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Although you can find lots of great formulating advice here on Chemists Corner and on our cosmetic formulating forum, there are numerous other places you can find excellent cosmetic formulation information. cosmetic resources

One of my favorite places to find hidden gems is Google.  Using Google I have found numerous free copies of books that might cost you hundreds of dollars on Amazon or other book stores.  You just have to know how to search.

Look for the PDFs

Often website owners will put up PDF versions of books or articles they’ve scanned.  These files are a treasure trove of useful information but they won’t show up in a typical Google search.  But if you add “.pdf” to the search you just might find something really great.

Here’s an example.

Doing a Google search of the phrase “cosmetic formulating .pdf” results in a great find!  The Handbook of Cosmetic Formulating!  If you have a scribd account you can download it but even if you can’t you can still read it for free online.  This book costs hundreds of dollars.  Of course, I encourage you to purchase the book if you can afford it but until then read away.

Instead of search for .pdf try “cosmetic formulating ebook” and you’ll stumble on Cosmetic Formulation of Skin Care Products.  Again this is a scribd file and you need to join to download it but you can read it online for free.

There are numerous more examples but you get the idea.  If you’re looking for a formulation book, resource or even some advice, don’t forget to check your local search engine.

Remember the authors

As I mentioned while you can find lots of information for free online remember that the authors of these works often rely on the income generated from them to survive.  I know you could probably find copies of my book online in this way.  Downloading it hurts me to some extent but I believe the point of a book is to get as many people as possible to read it so if a certain amount of people who weren’t going to buy it anyway get it for free, that’s just how life goes.  I would appreciate it if you alerted me to any books you find though so others can share in the information.


SDS Guide for Cosmetic Chemists

There are a few standardization organizations that you’ll come across in the personal care industry; two that you may see are referred to as ISO and GHS. ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization, while GHS is an acronym standing for the Globally Harmonized System [of Classification and Labelling of chemicals]. They are both logical systems that define the physical and environmental hazards of chemicals, along with relative protective measures. Essentially, they establish an agreed upon way that chemical hazards are communicated globally to ensure the safe use of chemicals. safety data sheets cosmetics

Overview of SDS

One of the ways this is done is through a Safety Data Sheet (SDS), formerly known as the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). On an SDS you can find useful information such as toxicity, flammability, and transportation restrictions for a certain product. The format of an SDS is generally the same across all of the organizations.

General Structure of an SDS

There are generally 16 sections to an SDS. It may have words or hazard symbols, and the sections are not limited to:

  1.   Identification of the chemical & supplier contact information
  2.   Hazards identification
  3.   Composition of ingredients (chemical identity, CAS number)
  4.   First aid measures upon exposure
  5.   Firefighting information
  6.   Accidental release measures
  7.   Handling and storage
  8.   Exposure controls and personal protective equipment
  9.   Physical and chemical properties
  10. Stability and reactivity
  11. Toxicological information
  12. Ecological information
  13. Disposal considerations
  14. Transport information
  15. Regulatory information
  16. Additional information, like SDS revisions

SDS’s aren’t just for ingredients

It’s not only ingredients that need a safety data sheet; even finished goods have an SDS. If you work for a brand that sells products, you might have to write an SDS as well.

What parts does a cosmetic chemist use?

As a cosmetic chemist, you’ll be working with ingredients that have an SDS. It is good to familiarize yourself with the SDS content of each ingredient you use as it contains valuable information like chemical properties, storage information, disposal information, and what to do if you’ve suffered from exposure. An SDS should arrive with a sample that you’ve requested from a supplier, but in the event it doesn’t, they’re readily available on chemical supply sites like UL Prospector or you can contact your account representative.

You can read more about SDS content and how different standardization organizations organize them here.

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.


Misconceptions about cosmetic animal testing

I read this heartfelt article in the Edmonton Journal encouraging the Canadian government to ban animal testing of cosmetics. cosmetic animal testing

It’s a laudable goal and something that I think will eventually happen but I don’t think this editor realizes how small an impact such a ban will have. She also gets a few things wrong which I’ll try to correct.

Should we ban cosmetic animal testing

The author made a number of points which she didn’t get quite right.

“It’s astonishing, really, when you consider that many of these animal tests were first developed in the 1930s and 1940s. Just think how much science has evolved and improved since then.”

In the area of animal testing of cosmetics, the technology hasn’t evolved or improved much since the 30s or 40s. The main difference is that fewer animals are used but these are essentially the same tests which correlate the same way to human safety. No one has come up with new animal tests because there is no money in it. All the new research in this area is being spent on developing alternatives to animal testing. There have been some validated tests but work remains to be done.

“They are also being surpassed by state-of-the-art non-animal tests that are better able to predict how consumers like you or me will react to a product in the real world. “

Well, not exactly. Yes, some tests have been developed to replace animal testing, but not everything. For example, there is nothing to replace inhalation testing of aerosols. The author might find this link to the EU validated animal testing alternatives helpful.

“So by removing animal tests from the equation, we would actually improve consumer safety”

No, we wouldn’t.

“No company needs to test on animals to produce safe, new cosmetics…”

This is true unless a company wants to make actual “new cosmetics.” Anything that would be something new and have new benefits would require new ingredients which would have to be safety tested on animals.

“…any Canadian cosmetic containing ingredients newly tested on animals is banned from sale in the European Union…”

Again, this isn’t exactly true. A cosmetic company can use ingredients that are tested on animals if the testing was done for the pharmaceutical industry. A raw material company can simply say that it was evaluating the ingredient for a pharma application and that data can be used for getting approval for use in cosmetics.

“Opinion polls show that the vast majority of us Canadian citizens want an end to cosmetics cruelty. “

This depends on how you word the question. Who would say yes to ending animal testing if it meant their cosmetics weren’t going to be as safe?

Should cosmetic animal testing be banned?

I don’t disagree with the author and hope some day animal testing will be a thing of the past for the cosmetic industry. It would be great if it were a thing of the past for all industries. But until we have validated alternatives to animal testing, these bans make little sense.

They are too easy to get around. And the safety of cosmetics should not be something that isn’t suitably determined.


Will cosmetic formulators become food scientists?

There’s a trend in the beauty industry called “beauty from within.” This is a growing segment (representing about $5 billion in annual sales worldwide) which refers to beauty products that are designed to be ingested. The idea is that you can improve your skin and hair by simply drinking a beverage or taking some kind of supplement. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that the products touted to improve your beauty from within don’t provide much benefit. sports-drink

So with this evidence you might think that the beauty from within trend is dead. And you’d be wrong. There are a number of reasons that companies will still launch and market these types of products.

1. People believe they work. It doesn’t really matter what the science shows, if you can convince a consumer that a product works, they’ll buy it. They might be able to dismiss the science as being applicable to other people but not to themselves. Sometimes consumers are their worst enemy.

2. They are easy to formulate. Most of these products don’t require complicated emulsion system. Instead they are simple solutions of water, color and flavor. Sure you have to figure out some way of getting the appropriate vitamin or extract in there but this isn’t very difficult.

3. Claims are nearly limitless. The supplement industry in the US is practically unregulated and as long as you don’t make any direct health claims, you can say whatever you want about your product. This plays well with cosmetic claims because they are all about appearance and not about curing a disease.

The skills required to make these types of products are more akin to food science than to cosmetic science so in the future you just might find yourself in the position of having to learn food chemistry.

I suppose this isn’t all bad because it is fun to branch out. It’s just unfortunate that when you look at the science of these products, they are mostly BS.

Incidentally, it would be cool if someone could create a beauty from within product that actually worked. Of course, if it did I think that would qualify as a drug.


Different Water Used in Cosmetic Formulating

There are a wide variety of water types that you can use when formulating cosmetics.  Distilled, deionized, purified or tap water are all options for cosmetic formulators.  Here is the difference between all of them.cosmetic water

Tap water – When you get the water right from the drinking fountain or city water supply, it’s filled with a small amount of metal and mineral ions.  Often this will not have any effect on your cosmetic formula but it can especially if you are using any soap based ingredient.  Since you can’t control the level of ions in a formula it’s best to formulate with something that is a little better purified than tap water.

Distilled water – This is the oldest form of purifying water.  In this process water is boiled in a still.  The vapor is collected in a condenser and cooled to reform the water.  Theoretically, it removes all traces of contaminants except those that boil at a temperature lower than water such as some alcohols.  It also will absorb Carbon Dioxide from the air so the pH will typically be lower (pH 4.5 – 5.0).

Deionized water – This is water in which the non-water related ions have been removed.  Tap water is usually filled with ions from the soil including sodium, calcium & magnesium plus metal ions from the pipes such as iron and copper.  It is deionized by sending it through an ion exchange column which is a tube that contains a resin which will selectively bind with ions in water.  Ionized water goes in and deionized water comes out.  This process doesn’t remove organic contaminants, viruses or bacteria.

Demineralized water – This water is sent through an ion exchange process.  It’s pretty much the same thing as deionized water.  There really is no difference when it comes to formulating cosmetics.

Ultra Pure water – When you want just pure H2O this is what you want.  The water is first demineralized then it is sent through an electrodeionization process.  This is great for electronics and pharmaceuticals.  It’s probably over-kill for cosmetics.

There you have it, all the different water you might use when making cosmetic formulas.  It’s important to note that whatever water you use if you are making a cosmetic the only proper way to list it is on the ingredient list is WATER.


californiaEnvironmental rules are often strange. Here is a story where L’Oreal was fined over $160,000 for selling a product that contained 55% volatile organic compounds (VOC). According to California law companies are restricted in the amount of VOC that they can have in their formulas.

While the folks at L’Oreal thought they were complying with the law they weren’t. It wasn’t because of their formula but because of what they claimed about their formula. The products were sprayable starch and according to regulations they can only have 6% VOC content, not the 55% VOC content which is the regulations for hair styling sprays. Since they didn’t list anywhere on their packaging the claim “finish, maintain or hold previously styled hair” they are subject to the 6% level. Oops.

VOC levels

This is something that many people don’t realize. Even products that are not sprays are subject to VOC limits according to the California regulations. So if you have the idea of using alcohol (ethanol) as your primary preservative, you may be in violation of VOC rules.

Here are VOC limits for some common products. You can find more limits here.

Astringent / toner = 35% VOC
Nail polish remover = 1% VOC
Insect Repellant = 65% VOC
Temporary hair color = 55% VOC
Shaving cream = 5% VOC
Shaving gel = 4% VOC
Fragrance (less than 20% fragrance) = 75% VOC
Fragrance (more than 20% fragrance) = 65% VOC
Hair styling product = 6% VOC
Hair finishing spray = 55% VOC
Hair shine spray = 55% VOC
Hair Mousse = 6% VOC
General purpose cleaners (body wash, shampoo, etc) = 0.5% VOC

As you can see it can get a bit complicated. If you have questions about it this is one of those things that are best to consult an expert in the regulatory matters of California.


Interview: Dennis Abbeduto has nearly 20 years surfactant and formulation chemistry experience and dennis-abbedutocurrently works for Colonial Chemical, Inc in Southeast Tennessee as a Senior R&D Chemist. Prior to this he worked for Alberto-Culver Co in Chicago, Illinois on skin care technology and as a formulation chemist for the St. Ives brand. Dennis also worked for McIntyre Group, Ltd in University Park, Illinois as an R&D synthesis and applications chemist. He has a BS in chemistry from Governors State University in University Park. Dennis has been an SCC member since 1997, serving as Midwest Chapter Secretary and Chair, and received a chapter Young Scientist Award in 2004. Dennis lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee with his wife, son, and three cats.

Contact: Colonial Chemicals
Technologies discussed:

Natural Cosmetics

Top Natural cosmetic brands

Burt’s Bees (Clorox)
Aveda (Estee Lauder)
Aveeno (Johnson & Johnson)
The Body Shop (L’Oreal)
Nu Skin
Hain Celestial Group
Dr. Perricone, MD Cosm
Bare Essentials
Tom’s of Maine (Colgate-Palmolive)
Dr Bronner’s
Yes to Carrots
Aubrey Organics

Should you get your products certified?

Here are reasons why you might get certified
1. It appeals to consumers
2. It sets you apart from your competitors
3. It sets clear formulation guidelines
4. It may become a government regulation

Here are reasons not to get certified
1. Consumers don’t know what it means
2. It costs money
3. It restricts your formulations
4. You give up control of your product development


We’re launching a new Natural Formulating course. See this link for some free videos and details about the course.

Natural Cosmetic Formulation course

Join the Natural formulating course

I’ll be giving a talk this Tuesday in the Chicago area. You can see more details here.


Have you formulated with dry water?

Here’s a technology I had never heard about, dry water.  It sounds fascinating and could result in the creation of truly surfactant free cosmetic products.

What is dry water?

Dry water is essentially a water/air emulsion in which a dry, hydrophobic powder is used to coat droplets of water.  It was first patented in 1968 then re-discovered in 2001 in the form of liquid marbles.  The technology seems pretty cool.  Take a look at this video for a demonstration.  There is a powder covering the top of the water so when the experimenter pokes their finger through the surface, it doesn’t get wet.

While it seems pretty cool, I’m still trying to figure out how this could be used in a cosmetic product. Perhaps you could coat aqueous solutions of humectants or maybe even a liquid marble of emulsion particles. I wonder if that would work.

Anyway, it seems like pretty interesting technology. It’s definitely a technology I haven’t seen extensively applied to cosmetics. This could be an innovative avenue for a crafty formulator to follow.


Cosmetic colorants – the safest cosmetic ingredients

Recently we received a request from someone who wanted to make their own face paint for children.  Specifically, they wanted to know how to make homemade face paints using natural ingredients that would be safe for skin.  They also said they wanted to use plant derived pigments.   This sounds like a fun project, but I’m concerned about the focus on “natural ingredients.”  As we frequently say, just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it is safe.cosmetic colorants

Cosmetic Colorants

The part of this request that is worth discussing is the request about colorants.  In truth, you would be hard pressed to find any safer ingredient in cosmetics than the colorants.  On some level, it was colorants (specifically dangerous ones) that lead to the development of the FDA.  While there aren’t a lot of ingredient restrictions in the US for cosmetics, colorants and any other material put in the product to impart color, are the most strictly regulated of all cosmetic ingredients.

Here is a listing of important documents regarding the colors that can and cannot be used in cosmetics in the US.

Basic Requirements of colorants

Coloring your cosmetic product is not as simple as finding some plant or flower that has a pretty color, distilling that color and using it in your formula.  You specifically CANNOT do this.  Some of the approved colorants are plant derived but many are not.  Here are some basic facts about regulated colors in cosmetics.

  • All colors used in your formula must be approved by the FDA.  If it’s not on the approved list (no matter where it comes from) it can’t be used.
  • Nearly all colors must also be certified by the FDA.  For most colorants every batch of the color has to be inspected and approved by the FDA.  You can’t just make your own colors in the kitchen.
  • All colors must meet specifications before being used.
  • Colors are restricted in the ways and amounts in which they can be used.

Making edible color cosmetics

So if you wanted to make face paints that contained only colors that were edible you would limit yourself to food approved colorants.  Here is a list of food colorants.  There are some that are exempt from the certification requirements.  These would include things like Caramel, Annatto extract, Dehydrated beets, Fruit juice, Carrot oil, and more.  There are also food colorings that are allowed which require certification.  These are things like FD&C Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5 and a few others.

Basically, if you want to make a safe face paint that is edible stick to approved food colorings.  If you want it to be plant derived, stick to the food colorants that do not require certification.

I’ve always found it baffling that stories about Lead in Lipstick get so much traction and hype in the media.  NGOs use these type of stories to push for greater regulation.  But the reality is that colorants are the most highly regulated ingredients in the industry.  How much more regulation on colorants could there possibly be?

While there may be some ingredients that could concern you about cosmetics, colorants should not be one of them.



When is a cosmetic ingredient considered safe?

While surfing the Internet looking for information about cosmetics you can’t help but stumble onto negative information about the “toxic” chemicals evil corporations put into their products.  We once posted a list of the most vilified cosmetic chemicals which included… scaremongering cosmetics

1. Parabens
2. Diazolidiny Urea
3. Diethanolamine
4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
5. Petrolatum
6. Mineral Oil
7. Propylene Glycol
8. Triclosan
9. Fragrance
10. Color pigments
11. PEG — Polyethylene Glycol
12. Talc

A couple more ingredients that should be added to this list are

13. BPA
14. Phthalates

Evidence of danger

The thing that I find frustrating about the information shared about these ingredients is that it is incredibly biased and often just wrong.  Or the purveyors of this BS jump to conclusions about preliminary studies then ignore any kind of follow-up by researchers.

Parabens are an excellent example.  According to the fearmongering groups, parabens are dangerous chemicals that shouldn’t be used in cosmetics.  But when a group of independent scientists (actual toxicologists) hired by the EU governments went through all the safety data and determined that parabens are safe as used in cosmetics, did the fearmongering group go back and revise it’s stance?

No.  They don’t care about science.  They exist to scare people,harass cosmetic companies, and generate money through donations.  They have no interest in actually educating people about products & product safety.

They don’t care that a group like the European Food Safety Authority has looked at the safety data of BPA and determined that BPA does not pose a risk in cosmetics.  You will still see the fearmongers shouting about irrelevant hazards.  And lazy, clueless reporters will take up the torch and continue to pass misinformation.  These reporters lack the integrity to throughly investigate the topics they write about.

Making things less safe

Worse is that these groups are prompting companies to find alternatives that are actually making products less safe.  The folks at Badger Sunscreen are adamant about avoiding parabens and surprise, surprise, they sold low quality product that was dangerously contaminated.  Worse yet, it was a children’s product.  There should have been a much bigger fine for a company that would release under-preserved product.

And all those BPA replacements?  Yeah they are less safe too.

Watchdog groups done right

While I criticize these groups I do believe that they can provide a service to consumers and to the cosmetic industry.  It is perfectly legitimate to have a listing of chemicals of concern.  However, that should just be a starting point.  If there is evidence that the ingredients on your list are actually not harmful (as has been proven for most of the vilified ingredients) then they should acknowledge that and stop spreading misinformation.

I would love to see a world where we have science-based groups that are looking out for the safety of consumers.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any at the moment.

So, when should a cosmetic chemical considered safe?

When the best science available says it is.  And it should be toxicologists who make that determination, not clueless reporters or fearmongering groups run by English majors not educated in the subject of science.