Category Archives: Science And You

An Old Tired Horse’s Advice to the Fledgling Research Student

If you’re starting a research degree (at UWI or otherwise), there are a few things you’ll need to prepare yourself for. Doing an MPhil or a PhD is one of the hardest things you will ever do, so it’s probably a good idea to prepare yourself mentally for exactly what you’re in for. (I certainly wish someone had prepared me).

Switching to research from an undergraduate degree comes with a bit of a learning curve, and at first, it almost seems like a dream come true: no more boring lectures and classes, full autonomy to do your own experiments, a stipend that you certainly didn’t have before….

But with this newfound independence and freedom comes way more responsibilities and challenges. If you thought no one cared about you as an undergraduate, then say hello to grad school, where DEFINITELY no one cares about you.laboratory-2815641_1920.jpg

The hardest part about a PhD is that it’s five (or more) years of completely independent self-motivated learning. Five years of getting up every day to read new papers, try (and fail at) new things, retry things you’ve tried a hundred times before, jumping through hoops, and continuing to chug along.

So to help out any fledgling graduate students about to start, I’ve put together some of the lessons I’ve learned along my journey so far

  1. Research is Hard!

Seriously, first of all, know what you’re getting yourself into. Research is extremely difficult and forces you to be self-motivated. If you give up, your project will die.

2. Start with a Project You Love

If you’re going to be spending a considerable portion of your life on a research project, it might as well be something you’re in love with.

When I applied to start my PhD, I wrote a brilliant (and very very very very very expensive) proposal of work I wanted to do with RNAi. I wasn’t able to do the project I initially had in mind (see: expensive) and I was given my current project based on the fact that I had started work in this area during my undergraduate years.

At first, I was a bit jaded because this isn’t really what I wanted to do, and that made it incredibly hard to find motivation to move forward with my work. Over time, I have grown to fall in love with my work, pretty much because I had to. It was the only way to keep going and not just throw in the towel and become a housewife.

As much as you can, find out about work that is currently happening in the department/institution that you want to become a part of. Talk to different researchers and find out what gaps they are trying to fill, and where their priorities lie. This will better inform you as to the realities of what you can propose.

I’m not saying be limited in your vision, but be realistic as to what you can do in the environment you choose. Don’t feel pressured into doing a project you’re really not passionate about. This is your baby after all, so better to start out already loving it.

3. Get a Good Supervisor

Seriously, I’ve seen way too many students screwed over by poor supervisors. I’m blessed enough to have a great supervisor who cares about each of her students as individuals, but not everyone is so lucky. If you’re considering someone as a supervisor but aren’t sure if it’s the right fit, try to talk to some of the students that they may have worked with before. LISTEN to their concerns and use that to make your decision.

Remember, not everyone who is a good lecturer makes a good supervisor. You need someone who will give you guidance without micromanaging your project so you have the opportunity to learn on your own. But you also need someone who will encourage you along the way, and help you figure out the kinks along your way.

And if you feel like your supervisor isn’t giving you what you need, don’t be afraid to speak up! Every university should have a system in place to deal with unsatisfactory supervisors, but students are usually too afraid to make use of them. Don’t be! Don’t sit and suffer, remember you’re wasting years of YOUR life, while your supervisor is quite fine and happy bringing home his/her paycheck.

4. Form a Support Group and Build Camaraderie


Research can really be an isolating and lonely experience, and I find that some of us grad students tend to retreat into the woes of our own projects when we’re frustrated. But no one knows what you’re going through like a fellow researcher; chances are, they’re going through the same things too.

Reach out to your labmates or colleagues within your department for advice, support, and simply when you need someone to vent to. The support system you build within your research community will take you through the hardest parts of your journey. Seriously, these are the people you NEED.

5. You will fail and fail and fail and fail (and fail).

Seriously, you will fail so many times you’ll have to start questioning if you were ever really smart in the first place. Truth is, most of the “amazing” scientific discoveries we speak about today were happened upon by chance. And after years and years of drudgery and less than exciting results.

I have done so many failed experiments over the past four years it’s ridiculous. No one prepared me for repeating a PCR 20 times trying to optimize the conditions, or for days when my samples just decide not to work.

It’s important that despite the failures, you start fresh everyday and go in with a positive attitude. I’ve found that my experiments can read my moods. No bullsh*t: whenever I head into the lab in a dark mood or distracted by the hurdles, the experiment NEVER works.

6. Take Opportunities to Travel

One of the biggest regrets I’ve had about my PhD journey is that I haven’t had the opportunities to travel outside of UWI the way I wanted to. In my case, this has been due to some very annoying bureaucratic hoops…and of course….FUNDING (which I won’t touch on in this post, because that’s a whole beast onto itself).

airport-2373727_1920.jpgBut any opportunity you have to travel to a conference, workshop or even to do part of your research at another institution will give you amazing experience you’ll have with you for life. It also gives you the chance to network with others in your field and leave your mark for future job prospects.

7. Join A Society

Apart from looking pretty good on your resume, scientific societies (for example, the American Society of Microbiology) can give you access to information and persons working within your field around the world.

Membership to most societies allows you access to recent publications, supplemental material, and just a space for you to talk to people who might be working on projects similar to yours. Membership fees aren’t that expensive, maybe about $30 a year for students, but they’re worth every penny.

8. Be Aware of Department Politics

While my experience in this area is a very UWI-specific one, I suspect that many departments across the world have their own internal politics and sometimes, unfortunately, spills over to affect the students. Many times, professors are having their own little competitions/infighting for promotions, tenure, publications and so on.

It’s important to know the kind of climate within your department before you step in. This will prevent you from putting your foot in your mouth and saying the wrong thing to the wrong person (again, I wish somebody had told me this). And while this should NEVER happen, sometimes it does lead to you losing scholarships, or your funding application being moved to the back burner.

Have a conversation with your more experienced colleagues beforehand to make sure you don’t get caught slipping. And try as best as you can to hear all sides of the argument before “picking a side” so to speak. The way I see it, you’re just a student, there to get in and get out, so neutral is always the best position.

9. Set a Good Example

The primary exploitation of graduate students (yes I said exploitation) usually happens when we are left in charge of labs and tutorials. While we are very grateful to have this opportunity to earn our stipend, we are often forced to go way beyond our responsibilities to undergraduate students, MANY times to the detriment of our own projects. cellular-1352613_1920.jpg

My approach to this is, I go above and beyond for my students anyway, because somebody did it for me. Grad students will turn out to be the ones doing the most hands-on training of the undergraduate students, who will turn out to be the new generation of researchers. So if we train undergraduates with poor techniques, they’ll end up as postgraduates with poor techniques.

I’ve also found that running labs and tutorials keeps my mind challenged and excited, and can be a nice little distraction from my own project sometimes. Plus I always end up with at least one student that inspires me, and tells me how grateful they are for my help, and this reward is far more than the stipend could ever be. (Seriously, it’s really not that much money)

10. Don’t Forget to Live!

A PhD is at least 5 years of your life, and that’s time you will never get back. It can be easy to become consumed by your research and not have time to create a life otherwise, but don’t lose sight of what’s important.

Don’t feel guilty about taking time off to relax, to have fun, to pursue your other hobbies and interests. Use the time to develop areas of yourself outside of the lab.

And finally….

I know I can’t possibly cover all the things that you need to know before starting a research degree, but I hope that these tips will help you if you’re a little unsure about your new journey. Feel free to ask questions or comment on your own experiences.

Now go forth and be awesome!

So what’s the deal with UV light and manicures?

I’ve recently started getting gel manicures as one of my 2018 steps into the world of being a hot gyal a.k.a. a Goodie. Last week, as my girl at @GetnailedJA was sorting me out and I had my fingers under the UV lamp, I started to wonder what it was about the UV lamp that made my nails dry so pretty and perfectly. I knew quite a bit about UV light, but admittedly, very little about nail polish, so I decided to do some research to solve this mystery, once and for all.

So of course, I must share this newfound knowledge with you.


Making Plastics in the Nail Salon?

Both gel and acrylic nail polishes are made up of components called polymers. Polymers are compounds which are formed from a number of single building blocks (monomers) linking together to form one long chain molecule.

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Polymerization occurs when repeat monomers (single blocks) join to form one long chain

Essentially, the process entails building hard plastic coatings for your nails (either gel or acrylic) from smaller sub-units. When the nail polish is the bottle/tube, the polish is separated into individual monomers, hence the gel is liquid. Once the monomers join up to form the long chain polymers, the nail polish will harden and voila! your beautiful nails will be ready to go.

Ok, but what about the UV light?

download (5)Well, gel polishes also contain these cool molecules known as photoinitiators. These are compounds which only undergo reactions when exposed to light at a specific wavelength. The photoinitiators added to nail polish react at a wavelength of 340-410 nm. Once exposed to light at this wavelength, the molecules are activated and emit a particle known as a free radical. Free radicals have many many roles in chemistry and daily life, but in this case, the free radical initiates the polymerization reaction of the polish. This is why UV light at wavelengths between 340-410 is used to harden or “cure” gel nails.

So, expose the polish to UV light at the correct wavelength –> free radicals start polymerication of gel –> gel hardens and dries

download (6).jpgThe same principle applies to acrylic nails, however instead of UV light, acrylic nails are  usually cured with peroxide. The powdered peroxide plays the same role of the photoinitiator, and activates polymerization of the monomer in the liquid polish.

So which one is better?

Well I definitely didn’t write this post to be a plug for either method, but it’s probably important for you to know the risks associated with each method.

Let’s look at gel polishes first. Of course, any method that requires UV light carries some risk, as it is well known that exposure to UV light can cause skin (and other types of cancers). That being said, the couple minutes your fingers spend under the UV lamp will probably have a negligible effect on your cells. We still walk in the sun every day, which is a huge ball of UV light, and most of us are fine.

Nonetheless, if you’re scared of the exposure, you can simply apply a SPF sunscreen to your fingers/toes before your nail appointment, to reduce the impact of the UV light on your skin cells. And nails techs should wear soft gloves if they’re going to be working with the UV light very often. Some gel polishes also contain a compound called butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which can also be cancer causing, so it’s best to choose polishes that state that they’re BHA-free.

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Many nail techs will wear masks to protect from the noxious fumes when using acrylic polish

Acrylic polish also carries a fair bit of health risks with it. We can all attest to walking into a nail salon and being taken aback by the smell of the acrylic polish. That’s because some of the chemicals used in application are formaldehyde (used to embalm the dead if you need some reference here) and resins which are actually pretty bad for your nails and can cause them to split and break. This is why your nails feel so soft after you take off an acrylic set. Additionally, some acrylic polishes contain a poisonous chemical called MMA (Methyl Methacrylate). MMA is illegal in many countries because it can cause serious damage to your lungs from the fumes it gives off. Unfortunately, MMA is still widely used on many unwitting customers.

Also for both methods, soaking your nails in acetone to remove the polish can weaken your overall nails.

All things being considered, gel polish seems to be the better bet for you health-wise, but whatever beauty method you’re using, it’s always best to do your research and know what chemicals you’re being exposed to.

Leave your comments, suggestions, questions, below. And don’t forget to be join me on my #Goodie journey by visiting the Be A Goodie page and ordering your products!

4 Familiar Scents You Probably Didn’t Know Were Caused by Microbes


What do microbes smell like?

Have you ever smelled bacteria? Would you even know if you had? I bet you’re imagining that all bacteria or fungi smells funky or nasty, but do they even have a smell?

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Many microbes have a characteristic smell that is used to identify them in nature. These smells come in handy for diagnosing illnesses or figuring out which bacteria might be present. But what you probably don’t realize is….we come into contact with many of these microbe-y odours on a daily basis.

Here are a few familiar scents that you probably didn’t know were caused by microbes:

  1. Rain

We’re all familiar with the smell of rain – that earthy scent that wafts through the air a few minutes before or after a heavy shower. Many of us use that smell to predict an imminent downpour (and as the perfect warning to run and take your clothes off the line). But what causes that distinctive smell?

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The smell of rain is known as petrichor, and it is created from a combination of compounds. The most common are compounds called geosmins. Geosmin is produced by Actinomyces, a group of soil-dwelling bacteria, and is responsible for the smell of freshly turned soil. This same earthy smelling compound is emitted from wet soil into the atmosphere and is carried by wind to reach our noses, letting us know that rain is near.

  1. Baked Bread

Mmmmmmm…… 🙂 Have you ever stepped into a bakery and been consumed by the beautiful warm smell of freshly baking bread? It’s actually the same thing you would smell if you stepped into a brewery that was brewing beer.bread-2193537__340.jpg

What you’re actually smelling is the smell of yeast. Yeast, although classified under fungi and not bacteria, is still a type of microbe that is responsible for some of our familiar scents. This same yeasty smell can also be detected if you’re suffering from a Candida (yeast) infection, and is useful in distinguishing yeast infections from other types of bacterial infections. Even though baking yeast (Saccaharomyces cerivisae) is different from pathogenic yeast, they both carry similar distinctive smells.

  1. Poop

kot-3101851__340.jpgThis is definitely a much less pleasant one, but…well…everybody knows what poop smells like. The smell of faeces is primarily caused by the production of a compound known as indole within the digestive tract. Indole is produced by Escherichia coli (E. coli) producing an enzyme called tryptophanase, which breaks down tryptophan (an amino acid found in most foods) to produce indole:

L-tryptophan + H2O —> indole + pyruvate + ammonia

Also produced in this reaction is ammonia (NH3) which has a distinctive smell of its own.

  1. Body Odor
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Electron micrograph of S. epidermidis

Another unpleasant smell we’re all familiar with is that old BO – the reeking scent of “old sweat” is caused by Staphylococcus epidermidis. S. epidermidis is found all over the body, in particular in stinky areas like under the arm and between the toes.

In fact, it’s not actually your sweat that stinks at all, but once bacteria begin to break it down, that’s when the problem begins. S. epidermidis and other bacteria break down the sugars in your sweat to produce a number of different compounds – and it’s these compounds that can have you reeking to high heaven.

Curious about the source of other scents around you? Chances are many more of them are the fault of some kind of microbe activity. Share this article with your friends and together see how many microbe scents you can identify on a daily basis.


The NIDS debate: Myths Debunked

Happy new year to all, and welcome back! We’re kicking off the New Year with some analysis of a topic that was on the lips of many Jamaicans a few months ago.


At the end of last year, the Jamaican government concluded discussions and passed the National Identification and Registration Act (commonly referred to as NIDS). During the discussions, there were a number of legitimate (and some not so legitimate) concerns surrounding the bill, in particular surrounding the collection of biometric data by the government as identification parameters in the system. Some of the crazier theories included the belief that NIDS will be the “mark of the beast”, or that the government was going to use DNA collected from citizens to plant at crime scenes to frame and imprison them. Go figure.

So today, we’re going to debunk some of these myths, and allay some of the fears that will surely accompany the rollout of the NIDS system in 2019.

Disclaimer: While I understand that there are legitimate concerns surrounding accountability and security of personal information collected during the process, this post will only be focusing on exploring the scientific purview of the bill, in particular, biometric data. I won’t be attempting to address the alarms outside of this scope.

What is Biometric Data?

Let’s start by breaking down this term “biometric data”.  This is a general term that is used to refer to any computer data that is created from any kind of body measurement, calculation or characteristic. This can be anything from fingerprints, facial and iris recognition, palm prints, DNA and biological samples, and even body odour!biometrics

Biometric identification has emerged as one of the most secure forms of identification because it takes advantage of features that are unique to individuals, and therefore extremely hard to replicate. (I know we’ve all seen those spy movies where someone beats the system by killing someone and stealing their eyes or fingers to use on the scanner, but it’s probably a safe bet to say this is an unlikely everyday situation).

Biometrics have been integrated into security and technology for quite a while now, just think about the fingerprint scanner or facial recognition software on your phone.

So is the government trying to “Big Brother” us?

Now, I think it’s a good time to distinguish exactly what information will be collected for the NIDS database.  In addition to biographical, demographic and reference information (see schedule 3 on page 55 for more information on these), a number of biometric parameters will also be included.

In the act, biometric information is separated into 3 categories:

  1. Core Biometric information (will be included for everyone)
  • Photograph or facial image
  • Fingerprint
  • Eye colour
  • Manual Signature
  1. Core Biometric information (may/may not be included)
  • Retina/iris scan
  • Vein pattern (from the palm)
  • If none of these are possible: foot print/toe print/palm prints may also be taken
  1. Other Biometric Information (may/may not be included)
  • Any distinguishing physical feature
  • Blood type

Although I won’t be addressing concerns outside of the scientific, it is important to note that most of this information is very personal and sensitive, and it is crucial that the respective authorities are able to properly secure the database and who has access to it.

Myth #1: The police wants to frame you with your DNA sample

dnaAs you can clearly see from the list presented, the government will definitely not be collecting DNA samples from the entire population. This is in fact, extremely unfeasible, as the cost for DNA sample and STR analysis would run taxpayers somewhere between 150-250USD per person. You can do the math.

 A popular misconception (probably fuelled by CSI, Law & Order, NCIS, and all the rest) is that all a DNA test requires is a swab and a plastic bag. The truth is, even if the government is able to collect these samples, the process and cost to analyze each of these would render the entire activity completely useless. You can read this post on the DNA Evidence Act for more information on the collection of DNA samples in Jamaica.

Additionally, another misconception is that it’s super easy to steal a Q-tip with a DNA sample and somehow plant it at a crime scene to frame someone (Again, I blame TV for this one). While in truth, it has been proven possible to fabricate and plant DNA evidence, the cost and resources required to do this are far beyond the scope of the Jamaican police force (No offense to my awesome friends and family at the Forensics Department =) ). It simply wouldn’t make any financial or logical sense to do so. swab

You may argue that your very rich enemy who owns a state of the art lab and really wants you to go to jail would be able to do so, but again…reality check? To alleviate these concerns, we definitely should be taking a closer look at who would have access to a DNA database, but as we’ve already established…

There is no DNA sample required for NIDS registration.

The Act also includes that your Blood Type information may be recorded in the database. While Blood Type information is a great thing to have on record, and can help narrow down suspects/missing persons, it is hardly specific enough to single out any one person based on just their blood type. There are probably 1000s of other Jamaicans with the same blood type as you, so relax. The Act says NOTHING about collecting your blood sample, so you can probably stop worrying that someone will be extracting your DNA from your blood to frame you for that robbery last week.

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A look at the average distribution of blood types shows how common your blood type really is.

Myth #2: The NIDS is the mark of the Beast

I’m not sure where to start with this one, as I’m pretty sure this goes beyond my scientific knowledge into the world of theology and religion.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Christian book of Revelations, chapter 13 verses 16 and 17 refer to the mark of the beast as a symbol of the end-times:

“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”

mark of the beastA number of theories have floated around the world about the form this mark will take. Some movies have portrayed a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is required to have a computer chip implanted in them, some believe that a number will be branded onto everyone. Apparently, this same hysteria has been extended to the NIDS system.

This belief is based on the fact that citizens will be required to have NIDS identification number in order to conduct government business. Bishop Dr Rohan Edwards of the Lighthouse Ministries in Spanish Town explains by saying:

“There is some resemblance as to what the Word of God says in Revelation, Chapter 13, that speaks of the anti-Christ that will mark everyone with the Mark of the Beast. We know that it is speeding up the whole aspect of the Mark of the Beast where every nation have to come in line.”


The truth is, the NIDS will operate like every other registration system that requires a number. Your passport, TRN, Voters ID, Drivers’ License all have registration numbers. The NIDS simply aims to be a centralized identification system to streamline identification across business places. Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

So no, the NIDS is probably not the Mark of the Beast, however, if you’re still sceptical about it, you still have the option to not get one, and pay the associated fees for not using it.

So can we just relax a little now?

Well, I’d sure hope so. While we definitely shouldn’t forget that proper accountability and security is still paramount to the rollout of the system, we can definitely take some of the conspiracy theories out of our heads. If you have questions, I’d definitely recommend a read of the Act to everyone.

What are your thoughts on the National Identification and Registration Act? Tell us in the comments section below. And be sure to share this post with your friends and family who may have questions of their own!

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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