National nuclear lab helps develop more soothing hand lotion

Published 18 December 2008

Hand- and face lotions are typically uncomfortably chilly when coming fresh from the jar; Sandia National Lab, using microencapsulation technology used in nuclear weapons, helps a New Mexico cosmetics entrepreneur develop a hand cream which warms itself up as it is gently rubbed on

This is not your grandfather’s nuclear lab. A New Mexico cosmetics entrepreneur has collaborated with a U.S. government nuclear weapons lab to address one of the more touchy problems we face: The fact that when you open a jar of hand- or face lotion, the cream coming fresh from the jar is typically uncomfortably chilly. The solution: high-tech “personal care lotion” which warms itself up as it is “gently rubbed” on.

According to the Sandia National Laboratory, a cutting-edge project involving  Kevin Mallory, owner and president of Formulab, an Albuquerque-based contract manufacturer of personal care products, and Sandia’s Duane Schneider — “the microencapsulation go-to guy at Sandia” — has got on very well. Mallory, himself a chemist, had an innovative idea for a potentially patentable topical lotion. This lotion requires that two ingredients remain separated until time of use. Mallory knew the underlying chemistry for this product was sound. The challenge was: How do you keep the components separated until time of use? There were options: You could bottle the ingredients separately, the way epoxy glues are packaged. A more desirable solution, Mallory thought, would be to use a microencapsulation technique that would allow both active components of the lotion to live together in the same bottle. One or both key ingredients would be encapsulated; only when gently rubbed — as when applying a lotion — would the encapsulating polymer rupture, releasing the active ingredients inside and allowing the components to combine.

Mallory was convinced he had a winning idea but did not have the microencapsulation expertise to prove out the concept himself. This is when he turned to Sandia and its Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) program. The folks in the program linked up Mallory with Schneider and Schneider’s boss, Mike Kelly. The three talked about Mallory’s idea and what he would like to accomplish. Schneider and Mike agreed that Sandia could help, and Mallory and Schneider began working together.

Microencapsulation has mostly been used in applications like scratch-and-sniff, but the Sandia nuke lab also has need for it on occasion — it appears that Schneider’s work normally involves “nuclear weapons, alternative energy, and nanoscience programs.”

Mallory describes the assistance of the nuclear bomb scientists as “absolutely fantastic … I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am to live in a community where this kind of help is available.”