Meet the Skinpreneurs – Cosmetic Chemist

Posted by Teresa Foo on

Our last guest for Meet the Skinpreneurs is Elham Eghbali from Skin Chakra in Germany. 

Meet the Cosmetic ChemistElham is a Cosmetic Chemist, Chief Saponification Officer and is a former Associate lecturer at Formula Botanica. Many of you will have come in 'contact' with a Cosmetic Chemist in the form of your skincare, body care, household cleaners, etc. They are the Scientists for cosmetics formulations. Let's take a closer look into the world of a Cosmetic Chemist.

Elham - Cosmetic Chemist

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Elham, what is Cosmetic Chemistry in a nutshell and what is a typical day as a Cosmetic Chemist?

Cosmetic Chemistry is the chemistry related to cosmetic ingredients and manufacturing of cosmetics. This is a very broad definition.

Each day is a unique day on its own. It can start with making new formulations, tweaking some existing formulations. Checking the stability of prepared formulations, running measurements, observing samples under microscope, reading new articles, searching for some ingredients etc. There is no “routine” at least in my “formulation development” part of cosmetic chemistry.

What are your favourite ingredients and why do you like to work with them?

Except for avocado oil that I love and try to apply in most of my projects, I can not name a certain “favourite” ingredient. Each single project demands application of a series of ingredients.

Consumers shun the word ‘chemicals’ like plague. What is your opinion on chemophobia?

This is a very sad story and I believe the scientists are as responsible to promote or support “chemophobia” as those who earn their livings from it. Scientists are so busy in their labs and offices that most of them have lost contact to the public whereas “panic makers” are making a fortune by distributing silly and unrealistic stories about chemicals in our everyday life. I think we shall consider the good and evil in each ingredient, product or device we’re using and shall not discard the baby together with the bath water.

You are also a Chief Saponification Officer. What kinds of soaps do you enjoy making and could you tell us the benefits of using handmade soaps vs industrial soap/surfactant based products for cleansing?

I find each soap making session a unique experience. It is the alchemy of the soap that I find fascinating. In soap making we deal with real “chemical reactions” and it is different to all our other formulation experiences such as making an emulsion or a serum. I personally like cold process soap making.

The most significant advantage is their being natural or naturally derived, although there is a chemical reaction involved in saponification, you're still working with plant oils as they are pressed out of the nuts, fruits or kernels. There are now "naturally derived" surfactants available but even the mildest of them and those which are accepted to be used in "organic & natural" skin care have a light de-fatting effect over skin. With natural soaps (I mean those based on fatty acids and triglycerides) you have a re-fatting of skin and not stripping the skin from its own protective barrier. Another advantage is that by applying a "natural soap" you're not only using the triglyceride, you're applying all those amazing non-saponifiables accompanying the virgin oils. You can not find this quantity and quality of vitamins, phospholipids and antioxidants in any syndet based soap or cleanser.

We know how generous artisan soap makers are with applying macerated oils and herbal infusions. In mainstream products, these additives are applied (if at all) to the lowest possible concentration just to enable the manufacturer bringing the name on the label. The mainstream is still deeply convinced that paraffin and synthetic surfactants and ingredients work better than "natural" ingredients. They apply low concentrations of "natural ingredients" about whose function and efficacy they are not convinced at all just to fool the customer and to swim with the stream.

We have seen many skincare in the markets promoting no preservatives used. Could you share with us why such practices are happening and why do we need preservatives in skincare especially those containing water and those that will come into contact with it?

This goes back to your previous question about “chemophobia”. I’m not sure if the consumer, I mean the consumer without any background in chemistry is aware of the role and function of a preservative in a cosmetic product. They correlate “preservative” with something toxic, harmful, carcinogenic. Some “unnecessary evil” that the industry is adding to the consumer products just for fun. This is why I mentioned before that scientists have greatly failed to inform the consumer. I always repeat “Paracelsus” in this case : “Dosis facit venenum”: the dosis makes the gift.

A cosmetic product containing water (and specially “natural” cosmetics with all those plant oils and extracts) are susceptible to contamination. A contaminated product causes more damage and harm than the most notorious “preservative”. We know by experience that a major part of “natural” cosmetics consumer are people with a compromised immune system. These consumers are extremely susceptible to contamination. There are several cases of dangerous outbreaks of infection and even death because of applying a contaminated product. These cases are unfortunately only being published in scientific journals. It seems that the scientists are communicating among each other and totally neglect the “real” world outside. Anyway, making the long story short: a contaminated product is more dangerous and harmful than the applied preservatives which serve to protect both the product and the consumer from dangerous contaminations and their consequences.

Thank you Elham for sharing with us and you can find her at Skin Chakra. We hope you have enjoyed our Meet the Skinpreneurs series!



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  • This is such an excellent ‘interview’. Great, to the point questions and very informative responses. This inspired me to make more cold-press soaps. Please continue this wonderful Meet the Skinpreneurs series! I enjoy reading it very much. Thank you.

    Carol on

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