Article by: Perry Romanowski

To advance in your cosmetic chemistry career you have to come up with good, unique ideas. If all your company needed from you was color and fragrance changes to formulas, they could’ve saved a lot of money by hiring a technician rather than a formulating chemist.

Chemists who can come up with and implement ideas are the ones who will be most valuable to any company.

Of course, coming up with and implementing ideas was not a subject you’re likely to have learned in any college science course. Some people seem born with the ability to generate ideas. And maybe they were. But generating new, unique ideas is something that everyone can do. You just need to use some proven brainstorming tools. One of these tools is the SCAMPER technique. Let’s look at what it is and how you might use it

SCAMPER Idea Generation

First, SCAMPER is an acronym that stands for…

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to other Purposes
  • Eliminate
  • Rearrange

It uses a set of directed questions to come up with new product/process ideas.

Generating New Product Ideas

While we’ll go through an example of generating new product ideas, the SCAMPER technique could be used for any challenge or problem you face. Some of the categories won’t fit exactly so you’ll have to adapt it to your needs. To start this process, get a pen and paper so you can start writing your ideas down. Using a computer is fine but I’ve found actually writing things improves the ideas I generate.

Suppose you work on Body Wash formulations. Here is how you would use the SCAMPER technique to come up with new ideas.


Substitute means thinking about your product and trying to make substitutions to come up with something else. Ask yourself a question like ‘What can I substitute to change the product?’ For a formula like Body Wash you might try substituting ingredients like the primary and secondary surfactants. The key is to not think critically about your ideas. Forget what you “know” and try any idea you can. Could you make a body wash substituting the Water for Alcohol? Maybe.


The idea behind combining is that you take multiple aspects of your product and combine them. This is the kind of thinking that led to multifunctional products like 2-in-1 shampoos. Could you combine skin lotion and body wash to make a 2-in-1 body wash? How about combining the body wash with the poof to create a foaming wash cloth? You could even create a body wash that does everything from washing, to conditioning, to prepping your skin for shaving.


Adapt means thinking about some aspect of the product and adapting it for some other purpose. For example, could you find a surfactant for your body wash that also doubles as a fragrance or colorant or preservative?


Modify means changing or distorting the product in some way to come up with something different. Ask yourself a question like ‘What would happen if I exaggerated a feature of the product?’ So for a body wash you might try to make it small and concentrated or really big and diluted. Could you have a body wash where the consumer puts a single drop on their poof and it cleans their entire body?

Put to other Purposes

This concept refers to using your product for another purpose. For example, you have a body wash already. Could you sell the same formula to pet owners to wash their animals? Could the body wash be used to wash hair, or dishes, or bathrooms, etc.?


When you think of eliminating things from your product you can often come up with interesting new ideas. Ask ‘What would the product look like if I removed some component’? In our body wash example, what kind of product would you get if you removed the water? How about removing the surfactant (or 80% of the surfactant)? Or removing foam? By eliminating ingredients or characteristics you might come up with a completely new and interesting product.


This part of the exercise asks what happens if your product is designed to do the reverse of what it normally does. So, could you make a body wash that deposits things on the skin rather than removing them? Could you use a cationic surfactant instead of an anionic? What can you rearrange or reverse about your product and how would that lead to a new product?

Give yourself an idea quota

Your success in your career will be directly related to the number of independent ideas you generate and implement. If you can create more unique ideas you will be more likely to make them happen and this will be great for your career.

Spend at least 10 minutes a day coming up with new ideas. Challenge yourself to come up with at least 50 new ideas a week. Write them down and review them once a month to determine which you would like to pursue.

We’re all born with the ability to come up with new & unique ideas. Frequently exercise your mind by generating ideas so you don’t lose it.  Doing so will certainly help your chemist career.


  1. Avatar

    I have an great idea about a makeup tool which is not out in the market yet but I am more than 100% sure that if my product comes to life than it will be the new thing in makeup industry that everyone will talk about. My hurdles are where to begin? who to contact? what company makes makeup tools? I have the idea but not sure how to go on with it. I hope someone from makeup industry can help me find answers to my questions.

  2. Avatar
    Nicole Bey

    I am looking for a chemist or chemistry student who would be willing to work with me on developing a formula for a hair moisturizer. If you are willing to work with me and donate your time and experience for free please contact me at

    Thank you,

  3. Avatar


    I was wondering what is your take on parabens? Are they really as dangerous as it seems? There are two sides, one saying that parabens are extremely bad. While the other side says that parabens are not harmful at all, media-hyped, and is one of the most researched preservatives used. So i am really confused here? What is the deal about parabens as preservatives in cosmetics?

    1. Avatar

      The best, most up-to-date science indicates that parabens are safe. Among scientists there is really not a big debate. Parabens have been used for over 50 years and are even frequently used in food products. I personally believe they are an excellent preservative to use and do not represent a significant cancer risk. There also is no data linking cancer to paraben exposure.

      There are a number of reasons parabens get a bad rap.

      1. Small companies use it as a point of differentiation. They can’t compete against big companies on price, advertising or performance so they use chemical fear to scare consumers into trying their products.

      2. Studies of concern. There have been a few recent studies which demonstrated that parabens can penetrate the skin and can be detected in the bloodstream. This information coupled with other studies which have shown high levels of parabens can be endocrine disrupters has caused a few scientists to call for more research. These studies used high levels of parabens and still need to be duplicated.

      Currently, parabens (and formaldehyde donors) are the best, most well-studied preservatives for cosmetic products. No other chemicals have been more thoroughly investigated and are quite as effective. Switching to any new preservative means using something that may be less safe and certainly something that hasn’t been studied as much.

      Until (if ever) there is more data to demonstrate there is a problem, cosmetic scientists will continue to use parabens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.