Article by: Perry Romanowski

It seems every year one of the big cosmetic raw material companies introduce a new ingredient that will “revolutionize” the cosmetic industry. But in the last 20 years, I can’t name a single ingredient that actually has changed things significantly. In fact, with only a few exceptions, cosmetics and personal care products haven’t changed much in the last 20 years at all.

This got me wondering…why?

Here are 5 reasons

1 – Wrong focus

Cosmetic raw material companies focus on solving the problems of cosmetic chemists. They don’t focus on solving the problems of consumers. There is a disconnect here. Consumers do not care about new emulsifiers, new thickening systems, or new delivery systems. They care about the end results. If you don’t change the end performance of the product, you haven’t really made a new product that a consumer will care about.

This reminds me of the same problem amateur magicians face. Good magicians know innumerable ways to have someone pick a card, make it disappear and make it reappear somewhere else. But while the way they do it might be different to the person being entertained it is exactly the same trick. People don’t care how the trick is done. They just like the trick. Similarly, people don’t care how their cosmetics are made, they just care about how the product performs.

2 – Money

Raw material suppliers do not like to speculate. No business really does. They only want to make raw materials that are going to sell and for the biggest companies, they want materials that are going to sell in really big quantities. This means they do not look at the most novel ingredients. They look at things that are already selling and try to make minor improvements on them. It’s a good strategy but one with little chance of leading to breakthrough ingredients.

3 – Resistance to change

This is related to money. Since it costs lots of money to build chemical factories, companies are more inclined to produce materials similar to what they already have. They do not want to invest in new reactors or safety measures if they don’t have to. So, unless someone can prove that an ingredient is going to work and going to get widespread acceptance, chemical companies will not invest the money required to make the new ingredient. It’s easier to just take the equipment they already have and make only ingredients that work with their current equipment.

4 – Regulatory problems

Perhaps one of the biggest impediments to the creation of new, novel cosmetic ingredients is the regulatory climate. It costs lots of money (>$100,000) to do all the testing required to register a new raw material. Gone are the days when a chemist could synthesize a material in the lab, test it out on hair tresses, and launch to the waiting cosmetic chemists. Now, companies have to register, do certification testing, safety testing, have market research data, and be able to provide claims support to finished goods manufacturers. It’s little wonder why new materials aren’t launched.

5 – Animal testing

A related problem is that of animal testing. New raw materials require animal testing. With so many companies in the cosmetic industry against animal testing (and governments against it too) there is pressure against introducing anything new. Companies like L’Oreal or P&G who use new raw material are frequently bashed by consumer groups or other marketers for supporting cruelty to animals. It’s not fair and these companies mostly brush it off however, raw material suppliers have to consider the stigma of animal testing whenever they launch something new.

What needs to change?

There is still lots of room for improvements in cosmetic raw materials, particularly in the areas of polymers and silicones. Unfortunately, established chemical companies are disinclined to take the risks and small chemical companies will be hampered by legislation and the incredible cost of introducing a new raw material to make any significant improvements.

Don’t look to the chemical companies for the significant new raw materials. Instead, look to Universities and people studying the field of Biomimicry. That’s our best hope for truly innovative ingredients.



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    I would like to see the cosmetic chemists lead the wave of innovation since they are the ones directly selling the end product to the consumers. There are plenty of toll manufacturers that are more willing to commercialiize a process for a few customers than a major supplier would be. Additionally, I think that cosmetic chemists should be more open to sharing information than they traditionally are regarding proprietary blends. Formulas are usually easier to figure out than most would imagine. This should lend to a more open, sharing environment and would facilitate innovation from the cosmetic chemists. Rather than bleame the supplers for not innovating because of a, b, c reason, lead the wave of change and innovation.

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      Perry Romanowski

      @Durim – This would be ideal but the industry just doesn’t work that way at the moment. I wasn’t blaming the suppliers for anything. I was just pointing out that the new ingredients we get now are not innovative and the reasons for that.

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    Yes, that’s absolutely true. There’re more factors we have to take into consideration than ever before to create a new material. That also means we have to invest more money to innovate a new one.

    Obeying local regulations, Fulfilling consumer’s need, Following trends in our industry, Intruducing new technolgies and new concepts, these are all needed to be involved in if you want to make a new one.

    Moreover, risk and safty also important because they are not only be focus on by cosmetic companies but also be highly concerned by consumers as well as local goverments.

    So, that’s why it is way so difficult to creat a new material. With increasingly high risk and more money needed to invest, who wants to do this?

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    Ela Shah

    Wonderful work you have specified many gaps and threats related with future of most novel ingredients.
    It is very interesting to focus on things that are already selling by making minor improvements you can sell more. So we people with most novel ingredients should focus on how the product performs and also we should be successful to show that to large manufacturers. I totally agree to the fact that innovative things going on need market pull to give direction. We would like to know more about market pull and who could give direction. I appreciate your time.
    Market pull and technology push is a very big game

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    Jim Bullock

    this is one of the best summaries of the situation I have read. Interestingly other industries (e.g. pharma) also seem to see the same squeeze on innovation, more R&D spend on new APIs, but fewer being approved.
    I don’t think I can add much more other than to re-emphasise that things usually happen due to market pull, and not technology push. As you have said this starts by focusing on the consumer. I see a key role for the formulator in this, he or she is the vital link between marketeer/comsumer and ingredients supplier. Oh, and yes there are lots of innovative things going on which could be very interesting. They need market pull to give direction too.

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      Thanks Jim! It makes sense that Pharma is having the same problem. I know they have increased the amount they spend on advertising which has to have cut into the R&D budgets. Hopefully, a bigger focus on what consumers want will improve things. Although, I do realize that consumers don’t always know what they want. Sometimes, they have to be told.

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