(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.

"Ruh-roh."
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.

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