Article by: Perry Romanowski

There are some ingredients that you include in cosmetic formulas to provide a benefit to consumers. These we call functional cosmetic ingredients.

There are other ingredients you use to make your formula feel better, smell nicer, look better, and remain stable. We call these aesthetic modifiers.

But there is one other class of ingredient that helps sell cosmetics.  These are claims ingredients. These ingredients are important because the specifically help to support the story that your marketing people want to tell. 

Marketing ingredients

Let’s face it, the main functional ingredients in cosmetic products so not have pretty, consumer-friendly names. If you want to make a skin lotion that is great for moisturizing, you will use petrolatum or mineral oil. Or you might use one of the many synthetic emollients or silicones that get results. These things will create great working products. But they won’t thrill the cosmetic-buying consumer.

Sodium lauryl sulfate might be great for making lots of suds and cleaning skin and hair, but the name sounds like something you might find in garage floor cleaner.  (You actually will because it’s an excellent detergent).

While consumers want the benefits that these synthetic, man-made ingredient can provide, they often don’t like the name of the ingredients that go with it. Consumers would rather think that their formulas contain special, natural ingredients that are wholesome, easy-to-pronounce, and are “chemical free.”

If you want to sell products that consumers want to buy, you’ll need to placate their desire for simpler, less chemical-sounding ingredients. That’s where marketing ingredients come in.

Fairy dust

These ingredients go by many names including

  • Marketing ingredients
  • Featured ingredients
  • Claims ingredients
  • Story ingredients
  • Fairy dust

They all basically mean the same thing.  These are ingredients added to your formula specifically to provide a story for your marketing group to talk about.

How much do you use?

When an ingredient is used for claims purposes you don’t have to use very much. When I first started in the industry my company had a rule that you had to add these ingredients at a minimum of 0.05%. So, even if the ingredient didn’t have any impact on the performance of the product, you had to include at least that much. I guess that was because if someone did an analysis of the product you’d still be able to detect the presence of the ingredient.

But detection levels got better and we saw that if we lowered the level of these claims ingredients to 0.005% we could save more than a million dollars a year in cost savings. So, that was the new standard for our claims ingredients.

In the US, the FDA has no defined limit on how much of an ingredient you have to add to claim it on your packaging. The overriding rule is that if you claim there is an ingredient in your product, you have to be able to demonstrate that you added it.  This isn’t homeopathy.

Why not use more of them?

While these ingredients usually have some folkloric story of use throughout history, they are only used in formulas for claims purposes. There are a variety of reasons these raw materials aren’t used as the main functional ingredient. These include…

  • They haven’t been proven highly effective – synthetics just work better
  • They are proven effective but are too expensive to use at high enough levels
  • Other synthetic ingredients work better
  • They are traditionally believed to be effective but have never been proven so
  • There is not enough of the ingredient available for mass produced beauty products

Types of claims ingredients

There are lots of different types of claims ingredients and which ingredients you use in your formula is dependent on the marketing story that you want to tell.  In a previous post I listed 7 types of cosmetic story ingredients.  From a formulator standpoint, I would say the following ingredients would be added for the purposes of cosmetic claims. Some of these may have actual benefits but in the vast majority of cases, they are added at low levels to support a marketing story.

  • Vitamins
  • Proteins
  • Natural extracts
  • Natural source materials
  • Advanced technology ingredients
  • Made-up technologies
  • Antioxidants
  • Enzymes
  • Natural moisturizing factors
  • Exotic sounding ingredients
  • Location ingredients

If you are making a new formula and need to find a suitable story ingredient, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

About the Author

Perry Romanowski

Perry has been formulating cosmetic products and inventing solutions to solve consumer problems since the early 1990’s. Additionally, he has written and edited numerous articles and books, taught continuing education classes for industry scientists, and developed successful websites. His latest book is Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry 3rd Edition published by Allured.

4 comments

  1. Jini

    Thanks for this articule Perry!

    I was just thinking about this the other day and I was also wondering, Is it okay to state that an ingredient on your label provides a benefit? Or can you tell a story on the product discription indicating that an ingredient has some properties? Example Claming that: Sunflower Oil is High in Vitamine E or Hibiscus Flower provides mosturazing benefits to your hair. Or that Avocado Oil is a good source of Omega.

    Would that be FDA aproved or would it count as a misbranded or misleading pruduct?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It’s not ok to state that an ingredient provides a benefit unless you have specifically tested the ingredient and can prove it. Otherwise your advertising is misleading and illegal. You can make the claim that Sunflower oil is high in vitamin E (if it is) you just can’t say that it will do anything for your hair because this isn’t proven. Typically, what people do when writing claims is to say something like “this formula, with sunflower oil that is high in vitamin E, will moisturize your hair” In this way, you attribute the benefit to the formula not any specific ingredient.

  2. Pia

    Dear Perry, thank you for your wonderful blog. Speaking of marketing strategies… there is a current (indirect) discussion between The Ordinary and Paula’s Choice about formulating by weight versus by volume. You can find the questions and answers hier: https://www.instagram.com/marie____curie/(in every case there are two pictures) and hier https://www.instagram.com/p/BSChx7HDr7q/?taken-by=beautypediareviews. I have always thought that the percentage of actives on the label (lets say 1% retinol) refers to their weight, not the volume. I would love to hear your thoughts on it! Thanks in advance! Pia

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Ingredients are supposed to be listed by % mass (weight) not by the volume.

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