Paul Lieber is a cosmetic chemist with Royal Labs in Johns Island, South Carolina. Paul’s experience and expertise in the natural skin care product arena qualify him to discuss what really makes a skin care product natural and how to choose truly natural and healthy skin care products.
I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Paul frequently – on the phone – and getting to know him since January 2006. I’ve been impressed with Paul’s knowledge about truly natural skin care products and his dedication to creating and producing top quality skin care products that are not only pure and healthy for you, but that also have the nice look, smell and feel of the expensive department store brands, but without the harmful chemicals.
Here are some excerpts from the interviews I’ve done with Paul:
DrF: Paul, can you tell me what your motivation was for becoming a cosmetic chemist?
PL: I grew up in the natural foods industry and I was always interested in being able to make products that were natural. That was probably the most important thing to me. Also I was always interested in my own skin, my own wellbeing. And it was just something I gravitated to.
DrF: How did you get started developing your own natural herbal skin care products?
PL: I couldn’t find any products in the marketplace that I felt were really natural products. I felt that most of the products out there calling themselves natural were very, similar to, or were the same as, you can buy in the mass market and these were far from natural. And since there was nothing out there that was usable in my eyes, I went into R&D and tried to come up with products that I felt were worthy of being called natural as well as being functional products. My fanatical belief in product purity led me down the path to developing our own products.
DrF: What problems did you have to overcome in creating your natural products?
PL: Well it was very difficult to formulate products that would look, feel and smell like a traditional cosmetic product, but without the chemicals and it was very difficult to find raw materials that would fit the bill. Creams needed to feel silky smooth. They needed to be a beautiful color in the jar, a white color. They needed to deliver active materials to the skin. Usually with a chemical product there is a very wide range of raw materials you can choose in formulating but from a natural standpoint the palate for raw materials is much smaller. In most cases it’s almost impossible to duplicate a chemical product. So it’s been very challenging for 20 years trying to come up with alternatives, but I think we’ve done a great job and we have products that act, look, smell, feel no different than any other department store product but without all the chemicals.
DrF: Can you tell me some of the ingredients that are used in many of these so-called natural products that you think should not be in cosmetics or skin care products?
PL: Well, the preservatives, methyl parabens, propyl parabens, phenoxyethanol, also triethanolamine, carbomer, mineral oil, petrolatum, paraffin, propylene glycol, strong surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate. There are a host of other ones also, different emulsifiers and different esters of ingredients. These are ingredients that act like moisturizers but are not from natural sources.
Recently, I received a jar of a cream from someone wanting to duplicate a very famous cream that’s on the marketplace now and sells for a few hundred dollars per jar. After looking at the ingredients in this product, I was astounded that it was primarily made of 100% chemical ingredients. It had a variety of silicones and petroleum products in it which can’t be considered natural. And they talk about it as a natural product. Unfortunately that’s just the way things work.
DrF: In Dying To Look Good some of the herbs and essential oils I list have contraindications for certain people, such as if they’re pregnant, have kidney problems or high blood pressure. When those types of ingredients are used in skin care products do those same warnings or contraindications still apply?
PL: No. Most are used in such small percentages in the formulations that their usage has no negative side affects at all. In my 20 years in business, I’ve never seen anyone with an adverse reaction to any herbal product used in this way.
For example, a long time ago, a woman told me that she could not use our toner because it had aloe vera in it and she was allergic to aloe vera. I told her it was unlikely that she was allergic to the aloe but she was probably allergic to the other chemicals in the products. She claimed she was using a 100% aloe vera gel. So, I sent her pure aloe vera powder and told her to add a little water and put it on her face. She did and of course she called me back and said, “Oh my God, I’m not allergic to aloe vera at all.” It was all the other “stuff” in the formula that was causing her problems.
DrF: I’ve heard that “plant extracts, herbs and other plants, can have parabens and propylene glycol in them already when they’re received by the manufacturer and the manufacturer doesn’t have to put this information on the label. The only way they’re free of parabens or other synthetic preservatives is if they’re extracted in vegetable glycerin.” What is your perspective on that?
PL: That’s true. That’s why I do not use the herbal tinctures in the form many companies do. When you buy herbal tinctures, you don’t know where the herbs come from, their quality or if they contain additives. I just buy the raw herb itself. I buy organic and make my own concoction and put that into my product. I know what I’m putting into my product. Most companies don’t go to that length. It’s easier to just buy the extract or tincture. So in many cases you may be getting a product with synthetic preservatives or other chemicals in it. I’ve circumvented that whole issue by making my own.
DrF: Some people in the natural product arena use cocomidopropyl betaine and some speak against it. I know you mentioned once before that you use it. What can you tell me about cocomidopropyl betaine?
PL: It’s a coconut derived surfactant, a foaming agent. I don’t know how much more natural you can get than cocomidopropyl betaine.
DrF: Are there variations of it? Can it be derived from something other than coconut in a laboratory?
PL: No, coco betaine is from coconut. Coco betaine has a long track record. It works, it’s effective, it foams.
DrF: What about potassium sorbate? I know you use it as a preservative.
PL: It comes from sorbic acid, from fruit trees. It’s a natural source mold inhibitor. Sorbic acid is a natural raw material and potassium sorbate is its derivative.
DrF: Olefin sulfonate is an ingredient I’ve seen in some of your products, but I haven’t checked it out yet. What can you tell me about it?
PL: It’s a surfactant from coconut. It’s a very mild foaming agent. We use it because it has great properties. It’s effective and safe. It has a long track record of being used from I think in the 40’s and 50’s. In fact it was the surfactant of choice used years ago, primarily in baby products. Only when sodium lauryl sulfate came on the scene and was cheaper and easier to use did it fall out of favor.
We’ve found olefin sulfonate to be very effective. There are only a few choices and you have to weigh the issues. I don’t believe in using soap since soap is very caustic and drying to the skin and hair. At this point, you have to move into surfactants. Olefin sulfonate is very mild and can be used in a variety of applications. We’re trying to find a happy medium.
I’ve tried to choose surfactants that are mild and without harmful side effects. Coco betaine is one, soy betaine, olefin sulfonate and decyl glucoside are others, but decyl glucoside is not one that can be used in a lot of different applications. My choice of some of these ingredients is because I feel that they’re natural and from an efficacious standpoint, they work.
DrF: What kind of things should people look for when choosing skin care products to get the safest products that they can?
PL: I think just what we touched on before. Looking for products that don’t have chemical preservatives, mineral oils, fragrances, artificial colors, alcohol, these types of ingredients.
DrF: If you were going to give some advice about the most important thing that anyone could do when choosing their cosmetics and skin care products, what would you tell them?
PL: Read the ingredients. That would be the most important thing. Become a label reader and understand what you’re buying; understand what the ingredients are in the product and educate yourself on what you’re using before you use it.
DrF: Thank you, Paul, that’s really good advice. It was really great talking with you.
PL: Thank you very much it was my pleasure.