Article by: Perry Romanowski

We’ve previously discussed cosmetic raw materials on this website and have even come up with a classification system which demonstrates that there are only 3 types of cosmetic raw materials including Functional, Aesthetic and Claims. In this post we’ll focus on the functional ingredients and review some of the different types used in cosmetic formulating. cosmetic-raw-materials

Functional ingredients are those whose main purpose in the formula is to deliver a benefit to a consumer. They may have some secondary effect of improving the feel of the product when it’s applied or stabilizing the formula but the primary reason they are added is for the effect they have on skin or hair. There are basically 7 types of functional ingredients.

Cleansers – These are ingredients that help remove dirt and oil from the skin, hair or nail surfaces. By removing things from these surfaces you can make them look better. The most common are surfactants but also things like exfoliants and solvents can also clean a surface.

Conditioners – These ingredients actually change the way the skin or hair feels. They typically need to be left on the surface to have a significant effect. The most common type of conditioning ingredients are cationic surfactants, occlusive agents, humectants, and emollients.

Colors – These ingredients are used to impart a color to the skin or hair surface. Colorants are the most highly regulated of all ingredients and any colorant you use must be approved by the FDA for such purposes.

Fragrances – These ingredients affect the way that a product smells and can change the odor of any surface they are applied to. They make up the functional ingredients in products like colognes and perfumes.

It should be noted that both Colors and Fragrances are frequently used as aesthetic ingredients as they can change the color and odor of your formulation.

Film formers – These raw materials are used to change the shape of hair and help create an even surface in skin products like sunscreens. They are polymers.

Reactives – While most cosmetics do not involve chemical reactions there are some that do. These include ingredients used for changing the shape of hair, color the skin, and removing hair (as in depilatories).

Drug active – This last class of functional ingredients are technically not cosmetic products. If your product contains a drug active then it is a drug and not a cosmetic. However, numerous products marketed as cosmetics use drug actives so it makes sense to include them in this classification system. Drug actives include ingredients that are sunscreens, antiperspirants, antidandruff, antibacterials, anti cavities, skin lightening, anti acne and hair growth.

Of the thousands of ingredients used in cosmetics only a small percentage provide an actual functional benefit to the formula. It is a good habit to look at LOIs and see if you can pick out the ingredients that are functional and the ones that fall into different categories.


  1. Connie Van Der Mescht

    Please can some one help me? I am looking for a basic Conditioner recipe “formula” I need an inexpensive recipe with raw materials that I can locate in South Africa preferably ingredients locally supplied in South Africa

    1. Connie Van Der Mescht

      I do not have a Recipe and can not get my hands on one with raws locally found please help me.
      So any basic conditioner recipe that i can use our chemical names are not the same so I would need a recipe with chemicals from South Africa that have the same function preferably

    2. Perry Romanowski

      I’d suggest you post your request in our forum.

  2. Pingback:What are claims ingredients? – Chemists Corner

  3. Dunia

    I am so happy I came across this site. So much information in it. Thank you . You have clear lots of doubts. Thank you gain

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