodegradable options, which is pretty much what we are already doing anyway. Continue reading →