Article by: Perry Romanowski

As a cosmetic chemist and formulator you will likely receive requests from your marketing group or your customers to develop an all-natural formula that is devoid of any “bad” chemicals. Indeed, this is a request that is sent to us here at Chemists Corner frequently.

In fact, formulating natural cosmetics is such a frequent request that we even teamed up with Allured Publishing to produce a Formulating Natural Cosmetics online training course. If this is an area of interest to you, be sure to sign up for the course.

Challenges of natural formulations

While the course will give you an excellent start on formulating natural products, you will still be faced with 3 significant challenges as a natural formulator. These include a lack of standards, a derth of functional ingredients and a fickle consumer base.

Challenge 1 – No Natural Standards

Although we say there are no natural standards there are actually lots of natural standards. Just take a look at this post we did on natural cosmetic standards. In fact, we list 15 different standards.

This is the problem.

Since there is no single standard that will apply to your formulations, you will not have any good way to decide whether you can use an ingredient or not. And even if you follow a specific standard consumers are not familiar with the various standards. They will have no idea how to judge your natural product versus a competitor. You could follow extremely strict rules while your competitor makes a standard product and simply puts the words “Natural” on the label. Most consumers won’t know the difference.

Possible solution – Find out what your target consumer understands and cares about and formulate to those standards.

Challenge 2 – Fewer ingredients

This is possibly the most challenging problem a natural formulator will face. You just won’t be able to use many of the best functioning ingredients available. You know what the best moisturizing ingredient is? Petrolatum. You can’t use it if you are formulating natural products. There are a number of preservatives you can’t use, and synthetic surfactants…nope. Formulating natural products is like trying to create a painting without being able to use most of paint colors in existance. Certainly, you can still produce a nice product, but probably not the best product possible.

What makes this an even more significant challenge is that you are competing against other cosmetic formulators who are not hampered by such restrictions. This is a significant challenge indeed.

Possible solution – Continute to experiment with all the new natural raw materials and push your raw material suppliers to develop replacement ingredients for the best synthetitic options

Challenge 3 – Consumers won’t compromise

The problem of formulating with less ingredients may necessarily mean that the product you end up creating does not work as well as some of your synthetic chemical based competition. As a marketer you might think that consumers are willing to sacrifce some functionality for the fact that they are using natural based products, but you would be mistaken.

Consumers do not want to give up functionality for the sake of naturalness or sustainability. This is the beauty business and consumers ultimately want products that will make themselves look more beautiful. If there were synthetic topical anti-aging treatments that removed wrinkles, the consumer will quickly ditch the natural serum and buy it up.

Possible solution – Pick a good benchmark product and keep creating prototypes until you can meet or exceed its performance.

Formulating natural products can be a challenge but with the growth of the naturals market, it will be one that all cosmetic chemists have to face. It can be done, it just won’t be easy.


  1. Pingback:Whole Foods Cosmetic Standards and the Cosmetic Chemist

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    Fab post, Perry, thank you! Totally agree with you, especially in working together with the ingredients manufacturers for true innovation.
    Was just reading a market report that in Europe less that 20% of the beauty consumers wanted to compromise efficiency and price for eco (sustainable) cosmetics. So a cosmetic chemist must indeed be pretty smart & innovative in order to create well performing, well preserved & affordable natural cosmetics.

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      “less than 20%”

      This has been my experience here in the US too. In fact, I think the number is even lower because it’s easy for people to say on a survey that they would accept a less functional product but if they actually tried it, even less people would accept the product.

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    There is one thing consumers of natural products seem to be willing to lower their requirements on: a shorter ‘use by’ date seems acceptable to many. 🙂

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      This makes sense because it doesn’t actually impact the function of the product while using it.

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    Mark Fuller

    You nailed it on every point.

    I don’t know how many times I have met with a client and they say they want to make a “Natural” product. When I try to better elicit a response they say, “You know…Natural.” Then they look at me like I am obtuse. This is where there exists an opportunity to educate the client. In fact, I have referred numerous clients to the “Natural Formulating” pdf as a starting point.

    There are indeed less ingredients to pick from, but they are growing on a daily basis. I learn about new ones by staying current with postings such as this.

    And lastly, I agree that the market has changed with Naturals in the last 36 months. Back in 2006, everyone wanted a Product Natural, performance be damned. Since then I have seen the customer, look more towards the products as “Natural, sure but I want it to work like the non-Natural standard.” Here lies the challenge.

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