Article by: Perry Romanowski

In yesterday’s post we talked about cosmetic claims ingredients and why they are used at low levels. In today’s post we’ll describe a process by which you can evaluate ingredients that might have some effectiveness.

How to not fool yourself

Everyone has things that they believe. Often these beliefs are not reached through rational means. You may have heard something from your mother when you were a child and you never questioned whether it was true or not. They don’t call them old-wives tales for nothing. You also might hold beliefs about things because you want them to be true. Many people want to believe that things that occur in nature are superior than those created from petroleum in the lab. But is it true? As a cosmetic chemist you are best served by focusing on what is actually true instead of what you want to be true.

So, how do you avoid fooling yourself about whether an ingredient should be used at a high level or not?  Try this approach.

Step 1 – Begin by being skeptical of any ingredient.  If you can’t prove that an ingredient should be in your formula or not, leave it out (or put it in at claims levels).  Forget about the proof given to you by raw material suppliers or what you’ve read in literature.  Begin with the assumption that the ingredient will not work in your formula.

Step 2 – Test the ingredient.  But don’t just stop there. If the story of an ingredient appeals to you, by all means test it. You can do a triangle test, a paired comparison, a simple with and without comparison, or any number of different types of product evaluation tests. Just be sure to begin them with the assumption that the ingredient will have no effect. Be genuinely surprised if it does. Also, be sure to do these tests in a blinded fashion and compare them to controls. Without these steps, the evaluations you do are subject to your own biases.

Step 3 – Repeat your test. Once you’ve tested an ingredient and are convinced that you notice a difference, give it to other people (ideally your consumers) and see if they can tell any difference. It does no good for you alone to sense differences. If your consumers can’t notice differences the ingredient may not be worth including.

Step 4 – Test different levels. If you continue to find differences noticed even by the consumers who are using your products, excellent.  You are on your way to a functional discovery.  The next step is to figure out the range of levels in which the ingredient works.  Try to double the level.  Do you get double the results?  Cut the level in half.  Do the effects drop?  If there really is an effect, you should notice a difference when you use different levels.

Step 5 – Remain skeptical.  Even after all your testing it is still possible that you could be wrong or you’ve somehow fooled yourself.  It is very difficult to discover something new so you need to always remain a little skeptical of your discoveries.  This is probably the most difficult of all the steps but it is critical.

As cosmetic chemists we should always strive to make the best products we can and to only include ingredients that actually show some demonstrable benefit. You will undoubtedly have to include non-functional ingredients for claims purposes but you should always know your formulas and what is really doing something.

Happy formulating!

3 comments

  1. Eliza

    Totally agree, Perry! It is hard to stay a scientist and you don’t question yourself at all times. 1 practical question I find myself having trouble with: how do you make a double blind design when you’re the only researcher? Say I make 3 batches of the same product with a different formula, how do I test them on myself blindly and still be able to figure out what I actually tested?
    (it’s even more difficult when formulating with fragrance materials)

    1. Perry

      One way I tested things when I had this problem is to first create samples with symbol codes (which I recorded the key elsewhere). Then I would randomly take 3 samples and evaluate them with my eyes closed.

      1. Eliza

        That is awesome helpful, thank you, Perry! I’ll do that with a nose-clip on as well LOL

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