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 →
I reviewed the Ordinary as a brand back in early 2017 when they were not that well known. I quite liked the idea, but wasn’t sure it would fly. Well that shows how much I know, because since then they have created quite a stir. I think they have also been generating pretty good sales, in so far as you can tell these things. But they have certainly been generating a lot of attention. One reason for this is the, how can I put it, highly personal social media profile of the founder. But I think the much bigger reason is that they have developed a very distinctive offering which isn’t quite like anything else out there. I thought it would be fun to have a look in detail at one of their products. 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 →
What is the difference between a drug and a Cosmetic?
The simple answer is it depends on the claims you make for it. So if you sell a shampoo to treat dandruff, it is a cosmetic. If you say it cures psoriasis then that makes it a medicine. The more complicated answer is that if you present a product in such a way as it seems to be making medical claims then there is a good chance that the regulators will take notice and take action. This rule is pretty much a universal one. There are differences from market to market on just what will trigger off an enforcement, but the principle is always the same. 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 →
People often assume that I spend most of my time in the lab formulating products. If only! There are people who can manage to do that but only in very big companies which have big teams. The reality for most formulators, and certainly for me, is that you spend the biggest part of your time troubleshooting. When I started working as a freelancer I did think I might be able to skip doing quite as much. But it turns out that there is more demand for trouble shooting than there is for straight product development.
Sweet almond oil is a viscous oil with a yellowy colour. Cosmetic scientists like it because it gives a rich lubricious feel to cream formulations. Marketers like it because it sounds natural. More on that in a minute. It contains a lot of unsaturated fatty chains. This is something that might turn out to have some benefits for the skin, though there is no formal evidence I can cite to justify this at present. The skin contains some chemicals that look a lot like the unsaturated bits of sweet almond oil and which seem to help protect the skin against bacteria. It isn’t impossible that adding sweet almond to the skin boosts this sort of thing and so helps build the skin’s barrier and protective function. Continue reading →
Here’s an ingredient with a mixed pedigree. Lanolin is a pure and rather lovely natural ingredient derived from wool. PEG-75 Lanolin is lanolin that has been ethoxylated. This means that the lanolin is treated with ethylene oxide to make it more water soluble. This enables it to be used in ways that you can’t use lanolin itself. Continue reading →
One of the good things about the job I do is that I come across interesting stuff all the time. For example Hinoki Oil, which is the oil obtained from the leaves and roots of Chamaecyparis obtuse, Cupressaceae. The shrub from which it is derived is commonly known as either Hinoki or Hinoki Cyprus and is common in Japan. The wood from it is used to make incense sticks. So it is something that is quite exotic to me, but presumably is commonplace in Japan. Continue reading →