Care — Excerpts from an Interview with Cosmetic Chemist Paul
by Christine H. Farlow, D.C.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
© 2006 Dr. Christine H. Farlow, D.C.,
"The Ingredients Investigator" and author of DYING TO
LOOK GOOD. Learn more about the safety of ingredients in your
skin care products at DyingToLookGood.com.
To read more excerpts from Paul Lieber and learn about his natural skin
care products, click