Behind the Brand: Garnish Cosmetics + Ashley the Chemist

For the abbreviated version of this post, there's a video at the bottom

Garnish Cosmetics was born out me wanting to make other’s feel good and add some color and shimmer to this world. I’m like a real life Rainbow Brite! (That’s an ‘80s reference kids, look her up, she was my childhood hero).   I also really liked chemistry and early in my college career I figured out that chemists made skincare and cosmetics.  Sign me up for that!

So I waltzed into the Chemistry Department my Freshman year of college, looking for an informational pamphlet or something giving me the details about what being a chemistry major entailed. Instead, I signed a piece of paper and declared my major right then and there.  From that point on, 99% of my life decisions have been based off of my career goal to be a cosmetic chemist.  I didn’t take doing on-campus research with a professor too seriously (although future Ashley trying to find a job after graduating in 2010 would woefully regret this decision), and chose to work at a local shop that sold soap and lotion making ingredients. While working there, I learned to make soap and lotion! (Obvious, right?)

The dream was always to move across the US to the East Coast and be a chemist at L’Oreal (who I’m pretty sure has the majority of their chemists in France, but I could be wrong).  However, before graduating I met a boy and the chances that I would have enough guts to move across the country drastically decreased from 20% to 0.5%.

Side note: I was NEVER raised to believe that having a man in my life was the holy grail of being woman, nor do I believe that  this should be instilled in any woman. But at the time, it was a relationship that was exciting and going well, and I ended up marrying that man and am still a cosmetic chemist, even though I don’t work for L’Oreal; our dreams can manifest themselves in many different ways.  

The boy and I moved to San Diego and two years later moved back to Washington State.  Still wanting to maintain my feminist life mantra and feeling too much like a damsel in distress, just following a man around the country, I finally pulled the trigger and applied for grad school! Because if I wasn’t going to get to enjoy the San Diego sun and move away from all my new friends, then I was going to do something for myself by instilling the stress and insanity in my life that is working full time and taking grad school classes in the evening. 

I am lucky enough to live in the age of the internet and was able to get an amazing education through the power of the internet from the leading “cosmetic science” program in the US from the University of Cincinnati. (Go Bearcats!) I put the cosmetic science in quotes, because we all refer to the program as such, but it’s really such a level of science deeper.  The true title of my grad degree is a Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences with a concentration on Cosmetic Science.  So when I tell someone (usually male in this instance) I studied cosmetic science, and they give me a look like, “that sounds like a dumb degree, how is that even a thing?” I tell them it’s really more like “topical pharmaceutics” and it involves a surprising amount of surface chemistry and physical chemistry (the intersection of physics and chemistry) and they are usually just confused t this point and walk away. 

While earning said degree, the boy kept encouraging me to start my own company, which is never something that I thought I’d do right away in my career. But eventually he wore me down and I did!  I realized that if I was going to be living in an geographical area where my dream career didn’t really exist, I had to create the industry myself. That's how I became a small business owner and Garnish Cosmetics was born!

For being a cosmetic chemist, we study surprising little about actually color cosmetics.  Even though these are the items we all think of as cosmetics, the majority of the industry is emulsions (cleansers, lotions, creams, some serums, masks, hair care, etc.).  So I did some independent research about how to make pressed powers, because loose eye shadows are one of my pet peeves in life.  I chose ingredients that were important for the formula and started experimenting. 

The most common question I get about my products and formulas is “Are they natural?” The short answer is no.  I won’t go into a rant about my feelings and the word “natural” in relation to skincare and beauty products, but that’s just not how the world works or our allowable by our government regulations. There are only specific color chemicals (gasp! She said chemicals!! Another rant I won’t bore you with today), that are allowed in certain types of beauty products. For example, ferric ferrocyanide is a blue color that is not allowed in lip colors, so formulators have to use other blue chemicals for blue or blue shading lipsticks. It is however allowed in eye shadows. Most colors that come from natural sources are not allowed in cosmetic products, nor do they have the staying power to yield the colors we want to use.  I sometimes say that my formulas are “limited ingredient,” if you like that phrase. One of my professor’s used the term “elegantly formulated,” which I like to steal.  Every ingredient in my formula has a purpose and I can tell you exactly what that purpose is. 

Mica: My eye shadows are highly pigmented (the color component is the most used ingredient). Mica is a family of silicate minerals that have a shimmer effect and hold dyes and colorants very well, so most (if not all) power colors are fixed to mica.

Titianium Dioxide: Is usually bound to mica based colors to give them some opacity, yielding a bolder color, because mica doesn’t have the whiteness that titanium dioxide does.

Zinc Stearate: A powder binder that helps hold all the other ingredients together and hopefully keeps the pressed powers pressed, although I know we’ve all dropped a blush or eye shadow and had it crumble when it hit the floor. 

Cyclopentasiloxane and Dimethiconal: Listed separately in the ingredients list, but I use them as a premixed, single ingredient.  This also helps the formula stay bound and pressed, but aids in the blendability, skin feel and sometimes longer wear of the color (depending on your skin chemistry and makeup skills).

Carmine: Currently only in the two non-vegan colors, it is a pink colorant harvested from the juice of the cochineal beetle.

The rest of the ingredients are the various color chemicals present in each color I get use to make each color available on my website!  Our labeling laws allow for the proprietary nature (trade secrets) of formulas, so colors can be listed as may or may not be present. 

On top of enjoying making makeup, I also really enjoy helping people with their skin and answering their beauty questions.  If I had not been so grossed out by internal organs at a young age ans sworn off being a doctor, I would probably have become a dermatologist!  I try to make myself readily available on the internet to answer any skincare questions.  Although I am not a doctor and can't help you with everything (I am also not shy about sending you to a physician or dermatologist when a question is outside the scope of my knowledge), I like to think I'm a better resource than a lot of others that exist on the internet.  

If you happen to have any questions, feel free to ask me below (no matter how far in the future you're reading this blog post, I'll keep checking it!) Or you can always find me on social media as either @garnishcosmeticsllc (Facebook + Instagram) or Ashley the Chemist (YouTube, Vero + Twitter).

I'm glad we're friends!

Allow myself, to introduce myself, I'm Ashley the Chemist. My channel is all about teaching you about your skin & beauty products :) I also make my own makeup. Ask me any questions about your skin or beauty products & I'll answer them! Let's be friends! Introduce yourself in the comments!