Sciencettes on a Mission

Our Project:

We love what we do and we’re not stopping here. We are The Sciencettes, a group of teens from the city of Lawrence who investigated the science of cosmetics over the past seven weeks. We are passionate about keeping our bodies and communities healthy, and we want to spread the word.

When we sat down to brainstorm the ways that science relates to our daily lives, cosmetics were a clear link. Many of us use cosmetics daily. In fact, we polled women of all ages at our Community Center, Lawrence Community Works, and we found that the vast majority uses multiple beauty products every single day.

But what is contained in the products we apply to our bodies? According to our poll, few women–ourselves included–bother to read the ingredients on a label before purchasing a product.

So during Week 2, we emptied our own backpacks, purses, and pockets of cosmetics. We read the fine print on each package, and found all sorts of words we’d never heard of and couldn’t pronounce! Some of our lip balms didn’t even have a list of ingredients.

It turns out that some of the “harmless” products we use every day contain chemicals that can be harmful to humans and to the environment. After some research, we found that alumina, an anti-caking agent in some lip balms, is a neurotoxin. That means it can harm the central nervous system and brain!

And phenol, a fragrance and preservative in lip balms, can pollute water and eventually build up in the tissue of animals through the process of bioaccumulation. The US Environmental Protection Agency lists phenol as a priority pollutant in water.

Finding out about all these chemicals made us hungry to learn more. Why do we need to add these items to beauty products? How do companies decide what to put into their products? To find out, we visited a local company to see the science of beauty in action.

Visiting Living Proof

The Sciencettes at Living Proof, learning about hair products

Learning about hair products

At Living Proof, we gained a plethora of information. We talked to the scientists at Living Proof in order to learn how products are made. Eric Spengler, the Senior Vice President of Research & Development at Living Proof, explained to us that his company does not add ingredients to their products unless the ingredients are safe and are needed for the product to work.

We also learned why some chemicals–like preservatives–are necessary to keep products stable in different temperatures and over long time periods. At Living Proof we got to see how products are created and tested. And Betsy Wienslaw, a chemist at Living Proof, told us that she makes sure to try products herself in order to make sure they are good quality.

Making the Lip Balm

“No animals were harmed in the making!”

–Amber Torres, Lawrence 9th Grader

Our poll in Lawrence showed that most women can’t leave the house without lip balm. After seeing the chemicals added to our own lip balms and seeing young female scientists in action at Living Proof, we became inspired to make our own product.

On December 6 we got all the ingredients to make lip balm. We used avocado oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, shea butter, and mango butter. All of our ingredients were organic, and we used environmentally friendly containers–re-used household items like a contact lens case, small Tupperware containers, and a candle holder.

We completed three trials before creating our final lip balm. During each trial we boiled water, placed the ingredients in a separate pot, formed a double boiler, and allowed the ingredients to melt. Then, we poured the mixture into our containers to solidify.

Trial 1: We used ½ cup of beeswax, ½ tablespoon avocado oil, ½ ounce of cocoa butter. The mixture took 3 minutes and 10 seconds to melt. We discovered it was too waxy and not soothing for lips. We needed less beeswax and more butter and oil.

Trial 2: For the second batch we used less beeswax, added more cocoa butter and mango butter, and used more oil. The result was better, but still too waxy. We decided to add more butter to make it softer.

Trial 3: We added all the different types of butter and more oil. The result was softer, smoother and easier to spread. That was our final batch

Over the week we all tried using our new homemade lip balm. Mostly everyone said that the lip balm worked really well, but the texture was a little waxy and the smell wasn’t perfect. If we were to do it again, we would think about adding a scent like vanilla, and a flavor like cherry.

By making this product ourselves, we saw that very few ingredients can create a good beauty product. We learned that beauty products can work well and be good for the environment and for our bodies. Our lip balm doesn’t contain ingredients that cause cancer or harm the environment–and we tested it ourselves!

Over our seven meetings, we learned 21st century skills and how to work together as a team. We saw that science isn’t just about textbooks and bookworms, and scientists don’t always sit behind a desk. They love what they do, each of us uses science in everyday life. To other people our age: Take time to learn about what you put on—and IN—your body.

Sciencettes on a Mission!

On a Mission!

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One thought on “Sciencettes on a Mission

  1. Pingback: MadSciMag: cultivating a new generation of teen citizen science journalists « Science Club for Girls

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