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Which cosmetic ingredients are animal derived?

When the INCI Dictionary was first published there were about 2000 cosmetic ingredients listed.  The latest edition has over 14,000 ingredients.  Hundreds of new raw materials are added to the INCI dictionary every year, so cosmetic chemists always have something new to try.  This is fortunate because there are a number of ingredients listed in the dictionary that most cosmetic chemists wouldn’t use any cosmetic animal ingredientsmore.  One of the most common type of these “abandoned ingredients” are those derived from animals. A large segment of consumers just do not want ingredients that were once part of an animal.  And cosmetic manufacturers have responded by avoiding all animal derived ingredients.

Avoiding Animal Based Cosmetic Ingredients

But how do you know what cosmetic ingredients are derived from animals?

As a formulator this is information you should get from your ingredient supplier.  Just ask them whether the ingredient is derived from animals or not.  And if you are working on a natural based brand that avoids animal ingredients as part of its marketing story, you should get something in writing from the supplier.

Of course, not every cosmetic ingredient can be derived from animals so it’s useful to know which ones may or may not be animal derived.  Unfortunately, there is no readily available list of animal derived ingredients for people to search.  At least, I thought that was the case.  But indeed there is!  It’s right here.

Animal Derived Cosmetic Ingredient Database

The US government commissioned a company to create a list of all the cosmetic ingredients that might be animal derived and could potentially spread disease.  They were worried about Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) the so called “mad cow” disease.

The database contacts records of 273 ingredients that could potentially be derived from animals.  If you have software that can read a database, then you can see it.  But to make things easier for formulators, we’ve converted the list into a spreadsheet.  You can get that spreadsheet of potentially animal derived ingredients here…

Spreadsheet of Animal Derived cosmetic ingredients

Now, some of the ingredients on the list may or may not be animal derived.  For example, Glycerin can be an animal derived ingredient or plant derived.  You’ll have to check with your supplier to be certain.



Types of Peptides in Cosmetics

There are a number of types of ingredients offered to formulators as “active ingredients.” You can find peptides-cosmeticsmolecules claimed to boost collagen production, turn off melanocytes, and even grow hair. In reality, if these ingredients actually worked as they were marketed your cosmetic would be a drug (at least in the USA) and would technically be illegal to sell. However, if you word your claims properly you can incorporate some of these ‘active ingredients’ in a proper way and your marketers can use them to compel consumers to buy. One of the most popular of these “active ingredients” are peptides. In this post we’ll look at peptides a little more in-depth.

Cosmetic peptides

If you’ve taken any biology or biochemistry you’ve heard the word peptide. Most cosmetic consumers have also heard the word peptide as they’ve been included in marketing stories for decades. The term peptide is the generic name given to a short string of amino acids. Recall that amino acids are the basic monomers used to create all proteins.

Peptides are different from proteins in that they are much shorter and don’t have the same type of secondary folding structures. As a rule of thumb, if there are 50 or fewer amino acids hooked together the chain is called peptide. If there are more than 50 it’s called a protein. Proteins can be VERY large and are organized in such a way that they have biological properties (for example proteins are components of hair and skin.) Some peptides occur naturally in your body and others are made synthetically to mimic the function of natural peptides.

Why are peptides used?

Peptides are used in cosmetics for a variety of reasons depending on the type of peptide used. We’ll dive deeper into the different types but the primary reasons for including peptides in formulas include anti-aging effects, anti-irritation effects, and marketing. The most effective of these reasons is the marketing story that the peptides allow you to tell. But there is at least some evidence that peptides in cosmetics have some effect.

Types of peptides

There are four types of peptides including signal peptides, carrier peptides, neurotransmitter inhibitor peptides, and enzyme inhibitor peptides.

Neurotransmitter inhibitors
These peptides are added to cosmetics to reduce wrinkles because they inhibit acetylcholine release by a variety of chemical interactions. The most extreme neurotransmitter include the poison Curare and the Botulism toxin (Botox). Less invasive versions have been developed for use on skin and the hypothesis is that they relax the muscles of facial expression so they don’t contract as much which causes wrinkles to relax. These neurotransmitter inhibitor peptides have been shown to reduce certain types of wrinkles by approximately 30% (in in vivo studies.)

Signal peptides
These peptides are added to skin cosmetics because they can stimulate skin fibroblasts to produce more collagen, elastin, and other proteins in the matrix of the dermis. Boosting these structure proteins makes skin look firmer and fuller. GHK is an example of a signal peptide and it was one of the first peptides discovered – it was originally isolated from human plasma in the early 1970s and it’s wound healing properties were first observed in mid 80s- which goes to show that this technology is relatively new. These days the ingredient is synthetically engineered.

Carrier peptides
These peptides deliver trace elements, like copper and magnesium, which help with wound repair and enzymatic processes. These trace elements have been shown to improve pro collagen synthesis, the elasticity of skin, and overall skin appearance. For example, a copper complex is made of amino acids glycine, histamine, and lysine and is used in the treatment of diabetic neuropathic ulcers. These are sometimes called “penetrating peptides” or “membrane transduction peptides.” GHK-Cu which is a copper carrier has been used for firming skin.

Enzyme inhibitor peptides
Enzyme inhibitor peptides can reduce the breakdown of collagen and other proteins by interfering with processes that break down those proteins. For example, some enzymes (such as MMP or Matrix Metalloprotease) degrade structural proteins like collagen. A peptide derived from rice proteins can inhibit the activity of the MMP enzyme and thus keep more collagen around. Peptides derived from soy proteins can also work to inhibit enzymes, specifically proteases. They may have some potential for inhibiting hair growth and reducing pigmentation.

Do peptides in cosmetics work?

Well, this really depends on what you mean by “work”. From a marketing standpoint they definitely work to sell products.

From a cosmetic standpoint, they really aren’t allowed to work. If the mechanism by which these ingredients are said to work is actually true, then these products would be considered drugs not cosmetics. It’s a case where if the products work as they say then they would be misbranded drugs. But if they are cosmetics, they don’t work.

You still may be wondering what the scientific evidence says about the effectiveness of these ingredients. This is a little more difficult to discover as there are so many different compounds.

There is some evidence that GHK-Cu can have a firming effect on skin when topically applied.
There is also evidence that Palmitoyl Pentapeptide helps with collagen synthesis, Pentapeptide 3 can work like Botox and Rice & Soy Peptides can work to reduce pigmentation, hair growth and other things. But whether they really work when delivered from cosmetics is debatable. Perhaps this is an area where formulators can have some real impact.

But remember, if your product works it’s probably an illegal drug.


Cosmetic Compliance Summit Returns this April 27-29

This cosmetic industry’s premier event, taking place April 27-29 in New Jersey, is designed to be your #1 information source positioned to not only address where your organization stands on compliance, but how you are continuing to look at the scope of regulatory affairs that span across the globe.

We listened carefully to your feedback, and have been busy the last few months developing an agenda that will give you powerful examples of how industry stakeholders of personal care and cosmetic companies around the world have improved existing frameworks for compliance, and are continuing to explore new strategies that will safeguard against market volatility and risk.

For more information click here

Topic Highlights for 2015 Include:

* Packaging and Labelling for the Cosmetics Industry; Latest Trends and Innovations that Correlate with your Organization’s Compliance Initiatives

* Latest list of Exempt Chemical Substances and their Alternatives in 2015

* Production of a Cosmetic Product Safety Report and Clarification of Global Guidelines
Good Manufacturing Practices and Alternatives to Animal Testing on the Global Scale: Upholding Your Company’s Compliance Initiative

* Improving the Safety of Cosmetics: Update to Cosmetic Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009

* Monitoring Compliance and Product Information – Standards for Market Entry, Approval, and Post-market Surveillance

Don?t miss out on the highly interactive workshops, case studies, keynotes and panel discussions that are designed to foster a continuous development atmosphere for the cosmetic and personal care industry. Download Today at www.CosmeticsCompliance.com


Featured Speakers Include:

* Patricia Hansen, Deputy Director, Office of Cosmetics and Colors, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

* Pam Busiek, President, ICMAD (Independent Cosmetics Manufacturers Association)

* Paola Becvar, Senior Regulatory Specialist; Latin America, Energizer Personal Care

* Victoria Tu, Senior Director, Global Product Safety, Regulatory, & Microbiology Revlon

* Irena Peric, Project Manager, Global Regulatory Affairs, Young Living Essentials

* Laurie Welsh, Director, Coty Testing Institute and Fragrance Science, COTY

* Vasanti Raman, Senior Manager, Regulatory Affairs, MURAD

* Suzanne Roberta, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Adesse Global Cosmetics

* Laurie Pan, Senior Director, Product Safety, Regulatory Affairs, Sally Beauty Company
…and many more!

Exclusive Complimentary Content

Global Regulatory Compliance within Product Lifecycle Speaker Presentation

Pilar Duque, Director, Regulatory Affairs, Mary Kay, discusses key questions, recommendations and product registration timings.


Past Attendee Snapshot
Last year?s inaugural Cosmetic Compliance Summit was a major success. The event brought together industry players from leading cosmetics companies for three days of workshops, panel discussions, case studies and networking. We hope that our impressive attendee list excites you about attending the 2015 Summit, April 27-29 in NYC.

Download Now at www.CosmeticsCompliance.com | Request Via Email at enquiryiqpc@iqpc.com

Cosmetic Compliance News Update

Angela Diesch, a Shareholder with the law firm Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard, discusses four recent cosmetic compliance news items.
Download Now at www.CosmeticsCompliance.com | Request Via Email at enquiryiqpc@iqpc.com

Register by February 13th with discount Code: CC_CHEM2015
for rates as low as $1,499!

Website: www.CosmeticsCompliance.com
Email: Send your Registration Form to Enquiryiqpc@iqpc.com
Call: 1-800-882-8684

Make sure to quote your personalized promo code: CC_CHEM2015 when registering

Check out the Cosmetic Compliance USA LinkedIn Group


Cosmetic Chemist Valerie Patton – Podcast Episode 42

Interview:  Valerie Patton – Starts at 2:00  Valerie Patton

Valerie began her cosmetic chemistry career in men’s grooming before transitioning to hair care, her true passion. She has expertise in formulating various hair care applications, and is currently working on the latest research in hair color and oxidative hair color chemistry with top industry experts. Valerie is also responsible for current line item maintenance and loves her job troubleshooting formulation issues as a “cosmetics detective.”

She is a formulation Chemist at John Paul Mitchell Systems.  She is also currently Chair Elect of the Southern California Chapter of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists.

Follow Valerie on Twitter
Connect with Valerie Patton on LinkedIn

Text of the show

Questions to ask when Getting Raw Materials

What application(s) is this ingredient for?

What have studies shown?

What are recommended use levels of this ingredient?

What pH range is it stable at?

What is it soluble in?

Are there any incompatibilities to be aware of?

Cosmetic Science News

There’s one more topic I wanted to talk about. Have you seen all these beauty bloggers who have started their own lines?

The most famous beauty blogger turned cosmetic brand is Michelle Phan who made a splash last year or the year before by launch a brand with L’Oreal. Well there are others including Emily Weiss who has a line of moisturizers and lip balms, Cara Brook who has a makeup line, Elizabeth Dehn who has a line of Organic beauty products, and a surprising entry…a guy, Eric Bandholz who has a brand called Beardbrand. He’s got a red beard and a good following so I guess that makes sense.

I’ll be curious to see how these brands do. I mean if you can get a following on the Internet you should be able to get enough consumers to buy your stuff.

I’m often asked why we at the Beauty Brains haven’t launched a product line or even why more cosmetic chemists don’t launch their lines. Have you ever thought of it?

Yeah, it seems like almost every cosmetic chemist has. It just makes sense.
But there are a number of reasons why a cosmetic chemist might not want to launch their own line.


First, you can still join our Natural Formulating course. This is a course that teaches you how to create cosmetics that can be sold as ‘natural’ cosmetics. If you are serious about following a natural product marketing spin, this is the class you need. It’s filling up fast and if you’re listening to this show in the future it might be closed to new students. To find out more information go to Chemists Corner.com/natural

And finally, I’ll also be giving a one day seminar on Cosmetic Product Development on April 13th in New York at the SCC headquarters. Go to scconline.org for more information.

As always, feel free to post questions or comments in our cosmetic science forum. We are up over 1000 discussions and it’s still free to join.

Also, follow us on Twitter (Chemistscorner) and like us on Facebook.


Is Aloe Vera Effective in Cosmetics?

Aloe Vera. Aloe Vera Gel. Aloe Vera Juice. Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice. There are even more names here for this nearly ubiquitous ingredient found in both skin and hair care formulations.  Many people swear by it claiming all kinds of benefits for aloe including things like being good for burns, wound healing and even hair growth!  But as a formulator you have to wonder, does aloe vera really do anything when delivered from a topical cosmetic formula?  aloe-plant-cosmetics

Warranted Skepticism

Before I got into the cosmetic industry I had the impression that aloe was something you should use on burns because it can make the injury feel better and help with healing.  In fact, my mother used to keep an aloe plant for this reason and the idea was drummed into my head for years.  But when I got into the cosmetic industry and learned about claims ingredients I began to get a bit skeptical.  Especially when I learned that we were putting Aloe in our shampoos at a level of 0.1% of a 1% solution.  Therefore, the actual amount of aloe in that shampoo was 0.001%.  With the rest of the formula SLS and Lauramide DEA it didn’t seem reasonable that the Aloe was doing much of anything (except getting people to buy the product).

Of course, just because the Aloe wasn’t doing anything in a hair care product when used at really low levels that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t do anything in a product when used at a higher level or when used in a leave-on formula like a skin lotion.  So, I was still left with the question, does Aloe Vera do anything when delivered from a topical cosmetic product?

Go with your gut

My gut feeling has been that it doesn’t.  I generally discount claims about any folkloric ingredient as they are almost overwhelmingly non-scientific and non-verified.  Just because an ingredient has been used for some purpose for thousands of years doesn’t mean that it actually has the claimed effect.  Which also means that just because my mother put Aloe on my burns when I was a kid doesn’t mean that it was having much of an effect beyond a placebo, psychological one.  But despite my skepticism I’ve remained curious.

Aloe Vera research

It turns out I’m not the only one.  Researchers have been investigating the effectiveness of aloe for years.  Here is an article I stumbled on published in the British Journal of General Practice (medicine) which does a systematic review of all the clinical trial research done on aloe vera.  And here is what they found…

Ten clinically controlled research studies were found in published literature.  They ignored all the studies that were not controlled which is what you would want to do if you are looking at what science has to say about a subject.  There were only a set number of claims they could find data about.

1.  Wound healing – It was unclear whether wound healing was promoted by using aloe.  Some studies suggested it was, other larger studies said it wasn’t.

2.  Genital herpes – It could be effective for treating this condition

3.  Psoriasis – It could be effective for treating this condition.

Of course, in all cases the researchers concluded that there was not sufficient data to make any firm conclusions.

I looked through the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists and couldn’t find any real research done on looking at the effectiveness of aloe.  Other sources about aloe similarly resulted in little data to support many of the claims made by supporters of aloe.

Does aloe do anything in a cosmetic?

As far as I could find…not likely.  Based on the best science about the subject there is no real good reason to include Aloe in your formulas except for the purposes of making a claim.  And if you’re using it as a claims ingredient you don’t have to add more than 0.001% to do that.  If you’re putting in more than that, you’re probably wasting money.


Three levels of Natural Formulating

While perusing the Twin Cities Holistic Cosmetic show last week I noticed lots of different types of cosmetic raw materials targeted towards the “natural” cosmetic formulating market. And it occurred to me that not everyone means the same thing when they talk about the idea of natural formulating. In our Natural Cosmetic Formulating course we spend a good amount of the first module talking about what is considered “natural”. It comes down to this, there are really 3 levels of natural cosmetic formulating. whole foods cosmetic ingredients

  • Greenwashing
  • Formulating to a standard
  • Formulating from nature

Level 3 – Greenwashing Cosmetics

Of these three options, the one that is the most prevalent in the cosmetic industry is the formulation strategy of greenwashing.  Greenwashing is the method in which you take a standard cosmetic formula, use standard ingredients, but dress up the final product in a green & natural outfit.  You give it a natural name (maybe even the word ‘natural’), you make it look & smell natural, you add some natural extracts, you write about those prominently on your packaging and in advertising, and finally, you put it in a package that evokes the idea of naturalness.

This type of formulating has been going on for years and it continues to be successfully used in the market. From a manufacturers standpoint, the benefits of greenwashing are many.  The formulas are less expensive, they work better, they are easier to make and consumers purchase them.  A common greenwashing brand is Aveeno who’s tagline “Active Naturals” seems a bit disingenuous when you discover their products are loaded with standard skin care technologies.  They advertise Soy, Seaweed and Shiitake, but we know that the Petrolatum, Mineral Oil and Dimethicone in their formulas are what really make them work.

Right now, Aveeno is over a $100 million a year brand which makes it the second largest brand in the “natural” cosmetic market.  Burts Bees is the largest in case you were wondering.

Level 2 – Formulating to a standard

While there is nothing wrong with greenwashing, some consumers and groups find it unsettling.  For this reason a number of organizations have put together their own standards of what they consider to be natural.  This includes groups like the National Sanitation Foundation, the Natural Products Association, Ecocert, The Soil Association, NaTrue, Whole Foods, and more.  I bet there are over 100 organizations around the world who have compiled some natural standards for creating cosmetic products.

The basic notion of this type of formulating is that the standard creating group goes through cosmetic ingredient data and decides which ingredients are natural and which ones aren’t.  Essentially, they take the 15,000+ ingredients listed in the INCI dictionary that are available for cosmetic formulators and reduce it to a couple thousand ingredients.  Think of it as taking a box of 64 crayons, reducing it to 20 then asking you to make the best picture you possibly can.  Sure, you can still make a nice picture but will it be as nice as the one you could make with the box of 64 crayons?

Anyway, a number of brands follow this natural formulating strategy to varying levels of success.  If you want to sell products in the Whole Foods chain of stores you have to follow their Whole Foods acceptable ingredient list (or banned list really).  Burts Bees and Say Yes to Carrots have their own standards to follow.

Are these products really more “natural” than the greenwashed products?  I don’t know.  Nature really hasn’t created any suitable, natural surfactants and there isn’t a shampoo tree so on some level there is processing going on.  However, a case could be made that these products are better for the environment and more sustainable than ones made from petroleum products.  They are also less susceptible to claims of greenwashing which can have a negative impact on sales.

Level 1 – Cosmetics from Nature

In the time before synthetic chemistry people still managed to make cosmetic creams and lotions.  In fact, an ancient Roman cosmetic tin was found to contain a 2000 year old cream.  This product was made up of animal fat, starch, and tin oxide from a mineral called cassiterite.  Anyway, type of formula would be considered a Level 1 natural formula.  You take only ingredients that you can find in nature and turn them into cosmetics without any fancy processing or chemistry.

As you can imagine, this severely limits the number and types of cosmetics you could actually make.  There really aren’t any natural cleansing surfactants so shampoos and body washes are out.  It’s incredibly difficult to preserve your product without a synthetic preservative so most water based formulas are out.  That leaves you with creams and lotions like the ancient Roman formula, beeswax based makeup products, and other technologies that were once used by society but were replaced by superior performing synthetic ingredients.

Still, this is a viable way to make certain types of cosmetic formulas.  It’s just that you will have a very difficult time creating a successful product line using a level 1 natural formulation strategy.  There aren’t any big brands on the market who have done it yet.

The best way to formulate naturally?

Which way is best?  I don’t know.  That’s really up to you and your company.  Ultimately, if you want to have a successful cosmetic product line you are going to have to find a group of consumers who want to buy your products.  If you can find enough people who like your story and your products, you could be successful with any of these formulation strategies.  In some ways, greenwashing is the easiest but level 2 and level 1 formulation strategies will also appeal to a certain type of consumer.  There will also be less competition there.

But remember, if no one is buying your product or they don’t like the way that it works after they’ve tried it, you probably don’t have a product worth making.

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Interview:  Mark Broussard – Starts at 10:00

Mark Broussard is a cosmetic formulator and entrepreneur who has a BS degree in Microbiology & Immunology, a Masters in Organic Chemistry and an MBA from University of Texas – Austin.  He has worked in Corporate Development and Venture Capital focused on private equity investments, mergers & acquisitions in the environmental and life sciences fields focusing on biotechnology and healthcare.  In 2010, Mark founded Desert In Bloom, a medical spa focusing on esthetics treatments with an emphasis on acne-prone skin conditions.   

Text of the show

Cosmetic Science News

I’ve got two stories to talk about this week. Both are related to cosmetics but involve ingestible products.

The first story I wanted to talk about was this one I saw in Cosmetics Design about the drinkable beauty market. According to market analysts the nutricosmetics market will reach $7.4 billion in worldwide says. That’s a lot! To give you an idea of comparison the natural cosmetic market is about $30 billion. The total cosmetic market is about $450 billion. But they say the nutricosmetics, or ingestible cosmetics as I like to say is the strongest growing segment. It also represents the intersection between the cosmetic industry and the beverage industry.

I think cosmetic companies are in a better spot to take advantage of this trend but companies like Coke and Pepsi might also try their hand at these types of products. After all, it will likely be food scientists formulating these products. This is a good reason for cosmetic scientists to brush up on their food product formulating. The ingredients are a bit different.

They say that there is a bunch of research that documents the links between beauty, health and supplements but the reality is there isn’t much good research. In fact, there is scant evidence that any supplement can be taken to specifically improve your skin condition.

I guess it doesn’t matter much though because we live in a world where people want to believe. People want to believe that taking vitamins or other supplements will improve their health and now apparently, their appearance too.

It’s also an area that is much less regulated than cosmetics so these companies can make much stronger claims without as much data to back up what they are saying. And consumers keep buying…sigh.

Anyway, as a formulator I would suggest you start looking into how to create these types of products. It might make sense to attend a seminar on making food supplements. Maybe I’ll find an expert and collaborate to create one here on Chemists Corner.

The second story is about aging and some recent findings that could actually change the entire landscape of the cosmetic industry. Don’t worry, people will still need cosmetics for the foreseeable future but the antiaging market might not be as hot.

According to this story scientists at the Scripps Research Institute have discovered a new class of drugs called Senolytics. These are compounds that target old cells and kill them off. They found by killing off the older, non-dividing cells they can keep mice looking and feeling younger.

So in our bodies we have these stem cells which are highly resistant to dying off. That’s good because these are the cells that continually make new layers of skin for example. Well, most cells adhere to the Hayflick limit which is about 30 generations. That is they can divide about 30 to 50 times before they stop. Now, most of these cells will just die off but many of them can stick around and start causing diseases associated with people who are older.

Anyway, this new drug class finds those old cells and kills them off. This allows new, younger cells to take over their place and, theoretically, life would be extended. They’ve found in mice that on these drugs the animals have improved cardiovascular function, exercise endurance, and an extended health span. They say with just one treatment older mice had highly improved cardiovascular function. It sounds pretty exciting.

I could imagine this same thing going on for skin cells. One of the reasons people get wrinkles is that their cells stop producing collagen and elastin. So maybe a drug like this could help replenish the younger cells and aging skin might not be as problematic.

We’ll see. I bet it will be a long way off though. The researchers want to do more testing in mice before they do any human trials. That’s probably a good idea. Who knows what effect killing off all your old cells will have. I wonder how that would affect your memory.

Formulating Tips
Today’s formulating tip is about cosmetics and drugs and how to avoid turning your cosmetic into a drug. It’s easier than you might think.

To avoid the problem of turning your cosmetic into a drug follow these tips.

1. Don’t claim that your product will treat a disease.
2. Don’t claim your product changes the body’s biochemistry
3. Use phrases like “changes the appearance” or “helps the body” or “stimulates”
4. Don’t ascribe function to any single ingredient. Always say your formula provides the benefits.

If you follow these tips you should be ok but you’ll see some competitor’s who continue to make drug claims. Don’t do it. These companies are probably in it for the short term to make quick money then get out before they are busted by the FDA. If you are serious about building a beauty brand avoid turning your cosmetics into drugs.

First, you can still join our Natural Formulating course. This is a course that teaches you how to create cosmetics that can be sold as ‘natural’ cosmetics. If you are serious about following a natural product marketing spin, this is the class you need. It’s filling up fast and if you’re listening to this show in the future it might be closed to new students. To find out more information go to Chemists Corner.com/natural

Next, I’ll be speaking at the Natural Symposium in Minnesota on March 17th. You can get more information about that at the Twin Cities SCC website.

And finally, I’ll also be giving a one day seminar on Cosmetic Product Development on April 13th in New York at the SCC headquarters. Go to scconline.org for more information.

As always, feel free to post questions or comments in our cosmetic science forum. We are up over 1000 discussions and it’s still free to join.

Also, follow us on Twitter (Chemistscorner) and like us on Facebook.


5 Things That Cosmetics Can Do

While there are hundreds of types of cosmetics and thousands of cosmetic brands, there are really only 5 things that cosmetics do.  If you want to be a well-rounded cosmetic formulator you should be familiar with how to make at least one formula in each category. cosmetic products


Getting rid of dirt and oil from the surface of skin and hair is the purpose of a large segment of cosmetic products.  This includes products like shampoos, body washes, cleansing bars, facial cleansers and more. The key raw material responsible for making most of these products work are surfactants.  If you want to get good at formulating cleansing products, you’ve got to learn surfactant science.


Where cleaning cosmetics leave off, conditioning cosmetics begin.  Removing dirt solves some problems but even in their natural states hair and skin may not look or feel the way people want.  For this reason conditioning or moisturizing products are needed.  These include products like conditioners, skin lotions & creams, moisturizers, gels and more.  There are a wide range of ingredients that can condition such as occlusives, humectants, emollients, surfactants, and polymers.  And they work in slightly different ways.  To get good at creating conditioners you have to not only know these ingredients but you also need to know what properties make a surface feel conditioned or moisturized.


Since cosmetics are used to enhance or change the appearance of skin, hair and nails one of the most obvious ways to do that is by changing the color.  Cosmetics that change the color include hair coloring, sunless tanners, lipstick, blush, eyeshadow, nail polish, and pretty much any other color cosmetic.   The ingredients that make most of these products work are highly regulated in the cosmetic industry and include dyes and pigments made from minerals, synthetic organic molecules, or other natural colorants.  For hair colors bleach is used to make the color lighter while polymeric dyes are used for other colors.  Color cosmetics are a specialized area of formulating and require special equipment to make more sophisticated formulations.  If you were looking to start your own line, making color cosmetics is one of the most difficult places to start.

Change the shape

Another way that cosmetics can change the appearance is by changing the shape of the surface on which they are applied.  This function is mostly limited to hair products like styling products, relaxers, and perms.  There isn’t a lot you can do to change the shape of skin using cosmetics although some might argue skin tightening products do that.  In any event, the key raw materials that help cosmetics change the shape of the surfaces include polymers, resins, oils, and waxes.

Change the odor

Although looking good is an important function of cosmetics, making people smell good is another thing that cosmetics can do.  Cleaning products will remove odors but cosmetics like deodorants, perfumes, and fragranced cosmetics can change the way a person smells.  The main ingredients that have this effect include things like synthetic odor molecules, resins, extracts, and oils.  To be able to formulate a good fragrance requires years of specialized training.  There are literally thousands of ingredients with different odors that you have to learn and discover how they interact to create a pleasing odor.  Those fragrances then have to be formulated into finished products that work for consumers.  Perfumers are like the fashion designers of the cosmetic industry.

That about covers it. All the hundreds of thousands of beauty products only do one or more of these five things. There are a number of products that seem like cosmetics like sunscreens, antiperspirants or anti-dandruff products but these are actually over the counter drugs (at least in the US) and they wouldn’t technically be considered cosmetics.


What to ask about your new cosmetic raw material

At some point in your cosmetic chemistry career, if you haven’t already, you’ll be introduced to new ingredients. The supplier will probably furnish you with a few studies that have been run on why said ingredient should be in your formulating arsenal, along with other key benefits of the material over Questionscompetitors. You can read more about How to Evaluate Cosmetic Raw Material Marketing here.

There seems to be an endless supply of materials at my fingertips, and my cabinet space is limited, so I like to ask a few questions about the material to see if it’s something I’m interested in ordering a sample of. Here are examples of some of the questions I ask:

  1. What application(s) is this ingredient for?

Finding out what type of material it is can help you figure out if you have a use for it. Is it a surfactant, emulsifier, active ingredient, etc.?

  1. What have studies shown?

Suppliers are in the business of selling ingredients and are not going to show negative data collected. Just be careful that the data you get may be biased.

  1. What are recommended use levels of this ingredient?

This is a practical inquiry for a variety of reasons. It will it help you determine if the use level and cost are within the confines of your budget. If a study was performed at a 5% use level, it may or may not be feasible to use it at that level. Again, suppliers are in the business to sell ingredients; be wary of exceptionally high use levels (you’ll want to make a prototype when you get an ingredient sample with the highest recommended use level; if it doesn’t work well at that level, you know it won’t work at a reasonable level!).

  1. What pH range is it stable at?

If you formulate products that typically have a high pH, an ingredient optimal at a low pH will not work in your formulation, vice versa.

  1. What is it soluble in?

You need to know if the ingredient type is compatible with the solubility of your system.

  1. Are there any incompatibilities to be aware of?

This may save you a headache in the long run, if, for example you’re making a shampoo and an ingredient is incompatible with anionics.

You can always ask they supplier for more in-depth information. Use this guide to working with vendors if you need assistance, and remember – treat your vendors with kindness. Only order a sample if you intend to use it.

Valerie Patton is currently a cosmetic chemist specializing in hair care and hair color in Southern California. She is the Chair Elect of the California Chapter of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. You can follow her on Twitter as @thelahobo.


How do moisturizing ingredients work?

This is a pretty good summary of how skin moisturizers work on dry skin.