I’m super excited to share this interview with Susan Barclay-Nichols, the brains behind Point of Interest!/Swifty Crafty Monkey; an absolutely amazing DIY resource blog. I’ve learned so much from Susan over the years and I’m really excited to have her “here” to answer some questions about what gets her inspired and how she works 🙂
How did you first get into making body products?
My husband and I were running youth programs, and I thought I’d like to run a craft group as part of it. I found a recipe for bath bombs and, after making a few batches, I thought it’d make a great project for a class. My trial run with a few kids went horribly wrong, so I turned to the ‘net for help and discovered the Dish forum. I found the answer to my problem – I was the wrong type of citric acid! – and discovered I could make shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and so much more at home. I was looking for a new hobby and quickly fell in love with making bath & body products.
What was your very first DIY and how did that go?
My very first DIY was a clay sculpture of two bunnies on a log I made when I was 4. My mom still has it on display in the living room, and despite all evidence to the contrary, she assures me it is a thing of beauty! This tiny statue is a quiet reminder that I’m less about the visual arts and more about the writing and experimenting.
My first bath & body DIY was those bath bombs I mentioned earlier, and they turned out lovely! And they led to my love of cosmetic chemistry, so I consider them a rousing success!
What is/are your favourite challenge(s) when it comes to DIYing?
I love the challenge of choosing my ingredients and designing a recipe for a product that may alleviate a problem, like a shampoo for really oily hair or a cleanser for really dry skin.
I love it when someone can describe to me the skin feel they want for the end result and I can figure out what oils, emulsifiers, surfactants, and other things will achieve those results.
I love teaching classes and seeing that a-ha moment when someone sees the lotion emulsify or the whipped butter whip or the eye shadow look like something you’d buy in a store.
As an aside…I teach classes at Voyageur Soap & Candle in Surrey, BC, and will be presenting at the 2016 Canadian Soap Makers’ conference in April at Niagara Falls.
What is your favourite personal discovery/breakthrough?
I love my shaving bars and shaving lotions. I came to the realization that a cationic lotion that would be substantive to your skin and not wash off after rinsing would be a better choice than something that rinsed off cleanly, the way a soap, non-ionic lotion, oil blend, or surfactant blend would. I created these products with this idea in mind, and they always get rave reviews! (It’s kinda funny that a product I rarely use – I don’t have to shave my legs as I have surprisingly little body hair – turned out to be such a hit with my friends and family!)
I’m also really pleased with my combination shampoo. My husband has amazing hair, and it’s been a huge challenge to make a 3-in-1 shampoo, body wash, and conditioner that would leave his long wavy hair shiny but not greasy. I’m extremely pleased with the final result.
What are your favourite things to make? Right now? In general?
That’s a tough question as I love making all the products! I think I love surfactant based products like body washes, facial cleansers, bubble baths, and shampoos the best this week. I can mix and match surfactant blends to work with different skin types, to create huge bubbles, to be more cleansing, and so on. I love how a small substitution can make a huge difference.
I always love hair care products because I’m a little hair obsessed. (A little?) I love messing about with conditioners, and I have different ones for different humidities to help keep my frizz to a minimum.
Lotions are always fun! I have a bunch of new emulsifiers to play with during my upcoming holidays, and I can’t wait to do some more comparison tests!
To summarize what could be a much much longer answer, I love it all!
Can you chat a bit about natural vs. synthetic? How do you decide which ingredients you’re ok with using?
When I started out, I decided I would only make all natural products. But I quickly realized this limited my choices to anhydrous products, and I wanted to expand my experimentation to lotions and hair care products, so I chose a preservative that looked good – liquid Germall plus – and used that.
I also quickly realized that a lot of the things I liked in a product, like offering more shine and de-frizzing of my hair or reducing the soaping effect in a lotion, were the result of ingredients like dimethicone and cyclomethicone, two ingredients that are decidedly unnatural. To get the skin feel and hair condition I wanted, I started playing with all kinds of polymers, emulsifiers, surfactants, and more, and out went the idea of natural versus synthetic. I started basing my ingredient choices on what they brought to my product rather than their origins.
(Although I have seen silicones listed as being “derived from sand” and, therefore, natural. By this definition everything is natural because every ingredient is derived from something from nature at the start. This is one of the reasons I think of ingredients as being minimally processed or more processed rather than being natural.)
As you’ve no doubt concluded, I’m okay with pretty much everything as long as there is some science to back it up. There is so much misinformation out there, so many sources of opinion presented as fact, and such mystery around ingredients. Cosmetics are surrounded by so much hype, it takes a lot of effort to separate the marketing from the actual function of the ingredients. There aren’t a lot of web sites I trust, so I generally start looking into an ingredient by using the university library’s EBSCO searches for journals, consulting my textbooks, and reading data bulletins. I learn as much as I can, then make my decision on whether to use it or not. In general, I stay away from ingredients that promise too much without backing up those claims and those that might be difficult or more challenging to preserve.
Money definitely enters into the equation. I tend to shy away from the more expensive oils, butters, extracts, and actives. I also prefer to buy from local or Canadian suppliers to save on shipping costs, although I have a few American suppliers that I can’t live without!
What are your top tips for DIY beginners?
Start with a good recipe. This is one that is measured by weight, not volume, and uses good manufacturing processes like heating and holding. Always use new containers to store your products to avoid contamination. This is my basic lotion recipe.
Make small batches. Try the recipe first as 100 grams and take notes. Make sure the recipe works and you love it before you commit to anything more than a 120 ml or 4 ounce bottle.
I can’t stress enough the need to keep notes. Every time I make a recipe – even one I’ve made a hundred times – I create a new page in my notebook with the exact recipe and process I followed with any changes. This way, I can make what I love and avoid what I don’t next time I’m in my workshop. You think you’ll remember what you did, but trust me, you won’t, so take good notes!
Label your products. You think you’ll remember which toner that is or what kind of lotion you made, but when you end up with a menthol-y face because you used a foot lotion as moisturizer, you’ll wish you’d put a label on it!
If your product contains water or will be exposed to water, like a body scrub, you must use a preservative. There are no exceptions to this rule. I see people saying that it’s okay to leave out the preservatives because it’s just for them or their families, and I wonder why you and your loved ones aren’t worthy of protection from ick? (Lotions are good for maybe three days without preservation.) There are so many preservatives available to home crafters. Take a few moments to learn about them and I’m sure you’ll find one that fits with your personal philosophy. If you don’t want to use a preservative, please stick to anhydrous products.
There is a point to stop reading and start doing. This is a hobby that only gets better when you experience it! (When you make your first lotion and see emulsification happen, you’ll get why I say this!)
You will fail and that failure will teach you so much! At the very least, you learned what not to do. Don’t think of those as wasted supplies: Think of them as learning tools.
Please don’t go into this thinking you’ll make something this week and sell it next week. It takes time to learn this craft and make lovely things, and it takes time to see how the product turns out. I know you’re excited and could use some money to replenish your workshop, but if you can’t explain what each ingredient brings to the mix and substitute for it when your supplier runs out, please don’t sell. Just enjoy the experience of creating products and see where it takes you.
I have created a newbie section on my blog with links for beginners to my step by step tutorials and frequently asked questions. I have tried to cover all the things I’ve encountered or been asked in that section.
What are your go-to beauty/body products? Any “guilty” pleasures?
I make everything I use, except for toothpaste and deodorant, so I’m not really familiar with commercial products and don’t buy any except for those two products and sun screen. Oh, I did buy a fancy liquid eye liner, which I quite like, but I can’t remember who made it.
If I had to pick three products I can’t live without, it would be my leave in conditioner, emulsified sugar scrub, and Babassu oil and kukui nut emulsified body butter. My husband said it would be my shampoo bar, conditioner/shaving bar, and foot lotion.
When it comes to guilty pleasures, those include Beverly Hills 90210, Lowney’s Cherry Blossoms, Clementine Cupcake fragrance oil huffed right out of the bottle, and babassu oil. (Seriously, try babassu neat on your skin or as a substitute for coconut oil any other butter and you will never want to be without it again!