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I’m sure Perry has already told you this but as a cosmetic scientist it’s important for you to know your consumer. One way to understand the wants and needs of consumers is to tap into questions they have about beauty products.

I’m the editor in chief for the Beauty Brains which is sort of a sister site to Chemists Corner. Perry and I answer questions about how products work and we even bust a few beauty myths. 

We also have a forum where our members can interact with each other. It’s a great place to observe people “in their natural habitat” discussing their beauty likes and dislikes. If you like, you can join so you could do your own mini-consumer research by asking them directly what they think of products you’ve formulated or what new products they’d like to see.

Here’s the link to sign up.

The Beauty Brains Forum


75 Things a Formulation Scientist Does

“What does a formulation scientist do every day?”

This was a question I received in an email from someone who was doing some research about different chemist careers. And if this person wanted to know about it, it makes sense that some of you might be wondering the same thing. So, here it is, 75 things that a formulation scientist or cosmetic chemist might do on any given work day, conveniently presented in four categories.multitasking cosmetic chemist

Cosmetic product development

Create formulas
Gather raw materials
Get equipment for making batches
Make batches
Restock lab supplies
Keep notes in notebook
Write experimental results in notebook
Clean glassware and lab
Research formulation topics
Generate new product ideas
Create prototypes
Create dye solutions for color matching
Make samples for marketing
Supervise / make batches for home use tests
Supervise first production batches
Solve stability problems
Generate test ideas to substantiate claims
Figure out ways to make formulas less expensive
Attend focus groups
Participate in brainstorming meetings
Review product label copy
Assist in writing product concepts
Present new technologies to non-scientists

Cosmetic product testing

Take pH readings
Take viscosity readings
Fill and label glass and plastic bottles
Wash & comb hair tresses
Color matching
Bleach and color hair tresses
Conduct foam tests
Run stability tests
Conduct skin moisturization tests
Run project specific, customized tests
Try formula prototypes
View samples under a microscope
Observe salon tests
Conduct odor tests
Participate in product panel testing
Get samples for testing
Evaluate competitive products

Personal Training

Read trade journals
Read Chemists Corner and other useful blogs in your RSS reader
Attend meetings with suppliers
Go to SCC meetings
Go to industry trade shows
Take continuing education courses
Attend conferences
Review latest patents
Listen to podcasts like the Chemists Corner podcast
Read industry text books
Take online training courses
Pursue an advanced degree in cosmetic science

Business stuff

Respond to emails
Create presentations
Attend corporate meetings
Attend project planning meetings
Respond to phone calls
Do desk side interviews with beauty editors
Conduct training sessions for non-scientists
Write business travel reports
Fill out expense reports
Write monthly reports
Go to office celebrations
Engage in “water-cooler” chat with co-workers
Write memos
Sign and review contracts
Give instruction to people who report to you
Meet with your boss to update them on your progress
Interview candidates
Entertain kids during Bring Your Kid to Work week
Keep track of project progress
Engage in debates with regulatory & legal departments
Write patent applications
Write employee reviews

Whew! My brain is fried and I might be able to go on, but I think I covered practically everything I did as a cosmetic chemist.

Is there anything we missed? Leave a comment below


As a cosmetic chemist, you will be often visited by chemical sales people and presented “new” raw materials to put in your formulas. Or you may be asked by your marketing people about ingredients and which cosmetic ingredients are better than others. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer. Read on to see why. cosmetic raw materials

What are better cosmetic ingredients?

Although this might sound like a simple question, it really isn’t. That’s because the answer is highly dependent on what you mean by the phrase “better than.” And this is true of ANY raw material or beauty product for which you might have this question.

What makes one cosmetic ingredient better than another?

It all depends on which of the following factors are most important to you.

Ingredient Performance

This is related to how well a product does what it says it will do and how it compares to what you are already using. If a new emulsifier makes makes the product more stable then from a performance standpoint, it is better. If a surfactant improves your foam, or a moisturizing agent improves moisture scores, then these ingredients are better. The nice thing about a performance standard is that you can run a test, make a measurement and determine which is better.

Unfortunately, there are other less obvious factors to consider when figuring out which is the “better” cosmetic ingredient.


Another important characteristic in determining whether something is better is price. The assumption is that if one product performs the same as another product but is less expensive, then it is better.

Of course, this is simplistic and the list price of a raw material doesn’t take into consideration other factors that can affect the cost impact to your company. For example, your purchasing department might have a contract with a supplier where you get price breaks based on volumes. If you change to a cheaper ingredient, this could raise the price of other ingredients.

But sometimes the performance doesn’t have to match exactly either. If you can get away with using a less expensive ingredient and still have most of the performance, sometimes it’s worth it.

Production Desires

While there are some ingredients that are easy enough to work with in the lab, they can often be nearly impossible to work with in production. I’m thinking of things like powders and highly viscous ingredients. When formulating and thinking about what is the “best” cosmetic raw material, consider also what your production people will think is the best. Generally, if it’s easier to work with in production, it’s a better ingredient.

Personal preference

I have to admit that there were ingredients that I liked working with. Often this was because I had success with the ingredient in the past. Or maybe I just liked to have a “signature” ingredient in all my formulas. Some cosmetic chemists just prefer to avoid using single sourced ingredients or animal derived products or other arbitrary choices. If you as the formulator think one ingredient is better than another, often that means the ingredient is better. Of course, your boss might make you have a different opinion.

Marketing concerns

Sometimes your marketing department will have an opinion about what is a better ingredient. If your group is hung up on the green movement, they’ll think that vegetable derived is better than petroleum products. They’ll think natural preservatives are better than parabens. They’ll also push for free-trade ingredients, biodegradable, low carbon footprint, etc. If you’re looking for a better ingredient, think about what your marketing group would say.

Better cosmetic ingredients

So how do you figure out which cosmetic ingredients are the best to use? The following checklist can help you figure it out.
1. First, have a standard test to compare performance
2. Consider the overall cost impact of the ingredient
3. Consider the impact on production
4. Figure out what your marketing people would say
5. Decide what you like

Cosmetic formulating is a creative endeavor. Remember, you are the artist and should always have the final say on what you think is the “better” technology.

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A Cosmetic Industry Overview for Cosmetic Chemists

In college, science majors spend their time learning complicated subjects like Calculus, Physics and Chemistry. Figuring out stuff like differential equations and bond angles of electron orbitals there isn’t much time or brain power left to learn the more mundane things taught in business classes.cosmetics industry

But when you get out of school, business subjects are important and you’ve got to take time to learn them. To be the most well-rounded and effective cosmetic chemist, you need to know about the markets for which you’ll be creating products. In this post, we’ll review the overall cosmetic industry to give you a basic understanding of where the money is and what products make the most.

Worldwide Cosmetic Market

If you look at the entire worldwide cosmetic industry, sales reach about $170 Billion dollars a year. It’s distributed pretty uniformly around the world with ~$40 billion in the Americas, ~$60 billion in Europe, ~$60 billion in Australia & Asia, and another $10 billion in Africa. The Western world spends a bit more per person but India and Asia are quickly catching up.

5 Primary Cosmetic Segments

So now that you know where all the money is spent, it’s helpful to know what people are spending their money on. The cosmetic industry (aka beauty industry or personal care industry) can be broken down into 5 segments. Sales are distributed roughly by the %’s given.

1. Hair Care – 20%
2. Skin Care – 27%
3. Fragrance – 10%
4. Make-up – 20%
5. Other – 23%

Market researchers like to break these up into even more segments but these 5 cover everything.

Hair Care Market

About 20% of all cosmetic products sold are for the hair. Shampoos make up the vast majority of this market since almost everyone uses shampoo. Other significant market segments include conditioners, styling products, hair color, and relaxers. Currently, the biggest players in this category are Procter & Gamble (Pantene) and L’Oreal.

Skin Care Market

The range of products that are offered for the skin care market are much more diverse than the hair care market. Skin care makes up about 27% of the total cosmetic industry and includes skin moisturizers, cleansers, facial products, anti-acne, and anti-aging products. Of all the cosmetics, skin care products can be some of the most expensive with 2 ounces of product routinely selling for >$200. Women do not mind spending big bucks to keep their skin looking young.

The biggest companies in this market include Procter & Gamble (Olay) and Unilever (Vaseline).

Make-up Market

The color cosmetic market represents about 15% of the cosmetic industry and includes anything from lipstick to nail polish. Included are things like blush, eyeshadow, foundation, etc. The array of products is vast and the number of color variations are practically infinite. You can spend a lot of time as a cosmetic chemist working on new shades of familiar products. The market is highly segmented so there isn’t really one dominant player. Maybelline an Clinique are just a couple of significant brands.

Fine Fragrance

This market segment has really taken a hit in the last few years but it still makes up about 10% of the cosmetic industry so some companies are still making money. This is the highest profit segment of the cosmetic industry but consumers are fickle. Only a few brands (like Chanel #5) can last for a long time. Fine fragrances come and go like fashion and companies have to continue to reformulate just to compete.


The “other” category represents 23% of the cosmetic industry and is made up of things like toothpaste, deodorants, sunscreens, depilatories, and other personal care products not yet mentioned. Actually, many of these products could fall under one of the categories already mentioned but the industry likes to keep them separated whenever they do stories on the various markets. The dominant companies are many of the same already mentioned, P&G, L’Oreal, and Unilever.

While the cosmetic industry is considered a “mature” industry (that means business people don’t expect much significant growth) it is a pretty reliable industry. No matter what, people want to smell and look good so even when the economy hits a recession people will still buy soap. The recent economic conditions demonstrate, they do buy less, but they do keep buying.


Tomorrow is the Midwest SCC trade show featuring raw material suppliers from around the world.  Here you will find companies with displays on new ingredients, packaging technology, contract manufacturers, and many others.

While it may seem obvious to people in the industry why they should attend a trade show, if you’re new to the industry (or have never gone) you probably don’t know what you can get out of going. So, we put together a list of direct benefits you can get from going to a cosmetic industry trade show.

1. Learn about new raw materials

If you work for a big company, most suppliers will send sales people to call on you and let you know about all their new offerings. However, if your company is small, suppliers often won’t set up meetings with you. Going to trade shows is a great way to see all the new raw materials companies have launched.

2. Get new ideas

Be sure to carry with you a notepad and pen while at trade shows. As you walk past booths jot down ideas that occur to you. You can easily generate over 50 new ideas using the inspiration of the company displays. It can be anything from a new product idea, a cost saving idea, or even just a cool package that you saw. Write them down so you don’t forget.

3. Connect with people at other companies

Another must-have at a trade show is a good supply of business cards. You can expect to meet dozens of people who will be helpful in your career both in trying to complete projects and in finding potential new employment.

4. See what the competition is doing

If you work at a chemical company a trade show gives you an excellent opportunity to see what your competitors are doing. You can see the trends that they follow and the niche they are trying to carve. This could help you determine if they are doing something that could also help you and your company.

5. Technical learning

Often a trade show will have an education program that goes along with it. These programs are often free or covered in the cost of the show registration fee. If the topics are of interest, they can be a great way to quickly learn about a given subject. Also, the trade show itself is a great resource for learning about chemicals used throughout the industry, not just the ones used in your formulas.

6. Observe new trends

Suppliers often work with marketing research companies to identify trends in the market. Many times they will discover things that your company doesn’t see because they look at it from another standpoint. Fragrance and extract companies are a great source for new trend and new product ideas.

7. Free stuff

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that trade shows are also a great place to get samples, pens, notepads, and other advertising specialties. I personally love the small candy bars they pass around. Be sure to pick up a bag early on in the show so you’ll be able to carry all the relevant things you’ll collect from the different booths. Also, companies often have raffles and give away useful prizes like iPods or gift cards. This is a nice bonus.

Cosmetic Industry Trade Shows

There are many different trade shows that are relevant to the cosmetic chemist. Below is a short list of ones that we think are worth visiting. If you have any to add, be sure to do it in the comments. At some point we will do a more thorough listing of these.

HBA Expo
SCC Annual Scientific Meeting — NY
NY SCC Supplier’s Day
Midwest SCC Teamworks
SCC Midyear Scientific Seminar
IFSCC World Conference
Midwest Beauty Show


There are a variety of trade organizations that you can join in your professional career, and there are some targeted specifically for the cosmetic industry and cosmetic chemists.  These groups provide many benefits like education, trade show cosmeticsnetworking opportunities and career development.  Most groups offer deep discounts for student members and are an excellent way to immerse yourself in the industry. These trade groups are often run by volunteers within the organization, this provides you with a potential opportunity to gain some organizational and management skills while getting to know your peers.

Below are just a few examples of industry trade groups. We’d also like to know your suggestions for valuable trade groups, please post your suggestions!

Society of Cosmetic Chemists

Dedicated to the advancement of cosmetic science, the Society has 18 Chapters throughout the United States and Canada which meet regularly to exchange information and expertise.  Local groups organize educational seminars, publish newsletters, and hold supplier’s day events (a venue for many raw material suppliers showcase their ingredients). The Journal of Cosmetic Science is only available to members and was just recently archived online.  The SCC holds two national meetings each year which feature two days worth of presentations on the industry’s leading research and technologies. Membership in the SCC also entitles you to membership in the International Federation of Societies of Cosmetic Chemists and access to IFSCC magazine.

Countries around the world have trade organizations for cosmetic scientists.  Start with the IFSCC to find your country’s allied society.

Cosmetic Executive Women

Originally formed as a social organization, today CEW has grown to include education, career development, and philanthropic endeavors. The group is based in New York City and membership ranges from entry level positions to senior executives.  Networking opportunities, interviews with industry newsmakers, access to online mentoring and podcasts are all part of the package.  CEW also runs a beauty awards ceremony on a yearly basis, giving you insights into the industry insiders’ top picks and innovative new products. The CEW Foundation’s Cancer and Careers program works to provide support to women with cancer in the industry who wish to continue working.

American Oil Chemist’s Society

Fats and oils are used in a variety of industries including food, industrial, and cosmetics, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box with your trade group membership.  Innovative concepts and unique ingredients can cross-over.  AOCS offers a broad range of technical services, publications, courses, and eLearning modules. The group boosts over 4,000 members around the globe and holds multiple international meetings each year.

Personal Care Products Council (formerly CTFA)

PCPC represents 600 member companies and acts as the voice of the industry by providing information regarding ingredient safety, safety assessment and promotion of regulatory standards. The group is also responsible for assigning new ingredient names in the International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI).

The PCPC publishes in the International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook, and provides access to the ingredient database to members online along with safety and regulatory information that is extremely valuable to scientists in the industry. The database also features supplier information which is very helpful when sourcing ingredients. Group meetings include scientific conferences, legal and regulatory conferences, and other issue-specific seminars.

American Chemical Society

The ACS is the oldest chemical society in the United States and covers all areas of chemistry including the cosmetic industry. It is the one you were most likely familiar with since they have a large presence on college campuses. Membership has many benefits including local chapter group meetings, national conferences and even health insurance if you need it. Additionally, all members are automatically signed up for their weekly publication Chemical & Engineering News. Other groups discussed are more relevant to cosmetic chemists but if you are interested in meeting other working chemists, the ACS has many.

For a list of more relevant trade associations, see this useful list from the cosmetic index website.

Do you have suggestions for valuable trade groups that we missed?  Post your suggestions in the comments below.


How to Prevent Contamination in Cosmetic Products

This recent article about scientists discovering bacteria living in hairspray provides a good example of why cosmetic products need to be preserved. Microbes can grow almost anywhere! And these tiny organisms bring with them some distasteful product changes or even disease. As a cosmetic chemist it’s up to you to formulate properly and keep these invaders at bay. You typically do that by adding preservatives to your formulas. Unfortunately, you’ll have to know more than just the science as preservatives are some of the most highly regulated and restricted ingredients you will use.

Why you need cosmetic preservatives

There are two primary reasons you need preservatives.

1. To stop microbes from spoiling your products.
2. To stop microbes from causing disease.

The microbes that can infect your formulas primarily include bacteria, mold, and yeast. In small quantities they don’t represent much of a problem but when they multiply, look out. Bacteria like Pseudomonas can cause all kinds of health problems including skin and eye infections, toxic shock, strep throat, and even food poisoning. Yeast like Candida albicans can cause thrush. And many other bacteria can cause your products to smell awful, change color or otherwise break down. (This is what stability testing is for).

The following is a list of common preservatives used in cosmetic and personal care products. As a future (or current) formulator, you will undoubtedly be using many of them.


Parabens are the most commonly used preservatives. They are derivatives of p-hydroxybenzoic acid and go by names like Methylparaben, Propylparaben, and Butylparaben. They are typically supplied as powders and can sometimes be difficult to incorporate into a system due to the water solubility limitations. They are effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria and fungi. They do have pH limitations and are not effective against all microbes so you usually will need an additional preservative.

Formaldehyde donors

Formaldehyde derivatives are the next most common preservative. These compounds interfere with membrane proteins which kills microbes. They are effective against bacteria, fungi, and mold. Bad press and real safety concerns have led cosmetic chemists to stop using formaldehyde. Instead ingredients that dissociate into formaldehyde when put in a water solution are used. These are compounds like DMDM Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, and Gluteraldehyde. They are most often used in surfactant systems.

Phenol derivatives

Phenol derivatives have been used in cosmetics for many years and can be effective against a range of microbes. Unfortunately, they are not as effective as the previous ingredients so their use is limited. The most common examples is Phenoxyethanol.


Compounds that contain nitrogen and have a positive charge when placed in solution are called quaternary compounds (or quats). Many of them demonstrate an ability to kill microbes. This include ingredients like Benzalkonium Chlroide, Methene aommonium chloride, and Benzethonium chloride. Their cationic nature makes them less compatible with anionic surfactants which limits their application & use.


Ethanol is a great preservative but you need to use it in high levels and it faces significant environmental restrictions. Other compounds like benzyl alcohol, dichlorobenzyl alcohol, and even propylene glycol all have some anti-microbial effect. In lower levels, these compounds are less effective at preserving products.


Synthetic compounds like Methylchloro- Isothiazolinone and Methyl-Isothiazolinone are effective at incredibly low levels. They have been shown to work at a wide range of pHs and in many different formulas. There use has been stymied however, by at least one study that suggested it could cause skin sensitization.

Organic Acids & Others

Various other compounds are used as preservatives but all face some limitations not experienced to the same extent as the previous ingredients discussed. Some of the most important include Sodium Benzoate, Chloracetamide, Triclosan, and Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate. Pyridine derivatives like Sodium pyrithione and zinc pyrithione are used to kill the bacteria that causes dandruff.

Why cosmetic preservatives are vilified

More than any other ingredient, preservatives are most often called out as the worst ingredients you can use in a formula. Even people who know nothing about chemistry have likely heard about the “evil” parabens and formaldehyde.

Preservatives are designed to kill cells. That’s why they are effective. Unfortunately, that’s also why they are potentially hazardous. They don’t easily discriminate between good human cells and bad microbial cells. But ultimately, the risk from using preservatives is significantly lower than that of using unpreserved cosmetics. There are safe levels of “toxic” chemicals. All chemicals can be deadly if you’re exposed to a high enough level. How many people die from water exposure (e.g. drowning)?

Remember, it’s the dose the matters!

To be sure, cosmetic science research is ongoing in the field of preservatives since many things previously deemed safe have been reclassified as hazardous. Suppliers who can come up with even safer preservatives will likely make a lot of money. Hopefully, they’ll do it soon but there do not appear to be any promising materials on the horizon.


How Do Skin Moisturizers Work?

Our skin has many important functions, including the prevention of water loss. Dry skin, or xerosis, is a common problem that many consumers seek to treat with cosmetic moisturizers. Whether for the face, hands, feet, or entire body moisturizer formulations are an important part of any cosmetic chemist’s tool kit.

Skin Structure

First, let’s talk a little about the structure of your skin. The upper layer of the skin, the epidermis, is further subdivided into four distinct layers. These layers from bottom to top are the stratum basale, the stratum spinosum, stratum granulosum, and the stratum corneum. There presence of a fifth layer, the stratum lucidum, can be seen in thicker areas of the epidermis like the soles of your feet. skin structure cosmetics

Keratinocytes, the main type of cells in the epidermis, migrate up from the dermis and undergo many changes to become a flat, keratin rich corneocyte before being shed. During this progression through the layers of the epidermis, lipids are released into the spaces between cells and the skin’s own natural moisturizing factor (NMF) is generated. These lipids form a barrier to water loss and help retain the skin’s NMF. Disruption of this lipid matrix and subsequent loss of hydration can lead to dry, flaky skin.1, 2

Cosmetic moisturizers are used to help repair the lipid barrier and restore hydration.

How cosmetic moisturizers work

Although there are some more specialized approaches, like the use of alpha-hydroxy acids or quaternary conditioning agents, most cosmetic moisturizers improve the condition of dry skin by utilizing one of three major ingredient types including

  1. Humectants
  2. Emollients
  3. Occlusive agents.


Humectants include ingredients like glycerin, urea, and pyrrolidone carboxylic acid (PCA). Humectants work by attracting water from the dermis below and helping to keep that water bound in the stratum corneum. Glycerin is used frequently because of its low cost and high efficacy, but a tacky feel on the skin is one of the drawbacks of formulating with high levels of humectants. When optimizing skin formulations, cosmetic chemists try to reduce these negative properties of humectants.

Occlusive Agents

Occlusive agents increase moisture levels by providing a physical barrier to epidermal water loss. Ingredients with occlusive properties include petrolatum, waxes, oils, and silicones. Some occlusive agents like petrolatum can leave a heavy feel so they are often combined with other ingredients, like emollients, to improve consumer appeal.


Emollients provide some occlusivity and improve the appearance of the skin by smoothing flaky skin cells. There are many different types of emollient esters and oils available to a formulation chemist3,4 Emollients are generally grouped by their ability to spread on the skin. By combining emollients with the different spread rates you can tailor the skin feel of a moisturizer. You can test for these differences by using different emollients in a standard base lotion. Additionally, emollient lipids similar to those naturally found in the skin may also increase the rate of barrier repair. 5

Putting it together

Each of these ingredient types has a different mechanism of action and most cosmetic moisturizers will use a combination of these ingredients to create a synergistic effect and mitigate certain aesthetic or financial drawbacks. Product claims and skin feel are also considerations to be aware of, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your options when creating a moisturizer. For tips on creating successful skin formulations, see our previous article on HLB formulating.


1. Harding CR; The Stratum Corneum: Structure and Function in Health and Disease, Dermatologic Therapy; 2004. Vol. 17, pp 6 -15.

2. Wickett RR, Visscher MO; Structure and Function of the Epidermal Barrier,
American Journal of Infection Control, 2006. Vol. 34, Issue 10, pp S98 – S110.

3. Flynn TC, Petros J, Clark RE, Viehman GE; Dry Skin and Moisturizers, Clinics in Dermatology, 2001. Vol. 19, pp 387 – 392.

4. Rawlings AV, Canestrari DA, Dobkowski B; Moisturizer Technology versus Clinical Performance. Dermatologic Therapy; 2004. Vol. 17, pp 49 – 56.

5. Mao-Qiang M, Brown BE, Wu-Pong S, Feinglod KR, Elias PM; Exogenous Non-physiologic vs. Physiological Lipids. Divergent Mechanisms for Correction of Permeability Barrier Dysfunction. Archives of Dermatology, 1995. Vol. 131, pp 809 – 816


While there are literally thousands of different types of cosmetic products, there are actually only 10 different types of cosmetic formulas. Here is a brief overview of those types including what they are, how they’re made and when you might use them. As a formulating chemist, you should make it a point to learn to make each type (even if your company currently doesn’t make these particular products). colors2

10 Cosmetic Product Forms

The basic categories for cosmetic formulas include
1. Solutions
2. Creams / Emulsions
3. Lotions
4. Ointments / Pastes
5. Suspensions
6. Tablets
7. Powders
8. Gels
9. Sticks
10. Aerosols

Solution Cosmetics

These are the simplest type of cosmetic formulas and are used for a wide range of products such as shampoos, body wash, hand cleansers, colognes, etc. They are homogeneous mixtures of soluble ingredients. To make them you simply fill your container with the main diluent (usually water) then mix the rest of the ingredients into it. Sometimes warming the system slightly will increase the speed at which you can make them.

Creams / Emulsions

The majority of cosmetics use raw materials that are not compatible so a cream or emulsion is used. Emulsions are pseudo stable mixtures of immiscible liquids dispersed in another liquid. They are used for products like hand moisturizers, make up, hair conditioners, sunscreens, etc. To create them you need three formula components including an oil phase, aqueous phase, and an emulsifier. The formulas are made by heating up the oil and water phases separately, mixing them together (along with the emulsifier) when they are hot, and cooling them down with thorough mixing. The result is a cream with tiny particles of dispersed in the diluent phase. See our article on emulsion HLB for more information on creating emulsions.


Creams are not always appropriate for some applications because they can be too heavy or greasy. In these cases, the lotion form is used. Lotions are essentially thin creams. They are used for facial moisturizers, leave-in hair conditioners, and moisturizing cleansers. Since these are emulsions, you make them the same way you would a cream. They are generally easier because you do not have to worry about the emulsion getting thick enough as it cools down.


Suspensions are another product form for delivering incompatible ingredients. Unlike creams, they are typically clear products with visible particles like gelatin beads or inorganic minerals (e.g titanium dioxide) suspended throughout. They are used for sunscreens, hand washes or shampoos. To create them you need to include a polymer or clay that gives the formula some internal suspending structure. Ingredients like carbomer or bentonite clays are useful.

Ointments / Pastes

These are super thick products used for things like hairdressing and medicated skin products. Usually, they are anhydrous (contain no water) and are sticky & greasy. Some common ingredients used to create pastes include petrolatum, lanolin, or dimethicone. Making them is a simple matter of heating up the raw materials and rapidly mixing them until they are dispersed.

Tablets & Capsules

Another product form that is often used for creating color cosmetics is the tablet. These are physically blended solids that are held together by being pressed into shape. You’ll need special equipment to create these products. They are also generally more expensive.


One of the most common types of product forms for color cosmetics is powders. Powders are also used for products like baby powder & foot powder. They are just mixtures of solid raw materials blended together into a fine powder. Some typical ingredients include talc, silicates, and starch. Special equipment is needed when making these products as the fine powder can be dangerous.


Another common form of cosmetic products is gels. These are thick products, typically clear, and have a property known as “shear thinning”. This means they stay thick until you apply a force which makes them thin and flowable. Anyone who has tried to get ketchup out of a bottle knows what we’re talking about. Gels are used for hair products, body washes, shaving products, and in toothpaste. They are made by using a gelling agent such as an acrylic polymer, a natural gum or a cellulosic thickener.


Sometimes you need to create a product that the consumer won’t necessarily want to touch, for example, lipstick or underarm deodorant. In these cases you’ll use a stick product form. Sticks are solid delivery forms that deliver active ingredients through a rubbing action. The way you create them is by using mostly materials that are solid at room temperature. The ingredients are heated until they melt, mixed, and poured into either a mold or the final container. When they cool, they take the shape of their packaging.


Aerosols are more of a packaging product form than a specific formulation type. You could actually create an aerosol out of almost any cosmetic formulation if you have the right can, propellant, and nozzle set-up. Aerosols are any cosmetic delivered from a pressurized can. They are composed of a concentrate and a propellant. You first make the formula as you would any other cosmetic, then fill it into the can. You seal the can and pressurize it using the appropriate propellant. Recent VOC (volatile organic compounds) regulations have reduced the use of aerosols in cosmetic products.

In the future, we’ll look at each of these product forms in depth. You can find out more information in Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry edition 3.