(Don't) Do It (to) Yourself - DIY Tips & Things to Avoid

So there's a tutorial post coming right after this, but I get a lot of questions regarding DIY and figured I'd make a post.  It includes some stuff I've been wanting to get off of my chest for a while too regarding safety, so I hope some of you who are into DIY find this helpful. :)

Weigh out your ingredients.

Use a digital scale that measures down to the 0.01g.  If you're making super small batches, consider trying to find one that measures 0.001g even.  Teaspoons would make macarons fail, so why set up your fancy DIY with expensive ingredients for your face for failure?

That'd just be macawrong.
I've said it before, and I've explained it before, but please do not use spoons/volume for DIY unless it's something like...mixing up a face mask using yogurt and avocado or something.  If it's something you can probably eyeball, then sure.  But if it's something that needs to be in a specific amount to work or to not irritate/hurt you, then please use a scale.  Spoons are not accurate.  For a more in-depth look as to why, check out this blogger's discussion on flour weight versus volume.  If you think it's important in baking, you can bet your meringues it's important in making skincare.

Don't Use Shady Shit

Ebay is a perfectly good site to go to for supplies.  As is Amazon.  You can buy individual things with reasonable shipping.  Yep.  However, you need to do a little research and make sure you're not buying from some shady suppliers.

"Yoinks, want some niacinamide?"
When I first started DIYing, I wanted to find some fun ingredients.  I also didn't know where to look.  I found some stuff on eBay and it sounded legit enough, and the price was........eh, affordable-ish, so I figured why not.  It came a couple of weeks later.  In an unlabelled ziplock baggie.

Could it be legit stuff?  Sure.  How do you know?  You don't.  Do you want to gamble with your face?  (Not to mention some people DIY stuff for friends & family - would they be ok with you gambling with their faces?)  Some things don't show any visible signs of irritation right away.  Some things have awful side effects.  If somebody showed me a bunch of white powder in lines and asked me to identify which one was niacinamide, panthenol, hyaluronic acid, or crack, I'd -....I'd be really weirded out, but I also wouldn't know just by looking.  They're all white powders.  (Is crack a powder?) Note:  I've been told that crack is a rock, and cocaine is a powder.  But since this post isn't about DIYing your own cocaine, we're going BACK ON TOPIC.  (But also, that'd be really wasteful, because hyaluronic acid is #$%@ing expensive...)

That's not to discourage you from buying on eBay or Amazon, just...check sellers, check their feedback, check that what you're using is cosmetic/medical/food grade (post coming to talk more about that).  If what they're selling is primarily wood furniture and they also carry beeswax, I'm sure that'd make a lovely and natural wood polish, but I would look elsewhere for a beeswax supplier, knowwhatimsayin'?

Also fun fact I learned during one of my more recent ingredient sourcing adventures:  mandelic acid - which comes from almonds and is a great chemical exfoliant, especially for people of darker skin tones, ...is also used for making drugs.  Like meth.

So I usually like to reference Breaking Bad for funsies, but it just got like a little too close there.
So...you might want to consider these things when you're deciding 1) where to go to buy your ingredients and 2) when some ingredients might not be worth trying to get ahold of...

Basically yeah, if the packaging isn't even labeled, or is in a ziplock baggie and looks like something you wouldn't proudly show off to your friendly neighborhood police officer, you might want to junk it.  See if you can get your money back.  Report it.  Don't shout "YOLO" into your beaker as you stir quicker, hoping to knock the shadiness out of solution.

Clean.  Everything.

For me, there's a lot of work that goes into making a bottle of skincare.  For you, there should too.  It doesn't have to be hard, but you have to show it some respect.  If you're going to drop some major cash on a project, don't halfass it at the most important part.  This is even more important than measuring everything out accurately.  If you're not willing to do this, you really, really need to stick to kitchen DIY projects like yogurt masks and sugar scrubs.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with those.  They're fun and I enjoy them too, but when you're trying to make something like shelf-stable skincare, you need to make sure that you set yourself up as best as you can for success.  And that means respecting that there is a lot of room for contamination and doing the best you can to minimize it.  This includes:

  • Sanitizing your work area before use and making sure there aren't things near or overhead that could fall in and contaminate your ingredients.  Watch out for dust too.  Spray down the area for Lysol and let it sit for a minute before wiping everything away with paper towels.
  • Dedicate a roll of paper towels for just DIY.  There could be food particles leftover from the kitchen roll.
  • Distilled water is the last step for everything.  New bottles come in?  Clean them however you want, but finish it with distilled water, not tap.  I wash bottles in soapy tap water, followed by clean tap water, followed by bleach water, followed by three rinses of distilled water to make sure everything gets cleaned out.  Finished making your snazzy new serum?  Wash your glassware the same way.  Distilled water is always the last step, as there are all kinds of things in your tap water.  Even filtered.
This isn't the end of the list, but hopefully it gives you an idea.  Please remember that you are attempting to make things to store and put on your face later.  Even if your house is normally impeccable, you need to take precautions to ensure that you're DIYing safely.

Check your glassware.

I unfortunately have to throw out beakers every couple of weeks.  I've tried saving them to repurpose like cleaning brush holders or suspicious looking flower pots, but honestly, I go through so many that I run out of room.  If you're using shot glasses or smaller beakers, it's still the same principle.  If your glassware gets scratches or (gulp) chips, it's time to go.  First, it's dangerous for you.  This is rule one of any science lab - if the glassware you're using is chipped or scratched up, it needs to be junked.  It could break in your hands and really hurt you.  It could break when you're heating up your ingredients and leave your super expensive serum full of broken glass shards.  But also, even light scratches in your glassware can harbor bacteria.  And remember what we said about trying to reduce contamination?  Better to replace than to regret.  I'm gonna make a cross-stitch of that, because it's important.

Don't double dip.

Yes, niacinamide is a dry powder.  So is panthenol.  But please never just scoop out some niacinamide and stick the same scoop right into your panthenol.  Use different scoops.  This adds up to a lot of stuff to wash or dispose of after a project, but you paid a lot for those ingredients.  Don't cross contaminate them.  Think of the shipping.

Don't do it.

Read the labels.

This seems obvious, but I remember making this mistake when I first started too.  Read the label.  Is the label pretty bare?  Reconsider your supplier, and also check the product description on the site.  What do I mean by read it?  Sometimes there are special instructions or warnings.  Grab your fancy highlighters, red markers, or whatever else and leave notes.  Remember:  set yourself up for success.  Some ingredients must be refrigerated, or it cuts the shelf life down to nothing.  Some ingredients should never be refrigerated or they'll crystallize or something weird.  Some ingredients should not be heated to a specific temperature, and some ingredients need to be in a very well ventilated room and not touch metal and so on.  Pay attention.  Be safe.  Also, don't waste ingredients by not doing something as simple as reading the labels.  If something has warnings, I grab my red marker and emphasize them.  If something needs to be refrigerated, I highlight them, so whenever I pull a bunch of ingredients out onto my workspace, those that have yellow highlighter go immediately back to the fridge.

Semi-related, but follow the instructions.  Follow the manufacturer's suggestions on usage rates, but also, follow the recipe.  Even especially your own.  Change things up all you want when you're still in recipe-writing mode, but when you're in actual making is not the time to go wild with substitutions.   Keep a log book to note how much you've added or any changes you had to make on the fly and when you get to a stopping point, go double check with the recipe and make sure you're ok to proceed.  Think of this as making a cake.  If you don't have enough flour, it's not going to turn out correctly.  If you substitute sugar for wheat, you're going to have something really weird.  Know what you can substitute, know what ingredients can go together.  How?  By researching.

Reading is fundamental.  Jongin says so from tumblr.

You don't need a fancy all-in-one.

Water is not a filler.  Water is the universal solvent, and it is an ingredient.  Yes, companies may try to sell you fancy water or "waterless" skincare (meaning the first ingredient is fancy water, versus plain water), but plain Jane distilled water is still my beau.  Yes, you can substitute it out sometimes, but I rarely see real benefits in doing so other than to brag about it, and sometimes it comes back to bite you in the butt.  I made something for my Snailbaes, the rest of the Snailcast, and wanted to make the fanciest combination of stuff I could find basically.  I substituted water for all extracts, maxed out.  It's absolutely lovely.  It was also ridiculous to make, because some ingredients have to be heated up in order to melt and dissolve, and the extracts shouldn't be heated up to that temperature, so I was basically stuck in a loop.  I made it work, but the situation would've been much better if I just included some water.

Beyond that, you just can't have one product that does everything you want.  It can't have everything.  Want 5% niacinamide?  Ok, what about 3% n-acetylglucosamine.  Yum.  15% l-ascorbic acid please, and 1% panthenol and 5% ceramides and 2% retinol and 5% DMAE and 1% hyaluronic acid and 7% tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and-- let me just stop you right there.  That's already 44% and we haven't even started talking about the sexy extracts yet.  That leaves 56% for whatever else, except you need an emulsifier if you want to add THDA because it's an oil, and you need a preservative (which is not optional) and L-Ascorbic Acid needs a pH of 2.5-3.5 and niacinamide really wants a pH of 6-7, and what do we do now, this stuff feels disgusting.  Stop.  Breathe.  It's ok to split these up.  It doesn't make your creation less.  In fact, it gives you more freedom to improve it.  Korean companies are especially crazy when it comes to ingredients lists, with some lists having several hundred items on it even.  There's no need to compete with that, especially since you know you're putting a useful amount of ingredients into your creation, whereas theirs might just be mostly marketing.

Finally, some general rules.

DIY isn't hard.  It's not.  But it does demand your respect.  If you're not willing to give it, you need to not do it.  There can be consequences ranging from disappointing failures of serums to actual physical harm.  A lot of it is just being aware, being willing to put in the effort, and mustering up enough energy afterward.  That being said, please also keep the following in mind:

  • Check your preservatives.  Always.  Check to make sure you're using enough, check that it works at the pH your final product is suppose to be at.  Check that it covers against gram +/- bacteria, yeasts, and molds.  Check that it's added at the right temperature.  Check that it isn't disabled by other ingredients in your creation.
  • Check your calibration.  I obsess over this, so I check it.....probably way more than I need to.  But check it routinely.  A good habit is to always check it before starting a new project.  This isn't just your scale, but also your pH meter if applicable, your thermostat, --anything that needs to be calibrated.
  • If you make stock ahead of time, label them with the date you made them and refrigerate.  Use them up quickly, or add a preservative when they're made, not days later.  In fact, label everything.  Put the date they arrived.  Some ingredients have a shelf life of 3 months from when the supplier gets them to you, regardless of refrigeration.  You'd be amazed how quickly you forget when you bought that borage seed oil.  Write it right onto the jug and pay attention to it every time you pick it up to make sure it hasn't expired.  If something is expired, junk it.  Don't try to make it work - a $10 jug of oil isn't worth hours of formulation and cleanup and months of skin repair.
  • pH test your final creation.  Always.  Something crazy can happen.  Always pH test.  Always patch test.
  • Keep in mind that there's a huge difference between making something for yourself and keeping it in your house versus shipping it out to friends and family who live in other states - or even countries.  Shipping can do weird things to a product.  Things can get subjected to extreme heat or cold or get shaken around.  Pressure changes, angry mailmen.  All kinds of things.  Just because something was fine when it left your house doesn't mean it'll be fine when your mom gets it.  Have her check it too.  And always have people patch test.
  • Don't ever make sunscreen.  Please.  You can't disperse the sunscreen ingredients well enough in a home setting without proper equipment, nor can you test the SPF properly.  I shudder at the thought of slapping homemade sunscreen on my face, considering I regularly use strong actives like tretinoin, BHA, AHA, and Vitamin C.  Leave this up to the people with the fancy equipment.
I hope this helps some people.  DIY is fun and rewarding, but you must be aware of what you're doing and be willing to put in the effort to see things through in many different aspects aside from just measuring things into a beaker and mixing.

The More You Know: Parabens

There's a cloud of controversy around parabens.  Some people think they cause cancer, others just want "all natural" things in their skincare, and more are...hmm, possibly just fear-mongering.  So let's take a closer look at parabens today (featuring some of my crappy doodles)!

A quick note...

Yes, I use parabens in Holy Snails products.  Shark Sauce has it.  Snowbang has it.  This isn't an "oh, I need to convince people this is safe so I don't lose profits" post.  If I had to switch preservatives, I would be out...about $20.  Plus shipping.  I experiment a lot.  I have a lot of preservatives on my shelf:

This only counts some of the natural, antimicrobial extracts even.  My extracts list is kind of, um, ...embarrassingly large.
I'm also kind of a crunchy hippie type person.  As in my daughter plays almost exclusively with handmade, watercolor and beeswax coated wooden toys, only ate organic off the Dirty Dozen list (typically from our pesticide-free backyard square-foot garden), wore (handmade, organic, OEKO-TEX) cloth diapers, and we pretty much avoid medicine unless it's something vital...like vaccinations.  She eats mostly preservative-free fresh food, but when I make something for her, out of the dozens of preservatives on my shelf, I grab the parabens.  (*cue Choosy Moms Choose Jif ad*)

What does the FDA say?

Here is the FDA's official statement on parabens.  To summarize though:
  • Parabens are used in a wide variety of cosmetics, as well as foods and drugs
  • A 2004 study detected parabens in breast tumors. However, the study did not show that parabens cause cancer, or that they are harmful in any way, and the study did not look at possible paraben levels in normal tissue.
  • The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) reviewed the safety of methylparabenpropylparaben, and butylparaben in 1984 and concluded they were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25%. Typically usage levels were 0.01 to 0.3%.
  • In December 2005, after considering the margins of safety for exposure to women and infants, the Panel determined that there was no need to change its original conclusion that parabens are safe as used in cosmetics.
  • Although parabens can act similarly to estrogen, they have been shown to have much less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring estrogen. For example, this study found that the most potent paraben tested, butylparaben, showed 10,000- to 100,000x less activity than naturally occurring estradiol (a form of estrogen). Further, parabens are used at very low levels in cosmetics. In a review of the estrogenic activity of parabens, the author concluded that based on maximum daily exposure estimates, it was implausible that parabens could increase the risk associated with exposure to estrogenic chemicals.
  • The FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens.

** Note:  The links to CIR's published reports above also link to their 2008 updated reports on parabens.

So what exactly is a Paraben?

To me, parabens sound like a robot insect.  If saying the word conjures up imaginary background Transformer noises, I can see why there's fear surrounding them.  (They should've called them like...boomboomagen or cassioextracts or something.  Hindsight.)  A paraben isn't a thing, actually.  It's a family, like...the Kardashians or Kennedys.  Or...other families.

I could've drawn it in reverse, but I wanted to write "HO" over and over because I'm a 13 year old boy.
Ok, see the OR at the bottom right?  That's an Oxygen (O) with an R-group dangling off of it.  R is basically like...an asterisk.  It's a placeholder on paper.  Like a drop down menu.  That was probably a mess of an explanation, so let's just look at some actual parabens:

Butylparaben forgot to use the right BB cream for the family photo, so he's getting some flashback.
 Anyway, so basically everything is the same except for what comes after the O-.  That'd be their first name.  And then their last name is the thing that looks like a funky outlet with hands.  These are considered monohydroxybenzoic acids, which...don't panic.  Know what else is a monohydroxybenzoic acid?

Salicylic acid!  As in the 2% BHA that a lot of us know and love and can't live without.  Fun fact:  butylparaben is actually also found in acetaminophen and ibuprofen like salicylic acid.  Comparing it side by side to a paraben, you can see that the R group is a hydrogen (H) and the position of the hydroxyl (-OH) group is different.  This is "ortho" position for the salicylic acid versus "para" (get it?) for the paraben.  (If it were in between the two, it would be "meta" position, just FYI.)

I've been itching to break out my rainbow pens, can you tell?
Parabens are found in nature.  They're naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables, such as barley, flax seeds, grapes, and insects.  Some insects even use them as pheromones!  (So my robot insect theory wasn't too out there, it seems.)  However, scientists aren't interrupting insect sexy time to harvest preservatives.  They're synthesized in labs, like urea.  (No pee farms either!)

Sometime this century, I'll get done with my preservatives megapost, but in the meantime, just know that when you're trying to preserve a product, you want to defend it against fungi (yeasts and molds) as well as gram positive and gram negative bacteria.  

Parabens in general are considered broad spectrum, but better against fungi than bacteria, and more effective against gram-positive versus gram-negative bacteria.  And the longer they are, the more effective.  So you should never have a product that's preserved with just methylparaben, for example.  In fact, you shouldn't have a product preserved with just parabens either, and should have additional antimicrobials that cover the parabens' weak spots (like diazolidinyl urea, but that's another topic for another day if I hope to finish this post before Christmas).

So are they safe?

If I said yes, does that really mean anything?  But I will go with what the actual experts say. 

The American Cancer Society says "so far, studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and any health problems, including breast cancer. There are also many other compounds in the environment that mimic naturally produced estrogen."  

The FDA also says "that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens."  

The CIR's report in 2008 concluded that parabens "are safe as cosmetic ingredients in the practices of use and use concentrations described in [this] safety assessment."  

A 2008 review (not full text, sorry) on potential health risks of parabens states that "worst-case daily exposure to parabens would present substantially less risk relative to exposure to naturally occurring endocrine active chemicals in the diet."

To emphasize, the CIR looked at parabens 32 years ago and deemed them safe.  They looked at them again 24 years later and still deemed them safe.  There has also been no conclusive study that stands up against that report either.  That's over three decades.

So there you go.  You'll have to make up your own mind on how you feel about parabens, obviously, but that's what I've found.  Just remember that parabens have been around for decades in cosmetics, and all of the controversy against them still has not produced studies showing that they are harmful at the concentrations used.  

A product marketed as "paraben free" can also market itself as "waterless" or "super advanced hydration technology" or "is purple."  It's marketing, so it's whatever will attract consumers.  I understand the fear of something potentially harming you (and your family).  Just understand that the worst case scenario of going preservative-free or using only natural, antimicrobial extracts isn't that your expensive face cream grows blue sprinkles and you have to toss it out and be out some money.  It's not that you can only order certain products in the winter, because the natural preservatives can't handle summer heat.  It's that the things that preservatives are fighting can actually do harm to you.  They can cause serious infections that take months or even years to recover from, and that's something I don't want to subject myself or my family to.

When the Ingredients List Doesn't Matter

The title is a little misleading, but...just...hear me out.

First off, go read this post on Fanserviced-B.  Prepare to have your mind blown.

I feel the same way about her kpop blog too.  Especially the #kai tag.

Wait no, come back.  I mean, read the post on ingredients, but don't go through the Jongin's Best Pelvic Thrusts of 2015 (#eommaya!) posts yet, or you'll never make it back.

The Thin Line Between Blogging and Setting Up Shop

Hello.  It's me.  Long time no see.  How are you?  Me?

I opened a shop.  I started a podcast with some amazing women. I dyed my hair silver! It's been pretty quiet and neglected on here (even my skin has been pretty neglected), but I'm still alive on Instagram and Snapchat.

Most of my hair stuff has been posted on Snapchat.  (theonetruesnail)

How I pH test

Hi guys.  Long time no see.  Sorry about that, that's my bad.  I decided to quit a crappy job and expand the Co-Op to full time, so there are a lot of awkward growing pains and adjusting right now.  I actually have a bunch of posts in the works, I just...haven't gotten around to fleshing them all out.  But anyway - enough excuses!  Onto some fun!

Why test pH?

For the most part, skincare isn't really pH dependent.  Most creams, toners, and serums tend to hang around the 5.5 mark, just...because.  They also don't usually have ingredients that need to be in a certain range to be happy.  But some products do.  And those that do really need them to be within a small window.  Acids, for example, won't exfoliate if they're not in an acidic enough environment.  Vitamin C, for example, needs a very specific pH range or it's just useless.

And then there are cleansers.  Read these posts by Kerry (Skin & Tonics) and Cat (Snow White & the Asian Pear)  on the importance of a mildly acidic cleanser to have your mind blown.  My take on it?  I live the low pH life, baby.  

We ride low on the pH scale.

September Mishibox Unboxing

Note:  This month's Mishibox was provided to me for review, so that makes this a sponsored post.  Being sponsored does not buy a positive review, and this post is my honest opinion and impression of this month's box and Mishibox as a whole.

This post is giving me such mixed emotions, as it's my first ever sponsored post.  I wanted to procrastinate for a couple more days even, but it's been over a month(?!) since I even posted anything.  I've got stuff coming, I swear!  I'm just trying to get used to my work schedule and it's just...it's been crazy.

The More You Know: Hyaluronic Acid

What is it?

What do all of these bubbles have in common?  If you guessed hyaluronic acid, you're right!  (Or did you read the giant capitalized word and cheat?  Pish posh!)  Hyaluronic acid was originally discovered in cow eyes, and used to be sourced from rooster combs (which made it quite expensive indeed).  Scientists eventually enslaved bacteria to produce it, which is how it can be so much more affordable today (although it's still pretty pricey).  It is not just a skincare ingredient though.  Like collagen and ceramides, it's naturally found right in our skin.  Actually, it's all over the place, hydrating cells and lubricating joints (which is why some people take them as supplements).