Get to Know Our Cosmetic Chemist: Chatting Advice and Ingredients
I get a lot of questions about where our formulations come from, or where I learned to make skincare products. I decided to sit down with the amazing woman behind it all, and ask her some questions! Meet my mom, Cathie Arpino, a cosmetic chemist who has been formulating for over 35 years.
Ultimate throwback of her from the 80's!
Before I get into the interview, let me backtrack a little. About three years ago, I noticed my skin finally clearing up after using natural clays like Bentonite and Rose Clay. I found myself replacing old products with more natural ones and constantly researching different ingredients and skin terms. This is when I turned to my mom and asked if we can make products together. After a lot of practice and fun in the lab, we decided to start a skincare line together, and that's when I really started to learn everything. Anyway, here are some questions I got to ask her while drinking our morning coffee, hope you enjoy!
What sparked your interest in becoming a cosmetic chemist?
I always liked science and went to school for chemistry. After graduation, I started working at the Estee Lauder Companies, where I began my career. Once I moved upstate to start a family, I couldn't find any jobs as a chemist, so I went back to school for Nursing. After working as a nurse for 10 years, I found my way back to the lab. I decided to start Hudson Valley Skin Care, a skincare line that incorporates local ingredients into every product.
What interested you in making natural skincare?
I was studying natural skincare in the early '80s, and it always sparked my interest. After moving upstate and working as a nurse for a while, I decided to start a natural line in 2012, Hudson Valley Skincare, which I sold at local fairs and markets.
What motivates you when formulating a product?
The happiness that something I made can bring to someone. People's skin is really important to them, and I love to help people feel good about themselves. How you feel about yourself is important. I love contributing to bringing positivity to people's day, there's no greater feeling than someone telling me they love a product I made.
What is your favorite type of product to make?
Definitely soap; it's so rewarding. You get to make this amazing product and watch the whole process as it happens. Soap is so fun, you make it and see something fantastic, and then you get to see the chemistry behind it. It's also fun because you can get super creative with it, between the scents and colors, the possibilities are limitless.
How do you feel about words like "natural" and "clean"?
"Natural" and "clean" are tricky words since there is no current legal definition to regulate them. Of course, we have ways to distinguish what ingredients are considered "natural" and "clean." Still, without regulation, there are no limits on what a product must contain to be "clean."
To me, "natural" means the ingredient hasn't changed much from its natural self in nature. Examples of this would be natural oils and waxes. I identify the word "clean" with ingredients backed by science that are effective and safe for the skin. Instead of focusing on words like that, I prefer to look at the whole formula and make sure it's formulated responsibly and transparent as to what is in it. Ultimately though, words like "natural" and "clean" aren't a bad thing, I think it's incredible what the beauty industry is moving toward. There can just be some misinformation sometimes.
What are some common myths being marketed to consumers by the "clean beauty" industry that you think should be discussed more?
A lot of clean beauty brands are still using ingredients that aren't exactly "clean." Certain thickeners and surfactants hide behind the marketing ingredients, which are typically plant-based or derived, making the product appear to be "natural." These ingredients aren't completely bad, but they certainly aren't clean.
Also, not all synthetically lab-made ingredients are harmful! Companies can be quick to say "free from chemicals," but everything is made up of chemicals! Of course, avoid the harsh and dangerous ones, but everything in moderation, if formulated and balanced correctly, is okay. Instead of singling an ingredient out and judging the product solely on that, try to understand the whole formula and the other ingredients that might be working to help stabilize or work well with that ingredient.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in working in cosmetic chemistry/product formulation?
If you love beauty and science, definitely go for it! Learn and study the industry, read labels to understand ingredients, and test as many products as you can, have fun with it. Be confident and never give-up, creating products is a constant trial and error process, but once you make what you want, the reward is worth it.