How do you formulate a cosmetic product?

How do You Formulate a Cosmetic Product?

Formulating a cosmetic product is often compared to cooking, and in a way there are a number of similarities. However, with a myriad of strict marketing, legal and ethical requirements that need to be met in order to safely and successfully launch a new beauty product, many brands opt to enlist the help of a cosmetic formulation provider - either for custom formulation or for white label formulas - to ensure total compliance.


What is Formulation?

Formulation is the strategic and often meticulous act of blending a selection of raw ingredients into a single product. The science-based process considers the unique properties of raw ingredients, and the chemical changes that occur when introduced to different compositions. Ultimately, the aim is to create a safe, stable, effective and long lasting product that appeals to the aesthetic needs of modern consumers.

While cosmetic formulation processes can differ depending on the type of product in development and chemist preference, at its core the task can be broken down into six distinct categories that take the idea of a new beauty product from concept to reality.


1. Product Brief

Prior to the physical formulation of any product, a product brief must be produced. This brief will outline the quality expectations, compliance needs, budgetary restrictions, and marketing plans for the product in question. At this stage, aspects such as overall function, texture, color, thickness, and fragrance will be discussed, providing the R&D team and product developer with everything they need to generate a suitable plan.


2. Chemist Engagement

Once the R&D team and product developer have generated a plan of action, a cosmetic chemist is engaged to drive the product into development. The chemist examines the product profile, clarifies ideas, and sets actionable goals for the product. The chemist’s role at this stage of the process is to research and source the relevant raw ingredients from suppliers that will ensure the product meets the necessary criteria.


3. Initial Formulation

Upon receipt of the necessary raw ingredients, the cosmetic chemist or cosmetic formulation engineer will conduct a number of trials by combining the ingredients in various quantities, and using various procedures such as hot and cold mixing. Ultimately, a chemist may produce between eight and 10 different variations of the same product in a bid to satisfy the client and deliver exceptional results for customers.

Formulation often begins with the use of a base formula, which can then be adapted and built upon as necessary to meet client requirements, and the specifications laid out by the cosmetic product developer. For example, lipsticks often have a base formula of oils, waxes, and other ingredients such as isostearyl alcohol, isopropyl palmitate, butyl stearate, and cetyl ricinoleate. It can then be customised through pigmentation.


4. Product Testing

The different formulations that have been produced are subjected to rigorous testing to look for stability under a variety of different conditions. This can include extreme temperatures, high moisture, and direct sunlight. The chemist will specifically look for changes in color, texture, viscosity, and pH levels, which could result in spoiling, and which could affect the anticipated shelf life and reduce the efficacy of the product.


5. Brand Input & Feedback

When the cosmetic chemist is satisfied with the outcome, a prototype is developed and delivered to the client. This provides an opportunity for beauty brands to test, evaluate, and tweak the product in order to ensure it meets their requirements, and the needs of their target audience. Reformulation processes are undertaken to adapt the product to the client’s specifications before the first batch of the product is produced in full.


6. Full Scale Production

Once the client is satisfied that the prototype meets their own requirements, and the cosmetic chemist is satisfied that the product is safe, effective, and legally compliant with both local laws and regulation in areas where the product is expected to be marketed and sold, full scale production is triggered. This activity produces enough of the formulated product to enable global beauty brands to launch in selected markets.


More Than Mixing

There’s a common misconception that cosmetic formulation refers only to the combining of ingredients to create a finished product. However, there is much more to product formulation than meets the eye. Following the formulation of the product itself, it is also necessary to manufacture, fill, pack, store, and dispatch these formulations in the most appropriate way to ensure ongoing stability of the product while transforming formulas into meaningful brand identities. And that’s what formulation is really all about.

It’s important to remember that even the most scientifically-advanced and technologically-progressive formula can ultimately fail to achieve its goals if it doesn’t manage to reach customers in this highly competitive and increasingly saturated market. The physical act of formulation must work alongside marketing, branding, and both legal and ethical compliance to produce a cosmetic product that really wows.