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Is your cosmetic marketing bad?

Entrepreneurs make me smile. They have such earnestness, optimism, and creativity. I encourage entrepreneurs whenever I can even when I think the idea is dumb. This is because I have no magic crystal to tell me what will be successful and what won’t. I thought fat free potato chips would revolutionize the chip industry and that iPads would be Apple’s first big flop. cosmetic-marketing

Make your own deodorant

While I encourage cosmetic entrepreneurs, I also want to discourage bad cosmetic marketing. This make your own deodorant kit is an example of bad cosmetic marketing. Let me tell you why.

First, here is what is written about the product.

Good Natured

Cut the chemicals out of the equation and bring DIY to your daily routine with this aromatic deodorant kit. 100% natural, vegan, and cruelty free, this kit includes all the ingredients and components you’ll need to create three full-sized deodorant sticks in a lavender or amber scent. Just use your double boiler to combine ingredients, then enjoy the natural benefits of coconut oil, aloe leaf extracts, arrowroot powder, and more. Handmade in the USA.

Right away the marketing goes bad when they tell the potential consumer to “cut the chemical out of the equation…”

Chemical nonsense

The first line of your story should help build the primary point of differentiation of your product. While the main thing that makes this product novel is that you make your own deodorant at home, they focus on the fictitious benefit of allowing consumers to avoid chemicals. The product is MADE OF CHEMICALS! Consumers aren’t cutting out chemicals. They are just using different chemicals. And in reality, they are using most of the same chemicals that are currently found in some deodorants. Their primary benefit is no benefit at all. But telling people to cut chemicals implies that there is something inherently scary about chemicals. There shouldn’t be since everything is a chemical.

Incidentally, it is interesting to see that they have a note saying that the product contains nut/tree nut oils and that people should spot test to determine whether it will irritate skin. Shouldn’t this be something that people would be afraid of?

Selling products with fear = cosmetic marketing fail

The claim that the product is 100% natural doesn’t mean much. Certainly, the plastic container isn’t 100% natural by anyone’s standards. And the ingredients have to be processed from whatever plant they come from and that process isn’t natural.

Exaggerating origin claims = dubious cosmetic marketing

The rest of the claims are fine enough although I’m not sure what all the dead insects and rodents would have to say about whether the plant based ingredients were obtained in a “cruelty free” kind of way. Why doesn’t anyone ever consider these animal deaths when calling their plant-based ingredient products cruelty free?


The last thing to point out is the price. $24.95 for a kit to make 3 deodorant sticks. That’s about $8 per stick. Wow! Although as a cosmetic entrepreneur this is a reasonable price to charge. When you are a small cosmetic maker don’t make the mistake of not charging enough for your products. You can’t win on price. The big cosmetic companies can produce more product at a lower cost than you could ever hope to do. You don’t want to be in this low profit business anyway. But from a consumer standpoint…ouch.

To sum up this “make your own deodorant kit.” For $24.95 you can get a product that is more expensive, doesn’t work as well, requires you to make it yourself, and is potentially dangerous if you have nut allergies.

Bad marketing? My guess is yes.

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Cosmetic Warning Labels that Make Sense

I read this article about French lavender farmers who are outraged by EU regulations that will require manufacturers who use lavender oil to put a warning label on their product. Some of them are even threatening to switch to a different crop. lavender warning

This seems like a strange reaction to me as it makes complete sense to me that an ingredient which is known to cause allergic reactions in some consumers should be labeled. Perhaps it shouldn’t require a big warning label but if you’re not going to require a warning label for an ingredient known to cause reactions on skin you certainly shouldn’t require a warning label for an ingredient that merely has the potential for causing problems.

French Defense

According to the lavender growers they shouldn’t be required to comply with these regulations because their ingredient “…is not a chemical and allergies only tend to produce rashes.” The argument that they are not selling chemicals is wrong. Lavender oil is a mixture of chemicals and some component of those chemicals causes allergic reactions in a large number of people. Just because something is natural does not mean it is not a chemical.

And the defense that “…allergies only tend to produce rashes” hardly seems like a defense at all. Even if they did only produce rashes wouldn’t a consumer want to know that? Isn’t the entire purpose of these warning labels is to let consumers know that they may expect some negative reaction to using a product?

In the case of a rash that is an immediate effect that I think most consumers would want to avoid. When a product is labeled as “potential carcinogen” there typically is no immediate effect. In truth, there is probably no noticeable effect at all. When things are labeled with warnings like “potential carcinogen” that doesn’t mean there is proof that using the product with the ingredient in it will cause cancer. If anyone could prove that using an ingredient in a cosmetic would cause cancer no one would be able to use that ingredient. It’s just very difficult to prove a definitive connection between an ingredient and cancer.

Cosmetic labels that make sense

Labeling products that may cause allergic reactions in people is exactly the type of labeling that should be done. When there is a clear effect consumers have a right to know. Now, I don’t necessarily agree that there should be some additional warning label as long as you list the ingredient on your LOI, but this should be true of any cosmetic ingredient. If it is legal to use the ingredient in producing a cosmetic, you shouldn’t have to warn people that you are using it. If you have to have a warning that the product is somehow dangerous it shouldn’t be allowed in the formula in the first place.


Naturals Cosmetic Market hits $30 billion

According to the Kline Group, the world wide sales of natural cosmetics is about $30 billion. This is roughly 7 or 8 percent of the total global market which is estimated to be about $430 billion annually. cosmetic raw materials

I’m actually surprised the natural cosmetic market isn’t bigger. I would have figured it was about 15% or the market but it’s not.

I suppose it really depends on how you define a naturals market. Since anyone can call themselves natural it is hard to distinguish between “real” natural products and “greenwashed” natural products. Of course, there aren’t true lines for the industry and on some level all cosmetics that are processed in any way can be considered greenwashed natural products.

At least until someone grows a shampoo tree.

Natural Cosmetic Formulation

This market doesn’t seem to be going away and as a cosmetic formulator you need to be aware of what is considered a natural cosmetic and what isn’t. This is not an easy answer because it depends on different things and who you ask.

Ultimately, the important definition of what is a natural cosmetic is your consumer. If your consumers think that parabens do not belong in natural cosmetics (despite the fact that you can find naturally occurring parabens) then you should probably avoid formulating with them.

At the end of the day however, consumers want products that work. This trumps whatever is in the bottle. You can make a nice natural cosmetic avoiding all hint of synthetics but if the product doesn’t deliver benefits that the consumer wants, you’re going to have a hard time keeping up sales.

We’re working on a new online course which will teach you how to make natural cosmetic formulas. It won’t be ready until January but in the meantime, you can click on the following link to sign up to get a free copy of our Natural Cosmetic Formulating report.

Natural cosmetic formulating report


The Importance of pH in Cosmetic Formulation

Svante Arrhenius is credited with first elucidating the nature of acids and bases (he also gave us the Arrhenius Equation which factors into the use of increased temperature in formulation stability studies). His definition was a bit narrow and was later expanded on by two chemists for whom the current definition of acids and bases is named, Johannes Brønsted and James Lowry. By the Brønsted-Lowry definition, acids are proton donors and bases are proton acceptors. cosmetic-pH

The pH scale is a compact way to represent the acidity of a solution. The pH of a solution is the negative log of the hydronium ion (H3O+scale based on 10, the pH changes by 1 for every power of 10 change in hydronium ion concentration. A solution of pH 3 has 10 times the concentration a solution of pH 4 and 100 times that of a solution of pH 5. And because it is a negative log scale the pH decreases as hydronium ion concentration increases. The lower the pH of a solution, the more acidic it is. A pH of 7 is considered neutral and higher pHs are more basic.

One important thing to keep in mind is that measurement of pH is limited to aqueous solutions. Measurement of pH in alternate systems would require the development of new pH scales. Because of this, certain cosmetic formulations like water in oil creams do not have a pH but the pH of the water phase can be measured prior to emulsification or upon breaking the emulsion.

Why is pH Important for formulating Cosmetics?

The normal skin surface pH is slightly acidic and ranges between values from around pH 4 to pH 6. A study by Lambers et al. reported that the skin surface is close to an initial pH of 4.7, an average calculated from 330 subjects, showed virtually no change when the application of water or cosmetics was restricted for 24 hours. The skin surface pH can also vary by body site and can be changed significantly with the application of soaps, cosmetics or even rinsing with alkaline water.

Some of the most important anti-aging ingredients used in cosmetics treatments are alpha hydroxy acids. While the percentage of alpha hydroxy acid is important, the pH of the final product has a big impact on efficacy. Bringing a formulation to a more neutral pH decreases efficacy. However it can also be useful when formulating for sensitive skin types.

pH is also important to variety of other cosmetic ingredients including polymeric thickeners, dyes, and certain preservatives. So be sure to understand the pH limitations of individual ingredients and the overall formulation when developing cosmetic products.


Can you make cosmetic products safer?

California is one of the world leaders in their propensity to regulate cosmetics. They started with their own VOC regulations and also put together Prop 65 which requires manufacturers to disclose and put a warning label on any product that contains a compound on the Prop 65 list. safer-consumer-products-summit

So, it’s not surprising that the Golden State is the site for the 5th Annual Safer Consumer Products Summit. It’s being held at the end of October and you can find out more information about it here.

Anyway, in this report about the event they discuss the idea of featuring discussions about making cosmetics more safe. Which makes me wonder…

How do you make a safe product more safe?

Removing potentially harmful ingredients

Does the strategy of removing ingredients that are thought to be harmful work? I don’t know. It could, or maybe not. When you remove an ingredient you replace it with something else. What is the safety profile of the new ingredient? Typically, these new ingredients have much less testing history behind them and are arguably more dangerous.

I know there are more instances of product contamination because companies like Badger Sunscreen are avoiding proven preservatives like parabens and formaldehyde donors. Apparently, marketing positions trump product safety.

It would be great if we could step back and create some measurable way to determine the safety of cosmetics. If there was a way to quantify safety then you really could make products more safe.

But I’ve never seen anyone attempt to quantify the danger of cosmetics. And if you make regulatory changes but there is no way to measure their effect, have you really done anything to improve the safety of cosmetic products?

With things like cars it is easy. You can measure number of deaths in car crashes. Then anything you can do to reduce that number increases the safety of cars.

What similar thing could be done with cosmetics? I have no idea. I wonder if they will discuss this at the 5th Annual Safer Consumer Products Summit.

Probably not, but it would be interesting.


Here’s a novel idea in cosmetic ingredients…bacteria. According to this report, scientists have found that they could improve the condition of skin by topically applying a bacteria that could metabolize ammonia. cosmetic raw material bacteria

In the study they took an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (Nitrosomonas eutropha) commonly found in soil and created a suspension for application to skin. They created a placebo suspension then got two groups of people to apply either product to their face and scalp for 3 weeks. The test group reported an improvement in their skin condition while the control group didn’t.

Study critique

While this is a pretty interesting approach and suggests that more research is worthwhile, I’m a bit skeptical of results or even the approach. First, it doesn’t seem like there were any statistically significant improvements. Next, the results were all self-reported. Why wasn’t a dermatologist involved in evaluating the participants? Perhaps that would be the next step.

Anyway, this is an innovative approach to solving cosmetic problems. Could you get rid of acne by applying “good” microbes to kill off the “bad” microbes? What other problems could be solved by the application of “good” microbes? Perhaps a living deodorant? Or a mouthwash with microbes that kill off the plaque causing bacteria?

Lot’s of possibilities.

On the other hand, this would be a significant formulation challenge. How would you keep the microbial culture alive? And how would you prevent contamination by “bad” microbes? The preservatives we use today kill microbes indiscriminately.

Something to think about (along with other ideas for good microbes in cosmetics).


Best Beauty Brands in Social Media

Most big beauty brands have been slow to adopt social media but their presence is starting to make itself known.  This article in Happi lists the winners of the second annual consumer choice awards for online beauty sites.  Since most of the readers of this website either work for a cosmetic brand or want to have their own, it is useful to review some of these sites and see what they are doing right.  And perhaps you might want to start adopting some of their techniques. online beauty brands

OPI Twitter

Twitter is a simple way to communicate with your followers in 140 character messages.  It’s incredibly helpful to include links which direct people to web pages you want them to see.  The Twitter page for OPI was the winner this year.  Here are some things notable about their page.

1. Have a graphic at the top that portrays brand image.
2. Follow / Following ratio 586 : 190,000
3. Posts about once a day
4. Posts a lot of pictures

Ulta Beauty Facebook

Facebook is the social media site that over a billion people are on.  So are a lot of beauty brands.  The winner in this category was Ulta Beauty which is a store more than a beauty brand.  Anyway, they’ve got over a million followers so they must be doing something right.  Here are a few notable features of their pages.

1. Have a header picture with a celebrity
2. Posts once or twice a day
3. Respond to at least some comments
4. Post short videos
5. Followers = 1,476,339

OPI Products on Pinterest

Are you Pinterest?  Do you even know what it is?  Well, think of it as a linking page which has lots of pictures.  People can “pin” web pages that they find interesting.  It’s very visual.  And if you find someone who pins lots of things you find interesting, you can follow them.  In OPI’s case they’ve got >45,000 people who follow them.  Pretty good but still behind their Twitter and Instagram accounts.  Here is the things interesting about their Pinterest page.

1. 59 boards of different things
2. 1419 pins
3. 45,942 followers
4. Lots of pictures of nails and celebrities

OPI Instagram

Instagram is all about pictures.  You post a picture and your followers see it and can comment on it (or like it).  Well, OPI wins this category too because they’ve got nearly 300,000 followers.  People really like pictures of nails and nail polish.  Perhaps that because nail polish is the most artistic of all cosmetics.  Each nail is like a canvas.  Anyway, here are some of the things OPI is doing to excel on their Instagram account.

1. 294,626 followers – following 235
2. Their hashtag #StayPolished
3. Post about once a day
4. Over 7000 likes on a single post

Hopefully, this list will inspire you to get started with your own social media accounts and that you’ll adopt some of these strategies.  It’s getting hard to stand out on the Internet these days.  Also, traditional advertising through Television, Radio, and magazines is being pushed aside by these social media sites.  If you’re not competing here you won’t be competing in the marketplace for too long in the future.


Summary of Journal of the SCC July – August

What could be more fun on a cold Saturday afternoon than going through the latest issue if the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists? Well, if you haven’t had time to do it fret not. Here is a quick summary of the stories you’ll find in the July/August issue. scc-journal

There were 5 main articles.

1. Antioxidant activity in mung bean sprouts. Yes, mung bean sprouts have antioxidant properties & yes they are safe for use in cosmetics. Will they have a noticeable effect? Who knows.

2. Internal structure changes of eyelash induced by eye makeup. They evaluated eyelash samples from 36 women using scanning X-ray microscopic tomography. They found that women who used mascara had more damage (cracked cuticles & more porous cortex). There was not a correlation with the use of an eyelash curler. They hypothesize that damage is actually caused when people try to remove the mascara. Interesting study but the sample size was small & they relied on self reported usage data. I would be curious what a more controlled study would show.

3. Development of a new resistant liposome. By coating a liposome with a hydrophobized polysaccharide the authors were able to show that the structures stayed more stable in the presence of surfactants. The implications are that you can use liposomes to deliver ingredients to the skin in a surfactant containing formula.

4. Assessment of cadmium, lead and nickel levels in hair care products. Yes, they found these metals as trace contaminants in a large percentage of hair products found in Turkey. They were within limits of safety according to Canadian and German limits but Turkish standards prohibit any level of these materials.

5. Nanoemulsion of limonene in water system prepared by ultrasonic emulsification. The researchers were able to create a nano emulsion of limonene using water and a surfactant blend of sorbitane trioleate and polyoxyethylene oleyl ether. This may be useful for creating longer lasting fragrance.

There you have it. If you want more information about the stories feel free to check out the Journal of the SCC. It’s free to members!


Presentation tips for Cosmetic Chemists

During your career you will likely be encouraged to give a presentation in front of either a group of co-workers, the public, or fellow scientists. It’s a great chance to demonstrate your expertise and develop your reputation as a scientist. It’s also helpful if you’re in sales. science presentation

I’ve done a number of presentations and there are a few things that would have helped me immensely with some talks if I knew them. These tips have been developed over time only because I have made the mistakes the tips are designed to prevent. Follow them and you will be on your way to giving the best presentation you can.

1. Slides should assist you not distract the audience.

If you start a slide by saying “I know this slide is an eye sore” or “I know you can’t read this…” Then it shouldn’t be a presentation slide. Slides like this are totally distracting and frustrating to the audience. If there is a point you are trying to make with the slide, make a slide that spells out the point. If it’s a graph of data, the text should spell out the conclusion. Don’t make your audience struggle to read your slides.

2. Have a clear structure. Otherwise you’ll confuse people or worse, bore them.

Starting with an Agenda or Objective slide will help prepare the audience to best receive your message. That way they can anticipate what you will be talking about and when you will be done. This is very useful to the vast majority of your audience. Telling them how many slides you have or how many minutes you will be talking is also a good idea. You don’t want to bore people.

3. Be aware of time. Hit breaks & finish on time!

It doesn’t matter how great your topic is or how entertaining you are, if there are breaks scheduled the audience will start looking at their watches & start wishing you were finished. Don’t ever go long unless the audience says they want you to.

4. Engage the audience with activities

Getting the audience to participate in the talk by posing a question or getting them to do some activity will better keep them engaged & make your talk more interesting. It’s hard to pay attention for more than half an hour. An audience participation break will make it easier for your audience to continue giving you their attention.

5. Be prepared for technological problems.

If you’re giving a talk anticipate all sorts of technological problems. You should have a plan in the event that the computer doesn’t work or your slides don’t show. What would you do? Bring your own computer! Have your slides on a thumb drive. Bring connection cables for the projector especially if you use an Apple computer. It’s also a good idea to have speakers & don’t rely on accessing the Internet. Even if a place tells you they have WIFI don’t count on it.

6. When people ask questions, repeat the question for the audience before answering.

At the end of the talk if there are questions but no microphone you should rephrase the question before you answer. That way everyone in the audience will be able to follow what you are saying in your answer. It will also help to ensure that you understood the question asked. There is little more frustrating than asking a question and getting the answer to something you weren’t asking.

7. Know your audience.

Each audience will have a different background and you should taylor your talk to that audience. For example, if you are from the US and are giving a talk in Canada or the EU about cosmetics try to avoid definitive statements about regulations or even labeling rules. Things that are true about the FDA regulation of cosmetics may not be true in other places around the world. Find out what the regulations are that affect your audience or avoid talking about the topic.

8. Be clear on why your presentation will be useful to the audience.

When you are giving a talk about cosmetic science or any other topic, your audience is there hoping to learn something that will be both interesting and useful to them. Make it clear in the beginning why your presentation will be useful to the people in the audience.

9. Avoid misspellings!

While not everyone in the audience will care about blatant misspellings there is no doubt that there will be a number of grammar nazis present. There is nothing that makes you look less credible than slides with misspellings on them. It’s not hard to fix so just don’t have any.

Well, there you have it. 9 tips about giving scientific presentations that occurred to while watching scientific presentations. Keep these in mind the next time you give a talk and hopefully your audience will pay more attention to you and spend less time answering emails, checking their phones, or brainstorming ideas for blog posts.

And for more on creating your talk see this series we did on giving a science presentation.


Becoming an excellent cosmetic formulator

I saw this infographic titled “how to excel as a formulator” which lists 9 things you need to achieve that goal. The 9 tips from George Deckner are great but they could use some expansion. Unfortunately, the article on which the infographic was based does little to expand on the advice. So, I thought I’d do that here.  cosmetic formulating

9 steps to becoming an excellent cosmetic formulator

1. Be an innovator not an inventor – An inventor makes a new product and hopes the benefits are so obvious it sells itself. Sometimes they do, but usually they don’t. An innovator takes an existing product and makes it better. Since most cosmetic formulation types have already been invented, to be a great formulator you need to focus on innovation.

2. Partner with suppliers – It used to be that formulators tried to keep their projects a secret but this doesn’t make much sense these days. You can get much more accomplished if you outsource as much of your research as you can. Getting suppliers to assist your lab work will help you screen more materials and develop better products faster. Don’t worry about secrecy. The formula does not sell the product! Your idea is not unique and the thing that will make it successful is your marketing efforts. Great formulations are important but there are lots of excellent formulas that never achieved market success.

3. Develop raw material expertise – Being a cosmetic formulator is like being a cook, you just use different ingredients. To become a great formulator you need to know all the ingredients at your disposal. You should make it a point to create & test samples of any new raw material you encounter, even if it is not obvious when you would use it.

4. Kill bad prototypes quickly – Don’t waste time on technologies that don’t have great promise. Whenever you get a new raw material test it at the highest concentration level suggested. If you can’t see a performance difference at the highest use level, don’t bother testing it at lower levels.

5. Manage risk? I’m not really sure what this means but I suppose the advice could be that you should test things before launching. Ensure that your products are safe and effective before committing to a launch date.

6. Sell your ideas – As a scientist and formulator you probably didn’t get any sales training. However, in the business world people don’t really care which surfactant you used or about the clever emulsion technology you developed. They want to know the benefits of your technology and why they or anyone else should want to use it. Learn to tell stories that inspire people to get behind your ideas. And try not to get discouraged. The ideas from R&D people are often ignored in the cosmetic industry.

7. Benchmark your formulas – Excellent idea. There is no reason you shouldn’t be able to create a formula that works as well as the best performing cosmetic products on the market. Here you can learn to benchmark cosmetic formulas.

8. Quickly identify killer issues? – I’m not sure what this advice means but perhaps the suggestion is to think through the entire production process and address potential issues. Know whether your suppliers are going to be reliable or whether your lab formulation can still be produced on a large manufacturing scale.

9. Archive your knowledge – You are going to learn a lot over time and you are going to forget most of it. You should have a way to relearn information and keeping a digital archive is a great way to do that. Write notes about what you learned from every project. Keep copies of articles you found particularly helpful. Using a service like Dropbox or Evernote is a great way to keep your information online and secure.

So there you have it, 9 expanded tips on how you can become an excellent cosmetic formulator. Thanks to George Deckner for the original info graphic.