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A Soap Yummy workshop in Hong Kong hosted by Karina Chang, who has developed her own natural soap bars and lip balms. Photo: Snow Xia

Natural skincare: are organic products you make at home safe to use or a danger to your health?

  • Natural alternatives may be more affordable and help the environment, but formulas must be safe and stable as well as nourishing the skin
  • One of the biggest challenges to making your own skincare products is to control microbes and keep production equipment from becoming contaminated

Karina Chang, a part-time entrepreneur in Hong Kong and full-time event organiser at a co-working space the Hive Studios, has always been concerned with the overuse of chemicals and plastic in skincare products.

For this reason, she started to look for alternatives online. Gradually, she learned to develop her own soap bars and lip balms by reading blogs and watching YouTube tutorials. She tested the methods at home and an idea struck her: why not start her own brand?

Chang launched her own natural brand, Soap Yummy, six months ago, creating natural soaps for sale and incorporating food ingredients in all of her beauty products. She named her brand Soap Yummy because most of the ingredients are edible.

“I want to make products yummy to the skin and gentle to the earth,” Chang says. “We wish to deliver handmade soaps and skincare products that are all natural and nutritious to skin and ultimately prevent polluting Mother Nature.”

Karina Chang, founder of Soap Yummy.
Chang is now bringing her idea to the wider world by teaching classes on how to make lip balm by using natural and affordable ingredients and no plastic packaging.

At a recent workshop she hosted, Chang used beeswax, coconut oil, essential oils, beetroot powder and cocoa powder to make lip balms. She mixed two-and-a-half spoons of extra virgin coconut oil with one spoon of beeswax in a cup and heated the mixture.

Essential oils used in the making of Soap Yummy lip balms. Photo: Snow Xia

Fifteen minutes later, the solid content was melted. Then, she added some beetroot powder and cocoa powder as natural tints, and several drops of essential oils such as orange and lime. After stirring for a few minutes, she poured the liquid into a paper-made lip balm stick. Once the liquid cooled down, it turned into a “home-made” lip balm.

Sharmina Tumpa, who works in marketing and was at the workshop for the first time, described the lip balm she made as “a disaster”. She used to make her own lip scrub and leather decorations, and joined the workshop with her colleague Connie Fong, who supported the method. “It’s quite easy to make and environmentally friendly. We can all have some fun while making it,” says Fong.

As consumers become more concerned about the chemical safety of industrially produced cosmetics and personal care products, many entrepreneurs like Chang have found a niche and are promoting home-made, all-natural alternatives.

Soap Yummy home-made lip balms. Photo: Snow Xia

Chang says she did not feel pressure from the big brands. “As long as I keep doing what I love, maintain the quality of my products, people will feel it and support our brand,” she says.

The Grand View Research, a business consulting firm, estimates that the global natural cosmetics market value will reach US$48 billion by 2025, with five per cent growth rate each year from 2019 to 2025, mainly driven by millennials who demand natural products.

However, “natural” does not equal “safe”, says Lisa Tian Li, a toxicologist at consultant company Delphic HSE.

Tian explains that cosmetic manufacturers, whether individuals or companies, are required by regulatory agencies around the world to have safety control and lab testing at every level from production, storage to delivery before the cosmetics are out in the market.

Ingredients for use in products homemade by company Soap Yummy.

“At home, you might want to make sure that these conditions are in place, but this might be a little difficult unless the person understands chemistry very well,” Tian says.

The Post tried to send the natural lip balm made at a Soap Yummy workshop to Interlek, a lab with testing services in Hong Kong, for testing but Interlek declined.

One of the biggest challenges for DIY cosmetics producers is to control microbes, and it can be hard to keep equipment from contamination during production. And without preservatives, lip balms are likely to grow bacteria after being applied on lips and may cause infections.

Tian says: “When using lip balm or other cosmetic products, we contaminate the products with our hands, mouth, and other surfaces of our bodies, constantly introducing bacteria. Preservatives can ensure the product is effective and inhibit the bacteria.”

Soap Yummy ingredients. Home-made lip balms tend to be greasier than commercial ones and need reapplying more often, a study found.

Regulatory agencies such as those in the European Union usually have a list of ingredients such as preservatives, colourants, and fragrances with the amount of allowed in different kinds of cosmetic products clearly indicated. These demands might be hard for independent cosmetic makers to meet.

Even if an ingredient is made from food, it may still cause harm to some people. Tian gives some examples. Seaweed, if not properly extracted but added into skincare products, may contain neurotoxins. Cinnamon, if touched, may cause some people to develop contact dermatitis, while some orange peel essential oil may cause skin irritation when exposed to the sun.
I want to make products yummy to the skin and gentle to the earth
Karina Chang, Soap Yummy founder

Compared to commercially produced lip balms, home-made lip balms are also greasier and stay on the lips for a shorter period of time, meaning users need to reapply them several times throughout the day, according to a study published in the International Journal of Research in Cosmetic Science.

“Consumers are likely to be attracted to novel concepts, especially ‘naturalness’. People may have limited understandings of chemistry and instinctively think what is natural must be good and safe,” Tian says.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Hidden risks of creating your own natural cosmetics