The authors claim Modern Cosmetics is “The world’s most comprehensive book about cosmetic ingredients of natural origin. Written by scientists.”

The book comes as a hardback, in A4 format, and around 500 pages long.

So what is in it?

The first chapter is  ‘Natural Cosmetics – What there is to know.’ Here they deal with definitions of cosmetics and discuss what natural and organic means.  They also touch on European legislation and give a good overview of the different certifying bodies for natural and organic cosmetics in Europe. Its a good overview but doesn’t go into too much detail, which is not a problem, as when it comes to certification, pointers are enough and often certifying bodies update their policies or guidance annually anyway.

modern cosmetics book review

The second Chapter deals with the skin, its structure and function as well as the different skin types: oily, dry, combination, sensitive and mature.

No book on cosmetic products should be without a section on the skin.

The third chapter looks at the types of delivery systems used in skincare: emulsions, gels, solutions to name a few. It goes into the benefits of each system and when to appropriately use each type of product. For instance the book talks about liposomes, their benefits, and their actions on the skin.

Chapter 4 gives monographs for some 60 different oils and butters.  Each oil has details on the scientific names, common names and the INCI as well as the part of the plant it is extracted from.  It gives information on its general characteristics including the fatty acid composition. What is very helpful is that they give the mechanisms of action and use for the skin based on both anecdotal and traditional  evidence and scientific literature. This is invaluable for selecting oils for different skin types or skin problems.  Pay attention to information given in a lighter text, often some very good advice is given on synergies with different oils, ideal skin types and interactions with other ingredients.  I really loved these nuggets of information.

Chapter 5 is all about emollients and occlusives. Here they take a closer look at various plant and floral waxes, ceramides and sterols. Again they talk about , melt point , plant origins, process of extraction and the mechanism of action. For instance, in the case of sterols they state, ‘Sterols are used as emollients for the repair of an impaired barrier function as concentrations ranging from 0.1-1%. Cholesterol is also used as a (co) emulsifier in w/o emulsions.’

Chapter 6: EMULSIFIERS AND SURFACTANTS FOR HAIR AND SKIN CLEANSING is a small chapter as the authors assert wholly natural emulsifiers are ‘extremely limited.’  This has information on wool alcohol, lecithin and saponins.

Chapter 7 is all about thickeners, namely those that will thicken the water phase of a product such as gums, pectins and mucilages. I have a particular interest in water-based thickeners so I enjoyed flicking through this chapter. It gives hints and tips on how to add polysaccharides so to get the most out of them, but also what to look out for in terms of compatibility with other ingredients.  Since polysaccharides are one of the most important ingredients when it comes to formulating, this is an invaluable chapter.

Chapter 8 looks at moisturisers and humectants with monographs for such things are hyaluronic acid, different proteins from both animal and vegetal sources, UREA, sea salt, PCA and the most common one: glycerine.  There are a few others and it covers most bases.  There are good nuggets of information, even for me, such as sorbitols tendency to create a translucent appearance if used in high quantities. I have used sorbitol once in my formulating life so this information was new to me.  I also didn’t realise it was less sticky than glycerin and it is nice to know i have another alternative to the ingredients I normally use.

Chapter 9 is a relatively small chapter on acids for pH adjustment.  I tend to use lactic acid and citric acid to adjust pH for most of my projects and this has given me some ideas in terms of broadening my horizons; one day I might try using tartaric acid!

Chapters 10 and 11 look at antioxidants and vitamins for the skin, respectively.  The intro to ‘Antioxidants’ goes into some detail explaining what oxidation and oxidative stress is, and although it does not go into depth, the main ideas are covered.  They also make  good connections with chelators and their benefits to the skin and the cosmetic product.  Under ‘Vitamins’ they have monographs for the main ones used in skincare and they also discuss their effects when taken internally.

Chapters 12 to 18 look at ‘cosmetically active ingredients’ and their particular ‘activity.’  So the focus is on choosing a certain ingredient for a particular function whether that be something that acts as a tonic, antimicrobial (these are essentially preservatives that are marketed as having another function), anti-inflammatory, improving skin circulation( things like arginine, camphor, capsaicin, menthol and so on), skin lightening and self tanning. These chapters come in handy if you are looking to make a product targeted at a particular skin complaint or function and you are at odds as to what to include.

Chapter 19 is about sunscreens, it doesn’t go into depth and only mentions a few sunscreens allowed in natural cosmetics and they talk briefly about the importance of sun protection.  Chapter 20, is about exfoliation, in particular chemical peels.  They do not go into detail regarding how to formulate with chemical peels like glycolic acid, bromelain lactic acid etc, but they do touch on the safety issues and the restrictions on formulating these types of products.  It would be good if they gave more thorough detail.  All the usual subjects were discussed and there were one or two ingredients I had never heard of before.

The penultimate chapter is about natural colourants, plant, mineral and animal derived.  I have been looking at natural pigments recently and thought I knew most of them, seems I have a lot to learn.  It never occured to me that litmus paper is named as such due to the Litmus otherwise known as roccella lichen.

The final chapter, and probably the one of least interest to me is the chapter on sweeteners, those things you might use to sweeten oral care products.  It has all the -itols and stevioside. I am sure that if I am making toothpaste, this chapter will come into use.

What I enjoy about the book is that you can tackle your research in a number of ways. They arrange the book  to allow you to either research a particular ingredient or look at it from a skin issue or formulation point of view. If you want to find out about a particular common oil or butter, you will get info on the ideal skin type; similarly you can look at the action or skin problem you want to solve and tackle your inquiry from that angle.  It would be good if they had a quick look chart so you can easily find oils and actives for skin type or skin complaint.

There are lots of gems of wisdom throughout the book.  Because it is fundamentally a reference book for natural ingredients it will not show you how to formulate; it will give tips and pointers when it comes to selecting and handling those ingredients.  The last few months I have indeed dipped in and out of this book and have found it valuable as a quick reference guide to natural ingredients.

You can buy your own copy from the Modern Cosmethics website.

Have you read this book?  What do you like about it and what would you improve?