Article by: Perry Romanowski

This question was asked on the cosmetic science forum and I thought would make for a good discussion here on the blog.

How do you go about switching ingredient vendors? We want to switch vendors because of lower prices and lower minimums. Can you just switch one ingredient out for another?

Why switch cosmetic ingredient sources

Before we answer, it is a good idea to explain why you would want to have an alternate source for a raw material. There are a number of reasons.

1. Price – You can get the raw material for lower cost. An excellent reason to switch suppliers.
2. Lower minimums – You can buy less of the ingredient. This is particularly important for small businesses.
3. Insurance – If you have a single source, you are at the mercy of your supplier. You should have other sources just in case something goes wrong.
4. Reliability – You need to have a supplier who will be able to reliably fill your orders.

Changing cosmetic raw materials sources

Unfortunately, changing from one source to another is not so simple as just buying from a new source. The primary problem is that just because ingredients have the same name, that doesn’t mean they are the same material. INCI names cover a wide range of mixed materials. Another problem is that suppliers often make raw materials in a different way which can lead to different residual materials in the finished product. These residuals can wreck havoc with your formula.

The bottom line is that you can’t just switch raw materials from one source to another without testing.

How to approve alternate suppliers

To approve a new supplier there are a number of things you need to do. First, you need to make sure the specs for the ingredient match. To do this, you can look at the certificate of analysis (C of A) that the new supplier provides with samples. Compare this to your current spec and note where there are differences. Then you can tell the new supplier changes in the specs that you can make. It may also be easier to just give the new supplier your specs. Remember, specifications are negotiable.

Once you have the specs for the new material, you’ll need to make batches and run some tests. The first test is simply to see what happens to your batch when you use the new raw material. Check the pH, viscosity, appearance, order, and anything else that might be different. You should also conduct performance tests. Finally, if things look good you’ll have to conduct stability tests of the formula in your final packaging. Once you are satisfied that you can’t tell any differences you can start using the new raw material.

Note, it may make sense to make a batch where you blend the new raw material with your current source just to make sure that you can safely blend the two ingredients in the future. Sometimes when you are making a batch you may run out of a raw material and be forced to use something from a different supplier.

Testing depends on material

There are some ingredients where it’s not too risky to use an alternate supplier. Things like Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, and Salt will be so similar that there is little risk in using a different source. But materials like natural ingredients, fatty alcohols, and surfactants are much more risky. For these you’ll want to do a full battery of tests.

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