Category Archives: DIY

Everyday Science: Beauty Regimen

This one is for the beauty enthusiasts. From haircare to skincare to just having that extra pop, chances are you’re using a ton of products in your beauty routine. So you probably should know what makes up these products. When you’re done, head on over to our DIY products page for some quick tutorials in creating your favourite products right in your kitchen! 🙂

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Shampoo & Conditioner

Shampoo is generally made by combining a detergent (see my previous post on soaps), most often sodium lauryl sulphate with another chemical added as a co-worker to form a thick, viscous liquid. Added to this are other ingredients such as salt (which helps to adjust the thickness of the liquid), preservatives and fragrances. Shampoos function similar to most soaps (formation of micelles, hope you were paying attention!) Many shampoos are pearlescent (meaning they have a sort of “pearly” glow). This effect is achieved by addition of tiny flakes of waxes e.g. glycol distearate, and many also include silicone to condition the hair and keep strands in place.

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Hair conditioners are added to the hair in order to change its texture and appearance of hair. Before the 20th century, natural oils have been used to condition human hair. (A conditioner popular with men in the late Victorian era was Macassar Oil). However, the invention of modern conditioner came right at the turn of the century when a perfumer Édouard Pinaud presented a product he called Brilliantine at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Since then, conditioners have evolved to become thick liquids made to coat the cuticle of the hair itself. Some common conditioner ingredients include:

  • Moisturizers – to hold moisture in the hair. Moisturizers contain chemicals called humectants – substances that suck up water and are used to keep things moist. Some include natural oils
  • Reconstructors – usually containing a protein which will penetrate the hair strands and strengthen their structure through forming crosslinking chemical bonds with the hair.
  • Detanglers – these either the hair surface by changing the pH (more on that soon) or by coating it with chains of molecules
  • Thermal protectors – usually heat-absorbing chains of molecules known as polymers, shielding the hair against excessive heat, caused by, e.g., blow-drying, curling irons
  • Glossers – light-reflecting chemicals which bind to the hair surface. Usually silicone
  • Oils – essential fatty acids (EFAs) which help dry hair become more soft and pliable. The scalp produces a natural oil called sebum but when that is low, EFAs are the closest thing to natural sebum

Fun fact! Conditioners are usually acidic (here’s the pH note). Lower (acidic) pHs add hydrogen ions the the amino acids in keratin. Keratin is an important protein component of hair. These extra hydrogen ions give your hair a positive charge which creates more hydrogen bonds among the keratin scales. This gives your hair a more compact structure. Conditioners get their acidity by the addition of organic acids such as citric acid.

Hair Mousse & Curl Activators

These days, it seems everyone wants fantastic looking curls, or to eliminate frizz from theirs. Hair mousse has long been a staple for curly tresses, and new curl activators are created every day for anyone who wants perfect curls.images (8).jpg

Mousses and curl activators generally have the same ingredients. First of all, the most abundant ingredient is of course water, which basically holds everything together. Also present in most mousses is some form of alcohol – the alcohol helps to dissolve the chemicals in the water and produces the signature foam which is easy to break up.

Resin is probably the important ingredient present in mousses and curl activators. Resins are formed from polymers (which are just long chains of molecules stuck together). The resin chains form a resistant film on your hair which grips to the strands and prevents the mousse from being brushed off easily. This resin conditions the hair and allows you to comb/brush your hair how you want it, and good resins will prevent your hair from becoming stiff after applying the mouse. A type of resin known as a cationic resin is formed by blending the resin another film to give a firmer hold on the hair.

Finally, emulsifiers are used to help blend the product creating foam. Some mousses and curl activators add other added ingredients such as vitamins, silicones, sunscreens, and dyes.images (7).jpg

Cosmetics & Makeup

There are way too many single make-up products for us to look at each of them individually so instead, we’ll look at some of the common ingredients that pop up in most products and see what they do.

Colouring agents/pigments

From your favourite lipstick to your sexiest eyeshadow, chances are many of your makeup products contain colouring agents and pigments. But what exactly gives these powders and creams their bright hue?

Cochineal insect

Some natural colours can come from plants, e.g. powder from beets, and some are extracted from animals: a red dye carmine comes from a scarlet coloured parasitic insect known as the cochineal.  Some colours also come from mineral ingredients such as iron oxide, mica flakes, and coal tar.



Pigments can be split into two main categories:

  • Organic pigments, made from carbon-based molecules. The two most common organic pigments are lakes and toners. Lake pigments are made by mixing a dye colour with a substance like alumina hydrate which doesn’t dissolve in water. This creates and insoluble dye, used mostly in water-resistant and waterproof cosmetics. Toner pigments aren’t combined with anything else so they don’t usually have these water resistant properties.images (9).jpg
  • Inorganic pigments, generally metal oxides (metal + oxygen). These aren’t usually as bright as organic pigments, but they give you a more longer-lasting colour because these pigments are more resistant to light and heat.

Glimmer & Shimmer

For a fun night out, some people like to apply some kind of glitter/shimmer product to give them that extra pop. These shimmering effects can be created via a range of materials but two of the most common ones are mica and bismuth oxychloride.

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  • Cosmetic mica typically comes from a crystal found in metamorphic rocks known as muscovite (also known as white mica). It naturally forms in flaky sheets which can be crushed up into a fine powder made up of thousands of tiny particles. Each of these particles in the powders are able to refract (bend) light, and with all these particles bending light in different directions, the shimmering effect we all love is created. Another technique involves coating Mica with titanium dioxide. This gives a whitish appearance when you all at it straight on, but from an angle it produces a whole host of gorgeous iridescent colours.
  • Bismuth oxychloride (known as synthetic pearl). This compound is found naturally inside a rare mineral known as bismoclite, and is used to create a silver grey pearly effect.


Primers are usually either water-based or silicon-based. Silicone-based primers tend to “stick” better than water-based primers and are usually harder to remove. Some primers also have sun protection factor (SPF) to protect your skin against harmful UV rays.

Foundation primers aid in applying foundation more evenly and smoothly, and makes your foundation last longer. Some contain antioxidants such as A, C, and E, grape seed extract and green tea extract.  These antioxidants prevents oxygen from the air reaction with some of the chemicals in the makeup and causing damage to your cells.

Eyelid or eye shadow primers are similar, but made specifically for use near the eyes. These aid in the smooth application of eye shadow, prevent it from accumulating in eyelid creases, and improve its longevity. Mascara primer is usually colourless and thickens and/or lengthens the lashes before the application of mascara for a fuller finished look. It may also help keep mascara from smudging or flaking, and some claim to improve the health of the lashes. Lip primers are intended to smooth the lips and help improve the application of lipstick or lip gloss, and to increase the wear time of your lip colour.

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This weekend as you’re preparing for that hot dinner date, or tomorrow when you’re getting read for work, you can take a few seconds to remember what’s inside some of these products. Understanding how beauty products work is the first step in choosing the products that work best for you.

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Everyday Science: Your Favourite Foods


Did you have a nice plate of golden eggs for breakfast? Or maybe some perfectly browned chicken for lunch? Rice on the side? Well at any point have you wondered what happens in your food for it to go from cold and unappetizing to delicious and wonderfully satisfying? Time to find out!


Where’s the meat?

One of the most basic rules of thumb we learn from pretty early is that we (usually) have to cook meat before we eat it, to avoid pesky little things like salmonella poisoning. While some dishes, like steak tartare and sushi, call for uncooked versions of our animal friends, most of the things we usually eat involve frying, searing, baking or roasting our meat. So what happens to meat when it’s cooked?

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Meat itself is mostly made up of the muscle of the animal. After water (75%), this is made up mostly of proteins. Muscle tissue is made up of fibres, which are really just bundles of cells inside the muscle. Cooking meat changes the protein molecules within the muscle fibres. Each of the protein molecules in raw meat are coiled up in tightly wound coils and held together by chemical bonds. When we heat up the meat, this breaks the bonds and forces the protein molecules to unwind and become longer. While this happens, the heat is also squeezing water out of the muscle fibres (causing them to shrink) and the unwound protein molecules start to recombine to each other by a process known as coagulation (basically the protein molecule clump together to form a gel-like matrix inside the meat). Because heat forces most of the water out of the meat, your steak or chicken cuts look waaaay smaller after cooking than they did when they were sitting raw.


In red meat, you’ll also notice a colour change to brown when cooking. This is because a protein called myoglobin in the meat is reacting to the heat. (Myoglobin in animals is similar to haemoglobin in humans; they are both proteins that store oxygen in red blood cells so that this oxygen can be transported around the body). When myoglobin is exposed to heat, the iron atoms in the protein lose an electron (for non-chemistry-ers, this means they become more positively charged). This results in a gradual colour change from red to brown.

How do you like em eggs?

Sunny-side up? Scrambled? Combined into a fantastic omelette? Maybe hard-boiled on a rushed morning? But what happens to your eggs when you cook them (and why don’t baby chickens pop out?)?

Similar to meat, eggs are made up mostly of proteins. The proteins in egg whites are long molecules that are twisted and folded into a sort of spherical ball, known as globular proteins (y’know from “globe”?) While the protein balls are drifting around in the water around them, they’re kept folded up by a number of chemical bonds. Once you start to heat an egg, those balls of protein start to slam into the water molecules around them, breaking the chemical bonds that keep them in these tight balls. The proteins are now free to unwind and interact with other newly-freed proteins, making friends and forming relationships ( 🙂 ). Eventually, these proteins form new bonds with each other and the protein molecules coagulate (remember this word?) to and clump up to turn your liquid eggs into a delicious plate of solid scrambled joy. Coagulation forms a web of interconnected proteins. This web traps the water molecules so the egg no longer appears to be liquid. The longer you heat eggs, the more bonds you form, which is why if you overcook eggs they become rubbery, as the proteins have gotten a bit too friendly and form too many bonds.

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If you’re a baker, you may beat egg whites to make a meringue or soufflé. The real reason anyone beats eggs is to incorporate air bubbles. These air bubbles unfold the proteins in the egg the same way heating the egg does. BUT HOW? Well, time for a lesson in hydrophobia.souffle.jpg

Hydrophobia (as I’m sure you can guess) is a fear of water and hydrophilia is its opposite. Proteins are made up of amino acids which, just like us, either love or hate water. When the globular proteins are curled up into their balls, the hydrophobic water-hating amino acids cluster on the inside, where they won’t be in contact with the water. Meanwhile, the hydrophilic water-loving amino acids gather on the outside of the ball, near the water. When an air bubble is introduced into this ball, the water-hating amino acids stick near the air bubble, while the water-loving guys become immersed in the water, forcing the protein molecules to unfold and bond to each other like in heating. This time, instead of water being trapped in the web of protein, they trap the air bubbles, so that if you heat this network now, the air bubbles expand and the protein network becomes solid and does not collapse. This is why soufflés and meringues are able to “stand up” on their own, if made correctly.

Starchy & Sweet

Starches make up one of my favourite food groups – carbohydrates. Carbohydrates happen when molecules of sugar, oxygen, hydrogen and carbon have a big party and fuse together. These parties can form two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates usually only contain one type of sugar, e.g. pasta, white bread, cakes and pastries while complex carbohydrates contain three or more sugars linked together, e.g. whole grains, oatmeal, beans. So what happens when you cook carbohydrates? Well one of three things:

  1. Caramelization – literally think CARAMEL. Caramelization takes place when the sugars in carbohydrates are browned. This removes the water and breaks down the sugar molecules. (If you’ve ever burnt sugar in a pan, this is exactly what you’re looking at). One notable example of caramelization happens when you’re baking bread and it turns that lovely golden brown colour – those are the sugars becoming (13).jpg
  2. Gelatinization – again think GELATIN. Gelatinization happens the starches in carbohydrates begin to absorb water and start to swell. The chemical bonds in the starch molecules break down and start to interact with more water molecules. Eventually, the starch molecules dissolve in water, never to be recovered. The most notable example of gelatinization happens when you’re cooking oatmeal or rice, and they start to absorb water and swell up. Similarly, whenever you add flour to sauces or gravy, the heat gelatinizes the carbohydrates in the flour, causing the sauce to thicken.images (6).jpg
  3. Dextrinization – Think TOAST. Dextrinization happens when starches are subjected to DRY heat. The starch is broken down into another form known as dextrin, which causes changes to colour, taste and smell of the starch. The easiest example of dextrinization to remember is toasting bread, because you can see your soft white/light brown slices changing to drier darker brown (14).jpg

The next time you’re in the kitchen, your favourite restaurant, take a minute to think about how your food got from its previous state, to the lovely meal sitting on your plate. Everybody loves food, but we hardly think about the chemical changes happening in our meals as we cook them. Also, for more information you can check out some of these resources below! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned next week for when we explore the science in beauty routines.


Everyday Science: Your Morning Routine

Ever wondered what was really happening while you were washing your face or brushing your teeth? What kind of reactions happen in your food to get it from sad and uncooked to delicious and ready to eat? Well let’s find out.

Hello nerds and nerdicles all! Thanks for sticking around and it’s time for a new series! (In case you missed them: check out the microbe series and DNA series). This month we’re focusing on everyday science, figuring out the science behind some of our day to day activities, and this week we’re starting with your morning hygiene routine.

  1. Waking up

Bet you’ve never thought about the science behind this one. What happens to your body and brain when you move from that comfortable world of sleep to the lively land of the awake? Awakening involves heightened electrical activation in the brain, beginning with the thalamus and spreading throughout the rest of your brain.

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Most people today use an alarm clock to get up at the time that they need. When your alarm goes off, this triggers and electrical response in your brain which causes a number of changes in your body:

  • Your heart rate increases.
  • Your breathing becomes quicker and you take in more air.
  • Your circulation and blood flow increase.
  • Your brain produces different brainwaves.
  • Your eyes open and your body is more aware of external stimuli.
  • All of your organ systems (liver and kidney function, digestion, metabolism) increase back to “waking” values.
  • Your brain is flooded with hormones to decrease your arousal level so you are more likely to wake up and perceive stimuli.

The brainwaves you produce when you’re asleep are totally different from those you produce when you’re awake. During sleep, your brain produce slow wave patterns, called theta waves and delta waves.  The slower the brainwave patterns, the deeper the sleep — a person deep in delta wave sleep is hardest to wake up. An awake and relaxed person generates alpha waves, which are much faster than delta and theta waves, and an alert person generates beta waves, which are about twice as fast.

  1. Brushing those pearly whites

One of the first things most people do every morning (after snoozing the alarm a couple times and eventually rolling out of bed) is head to the bathroom and get rid of that pesky morning breath. But what’s the science behind this lifelong habit, and why does it work?

Well morning breath happens because while you’re asleep, your mouth is producing less saliva. Without saliva there to wash away all the leftover food pieces in your mouth, the bacteria that are hanging around in there start to feed on them and produce volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs). This is where that foul morning smell comes from.  (Hydrogen sulphide, the gas that causes the smell of rotten eggs, is one of the gases produced by these bacteria. Tasty). Creeped out yet? Don’t worry, thanks to two guys named Willoughby D. Miller and Newell Sill Jenkins who were experimenting in the early 1900s, we now have the modern form of toothpaste.  BUT HOW DOES IT WORK?

Toothpaste consists of water and two main compounds: abrasives and fluorides. Abrasives constitute at least 50% of a typical toothpaste, and work with the brushing motion to remove food particles and plaque from your teeth. You can thank abrasives for the shine you see after a good brush, they also help to polish your teeth. Typical abrasives include particles of aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, various calcium hydrogen phosphates, various silicas and zeolites, and hydroxyapatite.

Fluorides are the most popular active ingredient in toothpaste to prevent cavities. Fluoride helps prevent cavities by slowing the breakdown of enamel of your teeth and speeding up the new enamel crystals which are harder, larger and more resistant to acid.

Finally, some toothpastes contain antibacterial agents, which fight the bad-breath causing bacteria. For example, Triclosan, an antibacterial agent which is common in toothpastes in the UK, helps reduce tartar and bad breath.


The combination of your brushing motion, and all the reactions happening between your toothpaste and the stinky bacteria, is why your mouth feels and smells clean and fresh after a good brushing. And if you’re the type to swish with Listerine or another mouthwash after brushing, that mouthwash is an antiseptic agent, which works to fight any residual bacteria. There are some things you should know about mouthwash though, namely:

  • Mouthwash should not be used immediately after brushing the teeth so as not to wash away the beneficial fluoride residue left from the toothpaste.
  • There is now sufficient evidence to accept the proposition that developing oral cancer is increased or contributed to by the use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes.
  1. Shower Time

For most people, a shower is usually the next step in starting your day. Other than a guaranteed way to smell fresh when greeting the morning, you’re also washing away the dirt from the night before. But what happens when you shower?


Well, most people tend to shower with soap (or some derivative). Soap, in its simplest form, is a salt formed from a fatty acid. (For the non-scientific readers, broaden your idea of “salt” from the tableside version to mean a compound formed when you react an acid and a base. But that’s a whole other day’s lesson). Anyway, the important thing that soap does is it allows compounds that aren’t usually able to dissolve in water (likes oils and fat) become able to dissolve. The soap-water molecule mix forms tiny pockets called micelles which trap the oil and fat molecules and hide them from actually touching the water. When you wash off, all the oils and fats are washed away inside the micelles. Dirt and grime and other solid particles and washed away when you’re scrubbing up, while soap gets rid of the oils and rest of the gunk. And that’s it!


For those of you who prefer shower gels to soap, you should know that shower gels don’t actually contain any soap at all. Shower gels are a combination of water and a detergent (think broader than laundry detergent). Detergents basically operate on the same principle as soaps in terms of solubilizing (dissolving) insoluble compounds like fats and oils. Shower gels are also pH balanced (meaning they’re the perfect mix of acidity/alkalinity for your skin) and some brands (usually the ones for men) contain menthol, which gives a cooling and stimulating sensation on the skin. Shower gel has certain advantages over soap because it is less irritating to the skin, it forms suds better, and (Thank God!) doesn’t leave as much residue on the skin or in the bathtub after usage.

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The next time you’re getting ready for work/school and going through the motions of your morning routine, take a minute and think about some of the science behind everything going on. It can blow your mind how much is happening in such a little bit of time, and you can’t even see it! And stay tuned next week when we look at the science behind preparing some of our favourite meals. Cheers!


DIY: Beauty

So I’ve put together a very short list of some DIY Beauty products that are easy to make and use, healthy for both you and the environment, and these DIY products definitely work out less expensive than the name-brand and store-bought varieties.


  1. Non-Toxic Nail Polish Remover

There are some downright unfriendly ingredients in traditional store-bought nail polish remover (acetone, butyl, ethyl and isopropyl acetate can all cause irritation to the skin and eyes, headaches and dizziness). So you may want to explore a gentler alternative with this white vinegar + lime juice nail polish remover. (Any citrus fruit will actually do the job)

  • 1 part white vinegar
  • 1 part lime (lemon, orange or grapefruit also work) juice

Just mix your ingredients together and apply to your nails with a cotton ball. Be mindful that natural nail polish removers will take longer and a bit more effort than their store-bought cousins but you can always use your emery board to file off any remaining nail polish, and this natural version is non-toxic and safe for long term use.

  1. Make-Up Remover

So I stole this recipe from a post on (see resources below) because this actually works wonders, is cost effective, and SUPER EASY.

  • 2 tablespoons witch hazel (which by the way is another wonder-product, available at most pharmacies)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (or oil of choice)
  • 2 tablespoons (filtered or very clean) water

Add all ingredients to container and shake well. Apply using fingers, cotton ball, cotton bud or makeup pad. Be fabulous! Take a look at the post in the resources section below for some tweaks to the recipe if you’re interested in variations for any reason.


DIY: The Basics

The Basics:

Why DIY? I’ve found DIY options cheaper and handier than spending money on small quantities of pre-prepared products. Also by preparing it myself I can better control the proportions of what I want my product to contain and by understanding the ingredients I can create the product to function exactly how I want it to.

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There are some items that pop up a lot within this DIY section, so I decided to give some background on them. These are ingredients that are always handy to have around when starting your DIY journey.

  1. Essential oils – Essential oils are not oils in a strict sense, but are called this because of their poor solubility in water. They’re prepared by fragrance extraction techniques (such as distillation, pressing, or maceration). Essential oils are highly fragrant so they’re usually used to add aroma to products, and basically smell like the plant/source they’re extracted from. Many essential oils also have pharmaceutical/healing effects, making them popular ingredients in aromatherapy and alternative medicine.

Some common essential oils include lavender, eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil. I’d also love to experiment with aromas such as citronella oil, lemongrass and frankincense (just because). Essential oils are available in some pharmacies and medical supply stores, and also in many health stores. The oils are really powerful as well, so a little goes a long way, so you’ll hardly ever need more than a small bottle at a time.

  1. Coconut oil – Anyone that knows me know I swear by coconut oil for everything: food, hair care, skin care, I call it my magic oil. And it’s for good reason. Coconut oil has literally a gazillion health benefits. It’s extracted from the “meat” of mature coconuts, and it’s a highly saturated fat, which, ok I’ll admit, makes it pretty bad for you to eat too much of it. But never fear! Coconut oil has tons of other health benefits such as antimicrobial properties (so it kills germs that cause diseases like herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and helps in fighting harmful bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes and Helicobacter pylori). It can even act as an insect repellant (YES!), and it’s an effective moisturizer in treating a variety of skin conditions such as psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, etc. Coconut oil also aids in healthy growth of hair and makes it silky and shiny, and is also highly effective in reducing protein loss (basically unattractive thinning out of your hair).

Coconut oil also contains about 50% lauric acid, which helps in actively preventing various heart problems like high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, and is very useful for weight loss because its short and medium-chain fatty acids help in taking off excessive weight. Research suggests that coconut oil helps to reduce abdominal obesity in women and helps to improve the digestive system.  I could really go on with the health benefits but in the interest of the post I’ll stop here. Check out the links at the end of the post if you want to read more on these health benefits.

The best part? It’s so easy to find. Coconut oil is available in supermarkets, pharmacies, health stores, or you can even make it yourself (see DIY: Coconut Oil)

  1. Olive Oil – another one of my “magic oils” that I believe was a gift straight from the gods to us mere mortals. Olive oil is derived from (yep you guessed it) olives! The olive oil I refer to throughout this blog is Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which basically means the oil has a free fatty acid content of not more than 0.8 g per 100 g (0.8%). Olive oil has activity against type 2 diabetes, strokes, osteoporosis, depression, skin cancer and helps keep your heart healthy. Also it’s a terrific natural oil for hair and skin care.